By Chris Frost
Oxnard--The Tri County Sentry's interviews with the Ventura County Board of Supervisor candidates continue with District Three Candidate Kim Marra-Stephenson, who faces incumbent Kelly Long.
Stephenson has taken to the streets and is listening to the voters. The one thing she hears is that the people of Ventura County want quality of life and a supervisor who understands the day-to-day issues and advocates for her constituents.
Along the way, she's experienced a bump in the road, as the California Resources Corporation (CRC) has allocated $825,000 into a fund dedicated to stopping Stephenson and District Five Candidate Carmen Ramirez.
Stephenson takes the effort by the CRC as a compliment that they'll spend money to fund the opposition against her.
"These are people with a lot of money who can run polls, and they are threatened by my campaign," she said. "As a result, they have quintupled down on Kelly Long this time. They gave her $158,000 in the last election, and she voted in their direction. They see I'm running a strong campaign, and they've put the $825,000 together,"
Stephenson feels that homeless people need a combination of services to combat the problem.
"With my opponent, it says on her postcard that homelessness is my number one issue," she said about Long. "We need mental health or addiction treatments."
Stephenson doesn't understand why it has to be either-or when it comes to the solution.
"That's actually a problem at the county," she said. "Behavioral health and mental health are separate, and people can't get both. We need to combine not only mental health and addiction services but also needle services, transition services, job training, and prevent people from going into homelessness and not just treat them afterward."
She called it two different ways of looking at the same problem.
"My opponent is an ‘ignore things and wait until they get into a crisis’ type of person and then deal with them," Stephenson said about Kelly Long."
Stephenson said a big problem is there aren't enough social workers to meet the demand.
"We need to get people there, and this is one part of the problem," she said.
She supports Oxnard City Manager Alex Nguyen and his effort to get money from the state to address the homeless crisis. She would support an effort by the supervisors to draft a letter to Governor Gavin Newsome to distribute the money in the budget past the top 13 cities in Calif.
"If he's interested, let's work together and make that case," Stephenson said about Nguyen. "All the local state representatives have endorsed me, as well as Fiona Ma, and she has monies to address the affordable housing issue. If we can get more affordable housing, fewer people will fall into homelessness."
The kids and education
Breaking the cycle of drugs, gangs, and ultimately homelessness, she said, begins at the elementary school level.
"When I was working at the high school, we made sure that as many kids as possible were involved with something outside the classroom," she said. "I specifically asked at assemblies how many of you are doing something other than going to class all day? Whether it was drama, music, sports, some club, or social service, I think that's important."
This type of engagement expands a youngster's horizon and breaks the cycle started in the home if it's less than perfect.
"It allows you to see things that you wouldn't see within your inner circle," she said. "Right now, at the high school program at Oxnard College that I'm teaching at, it's a small program, so we don't have music unless they take a class at the college. I've had them do research and think about the problems they've seen in the community and what they can do to change that."
The end result, she said, is that all 70 kids are doing community projects.
"There was a disabled woman in Hueneme, who had hip surgery, and she hadn't walked her dogs for a few weeks," she said. "She has three dogs, and I have kids who put together a calendar, and they are helping her. I have kids giving respite care once a month for special needs families. They'll run their errands and play with their kids."
Currently, Stephenson is working with the University of California in Berkeley to use a net to measure pesticides in the air.
"We're looking for a home near a field that we can measure the pesticides in the air and send the data back to Berkeley," she said. "The kids contacted the UFW Corporation, and they want to help them with their social media campaign. There are all different ranges of projects that get them out and thinking about the community."
As a county supervisor, Stephenson said she'll continue advocating for the kids and make a difference.
"I am well aware of the issues, and I can bring that to the table," she said. "The fact that we don't have enough responders and enough crisis intervention when we need it. If we have a student who is suicidal or in a serious crisis, we don't have places for them to go."
Housing and business attraction
Stephenson said businesses want to relocate to Ventura County, but give up that hope because of the housing shortage, which means employees have nowhere to live.
"We have to address the housing issue first," she said. "That is jobs, and it's a lot of work for our trades to build that housing. It's a moot point to incentivize businesses to come here if there is nowhere to go."
One solution, she said, is to put in the permitting that a portion of any new development has an affordable housing element, and incentivize that part.
The housing crisis continues, she said, and everyone is talking about the problem.
"People have to come together," she said. "The best project I've seen is a non-profit developer called People Self Help Housing. They've developed a couple of dozen communities up and down the central coast that are affordable housing. They just built one in Ventura, and one of them is for chronically homeless, specifically."
Another People Self Help Housing development will get built in Filmore, she said, where the developer bought a block and planned to build an attractive housing unit at the location.
"They included community input along the way, and I was at some of the meetings," she said. "Inside, it will be a park space, and it's a nice building on the outside. The nice thing about this developer is they don't build and then leave; they build it and stay."
"They have formulas that say they can take six of the homeless people in Filmore," she continued. "They have formulas on who qualifies and how they get to stay there. Then they provide, as the community part, counseling, tutoring, and fitness centers. Things to help people get on their feet and get int their own places. The fact they are non-profit, and they stay, that's what I'd like to see."
This story will continue on Feb. 21.
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