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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

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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.

You Have Reasons To Be Concerned About Ventura’s Pensions

“Courage Cannot Be Counterfeited. It Is One Virtue That Escapes Hypocrisy”

—Napoleon Bonaparte

Pensions

The City of Ventura has a spending problem, and it’s time for an intervention. The fiscal crisis is not widely understood. At its core are the promised unfunded pensions for public employees.

Ventura’s pension contributions for 2018 are $17,410,000. The annual contributions will balloon to $32,630,000 by 2025. That’s a compound annual growth of 9.4%. No other expense item in the US economy is growing that fast. As of 6-30-15, the entire unfunded liability for the City of Ventura is over $169.2 Million ($169,292,212). It is not possible to get out of the CalPERS retirement plan. As of 6-30-15, to terminate the CalPERS plan would costs $1.2 Billion ($1,197,537,902).

Ventura is not alone. Cities up and down the state must face up to the problem. However, Ventura’s pensions are a debt time bomb.

PensionsVentura is already paying 34 cents to CalPERS for every dollar it pays its active employees. In six years, that amount will go up to an unsustainable 51 cents for every dollar of payroll—more than any city in Ventura County. Pensions are already crowding out other essential city services like filling potholes, fixing infrastructure and even hiring more police officers and firefighters.

How Pensions Affect You Directly

Pensions

Pensions Will Crowd Out Needed City Services

Expect senior programs and after-school activities to disappear first. Next, the city will defer maintenance and capital

expenditures. The city will extend service contracts for police cruisers, city vehicles, and equipment. These things represent only a fraction of Ventura’s budget. Reductions in services will never be enough to stop the detonation of the pension debt bomb.

Ventura can only fix the problem by raising taxes, cutting needed services, or both. There is a direct correlation between the money Ventura spends on pensions and the city’s ability to pave streets and repair sewers.

Reckless Spending Continues

Despite knowing this, Ventura’s City Councilmembers increase spending without regard to the long-term consequences.

Pensions

The Roving Fire Truck Crew Adds To Ventura’s Pensions

Last month, the Council voted 4-2 to give the fire department $600,000 for a roving paramedic fire engine. City staff, the fire department and the fire union proudly pointed out grants and budget manipulation will pay the first year expense. No one on the Council asked what happens in year two and beyond. Fire Chief David Endaya asserted Ventura needs the engine because of an increase in calls. Yet he lacked specifics about whether there are more cost-effective ways to deliver the services.

To their credit, Councilmembers Mike Tracy and Christy Weir voted “No.” They wanted more details. Nonetheless, the Ventura Fire Department got its new engine, even though no one gave adequate data to support the decision.

Interim City Manager Dan Paranick did not recommend funding the roving engine for this year. Paranick worked with Fire Chief Endaya, but in the end, he said, “I haven’t gotten myself to a place where I’ve been comfortable yet, where I could sit here and justify the need based on the demand. That’s why I did not recommend it.”

Days later, he announced his resignation to accept a position closer to his home in Simi Valley.

The Fire Department isn’t the only group benefiting from the spendthrift City Council. Earlier this year, the police received pay increases of 5% adding to the city’s future pension liability.

In 2017, 90 of the top 100 salaries on the city payroll are police officers and firefighters. Every one of the Top 100 earns more than $198,800 in pay and benefits. For perspective, the average family in Ventura earns $66,000 per year with two wage earners.

Pensions

In reality, Ventura pays pensions for 3.3 retired police and fire employees for every two public safety employees on the job. That’s untenable.

So how is the Ventura City Council managing spending, and considering the long-term financial effect of their decisions? In short, they’re not.

Elected officials first believed the extra $10.8 million collected from Measure O would afford them the ability to meet new programs. But, Measure O is now a supplement to existing projects. Councilmembers frequently discuss the need for tax increases.

Moreover, it is not only about pensions.

  • According to the Capital Improvement Plan (CPI), Ventura Water Department insists on spending $538 million to convert wastewater into drinkable tap water. There remains the probability that water rates will increase by 200%.
  • Ventura’s golf courses lose $1.7 million annually on the debt they incurred.

When the money runs out, it has forced other cities to find solutions. They turn to the only tools they have at their disposal: raising taxes, cutting needed services, or both. Some even filed bankruptcy.

Economist Herbert Stein once said, “If something can’t go on forever, it won’t.” Ventura is on a trajectory that cannot go on forever.

Your Chance To Make Ventura Better

PensionsThis November, Ventura has an unprecedented opportunity to tell the City Council, “No more new spending.” There are three open seats on the Council in this November’s election.

Past financial overspending must stop. New Council Members with an economic understanding of operating a city must prevail. Voters need to look past the individual candidates’ popularity to carefully consider their ability to understand and manage city finances.

Desirable candidates will:

  • Treat city money as if it was coming out of their pocket, which it is
  • Understand the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) before taking office
  • Understand the city budget and capital expenditure projects
  • Hold city staff accountable to present successful projects to the Council
  • Hold the City Manager accountable for results
  • Make difficult decisions knowing their decisions will anger some constituents
  • Do the right thing, not the same old, easier thing
  • Represent of the citizens of Ventura, not be a cheerleader for city staff recommendations

Editors Comments

You have the opportunity to make Ventura better this November. Voter turnout needs to be high for this crucial City Council election if Ventura is to improve. Decisions these new Councilmembers make will immediately impact the city’s economic vitality. We mustn’t leave this election to chance.

Encourage people to vote. Educate everyone on the grave crises facing the city today. Ask candidates how they plan to address these crises. Listen to their answers. Hold them accountable after they’re elected. If we do all these things, we’ll improve the chances Ventura will remain fiscally sound now and in the future.

Hold These Councilmembers Accountable For Their Past Spending

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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Ventura asks for more money in Measure A

Shameless Politicians Propose Measure A For More Money

“No creature smarts so little as a fool. Destroy his fib, or sophistry – in vain! The creature’s at his dirty work again.”—Alexander Pope

911 TAX – POSTMORTEM

[THE GREAT BOONDOGLE. WHERE DID THE MONEY GO?]

The City Council keeps saying they do not understand why the citizens of this community have such distrust for city government.  They are not likely to understand if they are not listening.

Refunded only part of the money

Ventura refunded only part of the money collected in the 911 Tax.

No need to again examine the history and the woof of the pathetic effort of the City Council to tax 911 calls, but it does serve to examine the aftermath.

This idea, spawned by our City Manger, Rick Cole, followed on the heals of the defeat of his Measure P6.  Of course he has no public exposure and can duck any critics’ comments because he was not elected to office, and did not vote for the tax.   Councilmen Monahan, Summers and Brennan, currently up for re-election, however were elected to office, and they did vote for the 911 tax.

Citizens protested, but did so in vain. Lawsuits followed, and only then did the Council take steps to set this all aside to avoid being tagged with a huge bill for attorneys’ fees if they lost.  Make no mistake, they were going to lose. It would then be logical, and reasonable, to assume that the money collected under this concocted scheme would be refunded to the people who were FORCED to pay into the program, right?  Au contraire!

Money from 911 tax never returned

Citizens left hanging for refund of over $1.2 million from 911 tax.

Our fine City government collected $1,220,005 during FY 08-09, representing 54.2% of the hoped for annual revenue of $2,250,000.   Once the law was cancelled you were then offered a refund, if you could prove you paid, only if you had “opted out”, and only then if you attached the necessary documents, and jumped through the required administrative hoops to get your money. Why only if you “opted out”?  Because the City Manager surmised that if you did not “opt out”, you must have chosen to “opt in”, meaning that you wanted the city to have this money, and it was your intention for the city to keep the funds all along.

Only $17,096 was refunded. The City kept over a million dollars, used $800,000 to balance the 2008-09 budget and  kept $402,909 in the general fund for use this year.  Having bilked the citizens of this community,  and having failed to refund the money to those who paid,  it would seem that at least the Council would have the decency to do the right thing and use the money for its declared purpose – fund the 911 system!  That did not happen. Instead the money was stuffed down the proverbial rabbit hole. [okay! used for other expenses like?]

Editors Comment:

Are we hoping in vain that this Council may exhibit some shame, and do the right thing?

THE NEW SALES TAX- “MEASURE A”

[COUNCIL ASKS VOTERS FOR MORE MONEY TO FINANCE FAILED POLICIES]

Masure A takes more money

Ventura politicians are shamelessly asking for more money with Measure A.

It has been clear, since Measure P-6 was defeated at the polls,  that this Council would attempt a new sales tax measure.  This new measure to raise the city sales tax by ½% was put on the ballot for November, 2009, on a vote of 6 to 1.  Councilman Neal Andrews opposed that measure.

In the process of approving Measure A the Council referred constantly to the fact that a “Blue Ribbon Committee”, appointed to consider this proposal, had recommended that a sales tax increase be put on the ballot for public approval, and that the tax be automatically cancelled after  4 years.    This was something to behold — that this Council would have our good citizens believe that the Council really needed a Blue Ribbon Committee’s approval in order to place a new tax measure on the November ballot.  Members of the Council appointed a majority of the blue committee because they were “friends of the Council” (FOC), so the result was always a foregone conclusion.  Former Mayors Jim Friedman and Sandy Smith were on that committee, and each was heard to smirk that they thought “the Council was just trying to seek political cover”.

Now the spinning and fact distortions begin anew.  As you are reading you will recall what happened when P6 was proposed.  The Council wanted a  1/4% special tax for police and fire.  That measure failed, as well as the lawsuit filed by “the City” ( Actually, it was filed by a political action committee headed by Assistant Police Chief Corney, to which each Council member contributed money) against citizens who opposed the tax.  They lost that too after paying their Santa Monica lawyers $30,000.

The Council and the City Manager vowed to come back at the citizenry with a new tax.  Thus Measure A was put on the ballot seeking double the amount of money sought by P6, but this time as a general tax, which only requires a 50%+1 voter approval.  Their hope is that since they received 61.95% of the vote on P6, ergo the voters will approve a ½% general tax increase.

So the rhetoric and distortion begins by the cabal controlling “the City”. To avoid the label of being a “special tax”, requiring a 2/3 vote, the Council decided to promise to spend any new sales taxes in certain ways, but without telling the voters at the same time that they were not obligated to do so [ one could almost see a sly grin and wink from the 6 Council members  as this statement was made]. Their promise of how they will spend this $10,000,000 in new sales tax money may prove to be their undoing.

If approved by the voters it will be interesting to see how Measure A survives a legal challenge, and it will be challenged under Proposition 218.  That state proposition requires a 2/3 voter approval for any tax devoted to

Police and Fire want more money

Police and Fire departments would receive 40% of the money collected from Measure A.

a special purpose as opposed to general tax, which is collected and placed in the general fund. The Council hopes to avoid this problem by saying the funds are “not required” to be used for any specific purpose, yet they announce that the funds will be used for a specific purpose as in inducement to get voters to approve the measure.

Interestingly one of the specific promises made by this Council, as an inducement to voters to approve the measure is that they will spend 40% of the new tax on police and fire — the exact sum they sought to raise in the failed P-6 measure.

Today it’s hard to know what the City is really doing, except that most of the individual Council members are campaigning hard to convince you that you should ignore the waste and spendthrift policies of the past and impose the new tax.  They do not want to address the underlying economic malady – overpaid public employee unions and the millions wasted in ill advised decisions like the plan to narrow Victoria, or the ill-fated 911 tax or increasing the fire department retirement programs by 50%.  Councilman Fulton, who is also campaigning hard for the incumbents advised one contender that he could not approve of their candidacy because they (the Council ) would lose “consensus”  – he really means control.  He also stated in a public meeting that we should forget the past and move on. So how, again, was the 911 tax money spent?

Editors’ comments: 

Only a fool does not learn from the mistakes of the past.

THE STATE STRIKES

It is now official.  Remember that money that you sent in for property taxes, and which is supposed to be returned, in part, to our community? Well our fine state government has decided that to correct their mismanagement and budget deficiencies by taking the money that is supposed to be returned to the cities. Thus our City will not receive $2,760,358 that would be normally  returned. We have been  forced to loan to a state government that has achieved junk bond status in the market place.

The money is not gone, just delayed in delivery.  Of course the State promises to pay this back in 3 years.  How about interest?  The answer we get is that this will be set by someone and sometime in the future — you know the line — “trust us”.

It gets worse.  In addition to the loss to the general fund, the Redevelopment agency has lost $1.2 million, and that will never be repaid.  It is gone.  Makes you wonder if Ventura had spent some more Redevelopment agency funds in the last 2-3 years, whether there would have been any funds to raid?

CITY COUNCIL USES A SMOKESCREEN

[NEVER LET A GOOD CRISIS GO TO WASTE]

This City Council again has to scramble to adjust their budget to allow for this loss.  The hyperbole and spin from City Hall, and the proponents of this tax is that we really need the new sales tax because they have adjusted the budget as much as they can, employees have taken a 5% pay reduction and our State Government has taken our money.  What is a poor City Council to do?  Long before the state did its most recent raid on City funds the die had been cast.  The ½% sales tax was already in the plan.  The City Council members are campaigning hard for the new tax as if the problem is all due to the State and they had some great insight – in short playing the fear game as a reason for the voters to approve the new tax.

Opponents point out that such a tax is regressive, that business has never prospered in such in an environment, that even though there is a 4-year sunset provision the Council proposes to use the new tax money to make long term commitments to police and fire (40% of the new tax money), and that when the 4-year period is up the Council will go back to the voters arguing that if we do not extend the tax there will be cuts in services — you know the old saw — crime, untimely emergency responses to medical emergencies, etc. The opponents also point to the spendthrift policies of this council over the last 6 years, for example $1,000,000 alone was spent to narrow Victoria Avenue.  That should be money in the bank, but instead is sitting in the pockets of City employees and Los Angeles consultants.  There are $13,000,000 of such expenditures, which should be in the bank, but is not  because of unrealistic planning and spending by a liberal out of touch Council.

Mayor Weir is campaigning for the new tax and has stated publicly “we will not spend any money we don’t have”.

Editors’ Comments: 

We hope each citizen will reflect on whether the past should matter in deciding how to vote.

Editors:

B. Alviani        S. Doll          J.Tingstrom

K. Corse          B.McCord    T. Cook

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