Although he has never run for public office before, rancher Carter Ward says he is running for Ventura County supervisor because he has ideas for keeping a lid on property taxes while generating more revenue for the county.
One solution, Ward says, would be for the county to consider a long-dormant proposal to build a world-class marina along a 2 1/2-mile stretch of beach property near the Los Angeles County line.
The project was initially proposed by landowner Lee Mansdorf a decade ago, but never seriously pursued with county leaders. It would include a separate development on 1,100 acres Mansdorf owns nearby with several luxury estates, two hotels, a golf course, a 60-acre lake and other amenities.
Ward estimates the county could generate as much as $5 million annually in tax revenues from a 3,500-slip marina project, money that could be used to pay for law enforcement, fire protection, waste disposal and other county services.
“I don’t think it’s going to hurt the environment, so I think it’s OK,” said Ward, 50, who is competing for the 2nd Supervisorial District seat that covers Thousand Oaks, Oak Park and Port Hueneme.
Ward said he would rather see development of a marina instead of having state and federal park agencies continue to buy up thousands of acres in the Santa Monica Mountains. Those agencies do not contribute to the county tax rolls, he said.
“We need to raise money,” said Ward, who received a $500 campaign contribution from Mansdorf. “I don’t want to have to pay more taxes. It seems like a good deal. The guy owns the land, and I’m a property rights advocate from the word go. I say, why not?”
Ward said he did not enter the supervisorial race at the urging of Mansdorf, but rather because he believes the marina plan fits in with other ideas he has for generating additional revenues for the county.
The proposed Deer Creek Marina--so named because it would be situated along the southern tip of the county near Deer Creek Road--first surfaced in the mid-1980s when Mansdorf began to put together preliminary plans for the project. But the proposal was never brought before the Board of Supervisors for consideration.
Mansdorf said part of the reason is he did not believe the support was there to approve zoning changes for the project. He hopes the proposal will receive positive attention through Ward’s campaign for supervisor.
“Carter likes the project because he realizes that this is a positive use of land and that it will provide revenues for the county and jobs,” he said. “There’s no reason it should be turned down.”
Mansdorf said if the county approves the zoning changes necessary for the project to go forward, he could easily recruit a developer to build the marina and nearby resort. The marina, he said, would be the only one of its kind between Channel Islands Harbor in Oxnard and Marina del Rey.
Mansdorf said an agreement would be worked out under which the county would own the marina, with Mansdorf holding a long-term lease. With the county as owner, he said, it would be easier to get approval for the marina from the California Coastal Commission and other regulatory agencies.
“There’s interest out there from developers,” Mansdorf said. “We have all the engineering and geological reports ready. We just need the permits.”
Another way to raise revenue for the county would be to ease zoning regulations in unincorporated areas to allow estates to be built on 10-acre parcels, Ward said. Zoning now restricts housing construction on lots of 10 to 100 acres in size, with hilltop land being more restricted. But Ward said anything beyond 10 acres makes it too expensive to build.
“We live in a Mediterranean climate where everybody wants to live,” he said. “I say let them come in. But we don’t have to have high density like Los Angeles. I think what we can do is have affluent houses (on 10-acre lots) that pay lots of taxes.”
If elected, Ward, a retired civil engineer, said he would push to do away with what he considers overly restrictive building codes. One example of this, he said, is a county policy that requires households dependent on well water to have the capability of providing up to 7,200 gallons of water per day. Ward said the average daily use of water per person is about 50 gallons.
“There are people who want to build houses but are not permitted because of regulations--regulations that don’t make any sense,” Ward said. “And I’m tired of it, so I’m becoming political.”
Ward’s ideas for generating revenues have raised questions from some of his opponents, including Thousand Oaks Councilman Frank Schillo, former Ventura County Supervisor Madge Schaefer, taxpayer advocate H. Jere Robings and attorney Trudi Loh.
Schillo said the county already owns two of nine marinas operating out of Channel Islands Harbor. He said what makes these marinas different from what Ward is proposing is that they are situated within a protected inlet.
The Deer Creek Marina “would have to be built right out on the ocean, and I have a problem with that,” Schillo said. “I wouldn’t be for it just for the money. I would come at it from the standpoint of aesthetics and from an environmental standpoint.”
Another question that has arisen is whether there is enough demand to support another large marina in the county. Channel Islands Harbor, which has 2,600 boat slips, has a 15% to 20% vacancy rate due in large part to the recession, Harbor Master Frank Anderson said. The 1,500-slip Ventura Harbor reported a similar vacancy rate.
But Ward said the Deer Creek Marina would be different because it would only allow large yachts and sailboats, rather than small motorboats. He added that even if the marina were approved it would probably not be built for three or four years, by which time the economy should be better.
“I think it’s going to be a win-win situation,” Ward said.
Meanwhile, Loh expressed reservations about Ward’s proposal for 10-acre residential lots in unincorporated areas. She said she thought there might be better ways for generating more revenues for the county.
“I would rather see the county spend less money, instead of plowing down our countryside,” she said.
But Ward said if people want to preserve private land as open space, then they should “buy it because I don’t want to buy it with my tax dollars.”
On other issues, Ward said he believes the county Fire Department in the future should share in revenues generated from the Proposition 172 sales tax measure approved by state voters last fall to fund public safety programs. The money is now split among the county’s law enforcement agencies and criminal justice system.
“If the firefighters say they need it, I’m going to have to go along with that,” Ward said, adding that firefighters helped save his hilltop ranch when wildfires swept through Little Sycamore Canyon near Malibu in November.
“I went through the fire of 1993 with great admiration for the Fire Department,” Ward said. “I saw the most efficient group of men and women work for me than I’ve ever seen before.”
Although a county audit showed that the Fire Department was spending too much on overtime and sick leave, Ward said he would have to examine the report before commenting on it.
Ward said he does not support the creation of a county firefighter paramedic program because it is not clear how it would be financed.
“I would not want to start a program unless I knew how we were going to pay for it,” he said. “Show me how we’re going to pay for it.”
Ward said he supports a proposal to establish a commercial airport at Point Mugu if it can be done without disturbing residents who live in the surrounding area. The Navy has offered to share its runway with the county to cut its operating costs.
“I think it’s a great idea,” Ward said. “But the (potential noise) is a question that we would have to look into.”
On waste management, Ward said he reluctantly backs the development of a new west county landfill at Weldon Canyon near Ojai. Officials and residents there have successfully fought against a dump for years.
With Bailard Landfill in Oxnard scheduled to close in 1997, Ward said, the county has little choice but to develop another landfill to service west county cities. He said he understands Ojai residents’ opposition to a landfill at Weldon Canyon but knows of no other possible site.
“Show me a better place,” Ward said. “I’m on their side. But they need to help me. I haven’t seen a better solution.”
But Ward said the county must start looking for alternatives for disposing of its trash in the future, such as advanced recycling and composting programs. He said during the 20 years he worked at Naval Civil Engineering Laboratory in Port Hueneme he did extensive research on landfills and recycling programs and understands the challenges facing the county.
“Landfills are dangerous,” he said. “We are now entombing our trash. We surround it with plastic, and this is a pathogenic spawning ground for future diseases.”
To further reduce trash flow into landfills, Ward suggested that the county might consider implementing a reward or penalty to households to increase the effectiveness of its recycling programs.
Although Loh has suggested that the county possibly ship its trash by rail to another county or state, Ward said he believes that would be far too expensive.
If a landfill is developed at Weldon Canyon, he said, it should be one with a short life span to further pressure the county into finding other alternatives for trash disposal. “Landfills are not the future,” he said.
On health care, Ward said he does not support a proposed $30-million expansion of the Ventura County Medical Center. He said the county should hold off on its plans for the project until it is known what impact the Clinton Administration’s health-care reforms might have on the local health-care system.
The county project has spurred an opposing campaign by neighboring Community Memorial Hospital in Ventura that considers the public hospital a potential competitor for private patients.
“My understanding is we have too many vacancies in hospitals, and I would never be in favor of a program that would be a loser economically,” he said. “I don’t want to build empty bed spaces.”
But Ward said his main focus will be to generate revenues for the county by working to ease zoning and building regulations. He plans to hold a candidates’ debate at his Dry Gulch Ranch on May 22.
With no name recognition or government experience and little money to spend on his campaign, Ward said he knows he is fighting an uphill battle.
“If I lose, I won’t be disappointed,” he said. “At least I can say I tried.”
Profile of Carter J. Ward
Carter Ward is one of five candidates competing for the seat being vacated by Ventura County Supervisor Maria VanderKolk, whose 2nd District includes Thousand Oaks, Oak Park and Port Hueneme.
Born: Oct. 20, 1943.
Occupation: Retired civil engineer.
Education: Doctorate in engineering from Cornell University.
Background: Retired from the Naval Civil Engineering Laboratory in Port Hueneme in 1991 after 20 years as an engineer; president of the West Malibu Ventura Landowners Assn.; past president of Sigma Xi, an honor society for engineers and scientists.
Quote: “The county needs revenue and I know how to generate it without raising taxes.”