As local candidates and proponents of local measures make their final appeal to the public before that fateful day, Nov. 3, we urge voters to have their voices heard. On the ballot for Ventura are three rather controversial measures — a half-cent sales tax increase, a viewshed protection initiative and the “Big Box” initiative. To the south, the Oxnard Unified School District is depending on a parcel tax to help balance its budget.

No matter what the consensus is out there today — be it that most people don’t want Wal-Mart here or believe in a totally free market society; that we must save our views or the planning process in Ventura is arduous enough already; or that Ventura needs to tighten its belt without an increase to sales tax or we should put our money where our mouths are — none of the speculation will matter on Election Day.

Whether or not you have strong feelings about the candidates and/or measures, please get out and vote. Make sure that your values and principles are reflected in our local government. Don’t be complacent because this is an odd election year and your vote won’t be as important — your cities are counting on you. And we must make sure that we won’t later regret certain well-intentioned ideas that are made into law.

This week, the Reporter provides endorsements on four local measures. Next week, we will continue our endorsements for Ventura City Council and Ventura Unified School District candidates.

Measure A: Ventura’s half-cent sales tax increase initiative
For taxpayers, it has been a frustrating year. It began around springtime this year, as President Barack Obama bailed out companies, such as AIG, with taxpayer money. Then, the statewide sales tax jumped by 1 percent this summer in an effort to balance California’s budget, and close the gap of the burgeoning deficit. Now, the city of Ventura is asking local consumers to shoulder a little more with a half-cent sales tax increase to deal with the decrease in the city’s overall revenue for the next four years.

We understand the strong conviction of “no new taxes.” After all, we expect elected government officials to keep their budgets balanced. But no one foresaw the recession and the havoc it would wreak on not only on the private sector, but also the public sector.

While many families struggle to pay their bills, dealing with pay cuts and layoffs, the public sector is facing just as many problems. The problem, though, of a poorly funded city budget is that many people who need services the most during times of financial distress will find those services cut or scaled back.

If we vote against this measure, certain special services led by the Ventura Police Department — the gang unit, investigative services, etc. — will be scaled back as officers are reassigned to patrol duty as budget cuts will demand layoffs.

Response times by police and firefighters will be longer due to cutbacks. The condition of Ventura’s streets, beaches and parks will worsen as funding is redirected to more important services. In addition, the Wright Library, a source of much passionate discussion and action, will be forced to close by year’s end.

In the scheme of things, the proposed half-cent sales tax increase would only cost each taxpayer, roughly, $63 a year, or around $5 a month. Additionally, in June 2011, the statewide 1 percent sales tax increase will sunset, lightening the burden on consumers. As the state continues to raid local municipalities’ coffers to balance its budget and sales tax revenue continues on the downhill slope, the $8 million Measure A is expected to generate will not only keep fundamental services in tact, but the money will be used only for local programs and services. The state cannot touch it.

While we are cautious in endorsing this measure because of various questionable policies implemented by the council, such as the 911 fee, we believe that Ventura’s leaders will be accountable and will fund and put forth into action those things the community values so dearly. Sparing a little will save a lot in this time of economic hardship. Vote yes on Measure A.

Measure B: Ventura’s viewshed protection initiative
Measure B, the city of Ventura’s view protection initiative, has drawn a near equal amount of local proponents and critics as Election Day draws closer.  

The initiative, which would give elected citizen representatives from each neighborhood a right to draw up their own view ordinances and present them to a newly created View Resource Board, has been championed by backers as the realization of a “truly democratic” committee that represents the will of the people. The thinking goes that if each neighborhood has the power to draft their own ordinance, and the VCORD appointed committee deftly stitches these proposals together, everybody wins.

That’s true — if all Venturans can agree on what the View Resource Board proposes. Then, even if the City Council votes down the proposal, Venturans can approve the view ordinance by a favorable majority vote during an election. But if citizen representatives can’t agree or if the View Resource Board fails to come up with a suitable compromise, then the city is left with a two-year temporary moratorium on building, a contentious squabble between competing neighborhoods and a complicated and unwieldy process that discourages businesses from investing in Ventura.

Yes, all citizens should have a voice, even a decisive voice, in crafting a view ordinance that protects the city’s heritage while also allowing for responsible development. But there must be some limit to creating additional committees that only muddle the already established development process. After all, the City Council and the design review committee is there for a reason — to streamline potential developments and craft suitable proposals that will appeal to the largest swath of citizens.

Measure B complicates this situation and dilutes any central planning by granting power to a new initiative-defined board. The Reporter applauds the effort of local citizens and organizations to evoke change, but believes this measure is too restrictive and divisive. Vote no on Measure B.

Measure C: Ventura’s big-box initiative
Measure C will appear on ballots Nov. 3 to determine whether or not “big box” stores larger than 90,000 square feet, and with more than a three-percent grocery stock, should be allowed within the city of Ventura.

Measure C originated after Wal-Mart stated its plans to usher a new storefront into the vacant, former Kmart store on Victoria Avenue. The pro-Measure C, “Stop Wal-Mart” campaign has made its sole intent focus on keeping the mega-retailer out of Ventura.

However, nowhere in the ballot language is Wal-Mart mentioned once because it disguises the fact that Measure C is less about staving off supercenters than holding off Wal-Mart’s ability to sell groceries, therefore, competing with unionized stores such as Vons, Ralphs, etc.

In our competitive, free market society, Ventura residents should be able to have choice as consumers: where they decide to spend their money, who they decide to support and who they decide to boycott.  

Measure C, though, won’t prevent Wal-Mart from coming to Victoria Avenue. The company, which holds a long-term lease there, would only be limited in their square footage.

The City of Ventura’s Victoria Avenue Corridor plan already establishes specific guidelines for businesses, limiting retailers on Victoria a maximum of 100,000 square feet. Measure C is unnecessary in this regard because it just reiterates the indiscriminate cap that city law already places on how large Wal-Mart, or any other retailer, can expand to.

But because the initiative looks to take effect across the entire city, it would effectively end the possibility of any supercenter from any company opening its doors anywhere in Ventura. Measure C welcomes a business-unfriendly model and negates the pro-business image city leaders have striven to embrace for a long time.

Measure C could also start a bad chain reaction, discouraging major retailers with a strong business pull from ever stepping foot in Ventura.

Existing retailers in Ventura would fall prey to the effects of Measure C, as well. If the initiative passes, stores like the Pacific View Mall Target, which carries groceries, would become non-conforming under the new law, mandated to scale back their already successful and popular operations if renovations or re-uses were to be needed in the future.

While we’re no fan of Wal-Mart’s business tactics, we feel this measure is really about protectionism. We encourage healthy business growth when our economy needs it most. Vote no on Measure C.
Measure E: Oxnard’s parcel tax initiative
We are still in the throes of suffering from the effects of our recession-plagued economy. Unemployment levels are still in the double digits, businesses have shut down, and local governments are strapped with dwindling coffers, employee layoffs and the possible termination of key programs.

Perhaps no other division of our public sector is more vulnerable to these types of problems than our school system.

Dependent on state funding unduly slashed from its budget, the Oxnard Unified School District is one of our most extreme examples in Ventura County, forced to endure more than $18 million in cuts over the past two fiscal years because of incessant state cuts.

OUSD officials have since had to let go 100 of its 750 teachers in 2009, a record number that will no doubt see class sizes increase and quality of education decline. To compensate, important curricula, once a given in school lesson plans, is now being considered for phasing out. It’s an absolutely unthinkable task if a quality education is to be offered to children.

These are not economic side effects, but direct and irreversible impacts. At this rate, the OUSD could be headed toward of fiscal insolvency.

This is why the Reporter supports a temporary parcel tax increase to not only boost, but to save Oxnard schools.

The ballot initiative, Measure E, calls for an annual, short-term $99 fee for owners of parcels in the district’s area. Measure E comes at little cost to taxpayers — just 30 cents a day — yet the end result is hoped to generate more than $3 million a year, for a total of $12 million once the tax sunsets in 2014.

Because it’s a special tax, the district has more leeway and specificity in what it can use its revenues for. Money generated from Measure E is guaranteed to pay only for maintaining the services and programs that affect students in classrooms on a daily basis. The parcel tax cannot be used for pensions or salaries, and most importantly, cannot be commandeered by the state.

Senior citizens older than 65 also have the choice to opt out of paying the parcel tax, but would be unwise to do so if they care about the education of their grandchildren and future generations of students in Oxnard.

The OUSD board of trustees and its finance department have done the best they can to keeping their budget balanced, reducing spending and avoiding cuts of their own, but it’s not enough to maintain schools at a degree of excellence much longer. Vote yes on Measure E and show that Oxnard cares about education.