Rita Graham: Planning Commissioner seeks City Council seat, GP development

July 03, 2002
Santa Paula News

Rita Graham is running for City Council because, “I want a bigger tax base in Santa Paula. . .we need more money to do more things for the kids, the seniors and everybody who already lives here.”

By Peggy KellySanta Paula TimesRita Graham is running for City Council because, “I want a bigger tax base in Santa Paula. . .we need more money to do more things for the kids, the seniors and everybody who already lives here.”Graham and her family moved to Santa Paula in 1997 and she got involved right away with her son Steven’s school, Scout Troop and Little League. Graham also sought an appointment to the city Planning Commission, which she still serves, and was involved in the Housing Element effort, among others.Graham works for the county Planning Division where she has assisted on a variety of projects. Her law degree enabled her to serve as the assistant to the chief litigator in the Ventura County lawsuit against Los Angeles and Newhall. Graham also was executive aide to Supervisor Kathy Long, working on the Toland Road Landfill condition compliance and the Agriculture Policy Advisory projects.A member of the Santa Paula Economic Development Strategy Team, Graham also is involved on the countywide farm worker housing study.“It’s not okay with me that Santa Paula cannot provide police protection and we have high crime. It’s not okay with me that kids groups are stacked up hopping the wire fence to play sports because the city cannot provide adequate play space,” said Graham. “Local people can’t find a house to buy in Santa Paula, local kids have to leave town to find a good job. I think we have to entertain more options to get money into this town.”That, Graham added, means, “We have to stop being afraid to look at all our options. I support the vote to bring Adams Canyon into the CURB line,” where the General Plan calls for 2,250 homes, golf courses and hotels. Such a vote “does not approve any development,” she noted.“I want to examine the jobs that in that General Plan area; for example, there will be hotel jobs, entry level to supervisor to executive. Adams Canyon calls for a couple of new schools, which means classified jobs, new teaching jobs and even new principal jobs. We need to take a look at that.”Graham dismisses infill development as “only a part of the solution to our economic problem whether it be for business or housing. Infill is what we have been doing and it has not stimulated our economy.”Moving the city’s CURB line “will help us control our own destiny; we took the county’s dump, took the county’s jail and now there’s a great big development across from Briggs School,” a horticultural enterprise. “The county let it go there but no tax dollars flow to Santa Paula.”
Graham believes the city is in a “bind if we can’t look to the General Plan areas that have been provided for economic development. Infill can only be part of the solution,” and efforts to bring new businesses to Santa Paula have not been successful. “I am a member of the Chamber of Commerce Economic Strategy Team and we’re moving ahead right now seeking to improve the local economy; and if Adams Canyon fails, I will certainly continue that effort.”Graham said the U.S. Department of Justice lawsuit (centering on Latino City Council representation) was “unfortunate. A great deal of money, about $750,000, was spent by the city on that, plus the cost of city staff time; I’m glad it’s coming to a close.”Graham said the City Council “does not hire people or fire them, but what I would do with other council members is meet with the city manager and set up some goals for the various departments, especially the ones who meet with the public. To assist with the public is what they need to get done.”Interim City Manager Paul Skeels has done “an excellent job, he really stepped up,” said Graham.A combination of skills, including economic development and a “backbone,” is a city manager requirement, as well as “facilitating the communication of council members who are, and should be, aggressively advocating for their point of view. I will be an advocate for my point of view, and I know and expect others will do the same.”Council harmony should never be abandoned, she added. “I have very good personal relations with the current city council; John Procter, Rick Cook and Ray Luna have hung out with us down at the Little League, and Laura Flores Espinosa and I chat frequently at the Latino Town Hall events I attend.”Texas born - “Can’t you tell by my accent that lingers still?” Graham said with a laugh - her father was in the Air Force and the family settled for a time in San Benito, “in the Rio Grande Valley, very much like Santa Paula.” The family eventually settled in Northern California and Graham attended college in Tucson before graduating from UCSB.Graham and her husband Chris and their son Steven moved to Santa Paula from East Ventura. “We were looking for a bigger house, just the house. We didn’t get a bigger house, but what we did get was more of a wonderful, special community than we could ever have asked for.”Graham believes that in a “small town like Santa Paula the people who have the skills and experience need to volunteer to help run their town. I have the skills and experience, and I’ve carved out the time to offer myself to the council. I think this is my time. I think this job can be done professionally and with a sense of humor.”

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