2020 candidates Carmen Ramirez (left) and Tim Flynn, for Ventura County Supervisor, Dist. 5.
by Kimberly Rivers
Two new supervisors will take the oath of office early next year for the Ventura County Board of Supervisors. One of them, Matt LaVere, the current mayor of Ventura, was elected to the District 1 seat in the March primary. The second will be the candidate who wins the most votes from District 5 voters — either Tim Flynn or Carmen Ramirez, both currently serving on the Oxnard City Council as Mayor and Mayor Pro Tem respectively. [Supervisor Kelly Long (Dist. 3) was re-elected to her second term.]
The District 5 race has the opportunity to create the first female majority on the board, or foster a new power dynamic.
The supervisors have come to consensus on many decisions to help the county weather the pandemic crisis. But other policy concerns related to climate change, housing, racial and social equality may lead to split votes, with supervisors voting along political party lines. A clear example of this is in the recent adoption of the Ventura County General Plan, which includes a Climate Action Plan with several strong restrictions and prohibitions for the local oil and gas industry. The plan had the support of Steve Bennett (Dist. 1), Linda Parks (Dist 2) and John Zaragoza (Dist. 3), while Long and Bob Huber (Dist. 4) were the two opposing votes.
In the current District 5 race, voters will choose between two very distinctive voices. On one hand is Carmen Ramirez, a Democrat, who has taken a strong stance in favor of environmental protection and social equity. Tim Flynn, also a Democrat, has demonstrated a focus on jobs, rebuilding and “the American dream.” (Story was edited on Oct. 15, 4:26 p.m. to correct an error about Flynn’s party registration).
On Oct. 6, Flynn and Ramirez participated in a forum moderated by David Maron and hosted by the Ventura County League of Women Voters. The questions were submitted in advance by community members and screened by the league. Questions concerned plans for Channel Islands Harbor and Fisherman’s Wharf, the future of the local fossil fuel industry, area airports and economic recovery from the pandemic.
“Prior to the pandemic, Oxnard and Ventura County had experienced five years of negative or zero economic growth,” said Flynn, saying he will focus on “rebuilding” the local economy. “Jobs, it’s all about jobs, all about upward social mobility.” He said a place to start is Fisherman’s Wharf.
Ramirez said a strong economy will be a key focus for her if elected, and getting “jobs back, help[ing] businesses” recover from the pandemic. She pointed to her long history as a local attorney working with people helping with “their basic needs, housing, civil rights, benefits when disabled . . . I have the pulse of our community, I know what people need.”
When asked about the local airports and a potential joint use agreement, Flynn said he’d provide leadership to bring commercial service to the county.
His “number one goal” is “attracting high-paying jobs to the county,” and he said access to commercial air services is key to that goal. He suggested one route could be to partner with the U.S. military to get commercial air service at the base.
Ramirez countered that while she’d be open to hearing about plans for commercial service, she has heard concerns from residents about noise, traffic and other issues related to the existing airports, particularly in Camarillo.
Regarding the impact of COVID-19 on local businesses, Ramirez pointed to her role in oversight with the Ventura County Community Foundation, saying that she “made it my business . . . to ensure Oxnard businesses would not be left out” of the rapid response grant program for small businesses. She said additional stimulus money from the federal government is key and that she would work with the county to push for that funding as well as work to obtain private funding for local businesses.
Flynn pointed to what he is “doing now,” namely rapid testing, and said that “rapid response management” based on “credible data” is needed to help the county “more effectively manage this crisis.”
Climate change and the fossil fuels industry
Both candidates stated that climate change is real and Flynn said the county does have an important role in carrying out the state’s “aggressive” goals and rules to become carbon neutral. “Ventura County is the number three producer of oil and gas” in the state. He said the transition away from fossil fuels is happening, but that it’s a question of “how to transition” from dependence on fossil fuels. “We can’t throw people out of work.” He said a clear plan is required.
When asked whether the oil and gas industry should be shut down in light of the perception that clean energy jobs pay less (See Sidebar, “District 5 Forum Fact Check”), Flynn didn’t directly answer the question, focusing instead on being responsible and training.
“When someone has invested capital…[there] needs to be an amortization of that investment; they expect a return on that money,” explained Flynn. “What is most responsible? Making sure that every single man and woman that works in an oil [and natural gas] field [gets] the proper job training.”
“I don’t accept the premise” that clean energy jobs pay less, responded Ramriez. She referred to a report that clean energy jobs pay 13 percent more than fossil fuel-based jobs. “You have to think about what is [going to happen] when the oil industry fades . . . let’s get ahead of it, let’s retrain people.” She added that the industry needs to be held responsible for those workers who “can’t transition.” Ramirez referred to many oil companies going bankrupt and leaving billions of dollars of debt and “liabilities to clean up,” saying that there will also be jobs in cleaning up those sites. She said she won’t “give [oil companies] a pass, they have to take care of their workers.”
Both candidates said they will push for strong education for local youth to provide a work force for high-tech jobs, and that local networking infrastructure such as fiber optics needs to be expanded across the county.
“Healthcare” will also be a “huge issue coming forward,” said Ramirez, predicting the arrival of a “silver tsunami” as the Ventura County population ages. She said that jobs associated with the healthcare needs of seniors will be part of boosting the local economy.
“I led the effort to attract Amazon,” said Flynn. After noting that negotiations begun in 2017 weren’t successful at the time, he hinted at an announcement that would be made in the coming week that would “bring higher paying jobs with benefits,” and that he’d “take that accomplishment to county government.” He was referring to the city’s announcement on Oct. 8 that a new Amazon fulfillment center is to be built in Oxnard by the end of 2021, providing 1,500 jobs.
Flynn reported that when first elected mayor, he met with the harbor director and county counsel to say that it was “time that Oxnard has a seat at the table,” and as a result of that meeting an unpopular proposal was turned down by the city. “Bottom line is, this is on the right path [now],” he said, pointing toward the formation of a resident’s committee.
Ramirez stated that “nothing has happened in the past 10 years” at Fisherman’s Wharf and that the area is the “gateway to the Channel Islands” and should be developed into something “everyone can agree on.” She emphasized that she would not allow it to be turned into “Marina del Rey.”
Flynn said that while the open space agricultural protection law (SOAR) “restricts [the] supply of houses,” he said the demand for housing remains constant and that “is going to raise prices.” He said finding a way to build more housing infill, in city areas like River Park at the Collection, is ideal: “Smart growth,” putting housing close to commercial “so people can walk.”
“I support housing of all types,” Ramirez responded, and said there will need to be effective education provided to the public on the need for denser housing. We may “have to build up” instead of out. “People are living in overcrowded situations. A whole family in a room in a suburban tract house, it’s a horrible way to live; children can’t study.”
Summarizing their goals if they are elected to the supervisor seat, the candidates expressed two very clear — and very different — approaches.
“I got my start [ politically] stopping a liquified natural gas terminal” in Oxnard, recounted Ramirez, and said her goal as supervisor would be to “represent the people who live here . . . to thrive and survive into a cleaner future.”
“If we are going to sustain our lifestyle, if we are going to preserve the quality of life right here . . . [it] cannot come if we don’t have higher paying jobs, it’s about the American Dream. I will take the reins of the board of supervisors and work with [them to bring] the best and highest paying jobs.”
Ventura County voters will determine which vision prevails on Nov. 3.
Videos of forums hosted by Ventura County League of Women Voters are online at: https://my.lwv.org/california/ventura-county/candidate-forums