Voters Hold Key to Supervisors’ Happiness in ‘96 : County: Board wants a hospital wing and solutions to trash and library problems. Related questions will be on March ballot.
So what will it take to make Ventura County supervisors happy in 1996?
A new outpatient wing at the Ventura County Medical Center would be nice. Or maybe a replacement for the soon-to-be-closed Bailard Landfill in Oxnard. Better yet, a rescue plan that includes lots of extra
cash for the troubled county library system.
But what the supervisors get will depend largely on what the voters want, because it is they who will be asked to make many of the critical decisions facing the county in 1996.
“It’s going to be a tough year in some respects,” said Supervisor Judy Mikels. “But I think it’s going to be a good year because we’re finally going to see some resolution to some long-standing issues.”
The new year will kick off with a flurry of campaign activity, as candidates gear up for three supervisor races, as well as four state and two congressional contests, in the March 26 primary.
In addition to deciding these races, voters will be asked to consider major health care and trash issues that could have far-reaching effects for the county.
In the first instance, they will decide whether the county should sell $51 million in bond-like certificates to pay for a new outpatient wing at the county hospital.
The proposed walk-in care clinic has been the subject of an intensely bitter and costly legal battle between the county and Community Memorial Hospital, located two blocks from the medical center in Ventura.
Representatives of the private, nonprofit hospital contend that the outpatient wing is part of an ongoing campaign to attract private patients in a highly competitive health-care industry.
County officials argue that the new wing is not part of a hospital expansion as alleged, but a consolidation of existing facilities now housed in leased and, in some cases, dilapidated buildings. They said the new facility would make its clinic system, which primarily serves the poor and uninsured, more efficient and save the county $1 million a year on rent alone.
More than half of the project’s costs are expected to come from federal grant money, the rest from hospital revenues. But Community Memorial officials said that with Congress threatening to cut back health-care funding, the county cannot count on federal money.
After losing a lawsuit to block the project, Community Memorial hired professional signature gatherers to collect the names of more than 40,000 registered voters to put a countywide referendum on the issue on the spring ballot. If successful, the referendum would void the supervisors’ earlier decision to approve a financing plan for the project.
Mikels said the county is mandated by the state to care for the poor and uninsured and that contracting with Community Memorial or other private hospitals to take over this responsibility would mean higher health-care costs down the road.
“There are some things that cannot be privatized,” she said. “I believe the only way we’re going to control costs to the taxpayers is if we do it, given the escalating costs of medical care.”
But Mikels acknowledged that persuading voters that this is the way to go will not be easy.
“There’s no question that it’s going to be very difficult because there is a lot of misinformation out there,” she said. “But I’ve always had an awful lot of faith in the voters that they will do what is best.”
Another issue that county voters will wrestle with in the March primary will be whether to approve construction of a landfill in Weldon Canyon north of Ventura. The dump, vigorously opposed by Ventura and Ojai residents, would replace Bailard Landfill in Oxnard, scheduled to close in July.
Most supervisors oppose a Weldon Canyon dump, saying they prefer to explore alternatives, including shipping more trash to the Simi Valley Landfill or other sites in Los Angeles County.
Backers of the Weldon Canyon project have forged ahead with their plans anyway, sponsoring an expensive signature-gathering campaign to qualify a landfill initiative for the spring ballot.
The operator of the publicly owned Toland Road Landfill near Santa Paula has also weighed in with a proposal to expand the tiny dump to handle all west county trash. Nearly $1 million has already been spent on an environmental study of the proposed project.
Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Maggie Kildee said she opposes both the Weldon and Toland proposals because of environmental and cost concerns. She said shipping more west county trash to the Simi Valley Landfill might be the best and cheapest answer. The landfill operator there has offered to slash dumping fees as much as $10 a ton if a long-term guarantee can be secured for trash shipments from cities in western Ventura County.
“If Simi Valley works, the people in the west county will be happy, and the people who own the landfill will be happy,” Kildee said. “The only people who will not be happy are the ones who want Weldon.”
But Supervisor Frank Schillo said he does not support shipping more west county trash to Simi Valley.
“I don’t like it because all of the trash trucks will come through Thousand Oaks,” said Schillo, whose district includes that city. “That means Thousand Oaks is going to take the brunt of it. Maybe we ought to put that on the ballot, too.”
Still, Schillo said he expects that the west county trash issue, which has been debated for nearly a decade, will finally come to a head in 1996.
“It may not be what I like, but undoubtedly it will be resolved one way or the other,” he said.
One of the most difficult questions facing county officials and residents this year will be what to do about the financially troubled county Library Services Agency.
The agency has lost nearly half of its $10-million budget in the past three years because of state budget cuts and is scrambling to find alternative funding solutions in 1996. Although the county has contributed more than $2.5 million in subsidies to the library system in the past three years, county officials have said that the system cannot depend on such help this year.
Library officials have warned that as many as four of the county’s 16 libraries will have to close in March because of a lack of money. Among those targeted for closure are the Oak Park Library, the Avenue Library in Ventura and the Oak View and Meiners Oaks libraries in the Ojai Valley.
Residents of Piru, the Ojai Valley and Camarillo as well as the unincorporated areas around that city will vote next spring on whether to tax themselves to help subsidize their libraries.
Schillo has proposed breaking up the county library system and creating a library federation that would give cities more control over expenses. The supervisor said a federation would help cut overhead costs and allow libraries to extend operating hours with the money saved.
But some officials are unconvinced that a library federation is the answer.
“I know Supervisor Schillo is saying that setting up a federation will save enough money to run the libraries,” said Camarillo City Manager Bill Little. “But that’s just not correct. The county right now is putting in $1 million to run the libraries. Somebody has to pick up the costs.”
Besides, Little said, a federation at best would only be able to maintain existing library hours, which have been drastically scaled back over the years. He said the only way to improve the service is through a tax. The city has placed a $25 parcel tax on the spring ballot.
The new year will also see three supervisor seats up for election. Incumbents John Flynn and Susan Lacey both will be looking to hold onto their jobs, but Kildee has announced that she will step down at the end of the year.
Kildee, 63, said she is retiring to spend more time with her husband, who turned 75 in August.
In state legislative races, Assemblyman Nao Takasugi (R-Oxnard), Assemblyman Brooks Firestone (R-Los Olivos) and state Sen. Cathie Wright (R-Simi Valley) will all seek reelection. But Assemblywoman Paula Boland (R-Granada Hills), whose district includes Simi Valley and Fillmore, is giving up her seat to run for the state Senate in another district.
At the federal level, Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Simi Valley) will seek a fifth term, and Rep. Anthony Beilenson (D-Woodland Hills), whose district includes Thousand Oaks, has decided to retire. Beilenson said he has grown tired of the increasingly partisan bickering in Washington.