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The Decade Of The 2010s

This Is Why The Decade Of The 2010s Is Important

Do not suffer your good nature…to say yes when you ought to say no.”

—George Washington

As the 21st century teeters between the 2010s and the 2020s, it’s a perfect time to take stock of an eventful decade. Over the last ten years, several key events changed Ventura forever.  Let’s look at what happened and the effect these incidents had.

How We’ll Remember The 2010s

We’ll remember the 2010s as a decade that began with the city struggling to get out of a recession, followed by ten years of decisions made with good intentions gone wrong. Bureaucrats and politicians pushed their agendas on the city. And like Sisyphus pushing the boulder up the hill, we kept falling backward.

Leadership circus of the 2010sIt’s remarkable that the city accomplished anything in the 2010s. We had three City Managers and three Interim City Managers. No one person was in the role for more than three years. Turnover created a leadership vacuum that minimized any chance for meaningful change.

Key Events In The Decade Of The 2010s

The 2010s started as “business as usual.” Then the Thomas Fire happened. Citizens quickly became interested in how the Ventura would handle two issues: public safety during and after the fire, and rebuilding. After twelve months of intense interest, citizens have returned to “business as usual.”

Here are the key events of the decade: the Thomas Fire, December 2017; the Wishtoyo Consent Decree, 2012; Pension Inflation, 2010-2019; Homelessness, 2010-2019; the Anthony Mele, Jr. murder, April 2018; Brooks Institute’s failure, 2016; the WAV Building, 2012; Ventura’s Grand Jury Finding against Ventura’s building & safety inspectors, 2013; and district elections. Let’s look at what happened in each case and how it affects you.

The Thomas Fire

Thomas Fire was the biggest event of the 2010s

The biggest misfortune in Ventura’s history was the Thomas Fire, which began on December 4, 2017. The fire destroyed 535 structures in the city, displacing hundreds of residents and impacting everyone’s lives.

During the fire, Ventura’s public safety performed admirably. Despite the widespread devastation, police and fire protected the lives of everyone living in the city. Evacuations were orderly, albeit slow. There were many stories of heroic efforts by police and fire going beyond the call of duty.

Other aspects of the city’s performance didn’t go so well. Several groups pilloried Ventura Water for inadequate water supply to fire hydrants in the affected areas. An investigation is on-going. So are lawsuits.

The City Council added to the misery of the victims in an example of good intentions gone bad. The Council waffled on second-story height restrictions for rebuilding victims’ homes. Indecisiveness delayed the rebuilding process for many. They attempted to please fire victims wanting to improve their homes and doing so delayed rebuilding for everyone.

After two years, only 80 families have returned to their rebuilt homes.

The Wishtoyo Consent Decree

Wishtoyo Decree in the 2010sThe Consent Decree stems from a federal complaint filed by Whistoya Foundation [WISHTOYA VS. CITY OF SAN BUENAVENTURA, CASE NO. CV 10-02072]. The Consent Decree requires Ventura to stop putting 100% of its treated wastewater into the Santa Clara River estuary. The city must divert a percentage of the 7.5 million gallons-per-day starting in 2025. The balance must be redirected by 2030. That decree is silent on how and where Ventura diverts the wastewater.

Ventura Water seized the opportunity to make the city the first to use recycled wastewater for drinking. Ventura Water calls the project VenturaWaterPure. No cities in the world have used recycled water except Windhoek, Namibia and a small town in Texas. Neither place had other water options.

Ventura Water has confused the City Council by combining two different ideas to falsely heighten the urgency to drink wastewater.

VenturaWaterPure will cost $1 billion over 30 years. That’s a considerable sum of money for the community to absorb. Expect your water bill to double to pay for VenturaWaterPure’s infrastructure alone. Remember, water costs already went up by $220 million with water and wastewater increases in 2012-13.

The Wishtoyo Consent Decree is a fiscal calamity for the city. More cost-effective options exist, but the City Council and Ventura Water fail to consider them. Times change. Circumstances change. Now is the time to reconsider options to be sure we’re making the best choice available.

Pension Inflation Throughout The 2010s

Pensions in the 2010sRetirement pensions are the city’s number one problem. Ventura currently has a $215.1 million unfunded pension liability, and that number continues to grow. CalPERS (the California Public Employees retirement fund) demands rapidly increasing contributions from Ventura. We will have permanent increases of at least $2 million per year for five to six consecutive years.

We respect the work city employees do. There is no denying that fire and police preform a vital job that is both dangerous and requires a high level of training and responsibility. Our concern is not about their work. It’s about the structure by which their retirement is accumulated and paid after retirement.

It is undeniable that city employees’ retirement pensions are crowding out the city’s ability to provide the service itself. Moreover, chronic underfunding of pensions will eventually hit a breaking point jeopardizing the employees’ benefits too. Expect your taxes to increase (á la Measure O) and the services the city provides to decrease.

Homelessness In Ventura In The 2010s

You may remember Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Farewell Speech when he described the Military-Industrial Complex. Now, we have something new, the Homelessness-Industrial Complex. Today’s Homelessness-Industrial Complex shares some of the same characteristics as the Military-Industrial Complex. There is an alliance of special interests. It includes government bureaucracies, homeless advocacy groups operating through nonprofit entities, and large government contractors, especially construction companies and land development firms.

Here’s how the process works: Developers accept public money to build projects to house the homeless – either “bridge housing,” or “permanent supportive housing.” Cities and counties collect building fees and hire bureaucrats for oversight. The projects are then handed off to nonprofits with long term contracts to run them.

Homelessness mushroomed in the 2010sSounds good, right? That is until you see the price tag. Developers don’t just build housing projects; they construct ridiculously overpriced, overbuilt housing projects. (Keep in mind Ventura’s permitting fees and stringent building codes). Cities and counties create massive bureaucracies. The nonprofits don’t just run these projects; they operate vast bureaucratic empires. These fiefdoms have overhead, marketing budgets, and executive salaries that do nothing for the homeless. They do not overpay the workers in the shelter.

Set Up For Failure

Ventura selected Mercy House from Orange County to run its homeless shelter. Larry Haynes, Marcy House’s president, said in a speech in Ventura, “Housing is, ‘An inalienable right.’”

Mr. Haynes believes a cornerstone to Mercy House’s success in Ventura depends on developing affordable housing. Herein lies the rub. If Ventura doesn’t build affordable housing, how does that impact Mercy House’s performance? Affordable housing isn’t something Ventura has been able to do historically. “It makes it harder,” he said.

The City of Ventura has 555 homeless people. Of those, 387 are unsheltered. The Homeless Shelter will house 55 people from Ventura, leaving 332 people vulnerable.

Ventura will spend $712,000 each year for its 55 beds in the new homeless shelter. That equates to $12,945 per bed per year. And if what Mr. Haynes says is true, expect the city to pay more and more on homelessness and less on other services.

Anthony Mele, Jr. Murder

Jamal Jackson stabbed Anthony Mele, Jr. to death on Ventura’s Promenade in April 2018, thrusting the city into the national news.

Jackson was a repeat offender and was homeless. Many citizens jumbled his criminal act and his impoverished state. Of Ventura’s 555 homeless, 85 (32.7%) have mental health problems, and 93 (35.8%) have substance abuse problems.

The crime prompted an immediate reaction by Ventura Police. First, patrols along the promenade increased. At first, two officers patrolled the boardwalk 20 hours per day. Shortly after that, police expanded the patrol radius to include downtown. In July 2018, the City Council approved funds to continue the patrols. Now two officers patrol 12 hours per day. Arrest data increased since the incident. Ventura Police still deal with a significant number of recidivist criminal homeless.

Following the incident, the Police department reviewed its procedures. Chief Ken Corney admitted poor judgment. Substituting video monitoring for an officer responding was not the right choice.

Since then, there have been changes to the security camera monitoring. The changes include:

Extra cameras, active surveillance, more training, changes in monitoring policy, and re-prioritization of Calls for Service response. The review also concluded that the police adequately prioritized the call when it came in.

Public outcry diminished, but the problem of criminal vagrancy continues beyond the 2010s.

Real Estate Blunders Throughout The 2010s

2010s

The city mismanages taxpayer money on real estate deal routinely. In the past decade, there have been several notable instances: Brooks Institute, the WAV Building, the Harbor Church and the city parking garage. In each case, the mistakes have cost taxpayers’ money.

Brooks Institute

With Brooks Institute, the City Council believed relocating the school downtown would benefit the city. The City Council’s good intention went wrong. Brooks Institute was financially insolvent. It pulled out of town contractors and the city money.

The folks at City Hall tried hard to put on a brave and jubilant face in trying to explain why their decision to accept $71,000 to settle a lawsuit against Brooks Institute is a victory. Readers of this letter know better. The settlement does not even cover the rents and security deposit that Brooks was to have paid in the first six months of their lease. Nor does it account for the future lost rents and property damages. By our best estimate, the city lost well over $261,000 in this settlement.

The WAV Building

Ventura completed construction on the WAV (Working Artists of Ventura) Building at the beginning of the decade. The building included 82 low income and subsidized housing units, commercial spaces and 13 condos for sale at market rate.

What did the WAV Building cost? $55 million according to the city.  That figure is too low, however. It doesn’t consider the cost of the 1.7 acres of city-owned property Ventura sold to the developer for $1. It also doesn’t include the $1.5 million in deferred permit fees. A reasonable estimate put this at $65 million.

The city acquired tax money from many sources to pay for construction, but it was not enough. Then city officials did something devious to finance completing construction. They took $1 million from the Ventura Water funds, transferred it to the Public Art Fund, then loaned the money to the project. Even worse, the city subordinated the loan to a $4.5 million mortgage from Chase. Selling the 13 condos for between $725,000 to $850,000 each would repay the city’s inter-department loan.

2010sThe concept flopped. The condos finally sold in 2018 for a fraction of what the city hoped to get. Buyers paid $413,000-$470,000 for the units. Once the sale completed, the mortgage holder, Chase, was repaid both principal and interest. Ventura Water was left holding the bag, however, for the $1 million “loaned” to the city. The city received only $105,893 from the sale of the condos after paying the Construction Loan, sales commissions, sales expenses, the City Deferred Impact Fee Loan and the developer.

What’s more, the city loaned $2 million to the Regional Development Agency (RDA) to build the WAV project. The city expected to be repaid $1 million before the California Assembly eliminated RDAs statewide. Ventura wrote off $1 million when the RDA disappeared. Ventura is pursuing the outstanding principal and interest through the Recognized Obligation Payment Schedule (ROPS), but has received nothing so far.

All totaled, Ventura lost $1,894,107 on the sale of the condos.

Former Mayor Bill Fulton projected the project would “produce 25,000 visitors a year and would stimulate the local economy, resulting in $75,000,000 in new investments.” He also said the city used no local tax dollars to build the WAV Building.

The reality is that most of the money came from Federal and State taxes. But the funds noted above came from the city, plus another $334,176 to offset various construction fees.

As for the $75 million in new investment, we will never know because the estimator, Bill Fulton, left town.

At the time, we noted our elected representatives lack the understanding, the capacity to ask the more profound questions or political will to stop these types of actions.

Harbor Church

The city paid church officials $2.3 million to buy the Harbor Church property in 2016. City Hall and Harbor Church agreed the value of both the land and the church building was $1.6 million. The actual sales price included an extra $700,000 to pay the Church to move. By any measure, Ventura overpaid for the property.

Downtown Parking Garage

And there was a mistake with the city parking garage—the city grants private, reserved parking spaces to select businesses downtown as an incentive to operate. The city approved ten parking spaces to entice Cinemark Theaters to remain downtown. The trouble was when Lure Restaurant opened at 66 California, and the city staff provided them the same ten spots. This may not seem like a big blunder, but it shows that the city is inept at managing real estate, or the staff lacks good leadership to make sure mistakes don’t occur.

We’ve believed the city should get out of the real estate business throughout the 2010s. The litany of poor decisions grows. Ventura owns commercial real estate throughout the city. As these examples demonstrate, the city has not made responsible decisions regarding these properties. At the very least, the city should seek advice from licensed realtors and experts whenever making a real estate decision.

Grand Jury Finding

The 2011-2012 Ventura County Grand Jury opened an inquiry and issued a report condemning the City of Ventura’s Code Enforcement practices. The report addresses the aggressive collection of fees by Code Enforcement, motivated by the need to raise more revenue.

Ventura's Code Enforcement Scrutinized in the 2010sCity government and Code Enforcement officers serve a valuable and essential service to our community until they start acting like bullies with their use of force, intimidation, abuse of power and excessive punishment of the citizenry.

At the time, the city’s response to this report demonstrated their lack of understanding or constituted a brazen and irresponsible attempt to obfuscate the truth when they dismissed the report as vague. It was not.

For much of the 2010s, citizens overlooked or forgot the Grand Jury’s report until we had the Thomas Fire. Suddenly, city permitting and inspection of new buildings was of paramount importance. Sadly, stories from the fire’s victims indicate nothing has changed at City Hall.

District Elections

City Council Candidates will serve by district after the 2010s

For the first time in Ventura’s history, voting districts divide the city. The districting forced Mayor Neal Andrews and Councilmember Mike Tracy to retire. Councilmember Jim Monahan decided to retire after forty years of service. New Councilmembers are bringing fresh perspective and energy to the Council. They also are facing a steep learning curve to be effective.

Governing by districts means inexperienced new Councilmembers will lead the city. Inexperience leads to two possible outcomes. First, existing Councilmembers and city staff may marginalize them until they gain experience and knowledge. Second, the new City Manager and the city staff may take more control without voter accountability. Neither of these is good.

Citizens will now expect their elected officials to represent their district’s interests. As a result, concern for the city as a whole may take a backseat to districtwide issues. The loss of a citywide perspective on the Council is distressing.

Nowhere was this more evident than in the first forum for District 1 candidates. Citizens expressed concern for a Westside pool, learning how governing by districts will work, affordable housing and labor force opportunities. Very few of these issues aligned with what the outgoing City Councilmembers thought was most important: 1) growth 2) water 3) homelessness and 4) staff accountability.

Editor’s Comments

We will remember the 2010s as one of the most significant decades in Ventura’s history. It was a decade that saw our city leaders allow uninformed good intentions to overrule good governing. As a result, the city finds itself with budget deficits for the next five years. This is due, in part, to a growing pension debt obligation. The city is poised to pass along the most substantial rate increase for water in its history. The money the city spends on homelessness will grow. So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the city will have to raise taxes, cut services or a combination of the two.

The groundwork laid by city leaders in the 2010s provides a shaky foundation for the 2020s. The specter of higher taxes and reduced city services looms. Several things must happen to overcome the city’s current situation.

First, The City Council must have a cohesive, long-term vision. That vision must focus on the fundamentals of governing: public safety, maintained streets, safe neighborhoods, clean, affordable water, and business growth. In the early 2010s, the Council had a vision, but it didn’t concentrate on the fundamentals. As a result, the Council left the city with the Wishtoyo Consent Decree and the WAV Building. From 2013 on, the Council was divided and lacked any vision. The landmark accomplishment of those Councils was to push the Measure O sales tax increase. Yet, if you ask ordinary citizens how the extra money helps them, they’d be hard-pressed to answer.

Second, Ventura must retain a City Manager for more than three years. The City Manager leads the city staff to fulfill the City Council’s vision. Constant turnover disrupts that vision. A City Manager needs time to build a team and get them performing at a high level. We hope our current City Manager, Alex McIntyre, will have the opportunity to show the city what he’s capable of doing.

Third, voters must get involved. District voting means every vote is more important than it’s ever been. Your vote is one in 15,000 potential voters in your district. Your ballot carries more value than it did when we had citywide elections and your vote was one of 64,976. If the city is to overcome the current obstacles, we can’t have districts in which only 3,781 voters cast ballots.

Tell City Council, “Don’t Repeat The Mistakes Of The 2010s.”

Below you’ll find the photos of our current City Council. Click on any Councilmember’s photo and you’ll open your email program ready to write directly to that Councilmember.

Councilmembers
Councilmembers
Councilmembers Councilmembers

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WAV Condos in Ventura

A WAV Of Financial Trouble Traps Ventura

 

“When everybody owns something, nobody owns it, and nobody has a direct interest in maintaining or improving its condition. That is why buildings in the Soviet Union — like public housing in the United States — look decrepit within a year or two of their construction…”
—Milton Friedman, Nobel Peace Prize economist

 

THE WAV CONDOS – A FAILED PIPE DREAM

[The Proof is in the Pudding]

Our former City Manager, Rick Cole and former Mayor, Bill Fulton, sought to implement their visions for Ventura. They have moved on but they left the citizens of Ventura with financial problems.

Each arrived from the LA area with populist visions, advocating for a community with less cars, more public transportation, more public housing all driven by the concepts outlined by the New Urban Congress. Their visions were embraced by a vocal minority – the art community, architects and low income housing advocates and special interest builders and planners that could live off the Redevelopment Agency dole. Their visions were a financial disaster. Mr. Cole’s contract was not renewed. Mr. Fulton packed his suit case and moved to Washington. Most citizens “waved” goodbye. A few are still awaiting Mr. Fulton’s new book on how the New Urban experiment worked in the City of Ventura, particularly the 69 residents of this subsidized housing units in this project that has cost taxpayers $985,072 per living unit.

The WAV Condos. Ventura’s attempt to build an “arts” city.

In January 2012, we treated one aspect of this project – the 13 market rate condominiums and 6,100 sq.ft. of commercial space along Ventura Avenue at the corner of Thompson Boulevard. The sale of these units and the lease of the commercial spaces were supposed to provide a source for repayment of construction loans to CHASE and the City of Ventura.

Chase holds the note on Ventura’s WAV Condos. The city stands to lose $2.5 million if the WAV condos do not sell by 2016

To make the market rate condos and commercial space development work, the City loaned $2,000,000 to the developer ($2.5 million now due with interest), and subordinated that loan to a first trust deed in favor of CHASE in the sum of $4,000,000.  Those loans were scheduled to be paid on the sale of the 13 condos, or by March 1, 2012. They did not sell and the commercial space did not lease. Facing foreclosure, and loss of our money, the City entered into a contract with CHASE to extend the due date to December 1, 2016.

This was not the result the City planned when this project was started. The City selected a person named Chris Velasco to “develop” the project, using our taxpayer dollars of course. Mr. Velasco signed the contracts, operating as a Minnesota non-profit company called PLACE. He gushed about the project. Here is one example:

“WAV’s market rate condominiums (priced from $625,000 to $875,000) are now for sale…WAV’s forward thinking configuration comes with an up market price tag. The average price per square foot for condominiums in the same zip code is $274; WAV’s pricing is $368 per square foot; however, buyers will be living green and helping underwrite WAV’s community. Besides the artists, and the public who flock to Ventura’s Art Walks and galleries, it includes those at 15 section 8 apartments”

So how reliable was the original plan? Not, by all accounts. The realtor involved with trying to sell the WAV units and lease the space recently shared his thoughts with us:

“These condos could only be sold for cash, or with a portfolio lender, due to Fannie Mae guidelines restricting the lending side. Its what I was up against for the three years. I had the listing together but was faced with the fact that the City refused to recognize that the condos were priced almost 1/3 higher than the market would bear. They would not entertain lowering them to market value.

“The condos were never worth $850K, at the most somewhere in the mid-$600s But even then the economy was turning down with buyers running for the hills. Add to THAT the fact they let my listing run out because I didn’t sell any. They said they wanted to take ‘another direction’.

“Now, perhaps they’re worth $479 tops – but you can’t use a traditional bank. Portfolio lender rates are usually at least 2 points higher, but a cash is the only way. Once one sale exists, there is a comp. Until then, its a big guessing game…”

            —Jerry Breiner, Realtor

 

Editors Comment:

Dump the WAV Condos as fast as possible.

Our City stands to lose $2.5 million if the WAV condos do not sell by 2016. It is likely they will not sell. An objective person cannot avoid the obvious problem in marketing these condos — bad views (freeway), bad location, no parking, low income neighbors and bad design. Our goal should now be to sell them for what we can to avoid a potential total loss through the foreclosure process. In other words, forget the cheese and just get out of the trap.

 

BANKRUPTCY LOOMS FOR CITIES

[The Good, The Bad and The Ugly]

The election is over but the business prospects for California cities remains dismal. Moody’s, a business rating service has placed the debt of 30 California cities, under review for downgrade. With the rating downgrade each of these cities will have great difficulty in raising money to operate essential government functions by borrowing municipal bonds.

THE BAD

On the list for downgrade are Oakland, Fresno, Sacramento, Azusa, Berkeley, Colma, Danville, Downey, Fresno, Glendale, Huntington Beach, Inglewood, Long Beach, Los Gatos, Martinez ,Monterey, Oakland, Oceanside, Palmdale, Petaluma, Rancho Mirage, Redondo Beach, Sacramento, San Leandro, Santa Ana, Santa Barbara, Santa Clara, Santa Maria, Santa Monica, Santa Rosa, Sunnyvale, Torrance and Woodland.

The rating examinations will potentially affect $14.3 billion in lease-backed and general obligation debt on the books of these cities. Why? Because these cities did not address their internal cost structures, did not reduce personnel costs in the face of looming debt and used accounting gimmicks in the hopes that the economy would change. It has not changed. Add their unfunded pension and debt obligations to their itemized costs and they are in trouble.

THE UGLY

The cities of Vallejo, Stockton, San Bernardino and Mammoth Lakes filed for bankruptcy. Their revenues from real property taxes and sales taxes dropped precipitously while fixed costs, such as public safety pensions remained high.   Public safety personnel refused to modify their benefits to help with the budget issues of their city. The fight between public safety unions, who refuse to modify their pension contracts, and the bond holders who loaned the cities money, looms large.

THE GOOD

 At the beginning of the recession the City of Ventura lost $5 million when Washington Mutual (WAMU) collapsed and $5 million when Lehman tanked. Tax revenues plummeted from $100 million to $82 million currently (estimated).   The City has tried to adjust for this 18% revenue reduction but the unfunded pension benefits for police and fire departments increased from $43,496,873 in 2008 to $68,385,380 in 2011. That is an increase of 57% for public safety. Add to that the $21,327,225 in unfunded benefits for all other City employees and we owe $89,712,605.

The positive news is that in the last four years is that the City has recovered $1.5 million of the WAMU investment. The City Council has also been trying hard to adjust their expenses and live within their means. Standard and Poor provided our City with a rating of AA.

One of the key individuals in achieving the S&P rating and urging fiscal restraint is our Chief Financial Officer, Jay Panzica. He has been instrumental in guiding the City through this difficult economic period. He was the driving force behind the Budgeting for Outcomes.

Chief Financial Officer, Jay Panzica, wasinstrumental in guiding the Ventura through this difficult economic period.

Mr. Panzica was also instrumental in setting the stage to help refinance the bonds owed for past water and waste water building projects. The first step was to seek an increase of water rates. This step, reviewed by a citizens committee in the fall of 2011, resulted in increased rates for all water users. The counsel prudently adopted those rates, on the recommendation of the citizens committee, thus setting the stage for a major refinance effort in 2012. Increased rate (revenue) by users provides the security for payment of the bond premiums in the future.

To take advantage of today’s lower interest rates, to refinance existing debt for Water and Wastewater projects and to obtain new money for new projects he asked our interim City Manager, Johnny Johnston, to seek approval from the City Council authorizing the issuance of $52 million in Water Revenue Bonds and $23 million in taxable Series A and tax-exempt Series B Waste Water bonds.

On October 8, 2012, the Council approved the request to:

  1. Refinance the existing water bonds ($27,410,000 issued in 2004)) and issue new bonds for additional $25,000,000 for future projects.
  2. Refinance the existing waste water bonds ($25,075,000 issued in 2004) for $23,000,000.

The bonds sold. As a result of a substantially reduced interest rate our City will save $1.8 million on the old water bonds and $2.3 million on the waste water bonds that we otherwise would have had to pay under the terms of the 2004 bond issue. A savings of $4.1 million plus financing costs, and another $25 million in new money for future water improvements is a very positive step forward.

Editors’ Comments:

Good is a relative concept. Creating a basis from which we can build infrastructure and thus create a solid foundation for future economic growth is the right course for government.

“If you put the Federal government in charge of the Sahara Desert in 5 years there’d be a shortage of Sand”

As for government trying to engage in business and compete with private enterprise the words of Milton Friedman says it all “If you put the Federal government in charge of the Sahara Desert in 5 years there’d be a shortage of Sand”

 

Editors:

B. Alviani           K. Corse             T. Cook

J. Tingstrom      R. Mccord         S. Doll

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WAV Condos in Ventura

Water Funds Diverted to WAV Project

“I am not a crook”[1]
—Richard Nixon

“There are no direct (City) tax dollars in the WAV” —Bill Fulton, former mayor (5-13-2011)

 

 

 

 

 

THE WAV REVISITED

In August, 2011 we suggested that you take a walk and visit the WAV, located at 175 South Ventura Avenue, Ventura.  If not, take a virtual tour by clicking here.

This is a subsidized housing project consisting of 54 residential units for low income artists, 15 units for the homeless, 13 market rate condominiums and 6,000 square feet of commercial space.  The projected cost was $57,000,000, but when it was completed in October, 2009, the real cost was $65,000,000 — all tax payer money in one form or another.

Chase holds the note on Ventura’s WAV Condos. The city stands to lose $2.0 million if the WAV condos do not sell by 2016

The 13 condominiums, at the corner of Thompson Boulevard and the Avenue, did not sell and the commercial space along Ventura Avenue remains vacant to this date.  The condos and the commercial side of this development failed.  Last year, to avoid a foreclosure by CHASE of their senior construction loan of $4,000,000 the  Ventura Redevelopment Agency, which holds a promissory note of $2,000,000, secured by a second trust deed on the condo portion of this project, received a reprieve and dodged a bullet by obtaining a 5-year extension of the CHASE  loan.  If the condominiums do not sell by 2016 the probability is that this $2,000,000 will be lost.  In the meantime the 13 condos have been leased.  It is unknown if these leases are producing a profit, or not, since operating statements have not been provided by the company operating the units.

Our former Mayor, Bill Fulton, at every opportunity proudly announced that this project would “produce 25,000 visitors a year and would stimulate the local economy, resulting in $75,000,000 in new investments”.  We do not know the basis for his prediction, but there is scant evidence, if any, to support such prognostication.   As for the sources of funds here is what he said about the use of general fund tax money at a public event:

“…city invested a mere $1.5 million in affordable housing set-aside funds–funds that could only be used for affordable housing (there are no direct tax dollars in the WĀV).”

—Former Mayor Bill Fulton, As quoted by Liveworkworld. com  (5-13-2011)

When Res Publica suggested that money from the general fund of the City of Ventura was used on this project the Mayor stridently asserted that the only money used to build this project was from the Federal Government, the State of California and the Ventura Redevelopment Agency.  The City Manager, noted for his numerous blogs to “clarify matters” or to achieve “transparency”, was silent.  Well, it turns out that City funds were in fact used to the tune of $2,581,858.

First there is the $2,000,000 referenced above.  One-half of that money came from the RDA; however the other $1,000,000 was taken from the Capital Improvement Fund of the Water Department, transferred to the Public Art Fund then loaned to the RDA to make up the $2,000,000 loan.  That promissory note says – “Holder (the City) does not currently need the funds which are unencumbered.  The Loan proceeds will be used by the Borrower (RDA) to help facilitate the construction of the Working Artists Ventura (“WAV”) development in the City of Ventura”.

The city Council approved this loan on February 4, 2008.  The loan was to have been repaid and placed back in the Water Department funds on January 26, 2010.  That did not happen.  What the Council did do however is extend the due date twice with the result that the loan is not due to be paid back until March 1, 2016.

City Councilmembers approving money for WAV building conflicts with their role on the RDA.

This was a major mistake. The folks on the City Council are the same people that act as the RDA.  This transaction was not arms length and drips of conflict of interest.  Who was watching out for the interests of all of the citizens of this community in making the loan and/or obtaining payment of this loan?  It certainly wasn’t the City Council because they, acting as the RDA wanted to claim fame and create their dream public housing (art?) project.  Now it is too late to obtain payment.  The RDA has no money, it is defunct and all we can do now is list this loan on a long list of other RDA loans that the State of California may or may not pay someday.  Just remember this transaction when the City Council asks to increase your water rates claiming that “we” do not have enough money.

Another twist in this Byzantine financing scheme centers on the Planning Department and Building and Safety.  When a builder or homeowner wants to build anything they must obtain permits, which are only issued after scheduled fees are paid for the project.  These permit fees are used to pay for the salaries and benefits of the personnel in these two departments, and are a major budget line item.  In the case of the WAV however the City Council, on August 2, 2007, voted to defer payment of $1,581,858 in permit fees to be paid over a period of 55 years bearing interest of 3%.  Having foolishly given public funds to accomplish their pet project it is little wonder that the City Council found it necessary in the last four years to impose greater and greater planning fees and costs on anyone who wants to develop or build in this City.

USE OF PUBLIC WORKS MONEY, WATER RATES, “ART”AND WAV PROJECT

[“How many legs does a dog have if you call its tail a leg?—A. Lincoln]

Using public works money for the WAV building violates Prop 218

Government Code § 5499.7 [Proposition 218] requires that in providing water and wastewater services to the citizens of any community the amount billed for those services may not exceed the funds required to provide the service, and that the fee may not exceed the proportional cost of the service provided to the individual owner upon which the fees is imposed.

Seems clear.

During a series of hearings before a Citizens Rate Advisory Committee, conducted between October 12, 2011 and January 25, 2012, to consider a City staff proposal to raise water and waste water rates to fund $265,000,000 in new projects over a ten (10) year period, what was discovered is that the City staff, under the direction of the City Manger, interprets Proposition 218 in a most liberal manner.

First, there is the $1,000,000 taken from the Water Department and channeled through the RDA.  This money came from the homeowners and property owners who pay their water bills and waste water bills.  That should not have happened and is ostensibly contrary to the provisions of the Government Code.  We can thank the Howard Jarvis Taxpayer Association for having obtained a court ruling on what this money (utility charges) can and cannot be used for, and public housing projects are not one of them.

“…the fee or charge revenues may not exceed what it costs to provide fee or charge services…the key is that the revenues derived from the fee or charge are required to provide the service, and may be used only for the service…”

—Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Ass’n v. City of Roseville (2002) 97 Cal. App. 4th 637, 647-648.

This committee next learned that not only had this loan been made to the RDA, but that the City Council had taken the position that the water and waste water funds were fair game for any “art project”, and that they were entitled to extract 2% of any money used for capital projects to provide the citizens with water and waste water services.

As of January 2012 the accounting department set aside (extracted) $3,145,620 for the Public Art Program from the water and waste water money collected through water bills.  They reported the following:

VENTURA WATER

PUBLIC ART PROGRAM STATUS JANUARY 2012

Budget for Administration $   432,207.94
Budget for Art Projects $2,713,413.03
Total Sums set Aside for Art $3,145,620.97
Sums spent for Administration $   432,207.94
Art Projects completed – spent $   581,351.86
Total Sums spent for Art Projects $1,013,559.80
Cash in the Bank for Future Art Projects $2,132,061.17
WAV Loan – receivable $1,000,000.00

 

The City Attorney, Ariel Calonne, provided a written opinion to the Citizens Rate Advisory Committee, that the Ventura City Charter, Section 1406, provides the legal basis for the City Council allocation of 2% of all money used for water projects to art.  He further argued that “as the City’s ratemaking authority, (the Council) has determined that the public art program constitutes a reasonable cost of service for capital improvements attributable to Ventura Water”.  The Citizens Advisory Rate Committee did not agree.   On January 25, 2012, this citizen committee rejected the 2% for art allocation as part of any water rate increases, stating “It is time to rethink all public funding and priorities.  This is an opportunity to effect some needed change”.

On Monday, February 27, 2012, at 6 P.M. the City Council will take up the matter of increasing water and waste water rates.

Editors Comments   

Diverting funds from public works for housing borders on unethical

A plain reading of Proposition 218 and common sense dictates that water and waste water funds should not serve as the slush fund to pay city administration costs or building costs unrelated to the costs of operating our water and waste water departments.  So when your water rates are increased by 30-40%, or another tax increase is placed on the ballot, remember that here is another $2,581,858, squandered.

Actions by our City Manager are not without approval and acceptance by our City Council. If our elected representatives lack the understanding, the capacity to ask the deeper questions or political will to stop these types of actions, we need to make fundamental changes.

Editors:

B. Alviani          K. Corse          T. Cook

J. Tingstrom    R. Mccord       S. Doll

[1] Nixon denied that any of his re-election campaign funds were used to pay   the Watergate burglars, or that a  slush fund has been created for this purpose. In July 1973 Nixon admitted he had attempted to cover up the break-in to hide the fact that funds were diverted from one source to another for an  illegal use.

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WAV Building subject of article

The WAV Project & 2011 City Council Candidates Forum

Sad commentary on Ventura's City Council election

A DEMOCRACY WILL CONTINUE TO EXIST UP UNTIL THE TIME THE VOTERS DISCOVER THAT THEY CAN VOTE THEMSELVES GENEROUS GIFTS FROM THE PUBLIC TREASURY. FROM THAT MOMENT ON, THE MAJORITY WILL ALWAYS VOTE FOR THE CANDIDATES WHO PROMISE THE MOST BENEFITS FROM THE PUBLIC TREASURY, AND EVENTUALLY THIS DEMOCRACY BECOMES A DICTATORSHIP
—ALEXANDER TYLER (1887) Scottish history professor

CANDIDATES FORUM

NOVEMBER COUNCIL ELECTION

(MARRIOTT HOTEL – THURSDAY, AUGUST 25, 2011, 6 P.M.)

The Political Action Committee (PAC) of the Ventura Chamber of Commerce will present a candidates forum to the citizens of Ventura, at the Marriott Beach Hotel, located at 2055 East Harbor Boulevard, Ventura, commencing at 7 P.M.

A City Council election is set for November 8, 2011.  Three council seats will be open in this election.  The council members up for reelection are Councilwoman Christy Weir and Councilman Carl Morehouse.  Mayor Bill Fulton has announced that he will not stand for election.

The candidates for this election, and who will be appearing at this forum to speak and answer a series of questions are:

START CANDIDATE START CANDIDATE
6:00 Melody Baker 7:00 15-minute Break
6:10 Brian Lee Rencher 7:15 Martin Armstrong
6:20 Danny Carrillo 7:25 William Knox
6:30 Ed Alamillo 7:35 Cheryl Heitmann
6:40 Ken Cozzens 7:45 Carl Morehouse
6:50 Carla Bonney 7:55 Christy Weir

This is the second time that the Chamber PAC has presented this event, and all citizens are encouraged to attend.  It is probably the only time when you will be able to compare the candidates and compare their answers to set questions about their platform.

THE WAV

[HORNSWOGGELED  AND  SKINNED AGAIN ?]

Hornswoggle”, slang circa 1829.  A word to describe one who has been bamboozled.  Synonyms: beguile, bluff, buffalo, burn, catch, con, cozen, delude, dupe, fake out, fool, gaff, gammon, gull, have, have on [chiefly British], hoax, hoodwink, deceive, humbug, juggle, misguide, misinform, mislead, snooker, snow, spoof, string along, sucker, suck in, take in, trick

Were Ventura taxpayers hornswoggeled by the WAV Building?

On your next walk go to the corner of Thompson boulevard and Ventura Avenue to view the WAV, a Ventura City Redevelopment project located at 175 S. Ventura Avenue.  You can also go on line and conduct a virtual tour by going here.

The advertisements from the City folks, and its developer, is that this WAV project  represents “the vanguard of innovative, sustainable, cultural facilities.  The Working Artists of Ventura will be a $57 million, state-of-the-art community designed for artists and creative businesses”.  This project, according to Mayor Fulton and the City Council, acting as the Redevelopment Agency, was built without the use of taxpayer money, would produce 25,000 visitors a year and would stimulate the local economy resulting in  $75,000,000 in new investments.

WAV Building History

The WAV Building has convoluted financing that puts Ventura taxpayers at risk.

The project planning began in 2005, and was completed in October, 2009.  It was built on a 1.62 acre site at the corner of Thompson Boulevard and Ventura.  The land was purchased by the City RDA at a cost of $1.5 million using tax (RDA) money.  The concept was the “revitalization of underutilized sites and the construction of  affordable housing” through the Ventura Redevelopment Agency.  The project was to consist of 54 residential units for low income artists, 15 units for the homeless, 13 market rate condominiums and 6,000 square feet of commercial space determined by the developer to be “arts-friendly”.   In addition to the land cost of $1.5 million the City loaned the “developer” $1.5.  The total project ended up costing $ 68,000,000.

Planning started with a $400,000 loan to a company called Arts Space Inc.  A person named Chris Velasco was the project manager for that company, however he left that company and formed his own Minnesota corporation called Projects Linking Arts, Community and Environment (PLACE), with himself as the owner.  The other stockholders in that company have not been determined.

The Convoluted Path That Started the WAV Project

The first step was the preparation of a Disposition and Development Agreement, which was executed by PLACE and the Redevelopment Agency of the City of San Buenaventura (RDA) on November 20, 2006.  This contract was amended on October 4, 2007 and again on February 1, 2008.  To start the project the RDA committed to give and/or loan the Developer $4,358,000.  A summary of the financial details of that contract is as follows:

  1. The RDA agreed to sell the land they purchased at a cost of $1,500,000 to the developer for $1.
  2. The RDA would loan the Developer (PLACE) $1,500,000 (including the $400,000 originally loaned to Arts Space) for development costs.
  3. The RDA would loan another $1,358,000 to the Developer so that they could  pay the RDA rent to itself for a parking facility adjacent to the WAV project. A  lease was then executed providing for a 35-year lease at a rental value of $1  per year.
  4. The Developer was to start the project by March 31, 2008.
  5. The City agreed to transfer the transfer of the 13 condominiums from PLACE to WAV CONDOMINIUMS, a California Limited Liability Company, whose  members are Crest of WAV Partners LLC and JSCO WAV Homes LLC .

*  The San Buenaventura Redevelopment (RDA) agency is a political entity separate and apart from the City of San Buena Ventura.  The City Council and the people who run the City are the same people that run the RDA.

PLACE is a Minnesota corporation, owned by Chris Velasco, with an address at 300 Lumber Exchange 10 South 5th, Minneapolis, Minnesota.  WAV CONDOMINIUMS LLC and WAV APARTMENTS, a limited partnership owned by WAV CONDOMINIUMS LLC are all located at the same address and are operated by Chris Velasco.   The other partner in this is JSCO VENTURA, LLC, a California limited liability company operated by John Stewart Company, another California Corporation,  with offices in San Francisco.

WAV Building Repayment Plan, As We Know It Now

The identity of these various business entities becomes relevant because to get some of our tax money back the RDA obtained a promissory note for $2,858,000 dated February 1, 2008, by the terms of which WAV PARTNERS and JSCO VENTURA, LLC, would pay the money back in 55 years and bear 3% simple interest.  Of course the ability to recover that money depends upon the ability of these new  business entities to pay the debt.

The principal and accrued interest on this loan is to be paid by 2063, but the amount to be paid depends on whether these companies have any “surplus cash” as that is defined in the contract.  That sum consists of all of the income these companies receive for the WAV housing project less their operating costs annually, a property management fee of $30,000 a year, which will  increase annually by 3%, reasonable developer fees and any principal and interest payments approved by the RDA.  This promissory note was not signed by Chris Velasco as an individual nor by The John Stewart Company.   There are no individuals responsible for this note, nor any company, such as John Stewart Company ( a potential  deep pocket) to guarantee repayment.  What money will be paid in 55 years, if any, is impossible to predict.  If there is no profit they do not have to pay the money back.

Still Much To Be Uncovered

The list of principal contributors to the WAV Building. It’s political spin to think these groups financed it all.

RES PUBLICA is in the process of trying to obtain a current income and expense statement in order to determine if the low income housing project is working financially. What is known at this stage is: (1) none of the 6000 square foot  business space has been leased; (2) none of the 13 condominiums have been sold; (3) the RDA loan of $2.4 million, secured by a second trust deed on the condominium part of the project only, had to be renegotiated with JP MORGAN CHASE and CITI BANK last month because the banks’ $4.2 million construction loans, secured by a 1st trust deed, which are senior to the RDA loan, were about to be foreclosed. That did not happen fortunately because the banks’ agreed to extend the loan for another 5 years. The RDA is still in a second trust deed position and will lose this money through foreclosure if the condominiums do not sell.

As for the claim that this project was built without using tax money it is political spinning at best. All that can be said is that the money spent by the RDA  (our City Council and City Manger) did not come from the City general fund. For those who prefer “plain-speak”,  the reality is that with the exception of the bank loans, all of this money came from money paid by the citizens to  Federal, State and local governments,  and from a $25,000,000 Federal tax credit purchased  by Union Bank of California.

EDITORS COMMENT

The City Manger, City Council and people at City Hall running this project might argue that it is very easy to “Monday morning quarterback” on a project that began 6 years ago, or wring their hands and despair that nobody could have anticipated the situation with this economy? 

The answer is that even in a good economy, this situation was bad from the beginning. It was predicable, regardless of the timing, that citizens would not spend over $1.0 million for a condominium with a view of the freeway to the South, the Strong Steel building to the East and located on the top floor of a low income housing project.  The cost per unit was too great and the desirability was questionable.  The City Manger and members of city council acting as the RDA were either grossly negligent or they were hornswoggeled.  The taxpayers were skinned.

In the private sector, when a so-called “good deal” goes bad, people lose their jobs. In the public sector, nobody is held accountable and elected officials either choose not to  run again, or they run but blame their fellow council members. 

CHOOSE YOUR NEW COUNCIL MEMBERS CAREFULLY !

Editors:

B. Alviani          K. Corse        T. Cook

J. Tingstrom    R. Mccord     S. Doll

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Ventura Police pension mistake

Pension Spiking Approved in Police Retirement Contract

” We Must Hand Together Or Surely We Shall Hang Separately” —Thomas Paine

COUNCIL APPROVES PENSION SPIKING

[Fleecing Time – Again!]

At the Ventura City Council meeting on Monday, May 16, 2011, on a vote of 5 to 2 the Council approved to an employment contract amendment to the Ventura Police Officers Association (VPOA) and Ventura Police Management Association (VPMA) employment contracts.  Mayor Fulton and Councilmen Tracy, Brennan and Morehouse voted for the amendment.  Councilwoman Weir and Councilman Andrews voted against the measure.

Ventura Police negotiate with City Council to get pension “spiking”

New employment contracts for the VPOA and VPMA were approved on January 16, 2011. However, in May it was pointed out that a correction (amendment) was needed because  an important detail had not been treated. “They” forgot to include essential terms in the contract concerning who was going to pay the 4 ½% pension contributions.

Recall, good reader, that this contract was hailed as a masterful accomplishment, unique in California, and that it would save the community money in the long run (Mayor Fulton and City Manger Cole) because our policemen were now  going to have to pay something toward their own pension just like everybody else in the private sector.

A Pension Deal Too Good To Be True

At first blush this step was positive, albeit anemic, because in past years this Council had entered into employment contracts with the policeman whereby they entire 9% pension contribution would be paid by the taxpayer.   Our Mayor Fulton and City Manger Rick Cole extolled the virtues of this new employment contract because  the City of Ventura had tilled new ground by requiring the policemen to pay something toward their own retirement – 4 ½% we were told.  Councilman Andrews, Councilwoman Weir and fiscal conservatives in the community argued forcefully for a 9% contribution particularly in light of an unfunded pension liability of $250 million, but we digress.

Now we learn that with this amendment of the contract terms, unlike the SEIU employees contract, the VPOA and VPMA will be paying their 4 1/2% retirement contribution toward the employers’ portion (taxpayers portion) of that is sent to the CALPERS retirement plan. This accounting maneuver is specifically done to increase the total compensation of the employee, making the retirement payout amount higher for their lifetime.

The employee’s goal is to get one year of the highest possible salary so that his retirement for life is higher – called “spiking”.

Giving Context To The Problem The City Council Created With Police Pensions

To help put this into perspective, the employers’ portion of the total  annual retirement payment paid to CALPERS by the city (taxpayer) is counted as income to the employee for purpose of calculating the employees retirement benefit when they retire. The employee’s goal is to get one year of the highest possible salary so that his retirement for life is higher – called “spiking”.  Until now the city has been paying the taxpayers portion (100%) plus the employee’s portion (9%) toward the CALPERS retirement for a total of 109% yearly.  Now, with this contract amendment, we learn that while the 4 ½ % will be contributed by the police officer, from his salary each year, but it will be shown as a payment made by the employer (taxpayer)  to CALPERS.  The reality is that the employee’s annual salary will be shown as higher by 4 ½ % for purposes of calculating that police officer’s gross salary when they retire.  The policeman gives up 4 ½% as his contribution now but recovers it all at the time of retirement.  The taxpayer is in effect still paying 109% of what is required to be paid.

Ventura Police pension mistake

Ventura Police Officers put one over on the City Council in pension negotiations.

While some may define “spiking” as adding benefits to salaries in the last year of employment to boost up the retirement amount, this additional 9% accomplishes the same results, an inflated income for retirement formula purposes. It will even compound to a higher amount, should a three highest years plan ever be adopted.

So, why was this fact not made known publicly 4 months ago? Why was it not questioned or challenged at the May 18th meeting by any council member?  Why was the CALPERS representative not questioned about the effect of this decision at the time of the January meeting? There were no questions and there was no discussion about the long-term impact to the city.

Specious Defense Of The Pension Contract

City Manager, Rick Cole, defends the contract amendment by saying that the payment by the employee  into the employers’ portion of the retirement, which is then sent to CALPERS, was a non-negotiable item with the VPOA and VPMA. He also said it would make no difference because the current officers would receive retirement benefits based upon their “highest level” of compensation. That statement is true for the current workforce but what he failed to address, nor was he questioned, was how this would have affected officers hired in the future.

While the City Council remains concerned about the long-term effect of taking more general funds for street lighting, they continue to ignore the paying of 9% higher retirement benefits, which also comes from general funds in the form of payments to CALPERS, for years into the future. We can thank soon up for re-election Mayor Bill Fulton and Councilmember Carl Morehouse for this gracious contract approval.

EDITORS COMMENT

 If the City Manger concedes that this 4 ½% contribution, paid  through the employer’s contribution to CALPERS,  was not negotiable with the police officer unions (his words not ours), then what about the taxpayer’s non-negotiable rights not to overpay and provide lavish retirement benefits to these public servants?  Who then is protecting the interests of the taxpayer in this City when sitting at the negotiating table?  Better to reach impasse and let these folks scramble for a new job then render the community hostage to the potential of bankruptcy.  This unfunded obligation can and should be laid squarely at the feet of the council members who voted for this amendment; but, of course when it comes time to pay the bill they will be over the hill and the taxpayer will get the bill.

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Volunteer fire depertment may help Ventura's pension costs

Time To Consider A Volunteer Fire Department For Ventura

“Politicians in America exploit economic illiteracy” —Walter Williams, Professor Economics

PUBLIC EMPLOYEE PENSION TRANSPARENCY ACT

We previously reported that there is a bill is currently pending in Congress (HR567) and the Senate (S347) encouraging governments at all levels to switch from a “defined benefit” plan to a “defined contribution” plan by requiring public entities to reveal to the voters the true magnitude of the unfunded liabilities of the public pension plans.

In California CALPERS continues to portray a rosy investment return.  The staff at CALPERS recommended a change in the assumption of how much our City pensions investments will make in the future from 7.75% to 7.5%.  This went to committee on March 15, 2011.  This new direction, had it been adopted would have moved the pension fund on a path to solvency and economic reality. It didn’t happen. The CALPERS committee did not want to pass on the annual increased expenses to the cities that such a modification would cause given their current budget strains.  Ventura is of course content to ignore this. You know, “What is a poor mother to do”. In the City of Ventura we owe $67,488,000.  Twice that if a more realistic investment return of 3.50% is used.

These Federal bills, called the PUBLIC EMPLOYEE PENSION TRANSPARENCY ACT, would require States and municipalities to report their liabilities to the United States Treasury. The HR bill was sponsored by Representative Darin Nunes, Darrell Issa, and Paul Ryan with Congressman Elton Gallegly acting as a co-sponsor.

If adopted state and local governments will be “encouraged” to switch to defined contribution plans.  While they are being “encouraged” they will have to reveal the true magnitude of their unfunded liabilities to their citizens. No more off the balance sheet reporting.  This new legislation will require that they report liabilities to the U.S. Treasury using their own glowing investment forecasts as well as a more realistic Treasury bond rate.  If the City of Ventura is forced to use a Treasury bond rate of 3.5% our unfunded pension obligation would double to $134,976,000.

THE FIREFIGHTER BENEFITS CONTRACT

Volunteer fire fighters may help Ventura's pension problem

Considering a volunteer fire department hybrid may help Ventura’s rising pension costs.

In the fall of 2008 that Ventura fire fighter benefits and pension contract was modified by the City Council.  This was treated in our September, 2008 issue. 

  “In a vote of 4 to 3 the council  approved the Memorandum of Agreement and the new pension contract with the firefighters of this city giving them a pension equal to 3% of their highest salary  times the number of years in service plus all medical, dental.  The yeas were Councilmen Fulton, Brennan, Summers and Monahan.  The neighs were Mayor Weir, Councilmen Andrews and Morehouse.  It should be of grave concern to all when one councilman says, before he cast his “NO” vote — “I HAVE GRAVE CONCERNS TO COMMIT WHEN WE DON’T KNOW WHERE THE FUNDS WILL COME FROM”.

“I Have Grave Concerns To Commit When We Don’t Know Where The Funds Will Come From”.

Mayor Fulton and Councilmembers Brennan, Monahan and Summers were thus responsible for increasing the firefighter pension in the fall of 2008 so that these folks could retire with 3% at age 55[1]. Their actions increase our unfunded pension debt by $1.2 million or more annually.

Since then the pension contracts for all City employees have come up for renewal.  On Tuesday January 16, 2011, the Ventura City Council approved new labor contracts with the Ventura Police Officers, Police Management and the employees represented by the SEIU. The vote was 5-2 in favor of the agreements. Councilman Andrews and Councilwoman Weir voted against approval. The decision of the other five – Brennan, Fulton, Monahan, Morehouse and Tracy was in favor.

The agreement with the Fire Department union is still in closed negotiations, which, of course, are not made public.  Many criticized the past decision of the Council in approving the employment contracts for the Ventura Police Officers and Police Management, not the least of which was Council Member Weir, who rejected the proposal and stated “Fiscally, the city needs more than this right now.” and  Council Member Neil Andrews said the agreements “simply don’t go far enough.”  The SEIU, who agreed to a lower 2nd tier retirement plan (2% @ 60) also agreed to a salary average of the three highest years in calculating their pension entitlement for all new hires.  The Ventura Police Officers and Police Management stuck to 3% @ 55 and the single highest year for all new hires.

ANOTHER POINT OF VIEW

[The case for a volunteer Fire Department program]

Due to the present Firefighter negotiations, this next article is timely and worth greater consideration.

Municipal governments in other states are beginning to come to grips with bloated payroll and pension demands of public employee — fire unions and have handed these folks their walking papers in favor of a volunteer fire department.  There is a persuasive argument to be made in favor of such a step, or some hybrid of that concept so that the community becomes more involved and vested in community safety.  The following is summary of study performed by Bill Knox, former candidate for the Ventura City Council.  The complete 10-page report, complete with comparison charts and footnote links, is available upon request. (Simply email vregventura@gmail.com)

Solutions for Ventura’s Fire Department

[The Case For A Volunteer Fire Department]

Ventura is in the midst of an unprecedented reduction in public safety services.  Mounting overtime costs, enormous pension liabilities and shrinking revenue streams have resulted in the closing of a fire station and elimination of firefighter positions.  Using volunteer firefighters to assist professionals could save the city millions annually and dramatically improve public safety.

Response Times

Understaffing at Ventura’s fire stations has resulted in substandard emergency response times.  According to national standards, firefighters should respond to emergency calls within five minutes.  This time frame is critical in that resuscitation from cardiac arrest after five minutes typically results in brain injury, coma or death.  As a result of inadequate staffing, the department fails, on average, to meet the response standard over 62% of the time.  With the elimination of three firefighter positions and the fire’s department’s plan aimed at reducing sworn staff positions by nine, response times are anticipated to increase by an additional 30%.

As a result of inadequate staffing, the department fails, on average, to meet the response standard over 62% of the time.

Lack of Funds

The fire department’s budget for 2010-2011 is $14.5 million.  The city closed station No. 4 in hopes of reducing costly overtime pay. In 2009, the city paid $1,700,000, (nearly 12% of this year’s budget) in overtime payments.  Employees with one year of experience receive a compensation package well in excess of $98,000.  Senior-level employees cost exponentially more.  In addition, the city of Ventura has an unfunded pension obligation of more than $50,000,000.  Taken together, the fire department’s budget is stretched to the limit and the city simply cannot afford to maintain, much less expand, the professional force.

Volunteers

Volunteer fire department similar to Volunteers in Police

Ventura should consider a volunteer fire department program similar to Volunteer policing.

The Ventura Police Department uses 44 volunteers to supplement the professional force.  Volunteers have donated over 40,000 hours of their time to serve the city.  If 44 volunteers each donated 48 hours per month to the fire department the city could save more than $1.06 million in basic compensation costs.  If overtime was eliminated, the savings would amount to nearly $3 million annually!  If law enforcement supplements its professional force with volunteers to improve public safety, reduce costs and partially compensate for reductions in its budget, there is no reason that the fire department cannot achieve similar if not better results with a well crafted and executed plan.

If law enforcement supplements its professional force with volunteers why can’t the fire department achieve similar results?

Most US Fire Departments Use Volunteer Fire Fighters

According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), over 92% of fire departments in the United States use volunteer firefighters, either exclusively or on a supplemental basis.  California cities such as Chico, Fillmore, Santa Ana, Santa Clara, Santa Paula, Stockton, Compton, Rohnert Park, Turlock and many more successfully use volunteers to supplement their professional forces.  These communities receive outstanding results and substantial cost savings with their highly trained and dedicated volunteer forces.  If Ventura created a supplemental volunteer fire fighting force modeled after any one of these communities, it would save between $2.5 and $3 million annually. 

If Ventura created a supplemental volunteer fire fighting force, it would save between $2.5 and $3 million annually. 

Volunteer firefighters do come with a minor cost, but not a salary or massive pension obligation. The city would still need to cover costs of training and equipment; costs already incurred by the city for its professional firefighters.  To protect the city’s investment, the volunteer should be required to serve a minimum term or pay back the costs associated with certification and training.

Volunteers are a viable option to ensure a timely response to emergency calls, to reopen station No. 4 and possibly staff additional stations, like a much need station in Ventura’s harbor. Volunteers, like professionals, must complete mandatory training comparable to beginning professional firefighters.  Having more well trained first responders in our community will provide a broader measure of safety to the population in times of emergency. Furthermore, a well trained volunteer force will provide a quality pool of applicants from which to pick when the time comes to add additional professionals to our force.  By training and utilizing volunteers now, the professional department would have in-depth personal knowledge of a person’s character and fitness to serve as a member of our truly honorable and professional force.

The use of a volunteer force will help alleviate some of the burden on our professionals and allow them to reduce the amount of overtime currently required.  In addition, creating a volunteer force would provide adequate staffing and help reduce response times to emergency calls.  Not only will this help save lives but it may increase Ventura’s ISO rating (a figure used to determine the cost of homeowner’s insurance).  This could help lower the cost of homeowner’s insurance citywide.  A supplemental volunteer force is the right answer for Ventura.

 Editors’ Comments:

We all need to consider viable alternatives to what we have been doing in the past. Ventura’s police department has its Volunteers in Policing program.  It is time we gave a much needed hand to our fire department and help them to do what they do best: serve the public interest through ensuring public safety.

Editors:

B. Alviani           K. Corse        T. Cook

J. Tingstrom     R. McCord    S. Doll

[1] 3% at age 55 means 3% of a policeman’s or firefighter’s highest annual salary times the number years of employment.  For example, a 20year old works 35 years and in his last year his salary is raised to $80,000.  He will be paid $84,000 a year for the rest of his life.

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CalPERS costs Ventura piles of cash

CALPERS Increases on City Out of Control

Winston Churchill

“Americans always get it right, after they have tried everything else”
—Winston Churchill

HMS TITANIC

[Moving Deck Chairs to Avoid a Disaster over Pensions]

The story of the sinking of the HMS Titanic and the causes are known to all.  Had the ship not been traveling too fast, or had the officer on the bridge ordered a change of course earlier the collision with the iceberg  would not have occurred  The courses of action to avoid disaster were clear, but ordering the crew to move deck chairs to avoid  a cataclysmic event was not one of them.

Police salary negotiation victory jacks CalPERS

Ventura Police unions extracted concessions to pay for CalPERS contributions.

So it was on Tuesday January 16, 2011, when the Ventura City Council approved new labor contracts with the Ventura Police Officers, Police Management and the employees represented by the SEIU. The City Council vote was 5-2 in favor of the agreements. Councilman Andrews and Councilwoman Weir voted against approval. The decision of the other five — Brennan, Fulton, Monahan, Morehouse and Tracy was in favor.

The agreement with the Fire Department union is not due for another 6 months, but results are likely to be similar.  Recall that Mayor Fulton and Council members Brennan, Monahan and Summers were responsible for increasing the firefighter pension in the fall of 2008 so that these folks could retire with 3% at age 55[1], thus increasing our unfunded pension debt by $1.2 million or more annually.  Mr. Summers is gone but Councilman Tracy (retired police chief) will predictably follow in his footsteps on this pension issue. (See Res Publica, August, 2008 for a complete summary)

The City Manager’s “Victory Lap” Over Pensions

Below is an email from City Manager, Rick Cole, recently proclaimed by Mayor Fulton, conveying the news of this purported accomplishment. The email is upbeat and congratulatory for their success of having the employees start to pay towards their own retirement and the establishment of a two-tier system, where new employees will have to be older before they may receive full retirement.

Active citizens,

This week the Ventura City Council approved new labor contracts with employee bargaining units that will move the City toward a more sustainable pension program. The agreements are expected to save a net of $250,000 during the remainder of this fiscal year, $1.0 million in fiscal year 2011/12 and $1.3 million in fiscal year 2012/13, for an estimated savings of $2.6 million over the three fiscal years.

The new employee contracts require employees to pay 4.5% of CalPERS pension costs, resulting in a higher percentage saving for Ventura taxpayers than any other city or county labor agreement in Ventura or Santa Barbara County since the beginning of the economic crisis.

The agreements will also implement a second tier CalPERS retirement formula, based on a later retirement age for newly hired employees. Ventura is the first to do so in the two County regions for either safety or miscellaneous employees. The agreements approved by the City Council cover both.

Concessions were made on both sides to reach agreements that safeguard the delivery of quality services to our community. For the first time in several years, employees will receive additional employer contribution to optional benefits to cover a portion of the rapid rise in health care costs. A key part of the package was an increase of three days in paid leave time for employees who have been forced to take unpaid leave time during the City’s winter shutdown. Executives and managers are not eligible for the additional leave time.

Pension reform has been the subject of public debate across the State and beyond. Last year, the City Council set the goal of raising the retirement age for new employees and returning to employees paying their share of pension costs. Both goals were achieved in the agreements ratified by the Council this week.

Respectfully,

—Rick Cole, City Manager

Our City Manger and Mayor Fulton hail their accomplishment as a milestone and enormous accomplishment.  Or was it? Councilwoman Christy Weir did not think so.  She rejected the proposal and stated “Fiscally, the city needs more than this right now.”   Council Member Neil Andrews said the agreements “simply don’t go far enough.”

“Fiscally, the city needs more than this right now.”—Christy Weir, Councilmember

CalPERS extracts piles of money

New police salaries will cost Ventura taxpayers piles of money.

Here are some extracts from the reports of CALPERS, the folks who manage our pension money (or losses) dated October 10, 2010, based on data as of June 30, 2009. The Council members had these reports when they voted on these pension contracts.

First, the “employer contribution rate”, which is the percentage of total payroll that must be paid yearly to fund the pension plans. The rate for police and fire for example must be paid for policemen and firemen yearly in addition to their pay and medical costs:

 

FISCAL YEAR          EMPLOYER CONTRIBUTION RATE (Police & Fire only)

2011/2012                   35.190%

2012/2013                   36.4%

2013/2014                   40.6%

“The estimated rate for 2012/2014 uses the valuation assumption of 7.75% as the investment return. Member contributions are in addition to the above rates”.

CALPERS, report of 10-10-10

We next turned to page 5 of the CALPERS report which provides the following data about the police and fire retirement:

Funded Status June 30, 2008 June 30, 2009
Present Value of Projected Benefits $ 270,877,057 $303,536,023
Entry Age Normal Accrued Liability $ 223,938,241 $248,929,746
Actuarial Value of Assets $177,314,177 $184,660,390
Unfunded Liability $  46,624,064 $  64,269,356

 

An identical report was provided for all other employees with the following results:

Funded Status June 30, 2008 June 30, 2009
Present Value of Projected Benefits $ 205,128,033 $217,940,958
Entry Age Normal Accrued Liability $ 167,837,616 $184,806,501
Actuarial Value of Assets $157,529,148 $165,040,339
Unfunded Liability $  10,308,468 $  19,766,162

A 47.6% increase in unfunded liabilities in one year.

 What is to be gleaned from these statistics is that as of June 30, 2008, we as a City owed $ 56,932,532, and that as of June 30, 2009, we owed $84,035,518.  This represents an increase of $27,102,986 or 47.6%.   The data however gets worse when you look at the projected employer contribution rate between 2011 and 2013.  Apply those percentages against the current police and fire payroll of $48,000,000 and the losses are staggering.  In 2014 for example we will have to pay CALPERS another $19,488,000 on top of a payroll cost of $48,000,000, for a total of $67,488,000.

Discrepancy Between What CalPERS Reports And What The City Manager Reports On Pensions

Compare those numbers to the City Manager’s email about how much we will save in the same period.  The opportunity to achieve true reform and to attain a sustainable pension plan was now. The City Council was negotiating from a position of “impasse”. This means that if no agreement were reached, the Council would have been able to insist upon more reasonable terms to correct the lavish and excessive benefits conferred upon the public employees in the last ten years and achieve sustainability. The advantage was in the City Council’s favor of getting a “three year average salary” as the basis for calculating the amount of retirement, or lowering the percentage of retirement and/or increasing the age of retirement, or moving from a defined benefit to a defined contribution plan. Instead, the management team and the City Council settled for far less than what was fair to the taxpayers of this City. The SEIU contract was a good step forward.

The management team and the City Council settled for far less than what was fair to the taxpayers of this City.

A spreadsheet is attached to allow you to evaluate the decision.  These are real numbers.  Please note that the pension entitlements and amounts are fixed, but that the General Fund Revenue is not.  The income projection is based solely upon educated “guesses” by City officials.  The other assumption is that CALPERS is correct in projecting that the investment of City of Ventura pension dollars will yield 7.75%.  If our investment does not yield that return on our investment the losses get far worse.  If you want to determine how certain entries were calculated, such as percentage calculations, place your cursor over the number and left click once.  The formula for the calculation will appear at the top of the form.  For those who want the bottom line here you go:

  1. In 2008 income was $94,100,000 and the City sent CALPERS a check for $11,948,759.  This was 12% of our total income on top of the payroll cost of $48,087,281. Total spent on people and pension benefits totaled $60,036,040 or 63% of our actual income.
  2. In 2011 income is budgeted at $80,400,000 and the City will send CALPERS a check for $13,142,936. This is 16% of our total income on top of a payroll of $47,056,848. Total that will be spent on payroll and pension benefits will total $70,199,784, or 87% of our budgeted income.
  3. In 2013 income is budgeted at $82,000,000 and the City will send CALPERS a check for $13,929,524. This is 16.9% of our total income (*) on top of a payroll of $47,056,848. Total that will be spent on payroll and pension benefits will total $70,199,784, or 85.6%% of our budgeted income.

*The budgeted income (projected) for the City in 2012 is $80,800,000 and in 2013 $82,000,000.  If their guess at income is wrong then the percentage of payroll and benefits gets larger.

EDITORS COMMENT:

Bad negotiating increases CalPERS contributions

Bad salary negotiating increases Ventura’s CalPERS contributions

Had all of the agreements mirrored the SEIU contract this might have been a positive step toward solvency.  Instead Councilmen Fulton, Brennan, Morehouse, Monahan and Tracy decided to move the deck chairs on our ship of state in a token effort to avoid a looming financial disaster.  Such votes cause one to reflect and ask how this simple majority can continue to float above economic reality.   Are these five elected officials reading the financial reports? Do they truly believe and hope our local economy will rise out of the ashes like a phoenix in a nation with $15 trillion in Federal debt and a State that is broke?

Do not mistake, the SEIU contract was a positive step, however the police unions and this council majority used lavish benefits and entitlements as their starting point in negotiations rather than economic reality.    

Editors:

B. Alviani           K. Corse          T. Cook

J. Tingstrom     R. McCord      S. Doll

 

CALPERS 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 3 year net gain from employee contribution to CalPers increase
*Total Employee Payroll       48,087,281      51,240,487      48,940,168    47,056,848      46,685,947     47,287,512
* Percentage of Contribution by Employer 17.08% 17.88% 18.65% 21.31% 22.61% 25.78%
* Dollars of Contribution by Employer         8,211,264        9,162,430        9,128,522    10,026,168      10,555,745     12,190,178
* Percentage of Contribution for Employee Portion paid by City 7.77% 7.74% 7.89% 6.62% 4.57% 3.68%
* Dollars of Contribution for Employee Portion paid by City         3,737,495        3,967,333        3,863,616      3,116,768        2,131,282       1,739,346
* Percentage of Contribution by Employee 1.04% 3.16% 3.97%
*Dollars of Contribution by Employee         488,063        1,477,236       1,877,308
*Total General Fund Revenue       94,100,000      94,100,000      85,100,000    80,400,000      80,800,000     82,000,000
*Source is City of Ventura Finance Staff
Percentage of CalPers to Total General Fund 12.70% 13.95% 15.27% 16.95% 17.53% 19.28%
Total of CalPers Payment       11,948,759      13,129,763      12,992,138    13,630,999      14,164,263     15,806,832
Percentage of City’s payment to CalPers                   100                  100                  100 96.42% 89.57% 88.12%
Dollar Increase, year over year, to CalPers        1,181,003          (137,625)         638,861           533,264       1,642,569
$ of Contribution by Employee         488,063        1,477,236       1,877,308
Employee Portion over City’s increase        (150,798)           943,972          234,739            1,027,913

[1] 3% at age 55 means 3% of a policeman’s or firefighter’s highest annual salary times the number years of employment.  For example, a 20year old works 35 years and in his last year his salary is raised to $80,000.  He will be paid $84,000 a year for the rest of his life.

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Fleecing taxpayers costs Ventura money

A Little Here. A Little There. Pretty Soon It Adds Up To Real Money.

For and Against the Parcel Tax

Bellwether: “A male sheep which leads the flock, with a bell on its neck. A leader of a thoughtless crowd” —Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary

THE  SOUND OF THE BELL

[SHEARING TIME?]

Three years ago nobody in city government would pay attention to the voices of caution who warned the City Council about the money excessive public employee salaries cost and the unfunded pensions of public employees. Now, thanks to the City of Bell perhaps the citizens of this community will pay attention to their role in government, and the need for serious and drastic reform.

Everything went wrong in Bell.  It was greed in all of its glory, and it illustrated what is wrong with the arcane public pension system in this State, and in every city in this state, including Ventura.    Bell City Manager, Robert Rizzo, resigned after it was revealed he was being paid $800,000 to oversee a town with a population of 40,000.  Now the LA Times reports that the records actually show that he was paid $1,500,000 a year.  Included in that was 28 weeks of vacation and sick time at a cost of $386,000.  Well he is gone but he is not out because he will collect $600,000 yearly from his pension benefits with CALPERS.

fleecing taxpayers costs Ventura money

Ventura taxpayers get fleeced in Bell disaster. We will pay money to Randy Adams for life.

This example however is even closer to home.  Two people in the City of Bell used to work for the City of Ventura.  Angela Spaccia, Assistant City Manger for Bell was paid  $376,000 a year before she quit, and moved over to work for the City of Maywood.   She used to work for the City of Ventura. Then there is Officer Randy Adams who worked in Ventura for 23 years as a police officer.  He then gravitated through various jobs until he became the Chief of Police for the City of Bell.  He too resigned after it was revealed that he was earning $457,000 a year.  He can retire, as will Ms. Spaccia eventually, but whose money pays the pension?

Not the City of Bell.  They escape nearly all the costs of Chief Adams $411,300-a-year pension. Under CALPERS rules, the city is responsible for just 3% of that because he only worked there for one year. Taxpayers in Glendale, Simi Valley and Ventura would have to pick up the tab.

This happened because Bell hired Adams at more than double the money he was making as Chief in the City Glendale. That salary spike doubled his eligible pension amount under CALPERS, the state’s public employee retirement plan.  Add the state’s permissive pension laws and a host of variables that can dramatically affect retirement pay and we find a system that leaves you in a bleary daze

Other cities will be on the hook for Adams’ pensions costs even though their salaries were relatively modest. until he landed in Bell. When he resigned Chief Adams was making $457,000.  He will now get  approximately 90% of that sum.  Glendale will have to pay around 16% of Simi Valley 18%, and Ventura 63%. Ventura alone will have to pay this guy $259,119 per year for life. Remember, none of this has ever been funded.

CITY OF VENTURA’S RESPONSE

Ventura’s mayor, Bill Fulton, has written several articles on the subject.  You can go view the articles here.  He, like everybody else, condemns the excesses by employees and officials in the City of Bell.  His articles are well written and deserve a read, but how transparent is our city government?  Mayor Fulton answered this question in one article:

“…democracy only works, even in small cities, if people pay attention, and oftentimes people aren’t paying attention. But one of the most disturbing aspects of the Bell situation … is how hard it is to figure out what’s happening even if you are paying attention. In spite of the state’s vaunted Brown Act open-meetings law, California governments are still not particularly transparent”. 

HOW MUCH MONEY DOES THE COUNCIL MAKE?

The City Charter limits council members to $600 per month and the mayor to $700 per month, plus members are paid for participating on certain boards and commissions.  Here is the yearly total:

Councilmember Salary Boards Travel
Fulton, Mayor $ 8,800 $2,000 $1,200
Monahan $7,200 $3,800 $1,200
Tracy $7,200 $0 $1,200
Morehouse $7,200 $1,440 $1,200
Weir  $7,200 $0  $1,200
Brennan $7,200 $0 $1,200
Andrews $7,200 $0 $1,200

 

CITY EMPLOYEE COMPENSATION

Employee Salary Medical Pension Contribution Car
Ken Corney, Police Chief $195,153
Quinn Fenwick, Asst. Police Chief $160,012
Kevin Rennie, Fire Chief $187,000
Don McPherson, Asst. Fire Chief $170,014
Ron Calkins, Public Works Director $175,547
Jay Panzica, Chief Financial Officer $171,265
Rick Cole, City Manager $174,158
Mary Walsh, Asst. City Manager $171,265
Ariel Colonne, City Attorney $194,909
Jeff Lambert, Community Dev. Dir. $171,265
Elena Brokaw, Director, Parks & Rec. $167,088
Jenny Romey, Human Resources Dir. $159,037
Total $2,096,713

*In response to a VREG request for the full cost of each of these employees the City Manager, on August 10, 2010, provided the following response:

“Within the next few days, we (will) have calculations on the cost  of employees over and above regular salary (we’ve just posted those earning over $100,000 including gross pay and overtime) to be followed by the Box 5 W2 calculations (which also includes city paid deferred comp and the value of life insurance) to be followed by a total all-in of that plus city paid benefits and CalPERS contributions”—Rick Cole, City Manager

Editor’s note:

For detailed information on past or present Ventura city employees’ salaries, visit transparentCalifornia.com.

As for Ventura’s exposure to the Randy Adams pension claims, purportedly the City has sent a letter of protest and/or legal challenge to CalPERS to try and stop payment.  Good luck with that one!  Even Chief Adams will lawyer-up and argue we are a nation of laws and not men.

Editors’ Comments:

How many more Randy Adams types do we have out there? How much more  do we owe, over the amount funded through CalPERS, to those who are retired or about to retire in the future?  It is time for government to become proactive instead of reactive in the management of our tax money and find out before we end up in the shearing shed. Stop listening to the bellwether !

Editors:

B. Alviani           S. Doll

J. Tingstrom     K. Corse

B. McCord          T. Cook

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City Council Lacks Financial Literacy

City Council Lacks Expertise On Pension And Budget Matters

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
—Albert Einstein,

THE FIREFIGHERS PENSION INCREASE – A CONTRACT?

[ NOT!]

In previous editions we informed you that in 2008 the City Council, on a vote of 4 to 3, increased the Firefighters salary and retirement benefits.  They voted to increase those benefits from 2% to 3% even though they knew (were told) they did not have the money to fund it.  The vote resulted in an approval of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the union.

bad city council contract

City Council approves an 11% increase in firefighters’ pension.

The issue had to be revisited because of the failure of the City Council to obtain an actuarial report from CALPERS on what it would cost to increase these benefits.   To “try” to fix the problem the Council, at their regular meeting on April 26, 2010, was presented with a report from the CALPERS actuary, Bill Karch.  He informed the council that the “present value” of the cost of the increased benefits (in addition to what we are already obligated to pay) would be $5,047,760,  that the city would have to pay $548,271 this year, and a sum yearly thereafter to fund the $5.4 million increase.  He didn’t say how much we would have to pay beyond 2010.

An actuary is a specialized, mathematical expert trained to compute values for present and future events. Actuarial “present value” calculations convert future occurrences, such as retirement payments, to a present dollar value.   The “present value” of benefits represents the total dollars needed today at an estimated investment rate of return to fund future benefits for members of the pension plan.  The lower the rate of return (say 4.5%) the more you have to pay up front now to meet the future payment demands.  The higher the rate of return (say 7.75%) the less you have to pay now.

The CALPERS actuary used a rate of return of 7.75%.  Interesting choice given that CALPERS lost $55.2 billion (25% of its value) in 2008-09, and just billed the State of California f $600,000,000 this year to pay for unfunded pension liabilities, but we digress.  None of the Council members asked about the investment rate of return that was used to make his calculations and/or whether the 7.75% rate of return of interest was a reliable dollar estimate in today’s market, and/or whether we should use a lower rate of return, to predict how much our present pension obligations would have to be increased in order to fund and pay future pension obligations.

Subsequent to the Council meeting Mr. Karch was asked in an email from VREG if he could calculate what the present value of the increased obligation if 4.50% was used, and how much more Ventura would have to pay this year. That number was selected because actuaries today conservatively use 3% to 5% as the investment rate of return in making such calculations. Mr. Karch declined.  His response was that we could get that the data if VREG made a Freedom of Information Act request through formal channels; and, by-the-by send a large check to pay for the voluminous computerized report.  Well Bubba I guess we know who that fella works for!

So in a state of blissful ignorance Council members Fulton, Brennan, Monahan and Tracy voted yes.  Council members Andrews, Morehouse and Weir voted no.  The deciding vote was that of Deputy Mayor Tracy, who in casting his yes vote stated:

“…what is clear tonight is that we are not deciding on whether or not we give our firefighters an enhanced retirement program.  That decision was made two years ago.  We have received (a) very competent legal opinion that frankly we have no choice but to honor that contract…”

Bad city council contract

City Council negotiates questionable contract with Ventura firefighters.

What the Deputy Mayor was referring to was a letter from a law firm named Liebert Cassidy Whitmore of San Francisco, attached to the Administrative report for Agenda item #8, which concluded – “Once approved by the City Council, the memoranda of understanding (MOU) between the City and the Association (firefighters) became a binding and legally enforceable agreement…”.

Just prior to the vote the City Manger, Rick Cole, advised the Council that the reason for the public hearing on the actuarial valuation was to let the public know about the cost of the increase, referring everyone to Government Code section 7507.  Connect this reference with the Deputy Mayor Tracy’s statement and we arrive at the crux of the problem — was there a valid contract?

Read Government Code § 7507 and you decide.  That code provides:

“The legislature and local legislative bodies shall secure the services of an enrolled actuary to provide a statement of the actuarial impact upon future annual costs before authorizing increases in public retirement plan benefits…”

The future annual costs as determined by the actuary shall be made public at a public meeting at least two weeks prior to the adoption of any increases in public retirement plan benefits”.

The letter written by the San Francisco attorneys, LIEBERT, CASSIDY WHITMORE does not address this error. For reasons that are not apparent, these high priced legal types did not even discuss this issue.

A mutual mistake of law and/or fact is always a good defense to breach of contract action.  If both parties to a contract operate under a mutual mistake of fact that there has been compliance with the law, and in fact there has been no compliance with the law, there is no contract

Questions for our readers:

  • Why a letter, bearing the legend “CONFIDENTIAL—ATTORNEY CLIENT PRIVILEGED”, which does not discuss a critical legal defense, would be attached to a public document?
  • Why not a single firefighter asked to speak in support of the measure when the room was packed with the fire folk, who were straining at the bit to get more benefits?

Curious that , but we leave “that” to your speculation.

Editors Comments:  

An actuary report was NOT presented prior to the decision to increase benefits in August and October of 2009, thus was not enacted as required by the California Government Code. The attempt to finesse this critical error, by pretending it could be presented after the fact, on April 26, 2010,  ignores the underlying issue – THE RIGHT OF THE CITIZENS OF THIS CITY TO KNOW IN ADVANCE WHAT AN INCREASED PENSION BENEFIT WILL COST BEFORE THE CITY COUNCIL MAKES A DECISION.   The firefighters’ will of course dismiss this as a mere formality.   This contract should be rescinded and an accurate and reliable actuarial report provided to the citizens of this community.

 

FROM READERS OF THE MARCH EDITION OF RES PUBLICA

[THE PIPER WOULD PLAY A FAR DIFFERENT TUNE IF THREATENED WITH THE LOSS OF HIS PIPE]

This regarding the Pension Reform Committee appointed by the Ventura City Council:

“Very interesting news letter this time as always.  Only one public member appointed to the “ad hoc” committee. All the rest have a vested interested in the system. What would happen if the no guts council just plain and simple told the unions that from now on the fire and police will have to pay at least 1/2 of their contribution. Would the fire and police walk off?  If so I am sure they can replace the lot.  The problem as I see it is that all the cities have to ban together so that there will be a closed door to bouncing around of personnel.”

—K. Weber

THE COUNCIL ACCEPTS VENTURA’S NEW BUDGET

[A SORRY EXCUSE, AT BEST]

            Another letter concerning the current budget format mandated by the City Manger for use in 2009-2001 (called a Budget Book).  We mentioned in our last issue that the current “Budget Book” looked useless and appealed to you for help.

“Regarding the City’s budgeting process and the budget document itself, I spent some time looking at it after reading your latest publication and you hit the nail right on the head.  It is most assuredly not a decipherable budget document.  It lacks clarity and the detail required for the average lay person to begin to understand it, much less a person with a financial background.  I’m not even sure that it meets the minimum legal requirements, as promulgated by the State Controller’s Office.

I am a C.P.A., have a Masters degree in Public Administration, and have worked in government finance and budgeting for the past 29 years and, without a doubt, this is the most sorry excuse for a budget document that I have seen in my life.

In Santa Barbara County, we have developed a true program/performance-based budget that actually links dollar amounts with stated goals and performance measures.  Not only can you clearly and easily see the amount of money, staffing, and other resources allocated to each program area within each department of the County, but you can also see the performance and outcome measures associated with each individual program area.  In other words, as a taxpayer, you can actually see what you’re getting for your dollars.

The firefighter pension increase is just another example of the arrogance and disconnect with reality coming out of City Hall these days.  I certainly hope we can make some changes in the next election.  We definitely cannot continue down this path or bankruptcy becomes an inevitability”

—M. Gibson, CPA and 2009 candidate for Ventura City Council

 

EDITORS’ CORRECTION

Last month we reported that the Firefighters pension increase was 50% (2% to 3%). The City Manager corrected us and pointed out that it was ONLY 11%. .  After his response we received the CALPERS actuary report and confirmed that our report was in error. Under the current pension plan it is a 20% increase if the Firefighter retires at age 50, and an 11% increase if the Firefighter retires at 55.  That aside, this correction does not excuse the ridiculous statement by former Councilmember Ed Summers that it was only a 1% increase. It is still hard to believe he wants to be the County Treasurer.

 

EDITORIAL

The City Council is called upon to make many difficult and complex decisions concerning the financial welfare of this community, but one of the greatest decisions they will have to make concern the pension contracts with the public employee unions now and in the future.   Except for members of the public employee unions there is not a single informed individual in this society that would disagree with the conclusion that our pension system is bankrupt and unsustainable. The collective decisions of our City Council are costing the citizen’s of Ventura for decades in the future. Not to ask the hard questions, when asked to approve a new liability of $5.4 million dollars, such as the interest rate used for the assumptions of a pension increase, or to discuss if the right questions were asked and answered in a legal opinion statement, borders on malfeasance. It is not enough to say, “the report was too lengthy” or “we didn’t have enough time”. If decisions need to be delayed and other opinions sought, the City Council needs to control that process and remember the admonition of Jean-Jacques Rousseau to ”keep your experts on tap and not on top”.

 

Editors:

B. Alviani       S. Doll           J. Tingstrom

K. Corse         B. McCord    T. Cook

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Ventura Budget Lacks Transparency

As Ventura’s Budget Losses Grow, Budget Transparency Is Questioned

“The budget should be balanced, the Treasury should be refilled, public debt should be reduced, the arrogance of officialdom should be tempered and controlled, and the assistance to foreign lands should be curtailed lest Rome become bankrupt. People must again learn to work, instead of living on public assistance.” —CICERO – 55 BC

VENTURA’S CUPBOARD –IS BARE

[THE $15 MILLION PROJECTED BUDGET LOSS]

On March 15, 2010 Mayor Fulton invited community leaders to attend a BUDGET WORKSHOP to help decide where to make cuts in the 2010-11 budget to compensate for an $11,000,000 PROJECTED LOSS.   This statement was predicated on an estimate by the City Council that the City would face fixed expenses of $96 million with income of $85 million.  Well, it turns out that the income figures were wrong.  Revenues are below normal and the City will receive less than $81,000,000 for the fiscal year 2010-11 according to estimates provided by the Finance and Technology Department and the Deputy Mayor.

bad city council contract

City Council approves an 11% increase in firefighters’ pension.

Please recall good reader the words of Councilman Summers in the fall of 2008, when he, together with councilman Monahan, Brennan and Fulton voted to increase the fire department pensions from 2% to 3% at age 55, and stated “We are only increasing it by 1%”, and “we will only be paying 50% of our budget to the police and fire departments”.    An increase from 2% to 3% is really a 50% increase in retirement pay.

Here is a comparison of the 2008-09 adopted budget with the 2009-10 adopted budget as published.  Assuming we receive $81 million in revenue, which is improbable, 58.7% of the general fund revenue is spent on public safety, without factoring in the cost of the other employees.

2008-09 2009-10
Revenue $94,084,228 $85,489,560
Police Dept. Cost $31,478,979 $ 29,528,499
Fire Dept. Cost $19,259,971 $18,036,231

Editors note: 

Former Councilmember Summers lost his re-election bid to the City Council, and  now wants to be your County Treasurer?

MORE ON THE FIREFIGHERS PENSION INCREASE

[OOPS]

As mentioned above the City Council, on a vote of 4 to 3,  increased the fire fighters pension benefits from 2% to 3% even though they knew they did not have the money to fund it.  The vote resulted in an approval of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the union.  They received their increase, but nobody knew what it would cost.

city council bad conract

Firefighters receive a whopping increase in pension benefits from the City Council.

Then budget problems arose, negotiations began and the Firefighters agreed to postpone their increase for 15 months.  Of course, two of the Council members running for reelection (Monahan and Summers) acted as though pension increase had not been created, or did not exist, because it was not yet implemented.  Not implementing something is not the same as deferring it.   That deferral is up on July 1, 2010, at which time the increase will go into effect.

Now CALPERS steps into the picture.  They take the position that this MOU is not binding upon them, because there was no actuarial report on the cost of increasing the pension benefits when it was adopted by the City Council.  Somehow four Councilmen (Monahan, Fulton, Summers and Brennan) felt they could increase the benefits, which they knew were not funded, and push the cost of those benefits onto CALPERS without contributing any more money to the pension fund. Well, Duhhh!

This issue will be on the City Council Agenda on April 26, 2010, at which time it is expected that an actuarial cost report will be presented in order to meet the CALPERS requirements.  It is predictable that the City will have to increase their contributions significantly to meet the new cost of this increase, or figure how  to back out of the MOU with the firefighters.

EDITORS COMMENTS

Another fine mess you’ve gotten us into Ollie!  Are there ever any consequences when these costly errors happen?  Does anyone ever lose their job, or do the taxpayers just keep paying  the legal expenses to fix these problems ?

THE VENTURA BUDGET PROCESS

[CLEAR AS MUD]

            If you are a person interested in analyzing the budget for the City of Ventura you are in for a real experience in frustration.  Up until the fiscal year 2008-09 the budget prepared by Finance & Technology was in a classic format – a real income and expense statement – with supporting schedules and line item detail so that you could  make a reasonable determination of where we stood financially –  where our income was derived and where we spent the money.

Not anymore. The format for the fiscal years 2009-10 and 2010-11 is now different.   Starting with the Budgeting for Outcomes program, instigated by the City Manger, the Finance & Technology (F&T) department published a Budget Book which you can view on-line.  The format for that document, euphemistically called a “budget”, was a result of a directive to F&T to prepare an “All Funds Summary”.  Difficult now to determine what is in fact happening financially.  It is perplexing and confusing when the city mixes the general fund income and expenses with the enterprise funds and expenses.                 If you want to know the general fund income and expenses in detail for the current fiscal year, such as the specific costs of  public safety employees you cannot obtain that information. Perhaps our readers can help us interpret this “budget book”.

EDITORS’ COMMENTS:    

What happened to transparency?

Editors:

B. Alviani       S. Doll           J. Tingstrom

K. Corse         B. McCord    T. Cook

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