Where’s the story?8 Points Mentioned
DIFFERENCE-MAKER—Former Thousand Oaks mayor and council member Larry Horner, 84, works from his office at hisNewbury Park home, which is filled from floor to ceiling with plaques and pictures detailing his many accomplishments.MICHAEL COONS/Acorn NewspapersIn late 1973 Lawrence “Larry” Horner, a Westlakeresident and candidate for Thousand Oaks City Council, was asked by the editor of the News Chronicle, ‘How would you run a campaign being an African American in a community that primarily has a conservative makeup?’”
“I said I never gave it any thought. I was just running it like any other candidate would on the issues locally,” said Horner, 84, who served on the council for 16 years. “The people in the Westlake community wanted to become more involved in the mainstream of Thousand Oaks activities. There was some factionism, a little jealousy and maybe a little hostility. I went in with the idea of bringing the community together, which we did. No race was ever mentioned.”
In the years after Thousand Oaks was formed in 1964, city residents and council members debated contentious issues and large-scale projects sometimes until the early hours of the morning.
Horner, the first black councilman and mayor in Ventura County, joined the fray in 1974 and served until 1990, when he was not reelected. He was appointed to the position of mayor four times.
He brought to the public office a business acumen honed in managerial and executive positions at Lockheed Martin, Litton Industries and Northrop Grumman, which he retired from in 1997.
In the 16 years after his first victory, his wife, Betty, sat in the back at every council meeting and predicted the votes. Her own service includes longtime work with Crime Stoppers and Volunteers in Policing. The couple, who have three children, celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary in June.
TRAILBLAZER—Larry Horner was elected to the Thousand Oaks City Council in 1974. Then a Westlake resident, he now lives inNewbury Park. He was thefirst black mayor in Ventura County. MICHAEL COONS/Acorn NewspapersAnna Bitong: What were the biggest challenges facing the city when you served on the council?
Larry Horner: The main issue outside maintaining controlled growth and building and development was to have sufficient revenue to run the city without implementing a city property tax. We held steadfast to that and still are.
It was a very young community. The average age when we first moved here was just under 30. We had 14,000 senior citizens. In the early ’70s right on into the mid- ’80s everything was put into place. Now we’re in a maintenance mode. Sometimes that’s more difficult because you have to mind your pennies carefully. We’ve never been in any financial difficulty.
SYMBOLS OF SERVICE—Badges from Horner’s time as a T.O. council member are framed and displayed in his home office.AB: What’s your take on the city’s growth over the years?
LH: The master plan for the city called for 80 percent singlefamily dwellings and 20 percent commercial and multiple-family dwellings. The residents all wanted to hold close to that so that we would not have a preponderance of apartments… . Another point: the Conejo Valley overall, if we used all of the available land in the city, we could have accommodated about 200,000 people. But the City Council at that time when I was on it said no, we want to keep the population down to about 130,000 to 135,000. That is what every City Council since that time has tried to adhere to.
AB:Of all your accomplishments on the council, what are you most proud of?
LH: One of the things I feel very proud about was that in 1978 I was part of a two-member team to go down and investigate applicants for a new city manager. The old one retired. The city manager was Grant Brimhall, who we brought in fromGlendora, one of the best moves we made because he helped implement the (General Plan)… . He was one of the best city managers that I’ve ever seen.
AB:You were the first African American mayor and councilman in Ventura County. Did that affect your candidacy? Did you face any obstacles because of your race?
LH: None. I had more support than I needed. I’ve never sought public office. I’ve always been asked to run. I said I’ll do it as an obligation as a citizen and a resident. But my heart and soul rests in the corporate world, where you can control things better on your own.
As far as a racist concern, that wasn’t even brought in. That sign there (points to poster of his face) was used in our campaign. They were placed everywhere in the city. Everybody knew who I was. All we ever got was, “How can we help?” So many people wanted to be part of the team it was almost embarrassing. We’ve never had any racial problems. Unfortunately, throughout the history of our nation, when the clock moves forward, it moves back. (But) we didn’t have that here at all.
AB:What’s an important milestone that helped shape the city?
LH: Some of the city’s citizens wanted a Civic Arts Plaza. I supported that concept. I wanted a multipurpose facility that could house both the government activities as well as the community activities. We didn’t want people to go down to the theaters in Los Angeles.
The problem was, how are we going to pay for it? We had $500,000 in a CD (certificate of deposit) and it’s going to draw interest. I said that’s fine for this year and next year, but those facilities are going to need to be maintained. I was concerned we would run into trouble if we had to put too much money into that facility. When I voted for it, I said I have a little bit of concern and I think we’re going to run into a problem. We did run into a problem.
I had some reservations because you have to do what is best for the residents as a whole, and that’s the infrastructure. You can’t have a decaying infrastructure and expect it to be a quality community.
AB:In hindsight, do you think you made the right decision?
LH: Yes, I made the right decision in supporting it because the performing arts is a very excellent thing to have in a community. But would you rather have a nice performing arts facility and potholes in the streets? Some people were angry. They said, “You’re not supporting this.” I said, no, our job is fiduciary responsibility. People have a tendency not to remember the past. Now people say, “How are we going to pay for this?”
AB:What do you perceive as the biggest issues facing the city today?
LH: Right now it’s to make sure that we are able to provide city services to a population that has a different age level and to make sure that our infrastructure does not deteriorate. What we planned for in 1974 was for a population that was young. But now you have an aging population. We have to deal with that and the amenities that are going to be required. They made their homes here, they’ve made their contributions… . Now we have to look and see how we can make life more comfortable for them.
AB:What do you envision in the city in the next 50 years?
LH: You’re going to have to deal with an aging population and aging infrastructure and … develop and acquire financial resources. People are going to be demanding more.
You have to have a two-year plan. We’re at a period of time in our history where you can’t make too many long-term plans. You can have a (long-term) concept, but you have to have a short-term plan to see if you are on solid ground. And then go back east and look at some of the older cities, what they’ve experienced during 25-, 30-year periods and see what impacts they’ve had. We’re still a young city.