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Why You Need To Pay Attention To The 2020 City Council Election

Good intentions may do as much harm as malevolence if they lack understanding.”

—Albert Camus

The 2020 City Council election is this November. The challenges facing Ventura are so crucial that they will shape the city for decades.

Who the candidates will be for the Council in this election will likely be unknown until July. The nomination period opens July 13th and closes August 5th.

Our city is no longer the small seaside community to the north of the LA basin.  We are a growing community with all of the problems larger cities face.  We need qualified representatives to confront and solve those problems.  Candidates must have previous community involvement, education, experience and willingness to explore alternatives different from the sclerotic thinking and mistakes of the past.

Water Will Dominate The 2020 City Council Election

Every candidate will acknowledge that water is a concern for Ventura. The specifics on how to address the issue will vary, but how can you judge what they know? Here is what you should focus on.

Wishtoyo Consent Decree Compliance

Candidates for the 2020 City Council election must concentrate on the Wishtoyo Consent Decree, and the impact of the decree in the next decade. That Federal Decree requires Ventura to stop putting a majority of its treated wastewater into the Santa Clara River estuary, beginning in January 2025 through 2030.  To do so will be an enormous cost to the city.

We have advocated that the city must request a modification to the Wishtoyo Consent Decree to extend the deadline for depositing wastewater into the estuary.

VenturaWaterPure

Ventura Water has confused the City Council by combining two different ideas to falsely heighten the urgency to drink wastewater. In 2011, Venturans were told, “We are short of water.” Ventura Water proposed treating the wastewater we currently dump into the Santa Clara River into potable water at the cost of $1 Billion. They call the project VenturaWaterPure.

All candidates should remember $1 Billion is a large bet to place with the taxpayer and ratepayer money.   Will the candidates know that directly drinking treated water from the treatment plant is not approved and is not safe?  Do they know the details of injecting that treated water into the groundwater then pumping it back through a filtration facility?  Do they know there are less expensive ways to divert that water from the estuary?

Looming Water Rate Increases

Ventura Water will undoubtedly request a water rate increase from this next City Council. They will claim the money is for VenturaWaterPure or to improve the city’s water infrastructure. Water rates already went up by $220 million with water and wastewater increases in 2012-13. Any Councilmember and any candidate for City Council should be able to explain how Ventura Water spent the $220 million and why another rate hike is needed.

Ventura River Cross-Complaint

In 2014, Santa Barbara Channelkeeper filed a lawsuit alleging Ventura was taking too much water from the river, hurting habitat for wildlife. The city is not the only water user in the Ventura River and Ojai valley. So Ventura asked the court for a cross-complaint to allocate the burden of water sharing among the potential 14,000-plus property owners in the Ventura River watershed. Understanding this pending lawsuit is essential to the voters. The next City Council could approve spending another $4.4 million for legal expenses. Keep in mind that money is equal to the budgetary loss for the 2020-2021 General Fund. Any legal fees come out of the General Fund at the expense of public safety and street repairs.

Homelessness Will Be A Popular Issue In The 2020 City Council Election

Housing Ventura’s homeless is a high priority for the city. Most believe that affordable housing is the solution. As a bridge to permanent housing, Ventura’s homeless shelter, ARCH, is critical.

Ventura has 555 homeless people, according to the 2019 Point-in-Time count. Meredith Hart, Director of Ventura’s Safe & Clean program, believes the 2020 count will be higher. Ventura spends on its homeless are between $3.89-$4.59M per year.

All candidates must have a solution to homelessness, and they must not be afraid to challenge how and how much we are spending on the issue. The ARCH opened in February 2020, so we must allow time for it to impact the community. Yet, Councilmembers must be courageous enough to act quickly if the results are not favorable.

Candidates should also differentiate between the various types of people living on the street. Many of the homeless are “service-resistant,” meaning they will not agree to help regardless of the circumstances. The majority of the homeless are substance abusers or mentally ill. Others are vagrants. The city must have different plans to treat those genuinely needing help from the vagrants.

Budget Deficits For The Entire Term

Budget deficits will plague the new City Councilmembers throughout their entire four-year term. Knowing why the budget is running in the ‘red’ should be a significant consideration for every new city employee hired and every contract the City Council approves in the next four years.

The city staff projects a “most likely” budget scenario for 2020-2021 that will have a shortfall of $4.1M. It does not improve in the following ten years either. So the City Council must weigh the alternatives for cutting different city services.

Pensions Are A Political Third Rail

Pensions are the ticking time bomb nobody wants to discuss. They’re the political third rail issue that candidates ignore. Next year, the CalPERS payments will balloon by $2 million. That’s after a $2 million increase this year.

Pension obligations feed budget deficits. As pension obligations grow, it takes away money that would otherwise pay for essential city services.

Pensions will consume the Measure O tax increase by 2023. Any earnest candidate should demand city staff forecast the anticipated CalPERS increases objectively. Provide the Council with the necessary information to make financial decisions.

Voting By Districts In The 2020 City Council Election

Districts 2, 3 and 7 are competing in the 2020 City Council election.

The 2020 City Council election will culminate the switch from electing Councilmembers at-large to voting by districts—a process that began in 2018. The first round of district elections gave us inexperienced new Councilmembers to lead the city.

This election, voters will select Councilmembers in Districts 2, 3 and 7. Voters elected Christy Weir and Cheryl Heitmann as Councilmembers at-large, but they will now compete in Districts 2 and 7, respectively, if they choose to run again. District 3 will be an open seat as Councilmember Matt LaVere vacates his role to run for County Supervisor.

The city experienced growing problems with district governance when the demands about traffic, housing, crime and services of the districts do not mesh with the other districts’ views.

Campaign Finances

The 2018 City Council election was the costliest in the city’s history. The candidates raised a record amount of money.

A lot of that campaign money came from Political Action Committees (PACs). In 2018, the three largest PACs—Chamber of Commerce, Fire and Police—contributed $79,717 to candidates. Those PACs consider it money well spent if it buys them access to the elected candidates.

Voters should note the influence the PACs have over the 2020 City Council election. Pay attention to who contributes to the candidates, and what those PACs ask in return for their support.

2020 City Council election

2018 City Council election contributions

Growth As An Issue In The 2020 City Council election

council candidates

Growth means different things to different people. It’s inescapable that Ventura needs to grow. Everyone agrees that we need affordable housing. 

This year’s candidates need to acknowledge that growth and water availability are inseparable. They also need to recognize the opposition to more houses (the NIMBYs) by some in the community. Forward progress on growth means accommodating, integrating and compromise.

Every candidate must have some ideas on growth as part of his or her platform.

Editors Comments

Many complex issues face Ventura. All 2020 City Council election candidates need to be aware of the problems and have a plan to address them. We can’t rely on the candidates alone to be knowledgeable. It’s each person’s responsibility to be aware of the challenges before us. It’s equally important that each voter be confident that the candidates understand them. Only then do our elected officials represent us.

Keep these points in mind as you go to the polls in November.

 

Make Certain All Councilmembers Can Address These Issues Adequately.

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

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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 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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