Dueling Pseudo-Slates Vie for Control

by Nick Welsh • Photographs by
Paul Wellman

So irresistible is Carpinteria’s small-town charm that it
infects even preelection mudslinging. Just recently, allegations
have been leveled at Carpinteria Mayor Brad Stein — now seeking
reelection — accusing him of abusing his mayoral influence on
behalf of special interests. But unlike the usual suspects dogging
city halls across the state, this special interest is not a real
estate developer, trash hauler, or public employees’ union.
Instead, it’s Little League Baseball. Stein — who has now served 16
years on the City Council — also happens to be vice president of
the Carpinteria Little League. Three weeks ago, a Newport Beach
attorney representing a then new and anonymous group calling itself
Carpinterians for Ethical Government (CEG) demanded a full public
investigation into Stein’s alleged ethical transgressions.


Specific charges were brought to light at a recent press
conference, when CEG spokesperson Alan Alpers — an Oxnard resident
who reportedly continuously mispronounced the city’s name as
“Carpeteria” — charged that Stein used his mayoral mantle on behalf
of Little League in its long-simmering turf war with the American
Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO) over scheduling rights to
Carpinteria’s El Carro Park fields. About 18 months ago, according
to his detractors, Stein angrily threatened to have the soccer
players participating in Carpinteria’s established Beach Cup
regional tournament denied any future access to El Carro Park. In
addition, CEG complained that Stein — acting not as mayor but as a
private citizen — commandeered city parks workers on behalf of
Little League that same weekend and that he improperly participated
in not one but two City Hall meetings from which any ethically
minded elected official would have recused himself due to his
Little League ties.

Stein denied ever threatening to ban the soccer tournament from
the fields. “That’s ridiculous,” he said, adding that even if he
had, it clearly had no impact. Since the alleged incident took
place, the Beach Cup has used the El Carro fields two years in a
row. Stein — who also coaches youth baseball and football and
volunteered to line the fields when his sons played AYSO
soccer — acknowledged attending the two meetings, but said he left
the talking to others. He finally did recuse himself the second
time the controversy went to the City Council, he said, but only to
avoid the appearance of a conflict. By then, Stein said
Carpinteria’s city attorney had assured him he had violated no
actual conflict of interest laws. “This is a small community,”
Stein said. “I figured we could settle things as adults.”

Stein and his supporters contend it’s no coincidence the
last-minute attack — which now includes a new blog bird-dogging the
issue and a hit-piece mailed to Carpinteria voters asking, “Who
Really Is Brad Stein?” — was launched in the final weeks leading up
to next Tuesday’s election. “It’s the silly season,” he said. “What
can you expect?” Some of Stein’s City Hall supporters privately
concede the mayor should have recused himself from the matter
sooner for the sake of appearances. But the two councilmembers
appointed to the ad hoc subcommittee created to resolve the
soccer-baseball rift — Donna Jordan and Michael Ledbetter — insist
that Stein has adopted a strictly hands-off attitude and never
broached the matter with them.

Such seemingly small-scale dogfights might be the envy of big
cities struggling with more dire controversies, but for people
living in Carpinteria, such accusations could have a profound
effect on the future direction of their City Council. With three
out of five seats up for grabs, the $64,000 question is whether the
moderate slow-growth slate that’s been calling the shots in
Carpinteria since first winning a council majority in 1990 — of
which Stein is a charter member — can retain control. It remains to
be seen what influence the assault on Stein’s character will have.
Some are hoping it will illustrate the need for a change; others
are betting Stein’s critics, with their out-of-town attorney and
spokesperson, will turn off most Carpinteria voters.

Running as an informal slate is Stein — the four-term
incumbent — and two first-time contenders for public office: Al
Clark and Gregg Carty. Clark, an industrial safety consultant, ran
the 1990 campaign that initially put the majority of former slate
candidates — Donna Jordan, Michael Ledbetter, and Stein — in
office. (Jordan is stepping down this year because of her
diminished hearing ability; Ledbetter doesn’t come up for
reelection for two years.) While Clark has toyed with running in
the past, he was dissuaded by those concerned he would be perceived
as too much of a tree-hugger to win. A Santa Barbara native who
moved to Carpinteria in 1987, Clark just stepped down as president
of the Carpinteria Valley Association (a slow-growth advocacy
organization), helped found Carpinteria Seal Watch, and has been
active in creek preservation efforts. “For some, the almighty
dollar is the be-all and ends-all,” said Clark of his
decision-making process, “but that’s not the case for me.”

Carty, a building contractor, has lived all but the first five
years of his life in Carpinteria, where his father served as school
superintendent for 27 years. An energetic volunteer on behalf of
Carpinteria’s signature Avocado Festival and a 12-year veteran of
the Architectural Review Board, Carty — the only Republican running
on the slate — embodies Carpinteria pride to such a degree that he
rarely ventures outside its borders for work or recreation. “I’ve
been to lots of places in Southern California where you hear people
say, ‘This used to be nice, but look at it now,’” Carty said. “I’m
going to make sure that doesn’t happen to Carpinteria.”

All three contenders — who actively embrace the platform of the
original Jordan, Ledbetter, and Stein slate — were involved in the
successful community campaign to buy the Carpinteria Bluffs from
private developers and preserve that scenic coastal expanse as open
space and park land. All take pride in downtown’s low-key
revitalization campaign that spruced up Linden Avenue without
running out the local shops in favor of the chains. All have
campaigned to protect Carpinteria’s community spirit and small-town
essence from the threat of overdevelopment. And all three support
Measure D 2006, the quarter-cent sales tax surcharge that will
finance freeway widening, commuter rail, and a host of other
congestion relief measures, also appearing on this November’s
ballot. Because of these factors, this informal slate is known as
ABC (Al, Brad, and Carty) for D.

Running on the other side is the even more informal pairing of
candidates Greg Gandrud — the ever-outspoken Republican now seeking
his second term — and Ron Hurd, a retired sheriff’s lieutenant
active with the Lion’s Club. While Hurd has little civic
involvement in Carpinteria politics, he grew up there, and his high
school civics teacher was the city’s first manager. In addition,
Hurd’s mother is widely regarded as a major force within
Carpinteria Republican circles. Hurd is campaigning on the slogan
“Time for a change” and is hoping that after 16 years the current
slate has worn out its welcome. Gandrud, in keeping with his
Libertarian leanings, is running on the slogan “More freedom, less
government.” Initially, Gandrud said he supported the
Jordan-Ledbetter-Stein slate and even donated money to their
campaigns. But his eyes were quickly opened, he said, by the
“unintended consequences” of the slate’s slow-growth
policies — lack of economic opportunity and a dearth of affordable

Above all, Gandrud and Hurd are campaigning against Measure D,
arguing it doesn’t provide nearly enough money for freeway widening
and gives way too much to alternative modes such as commuter rail.
Gandrud’s political career has been defined almost exclusively by
his tireless support for freeway widening. In fact, of all the 47
elected city and county officials within the county borders,
Gandrud is the only one to vote against placing Measure D before
voters. “I guess I’m the only one with any guts,” he said. Acting
as his own attorney, Gandrud challenged the accuracy of the ballot
language in favor of Measure D — as well as the impartial
analysis — but lost after a very long day in court. In the emerging
alphabet soup of Carpinteria politics, the Gandrud-Hurd ticket is
known as “FGH,” which stands for “freeway widening, Gandrud, and

Should Gandrud and Hurd prevail next week, they would team up
with conservative Councilmember Joe Armendariz to form a new
council majority. But given the obvious bad blood between Gandrud
and Armendariz — whose differences are both personal and
political — it’s doubtful that the new majority would be nearly as
cohesive and collegial as the existing one. Regardless of who’s in
office — and how well they do or don’t get along — the new City
Council will confront a basketful of tough issues. The most obvious
is Venoco’s proposal to build an onshore slant-drilling operation,
replete with a 175-foot-tall tower, at its existing coastal
facility. While Carpinteria enviros are emphatically opposed, the
new plant promises to contribute millions in royalty payments to
City Hall’s coffers. In addition, there are two major resorts now
on the drawing boards for the Carpinteria coast; the biggest
features a 220-room hotel, three restaurants, a spa, and a culinary
school overlooking Rincon. There’s also talk about a ballot measure
to challenge the Lagunitas housing project and research and
development park — 74 housing units plus 145,000 square feet of
offices — which was approved just two weeks ago by the City
Council. And finally, there’s People’s Self-Help Housing’s proposal
to rezone eight acres of agricultural land to allow the creation of
affordable housing for farm workers who, all sides agree, are now
living in sub-slum conditions.

With such difficult matters on the horizon, is it any wonder
some people would prefer to talk about Little League Baseball?


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