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Simi Valley Races Focus on Housing

Most candidates for mayor and council oppose Measure B, which would stop expansion at city limits, slow other development.

October 29, 2002|Gregory W. Griggs | Times Staff Writer

A controversial Simi Valley ballot measure that would tighten city growth boundaries is overshadowing races for mayor and City Council, where three incumbents seek new terms Nov. 5.

Mayor Bill Davis is campaigning for a third two-year term against two underfunded challengers, while Councilmen Paul Miller and Glen T. Becerra are taking on a retired machinist and a city employee.

If passed, Measure B -- the latest attempt to rein in urban growth -- would stop expansion at existing city limits. Plans to build homes or businesses in three rugged canyons nearby -- Alamos, Brea and Runkle--would be blocked unless voters approved the projects in future elections.

Those canyons were included as prime growth areas on a successful 1998 ballot initiative. But since then, slow-growth advocates have concluded the boundaries allow too much construction.

Two projects would be immediately affected: the 1,600 homes and industrial development proposed by Unocal in upper Alamos Canyon, and a 550-unit project in Runkle Canyon that includes affordable housing for seniors.

Both sites are outside city limits but within its future growth boundaries, meaning that the projects now require only annexation and City Council approval.

All but one of the mayoral and council candidates oppose the measure, saying it would shift control of Simi Valley growth to county government. Incumbents Davis, Miller and Becerra are part of the opposition.

But Paul L. Delgado, 73, a 40-year city resident, says residents should oppose rampant growth.

"You don't live where I live. They're going to build all kind of homes in Runkle Canyon," said the retired aerospace machinist. "This is our chance to take control of our destiny."

Delgado said residents are fed up with constant noise and traffic increases. He said the City Council has failed by stressing residential construction rather than attracting large businesses that spur local employment.

"Go for big business, not homes," he said during a recent candidates' forum.

Another council challenger, Brian E. Wilson, a city environmental compliance specialist, said home builders use campaign contributions to wield too much influence in Simi Valley.

"I want to return the power to the people by listening to the residents," said Wilson, 37, who first ran for council two years ago. "I am not accepting any contributions."

Measure B, he maintains, is a signal of residents' displeasure with the council and the city's pace of development. He suggests voters reject the measure, but only if they also cast their ballots for new faces on the five-member council.

Becerra, completing his first four-year term, said Measure B does not reflect on council members.

He said the countywide Save Open Space and Agricultural Resources movement, which backs the Simi Valley measure, is also fighting for growth controls in Ventura and Santa Paula this fall. SOAR will eventually try to increase voters' control over development in other Ventura County cities, he said.

A lifelong resident of Simi Valley, Becerra said his grandfather moved there in 1927 and that his children are the third generation born in town.

A former student body president at Moorpark College, the 35-year-old Becerra, a public affairs region manager for Southern California Edison, supports working closer with the school district and parks district to enhance services. He wants to attract high-paying technology jobs, expand the Neighborhood Watch anti-crime program and set high standards for new construction in the city.

After 32 years in law enforcement, the last dozen as Simi Valley's police chief, Paul Miller has a public safety focus.

He helped establish the nonprofit Simi Valley Police Foundation, which raises money to create reward funds, buy new police dogs and provide scholarships for fledgling officers. He supports citizen volunteer patrols that would report suspicious activity via cell phones.

Running for a third term, Miller, 65, said the city must maintain its fiscal health, ensure orderly growth and development, increase the supply of affordable housing and improve the flow of traffic by synchronizing street lights.

"This is probably the greatest city in the world to live, work and play," he said.

In the separate race for mayor, Bill Davis, 75, said he wants another two years to complete projects remaining after his 16 years on the council.

He would expand the city's government center, including City Hall and the senior citizens center, and work to attract a regional mall to the city.

And Davis said he would continue fighting for more affordable housing in Simi Valley, which requires most developers to set aside units at below-market rates.

"I'm trying to balance housing and jobs in this city," he said. "Let's say you don't build one more house. Take the family with two or three kids -- where are they going to live when they grow up?"

But challenger David R. Plunkett, 43, an aerospace engineer, said he strongly opposes lower-cost housing programs for anyone but senior citizens.

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