Oxnard Council Candidates Bank on Experience

Times Staff Writer

The winners in the Nov. 8 race for two seats on Oxnard's City Council won't be able to chalk their victory up to beginner's luck. Of the four candidates who reported campaign contributions of more than $2,000 by Sept. 30, all have a long track record in civic affairs.

Even the front-runner with the least public experience, Tony V. Grey, 51, has served two years on Oxnard's Planning Commission, in addition to stints on the Ventura County Civil Service Commission and air-pollution and school district advisory boards. A council contender in 1984, he finished seventh in a 14-candidate pack. By the latest reporting period, however, he had the race's second-largest war chest, $7,954, which includes $4,500 of his own funds.

Two candidates, incumbent Dorothy S. Maron and resigning city Treasurer Geraldine Furr, are veteran officeholders. Maron, who declines to reveal her age, is seeking her third 4-year term on the council, to which she was elected after 10 years on the Oxnard Planning Commission. Furr, 65, has served as treasurer for a total of 25 years.

The only major candidate who has not held a city office in Oxnard is Edward W. Robings, 59. But he has frequently appeared before the council, either as Oxnard Chamber of Commerce president, secretary of Oxnard's World Trade Center or Oxnard College president, a position from which he retired in July.

Seven candidates are vying for the seats of Maron and Michael A. Plisky, who is running for mayor against the city's incumbent mayor, Nao Takasugi, and Councilman Manuel M. Lopez, whose term does not expire until 1990.

Because Maron, with a $28,562 war chest, is widely viewed as a shoo-in for one council seat, attention has focused on the seat of Plisky, who will lose a place on the council if he is not elected mayor. The controversial councilman has made no secret of plans to shift the balance of power from a council majority he views as liberal, free-spending and excessively agreeable to staff recommendations.

Neither Plisky nor his conservative council ally, Ann Johs, will reveal their choice in the complicated power play--"Let's just say that one of the candidates would be excellent," Johs said--but Furr is considered their favorite. She is a friend of both and an ally in their successful fight last November against a measure supported by the council majority to make the treasurer's office an appointed rather than an elected position.

However, Plisky opponents also are wary of Grey, a Plisky appointee to the Planning Commission. Both Furr and Grey, however, scoff at the notion of a Plisky alliance.

"I would not align with anybody," Furr said. "I'm an independent. I follow my own conscience and mind after I do my own homework."

If Lopez were to win the mayor's race, an election would be held in early March for his seat, city officials said.

Also vying for the seats in the regular election are Roy Lockwood, 67, a retired federal fire chief who frequently attends council meetings; Paul H. Chatman, 43, a merchandise manager at JC Penney and member of the Oxnard Advisory Committee, the Ventura County Homeless Task Force and the Zoe Christian Center's board of directors; and Bruce Forsyth, 57, a businessman and real estate broker.

Few Disagreements

The candidates are more abundant than they are diverse. On issues from affordable housing to the Zoe Christian Center, the homeless shelter that faces closure by the city in April, the four major candidates agreed more often than they disagreed in separate interviews with The Times.

While all said they advocated some form of "controlled" or "managed" growth, they also all opposed an ordinance limiting growth in the county's only major city without such a measure. Instead, they expressed confidence that efforts by a citizens advisory group revising the city's general plan will result in the city growing at a manageable pace.

"Let the general plan take care of it," Grey said, summing up sentiments.

All but Furr said they would defend City Manager David Mora against the ouster that Plisky opponents say is imminent if the balance of power shifts on the council. However, even Furr, who blamed Mora for "a terrific morale problem" when Furr announced her resignation in July, insisted she does not plan to push for the embattled city manager's removal. Instead, she said she would encourage him "to follow the policies set by the City Council."

"There's some discussion that he doesn't understand some guidelines," she said. "I would want to make sure that he has a clear understanding."

Voter Decision

All agreed that voters should decide whether the city should be carved into councilmanic districts, a move recently proposed by a citizens group. Only Grey, however, said he would support the measure; the rest said they were undecided.

The candidates agreed that the city has to encourage construction of more affordable housing, and all but Furr, who was undecided, suggested cutting developers' fees for projects that include such dwellings. Maron took the idea a step further: She spoke of encouraging moderately priced housing by levying stiffer fees on more expensive housing.

On the Zoe center, only Maron took the position that the shelter might be best left where it is. She said the city should consider moving a nearby fertilizer plant, which is viewed as a health hazard to Zoe residents. Other candidates dismissed such a move as too costly.

The most vehement differences emerged in discussions of consensus--or the lack of it--on Oxnard's stormy City Council. Maron and Robings lined up with the council's present majority, which maintains that disagreements between council members are destructive. Furr and Grey saw the rifts as less threatening.

"I can't say that a difference of opinion is unhealthy," Furr said. "To discourage this makes for a rubber-stamp council."

Lacking more substantive disagreements, the candidates have focused more on identities.

Maron, for instance, portrays herself as "the people's council person." With a signature of snappy comments delivered in her native New York accent, she claims a special kinship "to people who don't have a voice."

"Most of her constituents are neglected by others--the poor, the homeless, the minorities, the disadvantaged," said Bud Maron, her husband and campaign manager.

Yet some council watchers say Maron, who touts her environmental views, is not always true to them, particularly in her approval of large developments like Ormond Beach.

"You know the saying, 'You can't please all the people all the time?,' " said Stewart Mimm, chairman of Sea Air Neighborhood Council in West Oxnard and a member of the General Plan Advisory Committee. "Well, I think she tries and there's where she gets into trouble."

Grey, a Filipino who moved to Oxnard in the 1960s after joining the Navy, is not even trying to make everybody happy. A soft-spoken man with a thick accent, he is pitching himself as a minority candidate who would call for a thorough review of city hiring practices. "Minorities have not been advancing fast enough or in relation to their ability," he said.

Others agree. "It's high time we should have a leader coming from the Filipino community," said Gil Estrada, chairman of the Oxnard-based Filipino American Action Committee, which supports the commissioner's candidacy. "Tony Grey is qualified to represent not just us but the interests of others."

Council watchers complain that he is a relatively inexperienced politician who may get lost on Oxnard's boisterous council.

"I don't feel like he's a dynamic personality," said Cherie Johnson, a former Ventura County Grand Jury member and present chairman of the Seaview neighborhood council on Oxnard's west side. "If Plisky becomes mayor there are going to have to be people who can stand up to him and say, 'Hey, Mike you're wrong on this one.' "

Booming Voice

Nobody leveled the same criticism at Robings, who speaks in a booming voice that commands most audiences. Casting himself as the education candidate, he says he would use the position as councilman to pressure Ventura Community College District trustees to increase funding to the Oxnard campus.

"The trustees treat it like a poor relation or an in-law," he said.

However, Robings, with the race's third-largest war chest of $6,121, has attracted criticism for views he does not hesitate to describe as pro-business. Slow-growth advocates said they were wary of his past alliances with such developers as David O. White of Somis, who recently offered to give an Oxnard campus to Cal State in exchange for the right to develop surrounding farmlands.

Furr, who has the fourth-largest war chest of $5,923, has used her experience as treasurer to set herself apart from the pack. She is positioning herself as a fiscal conservative who would do away with the city's recent trend toward dipping into reserves to balance the budget.

"She has certainly been part of the city family long enough to know what needs to be done," said Furr's campaign treasurer, Thelma Wells, an Oxnard real estate broker. "And she has the intestinal fortitude to do what has to be done."

Still, Furr's critics fear her friendship with Plisky.

"I see a kind of slate-building between Ann Johs, Plisky and Furr," said Councilman Manuel Lopez, "and I don't think that's good."

For the Record Los Angeles Times Thursday October 27, 1988 Home Edition Ventura County Part 9 Page 2 Column 5 Zones Desk 2 inches; 66 words Type of Material: Correction An article Oct. 20 said Dorothy S. Maron, an Oxnard City Council candidate, had amassed campaign funds of $28,562. It failed to note that the sum includes $19,500 of her own money. City Council candidate Geraldine W. Furr's husband, Roy, also lent $500 to his wife's campaign, which has raised $5,923. Candidate Ed Robings contributed $450 to his campaign fund of $6,121. As previously reported, another candidate, Tony V. Grey, put up $4,500 of his $7,954 in campaign funds.
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