National politics get a lot of attention, but many of the issues we deal with on a daily basis are primarily overseen by local elected officials on city councils and county supervisor boards. From county-managed roads and public transit to air quality to housing, public health, watershed protection, emergency response planning and more, county supervisors and staff make important decisions that impact our quality of life.
Ventura County is divided into five districts and each district elects one supervisor for a four-year term. Districts 1, 3 and 5 are up for grabs on the March ballot and are subject to the state primary rules: If one candidate gets a majority of the vote on March 3, they win; if no candidate earns a majority of votes, then the top two vote-getters will be on the November ballot. (Corrected online Feb. 20, 2020 – story incorrectly stated 51 percent of the vote is needed to win, in fact just a majority of the vote is needed.)
Supervisor races are nonpartisan and therefore our story will not include party affiliation for the candidates, but may include endorsement information.
District 1: Water use, accountability and a write-in candidate
Includes the north coast of the county, Ventura, Ojai and the Upper Ojai Valley, Montalvo, Saticoy, Riverpark and the northwest edge of Oxnard.
Candidates: Matt LaVere and Trevor Quirk
This race, on the ballot as current Supervisor Steve Bennett is termed out, has been shaken up in recent weeks by the announcement of a write-in candidate from the Ojai Valley in the wake of a massive legal action involving water usage in the Ventura River Watershed (“Watershed Moment: Petrochem sold as water war looms in the Ventura River Watershed,” Kimberly Rivers, VCReporter, Jan. 15, 2020).
Matt LaVere and Trevor Quirk, two of the three candidates, responded in writing to the same questions from the VCReporter. A third candidate, Jeff Ketelsen, a hardware clerk from Ojai, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Matt LaVere lives in Ventura and was elected in 2016 to the Ventura City Council, where today he serves as mayor. He is an attorney at a firm specializing in employment, business and real estate law.
LaVere names the “ever-increasing affordability gap” as the most important issue in Ventura County. “It is getting harder and harder for the average person to afford to live here,” he said, pointing to a stagnant economy in the county and “a serious lack of affordable/workforce housing,” as pieces to the issue. He said renters and low-income families are hit the hardest. “That is not right.”
To address the affordability issue at the county he’ll “create an economic development department . . . to proactively engage with local businesses.” That department will target “resources that help start, retain or grow businesses” in the county and work to streamline development procedures.
Homelessness and public transportation are two other top issues LaVere wants to address. “We must continue to be a leader in providing care and wrap-around services to our county’s homeless individuals.” He points to the new homeless shelter in Ventura as the thing he is most proud of as a public official. “This is something I worked very hard on, both as mayor and chair of the council’s homeless subcommittee.” LaVere says more funding is needed for mental health services as a key to combatting homelessness.
When asked if there is anything he would have done differently while in office he said, “I would have handled the Ventura River litigation much differently . . . I learned that you can’t trust everything the city attorneys tell us, and I know the Ventura City Council will take a much closer look at our attorneys moving forward.”
He said the attorneys told the city council “that if someone paid a water bill to a water company and did not have a well (like myself and 95 percent of the people who received notice from the city) then that person had nothing to do with this litigation. This advice was clearly wrong.” He said most of the thousands of people who were sent notices “have nothing at all to worry about,” but, “As mayor of Ventura, I need to own up to this and the fact that the city let the people of both Ventura and Ojai down by not doing a better job of both outreach and oversight of our attorneys.”
As for why he is running for county office now, LaVere responded, “I want to continue my work in ensuring that the Ventura County my children and your children inherit is even better than the Ventura County we know today.”
He said it’s “important to ask . . . ‘What qualifies you for this office?’ ” He lists his “strong relationships and . . . diverse knowledge base” as qualifications, noting that he developed those skills through his various roles with the Ventura City Council’s economic development, homeless and affordable housing, and finance/budget subcommittees as well as the Ventura Chamber of Commerce’s economic development subcommittee.
LaVere’s endorsements include the Ventura County Democratic Party, Greater Oxnard Organization of Democrats, Ventura and Oxnard Chamber of Commerce Political Action Committees, Ventura Citizens for Hillside Preservation, Ventura County Deputy Sheriff’s Association and CAUSE Action Fund. He has signed the No Fossil Fuel Money Pledge.
Trevor Quirk, a resident of Upper Ojai, announced his candidacy on Jan. 27 and is a qualified write-in candidate, meaning his name will not be on the ballot. Those who wish to vote for him will have to write his name on the ballot in the correct section. He is a trial attorney at a Ventura-based firm specializing in personal injury cases.
Quirk said that he felt compelled to run now because “I believe our government should be accountable, transparent and not waste our taxpayer money.” He pointed toward the votes LaVere made as mayor “to spend $4,438,000 of our taxpayer money on Walnut Creek lawyers.” He is referring to a firm the city hired to represent them in the watershed adjudication action. When first asked how he voted, LaVere claimed the closed session votes could not be reported — a statement contrary to state disclosure laws for elected bodies.
Quirk said that the accountability issue goes back two decades, as the city has been over-pumping the Ventura River.
“The city has known and failed to fix [it] for 21 years,” said Quirk. In 2014, when the city was sued to stop over-pumping, he says the city made the wrong choice to start adjudication of the entire watershed. “We elect politicians to deliver solutions, not lawsuits.”
Quirk said that the biggest issue facing the entire county is “protecting our environmental resources, quality of life, homelessness and jobs. These factors are interdependent . . . When we improve the environment and preserve our natural resources, such as the river, people follow. Businesses follow people. Jobs follow businesses.”
For his first steps if elected, Quirk said, “We will pass a county resolution demanding the city dismiss the water lawsuit. We will form the Ventura River Watershed Group,” which would be made up of “people representing all stakeholders,” with a goal of the lawsuit being “immediately dismissed and the formation of a coalition to address and fix the Ventura River, a precious natural resource that has been ignored for far too long.”
Quirk also named the local economy and homelessness as important issues for the county. Having grown up in Sacramento, he sees parallels with Ventura. He says that Sacramento city officials worked with the county to “partner together and rejuvenate their rivers . . . they revitalized their economy. That happened because people are attracted to beautiful, natural areas.”
As for skills he’ll bring to the office, Quirk said he has “a unique ability to inspire others and bring people together from all walks of life . . . to solve problems. I’ve brought people together during the Thomas Fire, Montecito mudslides, Woolsey Fire and at my . . . Ventura business.”
Endorsements for Quirk include Mitch Vaugh, Fire Chief Santa Barbara City Fire Dept. (Ret.), Suza Francina, member Ojai City Council, William Weirick, member Ojai City Council and Michael Bradbury, former Ventura County District Attorney.
Quirk was voted Ventura County Trial Lawyer of the Year in 2017 by his colleagues, and formed the nonprofit organization Upper Ojai Relief in 2017 to assist community members recovering from the Thomas Fire.
Matt LaVere: www.votelavere.com.
Trevor Quirk: www.VoteTrevorQuirk.com
— Kimberly Rivers
District 3: “A clear contrast in candidacies”
Includes Camarillo, Port Hueneme, Southeast Oxnard, East Oxnard Plain, Santa Paula, Fillmore, Piru, East Lockwood Valley, and Eastern Portion of Naval Base Ventura County Port Hueneme.
Candidates: Kelly Long and Kim Marra Stephenson
The heated race for Ventura County Third District Supervisor may prove pivotal for future board decisions on a wide range of issues including the environment, health care and public safety.
Incumbent Kelly Long hopes voters appreciate her first term achievements on issues including homelessness, emergency response and economic development. Challenger Kim Marra Stephenson says environmental issues would be a top priority if elected. She’s critical of Long’s votes allowing oil drilling, and her abstention on a 2017 board resolution supporting the Paris Climate Accord.
California State University, Channel Islands Adjunct Professor of Political Science Tim Allison says board of supervisors races are officially non-partisan, but voters have a stark choice in this contest.
“It seems like there’s a clear difference between these candidates. You have one candidate, the incumbent, who clearly is a Republican,” says Allison. “The challenger is clearly a Democrat. So I think the voters in this race get a clear contrast in candidacies.”
Allison says both candidates have strengths. Long is helped by incumbency and name recognition. Stephenson could benefit from enthusiasm over the Democratic Party presidential primary. “Democrats will be turning out in bigger numbers because it’s a presidential primary, which gives Stephenson kind of an even shot at it,” said Allison.
Centered in Camarillo where both candidates reside, the Third District extends south to Port Hueneme and northeast to include Santa Paula, Fillmore and Piru. It’s the largest of the five districts geographically, covering vast agricultural areas and stretching north across Los Padres National Forest.
Of Ventura County’s three supervisorial races this year, it’s the only one with just two candidates, which guarantees there will be no need for a November runoff.
Long says voters should return her to office March 3 because of her first term achievements. “I’ve been working very hard on many issues for our constituents. We’ve been working on the homelessness issues,” said Long. “I formed the first Fillmore and Piru [Basins] Groundwater Sustainability Agency which includes environmental, municipal and pumpers as board members, which is a first for the state.”
Long also touts her background before being elected County Supervisor. “My experience as a mechanical engineer. I was on the Pleasant Valley School Board, elected in 2012, and then elected as Ventura County Supervisor in 2016. So I have the backing of the community. They trust my morals, my ethics in regards to really looking at the issues at hand and making the best decisions for all community members. I bring a good balance to the board,” said Long.
Stephenson served as principal at Adolfo Camarillo High School between 2015 and 2019, and says her background in education shaped her outlook, and that her personal history also made her an advocate for social justice.
“I have 40 years in this county, and from a pretty humble background,” said Stephenson. “My grandmother was a farmworker. Every generation of my family served at war since immigrating, both grandfathers in World War II and my brother in Afghanistan. . . . My father experienced mental illness in his 20s and committed suicide when he was 30, and left my mom with four kids under the age of 8. I was the 8 years old, helping out with the others. I got my first job at 14 alongside my mom, selling shoes. From that humble background I went on to get a PhD from Stanford in Educational Psychology. So I really worked my way up.”
Stephenson says she’ll be focused on helping people if elected. “I think we have a lot of things to worry about in our community. We have an affordability crisis. We have a lot to do there to create good-paying, forward-thinking jobs, with dignified, safe working conditions.”
One heated issue in the race involves money that oil industry interests have spent supporting Long, as well as Herrera in District 5 (see sidebar, “Oil money thick in supervisor race”). Spending by independent groups backed by oil companies will easily eclipse what the candidate’s campaigns will spend, which is capped at $225,000 under Ventura County’s campaign finance law.
Allison says the amount of money that the oil industry is pumping into the race is unprecedented. “What’s changed in this race in the last few weeks is that the oil and gas industry has put over $900,000 dollars into encouraging folks to support Kelly Long,” said Allison. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen this kind of money being poured into a supervisorial race.”
Stephenson contends that oil interests back Long because she’s sided with the industry on controversial drilling proposals.
“She votes in favor of oil and gas consistently and they’re trying to sustain an unsustainable industry. And we need to prevent that for the health and safety of our community,” said Stephenson.
Long countered that she carefully weighs all the issues that come before the board, including oil. “I have voted for some oil and gas projects as warranted, and I’ve also voted against it multiple times. And a great example for that is the Fox Canyon groundwater. We basically have put a moratorium on that because there was a report that came out that there might be toxins in the water.”
Long also said that she never asked for financial support from the oil industry.
“I don’t have any control over what an outside group does,” said Long. “There’s been a lot of misleading letters and social media posts out there that basically say I’m taking oil money, which is completely untrue. I have not received any money from oil companies to my campaign.”
In Allison’s perspective, the direction the board takes on a variety of issues could be determined by the outcome of the race.
“I’m seeing this race as the swing seat on the board of supervisors,” said Allison. “The determination as to which way the county board swings, at least on certain issues, is this district. Whether the county grows in an environmentally receptive direction or a business-friendly direction, either of those are logical directions for a county to take, depending on the priorities of those that are sitting in those seats.”
Kelly Long: kellylongforsupervisor.com
Kim Marra Stephenson: stephenson4supervisor.com
— Alex Wilson
District 5: Homelessness, housing front and center
Includes Oxnard Shores, Mandalay Bay, Silver Strand, Hollywood Beach, Hollywood by the Sea, Channel Islands Harbor, El Rio, Nyeland Acres, Del Norte, Oxnard College, Oxnard Plain, Strickland and a portion of the Ventura County Naval Base Port Hueneme.
Candidates: Jeffrey Burum, Tim Flynn, Jess Herrera, Carmen Ramirez and Veronica Robles-Solis
With current District 5 Supervisor John Zaragoza hitting his term limit, five people have decided to try to convince voters that they have what it takes to deal with Oxnard’s most pressing issues. Those problems range from rebuilding Fisherman’s Wharf and Oxnard’s downtown to homelessness and affordable housing to boosting the county’s economy.
Zaragoza, whose district is made up largely of Oxnard, is running for mayor of that city. Meanwhile, Oxnard’s current mayor, Tim Flynn, is running to take Zaragoza’s spot — which his father, John Flynn, held for 24 years.
But Flynn must beat Oxnard businessman Jeffrey Burum, Oxnard City Mayor Pro-Tem Carmen Ramirez and Port of Hueneme Commissioner Jess Herrera as well as Oxnard School Board Trustee Veronica Robles-Solis.
Flynn, who made an unsuccessful bid to get Amazon to open its planned new headquarters in Oxnard in 2018, said bringing better-paying jobs to Ventura County is a top priority for him.
“I’m running for one reason: economic and job growth,” Flynn said at a Feb. 5 candidates forum also attended by Burum and Ramirez. (Robles-Solis had to attend a school board meeting that night.)
Despite an ongoing economic expansion, the middle class dream has eluded too many people, too many times in Ventura County, Flynn said.
“In Oxnard in particular, perhaps as many as 40 percent not only can’t afford a home, but two or three families have to live in one home,” Flynn said. “We have college graduates that live with their parents.”
Something needs to be done “on a county level” as opposed to each city tackling the problem on their own, Flynn added.
When the subject turned to homelessness, Flynn, Burum, Herrera and Ramirez all said they support the Housing First model for addressing homeless.
Housing First is a relatively new approach that puts permanent housing ahead of other services — get a person housing first, take care of their other needs afterward.
Ramirez made the case that Oxnard’s homelessness crisis can be better dealt with from a county level than by the city council.
“I do believe in Housing First, but first you have to have some units to put people in,” Ramirez said. “We do not have enough units, but who controls the funding for services? It’s the county.”
Ramirez said she would be going to Sacramento later this month with other local officials to ask Governor Gavin Newsom to earmark more funding for Ventura County to deal with homelessness.
“The governor’s plan, which is nice, gives all of the money to the bigger cities; our county will not be getting any of the money,” Ramirez said.
Flynn took things a step further and said the federal government should get involved by making available little-used properties such as Camp Roberts in San Luis Obispo County.
“We need to find a place to house people until we get them back to work,” Flynn said. “We need a new WPA (Works Progress Administration) program to get people back to work.”
Burum said government partnerships with churches and nonprofits would be a better approach than government programs that he called unaffordable and ineffective, noting that the state has spent $2.7 billion in the last two years on such programs, “yet homelessness has surged 16 percent.”
A certified public accountant, Burum promised to use “total quality and financial management to streamline processes,” thus saving taxpayers money.
“Partnerships provide affordable and effective holistic programs with measurable results,” Burum said, outlining private sector access to mental health services, food, healthcare, job transitions and short-term shelter or housing with clear law enforcement and financial accountability.
Herrera didn’t offer a specific plan for dealing with the homeless crisis in Oxnard, but said that the 29,000 people in Oxnard living in poverty were not being listened to because of their social status.
“I am a strong advocate for social equity,” Herrera said, adding that as a labor leader he made sure families had contracts with livable wages and healthcare.
“If one of us succeeds we all should succeed,” Herrera said. “I believe I have the leadership skills to provide that type of economy.”
Jeffrey Burum: www.facebook.com/burum4supervisor/
Tim Flynn: www.tim4supervisor.com
Carmen Ramirez: www.carmen4supervisor.com
Veronica Robles-Solis: www.facebook.com/VeronicaRoblesSolisforSupervisor/
NOTE: As of press time, no informational website for Jess Herrera could be identified.
— David Michael Courtland