Race Focuses on Slow Growth, Low-Cost Housing : Election: The Thousand Oaks City Council is too closely tied to developers, say several candidates among the eight contenders in the Nov. 7 race to fill a vacated seat.


Creating affordable housing amid affluence and preserving pristine hills among suburban sprawl are premier issues as Thousand Oaks prepares for a special City Council election Nov. 7.

Eight candidates are running for the council seat vacated over the summer by Lee Laxdal, who moved to Australia for his job in the aerospace industry. Laxdal's term runs through 1992.

The five council members are elected at-large to four-year terms. They are paid $7,200 a year plus a monthly mileage allowance of $150.

Of the eight candidates, five named some aspect of development as their chief concern, and several said they believe that the present City Council has become too accommodating of developers at the expense of the residents' quality of life.

Two of the candidates calling for further limits on growth--Bob Lewis and K. Reed Harrison--have been members of the Planning Commission and have ties to the existing council.

Lewis, a 45-year-old attorney whose Los Angeles-based firm specializes in business law, has been a planning commissioner nine years. He was appointed by Laxdal. He takes credit with Laxdal for initiating the city's slow-growth ordinance, which was adopted by voters in 1980 and limits building to 500 residential units a year. He said he favors adoption of an ordinance limiting growth on ridgelines or hilltops. The city only has a policy discouraging ridgeline development, but the zoning code regulates development on hillsides, according to the Planning Department.

Lewis also cited affordable housing as a key concern but said he favors recycling the city's existing stock of older, more modest homes before building new ones. He proposed that when the smaller homes are put up for sale, the city should subsidize down payments and provide low-interest loans to first-time buyers.

Lewis raised $7,386 in campaign contributions by Sept. 28, the most recent deadline for financial reports to be filed with the city clerk. Three $100 contributions came from companies that provide services to the city: Falcon Cablevision, which holds one of two cable television franchises in Thousand Oaks and last year received $810,000 in revenue; Valley Commercial Disposal Co., whose garbage-collecting franchise with the city last year reaped $1.3 million, and Pruner Health Services, which is under contract with Ventura County to provide ambulance service.

Harrison, a 50-year-old attorney with a local civil practice, served on the Planning Commission from 1984 through 1987. He has served on the boards of Ventura County National Bank and Many Mansions, a private, nonprofit group in Thousand Oaks that provides rent subsidies.

Harrison cited a need to preserve hillsides and hilltops, and also supports adoption of an ordinance protecting ridgelines. He said he would favor making such a measure especially strict, with a provision requiring a four-fifths vote of the council for an exemption instead of the usual three-fifths. Harrison also cited a need to build more apartments to provide housing for employees of the city's service industry.

Harrison had raised $14,468 by the Sept. 28 reporting deadline--by far the largest campaign fund in this election and reportedly the largest amount ever raised so early in a Thousand Oaks council race.

Several contributors to his campaign listed occupations in the development and housing industries. The largest contributions of $500 each came from Newbury Park plumber Ted Lebarron, whom Harrison called a longtime client, and Thousand Oaks realtor Ralph Mahan, whom Harrison described as a fellow parent in their children's parochial school.

Candidate Elois Zeanah, a 47-year-old homemaker, has turned her property owner's activism and concern for the city's environment into a full-time job. She is president of the League of Conejo Homeowners Assns., a coalition that represents about 5,000 homeowners in greater Thousand Oaks. An unsuccessful candidate last year, she said she is trying again because she believes that the council "has strayed from the course of good planning" and needs a fresh voice.

Zeanah cited the 2,350-unit Dos Vientos development proposed for Newbury Park as an example of a project that received Planning Commission and City Council approval despite ill effects on traffic and air quality.

She also cited the Jungleland civic and cultural center--a long-planned project to be built along the Ventura Freeway on the site of the former theme park--as a project that is too large. She also objects to the city's role as a partner in a joint venture in the project. "How can they sit up there and deny other developers without being hypocrites?" she said.

Zeanah said the city needs to build more affordable housing for young families and should provide down-payment subsidies and low-interest loans to help them buy their first home.

She raised $5,422 as of Sept. 28. Her largest contribution, $560, came from Arco manager Kenneth Bauer, whom Zeanah described as a colleague in the homeowners league.

Candidate Phyllis Ellis, 62, is a technical processor at Litton Data Command in Agoura Hills and a real estate broker but is known around Thousand Oaks as an outspoken advocate for the handicapped. Ellis has walked with canes since she had polio at age 2. She said a broken hand three years ago forced her into a wheelchair, which opened her eyes to the lack of wheelchair accessibility.

Now Ellis claims credit for forcing the city to install wheelchair ramps throughout public facilities and for initiating a recent revision of the state law regulating handicapped parking spaces; the amendment makes it easier for police to ticket violators by relaxing standards on how the spaces are marked.

She said her involvement with the City Council over the handicapped issue exposed her to the workings of city government and what she described as an attitude of "Go away and let us run the city; we know what's best for you."

Ellis also cited a need for starter homes for young families, saying, "In 10, 20 years, the city will be all retired people with no young people."

Grant W. Peterson, 46, a retired sales manager who said he hopes to start his own business, said the main reason he is running is to fight drug abuse. He also said he fears overdevelopment of the city and accused the City Council of ignoring citizens' concerns.

Peterson said the City Council needs to allocate more money for police officers to visit schools as part of the DARE drug-abuse education program. The city has only one such officer, which he said is not enough. He also cited crime in general and gang-related crime as growing problems. Peterson said he became interested in drug abuse and gang problems because of his children, ages 16 and 12, who are involved in scouting. He said he is active as a leader in the Conejo Valley District of Boy Scouts of America. He has reported no contributions.

Gregory Lance Spencer, 36--a construction manager who considers his three children, ages 14, 11 and 10, to be the biggest accomplishment of his life--said he is running for the council because "I tell my children all the time if you don't like something, do something about it."

Spencer said he considers affordable housing the most important issue in the city and predicted that a continued lack of affordable houses will create a two-class society--those who own real estate and those who don't. He said he believes that the city should allow developers to build higher density projects instead of the large, single-family luxury homes that the city is known for. Spencer has reported no contributions.

Candidate Jim Donovan, 40, is a self-employed financial consultant who said he is chiefly concerned with drug abuse. He too cited the need for an expanded drug-abuse awareness program in schools and said that as a councilman, he would favor spending the money needed to support such a program. "Hiring more police is a Band-Aid measure, we need to change the attitude of the people," he said.

Donovan supports the Jungleland center, saying it could only benefit the city, and said affordable housing is society's problem, not the city's. He has reported no contributions.

Candidate Norm (Blackie) Jackson, 34, is an auto repairman and amateur singer. Jackson, who was an unsuccessful council candidate last year, said he believes that he is Jesus Christ.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World