. OUR NEWEST SUPERVISOR (409 words)
Assessing his first five weeks in office, County Supervisor Steve Bennett
reports that he’s never been busier. "It’s not hard, but it’s stimulating."
Walking into a new office faced with the problems of dimming lights
due to the electricity restructuring crisis, Bennett wasted no time
making his presence felt on the Board. Asserting that "public utilities
should be public" he has been a leader in seeking innovative solutions for Ventura County.
While allowing that the county is at the mercy of larger forces,
the Supervisor for District 1, pointed out that Reliant Energy,
who made $27 million last year, has already made $457million this year
while more than doubling their campaign contributions.
"Before de-regulation electric companies didn’t make campaign contributions."
Hammering on the issue of contribution limits, Bennett asserted that
"electeds are not reflecting our values," and vowed to take
a campaign reform measure to the county.
Responsibility and reform are central to the Bennett message.
The county budget is in trouble because too many decisions have been made
that are "good for a short term political career." With additional
state mandates and potential labor problems on the horizon,
it is more important that ever to remember that "good government doesn’t mean good for yourself."
The question that must be answered is "Do you have enough courage to say no?"
As one of the authors of what he calls the "grand experiment" of the SOAR initiative,
land use matters are close to Bennett’s heart.
"Ventura County is the only county at the edge of a major metropolis
to say ‘no’ to the San Fernando Valley model."
The Supervisor promised strong support for the proposed open space district
that would pay for development rights. To complete this program
it will be necessary to "ask the people to tax themselves.
Not just regulate, but pay" for the preservation of agriculture and open space.
Finally, discussing a problem " we haven’t done a good enough job
talking about," Bennett issued a personal challenge. "Can you consider
taking a foster child into your home?"
Our newest Supervisor offered a definition of politics
as " representing something bigger than yourself." "If you make the right
decisions, you will get respect," he said, "whether you get re-elected or not."
Turning to the students in the audience he reminded them that
"[opposition] money is a paper tiger in the face of organization.
If there’s something you believe in you can make it happen."
. TIM JONES DISCUSSES BLACK HISTORY MONTH
Tim Jones of the Oxnard Housing Authority spoke to the GOOD Club about
Black History Month in February.
Asserting the Black History Month is an "expression of America"
with a positive emphasis, Jones reminded the members that, in chemistry,
a melting pot changes the properties of the melted materials
by the way they interact with each other.
Maintaining the importance of individuality, he invoked the imagery
of a flower garden, "it takes many varieties to make up a bouquet."
Jones concluded with the powerful assertion that African Americans
should never forget that "our blood, sweat and tears
put something here that’s beautiful."
. FLYNN ADDRESSES GOOD CLUB By Jonathan Sharkey (294 words)
Fifth District Supervisor John K. Flynn addressed the January meeting
of the GOOD club, recounting his many accomplishments and issuing
a call to action.
Living up to his dictum, "If you’re not prepared, you’re not
effective," Mr. Flynn exhibited his considerable knowledge of the many
issues facing the county, from airports to wetlands, to education
and labor bringing home his points with personal examples.
A boyhood spent catching trout on the Ventura River provided
an appreciation for the environment now manifested in the effort to remove
the Matilija Dam – a project championed by Bruce Babbitt,
but endangered by a new administration more committed to
"building dams, not taking them down."
The state’s electricity crisis is cause for the Supervisor’s concern
because of the effect it has on the jobs of the 150 employees
of the Maple Leaf Bakery, forced to suspend operations 11 times this
past month due to power interruptions.
What really raises John Flynn’s passion are the 12,000 mentally ill
in Ventura County who now get no assistance. Speaking on the same day
that a mentally disturbed young man was killed in a hostage
situation at Hueneme High School, Flynn explained that too many
of those who do not get treatment wind up in jail, an "immoral act" that
burdens the entire criminal justice system.
"Why are we allowing this to happen? Our jail is the largest mental
health clinic in the county! Democrats should speak out against it."
Hannah-Beth Jackson and Helen Thompson are championing the cause
of the mentally ill in the State Assembly. "Why aren’t the judges,
DA, and the Sheriff speaking out?" Flynn demanded.
"This is a health issue, not a criminal issue. Raise the voice for the mentally ill."
. THE PORT OF HUENEME, THE COUNTY'S ECONOMIC ENGINE (503 words)
"The Port of Hueneme is a very personal thing to me," Harbor Commissioner Jess Herrera told the GOOD Club. The longshoreman’s son recalled riding down Ventura Road in his dad’s ’55 Oldsmobile to the harbor where he got his first job "sweeping under the docks."
Thirty years ago, cargoes at the port consisted of hides, rubber, cotton, and frozen orange juice. Handling them was "hard, physical work." From such a beginning Jess rose to become the Executive Officer of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, a post he held for nine years.
In 1994 there were ten candidates running for Harbor Commission. Herrera decided to throw his hat in the ring since, in his assessment, "many of them didn’t even know where the Harbor was." His decision to enter politics caused him a good deal of anxiety and many sleepless nights. He finished first.
Giving the GOOD Club a brief history of the Harbor District, the Commissioner recounted the story of Richard Bard floating a bond for $1.75 million that sold out in fifteen minutes during the depths of the Depression in May of 1937. Fortune Magazine trumpeted the "first time a port was constructed without government funding."
The post-war years were a time of "feast or famine," but in 1988 things began to change, leading to what Herrera called a "decade of growth."
Having achieved Port of Entry status, the harbor totals up 400 vessel calls a year, employs pilots, tug boat operators, warfingers, and line handlers, as well as 100 regular and 400 casual longshoremen (10% of whom are women), represented by the ILWU, the Teamsters, the Operating Engineers, and the Service Employees International Union.
Unable to compete with big automated ports at Los Angeles and Long Beach, the Port of Hueneme is positioned as a labor-intensive "niche port" that takes advantage of an "extremely productive work force." In fact, our local harbor is 20% more productive than any other West Coast port.
The Navy has been a major presence at the port since World War II. This has, at times, led to some rocky relations. When our local Congressman negotiated a licensing agreement for Wharf 3, the local command reversed the decision saying it had not been properly notified. "I believe that is not true," Herrera said flatly. Wharf 3 could provide "thousands of jobs" and a $3 million benefit to the local economy.
Nonetheless our port is a "powerful engine" for Ventura County. Consider this: $40 million in infrastructure investment in the last ten years, the largest refrigerated warehouse in the NAFTA region, 14 million cartons of bananas imported, 6 million cartons of fruit shipped to Japan, and two new BMW plants built in Oxnard.
Herrera concluded on an optimistic note, "We can become a powerhouse on the Pacific, but we have to be ready… Our ship has arrived and there are ships lined up behind it waiting to get in. The only question is, ‘Where do we grow from here?’"
. ILLUMINATING PRESENTATION SPARKS GOOD CLUB (413 words)
In order to have a market, there must be buyers and sellers. This is as true of electricity as it is of groceries. Those at the June meeting of the GOOD Club were treated to a high-powered presentation by David Wilke of the Southern California Edison Grid Control Center (representing the sellers), and Dennis Scala Management Analyst for the City of Oxnard (representing one large buyer in the volatile California energy market).
Mr. Wilke recounted the history of rate restructuring from 1994 to the present. Faced with higher electricity costs than neighboring states, Gov. Wilson signed into law AB 1890, which promised to create a more competitive marketplace.
"Everything actually went pretty good for a couple of years," Wilke asserted. Then in June of 2000, the first storm warnings darkened the horizon. San Diego Gas and Electric became the first supplier to pay off its old debts and stranded costs, leaving it free to charge boldly ahead into the free marketplace of power. Almost immediately the price of electricity shot up from $60 to $750 per megawatt hour.
By November of that year, with many big California generators shut down for maintenance, a cold snap hit the Northwest. Oregon and Washington came to California to buy power. "Sure we’ll sell," said the California producers, "for $1000 a megawatt."
It was then that recognition flashed like a light bulb, "They [generators] realized that by holding back production, they could drive prices up." Ironically, it was out of a fear of market manipulation that California’s energy suppliers were initially encouraged to divest themselves of their power plants.
Part of Dennis Scala’s job is to help the city of Oxnard cope with the increased cost of energy. While having dark words for the restructuring scheme, calling it a system that "invited collusion," he, nonetheless, saw brighter days ahead.
From leveraging the purchasing power of the community to partnering with factories that generate electricity to even considering converting trash into kilowatts, Scala is ready to consider any option that will lighten the city’s energy load.
Not a fan of the state’s approach, Scala contended "In my opinion, they’re doing a poor job of it. … The worst thing you could do right now is commit yourself to a long term contract." He predicted, "the price is going to drop drastically."
Perhaps the most illuminating comment, however, came from David Wilke. When asked about the possibility of re-regulating the market, he confessed, "I honestly don’t have an answer for that."
. THE REDISTRICTING PUZZLE (466 words)
Which Supervisorial district runs all the way from Thousand Oaks to La Conchita by way of Ojai?
Which Supervisor’s home office is not in his district?
What is a "community of interest"?
Karl Lawson, the Co-Director of the Ventura County Redistricting Task Force, presented an exposition to the GOOD Club of the questions, conundrums, and puzzles that will go into deciding the political shape of our county for the next ten years.
The Task Force is an all-volunteer, unofficial organization with members from every city (except Simi Valley) whose mission is to learn about and influence the redistricting process at all levels.
After the 2000 Census, California will gain one congressional seat, shift the boundaries of its 80 Assembly and 40 Senate seats, and redraw hundreds of district lines up and down the state. Lawson describes this as like an "election year for the next five elections".
To determine the five supervisorial districts in Ventura County the process sounds simple enough: just divide the population by five. That leaves an ideal size of 150,639 people per district. Easy, except that Oxnard has nearly 180,000. "Oxnard is now larger than Salt Lake City," Lawson asserted.
The other criteria for districting are geography, cohesiveness, community of interest, political boundaries, and the continuity of the present districts.
While the Fourth and Fifth Districts come pretty close to meeting all the criteria, the other three show signs of the gerrymander.
In speaking of the Third District which includes Camarillo, Santa Paula, Ojai and La Conchita as well as Newbury Park, Lawson commented, " I am anxious to hear the County’s justification for how having 33,000 people above the grade makes sense."
In Lawson’s judgement one of the county’s smallest cities is the "key to the puzzle". Port Hueneme and the surrounding South Oxnard area are now in the second district dominated by Thousand Oaks. Should Port Hueneme be put into the first district, that would strengthen an already Democratic seat. Joining the fifth would strengthen the Oxnard community of interest. Should the heavily Democratic Port City be added to the third district, however, that would tip the balance of an otherwise precarious seat.
Is that important? In referring to the Supervisors’ recent approval of the Living Wage Ordinance, Lawson prodded, "Think how different yesterday’s [vote] would have been with just one Thousand Oaks precinct replacing Ojai. … Dump Ojai out and it’s Mike Morgan’s seat."
While the three progressive supervisors have an opportunity to ensure a safe majority for the next ten years, Lawson warned that "Logic sometimes clashes with reality," and that while coalitions might make sense, any one supervisor could scuttle co-operation for the sake of self-preservation.
Oh, the answers to the questions? The Third. Frank Schillo. And I know it when I see it.
. TIM GALLAGHER AT GOOD CLUB (403 words)
"People are needy for information at a time like this." Brooklyn born Tim Gallagher, editor of the Ventura County Star, spoke to the GOOD Club one day after a terrorist attack changed our lives forever.
"You don’t stop to think about the human tragedy because you have a job to do." The job, in this case, was getting the accurate story to the readers in Ventura County despite the tragedy hitting close to home: one of Gallagher’s childhood friends was a New York City firefighter who lost his life at the World Trade Center.
During the past ten years the nature of the news business has undergone a storm of change with the advent of 100 channel cable TV and the internet competing for people’s time. Yet Gallagher defends the value of newspapers because, he asserts, "So many channels are unreliable."
Invoking the doctrine of "disinterested public service" the editor swiped at the partisanship of outlets like The Drudge Report. "A good journalist has no point of view."
Turning to the business of running a newspaper, Gallagher reported that in 1995 the Star employed 600 people but only made $22,000 in profit. Being published by a publicly owned corporation, the pressure for profit is great. In 2001 there were only 100 employees, but the profit picture had greatly improved. In fact, the newspaper industry standard for return on investment is a whopping 27%.
The future promises even more change. Help wanted and major retail advertising provide most of the revenue, yet both are beginning to fall off. This will require a "new business model."
Gallagher had an epiphany, realizing that "we are a distribution company." Getting a newspaper onto every driveway on every street in Ventura County before 6AM every day is an achievement that few can match. In the future your friendly carrier may bring you USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, or TV Guide along with your favorite newspaper.
Whatever the business model, Gallagher pledged that the mission of the newspaper would remain the same. "Our job is to capture what happened out there today."
Invoking the crusading spirit that has marked the best journalism throughout history, the editor recounted the thousands of dollars in legal fees that the Star has spent trying to pry open the records of our District Attorney. "One of the most important things you can do is fight for open government. That fight will never end."
. CLEAN MONEY (417 words)
"The soul of democracy is … drowning in a rising tide of special interest money." With that Bill Moyers’ quote, State Central Committee Member Jo Sedita began her GOOD Club presentation on the Clean Elections Campaign.
Considering that over $3 billion was spent on the 2000 election, and that in California winners outspent losers by the egregious ratio of 16 –1, it’s easy for the grassroots activist to feel overwhelmed, and the average voter to feel irrelevant.
Team teaching with CSU Northridge professor Will Forthman, Ms. Sedita sought to lift the veil of discouragement from the GOOD Club membership.
Declaring that "Most elections are decided by the amount of money spent --- and decided long before you and I go to the polling booth," Sedita and Forthman presented a workable alternative to special interest campaign funding --- an alternative that has passed in four states and already been battle tested in Maine and Arizona. This alternative goes by the name "Clean Money, Clean Elections."
Clean Money works like this: a candidate must show local support by collecting a specified number of small contributions from within his/her district. (Individual amounts can be as low as $5). PAC’s and corporations are prohibited from contributing. If the candidate agrees to accept no further contributions (and this includes their own personal money), they are then certified to accept public funds for their campaign. Should an opponent ignore the limitations and seek to overwhelm the Clean Money candidate, a "safety valve" would proportionately increase the amount of funding available.
In both Maine and Arizona the Clean Elections results were clear: More candidates ran in primaries; candidates spent more time meeting the voters than phoning the fat cats; and --- bottom-line important --- when confronted with traditionally funded opponents, Clean Money candidates won 53% of the time.
So far the Clean Elections campaign has proved less than popular with the power elite --- Henry Waxman is the only local elected who has endorsed it. Nonetheless, Sedita and Forthman believe that the tide of history is with them. Recalling that it took eight years to pass the reform in the State of Maine, they pledged to move the California campaign forward to the ballot. "If we’re ready we’ll go in 2004."
Noting that not just politicians are held hostage by big money, but that "Contributors are being blackmailed by candidates as well," Sedita concluded that Clean Money "is a reform that would make other reforms possible."
More information is available on the website www.publicampaign.org.