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Ventura Growth Initiative an Expensive Proposition

The measure's backers have spent more than $1.3 million to sell voters on the plan. Opponents have raised about $194,000.

October 26, 2002|Jenifer Ragland | Times Staff Writer

The most expensive growth measure in Ventura County history just became more expensive.

Supporters of Ventura's Measure A have spent more than $1.3 million promoting a plan that would allow 1,390 homes in the hills and canyons above town.

Campaign reports released Friday show that Lloyd Properties, the family partnership that has owned the hillside land for a century, has spent nearly $500,000 in just the past three weeks.

"I don't know quite what to say," said Martha Zeiher, a leading opponent of the initiative. "It's an incredible amount of money, and obviously there's no way we can get close to that."

Opponents have raised about $194,000 since Jan. 1, the statements show. That money, collected by the countywide group Save Open Space and Agricultural Resources, is going toward campaigns in Simi Valley, Santa Paula and Ventura.

The bulk of SOAR's contributions -- $142,902 -- has been spent trying to persuade Ventura voters to defeat Measure A, statements show.

Still, with most donations at $100 or less, the grass-roots group is being outspent 10 to 1.

"They're able to purchase a lot of access," Zeiher said. "My worry is that people won't be getting our message."

Opponents say the six neighborhoods allowed under the measure would pour thousands of cars a day onto city streets, clog local schools and erode hillsides.

Margaret Merryman, spokeswoman for the initiative's supporters, said the 300 landowners in the extended Lloyd family want to do everything they can to help voters make an educated decision. Development projects are complex, she said, and Measure A backers have hired top consultants to answer the public's questions.

"This is what it's taking to get the message out," Merryman said. "The family also knows that in Ventura, spending the most money does not guarantee one wins an election. Money has been what's required to educate the public about this plan."

Merryman said proponents have a second task: defending their plan from attacks by a well-organized group of opponents.

"It's easy, and inexpensive, to just say 'No,' " Merryman said.

Developers and landowners are also pouring money into two other growth measures on the Nov. 5 ballot.

In Simi Valley, slow-growth activists want to tighten growth boundaries approved by voters in 1998. They are fighting landowners, businesses and city leaders who say current municipal boundaries halt sprawl and allow for reasonable growth.

Opponents of Measure B, the boundary-tightening initiative, have raised about $267,000, campaign statements show. About $182,000 of that came from Unocal Corp., a major landowner in Simi Valley and developer of a proposed housing project in one disputed canyon.

In Santa Paula, an Arizona-based developer is bankrolling Measure F, which would move the city's growth boundary to accommodate a 2,250-home project in nearby Adams Canyon.

New spending figures were not available Friday, but as of Sept. 30, the developer had spent about $425,000 promoting the measure.

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