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Ventura County

Lone Challenger Faces 3 Council Incumbents

Traffic and affordable housing are among top issues in crisis-free Camarillo, which is enjoying a period of economic health.

October 28, 2002|David Kelly | Times Staff Writer

With a robust local economy, no major crisis on the horizon and just one candidate challenging them, Camarillo City Council members are hoping for easy reelection Nov. 5.

Charlotte Craven, a 16-year council veteran, said she has run against as many as 12 opponents in the past and hopes the lack of contenders this year indicates public support for the council.

"But I'm still running a campaign," she said. "I'm not taking any chances."

Council members Mike Morgan and Jan McDonald are also seeking new terms but running scaled-back campaigns.

The incumbents are challenged only by Carlos Cruz, 62, a tailor and retired California Highway Patrol officer.

With its popular premium outlet stores, malls and movie theaters, Camarillo sales tax revenue has surged and the city's reserves have swelled to $57 million, officials said.

That is a far cry from the late 1980s, when Camarillo's $19-million budget was $4 million in the red. The city lost $25 million in bond investments and its employee pension fund was empty.

The outlet stores helped Camarillo climb out of its fiscal hole. Last year, the city posted retail sales of more than $336 million, about $8.5 million in net revenue to the city, officials said.

But Camarillo still faces major challenges. Affordable housing is in short supply, traffic is increasing and the opening of Ventura County's first four-year public university has major implications. And a proposed library has raised concerns.

Cruz, who lost in his first council run two years ago, concedes this will be another uphill battle but says "sometimes an outsider can win."

Cruz said affordable housing is the most critical issue facing the community. "The cost of housing has quadrupled over the years," he said. "Camarillo has made a lot of effort to bring business here, but there is no place for people who work in those businesses to live."

The median home price in Ventura County has steadily risen to $334,000. Median prices in Camarillo range from $350,000 in the western half of the city to $380,000 in the newer eastern half.

"It seems to me that more work should be done with [the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development] to get funds for high-density building," Cruz said. "We should increase some apartments from two to three stories."

Cruz, who runs Cee's K.L.C. Tailoring from his home, moved to Camarillo in 1980 and retired from the CHP five years later. He is married and has a 14-year-old son at Camarillo High School and a 12-year-old daughter at Hillcrest Christian School in Thousand Oaks.

Cruz said the city needs a new library. Camarillo has filed for a state grant to fund a larger library, but Cruz believes there is no strategy to pay for the project if the grant falls through.

Craven, 58, said a new library has been in the works for at least 14 years. The cost is estimated at $20 million and the grant would cover 80%, she said.

"If we don't get the grant we will have to sit down and look at our checkbook or go ask the voters," Craven said. "We may need to ask them to raise property taxes about $6 a year for the library."

She said the Cal State Channel Islands campus, about three miles outside of town, will increase traffic and bring thousands of students to the Camarillo area. Over the next five years, both Lewis and Pleasant Valley roads will be widened and bike paths added to ease congestion to and from the campus.

Craven said many students will want to live off campus.

"We want to help provide housing while maintaining the integrity of the neighborhoods," she said

She also advocates building more affordable housing.

"If the city has to buy land, then we should buy land," Craven said. "Maybe we can work with a developer or a nonprofit group."

McDonald, 52, Camarillo's mayor, is completing her first term on the council. She said the city is in great shape.

"The new college will present challenges but we see the benefits as far greater than the challenges," she said. "Traffic is the No. 1 challenge, but we have projects that will hopefully alleviate that."

Morgan, 55, has been on the council for 22 years and lost two bids for county supervisor. He is pleased with the city's cash reserves, but said they could be drained easily on a highway project or other unforeseen need.

He believes the total effect of the university won't be felt for a few years. Many students will commute from nearby cities, he said, alleviating pressure on local housing.

"They are building more than 900 dormitory [rooms] out there on campus," he said. "That will be a stopgap for a while. We will also have to meet the demand for housing and make it less intrusive on the community."

Morgan hopes to continue the revitalization of Old Town Camarillo -- the city's traditional downtown -- and turn the defunct Fire Station 54 on Ventura Boulevard into a cafe. The former probation officer also wants to keep Camarillo among the safest cities in the county.

"We have citizen patrols, over 50 Neighborhood Watch programs, police on bikes, police on motorcycles and police in the school system," he said. "All this has made us a safe and secure community. We want to keep that going."

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