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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.

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Proposition 218 Is The Fastest Way To Raise Money, But Is It Right?

 

“I have never understood why it is ‘greed’ to want to keep the money you’ve earned, but not greed to want to take somebody else’s money.”

—Thomas Jefferson

Proposition 218

Ventura Water will push the boundaries of the law as it tries to use Proposition 218 to raise money to meet the Wishtoya Foundation Consent Decree.

In the next 12 months, Ventura Water will ask the City Council to increase water rates for 30 wastewater projects and 28 water projects by 2024. These costly projects will benefit some property owners. Other projects will help the community at large.

As of June 30, 2018, Ventura Water accumulated $115,000,000 for projects they planned to build between 2012-2018. Still, they need $449,586,000 more before 2024. How did we commit to spending almost $450 million, and why weren’t you asked to vote on it?

WHAT WILL THIS COST YOU?

These new rate increases will come on top of the increases imposed over the last six years. In 2012, Ventura Water wanted to increase rates to:

  1. Replacing aging pipelines and facilities
  2. Building projects to improve water quality
  3. Constructing new groundwater wells

In 2012 the average homeowner and family of 4, received a bi-monthly bill of $73.27 and sewer charges of $72.45 for a total of $145.72. That same family is paying $105.03 for water in 2018.  Add sewer charges of $104.64 and their total bill is $209.67.  This is a 43% increase over the 2012 rates.

From 2018-2024, expect a similar rate of growth. Your new water bill may look like this:Proposition 218

HOW DID WE GET INTO THIS SITUATION?

Propoosition 218In March 2012, the Ventura City Council signed a Consent Decree that requires Ventura Water to stop putting 100% of its treated wastewater into the Santa Clara River estuary by January 2025. The decree stems from a Federal complaint filed by Wishtoya Foundation. Former City Manager, Rick Cole and Ventura Water General Manager, Shana Epstein, signed the consent decree on behalf of the city. The city no longer employs either of them.

Keep in mind that voters had no voice in the City Council consenting to the decree in 2012. Now, Ventura Water wants to deny voters the chance to say how we spend the money to meet the order, too. It plans to use Proposition 218 to get those funds.

HOW AND WHY CAN VENTURA INCREASE MY RATES?

So how can Ventura Water impose such large fees against its citizens without the traditional right to vote on such matters? The answer lies in how Ventura implements Proposition 218. Approved by the voters in 1996, Proposition 218 allows Ventura to raise money in one of three ways:

  1. General taxes. Those taxes used for general governmental purposes. Prop 218 requires the traditional voting procedure, notice, a ballot and an election measure. 51% of the voters must approve it. Ventura’s Measure O sales tax was one such example.
  2. Special Taxes. Any tax imposed for specific purposes and placed in a general fund. A Special Tax requires a 2/3 (66.67%) majority vote. The City sought this type of tax in 2009. It was Measure A on the ballot. It was a 1/2 cent sales tax for public safety and other specific projects. Monies would have been placed in the city’s General Fund. It failed.
  3. Special Assessments, Fees and Charges. Fees or charges means an assessment imposed as an incident of owning property which receives a unique benefit. The city can only impose such fees by affirmative voter approval. The exception being that prior voter approval is not required for “any assessment imposed exclusively to finance capital costs or maintenance and operation expenses for sidewalks, streets, sewers, water…”

VENTURA WATER TURNS A NON-VOTE INTO A YES VOTE

Ventura wants to use option C, Special Assessments, Fees and Charges to impose higher water rates.

Here’s how they’ll do it. Instead of putting it on the ballot, Ventura Water sends a water bill. Somewhere in the body of that bill, it tells you why the rate increase is necessary. You may dispute the rate increase by voting “NO” within 45 days, but the process is cumbersome. To disagree, you must download a protest form, complete and mail it or take it to City Hall by a specific date. Fail to jump over those hurdles and the City doesn’t care what you think or want. If 51% of the ratepayers have not voted ‘NO,’ that is the end of the matter. There are 32,000 ratepayers. Sixteen thousand one must vote NO to defeat an increase.

Proposition 218, now Article XIII C and D of the California Constitution, made the following findings:

         “The people of the State of California hereby find and declare that Proposition 13 was intended to provide effective tax relief and to require voter approval of tax increases.  However, local governments have subjected taxpayers to excessive tax, assessment, fee and charge increases that not only frustrate the purposes of voter approval for tax increases but also threaten the economic security of all Californians…This measure protects taxpayers by limiting the methods by which local governments exact revenue from taxpayers without their consent.”

When the City sought the last rate increase they took the position that they had the right to raise the rates without prior voter approval. They believed the procedures they followed were consistent with Prop 218 language, as interpreted by the California Supreme Court.  They maintain that they “may raise other fees or impose new fees without prior voter approval” for anything they chose to label a water or wastewater project.

But it doesn’t end with this interpretation alone. A California Supreme Court challenge goes further.

TESTED IN THE COURTS

The California Supreme Court in Bighorn-Desert View Water Agency v. Verjil (2006)39 Cal.4th 205, at page 205, addressed the question of whether voters had the right to put an initiative on the ballot to reduce water rates. The court ruled in favor of the water agency and interpreted Prop 218’s language to mean a city “may raise other fees or impose new fees without prior voter approval.”  The Court’s decision was specific. It didn’t involve the question of whether imposing fees to deal with a Consent Decree are valid.

Notwithstanding the protective measures of Prop 218, the City of Ventura conveniently interprets Prop 218 to still impose fees and charges beyond the simple costs of service to the homeowner. However, the court never went that far.

The City of Ventura’s interpretation of Proposition 218 is overreaching when it comes to any matter about water, wastewater and related environmental projects.

That decision by the Supreme Court only involved the issue of water delivery through a pipeline and whether voters could use an initiative process to require prior voter approval for the costs of that delivery.   It did not involve a question of whether fees imposed to deal with a $500 million water and wastewater projects together with environmental costs, expert studies, attorneys fees and a plethora of expenses arising out of a ConsentDecree decided by a City Council in 2012, and in which the voters had no voice.

What if the costs are not exclusively operational costs? What if the expenditures benefit the entire community, not just ratepayers? Does Proposition 218 apply in those circumstances? Bighorn-Desert View Water Agency v. Verjil does not answer these questions.

No Precedent For What They Plan To Do

In determining whether to seek prior voter approval, we hope that the new City Council will keep in mind the following the language from the Supreme Court in Bighorn case:

            “…the agency’s governing board may … raise fees or impose other fees and new fees without prior voter approval.  Although this power-sharing arrangement has the potential for conflict, we must presume that both sides will act reasonably and in good faith, and that the political process will eventually lead to compromises that are mutually acceptable and both financially and legally sound.”        (Emphasis added).

THE CITY MAY FACE A SERIOUS LEGAL CHALLENGE

If the City is considering rate increase of this magnitude without prior voter approval they should be mindful of the language in Prop 218. It provides that “in any legal action contesting the validity of an assessment, the burden is on the agency (Ventura Water) to demonstrate that the …properties in question receive a special benefit over the benefits conferred on the public at large…”

Complying with the Consent Decree by not putting wastewater into the Santa Clara River benefits all citizens, not just ratepayers.

Editor’s Comments

Ventura Water is proposing a mix of costly projects. Some will benefit property owners, and some will help the community at large. Building a pipeline and related infrastructure to import state water at the cost of $50 million benefits all property owners. Ratepayers generally accept this. Spending beyond that to build projects to satisfy a federal judgment on the Santa Clara Estuary to protect the ecology of the estuary is a problem.

Proposition 218 may not cover projects to meet a federal judgment on the Santa Clara Estuary to protect the ecology. We recommend a vote of the citizens in that instance.

Warn The City Council Of Ventura Water’s Potential Error

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.

Let then know that Venturans must vote on a water rate increase to pay for the consent decree. Not participating in government makes us worse because our city government isn’t working for all of us.

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Councilmembers Councilmembers
Councilmembers Councilmembers

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Ventura's water shortage

Ventura’s Water Supply Jeopardized by Years of Mistakes

Whiskey is for drinking. Water is for fighting. —Mark Twain

Ventura could lose one-third of its water supply because of legal maneuvering and backdoor negotiating. As it is, Venturans pay too much for water and could pay even more in three years.

CITY COUNCIL APPROVES WATER RIGHTS CONTRACT

[RESULTS OF NEW AGREEMENT]

Casitas Water District

Casitas Water District negotiated a favorable water contract with Ventura after threatening a lawsuit.

On May 8, 2017, the public learned that a new contract between the City of Ventura and the Casitas Municipal Water District has been approved and executed by the City Council. That new contract places Ventura in jeopardy of losing all rights to water from Lake Casitas.

To maintain its current water rights, Ventura must reach Water Balance by 2020. To achieve water balance, Ventura must find an additional source of water.

The expedient solution is to exercise Ventura’s option to use State Water. The city currently pays $1.2 million per year for that option (which the city never used) and has been paying for that option since the mid-70s. If Ventura does not tap into the State Water Pipeline within three years, Ventura’s water situation will be in dire straits.

NEW CONTRACT IS TOO VAGUE

The old 1995 Contract with Casitas Water allowed for a minimum of 6,000-acre feet of water per year. That water could be used in the western part of Ventura (everything west of Mills Road) and the eastern part of the city, if necessary. Under the new agreement, that changed.

The new contract does not specify the amount of water Ventura’s entitled to receive. Instead, the “projected water demand of the prior year” will determine the amount (Article 4.1). That projected demand will come from Ventura’s annual water report. Should Casitas dispute the amount of water, it opens the Ventura up to a possible “Dispute Resolution.”

What determines the projected water demand of the prior year? Who determines that amount? Do both Ventura Water and Casitas Water have to agree on the volume before the start of each year? There are too many unanswered questions for this agreement to be tenable, and the fact that the Ventura Water Commission recently “received” but did not approve the 2017 report is not encouraging.

NO SCIENCE IN THE COMPREHENSIVE WATER REPORT

Ventura water

Ventura Water provides no accurate estimate of available water in the Comprehensive Water Resources Report.

The Ventura Water Department provided inaccurate and incomplete information in the Comprehensive Water Resources Report dated April 7, 2017. That data formed the basis of the Contract with Casitas Water District.

The financial statements used are suspect because of misleading expenditures. Other assumptions such as using the average water demand are questionable, too. The report includes no real science-based estimates of current water availability or capacity. And there are no timelines for water delivery improvements.

This same report also lists the use of sewer recycled water as a reliable source for potable water in the city. Ventura Water’s General Manager authored that report. She subsequently quit her job and moved to the City of Angels after submitting the report.

THE NEW AGREEMENT PUTS EAST VENTURA AT A DISADVANTAGE

ventura water

East Ventura could lose 1/3 of its water in 2020.

The 1995 Contract allowed Ventura to blend Casitas water with the East End water. Water from the lake was used to mix with water from eastern wells to achieve better quality. Casitas considered the use of their water for that purpose as “rental water.” Ventura was required to return it or to pay for it. The new contract does not allow Ventura to use water in the East End.

Ventura may only use Casitas water within the Casitas District (western part of the City). If Ventura uses Casitas water outside the Casitas District in any one year, then Ventura must reduce the amount of water it uses in the western part of the city until it achieves “water balance.”

If Ventura fails to reach Water Balance within a 12-month period, Casitas may terminate the Water Services Agreement. Overnight, Ventura would lose approximately one-third of the water needed to run the city. Those living on the East side will suffer the most from the loss.

WATER PRICES NEEDLESSLY OVERPRICED

Based upon a very reliable source, who worked in the water community for the last four decades, management decisions by Ventura Water and City Hall over the past 25 years have led to monetary, clerical and water rights losses in the Ventura River. These bad choices forced consumers to pay higher fees even under drought conditions than they should have incurred.

THE CITY COUNCIL SNUBBED THE WATER COMMISSION

Ventura Water

Ventura City Council didn’t seek the counsel of the Water Commission.

While we know the Ventura Water Commission does not have any rights or authority regarding contracts, their experience and knowledge could have been invaluable. But, the City of Ventura Water Commission never had the opportunity to review or discuss the Casitas Water Agreement. The City of Ventura never presented this contract to the commission and didn’t ask for their counsel.

Neutering the Water Commission is a recurring behavior for Ventura Water. The staff’s unwillingness to allow the Commission to do its job has existed for years. It appears they would prefer the Commission to rubber-stamp every decision. They are perturbed when the commission doesn’t do what they want. Given the poor decisions Ventura Water has made during the previous general manager’s tenure, it’s little wonder commissioners might be critical of every issue brought to them.

THE THREAT OF A LAWSUIT EXCLUDED THE WATER COMMISSION

Casitas Municipal Water District intended to sue Ventura’s water department and notified them of their intention according to the City Attorney.   At that point, the attorneys determined that they would treat the new agreement as a pre-legal settlement, thereby closing negotiations to outside parties and masking all records or documents from public scrutiny.

Editors’ Comments

Ventura Water

Casitas Water District could end up owning Ventura’s water rights for $2 million.

As part of the new contract, Casitas forgave an estimated $2 million debt (based upon 4000+ acre feet of water) Ventura Water owes for “rental water.” The Parties agree that as of the commencement of the Agreement, the City is in “water balance.” The City and Casitas are not subject any further legal or financial obligations under the 1995 agreement.

The success of this contract depends on whether Ventura can achieve water balance by 2020 by finding an alternative source of potable water. If that does not happen, Ventura faces the prospect of the termination of water from Casitas Water District.

If Ventura doesn’t find an alternative potable water source within three years and Casitas terminates this agreement, in effect Ventura will have sold its rights to Casitas Water for $2 million.

Ventura can only hope that the new Water Department management will provide full disclosure and transparency, and will lend its voice to the importation of 10,000-acre feet of water from the State Water Project. Forty-eight percent of the voters chose that option in the 1992 election.

Now, will the government listen?

Last Chance To Oppose Higher Water Rates

Ventura Water aims to increase water rates unless citizens protest.

Act Now To Prevent Higher Water Rates!

Monday June 8th is your last day to act if you want to oppose an increase in water rates.  Your protest must be filed with the City Clerk before 6 PM.

On this Monday,  Ventura City Council will decide on whether to adopt the Ventura Water report , written by the Ventura Water General Manger, Shana Epstein.  Click the Report Button to read the full report.

Water Rate Incease Report from Ventura Water

Click on the Report button to access the Water Rates Increase Report

She proposes to raise your water rates. If you use more that 6 HCF in any billing period you will pay more.  If you use over 21 HCF, which is the average residential use in Ventura then will pay a lot more.  This new rate is intended to coerce compliance.

Today we have enough water to meet the needs of our community. Nobody questions the need for all citizens to make an effort to conserve now against potential future water shortages but most however question the need for our City to adopt coercive and punitive measures.

This community will come together to meet this challenge, but never under the lash of government.  If you wish to protest click on the protest icon.

Water Rate Increase Protest Form

Click on the Protest Button to access the Water Rates Increase Form.

Editors:

R. Alviani,     K. Corse,    T. Cook
J. Tingstrom, R. McCord, S. Doll

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City Makes It Hard For Citizens To Protest Water Rates Increase

Ventura Water Aims To Increase Water Rates Unless Citizens Protest

NOTICE OF RIGHT TO VOTE AND PROTEST WATER RATES INCREASE
[State sets Ventura Water Conservation at 16%]

If you are a property owner you have received a NOTICE REGARDING SETTING OF WATER RATES from the City of Ventura (Ventura Water). It was mailed in April.

This notice details what the new rates will be, under water shortage conditions, and provides a complicated chart so that you can determine the impact on your monthly billing rate.  The notice announces that a PUBLIC HEARING will be held before the Ventura City Council on JUNE 8, 2015, at City Hall.

If you do not favor this increase then the City notice tells you that the parcel owner, or customer of record on the water bill, must file a written protest with the City Clerk at City Hall, or at least be mailed, before the hearing date.

The City did NOT enclose a protest form (ballot) with the rate increase notice. You can find the Water Shortage Rate Protest form by going online to a link provided in the body of the letter, however the form is difficult to find from that link.   For your convenience you can find the WATER SHORTGAGE RATE PROTEST form by clicking on the Protest Button below.

Water Rate Increase Protest Form

Click on the Protest Button to access the Water Rate Increase Form.

If you do not have a computer, protesting is not as easy. You will have to go to the City Clerk’s office at City Hall. Please share this with neighbors and friends.

IF YOU DON’T PROTEST, YOU VOTE “YES” AUTOMATICALLY

Unless a majority of the property owners (51%) file a protest, these water shortage rates will go into effect.  Renters have no right to protest.  Business owners have no right to protest.  Only 32,000 people that own property with water meters have a right to vote.  The remaining 81,000 people in the City of Ventura are effectively disenfranchised. They have no vote but will have to pay.

“This city has manipulated and used fees, rates, enterprise funds to further their social and downtown improvements. When this ordinance first started it excluded the mobile home owners from participating because the mobile home communities are all listed as a one property owner, so therefore one owner per park, 10 parks, approx 2500 to 3000 residents without a yes or no vote.”

Jack Tingstrom, former Mayor of Ventura

HOW IS THIS LEGAL WITHOUT A BALLOT VOTE?

The simple answer is Proposition 218, a measure approved by a majority of California voters.  This is not the usual democratic election process.  Usually with a tax increase measure all voters are provided a ballot.  If 2/3 of the voters do not approve, the measure fails.

In this instance Proposition 218 governs.  The underlying principle is that “costs of service”, such as the cost of producing water or treating waste water is in a special category because “the cost” can be objectively determined.

But what happens when the government starts calling something a cost when it is not truly a cost of providing the service?  It is here that mischief and the potential for abuse abounds.  Who can forget the $1 million taken out of the water fund by the City Council and put into the “public art fund”, which was then used to build public housing?  You did not get to vote on that.

IMPACT OF THE PROPOSED WATER SHORTAGE RATE INCREASES

The Proposed Water Shortage Rates (PWSR) proposal must be looked at very carefully by each property owner, and compared to your most recent water bills.  This proposal changes (lowers) the tiers.  If a single family residence (SFR) now uses 0 to 14 HCF (748 gallons equals 1 HCF) you are in Tier 1.  This costs you $2.40 per HCF in addition to the base fixed cost for water of $29.28,  The fixed cost will increase over the next 3 years as well as the flow rate charges. In addition you pay a fixed cost for sewer/wastewater of $19.96 plus $2.91 per HCF flow charge up to 30 HCF.

If the PWSR is adopted and the City Council continues to declare a 20% conservation rate, notwithstanding that the State Water Board (SWRCB) has set our rate at 16%, then you will pay more.  The tier rates will be changed – Tier 1 will be lowered 0 to 6 HCF, Tier 2 will be 7-14 HCF, Tier 3 will be 15 to 30 and Tier 4 will be 30 HCF and above.   In a household of 4 people 6 HCF equals 74.8 gallons per day, or 18.7 gallons per person per day.

Using the current approved rate schedule for a single family residence, with a 3/4″ meter, using 21 HCF, which is the average residential use in Ventura according to Ventura Water Dept., and comparing it to the PWSR here is a chart comparing what you pay now versus what you will pay if the PWSR is adopted.

Ventura Water Rates Increase by 14%.

 

VENTURA IS NOT IN A STAGE 3 DROUGHT

In the fall of 2014 the City Council, in response to the Governor’s statewide drought declaration, declared that our city was in a Stage 3 drought thus requiring a 20% reduction in water consumption.

That declaration has been driving the Ventura City and Ventura Water agenda and publicity campaign.  The reality is that during the 1990 drought the citizens of this community embraced water conservation and reduced consumption by 5,000 acre feet. Thus, the State Water Resources Control Board just determined that the City of Ventura is only required to reduce water usage by 16%, not the 25% that has been widely circulated by Ventura Water over the last year.

”The Governor’s April 1st Executive Order called for the State Water Board to implement a mandatory 25% statewide conservation requirement for urban water usage.  All documents related to implementation of the Executive Order, including the Proposed Emergency Regulations released yesterday…
The City of Ventura’s (San Buenaventura) proposed conservation standard as of 4/28/15 would be 16%”
Jessica Bean, Engineering Geologist, SWRCB

Editors’ Comments

Members of VREG are concerned about several things related to the current process of putting water shortage rates in place.

• We are concerned that the estimates for our community (as shown above) are too aggressive.

• We’re concerned that the protest form was not included in the formal notification from Ventura Water. Providing a link that then leads to a lengthy document where another link to the protest form is buried is hardly calculated to provide “fair notice” under Proposition 218.

• We are concerned that all citizens who are affected by rate increases (like apartment dwellings) do not have a voice in this process.

• We’re concerned that ratepayers understand that they will need to either make a change in their water use or be willing to pay additionally for not reducing their use.

• We are concerned about our water quantity and quality for the future.  Addressing that will require courageous and transparent leadership. 25 years ago all our citizens voted for desalinization to provide a new water resource. City government then did nothing.  Further procrastination is not recommended.

Mayor Heitmann and this Council talk about creating confidence in City government and proclaim that they want citizen involvement and transparency.  This PWSR proposal and notice to our citizens do not serve that purpose. Perhaps “they” should learn to “walk their talk”.

Editors:

R. Alviani,     K. Corse,    T. Cook
J. Tingstrom, R. McCord, S. Doll

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Ventura's water shortage

Ventura’s Water Crisis Is A Study In Procrastination

Water, water, everywhere

“Water, water, everywhere, Nor any drop to drink.” —Samuel Taylor Coleridge                       The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

THE CHICKENS MAY HAVE COME HOME TO ROOST OVER WATER ISSUES
 [A STUDY IN PROCRASTINATION]

We’re in the worst drought in 100 years. The State of California, the City of Ventura and everyone else is concerned about water.  Lake Cachuma is almost dry, Santa Barbara decides to finance and build a desalinization plant and Montecito is in such bad shape it asks Ventura to build a pipeline through our City to wheel water from sources to the South.

Alarms were sounded.  Nobody thought about water until it was almost gone.  The question on everyone’s mind was how the 93,568 citizens in Ventura were going to obtain their drinking water.  The City Council held meetings and asked for citizens to reduce water use.

Ventura's drinking water

Venturans are concerned over where their drinking water will come from.

On the supply side the Council looks for new sources of water: importing water by tanker, hauling an iceberg off the coast to use melt water, building a pipeline to import the 10,000 acre feet of State water or building a desalinization plant to convert sea water to potable uses.

It was 1992. It was not raining and the community was divided.

The Association for Water Quality Alternatives (AQWA) formed and urged the Council to make a decision – build a reverse osmosis plant to remove dissolved solids and treat brackish water from the Mound ground water basin in the eastern part of the City, or import the 10,000 acre feet of State water by piping it from Lake Pyramid into Lake Piru then to Ventura by pipe line.  This group urged state water because the community had, since 1973, invested millions of dollars for the right to import the water, and would continue to pay $1.5 M per year until 2035. Spending $25 M to build a pipeline was the least costly option.

The City Council would not decide. Instead they voted to put a measure on the ballot asking the citizenry to vote on whether we should build a reverse osmosis plant.  The vote was 52% in favor of a desalinization (membrane filtration/reverse osmosis) plant and 48% to build the pipeline.

Once the election was over everything stopped. No effort was or has been made to develop, finance AND build an alternative water resource. The Water Department has spent millions since 2008  “studying” and they are “still studying” the options.

Ventura’s Water Crisis Is Nothing New.

Notwithstanding the malaise of local government Mother Nature took control.  Between 1992 and 2011 it rained prodigiously. The Ventura County hydrology data for the Casitas dam gauge reflects an average rainfall of 24.10 inches per year in that period.  In 1998 it rained 49.68 inches and Casitas dam overflowed. 2005 was another banner year with 42.86 inches followed by 2011 with 30.83 inches. In 2012 rainfall started moving downward – went to 12.01 inches, then 10.72 inches in 2013 and in 2014 it dropped to 8.02 inches.

EDITORS’ COMMENTS:

History has an  uncanny way of repeating itself.  After 20 plus years of great rainfall could we expect 3 to 5 years of low rainfall in Ventura?  The answer is unequivocally yes!  This pattern has occurred consistently since we began tracking rainfall in 1880.  Human nature is equally predictable – when it is raining why develop and build alternative water resources?

[A WATER EXPERT’S VIEW]

Ventura's drinking water sources

Sources of Ventura’s drinking water

On July 21, 2014, the Ventura City Council appointed a 13 member “Water Supply Strategy Task Force” to hold public meetings and develop a strategy to address potential water shortages in the City of Ventura. This was in response to Governor Brown’s proclamation declaring a statewide water emergency.  There have been three meetings, the most recent on September 9, 2014. This public meeting was well attended, and many members of our community spoke, but one in particular deserves mention.  With his permission we have printed his letter:

I bring these comments to the board in an effort to make their job easier. Decisions this group has undertaken to make are decisions that were ALREADY made by the public and city government of the City of Ventura back in November of 1992.

I speak to you based on having been the Production Supervisor of the City of Ventura water dept from 1985 till 1992.  Further as the plant operator of the Brackish Water Reclamation Demonstration facility of the Bureau of Reclamation in the City of Port Hueneme from 1997 till 2002.  And lastly as the State licenses Water Treatment and Water Distribution instructor for Water Science Dept at Ventura Community College from 1989 til 2013, training and preparing individuals to acquire their State of California licenses to legally work in the water/wastewater industry.

 In 1992 the city of Ventura was recovering from a major drought.  Part of the dialog going on was that the City should avail itself of State imported water by constructing a pipeline from Ventura to Castaic.

This would have provided the City access to water it would need but as history has shown was and is NOT available.  The State imported water system has historically NOT been able to provide the water contracted for, as the system was never finished and is not capable of meeting those contract levels EVEN when water is available and when in a drought that water is NOT available.  Further, connection to that water supply would take ANY control of amounts or costs AWAY from local control, i.e. Sacramento declaring water emergencies and applying mandatory cutbacks.

That commitment is what this body should be working to see HAVE HAPPEN.  It makes no sense to discuss or study the local water situation thinking or including State mandates when the State plays no part in the City of Ventura’s water supply situation.

It also makes no sense to request the public of this city to further reduce their water usage as the historical records indicate that our citizens have already reduced their consumption of water per capita by more than 50% since the 90’s.  Requesting our citizens to further reduce their water use so that water will be available for the ADDITIONAL population that is being allowed with continued grown is NOT a productive avenue.

The productive avenue and manner to address the current water shortage in our City is to build the treatment facilities that were recognized would be REQUIRED nearly two decades ago.

The City owns and has available water sources already in existence that are NOT being used as the water quality did not meet (drinking water) standards WITHOUT treatment.  But those existing facilities (expensive ones we already own like Victoria Well 1or any of a least three other wells the city owns but is not using ) can and should be utilized as the raw water source to a membrane treatment plant that could provide better quality water that we are getting now from surface water and at a price significantly cheaper than what State imported water is costing our neighboring cities.  Those cost benefits were documented and fully recognized at the Demonstration facility a decade ago.

Membrane treated water from a plant utilizing ground water TOTALLY under the control of the CITY of Ventura makes significantly more sense than asking our citizens to lower the value of their property, accept reductions in use that are set by the state, (which has NOTHING to do with our water supply), is capable of providing HIGHER quality water than we have now, at CHEAPER prices than what our neighbors are paying the state, and follows the directives and sensible decisions made by our citizens and political bodies more than 22 years ago”

—JOSEPH RICHARDSON
Ventura, California

EDITORS’ COMMENTS

 Municipal government has declined to make any decision to develop an alternative water supply for the City of Ventura in the last 23 years.  Waiting another 20 plus years would be an absurdity.  Our current Council can, and must, make a decision. In the words of baseball great Yogi Berra, “When you come to a fork in the road take it.” 

Post Script

VREG is closely watching the Water Supply Task Force Committee’s work on how “our” water conservation program will be designed, monitored and implemented in our community. It was not lost on the VREG committee that shortly after the first of a 3-year rate increase in water rates went into effect in July 2014, additional administrative personnel was hired.

 

Update on County Pension Reform

After months of signature gathering to qualify as a ballot initiative for the County of Ventura, a Ventura County Superior court judge decided that this initiative was not a valid because the County of Ventura cannot elect to withdraw from a system that it first elected to join. That ruling stated that any needed reform for the Ventura County pension plan must come from the state level.  It does not seem to be the political will of the State Assembly or State Senate to tackle this ongoing problem.

Future VREG topic- Ventura City Budget

The June 2014 annual General Budget is in and is being reviewed.

Editors:

R. Alviani               K. Corse             T. Cook
J. Tingstrom         R. McCord          S. Doll

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Ventura needs a Water Commission to oversee the water and wastewater processing.

Now Is The Time To Appoint A Water Commission

WATER – A PEARL OF GREAT PRICE
[The Right to Protest and Need for a Water Commission]

On March 12th the need for Ventura to create a Water Commission became clear. Ventura City Water/Wastewater Department mailed a notice to property owners advising that effective July 1, 2014, the rates that Venturans will pay for water and wastewater treatment will increase unless a formal written protest (vote) is received by the City Clerk by May 5, 2014.  This is the second increase in two years to be followed by increases in 2015, 2016 and 2017.

The notice details what the new rates will be, and in bold type on page 1 announces that a PUBLIC HEARING will be held on May 5, 2014.  Specifically it states that “The Ventura City Council welcomes your input during a public hearing to consider the proposed rate increases…”

This notice, in much smaller print, says that “if you wish to protest the proposed charges… you must do so in writing prior to the close of the hearing” on May 5th; and,  if not filed in the City Clerk’s office by the date of the hearing on May 5th it will not be considered.

No ballot or rate protest form is provided with the notice.  If a property owner wants to protest the increase they have to go to the City web site to download the form, or get the form from the City Clerk.  They then must fill out the form and return it to the City.  If you don’t have a computer, or are unable to travel to the Clerk’s office, you are out of luck.  If you don’t fill out the form correctly you are again out of luck; it will be rejected and considered a “Yes” vote.

In addition to the failure to provide a convenient means to protest, the notice on its face is deceptive. You are advised that that the Council will have a hearing “to consider the proposed rate increase“.  Wrong!  The council is not going to consider anything about increasing the rates because they have already done that.  The only thing they will consider on May 5th is the status of the vote.  If the Clerk reports that 51% of the “eligible voters” protested then it fails.  If 51% do not protest the increased rates go into effect.

Water Rate Increase Protest Form

Click on the Protest Button to access the Water Rate Increase Form.

The City Water Department could have easily included the one page RATE PROTEST FORM in the mailer for the convenience of the citizens. They didn’t and the omission speaks loudly.

If you fail to vote “no” by written protest your silence is considered a “yes” vote and acceptance of the increases. This is a rare instance in the California Elections process where doing nothing means yes.  If you do not own property then you have no right to vote even though you will be impacted, because such costs will be passed through as price or rent increases.

It is not the purpose of this letter to advocate for or against the water and wastewater rate increases.  That is your decision.  It is our purpose however to explain the proposition 218 processes and provide a convenient way for you to exercise your right to vote.  You will find a copy of the RATE PROTEST FORM here.

BE AWARE OF YOUR RIGHTS

Most people are not even aware of their right to vote.  A few are very aware and have gone to the Internet to urge Venturans’ to file a protest vote.  One such person had this to say:

“Attached is the form to protest the proposed water rate increases for Jul 1, 2014, July, 1, 2015, Jul 1, 2016 and July 1, 2017. In my opinion every resident getting their water from the Ventura Water Company should be filling out this form and sending it in. A quick review of these proposed rates indicates that they raise my water bill 40% from 2014 through 2017… This time I am protesting these new proposed rates. (Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me.)

         Plus I really don’t think we as subscribers should be saddled with the City’s and the Water Department’s missteps…i.e., the $55 million for the Heal the Bay lawsuit settlement related to the treated water they dump into the Santa Clara estuary, the $630,000 fine for the Water Department not meeting the required ammonia level restrictions for the water they dump into the Santa Clara estuary, the $300,000 they spent pumping water from the estuary into the ocean to lower the estuary water level to alleviate the flooding of McGrath State Park. (Note that as soon as they stopped pumping McGrath flooded once again. Sounds like a plot from a Three Stooges movie)”

Editors’ Comments

We, in our society, are not accustomed to elections being conducted in this fashion.  The normal election process is made easy for us. We receive a voter pamphlet that describes the new law, arguments in favor of the law and those against.  We then receive our written absentee ballot, or go to a polling place where we are handed a ballot and we cast our vote.  This one is different and is not made easy by a City government, which constantly asks for our trust and confidence then goes stupid and does everything to earn our distrust by sending out a notice that is not calculated to fairly and effectively enable the citizenry to vote.

HOW TO OBTAIN NEARLY HALF A BILLION DOLLARS WITHOUT AN AFFIRMATIVE VOTE

A Water Commission Helps Ventura Comply with Prop 218

A Water Commission prevents Ventura’s City Council from playing fast and loose with Prop 218.

Proposition 218, contained in California Constitution, Article XIII D, section 6, was enacted by the voters in 1996. It says that a City cannot charge a fee for a public utility that exceeds the amount necessary to provide the service – called “the cost of service”. The costs of those services are not considered a tax, but instead it is considered an expense of providing the service.

Tax increases require a 2/3-voter approval. Proposition 218 is different. The City Council must first approve the new rate in a formal hearing and then they “must notify all property owners before imposing the property-related fee”. Not less than 45 days after this notice is mailed, a hearing is to be conducted.  If written protests against the new fee are presented by a majority of owners, the fee cannot be charged.

In 2012 and again in 2014 the City Council appointed a Citizens Advisory Committee to totally immerse themselves into the cost of delivering of water and treatment of wastewater throughout Ventura.  The Committee was charged with determining the need for increased rates to meet operational costs; water capital improvement projects of $210 million and $231 million for Waste Water capital projects through 2025.

These were formal hearings conducted at the water department offices but were not televised or recorded.

This was a formidable task.  Water and Wastewater personnel sought rate increases to build financial reserves so that they could then finance and build projects. The total amount sought for Water and Wastewater capital improvement projects was $441 million.

In the end, the Committee recommended rate increases to the City Council to raise 50% of the cost so that the City of Ventura would be in a strong position to finance the balance of the cost projects over a longer period of time.

Cost to the ratepayers was of real concern. At the same time this Committee was unanimous that we, as a community, had deferred maintenance for far too long. If our community did not address aging water infrastructure, replacement water wells, pumping facilities and water/sewer lines now, the costs of financing such items would be far too great in the future.

MANAGING THE COST OF WATER—TIME TO APPOINT A WATER COMMISSION

Of major concern to this committee was the amount of money that Water and Wastewater was seeking.

$441 million is a lot of money that needed to be managed.  Programs were not yet planned. How to manage treated waste water had not been developed. The Committee was confronted with the most difficult task of making informed and reasoned decisions to determine how much money we needed. However it does not end there.

For all of the above discussed reasons, the creation of a Water Commission to monitor Ventura’s water and wastewater is fundamental to the committee recommendation. Unanswered questions and ongoing decisions are still needed in managing this $441 million commitment.

EDITORS’ COMMENTS

The City Council has many constraints on their time and numerous issues that they confront weekly.  They do not have the time to effectively monitor and mange a complex public utility involving millions of dollars annually.  A permanent CITIZENS WATER COMMISSION is a clear solution.

Such a Commission, in addition to assisting the City Council in meeting their obligations as elected officials, will bring oversight on behalf of rate payers.  Appointing former water district managers, engineers, geologists and other professional disciplines, who have the education, experience and knowledge, will serve everyone’s interests.

Editors:

R. Alviani      K. Corse      T. Cook
J. Tingstrom  R. McCord   S. Doll

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