Using everything from radio spots to newspaper ads to direct-mail advertising, a group trying to oust Councilwoman Elois Zeanah has undertaken a wide-ranging media blitz that has already topped spending records for recalls in Thousand Oaks.
Zeanah said she believes the main reason her political opponents are trying to recall her now instead of attempting to unseat her when she faces reelection next year is money.
She is referring to Proposition 208, a new state law that limits individual campaign contributions to $250 in local races but places no such restrictions on recalls.
“They can spend whatever they want right now to bring me down,” Zeanah said. “And they know they can’t do that in the 1998 election.”
The anti-Zeanah group, which calls itself Yes! Remove Elois Zeanah, cites much different reasons for choosing not to wait until next year’s election. The group’s members say they are tired of what they see as Zeanah’s conspiracy theories on the city’s proposed $75-million sewer plant upgrade and unfounded accusations of financial boogeymen lurking in every corner of City Hall.
Besides, committee spokesman Peter J. Turpel said, it is easier for them to command the attention of voters during a nonelection period.
“I’ve been asked a thousand times, ‘Why don’t you wait until the next council election?’ ” Turpel said. “Well, the next election is 22 months away. That’s a long time and it’s hard enough to get your message out now.”
Although the anti-Zeanah group has declined to reveal its spending, this much is certain:
* The group, formed to oust the slow-growth activist, has purchased an eight- to 10-week package of 60-second advertisements on KNJO, a Conejo Valley-based radio station.
Rick Lemmo, the station’s general manager, declined to say how much the entire package costs, citing his client’s right to privacy. In an average week, he said, the group runs 41 to 58 spots. Such advertisements cost $40 to $52 each, depending on how many are bought, he said.
That places the total spending on radio commercials at between $13,120, two months’ worth of 41 ads a week at the cheapest rate, and $30,160, 10 weeks’ worth of 58 weekly spots at the highest price. Lemmo stressed that the figures on ad frequency were averages and could vary by as much as 12% from week to week.
* The group is running an average of three small advertisements three times a week for a month in the Thousand Oaks Star and has placed a one-page insert in the newspaper, Turpel said.
The rate for such ads is $213.75, according to the newspaper’s advertising department. That comes to $7,695.
One-page inserts cost $25 per 1,000 households and usually go out to an average of 18,000 homes in Thousand Oaks, according to the newspaper’s advertising department. That places the cost of the notice at $450, given an average distribution.
* Targeting frequent Thousand Oaks voters, the group has sent two direct-mail fliers listing reasons why Zeanah should be ousted, Turpel said.
Strong & Associates, the Thousand Oaks graphics firm hired to design the two-color mailers, could not be reached for comment, and Turpel said he did not know how many had been distributed. But political consultant Debra Creadick, who has worked on numerous Ventura County campaigns, said such mailings usually cost at least $5,500 each for printing and postage.
* Although Turpel said the group’s volunteer ranks include 125 residents, the group has also hired Progressive Campaigns, a Santa Monica-based professional petitioning firm, to help gather signatures.
Ten professional petitioners, assisted by local witnesses in order to comply with election laws, have been canvassing for signatures at local supermarkets and stores for about a month.
The group announced last week that it had gathered 10,000 signatures and hopes to collect 5,000 more. It is unclear how many of those were gathered by professionals and how much Progressive Campaigns is being paid. But such firms typically earn between $1 and $3 per valid signature, so the tab could reach $30,000. A more likely figure, Creadick said, is $15,000 to $20,000.
By contrast, the unsuccessful five-year effort to recall former Mayor Alex Fiore, and later, former Councilman Frank Schillo, cost a total of $13,945. It ended in 1993.
Zeanah contends the money being spent to recall her is setting records for Thousand Oaks and shows that the anti-Zeanah group is being funded by out-of-town special interests and developers.
“It’s unprecedented,” Zeanah said. “The initiative process has always been grass-roots in our community. Obviously, this campaign, just judging from the estimated costs of their mailers, their ads and their fliers, has spent more in just a few weeks than any candidate has ever spent in a City Council race. This is big money.”
The most money ever spent in a Thousand Oaks council race is $45,854, by Trudi Loh in her unsuccessful 1995 special election bid.
The anti-Zeanah group has decided not to disclose any financial information before it is required by law to do so in April. Turpel said the group fears harassment against residents and business owners who have contributed.
“We will not do so beforehand, as we feel the opposition is retaliatory, volatile and reactionary,” Turpel said. “In order to protect the contributors, we feel it is best to hold to the letter of the law.”
City Clerk Nancy Dillon said last week that due to a new 1997 state law governing recalls, committees must now file finance reports during nonelection periods four times a year instead of twice a year, as was previously required.
If enough signatures are gathered to prompt a special recall election, there will be additional filing requirements, Dillon said. She projected that recall committees would have to file at least four more financial reports between now and the time of an election.
The recall drive against Zeanah has spawned a counter effort to oust her pro-business adversaries, Mayor Judy Lazar and Councilman Andy Fox.
Residents For Slow Growth, a group formed to support Zeanah, and Residents to Recall Fox and Lazar, a group formed to give Zeanah’s foes the boot, each have spent less than $1,000, according to organizers of the committees.
To qualify their measures for the ballot, each recall committee must collect signatures from 15% of the city’s 69,049 registered voters--10,357 in all. The anti-Zeanah group is fast approaching that benchmark, while Residents to Recall Fox and Lazar have not begun to gather signatures.
Groups have 160 days from the date that recall papers are certified to gather the signatures. Once petitions are filed, it takes 30 work days--or about six weeks--to verify signatures, county elections chief Bruce Bradley said. If the recall measure has enough valid signatures, it qualifies for the next ballot.
On that ballot, voters would also choose from a list of candidates to fill the seats, should the council members be recalled.
If the next scheduled ballot is not a countywide ballot or does not already include an election in the Thousand Oaks area, the city must pick up the tab.
Because Thousand Oaks residents are not set to vote on either the upcoming June or November ballots, Thousand Oaks would have to pay about $90,000--or $1.30 per registered voter--for a special election should any of the drives qualify, Bradley said.
Political consultant Creadick, who managed Loh’s unsuccessful bid for county supervisor in 1994 as well as Kathy Long’s successful 1996 supervisorial campaign, said the heavy media presence of Yes! Remove Elois Zeanah will very likely continue.
“Recalls take a long period of time,” Creadick said. “I would anticipate that they would keep their profile up and keep hammering their point home, which will take money.”
The prospect of three Thousand Oaks council members facing a recall election on the same ballot may lead to a public backlash, she said.
“If you get a situation where everyone is up for a recall, who knows what voters may do?” Creadick said. “They could get so disgusted, embarrassed and humiliated that they could vote them all out.”