“…Great responsibility follows inseparably from great power.”
What’s next for Ventura with a new City Council and a new City Manager? Is Ventura better prepared to meet the challenges of 2019 and beyond? At the inception, the answer may be no. It takes time for city government to change course even if danger signals abound. Given time, however, there are many things to be hopeful about.
Ventura Welcomes A New City Manager
As of this week, Ventura’s new City Manager, Alex McIntyre, started his new position and will begin getting acquainted with staff, community leaders and the city at large.
Mr. McIntyre is no stranger to managing municipalities so it goes without saying that he will become intricately familiar with Ventura’s budget and various legal agreements over the next few months. He begins his working relationship with a seven–member city council, two of which will be new and inexperienced. He also will meet a notoriously entrenched bureaucracy.
Because the former City Manager, Mark Watkins, left the City Manager position in December 2017, Ventura has operated with interim city managers for 11 months. During that time, city employee turnover and vacancies has become problematic. One job site showed 55 City of Ventura job openings alone.
The first priority will be filling positions critical to providing departmental leadership, and in turn quality public services. Key positions, such as Public Works Director and Finance and Technology Director, will likely be filled by one of Mr. McIntyre’s own team members. Other key positions and new direction are badly needed in a community that is still struggling with the Thomas Fire rebuilding programs.
Notwithstanding assurances from the Community Director, after the Thomas fire disaster, the rebuilding process has not been smooth. Hundreds of citizens have been presented with inconsistences in building, planning and permits for Thomas Fire victims trying to rebuild and repair their homes. Then there are some homeowners who are concerned that any form of complaining will further delay the process but these same homeowners share many horror stories outside of City Hall.
As an example, while one planning checklist says that a Mechanical, Electrical, and Plumbing services report (MEP) is not required for homes under 3,000 sq. ft., Building and Safety has been known to request an MEP anyway. While maybe this request is made as an abundance of caution, it places long delays and huge costs and angst upon the fire victims. Another homeowner, who lost their home in Clear Point, remained upset that after the height allowance for 2 story homes was increased because of complains by homeowners, the height allowance for single story homes was decreased.
While these types of arbitrary decision can be appealed, an appeal process may take months or longer. For folks who just want to get past the nightmare and get back into their home, this is a cruel and harsh procedure. It is strongly suggested that the process be reviewed and a streamline. It is recommended that a 5 day appeal process be implemented to eliminate any bottlenecks in the building & safety and permit process. This would be a good first step for our new City Manager. Building confidence in his leadership is very important for the community.
A New City Council And A New City Manager
The next priority will be the education and training needed to help the new city council become fully familiar with city budgets, the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR), finances, the Casitas Water Agreement and various other legal agreements, protocols and procedures so future decisions will be based upon a good understanding of past city council actions.
Finally, getting a realistic handle on whether to now spend another $536 million on the Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) projects, for new water and wastewater plants, within the timeframe mandated by the Wishtoya Foundation Consent Legal Decree, or extend the date for compliance of that agreement is extremely important.
Compliance with the current deadline of January 1, 2025, is likely improbable. That 2025 deadline for compliance is looming, yet after 6 years of numerous biological studies, the State Water Board has still not made any decision on how much of the 9 million gallons per day of treated wastewater can continue to be released into the Santa Clara Estuary, or how much of that wastewater must be pumped and used for other purposes.
State experts have reported that Direct Potable Reuse (DPR) of wastewater is not safe for human consumption and further studies on the safe use of that water are not planned for another 3 years. Even if approved, the State of California will then have to develop and approve statewide standards. When and if that happens, this would be followed by a complex EIR and State Water Board hearing process to determine specific standards for Ventura.
Nowhere in the U.S. have regulatory standards been approved for DPR. Notwithstanding these hurdles, the majority of this past City Council has continued to march toward compliance by 2025, and continue to plan to raise water and wastewater rates to build projects for DPR. It is obvious that the City of Ventura must take further action available through the Wishtoya Agreement. Read the Consent Decree here.
In 2017, Ventura experienced one of the worst disasters in its history with the Thomas Fire. The city’s financial and human resources have been extended beyond its limits. Add that to the burdens of a Federal Consent Decree agreed to in “private session” by the City Council in 2012, and our community faces real financial distress. It is imperative that the City of Ventura take the legal steps now and direct the City attorney to petition the court to extend the implementation deadline until 2030 -2035. The Consent Decree recognizes and permits that process in article 26. Why the immediate past City Council has been dragging their feet on this issue is perplexing. If there is a good reason, nobody is sharing it with those who matter – the citizens and rate payers.
With great power comes great responsibility. The new City Council and City Manager bear the burden of facing daunting challenges. We hope they will be powerful enough to meet those challenges.