Is Leadership Scarce In Ventura? The Censure Farce Suggests Yes

The Move To Censure Turns To Tragedy

VREG has been silent for six months. City Hall decisions have been hard to reconcile and easy to criticize, so we have held off joining in on the fray. It is difficult not to write about what has been happening with our City government, but as we explain below it has all the makings of a modern Shakespearean tragedy.

New City Council

In December 2022, voters elected three new City Council Members, Jim Duran, Liz Campos and Bill McReynolds. We will reserve the temptation to comment on their talents or lack thereof. Still with these three joining the other four (voters elected Jeannette Sanchez-Palacios after she was appointed to fill a prior vacancy, Joe Schroder, Mike Johnson and Doug Halter), the longest tenure of any of them is just over two years.

The historical knowledge of this group is limited to their personal experience, with little regard for past governmental actions. Some declare a ‘lifelong’ familiarity with ‘all things Ventura,’ but overseeing city politics from an elected city council perspective is far different from being a citizen. The most significant gap is understanding the difference between being in a ‘board of director role,’ as an elected council member, versus being a ‘department head, manager or even a CEO of a company.’ The first lesson they need to learn and accept is that the city council only hires two people for advice on the everyday management of our city, the City Manager and the City Attorney.

As City Councilmembers, they are not HR directors and do not micro-manage staff, city departments or budgets. The role of a council member is to set policy, direct procedures and, in some cases, make laws when necessary.

Councilmembers Unclear On Roles

The greatest surprise is that the staff does not work for the City Council. Councilmembers must understand that the staff answers to their supervisors and, as is human nature, will not jeopardize their position, supervisor or job if it is avoidable. And, to make matters worse, the staff may have budgets and goals contradictory to the public and the elected officials.

The staff can access details and information the City Council needs to make decisions or set policies. Yet, the staff is not the only source of information available to the City Council. Our elected officials must be truthful and ask tough questions about budgets, expenses, staffing, project deadlines, and other options before making decisions. No staff member has ever told the Council, ’We can cut our budget and staff and provide better efficiency with less.’ Again, the role of a Councilmember is to set policy, direct procedures and, in some cases, make laws. The Council cannot do that properly without being provided with all the options unbiasedly.

This concept of questioning or challenging staff information has led to dysfunction at City Hall for the last six months.

By observation, the City of Ventura is a wasteland regarding leadership. Recent Councilmembers have needed to be more experienced in their leadership roles. There has not been a permanent City Manager for over six months. During that time, several department heads were placed on leave or terminated. Most recently, there has also been an attempt to censure an elected Councilmember. All this while the new Mayor says that the city is in great shape with a ‘deep bench’ of staff, and another Councilmember says this is the best group of Councilmembers ever.

To Censure or Admonish Another Council Member?

Censure was the question before the City Council during a 5-hour special meeting. Notably, the City Attorney, who makes a living defining words, told the Ventura County Star there was no real difference between these two actions.

We beg to differ and refer to Mr. Webster. To admonish is ‘to warn or reprimand someone firmly’ while censure is ‘to express severe disapproval, typically in a formal statement.’  Without taking sides in this debate, it finally came down to a Council member using the wrong ‘tone’ with a staff member in an effort to obtain the information he wanted to do his job as an elected official for the benefit of the community.

When we asked some individual Council Members about the outcome of the meeting, one expressed that they wanted to take away the specific committee assignments for which the accused Councilmember received a ‘meeting stipend.’ This reply sounds purely punitive and more like retribution. The investigation may have been an indictment of something wrong, but it was never a legal judgment and certainly not conclusive of any wrongdoing. Judging their peers is not the role of a Councilmember. All seven need training in what their roles are.

Plenty of Blame to Go Around

We do not need the details of the HR complaint to comment on the actions of the Councilmembers. We know that the Mayor, City Attorney and City Manager (interim) were present and either did not witness or did not see fit to deal with the purported infraction when it occurred. Even the current City Councilmembers, in a very diplomatic way, did not see fit to question, deflect or detour the questionable ‘exchange.’ The Council and staff focused on the complaint and Mr. Johnson, but somehow there was no further discussion about the fact that eight other members on the dais were present when the ‘offense’ allegedly occurred. Instead, this becomes a 5-hour discussion that looks more like a ‘gang attack’ on one council member. We make no excuses for what may or may not have occurred. Yet, if something did happen, everyone present needs to share in the guilt.

Making the situation even more absurd was the City Attorney’s unilateral decision to hire an outside law firm for $75,000 to investigate the impropriety of one of his bosses.

Waiting for the Next Shoe to Drop

During the 5-hour discussion about censoring or admonishing Council Member Johnson, some members stood on three moral high ground standards:

  • ‘Zero tolerance’ for bullying.
  • Elected officials should hold themselves to a ‘higher standard’ of conduct than the ordinary citizen.
  • Even the ‘perception’ of disrespecting a staff member was severe enough to take action.

At this point, Councilmember, Liz Campos, stated publicly that her fellow Councilmembers disrespected and belittled her (2:25:08 to 2:28:28) in a closed session, with both the interim City Manager and City Attorney present.

Surprisingly, nobody commented on this statement. When will this investigation begin? Will the City Attorney contract another outside law firm to investigate Ms. Campos’ claims, and what will that cost the citizens?

And, given the three moral high ground standards set forth earlier in the meeting, there should have been four resignations from the four Councilmembers claiming that higher ground. Yet, there weren’t. If those four Councilmembers are to be true to their beliefs and to not be hypocritical, we expect four resignations when the investigation begins.

Editors Comments

We, as citizens, should be disappointed and embarrassed. The Shakespearean quote above is apropos.  It means goodness is bad, and badness is good.

Councilmembers and staff need to stop patting each other on the back for doing a good job when it is their job to perform their work and fulfill their assignments and quietly accept that a Councilmember might be verbally critical if they do not do their job.

What should the citizens of Ventura be entitled to expect? Hire a City Manager to manage our affairs and help the Council through decision-making. As for the City Attorney, he will always warn that the city can be ‘sued,’ but the possibility of a lawsuit cannot be the overriding reason for the Council to vote a certain way. The City Attorney’s job is to “advise” and help on legal matters.  A City Manager’s job is to help the council stay focused on their roles and priorities.

City Council’s priorities are budgets and safety. It is not to accept all staff reports and recommendations at face value. City Council’s job is to question, challenge and determine the best use of the citizens’ money.  It is not to be the cheerleader to all staff members or to accept every report and recommendation staff presents. The City Council is the last safeguard to protect the citizens against wasteful spending. Nobody recalls a time when the staff has reduced their budget or lowered their personnel count. While asking questions, one person’s inquiry may appear to be another person’s assertiveness or aggression. Answering Council’s questions is a large part of the staff’s job.

While other communities are trying to address housing, traffic, economic issues and crime, Ventura is squabbling and spending time pointing fingers and punishing each other.

You don’t like our tone? Is the message too harsh? Too bad. Get over it.

Tell The City Council To Focus On Their Job

Below you’ll find the photos of our current City Council. Click on any Councilmember’s photo and you’re email program will ready to 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. No matter what you write, however, share your opinion. Participating in government makes things better because our city government is working for all of us.

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How to hire better for the most influential job in Ventura

How To Make Better Hiring Decisions For The Most Influential Job In Ventura

Here we go again. Ventura is hiring its fifth City Manager since 2000.

The City Manager is the most influential job in Ventura’s city government. He controls millions of dollars and impacts Ventura for years to come. Unfortunately, he does this with little oversight from a part-time City Council.

Neither the City Manager nor the City Council has shown an ability to run the city in a fiscally responsible way. As a result, the Finance Department has provided the City Council with a projection that the City of Ventura will lose money over the next five years.

Four previous holders of the most influential job in Ventura.

For the fifth time since 2000, Ventura is hiring a new City Manager.

Poor Choices Lead To Financial Disaster

The City Council does a poor job of overseeing the City Manager. Former City Manager Rick Cole played financial games with the budget. He moved $7.5 million from the Public Liability Fund, Workers’ Compensation Fund, and Information Technology Fund to other areas in the budget. These moves made it appear as if the city’s budget was balanced. Unfortunately, the Council didn’t catch the manipulation or was unwilling to investigate further.

Former City Manager Donna Landeros reallocated $9 million earmarked for the proposed Convention Center to various city programs. Unfortunately, no one can determine what happened to the money.

Former City Manager Mark Watkins acted as the chief cheerleader on Measure O. He touted the money was for city services. Yet, oversight for Measure O has disappeared as the citizens’ committee has several vacancies. Measure O money will ultimately go toward employees’ pensions, not city services.

Moreover, the City Council’s decision to hire Mr. Watkins cost the Ventura taxpayer’s money. When Mr. Watkins took the most influential job in Ventura, the Council chose to increase his salary and bonus to $242,059. That was a $52,718 increase over his predecessor, Mr. Cole. Former Councilmember Christy Weir claimed hiring Mr. Watkins would save the city more money than the rise in his salary. Unfortunately, the figures don’t bear that out over the four years he served in the role. And now, Mr. Watkins receives his retirement pension based on his highest salary of $242,059.

The City Council put Mr. McIntyre on paid administrative leave. At the same time, Ventura hired an independent auditing firm to review city credit card usage from the city’s executive team and other spending. On December 12, 2022, Mr. McIntyre resigned before the audit results became public. The City Council accepted his resignation and paid him $150,000 severance pay.

There Will Be Pressure To Hire Fast

There will be pressure to hire the most influential job in Ventura quickly

The Council will feel internal and external pressure to act quickly. They’ll want to fill the vacant position immediately to provide leadership at City Hall. In addition, citizens will demand someone to manage the Thomas Fire and COVID-19 recoveries. The search firm Ventura hired to help find someone for the position will add to the pressure, too. Ventura pays the search firm when the new City Manager accepts the job. Typically, the fee is three months of the City Manager’s starting salary. In this case, it’s $76,177.

A hasty decision now could lead to adverse consequences in the future. Therefore, the Council should be deliberate, bold and thoughtful when hiring. Likewise, they should think creatively and progressively as they make their selection.

Balancing these goals will take work, and the Council must resist succumbing to the pressure.

Qualities Ventura Needs In A City Manager

The challenges facing Ventura’s new City Manager have never been more significant. The city is recovering from back-to-back adversities and requires steady leadership. Here are some attributes that the City Council should demand of the new City Manager.

Fiscal Responsibility

The new City Manager will inherit a budget with declining revenue and the possibility of a recession in the general economy. Therefore, the new City Manager must thoroughly understand the city’s budget and financial figures. In addition, they must include an understanding of fiscal policies, procedures and controls. For example, Ventura is spending over $100,000 on auditors to investigate city credit card usage by City employees and executive spending. Taxpayers wouldn’t have to pay this if the city accounting staff and the current assistants and deputies in the City Manager’s office had done their job and had implemented proper controls at City Hall.

Accountability

Residents expect the most influential job in Ventura to be accountable. President Truman said, “The buck stops here.” In Ventura, the “buck stops” at the City Manager’s desk, which applies to all the City Manager’s subordinates. The top person is accountable for results, even if the underlings underperform.

Communication

The City Manager must be able to communicate with various groups. For example, they must be able to collaborate with city staff, labor unions, the City Council, the media and the community. Also, the City Manager needs to articulate the city’s plan to move ahead following the Thomas Fire and COVID-19. They must also communicate changes in department policy and practices.

Transparency

Transparency begins with knowing how the City Manager is performing. The city should use Standards of Performance (SOPs) to measure achievement. Currently, the City Manager doesn’t have SOPs listed on its website. The Council should prepare SOPs, and the city should post them for the public to review. What’s more, the City Manager’s accomplishments should be in the public record. Citizens deserve a yardstick to measure if the city meets the City Council’s directives.

Results Driven

The new City Manager should be goal oriented and a self-starter. Once the City Manager understands the Council’s direction, this individual cannot wait for an elected, part-time City Council to implement action.   The new person must be able to meet deadlines to produce measurable results on the projects the city commits to completing.  The new Council intends well, but they are part-time. They do not have the ability or tools to implement their policy decisions and then follow up to ensure others successfully implement them. Only the City Manager and his lieutenants can do that.

Delegation

Delegating responsibility will be crucial to the new City Manager. Yet, delegation doesn’t mean surrendering responsibility. On the contrary, the new City Manager must regularly inspect the assigned projects for results and, if necessary, take action for missed goals.

What The City Council Must Avoid When Hiring A City Manager

Equally crucial to the qualities to look for in a new City Manager are the things the City Council must avoid when hiring that person.

Requiring Former Public Service

Nothing limits the candidate pool like requiring previous public service at the city, county or municipal level. Past City Managers had a bureaucratic background. Locking in on prior public service leads to a “status quo” in city government. Little new or original thinking will come from other public servants. If the city wants to change and improve, finding a person with a business management background would be more beneficial in the long run.

Negotiated Automatic Raises

One salary negotiating tool for a prospective City Manager is to ask for—and usually receive—a salary increase after a specified period. Mr. McIntyre negotiated such a deal, and the increase was unwarranted. Base all increases on meeting or exceeding predetermined measurable results. Tenure should not be a criterion.

Long-Term Severance Packages

Mr. McIntyre also negotiated a $300,000 severance package over twelve months if the City Council terminated him without cause. The severance was too much and will last for too long. Any negotiated severance packages should be at most six months.

Residency Requirements

Requiring a candidate to live in or close to Ventura limits opportunities. Local applicants may only be able to offer new ideas if they know a little history of what came before. It limits the ability to break from entrenched solutions and historical changes. Making needed changes requires fresh thinking that a local person may not have.

Unsuitable Compensation

Each successive City Manager has received higher salaries and benefits. Higher compensation hasn’t produced better outcomes from the City Manager, though.

The City Council should be critical when determining the salary for the new manager. The current compensation for Ventura’s City Manager may be too high. For example, outgoing City Manager McIntyre received $304,707 to manage a General Fund of $126 million and 600 employees. By contrast, Mike Pettit, Ventura County Assistant County Executive Officer, receives $322,355 to administer a $2.7 billion General Fund and 10,000 employees.

Only an extraordinary candidate with a proven track record would warrant a higher salary. Yet, while compensation expenses are an essential concern, now is not a time to “pinch pennies” for the right hire.

Editors’ Comments

Hiring the next City Manager is paramount. The City Manager is the most influential job in Ventura’s city government. The new manager will be responsible for healing Ventura from back-to-back adversities. Hiring the right candidate will affect Ventura for years to come. There can be no higher priority for the incoming City Council.

The Council should be slow, bold and thoughtful when hiring. They should select a replacement creatively by thinking outside the box. What they do now echoes in eternity.

Tell The City Council Not To Act In Haste When Hiring A City Manager

Below you’ll find the photos of our current City Council. Click on any Councilmember’s photo and you’re email program will ready to 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. No matter what you write, however, share your opinion. Participating in government makes things better because our city government is working for all of us.

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How To Connect To Your 2023 Ventura City Councilmembers

Our federalist system gives us many opportunities to participate in our democracy. Some forms of participation are more common than others. And some citizens participate more than others, but almost everyone has a voice in government.

Ventura is a small city. You should feel comfortable contacting any of the 2023 Ventura City Councilmembers to voice your opinion on any issue. The more active you are, the better the city becomes for all of us.

Meet Your 2023 Ventura City Councilmembers

We have a new Ventura City Council for 2023. We have three new 2023 Ventura City Councilmembers and four established members. Each of them has an email account with the city. Not everyone knows how to contact them, though.

We’ll give you the tools to contact any of the seven City Councilmembers. You’ll find most Councilmembers are responsive, particularly the newly elected ones. The new faces on this Council are Liz Campos, District 1, Bill McReynolds, District 5 and Jim Duran, District 6.

Jeannette Sanchez-Palacios is not new to the Council. She was appointed to District 4 in February 2020 when the elected Councilmember vacated his seat. This is Ms. Sanchez-Palacios’ first time being elected to the seat, though.

Governing By Districts

Our Councilmembers were elected by districts. While each Councilmember was elected by constituents in their district, they serve the entire city. You should feel free to contact any of the 2023 Ventura City Councilmembers regardless of the district in which you live.

Click On A 2023 Ventura City Councilmembers’ Photo To Email

Below you’ll find the photos of our current City Council. Click on any Councilmember’s photo and you’re email program will ready to 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. No matter what you write, however, share your opinion. Participating in government makes things better because our city government is working for all of us.

2023 Ventura City Councilmembers District 1 2023 Ventura City Councilmembers District 2
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2023 Ventura City Councilmembers District 5 2023 Ventura City Councilmembers District 6
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The 5-Year Thomas Fire Anniversary: Still Not Ready for Another Disaster

December 4, 2022, marks the fifth anniversary of the Thomas Fire, and many issues are still unresolved. What has the City of Ventura learned since the catastrophe? Are we safer? Are we better off? What has changed because of the fire? Did the city government fulfill its commitment to the victims?

These are difficult but necessary questions to answer. So, let’s look at what transpired after the disaster.

Indeed, it was Ventura Public Safety’s finest hour. Not one person died in the City of Ventura during the fire. Also, Ventura Police and Fire safely evacuated 27,000 people. Truly remarkable.

Yet, what happened next at the city government level undid these extraordinary efforts.

A Brief History Lesson

A look at the burn area on the 5-Year Anniversary of the Thomas Fire

2017 was not the first time that the hills of Ventura were aflame.  On September 26, 1970, the Ventura Hillside caught fire in the precise location where, later, builders developed the Ondulando and Clearpoint subdivisions. Twenty-six years later, the hills erupted in flames behind City Hall near Grant Park on October 26, 1996.

Wildfires are not new, yet two things were different with the Thomas Fire. First, more houses were in the fire’s path; so, the property damage was more significant than in the last two fires. Second, the city government’s response to the disaster varied from the two previous fires.

When it comes to the Thomas Fire, other factors contributed to the destruction of over 500 homes. Failure of the water generators at Ventura Water and the role of Southern California Edison played a part. Insurance companies and the courts will settle these contributing issues. We won’t address them here. Instead, we’ll concentrate on the actions of the City Council and how Ventura delivered services to the victims.

Where We Are On The 5th Anniversary

In 2017, the City Council promised victims the city would do everything possible to return them to their homes quickly. Ventura Community Development Director Jeff Lambert said

We are looking at least six months before construction can begin. So, if you are planning on rebuilding your home and seeking temporary housing, it would be best to secure a place for at least a year, if not 18 months to 2 years if possible.

Rebuilt Houses on 5th Thomas Fire Anniversary

On the fifth anniversary of the Thomas Fire, only 299 families out of 535 have returned to their homes. That’s a mere 55.9% of the victims back home. Another 70 rebuilds are in process, and 39 more are in the plan-checking phase. The owners of the remaining 127 homes may not rebuild for various reasons. They include:

  • A lack of adequate insurance to pay for the rebuild
  • The owners moved out of the area
  • The owners chose to keep the lot vacant until they either sell it or have the funds to rebuild in the future
  • The owners are searching for an architect or builder to help

All residents should ask themselves, “How can this be?” Is this what the City Council meant by returning victims to normal quickly?

Did Ventura Fail The Victims?

Evaluating the City's performance on the 5-Year Thomas Fire Anniversary

Soon after Ventura Fire extinguished the blaze, concentration on recovery waned. Whatever new “emergency” came before the City Council held their attention. Concentration on the recovery waned. The City Manager lost focus, and the successive City Councils allowed him to be unaccountable.

Focusing on what was immediate (the new issues) rather than the essential needs of the victims rendered homeless had a negative impact. Several examples illustrate how the City Council worked against the rebuilding process.

Inexperienced Leaders For The Thomas Fire Recovery

After the fire, Community Director Jeff Lambert left the city. Unfortunately, several other seasoned Community Development employees left, too. The departures decimated the department most critical to returning victims to their homes.

Community Development was leaderless while Mr. McIntyre sought a replacement. Finally, he settled on Peter Gilli, someone with no prior experience in a similar role. To compensate for Mr. Gilli’s inexperience, Mr. McIntyre layered on another level of bureaucracy. He appointed Assistant City Manager Akbar Alikhan to supervise Mr. Gilli., although Mr. Alikhan didn’t have experience in disaster recovery.

Delaying Thomas Fire Rebuilding Ordinances

The City Council added to the delays as they kept waffling on second-story height restrictions for rebuilding victims’ homes. The Council’s indecisiveness delayed the rebuilding process for many. Councilmembers attempted to please some fire victims wanting to improve their homes and, by doing so, delayed rebuilding for everyone.

Digital Subjugation Through The Permitting Process

To compound the victims’ woes, along came COVID-19 forcing Ventura City Hall to close. As a result, all rebuilding projects moving through the Community Development Department halted while the city scrambled to find a way to keep the government operating.

In a rush, though, mistakes happened. In the most egregious one, over a dozen plans submitted and in process under the old system disappeared when the city moved to the new online system. Weeks later, Community Development corrected the mistake, but the error further delayed the homeowners involved.

Under the new system, the only acceptable inquiries about the status of projects were by email. The system provides an email acknowledging the receipt of the plans upon submission. Yet, there is no way to track a project until a “reviewer” accepts that project into the system. A project is only recognized in the system after someone assigns it to a reviewer. Depending on how long it takes to choose a reviewer, the plans could languish for days. As a result, the system delayed many applications in the early days.

Revelations At The Thomas Fire Situation Review

The City Council reviewed what happened during and since the fire two years later.

The presenters brought to light several disturbing facts during the report. Chief among them is that Ventura is no better prepared today for a natural disaster than in 2017.

Ventura Fire Chief David Endaya said, “Ventura Fire is better prepared to clean up after a wildfire moves through.” And VFD is ill-equipped to fight such a wildfire, he said.

What was seriously lacking and not treated in the report to the City Council was how the city:

  1. Liaises with the County, State and Federal governments during a crisis
  2. Coordinates disaster relief
  3. Councilmembers are visible, and the steps they take to lead
  4. Evacuates citizens from disaster areas more effectively
  5. Communicates with the public (both providing warning and information)
  6. Handles mass care and shelter

Editors Comments

On the fifth anniversary of the Thomas Fire, Ventura residents still need a clear picture of how the city will perform in the next disaster. Furthermore, citizens have learned that Ventura City Hall is indifferent to returning them to normal.

The lessons the Thomas Fire taught are clear five years on. First, you can rely on only limited help from Ventura Fire and Police. They will do their best, but they have limited resources.

Second, you shouldn’t believe the city government when they say they will help. As we saw with the Thomas Fire, the city government may impede the recovery rather than improve it. The last five years reveal flawed systems, inexperienced people in crucial roles and a lack of follow-up and attention to detail.

Third, three successive City Councils made promises to the victims. Yet, each failed to follow through on the commitments—exhibiting a lack of attention to detail. Moreover, today’s Council still needs to establish whether the city has improved its readiness in the six vital areas listed above.

Fourth, there were other sources of delay besides the city government. Citizens also contributed to the slow recovery. Some homes were underinsured. Other homeowners expanded their homes’ footprint, adding time to the process.

Finally, the bottom line is that government cannot solve all our problems. Nor should we expect that.

Ventura will have another disaster in the coming years. It may be another wildfire, an earthquake, an act of terrorism, or something we can’t yet imagine, but there will be one. As a resident, you deserve to know if the city is well prepared.

Ask your Councilmember For Answers to the Shortcomings That Surfaced During the Thomas Fire

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.

Didn't receive money from the Ventura Fire Department Received contributions from the Ventura Fire Department
Mike Johnson received no money from the Ventura Fire Department Jeannette Sanchez-Palacios received no money from the Ventura Fire Department
Jim Friedman received contributions from the Ventura Fire Department Lorrie Brown is a Ventura Fire Department apologist
Joe Schroeder received no money from the Ventura Fire Department

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All You Need To Know About Local Campaign Issues 2022

Vote On Campaign Issues 2020 By Mail

From the start, VREG does not endorse candidates. Instead, our goal is to keep you informed and to educate you wherever possible. As part of that commitment, we want to outline the critical campaign issues facing City Council candidates in 2022.

If you live in Districts 1, 4, 5 or 6, you have a critical decision to make in this election. Your choice for City Councilmember will shape Ventura’s future for decades. How the candidates address the current campaign and the issues that confront our community today should guide your selection.

Meet Your 2022 City Council Candidates

First, familiarize yourself with the candidates. Campaigning has changed in the COVID-19 environment, so you may not be able to meet your candidates in person.

Incumbent Councilmembers Mayor Sofia Rubalcava and Jim Friedman have chosen not to run for another term. That means Districts 1 and 5 will have new representation. Voters in those districts should try to meet their candidates.

Three contenders have emerged to challenge incumbent Councilmember Lori Brown in District 6.

District 1

District 1 candidates top campaign issues

District 4

District 4 candidates top campaign issues

District 5

District 5 candidates top campaign issues

District 6

District 6 candidates top campaign issues

Ventura’s Key Campaign Issues In 2022

What campaign issues do you want your candidate to address? Your answer may depend on the district you live in but, regardless of your district, there are some citywide issues every candidate must address.

Water Is Among The Top Campaign Issues

Water and wastewater treatment will be among the costliest issues the City Council and, ultimately, you will face in the next four years. Ventura Water is asking the Council for over $259 million to complete VenturaWaterPure, making it as expensive to the city as public safety.

Ventura Water convinced the City Council to raise water and wastewater rates by 43% to pay for the project. They claimed the benefits would be another reliable water source by 2025 and, by doing so, we would comply with the Wishtoyo Consent Decree of 2012. Their message was that “your wastewater” would be the “reliable water source.”

Since the Council agreed to the rate increase, the project has had several significant changes.  First, the city relieved the supervisorial duties over VenturaWaterPure from then-Ventura Water General Manager Susan Rungren and turned them over to Linda Sumansky inside the City Manager’s office. While the change sounds trivial, it isn’t. Placing VenturaWaterPure under the oversight of the City Manager’s office takes water and wastewater decisions away from trained engineers and water employees and turns them over to politicians.

Despite losing oversight of WaterPure, Ms. Rungren kept the same salary as she had when she was solely in charge of the project. She has since retired at that elevated salary level, adding to the city’s unfunded pension obligation.

Second, Ventura Water reduced the scope of VenturaWaterPure significantly. Ventura Water will no longer build a state-of-the-art water treatment plant by 2025 to provide the reliable water it promised. Instead, they will treat the wastewater and dump it into the ocean. As a result, what’s known as the Ocean Outfall will be completed by 2025 to fulfill the 2012 Consent Decree. The advanced water treatment plant will be completed by 2030 if all goes according to the revised plans.

Third, the Water Commission approved none of the changes to the plan for VenturaWaterPure. Ventura Water is taking the changes to the City Council, circumventing the Water Commission’s input.

VREG pushed for a Water Commission to review and evaluate Ventura Water’s plans before taking them to the City Council. Commissioners should be people with more expertise in water matters than the City Councilmembers. The Council intended to pass water issues by the Commission before they went to the City Council when it formed the Commission. When it comes to VenturaWaterPure, however, Ventura Water appears to be bypassing that established procedure.

The last Water Commission meeting was May 24, 2022, with their next meeting scheduled for Sept. 27, 2022. It’s hard to say that the Commission is well-informed when it hasn’t met for over 120 days. To make matters worse, when they meet, Ventura Water uses the Brown Act to limit and control the agenda, so the Water Commission cannot get data, discuss details or have timely information.

Politicians Control WaterPure, Not Trained Professionals

Any discussion about water in Ventura should be about the cost of producing and delivering water to the citizens of Ventura. And that cost is rising. Ventura Water presented to a VenturaWaterPure Ad Hoc committee in August 2022. Ventura Water stated the planned expenditures would increase another $76 million, bringing the entire project to over $373 million. There needs to be more than the 43% water rate increase approved two years ago to cover the higher costs. Ventura Water will request another rate increase, most likely.

Find out from your candidates where they stand on VenturaWaterPure. How much do your candidates understand the litigation the city is involved in over water issues? Do they know what alternatives exist to the Wishtoyo Consent Decree of 2012? Do they know about the Ventura River litigation and the cross-complaint Ventura filed against 10,000 property owners along the river to determine water rights on the river?

Homelessness and Vagrancy Are Important Campaign Issues

Homelessness increased by a staggering 34% between 2020 and 2022. The city’s homeless count is 713 people. Only Oxnard, with a population twice the size of Ventura, has more.

Ventura’s homeless shelter is operating, although Covid-19 procedures reduced its capacity.  It costs the city $712,000 annually to house 55 of its 713 homeless. Last year, the city spent the same amount to house 27 homeless people.

Shouldn’t the Council and Ventura’s citizens know how much homeless services cost and how they get allocated? What should Ventura do for those not housed in the shelter? Some of the remaining homeless are vagrants. They choose to live the lifestyle and panhandle. How do candidates plan to combat vagrancy, so Ventura is more welcoming?

Public Employee Pensions Is The Toughest Campaign Issues

Employee Pensions Ranks First Of Campaign Issues 2020

Ask the candidates running in your district if they will work with the city’s unions to reform public employee pensions. The last time the City Council modified pensions was 2010, and those changes were modest.

The city staff believes pensions will level out in six or seven years. Yet, the bill came from CalPERS for this year’s contribution to the unfunded pension liability, and it was staggering. Ventura will pay $19.9M to CalPERS. Can Ventura last that long amid its other financial burdens? The city still hasn’t recovered from the Thomas Fire. The COVID-19 pandemic shuttered businesses for months, robbing the city of sales tax revenue. The new Amazon warehouse in Oxnard will further reduce Ventura’s sales tax revenue by between $700,000-$1,200,000.

Campaign Finances

The elections in 2020 were the costliest in history. Since district elections began, candidates have been spending more each election cycle.

The rising expenditures seem odd. By moving to districts, each candidate needs to reach a smaller number of potential voters (15,000 instead of the entire city). City officials intended district voting to help candidates spend less to be elected. Rather, district voting has had the opposite effect.

Voter turnout was high for the 2020 election. Presidential election years always bring out more voters. That was the case for the 2020 presidential election, a contested battle. Being an off-year election, the voter turnout in 2022 will be like the turnout in 2018.

We will track the candidates’ campaign finance reports to report this year’s totals.

Growth Is Always Among The Key Campaign Issues

Growth means different things to different people. Yet, it’s inescapable that Ventura needs to grow.

Ask if your candidates acknowledge that growth, jobs and water availability are inseparable. They also need to recognize and respect the opposition to building more houses with greater density and height throughout the community. Forward progress on growth means accommodating, integrating and compromising.

Editor’s Comments

Voting works best when people take the time to learn about campaign issues. We urge you to get involved. Educate yourself on the candidates’ positions on the campaign issues for 2022. We’ve provided a framework to ask pertinent questions. Use ours or develop your own but find out where the candidates stand.

Don’t succumb to the political feel-good clichés candidates use to attract your vote. Candidates always discuss growth and public safety while campaigning. Look beyond that. These are not the pressing campaign issues in 2022. The most demanding issues are water, labor contracts, long-term planning and service reductions. These problems with budgets, growth and water have happened over the last fifteen years. Ask yourself, “Do these candidates have the capabilities to solve these problems?”

Once elected, it’s vital to review the new Councilmembers’ performance. Elected representatives gloss over accountability and transparency while in office. They only give them “lip service” during election time. In the past, Councilmembers knew voters would forget their campaign promises over the next four years. It’s up to each of us to make sure that our elected officials do what they promised to do.

We respect anyone who steps up to run for office. Furthermore, we recognize it is difficult to subject yourself and your family to public scrutiny. So, regardless of the election outcome, we applaud everyone who threw their hat in the ring.

Tell the Council What You Believe Are the Real Problems Facing Ventura

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.

Didn't receive money from the Ventura Fire Department Received contributions from the Ventura Fire Department
Mike Johnson received no money from the Ventura Fire Department Jeannette Sanchez-Palacios received no money from the Ventura Fire Department
Jim Friedman received contributions from the Ventura Fire Department Lorrie Brown is a Ventura Fire Department apologist
Joe Schroeder received no money from the Ventura Fire Department

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Ventura’s 2021 State-of-the-City Address Lacked Visionary Leadership

Effective leadership is not about making speeches or being liked; leadership is defined by results not attributes.

Peter Drucker

 

2021 State-of-the-City Address gets an F

Ventura Mayor Sofia Rubalcava presented the 2021 State-of-the-City Address (SOTC) in June. Unfortunately, over time, the City Council has lost sight of the purpose of a State of the City address. The speech should aim to praise accomplishments when deserved but not ignore major problems where improvement is needed.

For Mayor Rubalcava, who has only been in public office for three years, her address avoided the topics of the challenges, did not give a sense of vision for the future, or reset the city’s goals as her recent predecessors attempted to do in their speeches.

To many Venturans, a State of the City is a formality—a feel-good report—to make everyone comfortable and have pride in their ‘fair city.’ To others, it is an opportunity to celebrate accomplishments, reset goals and provide a vision for Ventura’s future. However, what the residents need is a candid assessment of how the city will combat its challenges.

What Was Missing in This Year’s State-of-the-City Address

The mayor’s address didn’t mention the city’s critical issues. For example, Ventura has a precarious financial situation, as ranked in the State Auditor’s Report. Mayor Rubalcava ignored it. In addition, she never communicated any vision for how the city could be doing better with the Thomas Fire rebuild, the burden of pensions on the Ventura, the needed street repairs, the growing homelessness on city streets, or economic development. What a missed opportunity.

What We’ve Heard Before

Mayor Rubalcava began by saying, “The city is re-imagining the delivery of city services.” Regrettably, the only thing she discussed was implementing the Matrix Report, something her predecessor, Mayor LaVere, mentioned in last year’s address. Madam Mayor explained the backlogs and gaps in service but glossed over how much of the Matrix Report the city has implemented. Staff reports indicated that the city staff planned to implement 50% of the Matrix Report by June 30, 2021, but they did not meet that goal.

Main Street Moves Program Was Part of the 2021 State-of-the-City AddressIn 2020, the city implanted a program named Main Street Moves to allow businesses hurt by the pandemic shutdown to serve limited customers outdoors. Forty-seven businesses applied for outside operating permits under the program. Mayor Rubalcava gave an update on business operating permits. By June 2021, the number of companies requesting outside operating permits was 51. Most of the credit for those accomplishments belongs to those implementing them in the prior year.

Mayor Rubalcava lauded The Trade Desk’s multi-million-dollar remodeling of the fourth and fifth floors of 505 Poli—improvements completed in 2020 during Mayor LaVere’s term and mentioned in his 2020 address. Yet, the tenant improvements were not a city accomplishment. The city only leased space to The Trade Desk. The Trade Desk made the needed changes to suit their needs. Mentioning leasing the fourth and fifth floors of 505 Poli attempts to gloss over the Brooks Institute debacle. Leasing the space to the photography school revealed poor management by the Council and the City Manager’s office. A poor decision six years ago cost the community hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The lack of new information is unfortunate because the casual observer believes that the city accomplished very little in 2020-2021.

A Major Undertaking Mentioned in the 2021 State-of-the-City Address

One key point the mayor did make was that the 2021 General Plan update is underway. The updated plan will replace the 2005 General Plan that the city has been using. A 22-member committee is selected and ready to begin work recalibrating the city’s vision for the next 15 years.

Staking Our Vision on a New General Plan

The 2005 General Plan said, “…today in Ventura, as all across America, there is concern about the health of our democracy.

“Over those years, the ability to build consensus about future development has been undermined by sharply polarized divisions, showdowns at the ballot box, and often rancorous public hearings. The complaint often recurs that planning decisions are made without adequate notice or consideration of the views of those affected. Many citizens criticize the City decision-making process as convoluted and counterproductive.”

No one would blame you for thinking our city leaders expressed that vision in 2021, but they didn’t. Yet, the statement was the preamble to Ventura’s 2005 General Plan. The planners faced these conditions in 2005. Not much has changed. In fact, it’s worse.

Sixteen years later, we’re updating the General Plan because the state dictates we do it, yet the same problems persist. What’s more, we have new issues to address, such as recovering from the Thomas Fire and the COVID-19 Pandemic, shaky city finances, repairing our aging infrastructure, water, street repair, economic development and homelessness. Significant challenges, such as these, require visionary leadership.

Unrealistic To Plan 15 Years into the Future

2021 State-of-the-City Address emphasized the long-range General PlanLong-range planning like this is a fool’s errand. Nobody can look in the future to see what Ventura will need, let alone look 10-15 years in the future. It’s harder still for a 22-person committee. What committee could have predicted the Thomas Fire, the pandemic, Anthony Mele’s murder, and the business shut?

Even though long-range planning is nearly impossible, California instructs Ventura to update its General Plan periodically.

One Final Thought on The 2021 State-of-the-City Address: Majoring In Minors

Too much time in the 2021 State-of-the-City Address was spent on Hate CrimesMayor Rubalcava spent a good portion of her address describing Ventura Police and Hate Crimes. Several things about that were troublesome. First and foremost, she spent all that time talking about four instances in 2020. While hate crimes have received a great deal of national publicity, four out of 6,500 crimes locally in 2020 is a minuscule number of cases to be singled out and dramatized.

Second, when one goes to the Ventura Police site, something there is listed as a “Hate Incident.” It’s a non-crime where someone is demeaned or perceives someone demeans them. Dealing with perception appears to be an unenforceable situation for the police. Furthermore, if the police base the Hate Incident on perceived hate, who is the arbiter of that? Where does free speech end and the hate incident begin? Yet, this seems to be a feckless attempt at posturing to make Ventura appear that it’s in line with the national zeitgeist. Unnecessary, and it detracts from policing the other severe crimes in the city.

Who on the City Council or in the police force considered the costs of implementing the new program? It’s hard to imagine the added bureaucracy and reporting will outweigh the benefit of enforcing the hate incidents.

With so much attention focused on a few hate crimes, it diverted City Council attention from other critical issues like water, pensions, Ventura Fire Department, the fissure between management and staff at City Hall and the homeless.

Editors Comments

Where's the leadership in the 2021 State-of-the-City Address?An opportunity exists for the City Council to demonstrate genuine leadership.  The results of the last two elections have delivered an unprecedented turnover of all the Councilmembers quickly.  The voters expressed their desire for new leaders. Can these new members do something different from the past Councils?

Currently, any direction the city has seems to be haphazard. We see examples of a lack of leadership in a variety of places. Whether it’s a “phone-it-in” State-of-the-City Address, an anemic refreshing of the General Plan, or fretting over a negligible number of hate crimes, it shows the city leaders bounce from one topic to another without regard to the city’s long-term well-being. Voters should not accept this anymore.

Mayor Neal Andrews got it right in his 2018 State-of-the-City Address when he said, “We [Ventura] are no longer a quaint little beach town. We’re among the top 10% of the largest cities in California.” He recognized a truth many of us have known for years. Ventura has urban issues, and we can’t solve urban problems with provincial solutions. We need fresh thinking.

Tell the Council to Tackle the Real Problems that Need Addressing In the General Plan.

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.

Didn't receive money from the Ventura Fire Department Received contributions from the Ventura Fire Department
Mike Johnson received no money from the Ventura Fire Department Jeannette Sanchez-Palacios received no money from the Ventura Fire Department
Jim Friedman received contributions from the Ventura Fire Department Lorrie Brown is a Ventura Fire Department apologist
Joe Schroeder received no money from the Ventura Fire Department

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How to improve the Permit Services Department in Ventura

How The Permit Services Department Can Improve Building Code Enforcement

Thomas Jefferson would have found Permit Services tyrannical

When government fears the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny.”

Thomas Jefferson

Permit Services Wraps Property Owners In Red Tape

It’s true what they say, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” At least, that’s the case within Ventura Permit Services Department.

Nine years after the Ventura Grand Jury ruled that Ventura’s Code Enforcement Division was too aggressive, change has been slow in the Permit Services Department. So much so that during the 2020 City Council elections, three candidates ran on platforms to improve the department’s behavior. Now the City of Ventura believes that things will get better if it follows the consultant’s report titled the Matrix Report. However, those changes don’t go far enough. There needs to be a change in the philosophy within the department to make meaningful changes.

How Residents Interact With The Permit Services Department

One way to get involved in Ventura’s code enforcement is through the building and safety portion of the Permit Services Department. When a property owner applies for a building permit to perform some work to build or make home improvements, plans are required, and once a property owner starts the process, complications and delays begin.

For simple tasks, the owner pays a scheduled fee and the city issues a permit. An example of an easy job is replacing a water heater. After installing the heater, the property owner calls for an inspector.

A second way that owners can enter the system is through the involuntary Code Enforcement branch of Permit Services. In this scenario, someone complains about what the property owner is doing and calls City Hall and a code enforcement officer arrives on the scene to investigate the complaint.

The Process Breaks Down

It was clear to residents that a problem existed in 2012. Camille Harris, a concerned citizen, presented solutions to the city’s unfair code enforcement practices on CAPS TV. The feeling among residents was to avoid the building process as much as possible.

The 2011-2012 Ventura County Grand Jury opened an inquiry into the City of Ventura and its Code Enforcement Department’s practices and fee policies. At the time, many citizens complained of aggressive enforcement actions, verbal threats from code enforcement officers, unauthorized searches, threatening documents, preferential treatment, and an unfair appellate system. The Grand Jury condemned these code enforcement practices.

Changes within Ventura Code Enforcement Since 2012

The consultants made several recommendations in the Matrix Report. Click here for a complete listing of the changes.

Structurally, personnel and the department have changed. The Planning Department is now the Permit Services Department. Jonathan Wood is the Permits and Enforcement manager, and he oversees both permit issuance and code enforcement. Mr. Wood reports to Peter Gilli, the Community Development Director. In turn, Mr. Gilli answers to Akbar Alikhan, the Assistant City Manager. (see the Organization Chart)

Permit Services Organizational Chart

What Hasn’t Changed With Ventura Permit Services

By the end of June, the city will have completed 50% of the recommendations in the Matrix Report. Despite that, several things remain troublesome within Code Enforcement and Permit Services.

  • To residents, Code Enforcement and Permit Services appear to be punitive. For 40 years, department managers have said, “We work with people to make it user-friendly.” However, that statement is no more than ‘lip service.’ In reality, inspectors act as if they were police officers. They flash an official badge and demand entry, or they will get a warrant—the same behavior listed in the Grand Jury report. Several property owners told us disturbing stories. In some instances, one or more code enforcement inspectors arrive on-site uninvited. They videotape the scene and then write the property owners up.
  • Code enforcement employees defend their actions by saying they are looking out for everyone’s safety by enforcing state building codes. They didn’t create the regulations; they enforce them—the Nüremberg Jonathan Wood leads the Permit Services Departmentdefense.

When asked about judgment on the job, Mr. Wood puts it this way. “If there are areas with no life safety concerns that we can refer to the spirit of the law through common sense and judgment, we will.” Yet, we heard stories to the contrary. Property owners told us about inspectors that enter older buildings. They try to apply current building standards to them instead of researching the building standards at the time of construction.

It’s Not Easy To Protest

Protesting an accusation is difficult, time-consuming and frustrating. Once Code Enforcement receives a complaint, they assume the property owner is guilty until proven innocent. This mindset is contrary to the legal system in our country.

Inviting New Problems Into Your Home

Permit Services InspectorPermit Services still uses intimidation as a weapon. For example, the property owner calls for an inspection after installing a water heater replacement. The inspector arrives to make sure the water heater is hooked up correctly, the gas connection is correct, and the heater is strapped for earthquake protection. While there, the inspector looks for other building issues such as electrical, gas, venting, unpermitted structures, and more. If they see something, then off it goes to Code Enforcement. The homeowner soon receives a letter demanding corrections and threatening penalties unless the property owner makes changes within a limited time.

Permit Services Turns Neighbor Against Neighbor

Ventura Permit Services relies on snitchesComplaints drive almost all the code enforcement investigations. Reacting to accusations leaves little time for inspectors to discover infractions on their own.

Code Enforcement now forbids anonymous complainers. Anonymous informants were a source of irritation to property owners in the past. Yet, even if the informant identifies himself, it doesn’t prevent mischievous acts. One individual complained about a downtown business. It turns out the complainer owned a competing company and didn’t want his competitor to get an advantage.

Fear of Retaliation and Horror Stories

We heard many horror stories researching this topic, yet we cannot write about them because the property owners feared retribution or retaliation. Inciting fear seems contrary to creating a cooperative environment to improve the city. One theme was universal among the people we interviewed. No one sees a change in the mentality in Permit Services.

The Building and Planning Process Gets Longer

In the recent past, it took about 90 days to get a construction permit in Ventura. Today, it could take years. One contractor put it this way, “Ventura takes homeowner’s dreams and crushes them.”

Permit Services slows down construction plan approval

More Promises of Change in Permit Services

Changes are happening, but will they be enough? Two examples in 2020 illustrate some possible deficiencies.

First, the Matrix Report recommends that the city digitize its planning and permitting processes.

When COVID-19 hit, the city accelerated the conversion to digital. With change come problems. There was a two-month period when the system misplaced plans. Residents might tolerate hiccups during the conversion under normal circumstances. But this delay affected homeowners rebuilding after the Thomas Fire. The City Council promised the victims a speedy return to their homes. This delay was contrary to the Council’s stated intent.

Second, the city decided to streamline the communication process with Permit Services. The idea was to limit the points of contact to the department. For example, there is now only one telephone number and one email address to reach Permit Services. City managers thought a single point of contact would make communicating more straightforward. Yet, it has had the opposite effect.

Triaging the incoming communication can be slow. Then, when assigning the case to a caseworker, they will have to rank the request based on their workload. To anyone outside the department, the situation is not transparent. The name and contact information for the caseworker isn’t known until that person contacts the property owner. There are also times when a case isn’t assigned immediately, and it sits in limbo. With only one phone number or email, it’s impossible to follow up.

Editors Comments

Nine years ago, the Ventura Grand Jury recommended changes in Ventura’s Permit Services Department. Today, the city is making changes slowly. Unfortunately, stifling regulations, protracted processes and fees provide property owners no compelling reason to improve their properties. Little wonder that property owners are skeptical if any lasting change will happen at all. As a result, development in the city has been slow and difficult. Some victims of the Thomas Fire still are not returned to their rebuilt homes. That is unforgivable.

Permit Services rejoices at completing half the Matrix ReportThe city is implementing the Matrix Report. Yet, according to the timetable, the implementation will be 50% complete at best at the end of June 2021. And nothing in the Matrix report addresses the core problem: the attitude within the department.

The current philosophy in Permit Services is that the employees are there to enforce the rules—like the police force. Enforcement officers and inspectors carry badges and threaten penalties and fines as if they were the police. Nothing in the current process encourages the property owners to want to get permits and to have a qualified inspector look at what they are planning to do. That’s a shame.

If the department changed their attitudes ever so slightly to work with people and make the permitting and building process user-friendly, citizens wouldn’t fear working with Permit Services.

Seriously Consider Another Option

Some residents have suggested a citizen’s board or commission to oversee Permit Services. This idea would only create another bureaucratic and ‘toothless’ political group that the city staff will marginalize.

Any Board or Commission still does not alleviate the fear of retaliation. There must be anonymity.   The city needs an independent body, not controlled by the City Council, but with some ‘enforcement power.’ The details of such a body are not precise, but there is a model of an independent body called the ‘Long-Term-Care Ombudsmen program’ that creators can emulate and modify. Property owners could appeal to a state agency in case of a dispute. A single hearing could rectify abuses and award punitive damages.

Now is the time to act before the city loses focus on making the needed changes to Permit Services.

Demand The City Council Makes Meaningful Changes To The Permit Services Department

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.

Didn't receive money from the Ventura Fire Department Received contributions from the Ventura Fire Department
Mike Johnson received no money from the Ventura Fire Department Jeannette Sanchez-Palacios received no money from the Ventura Fire Department
Jim Friedman received contributions from the Ventura Fire Department Lorrie Brown is a Ventura Fire Department apologist
Joe Schroeder received no money from the Ventura Fire Department

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Ventura Fire Department Wants More Money

If Ventura Fire Department Is So Terrible, Why Don’t Statistics Show It?

Einstein comments on Ventura Fire Department

We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”

Albert Einstein

Ventura Fire Department isn't keeping up with the times

Ventura Fire Department (VFD) is asking the City Council for more money so they can maintain the inertia they’ve had for the past fifty years. The basis for their demands is an operational assessment of Ventura Fire by Emergency Services Consulting International (ESCI). Another multi-million decision based on flawed data faces the City Council. And it appears that they’re in a hurry to make it.

How We Got Here

In 2019, Ventura Fire confronted newly installed City Manager Alex McIntyre with a massive overtime bill. This prompted Mr. McIntyre to recommend a thorough evaluation of VFD’s operations. He told the newspaper he proposed a report to determine if Ventura Fire’s activities were “consistent with contemporary fire services practices.” The Council concurred, and they selected ESCI to do the evaluation.

Things Have Changed For The Ventura Fire Department

Fires are only 3% of Ventura Fire Department callsVentura Fire was initially designed to fight fires. Over time, their duties expanded to include safety inspections, and they built their processes to meet those needs. It was a model that had worked. After all, it was a 100-year-old tradition. Firefighters waited in the firehouse to be dispatched to an emergency.

The problem for VFD is that the community’s needs changed. The ESCI Operational Assessment of the Ventura Fire Department shows that only 3% of the calls were for fires. The majority, 73%, were for emergency medical service (EMS). Another 15% were “good intent” calls, or what ordinary people call false alarms. Ventura Fire is using an outdated business model to address modern challenges.

What Hasn’t Changed For Ventura Fire

The response time for VFD to respond to a call is in the 90th percentile compared to other fire departments nationally, according to the ESCI study. That’s good news for Ventura citizens.

Confronted with the changed requirements of what Ventura Fire does, one would expect the fire department to rethink its role. Yet, it still clings to the 100-year-old way of doing business. There is no new thinking within the department and no original ideas in the operational assessment done on the department.

The Flaws In The Study

The Ventura Fire Department seized on the ESCI assessment to lobby the City Council for more money. How much money? They’re asking for between $3.9M and $14.9M in the first year, with more in subsequent years. The study outlines several short-term, mid-term and long-term recommendations. (See attachment B)

Close examination of the ESCI report reveals several flaws. First, the ESCI is the consulting service of the International Fire Chiefs Association. The people interviewed to gather data for the assessment were Ventura firefighters. The report is built on fire chiefs asking firefighters what they need, then comparing that to what other fire departments across the nation have. The potential for inherent bias exists in this report.

For instance, when asked in an online survey (page 219) about how city firefighters feel: 75 percent of City Firefighters say more tax money “would allow us to better support fire prevention in our community.” Unsurprisingly, ESCI concluded that Ventura Fire needs more money.

ESCI’s Assessment Lacks Local Context

Ventura Fire Department Second, the review presents detailed costs associated with each of its recommendations. What it fails to offer are the benefits to citizens that each proposal represents. For instance, the report calls for adding eight more firefighters. What benefit is there to hire eight more firefighters?  VFD is already in the 90th percentile in response time. Page 21 of the report says, “VFD call processing time and turnout response time performance are excellent compared to other agencies studied by ESCI.”  The actual turnout time is one minute and 21 seconds (81 seconds).

To support their recommendation for more firefighters, ESCI compares firefighting personnel per 1,000 population based on the 2016 National Fire Protection Association Study for the Western United States. By that measure, ESCI concludes Ventura Fire Department staffing is 38 percent below the Western US median. There is no support for the formula by any data, and it appears to be irrelevant.

Third, the evaluation fails to recognize the number of firefighters added since Measure O passed. In that time, the Ventura Fire Department added twelve sworn officers, bringing its force up to 75—a 19% increase in the workforce. Compare that to Ventura Police (VPD). They added ten sworn officers, bringing the force up to 137—a 7.8% increase.

Fourth, the ESCI recommendations don’t mention the long-term financial impact of adding new firefighters to Ventura’s pension obligation. One estimate is that the city needs to set aside an additional $42,000 a year per firefighter to grow enough over 30 years to cover the pension benefits.

Ventura Fire Department Looks For More Money

Ventura Fire Department wants more moneyFifth, ESCI recommends on page 195, “Recommendation 1-G: Explore the option of an additional special measure to support (V)FD operations and to obtain a larger share of Measure O to support recommendations to increase staffing.”

Over time, the purposes of Measure O get fuzzy. None of the current City Councilmembers were on the Council when voters passed Measure O. The Measure O literature specifically said the city would not use the money to supplant existing positions. Yet, the Ventura Fire Department is asking for more employees paid for by Measure O. VFD seems to forget that at the time, Ventura Fire received funds from Measure O to keep Fire Station No. 4 operating. They have also received a 19% increase in firefighters since Measure O.

With the city’s other needs—aging infrastructure, pension liability obligations, homelessness, and more—Ventura Fire’s requests seem self-interested.

Sixth, on page 197, ESCI presents, “Recommendation 2-H: Explore the implementation of a fire services subscription program, where residents pay an annual membership fee for the fire department service.” This recommendation seems insensitive. It wasn’t that long ago that the City of Ventura tried to impose a 9-1-1 fee on all emergency calls. That decision was abruptly reversed, but not before the city collected the fee from several residents and never returned it.

Open Debate On The Issues

The ESCI report is 227 pages long. There is much detail to comprehend. Mayor Sofia Rubalcava introduced a motion to create a subcommittee for a more detailed of the fire department’s report and recommendations.

Jim Friedman objected, saying, “We made it clear we’re not interested in kicking the can down the road. Why a whole layer of discussions and subcommittee? That part I don’t understand.”

Councilwoman Lorrie Brown said she wanted the council to take action on the study and was not in favor of a committee taking months to make a recommendation.

Councilman Mike Johnson said he didn’t want to wait and see if a sales tax gets passed.

“There are things we can do,” Johnson said. “I look forward to really getting into the numbers. I’m not looking forward to making the hard choices, but I’m looking forward to having that discussion with my colleagues.”

It bears mentioning who has received campaign money from the Ventura Fire Department.

Ventura Fire Department contributions to candidates

In the end, Mr. Friedman won. There will be no subcommittee to do a thorough evaluation of the recommendations.

Editors Comments

There are too many flaws in the ESCI Operational Assessment of the Ventura Fire Department for the City Council to decide where and how to spend the money. We urge the Council to be extremely skeptical of the data presented. We hope they will see the same flaws and incompleteness in the report that we’ve reported here.

More money won't make Ventura Fire Department betterThe crucial, objective metric on which residents can judge Ventura Fire is response time. And VFD’s response time is in the 90th percentile. It will be hard to improve on that.

The City Council must realize from this study that Ventura no longer has a Fire Department. It has a medical triage team in red trucks. It’s irresponsible to focus on new fire trucks and adding new fire stations when 73% of their work is emergency medical services, not fighting fires.

To ask citizens to pay an additional tax to support the fire department is untenable. Residents will be paying higher water and wastewater bills, and they’re already paying higher electricity bills to support the Clean Power Alliance.

The notion of a subscription fee for fire department services seems absurd. Ventura already tried a similar idea with the 9-1-1 fee, and citizens rejected it.

Suggesting the Council divert money from Measure O to support the Ventura Fire Department violates the spirit—and the stated purposes—of Measure O. If the city does use Measure O money, it will send a clear message to voters, “All political promises are worthless.” The Council will use Measure O for whatever purposes it wants. Councilmember Friedman will appear prescient when he said, “It’s all green and it’s all spendable.” Measure O and the General Fund are really all the same money.

In the end, progress will happen if Ventura Fire rethinks the role of VFD. They can no longer rely on a 100-year-old tradition of firefighting. Trying to extort more money from residents to pay to continue doing things the way they’ve always been done is unconscionable. It gives the appearance that Ventura Fire is more interested in fighting change than fighting fires. Citizens should expect more from our fire department. We should expect thoughtful solutions, not ones that throw more money at existing problems.

Insist The City Council Seek More Original Solutions

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.

Didn't receive money from the Ventura Fire Department Received contributions from the Ventura Fire Department
Mike Johnson received no money from the Ventura Fire Department Jeannette Sanchez-Palacios received no money from the Ventura Fire Department
Jim Friedman received contributions from the Ventura Fire Department Lorrie Brown is a Ventura Fire Department apologist
Joe Schroeder received no money from the Ventura Fire Department

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Protest the Ventura water rate increase

The New Ventura Water Rate Increase Will Effectively Cost You 43% More

Strong men fight the Ventura Water Rate Increase

To sin by silence, when they should protest, makes cowards of men.”

Ella Wheeler Wilcox

 

Chart of Ventura Water Rate Increase over time

 

Decisions made by past and present City Councils led to Ventura Water increasing water rates by 7% and wastewater rates by 6% for each year over the next four years. Extrapolated out, the water rate increase for the “average” ratepayer will grow 43% during that time.

The current City Council and Ventura Water want to convince you we need the increases. They began the process by including a brochure in your latest water bill explaining why they propose increasing rates.

If You Don’t Protest, You Vote “Yes” Automatically

Actively protest Ventura Water rate increaseVentura is obliged under Proposition 218 to allow ratepayers to protest the rate increases. Yet, Ventura Water doesn’t make it easy to do so. The protest form is intentionally challenging to locate. In the 8-page Ventura Water ‘Proposed Rate Adjustments’ document, Ventura Water buries the protest procedure on the last page. It is not bolded or highlighted to stand out to the reader. The protest format is not user-friendly. There is little explanation on how to complete the form, making it confusing to property owners.

VREG has written before about how unfair filing a protest under Prop 218 is in Ventura.  While Ventura does what is minimally required to be legal, the way objections are structured limits public complaints and makes it nearly impossible for voters to overturn any rate increase. In no way does Ventura’s protest procedure truly measure the public’s intent to tax themselves further.

The notice explains that the city will hold public hearings on April 19, 2021 and April 28, 2021.

If you oppose this increase, Ventura Water’s notice states that the parcel owner, or customer of record on the water bill, must file a written protest with the City Clerk at City Hall.

Where To Get Your Rate Increase Protest Form

Water rate increase protest formsThe City did not enclose a protest form with the rate increase notice. Instead, the brochure directs you to go online. You can find the Water Shortage Rate Protest form here. You can complete the form online, but you must print it for it to count.

Written protests may be submitted by mail to the Ventura City Clerk’s Office at 501 Poli Street (Room 204) Ventura, California 93001, or in person at the drop box near the back entrance of City Hall at 501 Poli Street, Ventura, California 93001 (parking lot behind City Hall). City Hall is currently closed to the public due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. All mailed written protests must be received (not postmarked) by the City Clerk no later than May 17, 2021, at 5:00 pm.

To prevent the rate increase, most property owners (51%) must file a protest. Renters have no right to protest.  Business owners have no right to protest.  Only the 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.

Why Is Ventura Raising Rates?

Ventura Water Department justifies the rate increase by saying we must “control our water and wastewater,” and Ventura Water does not “trust” other agencies to help do that.

Water rates go up because Ventura wants a water treatment plantInstead, Ventura Water plans to build a $240 million wastewater treatment plant that will duplicate facilities that already exist near Ventura. The 2019 Corollo Report (commissioned by Ventura Water), titled Ventura Water Supply Projects and Alternatives, states that if Ventura Water utilizes the United Water Conservation and the Oxnard Water Treatment Plant, they would not need to build a separate treatment plant. The cost savings to Ventura ratepayers could be enormous.

Ventura Water neglects to mention that Ventura Water must rely on and co-exist with outside agencies like United Water and Casitas Water already. Also, soon Ventura Water will be working with the management of the State Water project to deliver water to the city.

The ‘lack of control and trust’ Ventura Water purports to be why it’s not cooperating with other water agencies is absurd. It’s already working with several other agencies and depends upon many other outside agencies for water resources.

The Unspoken Motivation Behind The New Plant

This City Council, and past ones, has accepted Ventura Water Department’s recommendations for a new processing plant called VenturaWaterPure without profound skepticism. Ventura Water has a massive conflict of interest (getting a new facility built and employing another 27 employees – Corollo Report 2019). Yet, the City Council seems oblivious. People may deny it, but governments measure their success in part by budget and staff size. Why would anyone think that the Ventura Water Department is any different?

Why Is The City Council Reluctant To Change?

The City Council fears that any redirection from building their facility will delay complying with the Wishtoyo Consent Agreement and result in substantial legal penalties. By extending the Consent Agreement deadline and utilizing the existing facilities at United and Oxnard, Ventura could produce a faster result.

Editors Comments On The Rate Increases

If we continue down this path, Ventura ratepayers will pay more than may be needed. Ventura Water has put the price tag on “control” and “trust.” It’s $200 million.

We’ve said repeatedly, at the very least, the Ventura City Council should:

  • Call for an accurate, independent, cost analysis that could result in potential savings of $200 million
  • Delay any rate increase to Wastewater rates
  • Direct the City attorney to apply for a deadline extension on the Wishtoyo Consent Agreement to provide more time to find the optimal solution while avoiding substantial legal penalties
  • Open negations with United Water and the City of Oxnard to utilize a wastewater treatment process.

Our current path is misguided and needs reevaluation. Whenever a financial decision boils down to “control,” the issue is power and prestige, not what’s best for the public.

Protest Your City Councilmembers’ Water Rate Increase

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.

Sofia Rubalcava Doug Halter approves water rate increase
Mike Johnson voted for Ventura Water rate increase Jeannette Sanchez-Palacios voted for water rate increase
Jim Friedman Lorrie Brown voted for Ventura Water rate increase
Joe Schroeder

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Code Enforcement Changes

What Remarkable Code Enforcement Changes Has Ventura Made Since 2012?

Ventura Code Enforcement Changes

Turbulent changes do not affect reality on a deeper level other than to cement the status quo.”

Proverb

 

The City of Ventura is proud of the changes it has made in code enforcement since 2012. Here is a complete account of the changes city officials consider the most important.

Changes Within Code Enforcement Since 2012

The city touts several changes since the Ventura County Grand Jury ruling:

  1. The department has a new name, Permit Services.
  2. In addition to the name change, there is an entirely new set of managers. Jonathan Wood is the Permits and Enforcement manager, overseeing both permit issuance and code enforcement. Mr. Wood reports to Peter Gilli, the Community Development Director, who, in turn, reports to Akbar Alikhan, the Assistant City Manager.
  3. Code Enforcement no longer allows anonymous complaints from citizens. Complainers must identify themselves before the department will act.
  4. The department is issuing financial hardship waivers for violations during the COVID-19 shutdown, when applicable.

Although their impact on Code Enforcement remains to be seen, two other changes will impact the entire department.

  1. The department moved away from over-the-counter, paper-based plan submission to digital submission using Energov software.
  2. The Permit Services department is acting to put in place the changes prescribed in the Matrix Report. The Council commissioned Matrix Consulting to prepare a report of changes needed to modernize planning, permitting and code enforcement. The report contains 57 different changes. In January 2021, the department had implemented 32% of the recommendations. By July, they hope to increase that to 50%.

2021 Improvements For The Department

Permit Services is planning for further changes this year. The top goals are:

  1. To improve the technology used to process submitted plans. They want to move to a more web-based, digital workflow.
  2. To improve processes and procedures. They say Code Enforcement is focused on doing things right and improving customer service interactions.
  3. To improve customer service. They want to communicate expectations to property owners clearly.
  4. To gain the resources (mostly financial) to correct issues within the department.

Code Enforcement’s Management Focus

Since the Ventura County Grand Jury ruling, one continuing goal of Ventura’s Code Enforcement department is to be more objective in interpreting the city’s building code. Many residents felt they were too subjective in the past. Mr. Wood says they [code enforcement officers] are to be fair and consistent with enforcing the codes. He believes they are making incremental progress towards that goal.

One tool Code Enforcement uses to be more objective is a new training manual. The manual is used in conjunction with a training program guided by the Training Officer. The department encourages all newly trained inspectors to retain the training manual as a resource to review processes.

The training manual allows the code enforcement inspector to use common sense and judgment whenever a violation isn’t life-threatening or potentially life-threatening.

If pressed to explain how Code Enforcement will measure the move to objectivity in the processes, the answer is vague. Initially, the measure was fewer complaints. Since Mr. Wood had taken over the department two and a half years ago, the complaints have dropped from five to ten complaints per month to one. That mission is accomplished, yet no further measurements for success are articulated.

Insist Your City Councilmember Scrutinize The Code Enforcement Changes

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.

Sofia Rubalcava doesn't know the Code Enforcement changes Doug Halter doesn't know the Code Enforcement changes
Mike Johnson doesn't know the Code Enforcement changes Jeannette Sanchez-Palacios doesn't know the Code Enforcement changes
Jim Friedman doesn't know the Code Enforcement changes Lorrie Brown doesn't know the Code Enforcement changes
Joe Schroeder doesn't know the Code Enforcement changes

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