Perhaps all is not well in the City of Ventura.
Despite reports that the current city council is one of the more collegial, cooperative bodies the city government has seen in some time, judging from the number of people interested in serving on the council, it’s possible that it won’t have the same camaraderie after voters go to the polls Nov. 7.
Let’s hope whoever serves on the new council that it will take as much initiative as possible to set a course for a city that increasingly feels adrift and disjointed.
Last week, two more candidates threw their names in the ring for three available seats. Doug Halter, who ran unsuccessfully for the council in 1999, and Mayor Carl Morehouse, who will seek his third term in office, both announced June 28 that they are in the running. They will face two other incumbents, Deputy Mayor Christy Weir and City Councilman Bill Fulton, and five private citizens, A Kimball Ouerbacker, Carroll Dean Williams, Jerry Martin, Brian Lee Rencher and Lou Cunningham.
The VC Reporter was not present at the announcements from the latter candidates (although it did see Fulton’s announcement on his blog). However, it did witness the announcements from both Halter and Morehouse.
It was refreshing to see Halter — an architect of Downtown Ventura’s revitalization — offer bold visions for the city. A well-connected candidate, he seems to understand key problems facing this city, such as the hemorrhaging of its educated young adults. Halter appears to know that for the city to survive, it needs to offer attractive opportunities for high-quality jobs. He recognizes some of the city’s missed opportunities and seems poised to act to prevent more mistakes.
Yet some concerns can be raised about how broad Halter’s support extends and what interests he is most devoted to. A past chairman of the Ventura Chamber of Commerce, Halter was greeted by many key chamber figures and business owners at his announcement. While it is important that business’ voice is heard in city government and that cultivating a strong business community will help keep the city healthy, there are many other voices that need equal play. It is as yet unclear how deeply Halter will be committed to balancing those perspectives that don’t make business the paramount concern. Still, for the moment, he expressed ideas that will both help the business community and maintain and strengthen Ventura’s unique identity.
On the other hand, the audience for Morehouse’s announcement largely consisted of other city council members and city officials. That presence underscores the spirit of cooperation that seems to exist on the council. In his announcement, Morehouse eschewed extremism for a centrist approach that he appears to feel allows for effective governance and touted a spirit of openness and communication between the council, city staff, and the public.
Morehouse’s understanding that politics can get in the way of governance is important. But he offered little of interest in the form of concrete accomplishments during his tenure on the council. Instead, the former county planner’s biggest achievements appeared to be a series of development plans for the city, such as its general plan, the Downtown Specific Plan, and the Wells-Saticoy Plan. But plans mean nothing if there is little action, and anyone who has lived in this city for any length of time can see how bogged down this town can get in the planning process.
One need only look at the Midtown Charrettes that were held in early 2005. More than two years afterward we have a design plan for Midtown, but the district remains a neglected, dilapidated area. Morehouse is by no means to blame for that situation — strong, and sometimes misdirected, resistance from Midtown residents plays a key role — but perhaps he should not be touting plans with little follow-through as an example of good governance.