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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.”

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Oversight committee

Update On the Measure O Citizens’ Tax Oversight Committee

Reason is, And Ought Only To Be The Slave Of Our Passions”
—David Hume

EARLY SIGNS OF A TRAIN WRECK

The city’s Measure O Oversight Committee has shown signs of being inadequately trained and poorly prepared for the job they were appointed to do. This is not the fault of the committee members themselves but a reflection of the City Council and City Staff.

The Measure O Citizens Oversight Committee conducted their third public meeting on August 10,2017 at the Sanjon Maintenance Yard (Ventura Water Department). Each of the three meetings has been at a different location. They are not televised or recorded in any manner. Few members of the public attend.

This new tax oversight committee, appointed following the sales tax increase approved by the voters in the last election, serves ostensibly to provide recommendations to the City Council on how the new $10 million, in new sales tax money should,or presumably, not be spent.

The City of Ventura Finance Department did a yeoman’s job in attempting to provide the committee with a draft of proposed future spending of Measure O funds for the next 5 years. It was a suffocating spreadsheet which required detailed comments and direction on the evening of the meeting. If the purpose was to provide clear, informed and relevant information for the public and the committee as a basis for making decisions on how to spend the new tax money, it fell short.

The City Finance Department made a good effort to explain everything but the complexity of the subject required more than a brief meeting.

SPENDING PROJECTED TO EXCEED INCOME

For most citizens seeing this spreadsheet for the first time, be prepared to understand that
there is a projected deficit by the second year, and each year after that. See this detailed projection here.

Measure O overspends by $1.76 million in the second year

At first glance, the Measure O funding will be overspent by $1.761m in the second year. By the fiscal year 2022, the City of Ventura will be over budget (spending more than they expect to receive) by $3.732m. We must all keep in mind that this is a draft worksheet for discussion purposes only; but even so, to learn at the outset that the head of our finance department predicts a deficit in just 5 years for a new tax that will last 25 years does not bode well.

What is clear however is that the Committee is being asked to approve thisprojection, and that a very large percentage of those projections are for long term contracts for public safety and city personnel. History has demonstrated quite clearly that those “contracts” are never reduced thus we can expect more and more of this new tax money to be consumed for personnel and benefits.  Everything else – roads etc. – will be low on the list of priorities.

There were two things that the Measure O Committee needed to concentrate on. One was that the only annual budget recommendation that really needed to be discussed was for fiscal year 2018. The second was that they were only seeing a small percentage of the financial picture. The general budget line items were not presented, thus there was no way for anybody to perform an analysis of where money “should” or “should not” be spent, or to determine if the general budget had been modified and then back filled with the new tax money. Without a comparison to the general budget, it is impossible to perform that task.

For example, by not having the general budget for a  specific department, side by side to that departments proposed Measure O Funding, the Measure O committee had no way to determine if say $700,000 for sidewalks made sense because they have no idea if Public Works is spending another $1.0m or zero out of the General Fund Budget for sidewalks.

CITY DEPARTMENT PRESENTATIONS  

Each of the three sought the Measure O Oversight Committee’s approval to present their spending to the City Council. Public Works Director, Tulson Clifford, presented his department’s request for $6.1 million in 2017-2018. Police Chief, Ken Corney, presented his department’s request for hiring new officers in time to enter them into the training academy in October 2017. And, Nancy O’Connor, Parks Director, presented her department’s request.

Police in city government

Police Chief Ken Corney’s request was approved by the Oversight Committee

There were only 5 of the 7 Committee members present and this would present a potential problem for the Measure O Committee. After about 2 hours, the Committee Chair person suggested that no recommendations be made until all 7 committee members were in attendance. This was after hearing Chief Corney explained that timing was crucial and the funding for the Neighbor Drug & Crime Prevention required the hiring and training of 7 new officers at the police academy in October.  .

If it had not been for Committee Board Member Kristopher Hansen’s quick thinking and motion, to recommend to City Council the Police Chief’s request for funds, the outcome could have been detrimental to the Ventura citizens. Measure O Citizens Committee did their job and funds were approved for the police department and postponed for all other requests.

EDITORS COMMENT

To assist this new committee in their task and to maintain transparency for all citizens in the community VREG makes the following suggestions and recommendations:
  1. Have the entire department’s general funds budgets side by side the Measure O budget.
  2. The Department Heads provide a detailed cost breakdown on how the funds will be spent which matches the line items on the general budget.
  3. Discussing department spending five years is helpful but misleading. There are too many variables to factor over that period, such as personnel, maintenance costs, contracts, natural resources, safety, technology and public demand.
  4. Increase and improve the training for current and future committee members. Be satisfied they understand their roles,duties and responsibilities.
  5. Be sure they know Parliamentary procedures, so they help, not hinder, city government such as what constitutes a quorum to act.
  6. As needed, provide in-meeting guidance and direction from city officials whenthe committee appears confused or aimless.
  7. Hold the meetings in places that permit cable TV coverage. Transparency isimportant to Measure O. Thus far, it has not been transparentI nhibits transparency and confuses the public on where to attend meetings.
  8. Hold the meetings in the same facility. Moving from location to location

 

Addendum

 

THE STAFF PRESENTATION/REQUESTS FOR FUNDS

To help you better understand, we have included both Public Works and the Parks and Recreation presentations so you may judge for yourself that there is no correlation to the Measure O budget requests on a line by line analysis to the general budget. Here is a verbatim of what they were told:

PUBLIC WORKS

The Public Works Department is charged with designing, building, operating and
maintaining the Citys infrastructure including:

  • 75 buildings;700 lane miles of pavement and adjacent sidewalks;
  • 138 traffic signals;26 miles of alleys;
  • 22 parking lots; and
  • An extensive storm drain system (110 miles of storm drain lines, 2,400 storm drain inlets, and 9 miles of drainage ditches).

Some of this infrastructure was installed over 100 years ago, and much of it has
reached or exceeded its useful life. The following infrastructure improvements are needed to protect the environment for the safety, enjoyment and prosperity of future generations:

  • Improve streets, sidewalks, alleys, and provide safe facilities for pedestrians and cyclists – $191 million;
  • Clean and protect the beaches with storm water and drainage repairs – $34 million;• Protect and seismically improve bridges $27 million and
  • Repair public buildings and facilities $27 million.

Public Works has reviewed the infrastructure needs and prioritized projects based on existing conditions, risk, liability, and other factors. While we recognize that not all of these improvements can be made in year one, this proposal contributes to the long-term sustainability and resilience of Venturas infrastructure. The proposed Measure O budget for Public Works projects in FY 2017-18 is $6.1 million. These projects include pavement overlay on Telegraph Road (Main St. to N. Mills Dr.) and replacing the storm drain at Harbor Blvd. and Olivas Dr.

PARKS, RECREATION AND COMMUNITY PRESENTATION

            PRCP focus for Measure O will be aimed at delivery of service to activities that “reduce blight, assist the homeless, and maintain or improve existing facilities and infrastructure”.

            Safe and Clean. Expansion of current program allows for additional staff to respond to homeless debris cleanup as well as general trash, debris, weeds, in right of ways, sidewalks and roads.

            Urban Forestry Tree Maintenance. This proposal provides resources to prune 10,000 trees each year, in addition to the approximately 6500 trees that are currently trimmed annually. Expected outcomes will allow for all city maintained trees to be on a 3 to 5 year pruning cycle (species dependent). The current pruning cycle is 7-9 years.

            Median Maintenance. Current maintenance of medians is approximately once per month, medians only, minimal sidewalk maintenance at best. Expanded funding of the program will allow median and sidewalk maintenance on main arterials to be performed twice per month.

            Aquatic Center Maintenance. The Aquatic Center, at Community Park, opened in 2002 and most of the hard components of the center-pumps, motors, tanks, and the pools themselves, have a finite useful life, and need regular maintenance and replacement. There is no sinking fund associated with the pools and adding ongoing funding allows optimal maintenance, and helps keep the pools operating safely.

            Preserving Park and Recreational Facilities. Community Park has one entrance, at Kimball Road. The master plan for the park includes an additional entrance from Telephone Road, at Ramelli Avenue. Hundreds of people enjoy Community Park daily, and on weekend the number of visitors is oftentimes in the thousands. A second entrance improves access to the park, and allows for larger softball, soccer, and swimming events.

Restroom at Arroyo Verde. Many of the park restrooms are closed on a regular basis due to issues with cleanliness and safety. The City of Portland, Oregon developed a stainless-steel restroom. These restrooms have been installed in their downtown areas, and are frequented by tourists and the homeless. The restrooms main features are fabrication-alone piece, ease of cleaning, and drastically reduced cost due to prefabrication.

Have An Opinion? Share It With A City Councilmember.

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Erik Nasarenko,
Mayor

Neal Andrews,
Deputy Mayor

Cheryl Heitmann

Matt LaVere, Ventura City Council

Matt LaVere

Jim Monahan

Mike Tracy

Christy Weir

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       Editors:

R. Alviani          K. Corse          T. Cook         B. Frank
J. Tingstrom    R. McCord       S. Doll          C. Kistner