Sharpening their rhetoric on key issues facing the community, 10 City Council candidates fielded a barrage of questions from residents Tuesday night at a forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters.
More than 60 people attended the two-hour event, which was the fourth such session held this election season. Twelve candidates are vying for three open council seats to be decided with the Nov. 7 ballot.
Like at past forums, the top questions posed to the candidates hinged on their positions regarding two restrictive land-use initiatives also on the ballot and one of three initiatives aimed at bailing out the county's financially crippled library system.
The candidates are divided on Measure I and Measure J, which would prohibit urban development on Ventura farmland for decades.
Candidates Ray Di Guilio, Charles E. (Buster) Davis, Craig Huntington and Brian Lee Rencher oppose the measures. They told the audience that the twin initiatives infringe on farmers' property rights and violate plans already developed by city leaders and the community.
"We have worked very hard on a comprehensive plan," Huntington said of the city's chief planning document, which restricts development in Ventura's greenbelts until the year 2010. "This is not the way to do it, ladies and gentlemen."
But six other candidates told the crowd that the measures would protect rapidly diminishing farmland and prevent elected officials from being swayed by developers.
Donna De Paola-Peterson, Christopher T. Staubach, Keith Burns, John S. Jones, Carroll Dean Williams and Stephen Hartmann all said they support the measures and said that they expect them to win voter approval.
"What are we going to be when we have concrete buildings everywhere?" Staubach asked. His comments were echoed by other candidates.
"This will," Hartmann said, "firm up what is needed to keep farmers from shifting that land and having it rezoned."
The majority of the candidates said they support Measure L, which would impose a $35-per-parcel tax on Ventura residents to aid cash-strapped libraries. But two candidates--Rencher and Huntington--came out against the tax, saying that they believe the city should wrest control of local libraries from the county.
"This is solving nothing," Rencher said. "The only way to get the libraries we want is to drop out of County Library Services."
Rencher's argument, however, was quickly countered by Burns, a member of the city's library advisory board.
"The library measure is not perfect," he said, "but it is a partial solution."
But in one of the first displays of outright frustration, more than one candidate lashed out at residents for fixating on issues that will be decided by the time new council members take office.
"I think we shouldn't even be discussing" the initiatives, Di Guilio said. When the three successful candidates take their council seats, he said, all three matters will have been determined.
Other questions posed to the candidates focused on a proposal to construct a $70-million baseball stadium and entertainment complex near the Ventura Auto Mall, building a long-awaited seawater desalination plant, and finding ways to increase city revenues by boosting tourism and attracting new businesses.
Incumbent Councilman Jack Tingstrom and candidate James Friedman were unable to attend the forum.