Brooks Institute Is Ventura's Latest Failure

Remember Brooks Institute when you vote for Measure O in November

“WHEN IN DOUBT, DON’T”
—Benjamin Franklin

WAVE GOODBYE TO BROOKS INSTITUTE AND OUR TAX DOLLARS

The news in the last few weeks has reported the closure of Brooks Institute.  Everyone lost from this closure.  The students hopefully will find other institutions to complete their education and their teachers may find other positions, but the Citizens of Ventura are again holding the proverbial bag.

On August 20, 2016, The Ventura Star published an editorial about the role of city government in this matter, and it sums the situations up fairly well – “The City Council and city government appear to have given preferential treatment to a small but vocal constituency – and failed the rest of Ventura”.  We cannot improve on their conclusions except that it was all avoidable.  We can provide you with specific facts and information that we have garnered thus far so that when the bureaucratic spinning and finger pointing starts, you will be able to see it for what it is.

In February the City announced with great elation and fanfare that Brooks was coming to town. Councilwoman Heitmann led the parade as well as the City Economic Development Manager, Leigh Eisen. They extolled the prospects of increased revenue for the city and that downtown business would flourish.  Same hype surrounded the WAV (See our August 2011 letter published at August 2011 Newsletter).

Brooks Institute Unfinished Office Space

Brooks Institute left unfinished classroom space when the deal unraveled.

There were three sites leased, two private owner locations downtown and one behind City Hall.  The largest was the two top floors of a 5-story city office building at 505 Poli just behind City Hall.   There may have been two other private owner locations but that as yet has not been established.

Hope and promise filled City government.   Staff rushed to execute leases for the 505 Poli property.   Brooks Institute entered into a contract with a major contractor to demolish and build tenant improvements on the two top floors of 505 Poli at a contract price of $1.2 million. Tenants of those two floors were evicted; the contractor was permitted to fast track demolition and tenant improvements started.  When hazardous materials were found on site Building & Safety again fast tracked the work, which was promptly completed by Venterra, a hazardous materials remediation company, at an additional cost of $80,000.  Demolition was completed and 2/3 of the tenant improvements were built.  Then Brooks closed its doors and the project imploded.

THE PROJECT UNRAVELS

Brooks Institute paid no money to the City for rent, no money for a security deposit and no performance bonds or guarantees were put in place.  Reportedly $70,000 in back rent is due. Future rents are lost. The tenant improvements have yet to be completed. The Assistant City Manager tells us that it will only cost our City $200,000 to complete those improvements.

Unsurprisingly, within a matter of days, the facts have proven otherwise.  The contractor has filed a lien against the City for $825,000 for the work they and the subcontractors performed on City property, including the $80,000 cost of the removal of the hazardous materials.  Add lost rent to date, future lost rents the evicted tenants would have paid, the estimated cost to complete the tenant improvements and the damages causing the losses to swell to over $1.2 million.  Then there will be the legal costs to collect these losses, if possible, and to avoid liability.

The private property owner who also signed Brooks’ leases and started the work of providing tenant improvements in the downtown area was more fortunate.  He wisely obtained guarantees to protect himself.  Brooks Institute, owned by a Chinese owned company named Gphomestay, has lawyered up with an expensive LA firm. The contractor has lawyered up too but no word yet on what lawyer will try to pull the City’s chestnuts out of the fire.

The citizens of Ventura deserve to know why the taxpayer has once again been “hornswoggled[1]“.  Dreams, hopes and ideas for healthy economic growth are wonderful, but such things must be tempered with economic reality and good business sense.  When those are ignored the phrase “a fool and his money are soon parted” is apropos.

DEMAND THE TRUTH

The City Council has a lot to explain.  They were quick to ask the citizens of Ventura to increase taxes (Measure “O”).  They spent $118,000 of our tax money to hire public relations firms to convince 51% of the voters to vote yes on that measure thereby giving them more of our money.  Will they be as quick to take responsibility for another $1 million plus dollar loss?

No Deposit on Brooks Institute

Citizens should ask, “Who approved the Brooks Institute lease without asking for rent payments upon execution?”

This Council, particularly the two candidates seeking reelection in November, Councilwomen Weir and Heitmann, need to answer questions about their ability to conduct business on our behalf.  We must have representatives that are experienced and understand business. We, as a community, cannot afford losses of this magnitude and we certainly should not be handing the City Council another $270,000,000 over the next 25 years if they are not qualified.  By this recent action, this City Council is not capable of managing our tax money.

Other than “what were they thinking” here are questions EVERY citizen should be asking?

  1. Who approved this lease without asking for rent payments upon execution?
  2. Who reviewed and approved the terms of the lease with Brooks?
  3. Who made the decision to permit construction on City property  without a guarantee or performance bond in the event of default of Brooks Institute?
  4. Who performed the due diligence and examined the financial condition of Brooks Institute to determine their ability to perform under the terms of the lease?
  5. Who recommended the approval of this lease and its terms to the city Council?
  6. Shouldn’t those who made the decisions in this matter resign or be fired?

City Government’s response thus far is that they will sue Brooks to get our money. City officials continue to say they are surprised, shocked and disappointed. They should not be any of these things. This was all foreseeable based upon the financial condition and history of Brooks Institute. 

VREG is continuing to investigate this transaction and will report our findings in subsequent issues as new facts are discovered.

EDITORS COMMENT

In the private sector, when a so-called “good deal” goes bad for lack of due diligence people lose their jobs. In the public sector, nobody is held accountable and elected officials either choose not to run again, or they run and look for a fall guy.  

Just keep the BROOKS project in mind when you are asked to vote for Measure “O” in November; and, when voting to fill the three City Council seats that are open ask yourself if they are truly qualified.

Editors:

B. Alviani       K. Corse          T. Cook         B. Frank

J. Tingstrom R. McCord       S. Doll          C. Kistner

 

[1]Hornswoggle”, slang circa 1829.  A word to describe one who has been bamboozled.  Synonyms: dupe, fake out, fool, hoodwink, deceive, humbug, juggle, misguide, misinform, mislead, snooker, snow, spoof, string along, sucker, suck in, take in, trick

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Ventura Wants More Taxes

Ventura City Council Asks For More Taxes. Why You Should Say No.

“THE ART OF TAXATION CONSISTS IN SO PLUCKINJG THE GOOSE AS TO GET THE MOST FEATHERS WITH THE LEAST HISSING”
—Jean Baptist Colbert

VENTURA CITY COUNCIL ASKS CITIZENS FOR MORE TAXES

On May 23, 2016, the Ventura City Council joined a parade of governments hoping to persuade voters to raise the sales tax, and last week, in a 6 to 1 decision, the Council voted to place a measure on the November 2016 ballot to raise the Ventura sales tax by 1/2 %. Councilman James Monahan voted against the measure.

As adopted the increase would:(1) produce an additional $10.8 million per year; (2) sunset in 25 years; (2) be subject to an citizens oversight committee; (3) be subject to an annual audit, and (4) be used to ” maintain essential services”.  Over the 25 year period citizens would pay another $270,000,000 above what they are already paying.

Greedy pig with more taxes

Ventura jumps at the chance for more taxes.

In asking the Council to adopt the measure the City Manager, Mark Watkins commented that “we have recovered from the recession.  For the First time we have reserves which exceed those that we had prior to the recession”.  Notwithstanding the recovery he asked the Council to approve a ballot measure to ask voters to increase our sales tax by 1/2 cent.

Supervisor Bennett addressed the council, purportedly as a citizen and not as a member of the Board of Supervisors or the Ventura County Transportation Board.  He opposed this sales tax measure for the November election and asked the council not to put the matter on the ballot for another 2 years because it would be in competition with his County 1/2 cent transportation sales tax and the Ventura School District tax that will again be on the November ballot.  His concern is that the voters would be confused.

THE ILLUSION OF CITIZEN OVERSIGHT

In return for more taxes, Ventura offers a citizens’ oversight committee.

The City Manager and Mayor Nasarenko, in their effort to seek approval by the voters, are quick to point out that this new tax money will be subject to a citizen’s oversight committee.  The question for voters is whether this oversight committee idea is a substantive proposal or an illusory and hollow effort to inveigle as yes vote from 51% of our voters.

During the May 23rd meeting citizens Mr. Ron Baker and Ms. Allison Carlson expressed the sentiment many others feel about such a proposal.  Mr. Bakers said “Instead of promises and assurances on how this (tax) money is spent, I want to see evidence”.

Ms. Carlson voiced that such a tax should only be a last resort then came right to the question most people are asking.   She wanted to know just how the citizen’s oversight committee would be appointed and how it would work:

“who are these people, who are they going to be, who approves them and puts them on the committee. If it is the City Council I would suggest that they have a conflict of interest.  I want to know it will not be a rubber stamp committee, and want to make sure there are watchdogs on the committee and I want to know that the committee oversight happens before the money is spent.  It is not fair for the City to spend the money first and then say this is how we spent the money.”

At the end of the hearing the Councilman Morehouse asked the same the City Manager how the committee would be appointed and how it would work.  His response was that THE COUNCIL should appoint the people to the citizens committee, THE COUNCIL should decide how the money was to be spent and THE COUNCIL should not place any limitations on how THE COUNCIL proposes to spend the new tax money.

After a pregnant pause the council members said nothing then proceeded to vote in favor of the City Manager preparing a 1/2% sales tax measure for the November ballot.

IMPACT ON THE AVERAGE MIDDLE CLASS FAMILY

Prior to voting in favor of the new tax Councilman Morehouse, observed that “a sales tax is regressive and it does intend to impact those who are poorer and we have a lot of elderly people who have fixed incomes”.  He is correct.

More taxes hurt struggling families

More taxes on Ventura’s Middle Class hurts struggling families.

Such taxes are imposed on everything that a family will buy to maintain their standard of living except food and prescriptions at the market.  The lower your income the higher the percentage of that income the family must pay in tax. According to statistics published by the Federal Reserve 47% of Americans cannot scrape enough money together to pay for an unexpected $400 emergency. Statistically than means 53,221 of our citizens do not have that amount of money.

This City Council advertises that this new tax will only cost the average family an additional $170 per year.  To make that statement they must assume that the average family will spend $34,000 per year on all purchases such as clothes, mobile phones, restaurants and widgets. , which if taxed at the 7.25% , will cost $2,465 a year.  If the tax is increased by 1/2 % the new tax would be 7.75%.  That will cost a family $2,635. per year.

Now consider the gauntlet of other increased taxes and cost: (1) water rate increase of 18.5% in July; (2) Medicare deduction increase of 0.9% (3) payroll tax increase from 37.4% to 52.2%; (4) income tax increase of 4.6% (5) Ventura County Transportation ales tax of 1/2%, and (6) $59 annual tax from the Ventura School District.

Footnote: In 2012 Proposition 30 was passed increasing the sales tax by 1/4% to 7.5% for 4 years. This increase is scheduled to terminate in November, 2016.  There is now an initiative in progress to extend all of part of that tax measure. Unless extended the State tax rate will revert to 7.25%.

The voters in Ventura need to pay special attention when it comes time to vote in November and remember that every dollar a family has to pay in taxes to the government is less they will have to support their family.

IS THE TAX EVEN NEEDED?

Does our city government “need” the additional money from the sales tax increase to provide the essential functions of government?

Consider how Ventura’s General Fund compares to the General Funds of other cities in the County and how much of those funds
are spent for each citizen.  Ventura has the second highest per capita amount to spend on its citizens. Only Ojai is higher.

 

General Fund Population Per Citizen
Ventura  $93,926,316.00  106,443  $861.49
Ojai *  $8,668,900.00  7,461  $1,161.89
Port Hueneme  $16,125,866.00  21,723  $742.34
Thousand Oaks  $76,933,217.00  126,683  $607.29
Oxnard  $118,110,062.00  197,899  $596.82
Camarillo  $34,000,000.00  65,201  $521.46
Simi Valley  $63,646,200.00  124,237  $512.30
Moorpark  $17,329,940.00  34,421  $503.47
Fillmore  $7,261,045.00  15,002  $484.01
Santa Paula  $14,086,725.00  29,321  $480.43

 

*  City of Ojai receives a “significant” amount of its revenue from the TOT taxes paid by the Ojai Valley Inn.

Other cities in the county have less money to spend, in general, and significantly less money to spend per person than Ventura. Those cities provide for police, fire, streets and operational costs with the money they have. The Ventura City Council claims it does not have enough.  Councilwoman Weir’s comment is telling:

“We are able with our growing revenue to pay some of our costs but the big projects, like our promenade, our sidewalks and our shoreline that are multi-million dollar projects, we just don’t have the money”

If approved and the sales tax projections prove to be generally accurate the City of Ventura, for the first time in its history would have general revenue income of $103,926,000.  Each of the seven Council members have a different set of priorities but here is a summary and result  of the “group think” called City of Ventura Community Investment Spending Plan for the next 25 years, not including water/wastewater costs.

45% to programs and services              $167,160,000.
30% to infrastructure maintenance           111,440,000
25% to capital and infrastructure               92,867,000
Other estimated revenue for capital         190,773,000
Total                                               $562,240,000

VREG COMMITTEE MEMBERS COMMENTS

A Politician’s promise of how they will spend new tax money, given a 25 year history of their wasting millions in tax dollars on foolish projects and ventures, is just that – a hollow and meaningless promise.

Without a guarantee of the appointment of an independent citizen’s oversight committee on how this new tax money will be spent voters should not approve this tax measure in November.

VREG Committee:

R. Alviani,     K. Corse,   T. Cook, R. Berry,
J. Tingstrom, R. McCord, S. Doll, C. Kistner, W. Frank

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No Sales Tax Increase, Live Within Your Means

Pet Projects Cloud Ventura City Council’s Push For A Sales Tax Increase

Spending Problem

“We don’t have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem.” — Ronald Reagan

The Scenario

The Ventura City Council is determined to raise taxes again by putting a measure on the ballot in November to increase sales taxes by 0.5%-1%. Two previous attempts failed. As is customary, they are not completely forthcoming or transparent when they are trying to extract more money from the citizenry. On January 30, 2016, the City Council held a special meeting at the Ventura Police Department whose true purpose was to discuss raising the sales tax. The Council spent $118,000 to hire consultants to sell the voters on a tax increase. What they learned should have disappointed the Council.

These Councilmembers are pushing hard to put a sales tax increase on November’s ballot.

Confusing Messages From City Councilmen About The Sales Tax Increase

At the January 30th meeting, Deputy Mayor Andrews commented that we are currently in an economic downturn, which is exactly the right time when we as a City should be increasing capital spending.  His comment left many in the audience puzzled. If this is indeed an economic downturn, the last thing the average taxpayer wants to do is pay more taxes. More taxes reduce their ability to pay rent or their mortgage. It cuts into their food budget, their travel and vacation capability, their medical care and their own future retirement.

Mayor Nasarenko is campaigning on the premise that Ventura voters will support a locally kept and locally spent tax. He fails to understand, however, that $340 more out of a household budget is still $340, regardless of where and how it is spent. ($340 is City Council’s estimate of how much more each household will pay annually if the sales tax is increased 1%)

Both the Mayor and Deputy Mayor are ignoring nearby failures of sales tax increases, too. Neighboring Oxnard and Port Hueneme increased their sales taxes and they’re still having budget problems. Politicians in those cities failed to realize it is a spending problem, not a revenue problem. Now, Ventura’s politicians are blindly walking down the same path.

Let’s Not Forget Each Councilmember’s Pet Projects

Deputy Mayor Andrews was adamant at the January 30th meeting that Ventura needs more assistance and housing for the “homeless.” Who falls into this category was not defined which leaves it open to interpretation by city officials. It is a fair assumption, though, that one would be able to identify the beneficiaries of his largess by walking down the street. Nothing prevents spending these taxes on any special project such as this once the money goes into the General Fund.

Councilman Morehouse announced last year during a public session that a sales tax increase would just scratch the surface.  Both he and Councilwoman Weir consistently argue that an increase in the sales taxes is just a start, and that Ventura, like other cities, should also be seeking more taxes for:

  • Median maintenance tax
  • Lighting district tax
  • Fire district tax
  • Recreation district tax
  • Library tax

MORE TAXES – THE BIG PICTURE

[PENURY BY THE PENNY]

A sales tax increase is not an isolated event. To understand the full impact of the tax burden on Venturans, one must consider all the other tax increases facing voters.

The Ventura School District tax, approved in 2012, is up for renewal in 2016. Governor Brown’s “temporary” sales tax increase is also up for renewal. And, Ventura County Transportation Commission is considering a sales tax, countywide.

Then consider other recent tax increases:

Medicare tax went from 1.45% to 2.35%

Income Tax rate went from 35% to 39.6%

Payroll tax went from 37.4% to 52.2%

Capital gain tax went from 15% to 28%

Dividend tax went from 15% to 39.6%

Estate taxes went from 0% to 55%

Real Estate transaction tax of 3.5% was added

There’s An Alternative Plan The City Council Refuses To Consider

Our City government has $20 million more in real property taxes and sales taxes. Add to that the 34% water rate increase, imposed without your affirmative vote, to raise millions to fund and replace the water and wastewater infrastructure under our streets, it becomes clear that city government has enough money.

Our current City Council wants more tax money, calling for citizens to “invest” more of “your money.”  Ask yourself first how they have invested “your money” over the last 8 years, and the answer unequivocally — poorly.  How about showing us first how they manage the tax money they have before demanding more.

If you agree that Ventura should live within its existing budget, then write to your City Councilmembers to say so. Tell them not to tax Ventura citizens any more and to spend the money they have more wisely.

Click On A Councilmember’s Photo To Send Them An Email

Erik Nasarenko,
Mayor

Neal Andrews,
Deputy Mayor

Cheryl Heitmann

Jim Monahan

Carl Morehouse

Mike Tracy

Christy Weir

Editors:

R. Alviani,       K. Corse,     T. Cook,     R. Berry,
J. Tingstrom, R. McCord,  S. Doll,      C. Kistner,
W. Frank

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High Priced Consultants Selling Snake Oil

City Council Hires Consultants To “Sell” Voters On A Tax Hike

Spending Problem

“We don’t have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem.” — Ronald Reagan

The Scenario

The Ventura City Council is determined to raise taxes again by putting a measure on the ballot in November to increase sales taxes by 0.5%-1%. Two previous attempts failed. As is customary, they are not completely forthcoming or transparent when they are trying to extract more money from the citizenry. On January 30, 2016, the City Council held a special meeting at the Ventura Police Department whose true purpose was to discuss raising the sales tax. The Council spent $118,000 to hire consultants to sell the voters on a tax increase. What they learned should have disappointed the Council.

This City Council is pushing hard for a sales tax incease.

Council hired consultants to direct them on how to sell the voters on a tax increase

 [Only 36% say Yes]

At the January 30th meeting, one paid consultant provided his interpretation of the results of a general poll on citizen’s views asked of 630 citizens. The opinions were favorable in such areas as police, fire, beaches, water, paving streets, serving veterans, and protecting the environment.

When it came to answering two questions specifically focused on the need for a sales tax increase, however, the results were remarkably different.

Question:  Does the City need additional funds for City Services?

Great need = 22%

Some need = 38%

Little/no need = 30%

Question:   If on an initial ballot you were asked to increase sales taxes by one-percent or one-half percent how would you vote?

One-percent                                                one-half percent

Definitely yes = 36%                         Definitely yes = 33%

Probably yes – 12%                           Probably yes = 22%

No/probable no = 39%                     No/probable no = 31%

Interpreting the results, fewer than one in four citizens sees a great need for additional funds and only 36% would vote definitely yes for a 1% sales tax increase.

If 630 citizens surveyed believe the City is doing a favorable job with the funds they have and only 22% believe there’s a great need for additional funds, one might conclude the citizens are content with the current situation.  But, the City Council—strongly encouraged by the consultants—continued to push the sales tax increase forward.

The inference is that voters are not smart and need to be led around

expensive consultants

Ventura spends $118,000 on consultants to “sell” voters on sales tax increase

The pollster then advised the Council that they needed to do more to “educate” the people on why they should vote for a sales tax increase to receive approval.  Without education it was a close call.  His words were – “on the one-percent measure you might have a shot.” One council member commented that the “citizens just don’t understand.”

Next, the paid political consultant outlined that of the 109,000 Ventura residents only 24,000 vote and, of that number, 61% are over the age of 50. It was his view that an intense program was needed to “educate” voters because “they need to know what the city council is going to use the money for.”

In fact, that’s the crux of the issue. If the additional sales tax revenue goes into the General Fund, nobody will know for sure how the City Council will use the money.

MONEY FOR EVERYONE AND EVERYTHING

[The Ventura Essential Services Tax Measure]

At the conclusion of the presentation, Mayor Nasarenko announced, “I have made a sales tax measure a core goal for my year as the Mayor.  I have been joined by the Deputy Mayor [Neal Andrews].”

The discussion then moved to a staff report that listed “all of the needs.”  The list of needs total $1.368 billion. That is billion with a “B.” Excluding costs for Water and Wastewater totaling $661,120,000, which the citizens will pay through a 34% increase in water bills the City Council approved in 2015, which leaves $707,734,532 in needs for the General Fund.

Here are some examples of what’s on the City of Ventura government’s shopping list. It is obvious the city council wants to overwhelm the voters with the sizable need for more taxes.

Community Enhancement $199,360,000
Technology $7,420,000
Streets $298,999,747
Public Art $557,462
Parks $112,192,823
Facilities $42,087,500
Fire $3,400,000
Police $4,853,000

This wish list illustrates the consultants’ concern about Ventura citizens, “they need to know what the city council is going to use the money for.”   But, here’s the rub.

As a General Fund Tax Measure, it is impossible to promise or earmark the new tax revenue to any specific project. To earmark funds requires a two-thirds majority vote (67%) on the ballot. To vote in a General Fund Tax Measure requires a simple majority (>50%).

Given the low interest in approving a sales tax increase cited in the survey (36%, at best), reaching a two-thirds majority will be a struggle. A simple majority seems more likely, if the sales tax increase is to pass at all.

Once in the General Fund, the City Council can spend the sales tax revenue as they choose.

No oversight committee, appointed by the city, has ever challenged spending after it has been spent

Mayor Nasarenko isn’t telling voters that no guarantee exists for the City to spend the additional tax revenue on any of the City needs once the tax receipts go into the General Fund. This Council may intend to use the funds for the projects outlined above, but Councilmembers change, city priorities change and needs change with time. In 2007-08 the signs of an economic downturn were clear yet the City government forged ahead, spending money on experts and projects as if they were immune from economic reality. Who’s to say the City won’t syphon off money intended for street repair to pay for another WAV building, for instance?

Consultants oversight committee

Consultants suggest a citizen’s oversight committee

So, the mayor is creating a smoke screen in his “let’s increase taxes” pitch by promising a Citizen’s Oversight Committee intended to give voters the false sense that “how funds are spent” will be closely monitored.

To monitor the funds that closely, however, a Citizen’s Oversight Committee would have to approve any project expenditure before the City makes it—effectively neutering the Council. It’s unlikely the City Council would approve that. And, even if they did, why would we need a City Council at all if this committee controlled the purse strings?

The truth is no post audit Citizen’s Oversight Committee will track city spending that closely, let alone have the power to reverse any spending after the fact. Once the Sales Tax Increase passes, the fact is nobody will look at it again and nobody will reverse any expenditure.

If you believe a sales tax increase will be spent unwisely, raise your voice. Write to the City Council to share your opinion. In addition, insist Council Members Heitmann, Morehouse and Weir—all up for re-election in the November 2016—thoroughly explain their position on the sales tax increase.  After all, they have a balanced budget, they increased water rates by 34% and they have revenues up $20 million to pre-2008 levels.

Click On The Councilmember’s Photo Below To Send An Email

Erik Nasarenko,
Mayor

Neal Andrews,
Deputy Mayor

Cheryl Heitmann

Jim Monahan

Carl Morehouse

Mike Tracy

Christy Weir

Editors:

R. Alviani,       K. Corse,     T. Cook,     R. Berry,
J. Tingstrom, R. McCord,  S. Doll,      C. Kistner,
W. Frank

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False state of the city for Ventura 2016

The Real Story Behind Ventura’s Proposed Sales Tax Increase

Spending Problem

“We don’t have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem.”
—Ronald Reagan

THE CAMEL IS TRYING TO GET ITS NOSE INTO THE TENT    

Ventura City Council is looking for a permanent sales tax increase of 0.5%-1%.  It is a forever tax, despite any protestations to the contrary. Can this Council be trusted to spend the new money wisely to benefit the community, or will they waste it? Until this City Council answers this question voters should not pass the measure.

MISREPRESENTING A CITIZENS’ INVOLVEMENT MEETING

On January 30, 2016, the City Council held a special meeting at the Ventura Police Department. The announced purpose of the meeting, in the advanced notice required by the Brown Act was to conduct a working session to set the goals for the City Council for 2016.  Instead, the true purpose of the meeting was to discuss raising the sales tax.

WITH INCREASES IN SALES AND PROPERTY TAXES, THE CITY HAS RECOVERED FROM 2007

Those attending heard Ventura Chief Financial Officer, Gil Garcia, outline the current financial posture of the City. Garcia stated that the income of the City had recovered back to the level that existed prior to the 2008 recession.  In 2007, revenue totaled $93,926,316, but that dropped $20 million to $73,684,565 as the bottom fell out of the economy.

Increasing City income by $20 million dollars in a 4-year period is a positive step forward.  This 27% overall increase is comprised of a 4% increase in real property taxes and increase of 9.5% in sales tax revenue.

IF REVENUES ARE UP BY 27%, WHY TAX THE CITIZENS MORE?

At the conclusion of the presentation new Mayor Erik Nassarenko announced, ” I have made a sales tax measure a core goal for my year as the Mayor.  I have been joined by the Deputy Mayor [Neal Andrews]”.  Erik and the City Council are seeking a 0.5%-1% increase in the sales tax that would generate an additional $10.9 million dollars to $21.7 million respectively.

The mayor justifies the new tax increase because:

  • Ventura is 150 years old with a stunning “natural landscape that is costly to maintain”
  • “Ventura is an old city, our sewer systems, our water systems, our roads and sidewalks, and our buildings need costly attention”
  • “Like our historic pier, the City of Ventura has unique features that require maintenance, care and funding”
  • “Our fire stations must remain open to provide life saving paramedic response
  • We must protect our waterways from pollution”. (Source: The Breeze)

EVERY DOLLAR OF GOVERNMENT WASTE COMES DIRECTLY FROM YOUR POCKET

What was not discussed was the extent of the spending waste since 2007.

  • $2.5 million lost in funding the market condos and stores in the WAV projects.
  • $1 million spent in studying the narrowing of Victoria.
  • $5 million lost to the internal service funds because of general fund manipulation by the then City Manager Rick Cole.
  • Citizens are already paying for improvements to our water and sewer system through a 34% increase in water bills.

NO ONE WANTS IT

No one wants a sales tax increase. Outside experts hired by the City Council told them only 33-36% of the persons polled would vote in favor of a tax increase. [64%-67% of the respondents were against or ambivalent to the tax increase] Furthermore, they told the Council to achieve a majority the Council needs to wage an election person-to-person “education campaign” so that the people would understand why this money was needed.

State of the City

Propaganda Campaign To “Educate” Voters

IT’S NOT A REVENUE PROBLEM

President Reagan said, “We don’t have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem.” The answer isn’t always to tax our people more, but to spend their money more wisely. If you believe a sales tax increase will be spent unwisely, make your voice heard. Write to the City Council to share your opinion. In addition, insist all the candidates in the November 2016 election thoroughly explain his/her position on the sales tax increase. Have him/her justify why we need a sales tax at all.

Erik Nasarenko,
Mayor

Neal Andrews,
Deputy Mayor

Cheryl Heitmann

Jim Monahan

Carl Morehouse

Mike Tracy

Christy Weir

There will be two more parts of this newsletter to follow in the next few weeks. 

Editors:

R. Alviani,     K. Corse,     T. Cook,     R. Berry,
J. Tingstrom, R. McCord,  S. Doll,      C. Kistner,
W. Frank

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Ventura City Hall

When Spending $118,000 On A Poll Costs You More Money

VENTURA CITY COUNCIL SPENDS $118,000 TO ASK VOTERS TO INCREASE TAXES – AGAIN

On April 14, 2015, the City Council directed the City Manager to conduct a “community survey” to gauge interest in future revenue options (government speak for  raise taxes) to support community services for a fee of $38,000.  They did that and spent your money for a poll.

high-priced consultants dupe voters

Ventura paid $38,000 to high-priced consultants to “sell” a sales tax increase to voters.

On September 28, 2015, the City Council listened to the expert concerning his interpretation of the answers in the poll, and whether the voters, in his paid opinion would support a sales tax increase of 1/2% or 1% over the present rate of 7.25%.

Given the nature of the questions in the poll (noted below) it was no surprise that he opined that six in ten “perceive the City has at least some need for additional funds for city services. However, only 22% recognized a ‘great need’ and only one-third would definitely vote yes.

One-third however does not get the Council to the required majority in an election, so the expert said that “educational statements lead to a 7% overall gain in support for the one-cent measure and an 8% overall gain in support for a one-half cent measure”. In other words, the voters need to be told (persuaded) what they need.

The paid consultant, of course, was available to provide the needed education to attract more voters at a cost of $80,000.   The Council again voted to spend your money because you need “education”.

The tax increase has not as yet been put on the ballot but the measure will be called – CITY OF VENTURA ESSENTIAL SERVICES PROTECTION MEASURE – if the Council follows the expert’s advice.

RELYING ON A BAD POLL, AGAIN

As is the case with most poorly worded surveys which include ambiguous questions or questions that are too general in their nature, our city council paid for a very misleading assessment. This poll implies that new taxes will go toward any and all of the suggested purposes in the survey, with no details or guarantees.

Interestingly enough, the poll that the City of Ventura commissioned, is quoted in the Ventura Star paper, as asking if the citizens would be willing to support a tax increase, if it provided:

  • protection of local water supplies
  • keep all fire stations open
  • protect local beaches, rivers and coastal waters from pollution
  • maintain and improve fire, police and paramedic emergency response
  • maintain essential city services
  • improve services for seniors, the disabled and veterans

Past City Councils have relied upon poor surveys before and have lost on elections both times in the past.

HOW DID WE GET STARTED DOWN THIS PATH AGAIN?

Ventura now has a new Mayor who has only been in Ventura just over 5 years, coming from Los Angeles. With him comes a desire to tax the citizens of Ventura partly because taxes are lower than Los Angeles and because the Ventura City Council can find more ways to spend more money. However, this desire to gather more tax money is once again being sold to Venturans under the disguise of “keep funds local”.

A SMOKE SCREEN

Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, several of these items, such as water supply, rivers, beaches, seniors, disabled and veterans are already being paid for by county, state and federal agencies.

Our Mayor has started a dialog to have the citizens believe this tax will help our aging water system and our pier.

Blow smoke on taxes

The mayor and Ventura City Council blow smoke about Ventura’s need for more taxes after consultants deliver voter poll findings.

This is an effort to deceive the voters into believing that more taxes are needed for our water system. Ventura Water Department, independent of the city general fund, maintains our water system to the tune of a recent 34% increase in water rates over that last two years. After a 34% increase in water rates, Ventura has the funds for our aging water system.

With regard to the pier, there is over one million dollars in the “pier fund” to repair the pier. The community needs to understand that the pier is protected with an insurance policy that will have it repaired. The policy calls for a onetime occurrence insurance with a $100,000 deductible for each major occurrence. The $1.0 million in the fund, which is money that came from the community, not the city budget, is available to pay this $100,000 deductible each time it is needed. Therefore, no part of the sales tax dollars is needed for the pier.

MORE TAXES ARE NOT ALWAYS THE ANSWER

The other argument most often used to increase Sales Tax rates is that Ventura is lower than other cities, implying that Ventura is falling behind. The only two cities in Ventura County with an 8% sales tax rate are Oxnard and Port Hueneme. Aren’t both of these cities struggling with budget deficits? Los Angeles is at 9.00% for their sales tax. We cannot compare our needs to Los Angeles.

REVENUES ARE ALREADY UP

So let’s first discuss the need for more funds. The truth is that over the last 2 years, the City of Ventura property taxes have increased by 4.0% ($18,479,513 to $19,235,000). Also over the same two years, the City of Ventura sales tax revenue has increased by 9.5% ($16,134,075 to $17, 674,715). Therefore, revenues for the City of Ventura have continued to rise and as our new Mayor has said “we are living within our means and we have a balanced budget”.

WE HAVE THE REVENUE. IT’S A SPENDING PROBLEM.

Now let’s point to the real reason more taxes are being suggested. In 2015/2016, even after the employees’ contributions have been made, the employers’ contributions for the SEIU and Public Safety employees have increased from $15,061,523 to $16,079,104 for a net increase of $1,017,581. And, it is going to get worse.

Therefore, it does not look like the amount that the employees are contributing is keeping up with the cost, investment and the demand by the current and future retirees. Therefore, the percentage of the total city budget is continually going towards increased retirement costs and not services. Employees need to contribute a higher percentage toward their own retirement.

SO WHAT IS THE ALTERNATIVE SOLUTION TO THE PROBLEM?

Using our Mayor’s own words from his 2013 campaign:

Mayor Erik Nasarenko commissioned the voter poll on taxes.

1) When asked how you plan to pay for to improve streets, public safety, water resources, attracting new business, parks, schools and city services his answer was: “By growing the economy… the city must attract and retain businesses that will increase its sales tax base.”

2) When asked what the role of the city is to attract a better economic vitality and his answer was: “The city can bring economic vitality to Ventura by keeping it safe and clean, creating a business-friendly culture at city hall, making sensible, cost-effective loans to businesses, and by promoting trade and tourism both locally and globally”. There is nothing said here about increasing taxes upon the citizens further.

3) When asked whom he would represent, his answer was: “City residents.  Without whom, there would be no tax base—property, sales or otherwise—to provide the core services necessary to support the city”. You shouldn’t be promoting to increasing taxes upon your existing tax base when you have not first tried to introduce your plan for attracting and retaining business that will increase its sales tax base.

4) Where is the action that he promised such as: “As Councilmember, I would like to make Focus Area 1 a top priority, bringing to the Auto Center area a destination retail establishment, like a Bass Pro Shop, and possibly a hotel to support the Players Club casino.”

In our new Mayor’s own words, economic vitality through increasing the business base is the top priority. He led voters to believe that his position was to expand the tax base as a better alternative than increasing the tax rate. We should keep him to his word.

Editors:

R. Alviani,     K. Corse,    T. Cook
J. Tingstrom, R. McCord, S. Doll

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Last Chance To Oppose Higher Water Rates

Ventura Water aims to increase water rates unless citizens protest.

Act Now To Prevent Higher Water Rates!

Monday June 8th is your last day to act if you want to oppose an increase in water rates.  Your protest must be filed with the City Clerk before 6 PM.

On this Monday,  Ventura City Council will decide on whether to adopt the Ventura Water report , written by the Ventura Water General Manger, Shana Epstein.  Click the Report Button to read the full report.

Water Rate Incease Report from Ventura Water

Click on the Report button to access the Water Rates Increase Report

She proposes to raise your water rates. If you use more that 6 HCF in any billing period you will pay more.  If you use over 21 HCF, which is the average residential use in Ventura then will pay a lot more.  This new rate is intended to coerce compliance.

Today we have enough water to meet the needs of our community. Nobody questions the need for all citizens to make an effort to conserve now against potential future water shortages but most however question the need for our City to adopt coercive and punitive measures.

This community will come together to meet this challenge, but never under the lash of government.  If you wish to protest click on the protest icon.

Water Rate Increase Protest Form

Click on the Protest Button to access the Water Rates Increase Form.

Editors:

R. Alviani,     K. Corse,    T. Cook
J. Tingstrom, R. McCord, S. Doll

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City Makes It Hard For Citizens To Protest Water Rates Increase

Ventura Water Aims To Increase Water Rates Unless Citizens Protest

NOTICE OF RIGHT TO VOTE AND PROTEST WATER RATES INCREASE
[State sets Ventura Water Conservation at 16%]

If you are a property owner you have received a NOTICE REGARDING SETTING OF WATER RATES from the City of Ventura (Ventura Water). It was mailed in April.

This notice details what the new rates will be, under water shortage conditions, and provides a complicated chart so that you can determine the impact on your monthly billing rate.  The notice announces that a PUBLIC HEARING will be held before the Ventura City Council on JUNE 8, 2015, at City Hall.

If you do not favor this increase then the City notice tells you that the parcel owner, or customer of record on the water bill, must file a written protest with the City Clerk at City Hall, or at least be mailed, before the hearing date.

The City did NOT enclose a protest form (ballot) with the rate increase notice. You can find the Water Shortage Rate Protest form by going online to a link provided in the body of the letter, however the form is difficult to find from that link.   For your convenience you can find the WATER SHORTGAGE RATE PROTEST form by clicking on the Protest Button below.

Water Rate Increase Protest Form

Click on the Protest Button to access the Water Rate Increase Form.

If you do not have a computer, protesting is not as easy. You will have to go to the City Clerk’s office at City Hall. Please share this with neighbors and friends.

IF YOU DON’T PROTEST, YOU VOTE “YES” AUTOMATICALLY

Unless a majority of the property owners (51%) file a protest, these water shortage rates will go into effect.  Renters have no right to protest.  Business owners have no right to protest.  Only 32,000 people that own property with water meters have a right to vote.  The remaining 81,000 people in the City of Ventura are effectively disenfranchised. They have no vote but will have to pay.

“This city has manipulated and used fees, rates, enterprise funds to further their social and downtown improvements. When this ordinance first started it excluded the mobile home owners from participating because the mobile home communities are all listed as a one property owner, so therefore one owner per park, 10 parks, approx 2500 to 3000 residents without a yes or no vote.”

Jack Tingstrom, former Mayor of Ventura

HOW IS THIS LEGAL WITHOUT A BALLOT VOTE?

The simple answer is Proposition 218, a measure approved by a majority of California voters.  This is not the usual democratic election process.  Usually with a tax increase measure all voters are provided a ballot.  If 2/3 of the voters do not approve, the measure fails.

In this instance Proposition 218 governs.  The underlying principle is that “costs of service”, such as the cost of producing water or treating waste water is in a special category because “the cost” can be objectively determined.

But what happens when the government starts calling something a cost when it is not truly a cost of providing the service?  It is here that mischief and the potential for abuse abounds.  Who can forget the $1 million taken out of the water fund by the City Council and put into the “public art fund”, which was then used to build public housing?  You did not get to vote on that.

IMPACT OF THE PROPOSED WATER SHORTAGE RATE INCREASES

The Proposed Water Shortage Rates (PWSR) proposal must be looked at very carefully by each property owner, and compared to your most recent water bills.  This proposal changes (lowers) the tiers.  If a single family residence (SFR) now uses 0 to 14 HCF (748 gallons equals 1 HCF) you are in Tier 1.  This costs you $2.40 per HCF in addition to the base fixed cost for water of $29.28,  The fixed cost will increase over the next 3 years as well as the flow rate charges. In addition you pay a fixed cost for sewer/wastewater of $19.96 plus $2.91 per HCF flow charge up to 30 HCF.

If the PWSR is adopted and the City Council continues to declare a 20% conservation rate, notwithstanding that the State Water Board (SWRCB) has set our rate at 16%, then you will pay more.  The tier rates will be changed – Tier 1 will be lowered 0 to 6 HCF, Tier 2 will be 7-14 HCF, Tier 3 will be 15 to 30 and Tier 4 will be 30 HCF and above.   In a household of 4 people 6 HCF equals 74.8 gallons per day, or 18.7 gallons per person per day.

Using the current approved rate schedule for a single family residence, with a 3/4″ meter, using 21 HCF, which is the average residential use in Ventura according to Ventura Water Dept., and comparing it to the PWSR here is a chart comparing what you pay now versus what you will pay if the PWSR is adopted.

Ventura Water Rates Increase by 14%.

 

VENTURA IS NOT IN A STAGE 3 DROUGHT

In the fall of 2014 the City Council, in response to the Governor’s statewide drought declaration, declared that our city was in a Stage 3 drought thus requiring a 20% reduction in water consumption.

That declaration has been driving the Ventura City and Ventura Water agenda and publicity campaign.  The reality is that during the 1990 drought the citizens of this community embraced water conservation and reduced consumption by 5,000 acre feet. Thus, the State Water Resources Control Board just determined that the City of Ventura is only required to reduce water usage by 16%, not the 25% that has been widely circulated by Ventura Water over the last year.

”The Governor’s April 1st Executive Order called for the State Water Board to implement a mandatory 25% statewide conservation requirement for urban water usage.  All documents related to implementation of the Executive Order, including the Proposed Emergency Regulations released yesterday…
The City of Ventura’s (San Buenaventura) proposed conservation standard as of 4/28/15 would be 16%”
Jessica Bean, Engineering Geologist, SWRCB

Editors’ Comments

Members of VREG are concerned about several things related to the current process of putting water shortage rates in place.

• We are concerned that the estimates for our community (as shown above) are too aggressive.

• We’re concerned that the protest form was not included in the formal notification from Ventura Water. Providing a link that then leads to a lengthy document where another link to the protest form is buried is hardly calculated to provide “fair notice” under Proposition 218.

• We are concerned that all citizens who are affected by rate increases (like apartment dwellings) do not have a voice in this process.

• We’re concerned that ratepayers understand that they will need to either make a change in their water use or be willing to pay additionally for not reducing their use.

• We are concerned about our water quantity and quality for the future.  Addressing that will require courageous and transparent leadership. 25 years ago all our citizens voted for desalinization to provide a new water resource. City government then did nothing.  Further procrastination is not recommended.

Mayor Heitmann and this Council talk about creating confidence in City government and proclaim that they want citizen involvement and transparency.  This PWSR proposal and notice to our citizens do not serve that purpose. Perhaps “they” should learn to “walk their talk”.

Editors:

R. Alviani,     K. Corse,    T. Cook
J. Tingstrom, R. McCord, S. Doll

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Pension Liabilities Threaten Ventura's Financial Health

Pension Liabilities Threaten Ventura’s Financial Health

John F. Kennedy on Fiscal Responsibility

“When written in Chinese, the word ‘crisis’ is composed of two characters. One represents danger, the other represents opportunity.” —John F. Kennedy

VENTURA’S FINANCES – HEALTHY, OR NOT ?

At the Ventura City Council meeting on February 23, 2015, our Mayor will discuss The State of the City.  It is to be expected that she will praise the accomplishments of the City, such as creation of a Water Commission to address water shortage issues and the City efforts to improve roads and basic infrastructure.  The condition of City finances will also be a major subject, building on the Ventura County Star article, published on President’s Day, with the headline “City’s Financial Outlook Healthy”.

A candid discussion of the condition of City finances is to be welcomed, but it is not the rosy picture portrayed in the Star article. The Economic reality of the current  public pension liabilities of the City of Ventura unfortunately is not receiving the attention it demands when determining our financial outlook, nor is the impact of escalating payments to CALPERS and the drain it will have on the General Fund and City services in the next 5 years getting noticed.

A.  VENTURA UNFUNDED PENSION OBLIGATIONS TRIPLE

In the fall of each year CALPERS provides financial and actuarial reports for the SAFETY PLAN OF THE CITY OF SAN BUENAVENTURA (police and fire) and MISCELLANEOUS PLAN (all other employees).  The latest report, dated October, 2014, provides a valuation of assets and liability as of June 30, 2014.

The combined City pension assets have a present value of $191,329,875. and we owe $353,756,578.  There is no money to pay the $157,993, 381 shortfall. The official calculations are based upon an assumption, projected over the actuarial life of the union participants, that CALPERS, as our pension fund administrator, will achieve an investment return of 7.5%.

What this report does not discuss in direct terms is the 50% loss our City incurred during the 2008 depression, together with the other 1600 local government agencies funds that they manage.  That money has not been replaced.  What CALPERS wants to emphasize in their report is the 18% (not net of costs) return that they received ending June 30, 2013. This is a short term gain only.

For the investment forecast CALPERS uses a rate of 7.5%. However, when CALPERS illustrates their Hypothetical Termination Liability calculations on page 28 of the report, it uses a far different and lower discount/investment rate of 3.72% instead of the 7.5% rate of return. In that event we owe $488,961,724.

In reality, in early in 2014, CALPERS admitted that it is still underfunded by 50%.  They report earnings of 18.5% last year, but a study has reported their actual earned average of 3.41% for five years, 5.36% for ten years, 6.97% for 15 years, and 8.38% for 20 years.

B.  HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE

In August 2008, the editors of this newsletter published an analysis of the unfunded pension obligations of Ventura titled IN THE SHADOW OF VALLEJO.  We warned against the increase of the firefighters’ pension benefits by 33% (from 2% at age 55 to 3% at age  and urged the Council not to make the increase, and to require all other employees to contribute at least 5% to 10% toward their pensions.

We provided extracts from a CALPERS report of the time.

 

Funded Status–June 30, 2008 Police/Fire Misc. Plan
Present value of projected benefits $270,877,057 205,128,033
Entry Age Normal Accrued Liability $233,938,241 $167,837,616
Actuarial Value of Assets $177,314,177 $157,529,148
Unfunded Liability $46,624,064 $10,308,468

“I do not know where we are going to get the money.”

The vote was 4 to 3 in favor. Voting against the increase were then Mayor Weir and Councilmen Andrews and Morehouse.  Councilman Morehouse’s comments at the time were prophetic.  “I do not know where we are going to get the money”.

In January 2011, VREG newsletter again visited the pension issues because the City Council was considering the renewal of the labor contracts with the employees in the City.  The proposal was to require the employees to contribute 4.5% of the CALPERS pension costs. This VREG urged the Council to require greater contributions from the employees.  The article was titled HMS TITANIC  [Moving Deck Chairs to Avoid a Disaster].

The City Council vote was 5-2 in favor of the agreements (which included a requirement that employees contribute 4.5%). Councilman Andrews and Councilwoman Weir voted against approval. The decision of the other five—Brennan, Fulton, Monahan, Morehouse and Tracy—was in favor.

Councilwoman Christy Weir rejected the proposal and stating “Fiscally, the city needs more than this right now.”   Council Member Neil Andrews concurred stating, “The agreements simply don’t go far enough.”

“The agreements simply don’t go far enough.”

C. AN ESCALATING  PAYROLL CONTRIBUTION RATE THREATENS FINANCIAL HEALTH

Today the City of Ventura owes in excess of $157,993,381.  It will only increase and the drain on the General Fund will likewise increase because the required employer contribution rate for police and fire for example must be paid yearly in addition to their pay and medical costs. Here are the mandated and projected rates from CALPERS.

FISCAL YEAR           EMPLOYER CONTRIBUTION RATE (Police & Fire only)
2011/2012                   35.190%                      2012/2013                   36.4%
2013/2014                   40.6%                          2014/2015                   44.225%
2015/2016                   45.598%                      2016-2017                   50.6%
2018-2019                   52.5%                          2019/2020                   54.5%
2020/2021                   54.6%

BANKRUPTCY DEVELOPMENTS

Pension Liabiliteis Lead To Insolvency

Ventura’s Financial Health Threatened By Pension Liabiliteis

The cities of Stockton and Vallejo were forced to file chapter 9 bankruptcy proceedings.  The cities asked their creditors to take haircuts, but not CALPERS. The cities insisted that the public employee unions were exempt and entitled by law to100% on the dollar. The Federal Bankruptcy Court ruled otherwise in January, 2015.

CALPERS argued that the California Constitution guaranteed the union contracts and thereby pension benefits from cuts and/or that they enjoyed sovereign immunity and police powers as an arm of the state and/or that they have a lien on municipal assets.  In January 2015, the Federal Bankruptcy Court effectively threw them out of court saying: It is doubtful that CALPERS even has standing.   He writes “It does not bear financial risk from reductions by the City in its funding payments because state law requires CALPERS to pass along the reductions to pensioners in the form of reduced pensions”.

Judge Klein further stated:  “CALPERS has bullied its way about in this case with an iron fist” and “that their arguments are constitutionally infirm in the face of the exclusive power of Congress to enact uniform laws on the subject of bankruptcy…”.

The impact of this decision is that CALPERS cannot stop cities from modifying pensions.

EDITORS COMMENT:

The direction that Ventura is heading is insolvency and the idea that employee pensions are guaranteed and protected is wrong. Unless the City Council take steps to force public employees to pay a greater portion of their retirement and stop increasing the annual percentage of the general budget toward retirement and benefits, Ventura will collapse.

R. Alviani          K. Corse       T. Cook    B. Berry
J. Tingstrom     R. McCord   S. Doll

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Ventura's water shortage

Ventura’s Water Crisis Is A Study In Procrastination

Water, water, everywhere

“Water, water, everywhere, Nor any drop to drink.” —Samuel Taylor Coleridge                       The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

THE CHICKENS MAY HAVE COME HOME TO ROOST OVER WATER ISSUES
 [A STUDY IN PROCRASTINATION]

We’re in the worst drought in 100 years. The State of California, the City of Ventura and everyone else is concerned about water.  Lake Cachuma is almost dry, Santa Barbara decides to finance and build a desalinization plant and Montecito is in such bad shape it asks Ventura to build a pipeline through our City to wheel water from sources to the South.

Alarms were sounded.  Nobody thought about water until it was almost gone.  The question on everyone’s mind was how the 93,568 citizens in Ventura were going to obtain their drinking water.  The City Council held meetings and asked for citizens to reduce water use.

Ventura's drinking water

Venturans are concerned over where their drinking water will come from.

On the supply side the Council looks for new sources of water: importing water by tanker, hauling an iceberg off the coast to use melt water, building a pipeline to import the 10,000 acre feet of State water or building a desalinization plant to convert sea water to potable uses.

It was 1992. It was not raining and the community was divided.

The Association for Water Quality Alternatives (AQWA) formed and urged the Council to make a decision – build a reverse osmosis plant to remove dissolved solids and treat brackish water from the Mound ground water basin in the eastern part of the City, or import the 10,000 acre feet of State water by piping it from Lake Pyramid into Lake Piru then to Ventura by pipe line.  This group urged state water because the community had, since 1973, invested millions of dollars for the right to import the water, and would continue to pay $1.5 M per year until 2035. Spending $25 M to build a pipeline was the least costly option.

The City Council would not decide. Instead they voted to put a measure on the ballot asking the citizenry to vote on whether we should build a reverse osmosis plant.  The vote was 52% in favor of a desalinization (membrane filtration/reverse osmosis) plant and 48% to build the pipeline.

Once the election was over everything stopped. No effort was or has been made to develop, finance AND build an alternative water resource. The Water Department has spent millions since 2008  “studying” and they are “still studying” the options.

Ventura’s Water Crisis Is Nothing New.

Notwithstanding the malaise of local government Mother Nature took control.  Between 1992 and 2011 it rained prodigiously. The Ventura County hydrology data for the Casitas dam gauge reflects an average rainfall of 24.10 inches per year in that period.  In 1998 it rained 49.68 inches and Casitas dam overflowed. 2005 was another banner year with 42.86 inches followed by 2011 with 30.83 inches. In 2012 rainfall started moving downward – went to 12.01 inches, then 10.72 inches in 2013 and in 2014 it dropped to 8.02 inches.

EDITORS’ COMMENTS:

History has an  uncanny way of repeating itself.  After 20 plus years of great rainfall could we expect 3 to 5 years of low rainfall in Ventura?  The answer is unequivocally yes!  This pattern has occurred consistently since we began tracking rainfall in 1880.  Human nature is equally predictable – when it is raining why develop and build alternative water resources?

[A WATER EXPERT’S VIEW]

Ventura's drinking water sources

Sources of Ventura’s drinking water

On July 21, 2014, the Ventura City Council appointed a 13 member “Water Supply Strategy Task Force” to hold public meetings and develop a strategy to address potential water shortages in the City of Ventura. This was in response to Governor Brown’s proclamation declaring a statewide water emergency.  There have been three meetings, the most recent on September 9, 2014. This public meeting was well attended, and many members of our community spoke, but one in particular deserves mention.  With his permission we have printed his letter:

I bring these comments to the board in an effort to make their job easier. Decisions this group has undertaken to make are decisions that were ALREADY made by the public and city government of the City of Ventura back in November of 1992.

I speak to you based on having been the Production Supervisor of the City of Ventura water dept from 1985 till 1992.  Further as the plant operator of the Brackish Water Reclamation Demonstration facility of the Bureau of Reclamation in the City of Port Hueneme from 1997 till 2002.  And lastly as the State licenses Water Treatment and Water Distribution instructor for Water Science Dept at Ventura Community College from 1989 til 2013, training and preparing individuals to acquire their State of California licenses to legally work in the water/wastewater industry.

 In 1992 the city of Ventura was recovering from a major drought.  Part of the dialog going on was that the City should avail itself of State imported water by constructing a pipeline from Ventura to Castaic.

This would have provided the City access to water it would need but as history has shown was and is NOT available.  The State imported water system has historically NOT been able to provide the water contracted for, as the system was never finished and is not capable of meeting those contract levels EVEN when water is available and when in a drought that water is NOT available.  Further, connection to that water supply would take ANY control of amounts or costs AWAY from local control, i.e. Sacramento declaring water emergencies and applying mandatory cutbacks.

That commitment is what this body should be working to see HAVE HAPPEN.  It makes no sense to discuss or study the local water situation thinking or including State mandates when the State plays no part in the City of Ventura’s water supply situation.

It also makes no sense to request the public of this city to further reduce their water usage as the historical records indicate that our citizens have already reduced their consumption of water per capita by more than 50% since the 90’s.  Requesting our citizens to further reduce their water use so that water will be available for the ADDITIONAL population that is being allowed with continued grown is NOT a productive avenue.

The productive avenue and manner to address the current water shortage in our City is to build the treatment facilities that were recognized would be REQUIRED nearly two decades ago.

The City owns and has available water sources already in existence that are NOT being used as the water quality did not meet (drinking water) standards WITHOUT treatment.  But those existing facilities (expensive ones we already own like Victoria Well 1or any of a least three other wells the city owns but is not using ) can and should be utilized as the raw water source to a membrane treatment plant that could provide better quality water that we are getting now from surface water and at a price significantly cheaper than what State imported water is costing our neighboring cities.  Those cost benefits were documented and fully recognized at the Demonstration facility a decade ago.

Membrane treated water from a plant utilizing ground water TOTALLY under the control of the CITY of Ventura makes significantly more sense than asking our citizens to lower the value of their property, accept reductions in use that are set by the state, (which has NOTHING to do with our water supply), is capable of providing HIGHER quality water than we have now, at CHEAPER prices than what our neighbors are paying the state, and follows the directives and sensible decisions made by our citizens and political bodies more than 22 years ago”

—JOSEPH RICHARDSON
Ventura, California

EDITORS’ COMMENTS

 Municipal government has declined to make any decision to develop an alternative water supply for the City of Ventura in the last 23 years.  Waiting another 20 plus years would be an absurdity.  Our current Council can, and must, make a decision. In the words of baseball great Yogi Berra, “When you come to a fork in the road take it.” 

Post Script

VREG is closely watching the Water Supply Task Force Committee’s work on how “our” water conservation program will be designed, monitored and implemented in our community. It was not lost on the VREG committee that shortly after the first of a 3-year rate increase in water rates went into effect in July 2014, additional administrative personnel was hired.

 

Update on County Pension Reform

After months of signature gathering to qualify as a ballot initiative for the County of Ventura, a Ventura County Superior court judge decided that this initiative was not a valid because the County of Ventura cannot elect to withdraw from a system that it first elected to join. That ruling stated that any needed reform for the Ventura County pension plan must come from the state level.  It does not seem to be the political will of the State Assembly or State Senate to tackle this ongoing problem.

Future VREG topic- Ventura City Budget

The June 2014 annual General Budget is in and is being reviewed.

Editors:

R. Alviani               K. Corse             T. Cook
J. Tingstrom         R. McCord          S. Doll

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