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Despite Success, Open Space Plan Still Hot Issue

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Planning Commissioner Linda Parks’ initiative to protect public open space from development may already have qualified for the November ballot, but politicking on the measure is far from over.

Tuesday, Councilwoman Elois Zeanah and other Parks supporters accused Mayor Andy Fox of trying to steal the limelight from Parks, a likely future City Council candidate. Fox said he would seek to have the initiative approved by the council instead of placing it before Thousand Oaks voters in the fall.

“With the Parks initiative being on the ballot, that would give Linda a lot of visibility,” Zeanah said. “Let’s face it: He’s the head of the pro-growth council, and this is a smart political move on their part.

“That initiative was such a powerful message that he is trying to put his political spin on it quick,” Zeanah added. “He sees this as a political plum for Linda, and he is concerned.”

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Fox said he is outraged by such implications. He said he simply wants to respond to the public’s clear support for the growth-limitation measure.

“Politics, that’s the problem with this city right now,” Fox said. “Mrs. Zeanah and Mrs. [Jaime] Zukowski are more concerned about petty politics than serving the community. I think it would be irresponsible of me to ignore the public’s feelings on this. That’s why I’m doing this.

“The only possible reason for them to criticize me is for political motivations,” he added. “Here I am, saying I want to approve this, and they are questioning me. That only exposes their true agenda.”

The seats of council members Zukowski and Mike Markey are up for election this year. Markey has said he would seek reelection, while Zukowski has indicated she will not seek a second term.

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The Parks initiative would prevent any publicly owned open space from being rezoned for development without a majority vote of Thousand Oaks residents. Privately owned land that is vacant would not be affected.

Despite having less than one month to collect signatures, Parks and her volunteers were easily able to qualify the measure for the November ballot. County elections officials estimated that 80% of Parks’ 11,011 signatures were valid--much more than the 6,403 needed.

By law, the City Council must now send the measure onto the ballot or approve it in the form of an ordinance. The ordinance would have to be accepted as written and could not be amended by the council later.

Parks, who said Wednesday that she has still not determined whether she will run for the council, said she has no preference whether the council adopts her measure as law or places it on the ballot. Either way, she is confident of its success.

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“In my mind, it’s going to become a law, because the people have shown support for this,” Parks said.

She believes Fox is trying to prevent her and other possible slow-growth candidates from seizing open space as their key issue in the fall.

“This is not about saving money, because they’ve already counted the signatures, that’s what costs a lot,” Parks said. “If Andy Fox was concerned about saving money, he would have voted to put this on the ballot before, but he didn’t. This is about one thing, and that’s making sure open space doesn’t become a big campaign issue.”

Zukowski agreed. She said Fox and others may try to diminish Parks’ accomplishment, but that the political battle has been won.

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“There have been a lot of efforts to politicize this initiative and construe this as something more than protecting parks,” Zukowski said. “This is a major achievement for the residents of Thousand Oaks, and it should help Linda if she decides to become a candidate, whether the initiative appears on the ballot or not.”

Parks’ initiative could be the second successful attempt by Ventura County residents to wrest some critical land use decisions from their city councils. Ventura voters last year approved a measure to protect farmland from being zoned for development.

But unlike the Ventura farmland ordinance, Parks’ initiative does not override anyone’s private property rights: It only covers public open space.

Although Parks and her supporters believe developers would spend huge sums in a bid to defeat her measure if placed on the ballot, no one other than the city of Thousand Oaks, the Conejo Recreation and Park District and the National Park Service is directly affected.

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Fox said he supports enacting Parks’ initiative because of the public’s widespread support. He said, however, that he believes the initiative does not truly address the concerns of many Thousand Oaks residents who want to prevent their city from turning into a dense urban grid like the San Fernando Valley.

Toward that end, he plans to press on with his own growth-control initiative, which would require developments that exceed the General Plan’s guidelines for density to go before voters for approval.

Zeanah lampooned Fox’s plan, saying it was a failed attempt to derail Parks’ initiative and should now be cast aside.

“His ploy to present a rival ordinance to compete with Linda clearly did not work,” Zeanah said. “He’s trying to save face.”

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Fox, meanwhile, accused Zeanah and Zukowski of trying to create schisms at a time when he is offering an olive branch.

“There is a clear effort by Councilwomen Zeanah and Zukowski to divide the community at a time when we are trying to come together,” Fox said. “I’m not saying ‘they’re wrong, I’m right.’ I’m saying, ‘The people have spoken, and . . . as their representative we need to take action.’ That’s all.”


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