ELECTIONS VENTURA : Patagonia Gives $2,000 Boost to Dark Horse


The owners of Patagonia Inc., a clothing company that was a major supporter of three successful slow-growth candidates for the Ventura City Council last fall, have contributed $2,000 to the campaign of a supervisorial candidate who has pledged to block two massive housing projects in the hills of southeast Ventura County.

The donation from company owners Yvon and Malinda Chouinard to Maria VanderKolk nearly doubles the amount the long-shot candidate had previously raised in her effort to unseat Supervisor Madge L. Schaefer in the 2nd District.

Patagonia public affairs director Kevin Sweeney, ex-press secretary for former U.S. Sen. Gary Hart, also is advising VanderKolk on campaign strategy as a personal favor, he confirmed Wednesday.

Patagonia will decide in a couple of days whether to contribute time and more money during the three weeks that remain before the June 5 election, Sweeney said.


“I’m reasonably certain we’ll play a role,” he said. “The question is what kind of role we will take--whether we will write newspaper ads or do a direct mail piece.”

Patagonia’s interest in VanderKolk’s campaign brings new energy to a low-key race that incumbent Schaefer repeatedly has said does not even exist.

“In terms of campaigning, there really isn’t a race,” the supervisor said last week. She had no comment Wednesday on Ventura-based Patagonia’s interest in the 2nd District, which stretches from Thousand Oaks west to Port Hueneme. Only residents of that district can vote in the race.

“I don’t have a response,” said Schaefer, 48, a former Thousand Oaks councilwoman who was elected supervisor in 1986. “I’m not going to steal her thunder.”

Schaefer had $39,000 available for her stretch run, according to a March 17 filing statement. She has spent little of that money so far, she said, and plans a $125-a-plate fund-raiser that actors Tom Selleck and Robert Wagner, both residents of Hidden Valley, in the 2nd District, have agreed to co-host.

VanderKolk, a 25-year-old political novice who has restricted her campaign to door-to-door canvassing on weekends, declared in a press release that she is “thrilled by Patagonia’s support.”

“Whereas my opponent is heavily supported by developers,” she said, “I have the backing of a company which matches my concern in making land-use decisions that put the environment first.”

Patagonia, which employs 350 workers at its Ventura headquarters, turns over 10% of its profits to environmental groups each year, Sweeney said.

VanderKolk, a manager at a Woodland Hills product licensing firm, said she has been campaigning in earnest for weeks.

“We’ve been trying to make everybody see that . . . for a long time,” she said. Perhaps Patagonia’s greatest contribution will be to eliminate the impression that her campaign has no chance of success, she said.

VanderKolk said she has sent 1,000 invitations to a $25-a-person fund-raiser this weekend that will be hosted by actor Dick Van Dyke, an environmentalist from Malibu.

“We’re concentrating our efforts on repeat voters,” she said. “We have about 100 volunteers, and we plan a big push in the last three weeks.”

Sweeney said VanderKolk, despite her political inexperience and lack of name recognition, has a chance with such a strategy because so few 2nd District residents are likely to vote.

About 24,000 people voted in the 1986 June primary election for 2nd District supervisor, compared to 18,700 in last fall’s Ventura city election, in which three Patagonia-backed candidates drew the most votes.

“Maria has an uphill battle and that is an understatement,” Sweeney said. “She’s got a very difficult campaign in front of her, but she’s got a compelling issue.”

VanderKolk has criticized the supervisor’s 1987 support of a 1,900-acre country club and housing project at Lake Sherwood and her vote last year to allow developers to prepare environmental reports on proposals to subdivide the Jordan and Ahmanson ranches near the Los Angeles County line.

Schaefer, who describes herself as a moderate on growth, said that the Lake Sherwood project is the only major development approved by supervisors since she joined the board and that it is helping to solve longtime water quality, sewer and lake-maintenance problems.

Schaefer has not taken a position on the Jordan and Ahmanson proposals, she said.

But she favors a controversial deal in which entertainer Bob Hope would sell and swap 5,700 acres of mountain land to state and federal park agencies in exchange for 59 acres of parkland where developers could build an access road to the Jordan subdivision.

The land-swap deal does not obligate Ventura County in any way, Schaefer has said. She labels VanderKolk a a single-issue candidate who does not “have a clue” about what it takes to be a supervisor.

Development issues are “probably one-twentieth of what a supervisor does,” Schaefer said.