In a year of perplexing ballot propositions, Ventura voters will be faced with two potentially contradictory measures related to plans at the Ventura County Fairgrounds for the county's largest convention and events center.
At stake is a proposed 120,000-square-foot facility that proponents have hailed as a key to revitalizing downtown Ventura and that critics have branded an oversized white elephant.
But the two measures affecting its fate--one a simply worded question about using city money to help construct it and the other a more general question about the city's financial support for renovating the fairgrounds--could produce conflicting results.
Moreover, City Atty. Donald S. Greenberg has said that both measures are merely advisory and that neither would bind the Ventura City Council to any particular course of action.
"I find it really difficult to understand how the public can be asked to make some kind of informed judgment," said Councilman Don Villeneuve, who supports neither proposition despite his initial backing of the City Council-sponsored measure on fairgrounds renovation. "There are so many uncertainties."
Measure E, sponsored by a group largely composed of disgruntled fair volunteers, is aimed at thwarting plans for the building by blocking more than $9 million in no-interest loans from the city.
The measure, which qualified for the Nov. 8 ballot after volunteers collected 4,881 signatures last summer, asks whether the city "shall loan or give any money . . . to assist in the construction of a multipurpose convention center at the Ventura County Fairgrounds."
Measure F, sponsored by the City Council as a "clarifying" proposition, does not mention convention or exhibition facilities. Instead, it lists a range of planned renovations for the site, including better beach access, improved parking, new livestock pens, extension of the oceanfront promenade and replacement of two dilapidated Quonset huts on the site of the proposed convention center.
The measure then asks whether the city "should . . . continue to work with the Ventura County Fair in the financing and/or improvement of facilities at the Ventura County Fairgrounds."
City Manager John Baker said the second measure was necessary because critics of the center had failed to put the issue in the context of the $30-million joint overhaul of the aging fairgrounds approved in 1987 by the Ventura City Council and the Ventura County Fair Board.
"The initiative focuses narrowly on one aspect . . . and fails to recognize the city's larger community service objectives," Baker wrote in a July memo to the council. "To let this initiative stand alone on the ballot would preclude the community from making a fully informed choice."
The city's measure is supported by tourism advocates, who contend that a large center is necessary to draw a convention trade that now largely bypasses Ventura.
But critics, who contend the building would draw out-of-town crowds and overshadow the annual country-flavored fair, say they never objected to those other renovations.
"We tried to make it as simple and direct as absolutely possible," said Judy Eldeb, a leader of the Save the Fair Committee. "To say it's confusing was a political tactic. They've just made people angry."