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Growth Not Issue to Foes of Parks and Masry

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SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

In this city of oak groves, pristine ridgelines and neatly planned subdivisions, the phrase “slow growth” is the mantra for all who seek public office.

So it is no surprise that the campaign literature for all seven candidates vying for two seats on the City Council in November has some mention of controlling growth or protecting the environment.

Incumbent Councilwoman Linda Parks goes a step further and declares herself a “proven slow-growth leader,” largely because of the successful implementation of SOAR growth-control laws in Thousand Oaks and throughout the county.

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As part of a cooperative campaign, Parks has joined forces with environmental attorney Ed Masry--who bills himself as “the candidate developers fear most”--in an effort to establish a new slow-growth majority on the council.

But the race’s other candidates--Councilman Mike Markey, Planning Commissioner Jim Bruno, environmental consultant Joe Gibson, community activist Chris Buckett and homemaker Mary Harris--argue that the slow-growth fight Masry and Parks are waging has already been won. They say the city is nearly built out and surrounded by 14,000 acres of protected open space, and that it’s time to move on to other, more pressing issues.

“Overdevelopment is not an issue,” Bruno said. “The slow-growth/pro-growth debate is simply out of touch.”

Herb Gooch, chairman of Cal Lutheran University’s political science department, said he questions whether slow growth remains an important issue with residents, outside election campaigns. He also acknowledged that it’s tough to deny the other candidates a similar designation, pointing out that “no one is ‘fast-growth.’ ”

“You have two candidates, Parks and Masry, who want to monopolize and own an issue, and that issue is slow growth,” Gooch said. “Whether it exists or the degree to which it exists is immaterial as long as they can get enough voters to think it’s an issue.”

Parks, however, counters that no one else has the record she does in opposing development projects and that neither she nor Masry will accept contributions from developers in the campaign.

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Masry, 68, was born in New Jersey and grew up in Van Nuys. In the past 40 years, he has practiced nearly every type of law--from sports to criminal defense. He began taking on large companies in environmental and consumer cases in the early 1990s. One of those cases, a ground-water contamination claim against Pacific Gas & Electric, was the true story behind the blockbuster film “Erin Brockovich” starring Julia Roberts.

He said he decided to run for public office in Thousand Oaks because of bad experiences he had had with the council on four occasions, including battles over plans to build a golf course in Hill Canyon and the extension of Borchard Road in Newbury Park.

Masry maintains that decisions the council has made--with Parks dissenting--have resulted in millions of dollars in unnecessary legal fees and settlement costs.

“At stake is what I call accountability,” Masry said. “No matter how wealthy we are as a city, we can’t squander public money.”

Parks, 43, has built her slow-growth reputation by consistently voting against major development projects, usually arguing the city wanted to give away too much money or too many concessions.

She prides herself on her watchdog nature and, with a master’s degree in urban planning, her ability to digest complex land-use issues.

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Parks’ campaign thus far has been funded by more than 180 contributions--most people gave less than $50--which she said illustrates her broad-based support in the community.

That apparent backing, however, has not helped her on the council. Frustrated by usually being on the short end of 4-1 votes, Parks said she considered forgoing a reelection bid until her philosophical ally Masry agreed to join the race. Both candidates are endorsed by the Sierra Club and share a view that developers interested in Thousand Oaks should never be granted building code exceptions.

Other Candidates Go Their Own Ways

Though Parks and Masry have formed a strong alliance, the other five council contenders have remained independent of each other, despite similarities in issues.

Markey, 45, a retired police officer and father of three, is among those who dispute that growth remains a meaningful issue. Thousand Oaks is one-third open space, and he says it is a great place to live.

The real issues, Markey said, are the 30-year-old roads that will soon need replacing and the long list of undeveloped city parks in need of funding. If reelected for a third term, he pledges to see through projects such as the sprucing up of Thousand Oaks Boulevard and the commercial development planned for the east side of the Civic Arts Plaza, which would bring in a cinema complex, retail and office space.

“The issue I see is, what are you going to do for the community?” he said.

Markey said he also believes campaign financing is a key issue in this race. While Markey has raised about $6,000 so far from individual residents and business owners, Masry is leading the pack with $65,000 of his own money.

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“This is about one individual trying to buy a council seat,” he said.

Masry disputed the accusation, saying the fact that he spends his own money in the campaign simply means his votes on the council won’t be influenced by outside sources.

Gibson, 45, an environmental planner and elected member of the Conejo Recreation and Park District, said he decided to throw his hat in the ring because he believes he can do a better job than the incumbents, particularly Parks.

Gibson maintains that while no one wants the city’s open space paved over, Parks tries to obstruct any progress, for her own political gain. “ ‘Slow growth’ [for Parks] is a political moniker that means no growth and no change,” he said.

The future of the city is at stake in this election, he said. “Will we have a council majority who understands what the real issues are?” he asks.

Gibson stresses the importance of protecting the local sales tax base, building the city’s second teen center, in Newbury Park, and encouraging more affordable housing.

Bruno, 55, attempts to distinguish himself as the only candidate with a strong financial background. As a certified financial planner, he has knowledge of how budgets and taxes work, which is increasingly important as the city reaches maturity, he said.

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“We need to prepare in advance for the next economic downturn by diversifying the economy so we are not so dependent on sales tax,” he said.

A self-described problem-solver who likes to work behind the scenes, Bruno said he understands the people and the culture of Thousand Oaks because of his 20-year history of community involvement. His campaign war chest so far has more than $16,000 in contributions.

One of the things he is most proud of is spearheading the funding and construction of a new athletic stadium at Westlake High School. He also started a Pop Warner team for the area that uses the stadium.

“I enjoy getting things done,” he said. As part of that philosophy, Bruno’s platform calls for “a new era of collaboration” between the City Council and other government agencies in town, including the Conejo Valley Unified School District and the Conejo Recreation and Park District.

Buckett and Harris agree on several issues, including a desire to change the way the existing council members treat the public.

“I feel the City Council has not been understanding to the citizens,” said Harris, who said she will fight to make city leadership more approachable. “They are very standoffish and act like they don’t want to listen to you.”

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Harris, 48, is developmentally disabled and relies on public transportation to get around the city, as does her husband, Rick, who is blind. She said she would like to see hours extended on the city’s Smart Shuttle and Dial-A-Ride programs and would push to create more affordable housing in the community for seniors and disabled adults.

She doesn’t expect to raise much money and concedes she may receive fewer than 1,000 votes, but Harris said she wants her issues aired.

Buckett, 41, ran unsuccessfully for a council seat in 1998. The business consultant points to her eight years of volunteer service in the community and her hands-on experience in winding through the city bureaucracy as qualifications for the job. She too says public transportation and affordable housing are key issues in Thousand Oaks.

Calling herself the “people’s candidate,” Buckett said she is most proud of her battle in 1999 against the proposed golf course at Hill Canyon, a 154-acre area which is now designated as permanent public open space.

“I want to provide an independent voice for residents,” Buckett said. “People know me in the community and they know I’ll fight for them.”

Tone of City Politics at Stake

As with all five-member city councils, it takes three votes to get anything accomplished. In the past two years, Parks usually could only muster one additional vote on measures she has proposed. “I could say, ‘The sky is blue’ and I would be debated,” she said.

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Masry, with the fame and the cash needed to win a council seat, represents a chance for the numbers to finally be on her side, Parks said.

“There will be a shift,” she said. “I believe in several instances, Councilman Dan Del Campo will side with Ed and myself.”

Parks and Del Campo ran together for the council in 1996, and when he ran a second time two years later, Parks supported him.

But Del Campo, who as mayor pro tem is in line to be the city’s next mayor, has shown in his voting record that he only agrees with Parks on occasion.

“I won’t vote no just for the sake of voting no,” he said. “I’m nobody’s puppet. Campaigning is one thing; governing is another.”

Attempts to shift the board’s majority are nothing new in Thousand Oaks. In 1994, former Councilwoman Elois Zeanah--later the target of an unsuccessful $500,000 recall effort--tried hard to stack the panel with those who shared her slow-growth ideology. And Del Campo was one of three “Clean Sweep” candidates attempting to oust incumbent council members Andy Fox and Judy Lazar in 1998. Fox was reelected, but Del Campo edged out Lazar.

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But never before has the faction, represented by Parks and earlier by Zeanah, had such a viable shot at actually winning a majority, said Gooch, the political scientist.

“They’ve got a popular incumbent and they have someone with a lot of money who has wide recognition,” Gooch said.

Still, some council members insist there has never been a majority on the council--nor should there be.

“Ideally, the community should be striving to elect five independent members to serve on the City Council who will make decisions based on the best interest of the city and not for a particular special-interest group,” Fox said.

Fox, Del Campo and Mayor Dennis Gillette have all chosen not to endorse any of the candidates in this race, saying it would only breed bitterness.

Civility on the elected panel is also a factor in the contest, several candidates said.

“I want to move people to a higher level--over their own egos,” Bruno said. “There’s still too much acrimony and divisiveness. We need a balanced approach to problem-solving.”

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Parks, however, said she sees nothing wrong with trying to have a stronger voice for what she believes is a noble and historically underrepresented fight--a better quality of life for residents.

“Politics is a means to an end,” she said.

The outcome of the November election could mean a change in the mood of city politics, said Gooch, of CLU.

“We had a situation a couple of years ago where the council was extremely divisive,” Gooch said. “Since then, the politics has really settled down.

“Another stake is the tone of politics in the city. Will people be grandstanding or trying to work together?”

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Thousand Oaks City Council

Seven candidates are vying for two open council seats in the city of Thousand Oaks. Both incumbents, Linda Parks and Mike Markey, are running for reelection.

Jim Bruno

Age: 55

Residence: Westlake resident for 25 years

Occupation: Financial planner

Education: Bachelor of science degree in business and human relations and organizational behaviors from University of San Francisco, 1980. Certified financial planner, College of Financial Planning in Denver, 1988

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Background: Civic involvement includes service on the Ventura County Discovery Center Board, the Goebel Senior Center Steering Committee, the Community Leaders Club at Cal Lutheran University, past presidency of Community Action for the construction and funding of Westlake High Stadium, founder and past president of the Westlake Braves Youth Football Assn., founding board member of the Pacific Coast Youth Football League of Ventura County and founding board member of the Conejo Sports Federation. Governmental service includes the Thousand Oaks Planning Commission, the California League of Cities revenue and taxation committee, the Community Budget Task Force, former chairmanship of the Blue Ribbon Reform Committee and four terms on the Social Services / Community Block Grant Committee.

Issues: Wants to follow the city’s General Plan as Thousand Oaks moves toward build-out. Wants the city to continue working to diversify its economy, retain sales tax revenues and improve public safety. Wants the city, the Conejo Valley Unified School District and the Conejo Recreation and Park District to provide more joint programs.

Personal: Married, father of four children

Chris Buckett

Age: 41

Residence: Thousand Oaks resident for eight years

Occupation: Business consultant specializing in start-up companies

Education: Graduated from Sylmar High School in the San Fernando Valley in 1979; completed a management action certification program through the Ventura County Commission of Human Concerns, which deals with social issues

Background: Civic involvement includes coordinating leadership training for the Conejo Valley chapter of the US Junior Chamber of Commerce, president of the local Jaycees in 1997 and 1998, candidate for Conejo Valley Days grand marshal in 1997 and producer of TO Talks, a cable show on various city issues, in 1998. Governmental committees include the Hill Canyon Preservation Coalition as founder and president, member of the Thousand Oaks Board of Appeals from 1997 to 1999 and service on the Civic Arts Plaza Hospitality Committee in 1994. Ran unsuccessfully for City Council in 1998.

Issues: Wants to make local government more accessible for residents so they can solve problems faster. Wants to increase hours, shorten waiting time and improve service of the Dial-A-Ride program. Wants developers to adhere to city codes and standards and wants more affordable housing in the city.

Personal: Married

Joe Gibson

Age: 45

Residence: Newbury Park resident for 12 years

Occupation: Environmental planner

Education: Bachelor of science degree in environmental sciences from Indiana University, 1975

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Background: Civic involvement includes serving on the boards of directors of the YMCA, Conejo Valley Little League and Conejo Youth Employment services. Governmental committees include the Conejo Recreation and Park District board, Thousand Oaks Planning Commission in 1995, Children and Family First for Ventura County, past chairman of East Ventura County Youth Master Plan and the only public member on the county’s growth commission to implement Measure A.

Issues: Wants more interaction among local businesses, government and nonprofits for projects throughout the city, including development of a teen center in Newbury Park, building undeveloped parks and revitalizing Thousand Oaks Boulevard.

Personal: Married, father of two children

Mary Harris

Age: 48

Residence: Thousand Oaks resident for more than 30 years

Occupation: Homemaker

Education: Graduated from Thousand Oaks High School, 1974

Background: Civic involvement includes Many Mansions board in 1998. City committees include the Social Services Committee for Thousand Oaks.

Issues: Wants to increase public transportation for seniors and people with disabilities, including an all-hours, low-cost taxi service. Wants more affordable housing in the city, possibly by apartment landlords subsidizing units for people with disabilities and seniors. Supports an affordable housing discussion with city leaders, real estate officials and residents to find a solution to the problem.

Personal: Married

Mike Markey

Age: 45

Residence: Thousand Oaks resident for 13 years

Education: Graduated with a paralegal degree from Caplan College in Boca Raton, Fla., 1999

Occupation: Retired police officer, part-time private investigator

Background: Civic involvement includes Thousand Oaks Elks Lodge, Boy Scouts of America, youth soccer and St. Paschal’s Men’s Club. Governmental involvement includes Thousand Oaks City Council, mayor in 1998 and chairman of the workers’ compensation committee for the California League of Cities.

Issues: Wants to complete the Thousand Oaks Boulevard revitalization project and Ventura County Discovery Center. Wants to develop unfinished park sites and bring more family-oriented activities, including a bowling alley and ice rink, into the city.

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Personal: Married, father of three children

Ed Masry

Age: 68

Residence: Thousand Oaks resident for four years

Education: Graduated Loyola Law School, 1960

Occupation: Environmental and consumer attorney at Westlake Village-based Masry & Vititoe

Background: Civic involvement includes the American Legion in Palm Springs, Phi Alpha Delta Fraternity, Phi Alpha Delta Alumni Assn., chairman of the ethics commission for the Consumer Attorney of California in 1997. Has funded studies of alternative Lang Ranch dam proposals and worked free of charge to sue the developers of Borchard Road, claiming they lied to the city about the safety of the road.

Issues: Wants slow and sensible growth in Thousand Oaks by preventing developers from getting waivers and special exceptions. Wants to beef up the city’s waiver policy for developers so they don’t build on the city’s ridgelines. Objects to “squandering” of public funds by the council on projects that he says should have never been approved.

Personal: Married, father of five grown children, has seven grandchildren

Linda Parks

Age: 43

Residence: Thousand Oaks resident for 12 years

Education: Bachelor of science degree in political and urban studies from California State Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo, 1980. Master’s degree in urban planning from the University of Washington, 1982.

Occupation: Homemaker

Background: Civic involvement includes co-founding the Ventura County Discovery Center. Governmental involvement includes the Thousand Oaks City Council, service as mayor in 1999, vice presidency of SOAR, member of the county Air Pollution Control District board, Planning Commission from 1993 to 1996 and creating the Parks Initiative in 1996 to protect open space in parks.

Issues: Wants to slow growth and protect the ridgelines by not granting waivers or exceptions to developers. Wants an alternative to the city’s proposal for Lang Ranch Dam that would spare an ancient oak grove and will fight to save the land overlooking Hill Canyon that is slated for development. Wants to improve public transportation and to be a watchdog for public spending.

Personal: Married, mother of four children

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