Measures Makes Her Mark in Ventura, but Stirs Up Foes

Rosa Lee Measures dreams of spending a week on a serene island, far away from ringing telephones, a bickering City Council and endless appointments. But with her schedule crowded with more and more commitments, that trip seems destined to remain a fantasy.

Since she swept into office 16 months ago, the highest vote-getter in a pool of 14 candidates, Measures has propelled herself into the vortex of the most controversial issues to confront the Ventura City Council this term.

Not only did she take a stand last summer on an east-side development proposal–she sided so enthusiastically with the builder that some voters launched an effort to recall her.

When the nagging issue of homelessness landed on the doorstep of the council’s housing committee, which she heads, Measures declared a campaign against transiency. Her subsequent, yearlong drive to eradicate vagrancy has at times incited as much enmity from social liberals as it has plaudits from the local merchants.

A self-proclaimed business booster, Measures has made a mantra of economic revitalization, meeting regularly with Chamber of Commerce directors and prodding her colleagues to hire an economic development coordinator.

“I have never met a more determined person in my entire life,” said Everett Millais, one of the top officials at Ventura City Hall. “She doesn’t take no for an answer, and frequently, she takes it as a challenge.”

Detractors, conversely, describe that determination as bullheadedness that blocks out other points of view and assumes its own superiority.

“Once she’s made up her mind, that’s it–it’s time to do it,” said Gary Tuttle, a councilman who frequently clashes with Measures. “She still hasn’t learned that she’s only an equal among seven” council members.

A ball of energy who regularly fits two bike rides and an hour swim into her daily schedule, the 57-year-old Measures says that, far from tiring of the political spotlight, she finds it surprisingly satisfying and energizing.

So satisfying, in fact, that she says she is considering running for Ventura County supervisor in 1996–just three years after her first foray into the political arena.

“You would have a broader base impact,” she explained. “You would have an opportunity to make decisions of more significance.”

Of course, Measures has never lacked for ambition in previous endeavors. After starting as a volunteer for Ventura County United Way, she rose to head its board of trustees. Her banking career shows a steady rise–from entry-level teller in the mid-1960s, to branch manager in the late 1970s, to regional vice president of Imperial Savings in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

What Measures sets her sights on, friends and colleagues say, she generally gets.

Lately, those sights have been set on Ventura, with dramatic consequences that not all involved have welcomed.

“I really felt called to the mission of serving San Buenaventura,” Measures says. “We’re all blessed with time, talent and treasure and there’s a real need to give back to your community.”

She has approached this job, friends and relatives say, with the same boundless energy and zest for organization she had when she ran the bank four years ago. For instance, there is the planner Measures lugs around wherever she goes–an inch and a half thick, organizing her life by year, month, week, day and subject matter.

Every phone call is recorded, by time, person and topic, and each appointment is filed. Her two grandchildren–ages 5 and 9–are slotted in twice a week, when Measures picks them up at school and takes them home to her beachside house for the afternoon.

Vacations double as policy forays–Measures’ husband, Al Harris, tells of numerous weekend trips involving detours to check out another community’s heralded housing tract or its picturesque pier restaurant.

And the schedule just keeps getting more hectic, observes Harris, a retired banker. “If you give Rosa Lee five minutes, she’ll figure out a way to fill them,” he said.

Measures, who prides herself on a persistently optimistic attitude, describes her purpose this way: “Idle people see the glass half-empty. Productive people see the glass half-full.”

The child of a Spanish immigrant and his American-born wife, Measures grew up in East Los Angeles and the Imperial Valley in a household that valued religion, hard work and loyalty to family and friends.

A self-described conservative, Measures today applies many of the same standards to political life that she learned growing up in her tightknit family.

Friends and associates say she is “true blue,” the kind of person who would never let you down and who always, always keeps her commitments.

But with Measures, certain commitments become more than just following through–they take on the flavor of personal crusades. Those who think as she does applaud her intensity, thankful to know that she would move the proverbial mountains to get a task done.

“In all of my dealings and meetings with her, she is nothing but just a pleasure to work with,” said Jim Friedman, president of the Greater Ventura Chamber of Commerce.

Because Measures is the city’s chamber liaison, she meets regularly with Friedman and the rest of the board to discuss business issues. For the first time in a long time, Friedman and other chamber directors say, they feel they have someone who can really make a difference for them.

“She’s there, we meet, I come away from the meeting feeling we accomplished everything I wanted to accomplish, and then she follows through on it all,” he said. “She’s willing to lay it out on the line and get it done.”

Other residents, however, are piqued by that attitude. They complain that Measures misses nuances along the way and ignores the input of those who disagree with her, sometimes bypassing key issues completely.

“She goes off the hook without thinking about the impact of what she is saying,” said Ed Elrod, the owner of Ventura Bookstore downtown. “Personally, I think talk engenders better action than action engenders talk.”

Measures’ approach to the topic of homelessness, fans and critics say, illustrates what they are talking about.

The councilwoman first waded into the issue about a year ago. Her objective was straightforward enough: to clear downtown of the vagrants who, merchants said, made their community look seedy and dangerous.

She devoted hours of housing committee meetings to the topic and sent residents and city employees off for marathon task force meetings to search for solutions.

Measures first declared herself enthusiastically in favor of a homeless campground, then backed a three-part plan to arrest errant squatters and now champions a program combining job opportunities with a services center.

“I would think the public would appreciate a conservative’s outreach to the problem because I don’t espouse a continuum of enabling individuals to be resistant to change,” she said.

Supporters laud her for having the courage to take a series of controversial stands on an issue so messy that other politicians would rather ignore it.

“That’s one great thing about Rosa Lee is she doesn’t care how she looks in a situation,” said Brian Brennan, manager of the Chart House Restaurant and a chamber director. “It’s a tough, tough issue and nobody wants to talk about it, but she just jumps right in there.”

Brennan, who did not vote for Measures in 1993, said he has been won over by her enthusiasm and her determination to get results.

Other residents, however, complain that Measures has insisted on revamping the system before even finding out what that system was.

“She needs to spend more time with the agencies that are already here,” Elrod said. “Why not look at what’s already in place, instead of trying to storm in and sell people a big, shiny new toy?”

Measures faced similar criticism in her unwavering support of an unsuccessful east-side development deal, which would have landed parkland for the city in exchange for permission to raze a lemon orchard and construct 400 homes in its place.

Measures and the developer, Ron Hertel, were old business acquaintances who had worked together periodically over the past two decades. Hertel had supported Measures in her council campaign, giving her office space free of charge.

By the time the issue came before the council last spring, Measures was convinced that the east side needed a regional park and that the best person to supply it was Hertel.

When others on the council and in the community said the deal looked better for Hertel than for Ventura, Measures defended her former associate’s motives. When some residents publicly suggested that she supported Hertel because of his contributions, Measures only iterated her enthusiasm for the project more passionately.

Opponents of the park grew frustrated. Measures, they said, always seemed more interested in hearing herself talk than in listening to someone else’s argument.

“She speaks before she thinks and she continually catches herself putting her foot in her mouth,” said Sheri Vincent, an east-side resident who led the campaign against the land swap.

Some also grew skeptical of Measures’ ethics. Eventually, east-side homeowner Elaina Fletcher launched a recall effort against her, alleging that Measures violated conflict-of-interest laws. Months later, Fletcher says the recall will probably die for lack of support.

Supporters say Measures just went overboard in her enthusiasm because she felt she needed to defend her integrity.

“She could’ve handled it better if she hadn’t been emotionally involved,” said Carolyn Leavens, a former candidate for county supervisor and a member of an old Ventura farming family. “I think what threw her a curve is when she got attacked on unfair grounds. You’ve got to develop a tough hide in public.”

But Measures cannot forget the experience. She still bristles at the notion that she was anything but ethical–”This was something that was dug up by the media,” she said–and she says she still intends to energetically push for an east-side park, whatever landowner might supply it.

Measures also faced strong criticism for her votes to impose assessments on the Ventura Keys and to close Poli Street to through traffic. Both Keys and Poli Street activists accuse Measures of reneging on campaign promises to protect their interests.

“What would you think of a candidate running for office that goes out and makes all kinds of promises to various groups and then does all the opposite when she gets into office?” said Paul Massey, a Keys resident who once hung up campaign signs for Measures.

But Measures said she has kept her word. “I think it’s a matter of interpretation,” she said. “I say I have never made any promises to any individuals.”

She says she remains baffled by the politics of politics.

“It’s kind of like being at a large gathering,” she said. “You are trying to communicate something and your listeners hear something different, and the more you try to communicate it, the more they still hear something different.”

Despite those communications snags, Measures counts a wide array of family, friends and acquaintances in her adopted hometown.

Measures moved to Ventura in the late 1960s with her former husband, Ted Measures, and their two children, Nick and Tami. The couple separated in 1975, but Measures stayed on and married Harris in 1983. Both Nick Measures and Tami Measures Quon are now married and have one child apiece, and both live in Ondulando.

Measures’ sister, Dorie, also lives in Ventura and works at City Hall in the city information office. Her mother lives on the east side and her in-laws reside in a mid-town retirement home.

But Measures’ circle extends far beyond her family. In fact, those who oppose her politically are reluctant to say so publicly, because she is so well-connected.

On the record, for instance, one downtown business owner cautiously praises the councilwoman’s track record.

“She has done a fairly good job, and I’m particularly gratified she’s interested in the homeless situation,” he said. “It’s something that has to be dealt with.”

Privately, the same man disparages Measures’ attempts to deal with the transient problem, saying her approach is too simplistic.

“No one thing works,” he said. “If it did, don’t you think everybody would be coming here from all over the country to use us as their model?”

But even though Measures frustrates some residents with her conservative attitudes and her quick answers, even though she drives some council colleagues nuts with what they call her imperiousness and her tendency to talk rather than listen–despite all that, many people in Ventura say Rosa Lee Measures is a person to watch in the future.

“I have a great deal of faith in that woman,” Leavens said. “Give her time to land on her feet. She’s going to serve us really well.”

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