T.O. Council Uses “Measure E” Loophole to Skirt Voters During Tuesday’s City Council Meeting

By Kevin Harris

In a controversial move Tuesday night, the Thousand Oaks City Council voted to use a “Measure E” loophole to increase the city’s residential density, without putting the issue to a public vote. Also during Tuesday’s Council meeting, the City Council reauthorized local PEG fees for video providers, and hosted the local fire chief as he commemorated two local police officers. 

“Measure E? We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Measure E!”

Item 9A, a Department Report, was a request to the City Council for land use changes, including a call to adjust residential density designations to match existing density (zone changes). Doing so would help add “unused density units” to a citywide Measure E pool – a concept the City Council decided to add to Measure E in 2005, without a vote. 

This process freed-up imaginary “units” to be replaced by actual residential units at numerous zones throughout Thousand Oaks. According to the city, the newly-requested changes could add as many as 5400 actual units to the pool, though the Council chose to add only 20% of that figure, or 1,088 actual units to the Measure E pool. Currently, there are 124 units along Thousand Oaks Boulevard, and 433 units in the broader citywide pool. 

Though the need for affordable housing remains paramount, not only in Thousand Oaks, but across California, and increasing residential density is a powerful tool to help achieve it, Measure E was voted on, and passed by local voters in 1996 to make sure sprawl and density issues remained in the hands of the citizens. It required voter approval for any land use element that would increase net residential density over 1996 levels. 

The presentation for this Department Report was given by Community Development Director, Mark Towne, and the issue brought in a large, interested audience. During the Council’s Q&A, it was Council Member Al Adam who first asked the question (of Towne) that was on everyone’s mind: “By taking this full inventory, coming up with these units, what we’re talking about tonight. Does that any way undermine the original intent of Measure E?” 

Council Member Al Adam

Towne’s reply was thorough, but still left open questions as to the legal and ethical implications of the actions. “No, it’s entirely consistent with the letter of Measure E and the intent of it,” Towne said. “The over-achieving goal of Measure E is to insure that there is never any net increase in the residential capacity that exists on November 5, 1996. We’ve never exceeded that capacity, and these actions tonight, even coupled with actions to re-allocate the units, they still ensure that we never exceed that threshold,” he added. 

Public Speakers:

When it came time for the public to speak or ask questions, there were more than a dozen speakers waiting in line. As it turned out, most of them were in support of the resolution and zone changes, though many of them were “industry” people of one sort or another; public housing think tanks, home insurance brokers, etc. A sampling of speakers follows:

Rick Lemo, Newbury Park resident. Mr. Lemo seemed to make good arguments against what the Council was doing, yet concluded in support of them. “Because of Measure E, our growth was controlled not by the City Council. Not even by the person who wrote the measure. It was controlled by us.” He went on to say that he did not want Thousand Oaks to become the San Fernando Valley, but then asked the Council to vote for the resolution. 

Mathew Finup, Exec. Director, Center for Economic Research and Forecasting at Cal Lutheran, and Ventura resident. Wants Measure E housing bank amended to allow more housing in Ventura County. Cited the poor local economy and lack of local housing (partially worsened by the Thomas Fire), as his reasons. He supports the Council resolution. 

Greg Van Ness, CEO, Tomin & Wyker Insurance/Center for Economic Research and Forecasting at Cal Lutheran (with Mr. Finup). Said there is an imbalance in the housing supply in Ventura County. “For those who’d like to preserve what Thousand Oaks was 40 or 50 years ago, that ship has sailed. And if we want a healthy economy, I think it’s important we support the additional 1,080 units that’s part of the Measure E housing bank.” 

Marilyn Carpenter, former Planning Commissioner, Thousand Oaks. Long time resident. “Measure E was strongly supported by people in this community, and what is perceived now, is you have drafted an end round, a way to avoid what was promised to the voters,” she said. 

“My question for you is, what are you afraid of? I’m so deeply disappointed in the actions of the Council. I think that a promise is a promise, and you made a promise with Measure E. And now that promise is being broken. If you were all that we had hoped for, you would put it to a vote,” she added. 

Marilyn Carpenter

Following the public comments, it was time for staff and Council members to respond, and to make any final comments before they voted on the issue. Most seemed surprised by the level of interest by the public, and went on the defensive with their statements, starting with Mark Towne. 

“Staff is not reinventing Measure E,” he said. “We are looking at it exactly as it is written… There is no new process here. All that we have done is look at Measure E comprehensively,” he added. He also pointed out that the 1,088 units being added to the pool represents just a 2% increase in local density. 

Council Member Joel Price said he supports the resolution, and warned that if they don’t increase density, Sacramento will eventually force them to anyway. He also said that the 1,088 units, if they get built, will not change the fabric of the city. “The alternative is to shrivel up, and impose higher taxes on those who live here,” he said. 

Council Member Claudia Bill-de la Pena gave a painfully rambling speech with no indication of her final position, until eventually she said she supports an “advisory vote” on the issue by the residents. She seemed apologetic, and maybe a little bit nervous, for disagreeing with her fellow Council Members. 

Council Member Adam, who also rambled with his response for a while, came out in support of the resolution, while Mayor Pro Tem Rob McCoy boldly stated his position – that supporting the resolution was the moral thing to do, regardless of the political risk, because people were displaced by the Thompson Fires and needed a place to live. 

Mayor Andrew Fox, who co-authored Measure E, explained why he still backs the measure. “Measure E was designed to allow the Council to make minor land use decisions that effect our community, which as you’ve seen tonight, can be very complex. We’re dealing with affordable housing, we’re dealing with economic development… but at its core, Measure E has done its job.” 

Mayor Fox

In the final vote, the resolution passed, 4 to 1. The ordinance will be included in a future City Council meeting for final adoption. 

PEG Reauthorization & Police Commemoration

Also during the meeting was item 8A, a Public Hearing to approve the reauthorization of the city’s PEG fee. PEG stands for Public, Educational and Government access, and the fee is restricted to capital expenditures.

This authorizes a franchise fee of cable and video TV operations to help fund Thousand Oaks TV, among other projects. The vote passed unanimously. 

Earlier during the meeting, during “Special Presentation and Announcements,” local Fire Chief Ted Smith recognized two local police deputies for outstanding service. Smith told the story about how officers Jonathan Bentrup and Josh Richter extinguished a fire at a Newbury Park residence, saving both the resident’s life, and the house from burning down, before firefighters arrived on scene. 

The Fire Chief presented the deputies with a Ventura County Firefighters’ Challenge Coin, and even offered them applications to join the Fire Department! 

Fire Chief Ted Smith presents challenge coin to hero police officers Jonathan Bentrup and Josh Richter

Thousand Oaks Police Chief Hagel had a few words of praise for his officers as well. “What you see right here is a legacy of law enforcement in Thousand Oaks, and I couldn’t be more proud.” He then asked the Fire Chief if the deputies can drive the fire truck, but the Fire Chief declined. 

The next Thousand Oaks City Council Meeting will be on Tuesday, January 23, 2018, at 6:00 pm. To access the meeting agenda, or to watch the video of the meeting, please go to the following URL, then scroll down and click on “City Council:” http://www.toaks.org/departments/city-manager-s-office/watch-totv/past-meeting-videos.


Kevin Harris

Kevin Harris is a reporter, editor and journalist, previous President of Cal State Northridge’s Society of Professional Journalists having worked for the LA Times and Newhall Signal. He is now also a Realtor and videographer, and lives with his two children in Thousand Oaks. 

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Rob McCoy
2 years ago

The article is good but the headline is not.

William Hicks
William Hicks
2 years ago

And yet the voters and the City council till stick to having approximately 1/3rd of Thousand Oaks as designated open space. Voters have accepted high density housing in order token the overly generous designation for open space.

One interesting question. Would everyone in Thousand Oaks like to give up their single family dwellings in exchange for high density dwellings in order to keep the overly generous open space? If not, why would they force that on any future residents of Thousand Oaks?