Ah, the smell of politics in autumn.
Last Saturday marked the day that political signs were legally allowed to be posted in Thousand Oaks, reminding voters they’re on the final stretch for Election Day.
For many residents, it may seem like a case of déjà vu when they step outside and take a look at the signs. Of the nine city council candidates vying for the two open seats on the five-member panel, seven have campaigned for spots on the council during past election seasons.
Now benefiting from previous campaign experience and name recognition, many of the candidates feel they are able to focus more on the issues that will resonate with voters.
“I ran in the last election and have some good momentum,” said Al Adam, a senior financial adviser and former planning commissioner who missed a spot on the council in 2010 by 146 votes, the closest election in Thousand Oaks history. “I’m the only council candidate that is talking about pension reform. The city has to take a look at its pension system. It’s unsustainable the way we are going.”
The city’s contract with its 230 general employees, a 2-percent-at-age-55 retirement plan, expires in 2013, and Adam suggested that council or a council representative needs to be at the negotiating table. Adam also has concerns about members serving on the council indefinitely and thereby proposed a measure limiting the number of terms City Councilmembers can serve, which will be on the ballot in November.
Candidate Ed Jones, who currently sits on the park district board, served the council from 1970 to 1974 and helped develop the original Thousand Oaks master plan in 1969, which he feels he can still carry out as “the antithesis of Los Angeles.” Jones said his current campaign is about the city’s need to stretch partnerships and be more frugal with taxpayer money. What he is finding when he goes door to door, however, are residents concerned with the perceived infighting between current councilmembers.
“The first thing I’d like to do is bring some harmony and teamwork,” Jones said.
Candidate Vernon Williams, a 26-year resident and service engineer at UCLA medical center in Santa Monica, agreed that there seems to be a sharp divide among the current City Councilmember.
“Of course, you never seen them in the back room, but it’s not always pleasant and I don’t think they get along great,” said Williams. “People are asking me what side I am going to be on. I’m not picking one. It’s a team with different opinions but if you’re outnumbered, you have to help.”
Williams said his focus is on jobs and small businesses. There are too many “for lease” signs on commercial properties throughout the city, Williams pointed out, adding that he would like to eliminate costly start-up fees for new small businesses.
Mayor Jacqui Irwin, currently serving her second term on the City Council, is the lone incumbent in the race. Irwin said she is proud of her efforts to enhance public safety and combat underage drinking and heroin use. She was named 37th Assembly District’s Woman of the Year in April.
“Look at the city eight years ago,” said Irwin. “We had no city attorney and a legal department that racked up $1 million in bills. Poor decisions were being made. Look at us now. We’re well-run, fiscally responsible and promoting high level of living. . . . I think that we’re doing quite well.”
The City Council drew some criticism earlier in the year when it voted in favor of filling an empty council seat by appointment after Dennis Gillette resigned for health reasons. Critics said there should have been a special election for the two-year vacancy, or it should have been assigned to Adam, who narrowly lost to Gillette. Instead, the council chose Joel Price to fill the vacancy.
“When they nominated (Price), it was for self-serving political reasons and did not consider the good of the city at all,” said candidate Deborah Birenbaum, an educator and member of the Ventura County and California State Bar Associations. Birenbaum ran unsuccessfully in 2010, but thinks that voters want a fresh perspective on Council.
“There are two previous planning commissioners, three former council members running, and that brings lots of institutional baggage. The downside of this is, you have a city government with not much room for growth at all. That is a blueprint for stagnation.”
Candidate Raymond Sobrino Jr., an area resident for the past 40 years, was inspired to run in response to a spike in utility bills.
“What got me in this race is, they raised water prices in the area,” Sobrino said. “Being a lifelong resident here, it really pissed me off. So if I get on council, I can help lower the cost.”
Candidate Jim Bruno, a former planning commissioner, ran for council in 2000 and came in third behind Linda Parks and Ed Masry.
“Because of my professional background as certified financial planner, I always come from a fiscal conservative perspective,” Bruno said. “I’m most anxious to peel the onion back on all the fees the planning department charges people that want to do improvements on their house.”
Marlon Williams, a special education paraprofession, is, at 34, the youngest candidate. He said his campaign platform is based around public safety, communication and seeking alternative energy possibilities for the city.
Planning Commissioner Mic Farris has picked up some momentum in his third try for a seat on the council. Farris was behind the popular Right to Vote initiative that was adopted by the council in July, mandating a special election to fill vacant council seats.
The League of Women Voters Ventura County is hosting a Thousand Oaks City Council Candidates’ Forum on Thursday, Oct. 4, 6-7:30 p.m., at the Scherr Theater, Civic Arts Plaza, 2100 Thousand Oaks Blvd, Thousand Oaks.