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A Busy Ballot for Ventura

Voters in the county seat will elect four council members and decide on a proposed new tax.

November 06, 2005|Catherine Saillant | Times Staff Writer

Growth, a lack of affordable housing and shrinking revenues are at the center of debate among a crowded field of candidates competing in Tuesday's Ventura City Council election.

Voters will choose among 10 candidates vying for four council seats. Also on the ballot is a measure that would impose a 15% tax on Ventura's sole card club to raise $150,000 a year for the cash-strapped city.

In addition to three incumbents seeking re-election, the candidates are a banker who lost by a narrow margin two years ago and has wrapped up most of the major endorsements in this campaign; four first-timers, one of whom is homeless; another homeless person; and a recurrent longshot.

A leading issue is how to pay for police and fire services in an era of higher employee costs and shrinking revenue. A budget gap of about $4 million between the cost of services and available revenues has developed.

Much of the debate has centered around whether the city in coming years should push for some kind of tax measure to bolster police and fire budgets.

But other problems loom in this beach town of 106,000. Attempts to lure tourists to its revived downtown corridor are threatened by an entrenched homeless population.

City leaders also are wrestling with how best to provide a range of housing after pledging not to grow outside of municipal boundaries. The median cost of a Ventura home was $644,000 in September.

There is remarkably little dissension, however, over the city's newly approved general plan, which calls for essentially all new development to occur on vacant or redeveloped lots within city limits.

Multistory condominiums, apartment units and denser single-family tracts built close to schools and shops will be the primary way to accommodate growth, according to the plan.

Such "smart growth" principles must be respected, the candidates have repeatedly said, to fulfill voters' desire in passing tough growth restrictions over the last 10 years.

"Growth in Ventura right now is about the details of infill development," said Julie Chase, a Ventura resident who follows local politics closely. "The debate is about how best to carry that out."

Three of the 10 candidates say they are best qualified to turn the general plan's blueprint into reality because they helped write it.

Mayor Brian Brennan said he is running for a third term largely to make sure the long-debated housing plan is carried out.

"I don't want to see the general plan just be words on a shelf," said Brennan, a business consultant. "I want to see it fully incorporated into the city's growth."

Brennan counts stabilizing the budget, providing affordable housing and being an environmental steward as other priorities. Ventura native Jim Monahan, seeking an eighth term, and businessman Neal Andrews, who has carved a niche as a voice for the homeless since his election in 2001, are the other incumbents running.

A fourth seat is open because Councilman Sandy Smith is stepping down.

Banker Ed Summers is running for a second time after falling 422 votes shy of a seat in 2003. Summers has the backing of the city's police and firefighter unions, the Chamber of Commerce and an influential mobile home residents' group.

He cites many of the same concerns as the incumbents but adds he wants to expand the city's arts and music offerings. Summers has participated on several civic commissions over the years and said elective office is the next step.

"I'm the kid who ran for student body office in high school," he said. "It's a mutant gene -- I just like to be involved."

Other candidates are wading into electoral waters for the first time.

Donald Gloisten, who owns a brokerage firm, said he wants to focus on financial issues by "getting in there and lifting the hood."

Gloisten also said city leaders need to say "no" more often when it comes to budgetary matters.

Irene Henry, a self-employed insurance agent, said she would push for balanced growth and for electric shuttles to link such destinations as the downtown and harbor areas.

Financial planner Jerry Martin, another city native, has emphasized the need for more firefighters. He has been endorsed by city firefighters as well as the Tri-Counties Central Labor Council and the local Democratic Club.

Melody Joy Baker lists her occupation as "community volunteer." Last year, she filed a lawsuit against the city alleging that it had discriminated against her and other homeless people. There has not yet been a ruling in the case. Baker has drifted on and off the streets of Ventura in recent years but is believed to be living in a downtown motel, city officials say.

Returning to the ballot is Brian Lee Rencher, a homeless man who has run for a council seat several times. Rencher is as well-known for gliding through town on his bike, hair tucked carefully into a cap, as for his status as the council's most studious watchdog.

Carroll "C.D." Williams, a retired college professor, is a perennial council candidate.

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Fillmore Measures

Voters will go to the polls Tuesday to decide two local ballot measures:

Measure B5: Seeks an annual $15 per-parcel tax to be used for maintenance and operations of a community pool.

Measure C5: Seeks voter permission to build up to 100 units of low- to moderate-income rental housing, using state and local assistance.

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