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

With Water, The Simplest Solution Is Best

“Water is life, and clean water means health.” —Audrey Hepburn

with waterVentura needs to get its priorities straight about water—and fast. On July 9th, Ventura Water will ask the City Council to approve direct potable reuse (DPR). Ventura Water views DRP as a primary alternative source for increased drinking water. The project will cost $538 million of taxpayer dollars. The trouble is, it’s an untested, unproven and unregulated solution to our water needs. Why would the City Council gamble with the health of its citizens?

Ventura Water already gave a similar presentation to the Ventura Water Commission in May, when they asked the commission to approve the 2018 Annual Water Report. Ventura Water’s priorities were to add DPR as an additional water source. State water would only act as a backup supply to the recycled water program.

The Ventura Water Commission rejected the idea. They made it clear that the city should look to State water as a primary resource to supplement our existing water sources and reconsider DRP only as a backup when it is perfected.

How We Got Here

with waterTwo legal agreements jeopardize Ventura’s water supply. The first was a Consent Decree requiring Ventura to cease putting 100% of its treated wastewater into the Santa Clara River estuary. It needs to be diverted somewhere else by January 2025.

The Consent Decree stems from a Federal complaint filed by Whistoya Foundation [WISHTOYA VS. CITY OF SAN BUENAVENTURA, CASE NO. CV 10-02072]. The City Council consented in March 2012. Rick Cole and Shana Epstein signed the consent decree on behalf of the city. The city no longer employs either of them.

The second was a new contract between the City of Ventura and the Casitas Municipal Water District executed by the City Council in May 2017. The new contract obligates Ventura to reach Water Balance by 2020 to maintain its current water rights. To achieve water balance, Ventura must find an additional source of water.

Both agreements are disturbingly vague. The Consent Decree requires Ventura to cease putting treated wastewater into the estuary. It doesn’t specify where to place treated water or how to use it. It only states it cannot go into the estuary.

There is one exception. If a scientific panel, based on biological studies, decides the environmental health of the fish and wildlife in the estuary need that water, Ventura may release 50% into the inlet. There have been four studies in the last six years. The findings indicate the risks are unacceptable. We’ve noted some of them below.

with waterThe new Casitas Water contract entitles Ventura an amount of water based on projected needs and adjusted for drought staging conditions. Ventura Water anticipates our water needs at 5,669 acre-feet per year by 2025. By then, they expect we’ll be out of our current drought conditions. Under the1995 contract, Ventura was allowed 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. The new contract changes that and puts East Ventura at a disadvantage. The old agreement allowed Ventura to blend Casitas water with the East End to achieve better quality. The new contract does not allow any use for the East End of Ventura.

The Race To Make Ventura First

Ventura Water seized the opportunity to make the city the first to used recycled wastewater to drink. No cities in the world have used recycled water except Windhoek, Namibia and a small town in Texas. Neither place had other water options.

Since 2012, employees at City Hall and the Ventura Water Department have been actively publicized and pushed VenturaWaterPure. They view the project (toilet-to-tap) as the primary source to supplement our drinking water resources. They believe State Water should only be used as a backup in case something went wrong with the recycled water.

Ventura Water says we need the project:

(1) To augment our water supply from a reliable source

(2) As beneficial reuse of wastewater effluent

(3) To improve our water quality.

They assure us that VenturaWaterPure will meet these goals. Their assurances are misleading and just not right.

What We Know Now

We’ve learned a lot since 2012 when this began. For instance, in February 2018, Stillwater Sciences issued a final report on releasing treated water into the Santa Clara River estuary. It recommended diverting 40%-60% of the wastewater, not 100% as initially presented to the City Council. Stillwater Sciences filed the report with the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB). The SWRCB has not decided on the amount to be released yet.

with waterIn August 2016, a report by a state-appointed panel of experts concluded it was “technically” feasible to use DPR, but there are serious health risks. Here are some fundamental problems outlined:

  1. Guidance and regulations currently do not exist for DPR
  2. Of specific concern are chemicals adversely affecting the development of fetuses and children, plus any as-yet-undiscovered compounds.
  3. There are no standards to guard against Cryptosporidium, and Giardia to maintain a risk of infection equal to one in 10,000.
  4. Reverse osmosis is unable to detect and remove low molecular weight compounds such as halogenated solvents, formaldehyde, and 1,4-dioxane.
  5. The inability to identify solvents on the Proposition 65 list that reverse osmosis membranes cannot remove.

Notwithstanding this new information, the City of Ventura continues in its pursuit to be the first to use recycled wastewater for drinking. The water department soldiers on and plans to spend many millions of dollars starting in July 2018 for consultants and a project that may never see the light of day.

The Cost Comparison

with waterThe cost of DPR wastewater is high. According to the Capital Improvement Plan (CIP), the wastewater and water costs will total approximately $538 million once financing costs are added. Included in those costs are advanced purification facilities to treat the wastewater that will cost $77.7 million. Also included is another $170 million to pump the water north to the desalination/Reverse Osmosis plant. Other infrastructure improvements comprise the remaining costs—including a brine line to carry away contaminants from the new RO plant.

By comparison, the pipeline for State Water is estimated by the Ventura Water Department to cost $27 million. That does not include the annual fee for the State Water Pipeline (SWP) entitlement. The city currently pays $1.2 million per year for that option (which the city never used). Over $50 million has been cumulatively paid in annual installments to the SWP since 1972 and will continue until 2035. Every citizen’s water bill includes a portion of that payment. Nor does it cover the additional cost of water pumped through the water line.   Keep in mind that State water can be injected directly into the Ventura water system. The water is reliable and used throughout Southern California.

The Decision Facing The City Council With Water

The City Council will make a monumental decision on water July 9, 2018. They will set Ventura’s water priorities for decades to come.

They will be asked to decide between State Water and DPR as the first supplement to our existing water supply. Their decision will send a message whether Ventura wants to be first with an untested, unproven, unregulated water system with DPR or safe with State Water. We will also learn whether they will listen to the Water Commission or ignore their recommendations.

Finally, we’ll learn how the City Council plans to comply with the Consent Decree. Will they accept scientific findings to divert only 40%-60% of treated wastewater from the Santa Clara River? Or will they ignore the Decree’s exception and insist on diverting 100% at the cost of $400 million?

Editors’ Comments

with waterThe City Council must make a policy decision now and direct Ventura Water to concentrate on the importation of State Water immediately. The current effort to plan, finance and build a VenturaWaterPure treatment plant and RO plant to process recycled water for DPR by 2025 must stop or at the very least be delayed until further study.   We only hope that the City Council has the leadership and strength to change course and not feel bound by this misguided concept of past water leaders.

Protecting public health is paramount. Complying with the Consent Decree is also essential, but we can keep our part of the bargain and adhere to the decree by pumping the water into settling ponds for absorption into groundwater basins such as the Mound basin, then ultimately into our water system.

Lastly, we don’t need to build a desalination plant/RO facility now or in the next five years. However, it should not be forgotten. It will be required in the next 25 years to filter water pumped out of the Mound basin and to filter DPR.   We must prepare our community for that as our population continues to grow.

As for the Consent Decree, we suggest that the City Attorney get to work. Present the fact that the current project is infeasible due to technical infeasibility and lack of regulations and extend the term for compliance beyond January 2025—say 2030. If they do not agree, that is why we have a court that will listen to logic, and common sense hopefully will prevail.

Insist The City Council Makes State Water Ventura’s First Option

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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three unaddresed issue

Unaddressed Issues That Threaten Ventura’s Quality Of Life

overcoming unaddressed issue

Three unaddressed issues will be difficult to overcome.

VREG’s STATE OF THE CITY

[THE UNADDRESSED ISSUES MAYOR NASARENKO NEGLECTED TO DISCUSS]

No doubt that Ventura is a magnificent place to call home. On many aspects, VREG agrees on more points with our Mayor and City Council, than disagree. Ventura’s citizens are proud of our fine police force and our fire department. Our city employees are a dedicated group of men and women, who work hard and serve the community well.

THREE UNADDRESSED ISSUES

Some issues Mayor Nasarenko highlighted in his State-of-the-City speech are ones VREG has written about for years. Ventura has several issues that need attention before they grow out of control.

Mayor Nasarenko identified water and pensions among those issues in the State-of-the-City. The impending Brooks Institute lawsuit was conveniently overlooked. The mayor was short on details on how to solve them.

WATER: UNADDRESSED ISSUE #1

overcoming unaddressed issue

Water has been an unaddressed issue for over 37 years.

For 150 years, Ventura has failed to find an alternative source for water. In fact, with the loss of the Ventura River water wells, there are fewer resources. In 1972, Ventura opted to import 10,000 acre feet of water from the north. Ventura has paid and continues to pay for that every year without any pipeline with which to receive it. In 1989, the community faced a drought, and 52% elected to pursue desalinization. 48% chose to build a pipeline as an alternative. For the last 26 years, nothing has happened.

Now, with another 7-year drought which may be ending, a recent editorial in the Ventura County Star on the water crisis states:

“The department’s poor handling of Ventura’s water has created an avoidable “perfect storm.

“The loss of Lake Casitas water will force it to adapt cross-town pipelines and start pumping east-side water to the west side to meet demand. Continued implementation of the horribly timed housing boom on the east side will further exacerbate water shortages and leave residents with high-priced/low-quality water and not enough of it.

“Meanwhile, the city is frantically trying to dig replacement wells rather than moving ahead with new ones, and consumers’ water bills will go even higher to offset that cost.”

In January, the Ventura City Council authorized a $430,976 study (or as low as $297,176 depending upon the results of the engineering study) to research the cost to connect to the State Water Project. The State Water Project that has existed for 46 years. Yet, Ventura cannot use it without extra infrastructure.

CITY COUNCIL NOT CONSIDERING ALL AVAILABLE OPTIONS

Our Mayor has also shared that Ventura is looking at potential sites for a water reuse plant. Dubbed the Ventura Water Pure, the plant is an advanced treatment facility. It will take 8 years to build the treatment facility. Projected costs range between $120 million and $142 million.

Water from this treatment facility could cost less than state water and would be more reliable. It is also about half the cost of energy-intensive desalinated water. From the start, such a plant could yield about one fourth of the city’s current annual water demand. According to our Mayor, the plant could later expand to meet future supply needs of Ventura.

One advantage of connecting to the State Water Project is that it will not take 8 years like the Ventura Water Pure plant will require.

Is there another water rate increase in the offering?

PENSIONS: UNADDRESSED ISSUE #2

overcoming unaddressed issue

Pensions are an unaddressed issue Ventura struggles with.

CalPERS annual billing for pensions is rising faster than employee contributions. As a result, the city continues to lose ground on employee pensions. The city’s annual cost of $16 million is projected to be $25 million by 2023. Ventura’s CalPERS payments are rising at over $1 million per year. Because CalPERS lowered its rate of return to 7% from 7.5%, add another $750,000 to the $1 million annually.

While our Mayor acknowledges the problem, he offers no solutions.

BROOKS INSTITUTE LAWSUIT: UNADDRESSED ISSUE #3

In August 2016, VREG concluded a lawsuit over Brooks Institute was inevitable. The lawsuit will come at taxpayer expense. The City Council and the City Manager downplayed the possibility at the time. This may have been an attempt to deflect the seriousness of the problem.

Fast forward to Feb. 8, 2017, one week before the Mayor’s State of the City. Ventura is now suing Brooks.

Editors’ Comments:

City government tries its best to serve our citizens.  Like any community, there are also areas that either need improvement or simply require attention before big troubles get out of control. This is a collective reminder that we, as a community, through our elected officials, still have work to do in vital areas in order to sustain our way of life.

THINK VENTURA SHOULD TACKLE AT LEAST ONE UNADDRESSED ISSUE?

[WRITE YOUR COUNCILMEMBER]

Click on the photo of a Councilmember to send him or her a direct email.

Erik Nasarenko,
Mayor

Neal Andrews,
Deputy Mayor

Cheryl Heitmann

Matt LaVere, Ventura City Council

Matt LaVere

Jim Monahan

Mike Tracy

Christy Weir

Editors:

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

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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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Keeping track of the City Council

Keeping You Up-to-Date On The City Council Decisions

SUMMARY UPDATE OF CITY COUNCIL DECISIONS

In our last several publications we treated issues that are important to our community. We now provide updates on those issues as they have evolved and as information has become available:

(A) The 911 Fee

You refused to pay, filled out the forms and opted out, but you are being charged monthly. What more could happen? Out of town residents have been ensnared in the program. Those who purchased their cell phones in Ventura are being billed. The City has no jurisdiction over them but they are being charged the fee. The official response of the City is “we are working on it, or it is the fault of the telephone company”.

If you are one of the 27,000 that opted out you should check your bill and write a letter to the Council.   At $1.49 a month, the City is collecting approximately $40,000 per month from you and they are not entitled to it. What a mess!

There is light at the end of this dark tunnel. The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association has drafted a civil complaint to determine that this ordinance is a tax under Proposition 218 and therefore illegal. The complaint is to be filed in the next two weeks.  Reported in today’s Ventura County Star another lawsuit is planned to compete with this one.

(B) Increased Fees

[A Quest — “Who’s got the soap”?]

In our last three monthlies we reported to you that the City Council is seeking to increase fees and raise another $2.6 million dollars, and that the early June Council meeting the issue was tabled after Councilmen Fulton and Summers commented that there had not been sufficient time for the community to address this issue.  Another important point was the inability of anyone to obtain and read the MAXIMUS REPORT(s) [the experts hired by the City), which was designed to be the “legal” for the fee increases in the first place. These reports could not be found.

Somehow that lack of critical financial data did not stop the Council from increasing fees in 2006 and 2007. So, good reader, ask yourself how an elected official can vote to increase fees based on a report that they don’t have? Or, you ask rhetorically how an elected official can ask the community to pay another 2.6 million dollars if they are not able to provide logical answers?

In July VREG received the MAXIMUS 2004 AND 2007 reports. These reports only provide conclusions and none of the basic financial data that led to those conclusions. For example, the 2007 report incorporates a “Cost Plan which has been provided as a separate document”. That plan is not available. Another example, the 2004 report says that MAXIMUS “used the standard methodology that we have employed for hundreds of similar studies: MAXFEE”. At page 29 the reports says “MAXIMUS provided the voluminous detail and background materials behind all of the calculations and analysis to the City under separate cover. Appendix 5 of this report contains the summarized results (potential fees)”.

VREG has not been able to locate the basic cost report that served as the foundation for the MAXIMUS reports. Officials at the City have been helpful, and now have provided all eleven (11) appendices. The cost report has not surfaced. It is hoped that the Council will not race to judgment until all parties have a chance to evaluate the data.

(C) The Firefighters’ Pension

In a vote of 4 to 3. the Council approved the Memorandum of Agreement and the new pension contract with the firefighters of this city giving them a pension equal to 3% of their highest salary times the number of years in service plus all medical, dental. The yeas were Councilmen Fulton, Brennan, Summers and Monahan. The neighs were Mayor Weir, Councilmen Andrews and Morehouse. It should be of grave concern to all when one councilman says, before he cast his “NO” vote – “I HAVE GRAVE CONCERNS TO COMMIT WHEN WE DON’T KNOW WHERE THE FUNDS WILL COME FROM”.

Editors Comment:

Councilmen this was an increase of 33 1/3%!

The councilmen casting the yea votes and our fire chief, Mike Lavery, defend their position by saying that they need more benefits because they must remain competitive with other cities and counties, using as a current example the fact that they have unfilled openings. When asked why they are not filled, the answer is that the Chief REQUIRES all firefighters to be trained paramedics.

We all want qualified firemen and police officers and certainly want Councilman Summers “to sleep well at night knowing that he has the best public safety officers” (quote from his speech on August 4th) but somewhere a limit must be established on how much of our general revenues will be devoted to this purpose. The City of Vallejo is in bankruptcy because they devoted 80% of their budget to this purpose compared to Ventura at 51%.

How much of your tax dollar do you want to pay out for police and fire? You only have 49 cents left to pay for streets, recreation, other employees and widgets, so what are your priorities? We at VREG would like to hear from you.

(D) The Sale Of State Water Options

 As previously reported we annually pay $950,000 to the State Water Project for the option to obtain 10,000 acre feet. Since 1972, we have paid $22,582,371. We are committed to pay another $25,650,000 through 2035.      The reality is that we will never build a pipeline, and that as a category A user we will only get a fraction of the entitlement because there is not enough water to meet all entitlements under drought conditions. Make no mistake – the Governator has declared a drought.

Since 1972, we have paid $22,582,371.

VREG last year proposed that the rights be marketed to meet our annual cost AND put money in the bank to help defer our water costs, and/or to hopefully fund and build a desalination/filtration plant. We are happy to report that the Council has commissioned Kennedy-Jenks Consultants to assist in an attempt to market Ventura’s contractual rights. There is precedent for such a step. Butte County recently received approval of the sale of their water rights on a one year plus one year option basis to Palmdale Water District. This was accomplished over the objection of the Los Angeles Metropolitan Water District, which charges $425 am acre foot for untreated water. This 800 pound gorilla objected to the Butte-Palmdale contract and you can expect them to object to any sale by the City of Ventura in any sum below that which is charged by the MWD.

Editors’ Comment:

Doesn’t take a lot to grasp the market opportunity here so we encourage the City Council to forge ahead with “viga”, all due dispatch and total disregard for the MWD.

WHAT’S ON THE HORIZON FROM THE CITY COUNCIL

(A) Rate Increase For Water and Sewer

Enclosed with your last bill was a notice that you will be paying more unless you object by SEPTEMBER 22, 2008. The following is a summary and what it will mean to you as an owner or renter:

SINGLE FAMILY HOME
Current FY2008-09 FS2009-10 Increase/%
Water Bill $59.46 $63.66 $68.63
Wastewater bill $64.16 $68.52 $73.27
Total 2 month bill $123.62 $132.18 $141.90 $18.28 = 14.7%
MULTI-FAMILY DWELLING (10 UNITS) -89,700 GALLONS
Water Bill $282.10 $300.38 $321.96
Wastewater bill $437.80 $467.50 $500.00
Total 2 month bill $719.90 $ 767.88 $821.96 $102.06=14.1%
COMMERCIAL OFFICE – 29,920 GALLONS
Water Bill $137.03 $142.85 $154.16
Wastewater Bill $83.71 $ 92.98 $100.23
Total 2-month Bill $216.74 $235.83 $254.39 $ 37.65/17.4%

* Rates include assessment for the contractual right to obtain water from the State Water Project. If that entitlement is sold to another user that income would go a long ways in lessening the impact of water costs on this community.

If you oppose the rate increase then by SEPTEMBER 22, 2008, you must mail your name, property address or parcel number to:

 

WATER RATES

CITY CLERK’S OFFICE

City of Ventura

P.O. Box 99

Ventura, CA 93002-0099

 

If you object you can also attend the City Council meeting on September 22, 2008, and/or can obtain information from Gary Lee at (805) 652-4253, or email him at glee@cityofventura.net.

(B) The “Crime-Free Rental Housing Program”

[Specter of Aldous Huxleys “Brave New World” of

The City Council has asked its staff to appear at the council meeting on October 20, 2008, to consider implementation of a new program called the ”Crime Free Rental Housing Program”. The draft proposal seeks more fees, purportedly revenue neutral – meaning it will only cost what it costs to enforce – projected at $400,000 from our citizens who own rental housing. The proposal seeks to force owners to have all of their apartments or rental home inspected to make sure there is no criminal activity and/or to make sure that all buildings are in compliance with building codes and all City regulations. Here’s the proposal:

 

  1. The owners of apartment will have to pay an annual fee for each apartment in order to raise $400,000. The fee is for inspecting each apartment to make sure it is crime free. The City has not said how much the fee will be, and they don’t know how many rental units there are in the City.
  2. The owners will have to attend formal training on how to prevent crime and to show them how they can manage their property and rental agreements.
  3. Initially and every 47 months afterward each apartment is required to be inspected (searched) by the Fire Department and/or the Police Department and/or Code Enforcement Officer [all law enforcement] to determine if any crime is being committed or to determine if there are any building code violations.
  4. If you don’t get the certificate you can’t operate your apartments and penalties will be imposed. If you get the certificate the City Manager is given the power to revoke your certificate, along guidelines that his office is to develop, you will suffer penalties The penalties that can be imposed:
    1. You may be cited for a misdemeanor, jailed and/or fined
    2. The property, summarily declared a public nuisance by this ordinance if it does not have a certificate, can be sold, the nuisance abated at the owners expense or destroyed at the owner’s expense
    3. If your certificate is not timely renewed you will receive an Administrative Citation, and penalties will be imposed for each day beyond the expiration.

A large number of owners have expressed strong objections to this program, and a committee has now been established to try to determine if such a program should be modified or abandoned as a bad idea. Initial indications are that some type of enforcement is being considered but it is not clear what form this will take. Information can be obtained from Andrew Stuffler (654-7837), the lead person for the City. He has stated that since the initial proposal their data has shown that 93% of owners with rental units have not had any code enforcement or law enforcement issues.

Editors Comment:

Another 911 fee fiasco? This proposal seeks to impose new fees for police, fire and code enforcement, the costs of which by law are paid by general tax revenue. New “taxes” require a citizens 2/3 vote, whereas “fees” don’t. Now the city wants to re-label the police, fire and code enforcement officer’s inspections as a service to prevent crime and/or enforce the law against wrongdoers (7%) by imposing the costs (fees) of enforcement on citizens (93%) who are law abiding. Just who comes up with these ideas in the first place?

In case they haven’t thought about it our new city attorney might review California Code of Civil Procedure 1822.5, which requires Inspection Warrants before a residence can be searched to enforce regulations, and the decision of CURRIER v. CITY OF PASADENA (1975) 48 C.A. 3d 810, which held a similar regulatory scheme unconstitutional.

If passed as presented we predict that the lawsuits will fly. We citizens will have to pay for the attorneys fees and costs on both sides.

 

Editors:

B. Alviani          S. Doll               J. Tingstrom

K. Corse            B. McCord         T. Cook

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