Leaders Take Bows, Set Goals as Mayoral Torch Is Passed : Thousand Oaks: Elois Zeanah talks about making City Hall more ‘user-friendly.’ Judy Lazar reviews her term as mayor.
Reflecting on achievements and goals, Thousand Oaks’ outgoing and incoming mayors on Tuesday noted their city’s strengths and vowed to improve its weaknesses.
Elois Zeanah took the helm as mayor in a brief evening ceremony, declaring her intent “to empower citizens to develop and implement new solutions to solve pressing problems.”
She outlined plans to establish task forces on crime, affordable housing and water rates in an effort to solicit more public involvement. Zeanah also proposed an overhaul of the government’s customer service to make City Hall more “user-friendly” for businesses and residents.
While Zeanah looked toward the future in her mayoral acceptance speech, outgoing Mayor Judy Lazar reviewed the past in an afternoon state-of-the-city address before 200 community leaders.
Lazar said she took great pride in the city’s efforts to improve the local business climate and in the ongoing construction of the $64million Civic Arts Plaza.
And she declared herself especially pleased with the city’s role in working with the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy to purchase the 640-acre Broome Ranch in Newbury Park.
“Through efforts that I spearheaded, several agencies, the city, the Conejo Recreation and Park District and the National Park Service came together in cooperation to purchase this pristine area,” Lazar said. “No one agency could do it alone. Together we achieved a major goal.”
Each of the agencies, including the city, is now negotiating to purchase portions of the Broome Ranch from the conservancy once escrow closes next month. Officials have not said exactly what portion of the property the city would acquire or where it would find the money to pay for it.
“The Broome Ranch will be available for our children and our grandchildren,” Lazar said. “What a legacy. I can’t think of a better one.”
Lazar, who served as mayor for nine months, said she was also proud of the city’s efforts during her tenure to get more community involvement in future development issues. Together with Zeanah, she held several public meetings and sent out surveys to gather comments from residents on the city’s General Plan.
Building on the successful General Plan forums, Zeanah said she intends to hold regular town hall meetings, including question and answer sessions with city staff members, during her nine-month stint as mayor.
To further boost residents’ involvement, Zeanah requested that the city develop an electronic bulletin board accessible to home computer users. Eventually, she said, she would like the city to offer routine permits through computer programs.
Despite their announced commitments to helping the business community, both Zeanah and Lazar said the local economy has been able to ride out the recession remarkably well.
Sales tax revenues generated in the city have increased modestly but steadily, Lazar said. Both Amgen Inc. and the Janss Mall are planning expansions.
Lazar also pointed out that The Oaks mall is undergoing a $7-million face-lift, with a grand reopening planned this weekend.
“I am proud that a majority of the council supported these improvements,” Lazar said. Both Zeanah and Councilwoman Jaime Zukowski voted against the mall’s proposal to spruce up its entrance-ways with purple and green canopies and install highly visible monument signs.
But Zeanah, who has often been at odds with Lazar on a variety of issues, said she was not disturbed by Lazar’s comments.
“You can have disagreements without being divisive,” Zeanah said. “I want to leave divisiveness out of my conduct. One of the things I want to do (as mayor) is bring harmony to the council.”
Even as she promised to keep the peace among council members, however, Zeanah pledged to take on the political establishment--a promise that makes some veteran council members uneasy.
“We owe it to . . . the public to revisit all systems, to ensure that models which were once enlightened, efficient and cost-effective have not become encrusted, co-opted by special interests or an unnecessary drain on tax dollars,” she said.
Zeanah emphasized that her top priority will be enlisting residents to fight against gang activities in a city that has consistently been rated as one of the safest of its size.
“We may still be one of the safest cities around, but is that good enough?” she asked. “I don’t think so. It’s time we looked beyond the same old comparisons. It’s time to draw the line and say: ‘This is our community. We won’t take it any more.’ ”
Although the rotating mayoral post is largely ceremonial, the mayor does have some influence in setting council agendas, chairing the weekly meetings and directing staff members to pursue pet projects. Even before she was sworn in, Zeanah got a taste of the mayor’s increased visibility after Lazar finished her speech.
As she left the podium, Zeanah was immediately barraged by reporters, television crews and representatives of Assemblyman Nao Takasugi and state Sen. Cathie Wright (R-Simi Valley).
After Zeanah’s completes her mayoral duties, veteran Councilman Alex Fiore will take over the post for six months, allowing him to cap off his long political career with a final stint as mayor.