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2019 State-of-the-City

What You Missed In The 2019 State-Of-The-City Speech

“The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie…but the myth, persistent, persuasive and unrealistic.”

—John F. Kennedy

2019 State-of-the-City Address

Mayor Matt LaVere filled his 2019 State-of-the-City address with images of a utopian Ventura. Unfortunately, it lacked specifics on addressing Ventura’s most pressing issues.

The mayor laid out his seven goals for 2019-2020. His vision included several goals that his predecessors didn’t achieve. Six of the seven were unmeasurable. What’s more, many goals are mere rhetoric and very little substance.

VENTURA’S HOMELESS CENTER

2019 State-of-the-City AddressTopping the mayor’s list of priorities was opening a permanent, full-service homeless shelter by December 31, 2019. The date gives this goal specificity. Opening the center doesn’t begin to solve the problem, though. Mayor LaVere and the City Council equate opening a homeless center with improving Ventura’s homeless situation. They are not the same thing.

Homelessness has risen the past three years to 555 persons from 300 in 2016. In that time, the city has increased spending on the homeless. The problem continues to grow despite spending more tax money to solve it.

The Council and city government are hoping the new homeless shelter will stem the tide. A closer look at the facts, though, shows their hope is not well-founded. There will be 55 beds, and it will cost Ventura $712,000 per year. Filling every bed will still leave 500 homeless persons on the street. The shelter will serve only10% of the homeless population.

2019 State-of-the-City AddressWhat’s more, the City Council conflates opening the center with helping the homeless. The goal shouldn’t be to have beds available. That’s an intermediary step. The goal should be to get the homeless off the street and return them to a healthy way of life.

The real solutions to homelessness—a very complex problem—was missing from Mayor LaVere’s vision. There are examples of successful programs in other cities. Looking at successful programs, like the one in Providence, Rhode Island, would be a step in the right direction.

UPDATE THE GENERAL PLAN

The second goal was to reinitiate the General Plan update. Ventura city government will conduct public outreach throughout 2019. Other than holding several long-overdue citizen input meetings, the outcome will be unmeasurable.

The city must try new, innovative ways to reach citizens. Otherwise, it will miss valuable input. Young people are most likely to be underrepresented. Our younger citizens are generally absent from public meetings. Yet they will live with the consequences of the General Plan.

The mayor and City Council are relying upon the voters to be content that the city was doing the outreach.

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

2019 State-of-the-City Address

The third goal is to create a comprehensive economic development strategy. The strategy would include several key focus areas, including:

  1. Auto Center and Focus Area 1
  2. The Johnson Drive corridor. Mayor LaVere cited the North Bank Apartment project as an example.
  3. Front Street. The mayor wants to turn it into Ventura’s version of Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone.

Missing from the address is the vital fact that economic development begins with other people’s money. It takes investors willing to put up the capital to improve the business environment. How will the City of Ventura invite and welcome investors who want to start or move their business in Ventura?

Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone succeeds because the city made it easier to rebuild in the area. Developers lament that Ventura’s city government makes it difficult to do business. Stifling regulations, fees and planning delays force investors to look elsewhere. The new economic development plan should have one single goal to stimulate growth. Force the city to review, streamline or remove building codes and regulations wherever possible.

VENTURA BEAUTIFUL

2019 State-of-the-City AddressMayor LaVere’s fourth goal is to beautify the community. He wants to end what he termed “blight.”

Like the economic plan goal in the 2019 State-of-the-City address, this goal relies on “other people’s money.” Homeowners must invest in eliminating the so-called blight. There is no compelling reason for property owners to reinvest in some properties. The same stifling regulations and fees that deter investors hurt homeowners, too.

Following the Thomas Fire, the city reduced the building permits and fees for rebuilding. If the mayor is serious about improving blight, offer similar reductions to anyone enhancing their property. That would be measurable.

COASTAL AREA STRATEGIC PLAN

The fifth 2019 State-of-the-City goal is also unmeasurable and unspecific. Mayor LaVere says we must develop a Coastal Area Strategic Plan. He contends we need this because of climate change. He offered no further details.

The same faults of gaining input for the General Plan apply to the Coastal Area Strategic Plan. Find ways to reach all citizens.

BUILDING COMMUNITY

Mayor LaVere’s sixth goal is for the Ventura community to come together by building parks. Building community was a goal of both Mayor Erik Nasarenko and Mayor Neal Andrews. Three years and three administrations later, this goal remains.

2019 State-of-the-City AddressThe mayor hopes to achieve this goal by building community parks. The Westside Community Park set the model. Mayor LaVere’s first target is Mission Park.

Like the other goals, rebuilding Mission Park lacked specifics, budgets, timelines or measurable results. Moreover, this plan has one fault the others don’t have, public safety.

2019 State-of-the-City AddressMission Park is home to a growing number of Ventura’s homeless population. To prepare the area, the homeless must move elsewhere. The 55-bed homeless shelter isn’t the solution. Also, even if we scatter the homeless, there are safety issues. Someone would have to clean the discarded needles, drug paraphernalia and human waste from the park.

STOPPING THE BLEEDING

2019 State-of-the-City AddressThe need for key personnel is a huge problem. To fulfill any of our mayor’s goals requires adequate staff. The final 2019-2020 goal is to stabilize and strengthen our city government. The city has eight unfilled, critical managerial positions and dozens of vacant jobs. The city will achieve none of the other ambitious goals if there aren’t enough workers at City Hall.

We know this is City Manager Alex McIntyre’s responsibility. In February, he requested six months to fill those positions. Four months remain. He needs time to recruit qualified people and offer competitive compensation. We hope Mr. McIntyre will fill those roles soon, but if he doesn’t, how will the City Council help and support him?

EDITORS’ COMMENTS

This year’s 2019 State-of-the-City speech was platitudes, a utopian vision and fuzzy logic. Those may have worked when we were a quaint beach town, but they don’t work today.

These are challenging times for the city. An understaffed government is trying to do the people’s work, but it’s hard. Issues like homelessness, economic development and community building, are secondary to the daily duties.

Mayor LaVere presented his vision of what Ventura could be. Unfortunately, he may have made promises his administration can’t keep. Worse still, his optimism lacked specifics and failed to address Ventura’s most pressing issues: employee retirement costs, water costs and public safety. Nonetheless, if the commitments are vague enough, no one will be able to measure if we keep them or not.

FORCE THE CITY COUNCIL TO BE MORE REALISTIC WITH ITS 2019 STATE-OF-THE-CITY GOALS

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.

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Ways Ventura Lost In The Harbor Church Deal

“You’ll Never Reach Your Destination If You Stop And Throw Stones At Every Dog That Barks” —Winston Churchill

Harbor Church in midtown Ventura

When it comes to real estate, Ventura’s City Council is, at best, inconsistent. At worst, they are reckless with our money. Their latest decision costs taxpayers over $1,000,000.

On June 16th, the Council accepted the city staff’s recommendations for the Harbor Church. Like some other real estate recommendations, it loses money.

How We Got Here

The Harbor Church—located in midtown Ventura—was feeding the homeless as part of their outreach program. Nearby residents were upset with the homeless. They asked the city to get Harbor Church to stop. The city said, “Stop it.” The church cried, “You’re violating our religious freedoms,” and threatened to sue.

The city is weak-kneed and folds at the hint of a lawsuit. Their solution was to buy out the Harbor Church to get them to move. City officials will claim this solution was less expensive than the legal costs of a suit but, at the heart of it, this is still a real estate transaction.

Nothing About This Deal Adds Up

 

2016 was a year of financial mistakes for the city.

The city paid church officials $2,300,000 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 additional $700,000 to pay the Church to move. By any measure, Ventura overpaid for the property.

City staff proposes to demolish the church, subdivide the property and sell the lots. Total cost to the taxpayers to clear the lot will be $2,670,000.

 

Purchase Harbor Church Building                     $1,600,000

Moving Expense                                                        $700,000

Demolish Church Building                                     $350,000

Remove Hazardous Material                                   $20,000

Total                                                                         $2,670,000

The city staff enthusiastically reported the value of the property on which the Harbor Church sits increased by 66% since 2016. We see that factored into their optimistic projections. They believe we can get four lots on the existing site. They estimate each lot will sell for between $250,000 and $375,000.

The arithmetic didn’t add up from the beginning. A staff report lists the property and building appraisal at $1,350,000 in July 2017. A year earlier, the city paid $1,600,000 for the church and the lot—$250,000 more than the appraised value. This transaction lost money from the very start and doesn’t begin to realize the gains from the purported 66% increase in land value.

Something Else Doesn’t Add Up Either

The city staff used an optimistically over-valued selling price for the lots.

We pulled data from a local title company for homes sold in zip code 93003 for the past two years. What we discovered was shocking.

 

Average Median Avg SF $/SF # Sales
2016 $         628,321  $         595,000 1619 388 184
2017 $         633,269  $         599,000 1700 372 322
2018 $         593,415  $         594,000 1747 340 179

According to the data, lots on Harbor Church’s corner should sell for between $215,000 and $233,000. We derived those figures using the standard property developer’s rule-of-thumb. The land is worth 1/3 of a home’s selling price. The market values the lots are well below the $250,000 to $375,000 the city staff believes they’re worth.

A More Realistic Calculation Of The Transaction

Using this realistic data from the title company and giving the city the higher anticipated value, the sale of the property would actually look something like this:

 

Sell Four Lots ($233,000 each)                                 $932,000

Lease Payments From Harbor

Church For 12 months                                               $36,000

Realtor’s Fee (6%)                                                      ($55,920)

Total Revenue                                                            $912,080

Total Costs (from above)                                     ($2,670,000)

Total Loss on Transaction                                  ($1,757,920)

 

Is The City Looking Out For Your Money In These Real Estate Transactions?

In April, the City Council sought outside experts for a real estate decision on the property at 505 Poli. The city staff made a recommendation that made the City Council uneasy. The Council instructed city staff to seek advice from a licensed commercial realtor. The Council wants to determine the actual value of the property. As far as we know, city staff has not reported the findings to the City Council in the last 90 days.

The Council was cautious with 505 Poli. They appeared skeptical of the city staff’s recommendations. They were willing to await the findings of an independent appraiser. So, why was the City Council so willing to accept staff’s opinion on the Harbor Church property?

The Council voted 6-0 to proceed based on city staff’s recommendation. Councilmember Jim Monahan was absent at the meeting. The City Council was uneasy with staff’s 505 Poli valuation and recommendations. One would think the Council should be cautious with the Harbor Church property, too.

The City Council’s inconsistent real estate decisions should concern citizens. It causes taxpayers to doubt their financial acumen. The Council trusted the city staff again, with the same disastrous, money-losing results. Decisions that lose over $1,000,000 makes one question whether they are good custodians of our tax money.

Editor’s Comments

We’ve believed the city should get out of the real estate business for a long time. The litany of poor decisions grows—the WAV Building, Brooks Institute lease, 505 Poli and the Harbor Church property.

Ventura owns commercial real estate throughout the city. As these examples demonstrate, the city has not made financially responsible decisions regarding these properties. We recommend the city to seek an independent appraisal of its property, and then to sell it to private enterprise. The city could then take the proceeds and invest them to cover the huge unfunded pension liabilities we face in the coming years.

At the very least, the city should seek advice from licensed realtors and experts whenever making a real estate decision.

Large financial decisions deserve scrutiny. When stewarding taxpayer money, it’s best to proceed with caution and with thought. It’s too easy for city staff to recommend spending taxpayer money on losing projects. We urge the City Council to approach each real estate transaction with skepticism. Treat the money as if it was coming out of their own pockets.

Insist Ventura Gets Out Of Commercial Real Estate

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

Let them know what you’re thinking. Tell them what they’re doing right and what they could improve upon. Share your opinion. Not participating in government weakens our democracy because our city government isn’t working for all of us.

Neal Andrews, Mayor

Matt LaVere, Ventura City Council

Matt LaVere, Deputy Mayor

Cheryl Heitmann

Jim Monahan

Erik Nasarenko

Mike Tracy

Christy Weir

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