Santa Paula Times

Election 2002: Gloves don’t come off but are loosened at last council candidate forum

November 01, 2002
Santa Paula News
By Peggy Kelly Santa Paula TimesThe gloves didn’t exactly come off but the fit was a lot looser when the seven candidates for City Council debated the issues at the last Santa Paula and Mexican American Chambers of Commerce sponsored forum, held Saturday at the Community Center.“This election will frame the debate for the future of a lot of other communities up and down California,” said Pacific Coast Business Times Editor/Publisher Henry Dubroff, who moderated the forum.Indeed, no matter what the question, much of the candidates’ dialogue centered on Measure F, the ballot initiative sponsored by the Pinnacle Group of Arizona, to remove the land-use boundaries around the 5,413-acre Adams Canyon, opening it up for future development.Incumbent Councilman Rick Cook is a strong Measure F supporter while Vice Mayor Laura Flores Espinosa opposes the measure; Espinosa is running as write-in candidate after missing the filing deadline. The incumbents face challengers Dr. Gabino Aguirre, Mary Ann Krause and John Wisda, who oppose Measure F. Candidates Al Escoto and Rita Graham join Cook in support of the measure. There are three seats up for grabs; Councilman Don Johnson is not running for reelection.The candidates were provided with the questions in advance of the Oct. 26th forum, but were first asked to introduce themselves.Cook, a Public Defender’s investigator and former SPPD officer for 23 years, said he is running to “see if we can achieve some of the goals and issues not solved last year,” and improve the city’s future.“I will work for a better quality of life for all of us,” said Escoto, a city native and former councilman and mayor.Krause, an urban land-use planner, said “I will bring a higher level of professionalism to the council and make sure decisions are based on goals and good planning.”His extensive professional experience in budgeting and finance including service on city committees would benefit the city, said Wisda, a real estate agent.“I’m in touch with the realities,” of small town fiscal impacts and challenges, said Aguirre, a high school principal.
Espinosa, a legal aide with DA’s office, noted her appointments to numerous commissions and committees show the respect other elected officials have in her skills.Graham, a Planning Commissioner and county general planning employee, said she has discovered development problems with Fagan Canyon and is the “only candidate talking about acquiring land” for schools.The first question asked the candidates to forego discussion of future development and instead concentrate on efforts that would revitalize Main Street.Aguirre said business friendly ordinances and a master plan with an eye to making the downtown “convenient, attractive and serviceable” would be beneficial. A task force, including public-private partnerships and historic preservationists, and using city owned Main Street buildings to start a domino effect of improvements, including upper-floor housing, have worked in other small towns, said Espinosa. Several measures already undertaken did not revitalize the downtown, said Graham, and a “programmatic approach” as well as increasing “purchasing power” to attract more business is needed. Wisda suggested moving the city’s water enterprise to a city-owned Main Street building and using grant funding to upgrade storefronts to increase pedestrian traffic. A developer effort to create apartments above the Warren King building and other mixed-use opportunities, stronger tourism efforts and determining why some stores remain empty with owners “not allowing new businesses” should be explored, said Krause. Business will continue to suffer without accommodating “reasonable growth in the face of the housing crisis” that, if not reversed, reduces options, said Escoto. Without housing development, “no business will come to our town,” said Cook. “Without housing and jobs we won’t have anything.”How the candidates feel about eminent domain and occasions when the Redevelopment Agency or council should invoke that power was asked of the candidates.“It’s a tool, but a very controversial tool,” said Graham, and if the city ever considered forcing the sale of property through eminent domain it should consult with an attorney who specializes in same. Espinosa said that property owners near Adams Canyon were “threatened with eminent domain, and no private developer can do that,” as, historically, eminent domain is invoked only for projects for public good. Aguirre said eminent domain could apply to road widening needed to accommodate Adams Canyon development and construction of westside debris basins. Wisda said “Save the Groves” signs opposing Measure F apply to farmland that would be acquired through eminent domain for Adams Canyon traffic and drainage needs without voter input. Krause said there are instances when eminent domain is justified for the public good, but using it to make residential development more viable is a “misuse.” Eminent domain is a “worthwhile tool to assist government in planning for the community, but just a tool,” dictated by capital to improve the community, said Escoto. Cook said eminent domain can be a “necessary tool,” to improve the city’s infrastructure and utilities for the “benefit of the community,” and that those that claim farmland owners have been approached regarding eminent domain can “show a piece of paper” to prove same.Permit streamlining could benefit from city-provided pre-approved architectural home plans as done in some other cities, said Wisda, while Cook urged that such matters should be left up to the city manager.A citizen driven economic development group was advocated by most of the candidates - Graham and Krause belong to such a group - but was opposed by Escoto and Cook, who noted, “it wouldn’t make any difference if Alan Greenspan,” was overseeing city redevelopment due to lack of city funding. Such a committee benefited Fillmore in attracting a major supermarket, said Krause.City Hall customer service could benefit from an operational model and consciousness that citizens are the “kings and queens” of the city, said Aguirre. Graham noted that the city’s aging stock of buildings should be addressed with permit variances in cases where public health and safety are not an issue. “We need a change of attitude at City Hall that promotes a friendlier attitude,” said Escoto.