Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Candidate's Three Races In The 'Bag'

No challengers means Baggerly will continue on three Ojai Valley boards

By Daryl Kelley
Election day is three months away, but the race is already over for Russ Baggerly.
Make that, three races are over for Baggerly, an unconventional citizen activist who has led a life mostly sans the demands of a 9-to-5 workday.
The 62-year-old Meiners Oaks resident — a flamenco guitarist, baby shoemaker and self-taught environmental expert — essentially won re-election last week as a director with the Casitas Municipal Water District, the Ojai Valley Sanitary District and the Ojai Valley Municipal Advisory Council.
No challenger filed in any of the races.
So Baggerly may continue a public life that he said involves about 100 meetings a year and equates to a full-time job.
“Maybe people think I’m doing a good job,” laughed Baggerly this week, still a little giddy at his own good fortune. “I’m really blessed not to have to run a grueling campaign.”
Indeed, Baggerly said he was surprised no challenger emerged for his seat on the Casitas board, which directs the valley’s largest water agency and oversees the Lake Casitas Dam and waterworks.
Given the cost, contentiousness and razor-thin victory margin of his first Casitas run in 2004, Baggerly said he expected a well-funded opponent. He’d spent $10,000 to get elected and had raised $3,500 by June 30 of this year to send a message that he was ready for another fight.
But no one filed, despite controversies over soaring agricultural water rates and boat restrictions because of a potential quagga mussel invasion at Lake Casitas. Hundreds of fishermen turned out at one meeting this year, and one was so upset by the restrictions he told Baggerly his leadership on the issue would cost him his job.
Others publicly complained that Baggerly seemed more concerned with the health of the environment than with the financial health of his human constituents.
But no electoral challenge materialized by the Aug. 8 filing deadline.
So Baggerly will represent for another four years the part of the sprawling Casitas district that includes Ojai, the East End and Meiners Oaks. He will also assume a fourth term on the Sanitary District board and the valley’s MAC.
Baggerly’s rare triple victory marks a landmark, of sorts, for an iconoclastic public citizen who has lived a frugal life with wife Pat in a small Meiners Oaks house they bought for about $18,000 in 1976.
“I’m summa cum laud from the University of Hard Knocks,” he said. “I’m self-taught with lots of help from my friends.”
Despite the lack of a college degree, Baggerly has held responsible positions over the last three decades as a policy and political analyst and environmental consultant.
Representing the Ventura County Environmental Coalition, he’s helped block numerous development projects, including the Cal Mat gravel project on the Santa Clara River and the placement of a California State University campus on Taylor Ranch near Ventura.
He was president of the Environmental Coalition from 1998 to 2005.
He also worked full-time as county Supervisor Maria VanderKolk’s top aide from 1991 to 1994.
Baggerly has attended numerous college and professional seminars to become proficient in environmental law, such as wetlands and coastal protection and the arcane rules and regulations of water and air quality and government zoning.
Once he becomes engaged in a topic, Baggerly said, he researches it exhaustively.
“I do have an ad hoc B.S. in environmental science,” he said.
Not that he has some special skill, Baggerly said. He just has fashioned a life that gives him time to pursue his interests.
“We have the time,” he said of himself and his wife, who attends many of his public hearings. “We overdo our public involvement, and most people can’t. They have two jobs and kids and no extra time. But we do, so we adopted the Ojai Valley and Ventura County and they ended up being our baby.”
Often, too, citizens are put off by the legalese and jargon of public documents, he said. But they shouldn’t be.
“The message I want people to hear is that the law is not written in Chinese,” he said. “It’s just not that hard to understand.”
Baggerly came by his inclination toward self-education honestly. His dad was a self-trained mechanical engineer for Hughes Aircraft Company during Baggerly’s childhood in Orange County.
A graduate of Santa Ana High School, he also attended community college before bolting to Spain for a year in 1963 to learn flamenco guitar, which he still plays professionally.
His wanderlust paid off in another way, too, since he met his future wife in Spain.
After a stint in the Army and a tour in Vietnam, he returned to Spain for five years and attended the University of Seville most of that time.
By 1974, he had settled in the Avenue area of Ventura and opened a leathersmith shop in which he made and repaired shoes.
By 1976, he’d moved to Meiners Oaks for good, and had opened his cobbler’s shop and started a baby shoe business.
In the early 1980s, he experienced his political eye-opening, helping to rally the community near El Roblar Drive to fight placement of a low-income housing project on a busy street.
He then joined Citizens to Preserve the Ojai, where he was administrative director in 1988 to 1989, and participated in the countywide Environmental Coalition.
The Baggerlys made ends meet partly through small family inheritances.
“I spent a lot of that money on teaching myself how to deal with local government,” he said. And he gained a reputation at being adept at blocking projects by challenging their environmental studies as inadequate under California law.
By 1988, he’d been hired by the Ventura-based outdoor clothing company, Patagonia, to fight location of a state university at Taylor Ranch. After a years-long assessment, that site was abandoned, and Baggerly helped the state find a more central location near Camarillo at an old mental health hospital, where Cal State-Channel Islands now operates.
Today, Baggerly pays bills with per-meeting stipends of about $20,000 a year from Casitas, and about $6,500 a year from the Sanitary District. The MAC service is unpaid.
“It’s a full-time job,” he said. “I am not a lackadaisical board member who reads the packet and votes. When I see a need to promote policies, I jump in and help with them.”
That has created hard feelings from time to time.
He has had run-ins with other members of the Casitas board over issues such as whether the water agency should continue a lawsuit against the federal government for reimbursement of about $9 million spent to fulfill U.S. mandates to protect the endangered steelhead trout.
By a 3-to-2 vote, the board last year continued the lawsuit, which has cost Casitas more than $500,000 so far. Baggerly said he considers that vote the greatest disappointment of his first term.

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