During the past four years, two longtime friends have been considered by many to be the point of breakdown between the Thousand Oaks Planning Commission and the City Council.
When Commissioner Marilyn Carpenter would swing a 3-2 commission vote against a project, Councilwoman Judy Lazar would switch the vote on appeal--providing the key voice to pass it. Now, as the council prepares to select new commissioners, Carpenter, who was first nominated by Lazar four years ago, is the front runner for appointment to a second term--but this time by her council rival Elois Zeanah.
Carpenter’s jump from one chair to another would appear to some a cosmetic change, but commissioners argue that a switch could help their board cooperate with the council and give them greater influence over development decisions.
“Right now we’re getting our decisions overturned, and I think that lack of consistency is troubling to all of us,” Commissioner Linda Parks said. “We want to get away from all the politics and the friction.”
Parks said she believes the commission has lost influence in the city because of the differences between the two boards. Last year, for example, the council voted to bypass the commission when considering all city-funded projects.
“I’d like to see the commission more involved in planning decisions rather than less,” Parks said. “Maybe if we can cooperate better we will become more involved.”
Both Carpenter and Lazar agree that their split over development issues has been a cause for frustration.
“Of course, I’d say it’s difficult to see your decisions overturned,” Carpenter said. “When Judy originally talked with me about taking this position she asked if I was a no-growth person and I said, ‘No, of course not.”’
A check of Carpenter’s voting record shows she has, indeed, supported some development. But she has come down against many of the city’s most controversial projects--projects which Lazar supported.
They included the Thousand Oaks Auto Mall sign, the Amgen expansion, the Civic Arts Plaza specific plan and the 44-acre Cohan development.
Lazar said the disagreements caused her constituents concern, and left her in a difficult position.
“Marilyn and I are good friends, but I don’t think that Marilyn’s views and mine mesh any longer,” Lazar said. “And I don’t think it makes sense for me to reappoint a commissioner who is so out of sync with my own views.”
Just what caused the ideological rift between Lazar and Carpenter is the source of considerable debate.
“My feeling is that Judy has undergone a change since coming into office,” Parks said. “Her positions on growth issues seem to have shifted away from where Marilyn is and has stayed.”
Lazar’s supporters said they disagree.
“I think Judy has always been the type of person who is not prepared to give a decision until she’s heard both sides,” said Steve Rubenstein, executive director of the Conejo Valley Chamber of Commerce. “I don’t thing she’s ever been someone who can be pegged.”
Whatever the cause of the differences between the two, the split made it unlikely that Carpenter would be reappointed for a second term.
“I think that would be very unfortunate,” Zeanah said, adding that she was considering nominating Carpenter to improve cooperation between the City Council and the Planning Commission.
“I think generally our points of view are similar, and that’s important,” Zeanah said. “And, my feeling is that it would be a shame not to have someone of (Carpenter’s) experience on the commission,” Zeanah said.
While Zeanah said she has not made a final decision to nominate Carpenter, she is strongly favoring appointment of the longtime Thousand Oaks resident. Zeanah’s current appointment is Commission Chairman Irving Wasserman, who said he did not expect to be renominated.
Carpenter’s supporters credit her for what they say is her ability to weigh each project’s merits and faults without being influenced politically.
“She has shown a fairness that is critical on the Planning Commission,” Zeanah said. “And I think she has a perspective, having been involved in so much of this city’s planning, that few people can offer.”
Her critics, however, contend that she is not open to the advantages of growth in Thousand Oaks.
Commissioner Mervyn Kopp, who often sides against Carpenter in votes, said he believes she adheres too strictly to her perception of the city’s general plan.
“Marilyn has constantly chosen a narrow interpretation of the general plan,” he said. “But the general plan has left a lot of room here for growth.”
Carpenter explains her philosophy by describing the climate in Thousand Oaks when she first arrived here in the early 1960s.
Shortly after she moved from Glendale to Thousand Oaks, a major aerospace firm announced plans to build a factory near her home.
“When I got involved in the fight against that, I learned how much the public could make a difference here,” Carpenter said. “I learned that in Thousand Oaks, you can fight City Hall.”