Ventura voters returned an incumbent to office Tuesday and elected two newcomers with backgrounds in planning and publishing to the City Council following a low-key campaign largely overshadowed by the gubernatorial recall a month earlier.
Councilman Carl Morehouse, planning expert Bill Fulton and writer Christy Weir led the field of seven candidates competing for three seats.
Morehouse, 51, and Fulton, 48, were the top vote-getters. Both land-use planners by profession, they raised the most money and garnered support from voters opposed to hillside development and suburban sprawl.
After a contentious battle over those issues last year, Fulton said he hoped this election would help bring residents together.
"Come down to City Hall on Monday nights and hold me accountable," he said. "That's part of the bargain."
Weir, 50, a free-lance writer and former manager at a publishing company, trailed the pair in semiofficial final results. She recently led the drive to raise money to buy the Grant Park cross, which the city sold to avoid a lawsuit over separation of church and state.
Weir held a roughly 400-vote lead over banker Ed Summers, 50, and the results still need to be certified. Absentee and provisional ballots turned in at the polls could make a difference in who claims the third seat, but election officials said that was unlikely.
Other candidates included businessman Mike Osborn, attorney Bernard Lehrer and community activist Brian Lee Rencher.
The contenders were vying to replace Morehouse and fill two seats being vacated by Councilman Jim Friedman and Mayor Ray DiGuilio, both of whom decided not to seek reelection.
"How do I feel?" Morehouse said after the votes were counted. "Relieved, pleased. I take the people's faith and trust in me for four more years very seriously."
Voter turnout in this off-year election was low -- about 22% of the city's 58,234 registered voters.
Bruce Bradley, the county's assistant registrar of voters, attributed the poor showing to voter fatigue following the Oct. 7 recall and a low-profile council race that had no hot-button issues.
Morehouse agreed, saying: "I think the problem with the campaign really is we had this statewide recall followed by grocery strikes and these fires, and that basically knocked this whole thing off the news pages."
In years past, voters were drawn to the polls by ballot measures asking whether to allow development in the hillsides and canyons north of the city.
Those issues and the question of where the city should direct future growth in the face of anti-sprawl laws also were present in this council race. The council is expected to set new guidelines for future development in coming months as it updates the city's Comprehensive Plan.
The seven-member council will tackle several other critical issues, including hiring a new city manager and dealing with the repercussions of a state budget crisis.
During the campaign, most of the candidates said that stimulating city revenue, building affordable housing and enhancing the arts to boost tourism were top priorities. Most also pledged to shield public safety agencies from the budget ax should the city fall on hard times.
In other elections Tuesday, voters cast ballots in races for two school boards and a water district board.
Incumbent Debbie Golden and retired county executive Barbara Fitzgerald were elected to two seats in the Ventura Unified School District.
"I am very pleased and excited to have the vote of confidence of the citizens of our community for another four years," Golden said.
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Ventura City Council
Top three candidates elected. All 47 precincts counted.
*--* Candidate Total votes % Bill Fulton 7,779 22.5%
Carl Morehouse 7,409 21.5%
Christy A. Weir 5,126 14.9%
Ed Summers 4,733 13.7%
Mike Osborn 4,208 12.2%
Brian Lee Rencher 4,182 12.1%
Bernard Lehrer 1,045 3.0%
Write-in candidates 34 0.1%
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Ventura School Board
Top two candidates elected. All 85 precincts counted.
*--* Candidate Total votes % Debbie Golden 10,017 47.8%
Barbara J. Fitzgerald 7,104 33.9%
Dwayne Cope 2,803 13.4%
David L. Norrdin 1,029 4.9%
Write-in candidates 23 0.1%