ELECTIONS / VENTURA CITY COUNCIL : Collart and Tuttle Make Overtures to Business

TIMES STAFF WRITER

When Ventura City Councilmen Todd Collart and Gary Tuttle first ran for office in 1989, the dominant issue was growth. Supported by the environmental community, they rode to victory on a slow-growth platform, promising to curb development and preserve a high quality of life.

Four years later, in the midst of a relentless recession, the two are running for reelection Nov. 2. But this time, they are downplaying environmental causes and emphasizing economic issues.

Critics and supporters alike say Tuttle and Collart are cozying up to the business community to win reelection, which the candidates deny.

In any case, environmentalists maintain that Collart and Tuttle are still voting correctly on the big issues. Some business leaders agree with that assessment--and wonder whether they can trust Collart and Tuttle to support their interests.

"They moved closer to the middle. They seem to be voting along the business line," said Guy Wysinger, president of the Ventura Chamber of Commerce. But given the economic environment, he said, that's not surprising.

"It doesn't make any political sense now to stand against reasonable development, because that's what brings in the money. It's political suicide. I'm not sure where they would be in a non-election year."

Collart and Tuttle and their supporters say they have been forced to soften their stances and concede some issues because they are a minority on the seven-member council, which is dominated by pro-business interests.

"I've grabbed hands with the other side and held on to my principles," Tuttle said. "We're in the minority anyway. I don't want to lose on every vote."

Collart says he is campaigning differently this time because the issues are different.

"Four years ago, we didn't have the state yanking millions and millions of dollars from the city's pockets," Collart said. "The economy is much different now. I don't think philosophically my position has changed."

Ventura voters will select four council members from a field of 14. In addition to Tuttle and Collart, Councilman Jim Monahan is seeking reelection and can count on strong support from the business community. The fourth incumbent, Cathy Bean, is not running.

In their campaign literature, Tuttle and Collart highlight economic concerns such as revitalizing downtown, retaining businesses and attracting tourism. Collart is distributing a seven-point plan to promote business.

Four years ago, the pair's ballot statements were devoted almost entirely to environmental issues.

Collart and Tuttle, both 45, came to politics from vastly different backgrounds.

A land-use planner for the county, Collart was on the Parks and Recreation Commission for nearly 10 years and sat on the city's Planning Commission and the Citizens' General Plan Advisory Committee. He spent $19,211 in his first election and was the top vote-getter, with 11,304 votes.

Tuttle, a former world-class runner, owns an athletic shoe store in Ventura and got involved in city politics through grass-roots environmental groups. Like Collart, Tuttle was heavily backed in his first race by the Patagonia company, a local outdoor clothing manufacturer. He spent $11,048 in his first election and came in second with 11,018 votes.

On the council, they exhibit very different styles. Collart's colleagues say he tends to study issues in depth and sometimes gets caught up in details. Tuttle, they say, has a more populist streak and responds more to emotional appeals from residents. Along with Bean, they are viewed as the council's environmental bloc.

Their problems with the business community began early in their terms.

Five months after they were elected, Tuttle and Collart supported a resolution backing away from the city's support for building a Cal State campus at Taylor Ranch.

Business leaders thought the university would pump millions of dollars into the local economy, and many have not forgiven Collart and Tuttle for opposing it.

"People have long memories," the chamber's Wysinger said.

Both Collart and Tuttle said their vote against the university will not be a major campaign issue because a new site has been found in Camarillo.

"I ran on a platform of not having a university and carried through," Tuttle said, adding that he would vote the same way today.

Collart said not all Ventura residents wanted a four-year university in the city. "We had a community that was divided," he said.

While opposing the university four years ago on environmental grounds, the two are now joining all the other candidates in supporting the proposed expansion of Buenaventura Plaza. Their stance dismays some environmentalists.

"I think because of the economic climate they feel like they have to say they're in favor of it," said Karen Mayer, a mall neighbor and a vocal opponent of expansion. "They might feel that the whole business community would come down on them."

Collart and Tuttle emphasized that while they support the idea of the mall expansion, they will carefully consider the environmental impacts. According to the preliminary environmental-impact report, about 14,000 more cars will come to the area every day.

"I support the expansion of the mall, but I don't rubber-stamp it," Tuttle said.

Collart said he is unhappy with the proposed design, but added: "I support it in concept."

Environmentalists have also been concerned about the pair's recent support for changes in the city's housing policy.

In their campaigns four years ago, they promised to support keeping the city's population at 102,000, as outlined in the Comprehensive Plan. But in May, they voted in favor of a measure that could boost the city's population to about 106,578 by 1996.

Collart and Tuttle said they support the additional growth because the city has more water to sustain it, thanks to recent wet winters, conservation measures and new wells.

Environmentalists and business leaders say Tuttle has been more aggressive than Collart in wooing the business community.

"I would say that Gary has done--and I hate to use this word--more pandering than Todd," Bean said.

Last week, when the council was deciding whether a developer should have to pay additional traffic-mitigation fees, Tuttle voted with the majority to give the developer a break, while Collart dissented.

Explaining his vote, Tuttle said, "Traffic is a concern, but it's not as important as economic vitality."

Tuttle, who has been in business for 17 years, joined the Chamber of Commerce this year after approaching chamber officials for an endorsement, Wysinger said.

"I know that Gary has courted the chamber," Wysinger said. "He was encouraged to join." Tuttle said he became a chamber member this year because "I thought the chamber had changed from four years ago. There are more progressive people there."

He added: "I didn't get the chamber endorsement because I'm not pro-business enough."

Monahan was the only incumbent to win the chamber's endorsement this month. The business group also backed Rosa Lee Measures, Ken Schmitz and Clark Owens.

The other candidates are Steve Bennett, a Nordhoff High School teacher; Nancy Cloutier, publisher of the Ventura County & Coast Reporter; Neil Demers-Grey, a secretary; Charles Kistner, a political consultant; Dick Massa, who owns a medical-supply company; Brian Lee Rencher, a Ventura College student; Virginia Weber, an educational grants administrator, and Carol Dean Williams, a local activist.

Despite Tuttle and Collart's overtures, some in the business community are still suspicious, said Jim Salzer, who owns Salzer's Video.

"My perception is that Todd Collart is not necessarily changing his stance. He's still this myopic idealist," Salzer said. "Gary has done a lot to win friends. Gary is willing to say or do anything at this time."

Tuttle denies that. "I'm not pandering to anybody, and that makes both sides unhappy."

Tuttle and Collart said that because they are outnumbered by pro-business council members, they must compromise on some issues.

Neil Moyer, president of the Environmental Coalition of Ventura, agreed.

"They've had to adjust their courses and be more pragmatic," Moyer said. "They have to try to eke out small accommodations. One doesn't gain much by going down in flames all the time."

Both Collart and Tuttle point to the greenbelt issue as an example of how they reached a satisfactory compromise.

During their last campaign, they called for establishing a long-term greenbelt between Ventura and Oxnard, but in May, they settled for a five-year agreement.

Collart, Tuttle and Bean initially voted against the five-year clause, arguing that it would be a minimal commitment to the greenbelt. But they were outnumbered by the rest of the council, which eventually voted unanimously to establish a five-year greenbelt.

"Five years is better than nothing," Tuttle said.

Collart agreed. "It was an acceptable compromise from what I ideally would have liked."

Last December, the trio was outnumbered by the pro-business faction when the council voted on whether to allow nine-month stays at the Ventura Beach RV Resort.

The environmental community had fought unsuccessfully in 1985 to prevent development of the park, which sits at the mouth of the Ventura River. The park was flooded in February, 1992, and dozens of recreational vehicles were damaged.

In reconsidering the park's permit last year, Collart, Tuttle and Bean objected to long-term stays at the park, contending that it should be for recreational use only.

That vote, and their continued support of a proposed desalination plant, still endear them to the environmental community. Although some activists are unhappy about their concessions, Tuttle and Collart were endorsed by local environmental groups this year.

"I think on the big issues they're still voting consistently," said Cheryl Brant, spokeswoman for the Voters Coalition of Ventura, a grass-roots environmental group that helped elect the pair in 1989. "With any politician, you're never going to be completely satisfied."

Environmentalists say they are reluctant to be too harsh in their criticism because few candidates from the environmental camp are running this year.

"The environmental community would support Gary and Todd even if their decisions have not been the best," said Roma Armbrust, a local activist. "I question whether their reelection has colored their decisions. But I think the environmental community will take what's available."

FYI

Ventura voters will fill four seats on the City Council from a field of 14 candidates in the Nov. 2 election. Oct. 4 is the last day to register.

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