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It Was The Best And Worst Of Times For Ventura In 2018

“Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.”— Winston Churchill

Last year was a most transformational year in Ventura’s history. Every aspect of life in Ventura was affected. The city was in the national spotlight, twice. Leadership changed but at a high price. Old ways of doing business didn’t change, though. Overall, it was a year to remember.

December 2017

To understand 2018, you must appreciate December 2017 and the Thomas Fire. The fire destroyed 535 houses in Ventura. The city was the epicenter of the national news.

Thirteen months later, Ventura had the opportunity for the most significant economic stimulus since the oil boom but failed to capitalize on it. Rebuilding the homes will stimulate the local economy by $350 million. The only thing standing in the way of that economic windfall is the city.

What are the lessons we learned from the Thomas Fire? Good question. Thirteen months later we still don’t know that answer. The city has yet to produce a report on its findings. [Read More]

January 2018

The Montecito mudslides closed off transportation into and out of Santa Barbara along the 101. Many Venturans that work in Santa Barbara were unable to commute.

March 2018

The City Council waffles on second-story height restrictions for rebuilding Thomas Fire victims’ homes, delaying the rebuilding process and adding costs for many. [Read More]

April 2018

Jamal Jackson slays Anthony Mele, Jr. on Ventura’s promenade. Once again, the city was thrust into the national news.

Ventura Police increased patrols along the promenade. The City Council approved funds to continue the patrols. Arrests increased after the incident.

Post-incident, the Police department reviewed its procedures. There have been changes to the security camera monitoring as a result. The review also concluded the call was not improperly prioritized when it came in two and a half hours before the murder.

Since May, the community has returned to business as usual. [Read More]

June 2018

Ventura Police officers sign a new contract with a 5% pay increase. The timing of the announcement was questionable, but the contract was a fair one. [Read More]

July 2018

The City Council instructs Ventura Water to focus on connecting to State Water over Direct Potable Reuse (DPR). DPR takes recycled wastewater and injects it back into the drinking supply.

The City Council approves a $600,000 per year “roving” fire engine and three paramedics over the objections of Interim City Manager Dan Paranick. Ventura Fire hired two of the three paramedics before the Council approved the funding. [Read More]

September 2018

Ventura Water hires eight new positions. The City Council approved the department’s budget that included these positions. Ventura Water based that budget on Direct Potable Reuse (DPR) projects being the city’s top priority. When the Council realigned Ventura Water’s priorities in July, the department didn’t adjust its manpower requirements.

October 2018

Ventura Water begins installing new digital water meters. It is a $9 million project that will take three years to complete. The new meters allow more precise leak protection. The new meters also measure water usage more precisely. You can expect your water bill to be more accurate, too.

November 2018

Ventura held its first City Council elections by voting district. Lorrie Brown (District 6), Jim Friedman (District 5), Erik Nasarenko (District 4) and Sofia Rubalcava (District 1) won. The candidates raised a record amount of money, despite campaigning in districts instead of citywide. The cost-per-vote skyrocketed to win a seat from $2.75 per vote in the last election with an open position to a record-high $26.42. [Read More]

City Council Election

December 2018

Alex McIntyre starts as City Manager. He replaces Mark Watkins who resigned in November 2017. The city had operated with an interim-City Manager since January 2018. McIntyre comes to Ventura from Menlo Park where he was City Manager for six years.

Ventura’s new City Councilmembers are sworn in. The Council has four female members: Lorrie Brown (District 6), Cheryl Heitmann (District 7), Sofia Rubalcava (District 1) and Christy Weir (District 2). Ventura has its first female-majority City Council in history. It’s also the most diverse set of Councilmembers the city has ever had.

Wish The Councilmembers Good Luck In 2019

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
Councilmembers Councilmembers

For more information like this, subscribe to our newsletter, Res Publica. Click here to enter your name and email address.

Murder On the Promenade

Special Precaution Continues After Murder On the Promenade

Murder On the Promenade

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

Poor Judgment Exercised With The Murder On The Promenade

Murder On the Promenade

Jamal Jackson

Jackson was a repeat offender and homeless. Many citizens jumbled his criminal act and his impoverished state. Ventura Police received a call that Jackson was acting suspiciously. Patrol units were not immediately available. Instead, the dispatch center observed Jackson via remote camera. Two and a half hours after the initial call, Jackson committed the murder.

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.

Police Response To The Murder On The Promenade

Following the incident, the Police department reviewed its procedures. Chief Ken Corney admitted lousy 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:

  1. Extra cameras
  2. Active surveillance
  3. More training
  4. Changes in monitoring policy
  5. Re-prioritization of Calls for Service response.

The review also concluded police adequately prioritized the call when it came in.

Policing The Homeless Gets Harder

In September 2018, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals issued an opinion in Martin v. Boise. The ruling hinders Ventura Police’s ability to curb homelessness. The court concluded that imposing criminal penalties for sleeping outside on public property violates homeless persons’ Eighth Amendment rights. They deem it cruel and unusual punishment.

Within two months, the community returned to business as usual. Public outcry diminished, but the problem of criminal homelessness continues.

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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