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VENTURA LIFE MAGAZINE ARTICLE- 2008
MAYOR: CHRISTY WEIR
By Amy Jones, Photography by Donna Granata, Rod McAtee
and additional photos provided by Mayor Weir

We met Mayor Christy Weir for a chat at her office in Ventura’s City Hall where one of her early stone sculptures is displayed. Laid back and cheerful, she met us in all manner of California casualness dressed in sandals, canvas-colored jeans and a green sweater. She would don a suit later for a local business ribbon cutting. A relative new-comer to the local political scene, Christy garnered attention and favor when she helped purchase the Grant Park land where crosses have stood over the city since the historic San Buenaventura Spanish Mission erected the first cross in the 1700’s. An out-of-area attorney decided to challenge our community on the separation of church and state issue and was pushing to force the removal of the cross through a costly legal process.

Christy grew up in Santa Barbara and has a colorful past. She lived in a Christian commune in the 70’s where she embraced social service by caring for people in need. Christy said, “I have always been and am still chiefly interested in the common good.”  She worked with Gospel Light Publishing as a writer and editor, and wrote a children’s book about the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. She has two grown children and three little granddaughters.

Christy reflected, “I got involved with a Christian group and dropped out of college. It was the hippy days, and I lived with a bunch of people…We picked up hitchhikers and fed them; we brought people into the house and took care of them…

‘Later I went back to school and became a kindergarten teacher. Then I moved to a farm in Oregon to get back to nature and raise my own animals and farm organic produce and have babies. I came back to Santa Barbara to help my parents as they were getting older. The public service part…I’ve always been interested in doing what you can to make the world better at whatever place you are, using whatever skills you have and reaching out…  

‘As my kids went away to college, I started thinking that I was going to be fifty soon, and that you could actually do some cool stuff in politics; you could make a difference especially in a town like Ventura. I saw what the city was doing with the arts, and all the cool stuff that I was fascinated by and supported, and I found myself noticing potholes. My attention was turning to wanting the city to be a better place. I thought well, there’s a time to do everything …

‘Then the whole cross thing happened, because of the law suit. And the city was thinking they needed to sell [the Grant Park cross].  I was puzzled and frustrated about it, because I didn’t see a positive solution coming out of it, and it was turning out to be a battle between the far right people and the far left people. I asked, ‘Can’t we have a nice solution and keep it local and honor what this town has come to think of as one of our landmarks?’ No one seemed to be proposing healthy solutions. So I formed a non-profit link, and in the course of two months, we raised over a hundred thousand dollars, put a bid in and got it. Then it was a matter of, ‘Oh my gosh we own the cross! There’s no law suit!’  I got twenty calls a day from people who got married at the [Grant Park] cross, or who had memorials for loved ones there; it is just a place with memories for many people, and it goes so far back, that I realized how important it and all of our landmarks are. We are about our links to the past.”

On Easter Sunday, 1782, Spanish missionary, Father Junipero Serra, founded Mission San Buenaventura. There was a commemoration day wooden cross and a wooden cross erected as a road mark on Grant Park Hill. Since Christy’s non-profit purchased the cross and the land, the name has been changed to Serra Cross Conservancy.

AJ: “Mayor Weir, how is it to be a woman in local politics? Do you find that you think differently from the men around you in City Hall?”

MW:” I don’t usually see it as a gender thing. I don’t think in terms of feminine or masculine too much, because I know too many people that cross over.  I don’t categorize it that way, but I do have some different skills and experiences. Parenting is a big part of that, because you learn how to juggle a million things to get to one result. I think dads can do that too. It’s something that has helped me whether or not it’s feminine, because it’s helped me to be a different kind of politician, from what I’ve seen…

‘There’s something about being interested in the whole community and not being a one-issue kind of person that feels right for me. I’m not pushing one agenda. I’m not a Republican, and I’m not a Democrat; I am a decline to state.  I don’t have a point of view that I’m trying to push things towards other than the fact that the city has got some great potential, and there’s a way to realize it. Things I think are important are history, aesthetics, and social issues we need to work on like the homeless…

‘Right now we have a good variety of people on our council, and I don’t consider them six men, who think like six men, and then there’s me. All seven [city council members] have different skills and experiences we bring to this. I feel like I’ve been welcomed and respected, and I wouldn’t be mayor if I wasn’t, because [the other council
members] choose the mayor.”

AJ: “On that topic, there’s been some conversation about changing our system to one in which we would elect a mayor…”

MW: “I don’t think it would make a difference honestly… It would only make a difference if the mayoral job description changed and the elected mayor took the place of the city manager. You can’t make decisions on your own as the [Ventura] Mayor, but there’s influence. You have the ability to work with staff on agendas and council meetings. You do a lot more speaking and have sort of a pulpit to talk about your issues. I think that sometimes when people talk about elected mayors, they think they are going to get someone into city hall, and that person is going to change everything, be accountable and be the boss, and they
just aren’t.”  

AJ: “One of the most interesting things I’ve researched is the move by American Mayors to address national and international issues in Mayor’s conferences through unified proclamations and treaties. You talked about making our own city political process friendlier by inviting participation. Can I get your response to the concept of bringing international dialogue into a community via the Mayor’s office?  What is your interest, as a mayor, in embracing these programs?”

MW: “Honestly I’m more interested in acting locally. I believe that those things are worth while, and some people have high interest. I’m more interested in what I can do today, to make a difference today, right here, rather than spending whole lots of energy on that stuff…I’m really glad there’s people different than me, because we need all types to do all types of things. I believe my job is to help to design neighborhoods where people aren’t going to need cars. That’s how I can act locally other than sign papers. I’m a big believer in action, and I would rather see someone plant a tree than spend weeks stressing about something that’s going on in another country.  I know we all have our interests, and maybe it’s because I’m getting older, but I like to see something happen, not just words. I like to see us building bicycle paths, so people can ride their bikes, and I like figuring out ways to do sidewalks, so people can walk. I like to see us doing adaptive reuse…I believe in this country, city and state that we could really do more if we could cut through all of the rhetoric. I tell people, ‘Hang your clothes up out on the line instead of putting them in the dryer.’ [Laughs] Simple things. I think there are simple things we can all do, and I would like to do them. We don’t have to make things quite so complicated. We can all make a difference in our own way, and we don’t have to convolute things in our brains. I know we’ve had requests as city council to weigh in on national and international issues, and most of the time we decline. We have jurisdiction over the city, and take that very seriously. Sometimes we don’t think it’s appropriate to take stances on things we have nothing to say about…Last year the Mayor’s Conference had a global warming statement that they wanted all of the mayors, and thereby all the cities to sign, and Carl [Former Ventura Mayor Carl Morehouse] signed.”

The 2007 Mayors Climate Protection Summit was hosted by the United States Conference of Mayors and the City of Seattle. A statement from their web site discusses: “Scientific evidence and consensus” about the threat posed to the environmental and economic health of local communities.

In 2005 the Kyoto Protocol, the international agreement to address climate disruption, became law for the countries that ratified it. It now covers more than 170 countries globally. As of December 2007, the U.S. and Kazakhstan were the only signatory nations not to have ratified the act. In response to the U.S. federal government’s refusal to participate, Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels launched an initiative to advance the goals of the Kyoto Protocol through leadership and action by American cities. Area cities whose mayors signed the treaty include: Ventura, Moorpark, Thousand Oaks, and Santa Barbara.

Another group, Mayors for Peace, is an organization based in Japan, headed by the Mayor from Hiroshima and the Mayor from Nagasaki that advocates for nuclear weapons disarmament. Locally, Santa Paula’s Mayor participated in the Prep Conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty at the United Nations in New York City in 2004.  In 2005, Santa Paula was the only American city that sent an elected official to the Nuclear Weapons Free Zones Conference in Mexico. Hundreds of cities have declared themselves nuclear free zones. And though they don’t have direct legislative power to enforce reform in these areas, the mayors’ movement is seen as something that gives voice to the populations they serve while helping to create political sensitivity and international consensus.

AJ: “Christy, I agree that there is a lot of convoluted thinking about national and international issues, but there is also a lot of informed thinking and debate vs. rhetoric happening.  I think that the lines separating local and global are being blurred. Through globalization, our world is getting smaller…Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) is a global issue, for instance, that’s floating right up to our beaches in Ventura.  How is our little town going to respond to multi-national, multi-billion dollar industries seeking to establish a network of LNG facilities off our coast lines supported by multi-million dollar marketing dollars to woo support?”

MW: “We did vote not to endorse the LNG proposal, not that we had any say over it, because the pipes weren’t coming across our city; they were proposed to come across Oxnard. We voted that we would not endorse one of the proposals. They keep coming. What I’m going to do with my two years, which is going to go real fast, is try and help people understand that everyday actions make a difference – like shopping locally…I’ve just spent four years figuring out how to get the Downtown Ventura Organization up and running so we can help unique businesses survive. We don’t have to drive everywhere to get our products, and we don’t have to get them from China or wherever…You save gas when you don’t drive to Costco; it makes a difference with smog and with keeping the money here to make a difference here. It’s simple things like that. And, the whole historical adaptive reuse thing; I think we need to push more towards fixing up what we have and not always  move out and do something new. So I guess people could accuse me of being super-practical, [Laughs] but I think I am. Super practical.”

AJ: “So we’ve touched on your strengths and the organic process that landed you in this chair. What are some of your weaknesses?”

MW: “Just one? [Laughs] You know how your weaknesses and your strengths are the same thing only a different side of the coin? Being action oriented, I can be impatient, wanting to get things done quickly. That can rub people the wrong way. I can come across as being pushy - pushy when you’re a woman. And, the inexperience part…that can be good, because you come in with a fresh view…But, it’s a disadvantage when you come upon areas with which you’re a little unfamiliar. After four years…I kinda know how our local government works. Micro-managing; there’s a weakness I’m accused of all the time. I’m trying not
to be, but coming from publishing I’m curious…I like to fix things.”

AJ: “One of our problems in this town is drug abuse, especially meth-amphetamines. People are clustering in the prime areas of our community to peddle and consume drugs…We’ve actually taken pictures of people shooting up, or
smoking-out in plain view, in the middle of the day, on Main Street. What is our city doing about that? What are our challenges and limitations and goals?”

MW:  “I don’t really know specifically what our police do…The county has way more money and ability to do special task forces for special problems, and I know the county has a whole thing going on with trying to help the children in those situations…Adults make their own choices, but being a kid person and seeing children put in harm’s way is totally sad to me.…Where are they getting it?”

AJ: “Well you can sit in a downtown parking lot, and sometimes a van drives up, and strung-out, flipped-out looking people flock to it, and it’s clear, even as a pedestrian just going out to dinner or something, what’s happening. We’ve seen a group of 15 people or so huddled on the ground right in the downtown Ventura mini-park doing drugs together.”

MW: “Well this is our most recent unpopular decision - the 911 Fee. The city is going to charge a fee on everyone’s phone line to cover our 911 services, and it’s for the purpose of hiring more police and firefighters, because our police cannot handle that kind of stuff…I walk along Figeroa Plaza almost everyday to check out what’s going on, because that issue makes me crazy. We need the capability in our police department to deal with that more consistently.  They can’t get there a lot of times, because they’re doing domestic violence on the east end or whatever, and so it was not fun to tell people we’re going to put a fee on their phone, but it’s $1.49 a month; it’s like half a cup of coffee.”

AJ: “Are they adding the forces to deal specifically with the drug problem?”

MW: “They are going to hire six new police officers and two new firefighters. The Downtown Ventura Organization is asking for dedicated officers to be downtown, which I believe makes such a difference, but the police are saying, ‘We can’t do that right now, but we can take three or four of the officers we hire, and there will be a special force, and we can put them on problems.’

One of the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ resolutions has called for a “New Bottom Line in U.S. Drug Policy,” emphasizing a need for a public health approach to this problem. The conference points to the fact that the “War on Drugs” has failed despite the fact that the United States has the highest rate of incarceration in the world. 55% of the current inmate population is being held on drug related charges.

AJ: “Where do they deploy the volunteer police force?”

MW: “My husband is in the Volunteer Police VIP. They are trained not to have dangerous interaction. Their presence is valuable, but they are not authorized to become engaged in crimes in progress.”

AJ: “So who do you appeal more to in order to make a change? The county who you say has more resources or the city?”

MW: “No, it’s the city. The county has more money for social services, but it’s a city police problem. Its crime, and crime belongs to the city police. First, the fee will help; it’s all about more personnel to do the job, but it’s also about the community. For instance we have an anti-panhandling campaign. These people are getting money to do drugs from panhandling. They are not using it to buy food; they get food at Catholic Charities. I give these cards to them that list all the places they can go to get help. I give the cards to panhandlers and people who give money to panhandlers and say, ‘Look, your dollar is not going to help these people. We have social services, and that’s where they need to go.’”

The City of Ventura has launched an anti-panhandling poster and info-business card campaign. The business cards read – “STOP GIVING TO PANHANDLERS. DON’T FEEL GUILTY. HANDOUTS ARE NOT HELPING.” The Image of an open hand is superimposed against a photo of downtown, with the type on the hand reading – “YES TO GIVING. NO TO PANHANDLING.”

MW: “The other solution we’re looking at is security cameras so the police can see the drug deals happening…On the back, of our panhandling card, it lists the County’s Homeless One Stop Center, where every Tuesday from 10am to 1pm, people can go get dental, medical, housing, food, job referrals and all that stuff. So help is available; it’s not one solution; we’re trying to work from all angles.”

AJ: “Who are your heroes?”  

MW: “Pearl Chase is my hero. She was the woman from the 20’s, 30’s, 40’s in Santa Barbara who helped shape the town in many regards [in terms of] architecture, public health…She planted the palm trees along the beach. She was the mother of modern Santa Barbara, and she was a wonderful person. She did it all and was a role model for me because of her talent and appreciation for history and beauty.”

Editor’s Note: A special thanks to Mayor Weir for her courage and willingness to talk about the tough questions and challenges facing our community and most communities in the country. All too often these issues are glossed over for the sake of marketing or in the pursuit of the fun part of city government - opening new parks or breaking ground on new cultural spaces. Ventura is a beautiful place to live and visit, and we are working together to make it the new Art City. We need to take that same passion and creativity to address those who would leave despair in our streets or who would bring addiction to our citizens.

General Info: The Ventura City Council meets at 7:00 pm each Monday for the first four Mondays of each month.  Meetings are held in Council Chambers on the second floor of City Hall, 501 Poli Street. All meetings are open to the public.
Ventura City Hall: www.ci.ventura.ca.us
U.S. Conference of Mayors:
www.usmayors.org/climateprotection/agreement.htm
www.worldcities.com
www.citymayors.com


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