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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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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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Busting Ventura’s Budget Myths And Fantasies

Winston Churchill

THE TRUTH IS IN- CONTROVERTIBLE, MALICE MAY ATTACK IT, IGNORANCE MAY DERIDE IT, BUT IN THE END THERE IT IS
—Winston Churchill

PENSIONS BUST BUDGETS
[Grappling with Money and Economic Reality]

The City Council race concluded with the reelection of Councilmen Andrews, Monahan and Tracy plus a new councilman, Eric Nasarenko.  Our new Councilman was elected as Deputy Mayor at the last Council meeting and will serve in that capacity next year.  We congratulate each member of the Council.

During the election campaign these candidates asked to be elected so that they could help to bring about changes in City policies to:

  • improve the development of business
  • create and maintain parks
  • seek to improve streets
  • finance libraries
  • find ways to provide housing for lower income citizens
  • improve the gateways to Ventura on the North and South of Highway 101
  • create a more favorable regulatory structure to encourage development of housing
  • improve services to our citizens.

One thing that stood out for all four of these Councilmen was their plea that if the voters returned them to office and elected Mr. Nasarenko then a newly constituted Council could and would be more cohesive, and bring about the promised changes.

Their promise of change is laudable, but nothing can or will be accomplished without the money and revenue to realize those changes. That objective requires sound financial planning—an accurate and realistic budget with realistic income and expense projections.

From Where Will The Money Come In This Year’s Budget?

On June 17, 2013 the old City Council was presented with a Proposed Budget for 2013-2014. They were shown a power point presentation, explained by our City Treasurer, which was based upon a printed 569 page budget book submitted by our City Manager, Mark D. Watkins, on April 23, 2013. This budget was approved on a vote of 6 to 1 after a 30 minute hearing.  Nobody from the public appeared to comment.

It’s hard to overcome a $1.6 million deficit, if this year’s budget has no new revenue items.

Council members asked few questions, but did make statements “for the benefit of the television public” concerning their views on this budget.  Nobody asked any questions about the projected income, or questioned the expenses in this complex document other than Councilman Andrews.  He voted “no” on the motion to approve a budget projecting a deficit of $1.6 million in our next fiscal year (July 1, 2013-June 30, 2014).  He explained his no vote – “We have cut too far and we need to look at public safety costs (police and fire pension benefits)”, meaning that the Council needed to look at ways to address the enormous pension costs before considering anything else such as new taxes.

Two Council members made statements that the general fund be unburdened by shifting some costs from the general fund to special tax assessment districts — taxes on real property.  Councilman Morehouse wants to shift a $500,000 public lighting cost to property owners, although conceded, when asked by Mayor Tracy, that this might also be funded by increasing sales taxes.  Councilwoman Weir commented at length about the special assessment costs imposed by other cities, such as Camarillo and Oxnard, for street repair, landscape maintenance, parks, public safety and libraries.  It was clear from these comments that their solution for our City deficit is to tax our way out of it.

Where’s The Transparency In The Budget?

This published budget is long, complex and difficult to read.  It consists of real number-clots, number slabs by department and sub-department(s) with pages of swimming line items in minute detail. It is difficult to read, interpret or understand as a financial planning document.   For example, members of VREG tried to determine how the projected income was calculated, and what the public pension costs (the largest item in the entire budget) would be for the next fiscal year.  The income information could not be found.  The pension data was sprinkled throughout all 589 pages and explained by esoteric line items and number for every department. The City Treasurer was asked about the complexity of this document.  He conceded that this was the equivalent of a “data dump”. A good management tool for a City Council it is not.

Focusing first on the income side.  The City Treasurer at the June hearing projected income of $86.7 million. This is $4.3 million more than was collected in 2012-13, an increase of 5.2%, twice the estimated U.S. Gross Domestic product estimate of 2.5%.

No explanation has been given on where this new source of revenue will come from.  That question was put to one candidate during a candidate forum in October.  A citizen asked, “What plan does the city have to grow their revenue by that amount of money?”

The answer was revealing (click on the quote to see video of his answer):

Ventura City Budget

There is a $1.6 million deficit in this year’s budget. As a higher percentage of Ventura’s General Fund is spent on police and fire pensions, less revenue is available for other services.

 

The projected deficit of $1.6 million and sagging income expectations are bad  The annual cost of  salaries and benefits  for public safety — police and fire —  is bad, and will grow to fifty-two (52%) of the total general budget  in the next fiscal year

Unfunded Pension Liability Is Staggering

Then there is the matter of how much will have to be paid to CALPERS to pay the unfunded pension obligations of City employees, police and fire personnel in addition to the annual operational costs.  In 2008 those unfunded obligations totaled $48 million.

In October, 2013, CALPERS reported that the market cost of those unfunded liabilities have increased by 360%, and  as of June 30, 2012, totaled $173,412,464.  CALPERS also added a note in that report that if the City wanted to terminate our contract with CALPERS it would cost us $600,421,434.

This is only going to get worse because CALPERS has announced it will consider adjusting (lowering) its expected rate of return in 2015 by 1/4%, and that the actuarial life of public safety personnel is not shorter than the average person, as previously assumed, but is the same.  That means these pensioners, starting at age 55, will get paid benefits over a longer period of time.

Cities nationwide are grappling with the growing retiree-benefit pension costs which are eating up more of city general funds.  That leaves less money to spend on parks, libraries, maintenance of trees and parkways, street lights and an asundry of public service projects.  Ventura is not alone. As a higher percentage of a City’s general fund is spent on police and fire pensions, less revenue is available for other services and projects.  Detroit, Stockton and San Bernardino are models of cities that refused to accept economic reality.

If the total unfunded obligation cost does not get the attention of our new City Council, then perhaps the most recent CALPERS Actuarial Valuations predicting our annual payment obligation will get their attention.  In 2013-14 the required annual contribution total will be $8,530,730.  In 2014-15 the required payment will increase to $9,489,593.  That is more than $1 million more to be paid out of the General Fund

  Editors’ Comments

Why there are no protests by the citizens of Ventura for changing the pension plan of public safety personnel?  What will it take to get Venturans excited and concerned about this problem?

When the question of pension reform was presented to our City Council members in the past the traditional answer was that this problem could only be addressed on a statewide level; Ventura will not be the “lead dog” and venture out into this new territory; and, as unfounded as it may be, that Ventura would no longer be competitive in hiring the best employees.

This unfunded obligation to public safety personnel is a budget buster.  Nobody wants to make a decision.  In the meantime, Ventura will reduce services, charge more fees (or taxes) from its citizens and ignore the obvious “train wreck” that is ahead because it either lacks the leadership or vision to act responsibly for the future of this City

All the campaign promises in the world are worthless unless and until this new Council establishes a realistic budget, and finds real solutions to our public pension obligations.  Trying to tax ourselves out of debt is not a solution. Requiring greater employee contributions to their own retirement (8 – 10%), and creating a defined contribution plan for new hires will solve the problem in time.

That is why you were elected!

Editors:

R. Alviani      K. Corse      T. Cook

J. Tingstrom  R. McCord   S. Doll

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