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Developer Donation Cap Backed

Supervisors in Ventura County tentatively agree to limit campaign gifts to $250 from donors seeking board approval of land-use matters.

September 22, 2004|Catherine Saillant | Times Staff Writer

Moving to reduce monetary influence on development projects, Ventura County supervisors tentatively agreed Tuesday to a $250 contribution cap from donors with land-use matters pending before the board.

The slow-growth-dominated board voted 4 to 1 to have county lawyers look over the proposed ordinance before bringing it back for final approval. Pushed by board Chairman Steve Bennett and Supervisor Kathy Long, the law would mirror one already in place for a state land agency.

Ventura County's adoption of it would bring consistency to land-use decisions and instill public confidence that supervisors are objectively assessing proposed developments, Bennett and Long said.

"There is a publicly held perception that land-use decisions do stimulate contributions in an effort to influence a vote," Bennett said.

Ventura County already restricts political contributions from anyone to $600 per election cycle. The proposed ordinance would further tighten that reform by reducing what is acceptable to receive from contributors with land-use matters scheduled for a vote.

Supervisors would not be barred from accepting more than $250, but anyone who does would be disqualified from voting on that donor's project. Supervisor Judy Mikels, who opposed the limit, said the law would unfairly target developers.

"I realize that anything that can be done to limit growth in this county is seen as a good thing, but I tend to disagree with that," Mikels said.

The board deals more with government contracts than with development projects, Mikels said, alluding to long-standing agreements that concentrate most of the county's growth within cities.

Long agreed but said that when supervisors do consider development projects "they are biggies." The $250 limit would not stop projects that have merit and follow the law, Long said.

Supervisor John Flynn voted with the majority but was still critical of the proposal, calling it an attempt to be "holier than thou." In a strict sense, Flynn said, there is a conflict of interest involved in every contribution.

Flynn, who is seeking reelection, read a letter in which his finance committee had rejected a donation because it could be seen as a conflict of interest. He has returned checks from at least three contributors who have business before the board, Flynn said.

"I don't think we have a problem. I think we all try to control this," he said.

Still, he agreed to send the proposed law on for further review.

"It's kind of hard to vote against something like this," he said.

Supervisor Linda Parks noted that she tried unsuccessfully to pass a similar law while on the Thousand Oaks City Council. She rejected Mikels' contention that the proposed law was unfair because developers were being targeted while environmental groups opposing projects could continue to give up to $600.

The distinction, Parks said, is that "if the Sierra Club contributes, they don't profit financially."

Supervisors agreed that some fine-tuning is needed before final approval, which is expected within 30 days. They plan to exempt contributors who benefit from a land-conservation law that has been in place since the 1960s.

The Williamson Act gives landowners tax breaks if they agree to keep farmland and open space undeveloped.

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