Preservation of county farmland. Development of a commercial airport at Point Mugu. Possible closure of Camarillo State Hospital.
These are some of the issues being debated by the four candidates seeking to replace retiring Supervisor Maggie Kildee, whose sprawling 3rd District includes the cities of Fillmore, Camarillo, Ojai, Santa Paula and portions of Thousand Oaks.
Competing in the March 26 election are Fillmore Mayor Roger Campbell, Camarillo Councilman Mike Morgan and longtime Kildee aides Kathy Long and Al Escoto. If no candidate receives 50% of the vote, a runoff will be held in November.
As the first to enter the race, Campbell promised an aggressive, well-financed campaign that would be victorious in the primary.
So far, he has held true to the first part of his promise, raising far more money--$75,000--than any of his opponents. Along the way, he has picked up the endorsements of Supervisors Frank Schillo and Judy Mikels as well as the county's two most influential political power brokers--Dist. Atty. Michael D. Bradbury and Sheriff Larry Carpenter.
"What the endorsements say about me is that these elected officials see me as someone who can represent their constituency into the 21st century," Campbell said.
But his opponents say the issues--not endorsements or money--are going to determine the outcome of the election.
"Money is not going to buy this election," Escoto says. "The voters are too smart and intelligent for that."
The primary campaign issue for him, Escoto said, is protecting county farmland from being overwhelmed with development as in the San Fernando Valley.
He questioned Campbell's commitment to preserving open space, saying Campbell has received $800 in contributions from officials of Newhall Land & Farming Co., a large Los Angeles County developer that owns thousands of acres in northeastern Ventura County.
Escoto also notes that Campbell opposed establishing a greenbelt between Fillmore and the Los Angeles County line in 1989.
"I'm going to do everything I can to protect the quality of life we have here," Escoto said. "The push to pave has to stop."
Campbell dismissed Escoto's accusations, saying the $800 contribution represents only a fraction of the money he has collected and in no way is going to influence his vote on development issues. He said he has also received numerous contributions from growers throughout the region.
"I've got a [$500] contribution from Sunkist," he said. "They're not interested in development. They're interested in oranges."
As for the greenbelt issue, Campbell said he formed a committee of local landowners to consider the proposal and decided "they wanted government to leave them alone."
Like other candidates in the race, Campbell said he supports the county's Guidelines for Orderly Development, a 26-year-old policy that simply states urban development should occur in and around cities.
Morgan and Long also vowed to protect Ventura County from urban sprawl.
As a councilman, Morgan said he helped write the city's voter-approved slow-growth ordinance in 1983, which limited the number of building permit allocations each year to 400. He said he was also instrumental in establishing the greenbelt agreement between Camarillo and Oxnard.
"Ventura County has the best cropland in the world," he said. "People don't want it to disappear."
Long, a former president of the Camarillo Chamber of Commerce, said she also places a high priority on protecting the open spaces that distinguish the county from its urban neighbors to the south.
"Coming from Los Angeles I'm becoming a NIMBY," she said. "I really do enjoy what we have here in Ventura County, and I want to protect that."
This is why both Long and Morgan said they strongly oppose development of a proposed commercial airport at the Point Mugu Navy base. Both say it would not only create noise and traffic problems for nearby Camarillo, but would promote growth on surrounding agricultural land.
"Burbank and LAX started out as small airports," Morgan said. "Look at what they are today."
Long said she is not convinced there is enough demand either for freight or passenger service to justify spending millions of dollars on a terminal at the base.
"A new airport would become a white elephant," she said. "Look at what is happening in the airline industry right now. They are consolidating and downsizing. They are not looking for new markets."
Campbell and Escoto, on the other hand, said they believe a new commercial airport would be beneficial to the local economy, giving local growers an opportunity to reach distant markets. But they also have serious reservations about potential noise and traffic problems that an airport could create.
If these issues cannot be resolved to the satisfaction of Camarillo residents, Campbell and Escoto said they would not back the proposal.
"It also has to be shown that an airport will be economically viable; so far that has not been proven," Campbell said.
On another major issue, the candidates are split on what to do about the potential closure of 60-year-old Camarillo State Hospital, which supports 1,500 jobs and an annual payroll of $80 million.
Gov. Pete Wilson has recommended that the hospital be shut down because of dwindling patient loads. But state mental health officials have said it could remain open if it were converted to a medium-security hospital that treated mentally ill criminals, including sexual predators.
Both Campbell and Long said they would like to see the hospital remain open as it is, but would support turning the hospital into a medium-security facility to protect jobs on the site if necessary.
Morgan and Escoto oppose such a move.
Incensed by his position, hospital employees have begun actively campaigning against Morgan, going so far as to boycott some of the businesses that support him.
But Morgan said he is not backing down. He said he opposes sexual predators being sent to the hospital because of security concerns.
"I think our community deserves better than that," he said. "To me, this is not about politics. It's about what's right for the community."
Morgan said he would prefer to see the hospital converted to a new Juvenile Hall or possibly a four-year public university.
Escoto said he too would rather explore other options than to have mentally ill criminals transferred to the hospital. "I couldn't endorse that," he said. "I think that's too much of a risk to the community."
With the election only 16 days away, the candidates are hoping to distinguish themselves in the race by emphasizing their varied backgrounds and experience both in and outside government.
Campbell, who ran a strong but unsuccessful race for the state Senate in 1992, said his 12 years of experience in city government and nearly two decades in the auto repair business have prepared him well for the job of supervisor.
He said he wants to improve the county's economic climate by continuing to cut down on government regulations and fees imposed on businesses. "I want to make government more friendly to business," he said. "We're driving a lot of businesses out of this county. That needs to stop."
Although she has never held elective office, Long said she also has extensive government experience, having worked for the city of Detroit and for former Los Angeles Councilwoman Pat Russell before hiring on with Kildee in 1991.
As Kildee's top aide, Long said she has gained valuable regional experience by working closely with constituents throughout the 3rd District, the largest of the five supervisorial districts.
Long said she is also sensitive to the struggle of small-business owners. She and her husband together established a flea extermination business and a carpet-cleaning service that he still manages. "I've had all of this training," Long said. "I feel like it's time for me to step into the elected process and give back to the community."
Of all the candidates, Morgan has held elected office longer than any of the others. During his 16 years on the council, he said he helped write the city's slow-growth ordinance and to build a new outdoor arts pavilion.
"I'm a person who has been in the bullring," he said. "So when people talk about their experience, look at what they've done, not what they say they're going to do."
As for Escoto, he has spent the past four decades working for the county, including 27 years as an engineer and administrator for the Public Works Department.
In addition to serving on numerous commissions and public organizations, he was elected to one four-year term on the Santa Paula City Council, losing reelection in 1988. Escoto considers his extensive government experience an asset, not a liability as some of his opponents do.
"I know more legislators than any of them," he said. "I know every department in the county. I know how to do things."