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The rush to find a replacement in District 4

Is The Council’s District 4 Replacement Plan The Best Solution?

On replacement politicians

We are weary of politicians’ politicians. We want ours.”

—Gerald Stanley Lee, American author

Apponting a replacement in District 4 is a kangaroo court

On Saturday, February 20, 2021, the Ventura City Council will have the opportunity to select a new City Councilmember to join them for the next two years. This situation gives four of six City Councilmembers the power to choose a new Councilmember for the 15,000 residents living in District 4. Of course, none of the six remaining Councilmembers lives in District 4.

An Appointment Disenfranchises Voters

Several citizens emailed the Council claiming that appointing a replacement ‘disenfranchises’ the voters in District 4. If six members living outside District 4 appoint someone, District 4 is disenfranchised according to Webster’s definition, whether the Council believes it or not. Residents and Councilmembers should remember that the Ventura City Council can still function with six members and often does because of illnesses and vacations.

How We Got Here

Erik Nasarenko resigned his post as District 4 Councilmember because he was appointed Ventura County District Attorney. Mr. Nasarenko acknowledged his new role would not give him enough time to represent his district. It’s the first time since 1976 that a Ventura City Councilmember has resigned. Handling Mr. Nasarenko’s resignation has become a challenge, but the options are simple.

The Options To Fill The Vacant City Council Seat

On February 1st, the Councilmembers debated the various options open to them:

March and November are the only months the law allows special elections in 2021. Because the law mandates 88 days between calling for an election and voting, a March election was not an option because it was less than the 88 days.

After deliberating, the Council voted 4-2 to try and appoint District 4’s replacement. Councilmembers Jim Friedman and Doug Halter dissented.

The Argument To Not Appoint A Replacment

The resistance to fill the vacant seat with an appointment was mainly over two issues.

  • There are concerns that the appointment will be a rushed process, influenced by political motivations.
  • Any appointee will now have an advantage in the next general election by being anointed as an incumbent.

The Argument To Appoint Someone By February 25th

If the Council cannot appoint someone to replace Erik Nasarenko by February 25, 2021, the law requires the city to hold a special election.

Concern over leaving the District 4 seat vacant for ten months centers upon two other issues.

  • Leaving the seat open may create a split 3-3 vote, causing a motion to fail.
  • There is a concern that not having a representative for District 4 will leave those residences without a voice on the City Council.

Being Fast Versus Being Thorough With A Replacement

The most practical option available to the Council was to appoint a replacement. Four of the Councilmembers didn’t want to wait for a special election in November 2021. Nobody wanted to wait until November 2022 to fill the vacancy because of the concern about not having a seventh vote to break any tie vote.
Deputy Mayor Joe Schroeder summarized his choice this way. “I thought the best solution on the District 4 issue was an immediate special election; however, that wasn’t an option. I did not have issues with the associated expenses of a special election. I do have issues with running a City Council with an even number of seats. I believe it is a bad model of governance.”

If the Council cannot appoint a replacement by February 25, 2021, the law requires the city to hold a special election. The Registrar’s Office estimates a special election would cost $89,000 plus legal publication costs.

The Shortcomings Of Appointing A Replacement

There are three inadequacies of appointing a successor in District 4. Moving to district voting created the first and most significant of these shortcomings. Six Councilmembers—none of whom live in or have campaigned in the district—will decide who represents D4 for the next two years. These Councilmembers will say they understand the city’s needs at large, even though they represent specific districts. Yet, none of them can confidently say they know District 4’s particular issues or understand the wishes of D4 voters.

Second, the appointment will be based upon a 20-minute interview as opposed to a three-month campaign. All serving Councilmembers endured a lengthy campaigning process, which included appearing at Community Councils, candidate forums and campaign fundraisers. The appointee will do none of these things.

Third, the appointee will have the incumbency advantage in 2022 when he or she runs for re-election. Incumbent candidates are almost impossible to defeat in general elections.

The Process To Appoint District 4’s Replacement

One of these people will be District 4's replacement

As long as there will be an attempt to appoint a replacement for Mr. Nasarenko, the city wanted civic involvement in the selection process. Citizens were encouraged to submit questions for the candidates by February 8, 2021. Councilmembers proposed one question each. The final list of questions will include four questions from the public and six questions from the Council. The candidates to replace Erik Nasarenko will receive the questions in advance.

Selecting an appointee will take place on one grueling day. The Council will interview fifteen residents of District 4. Each will answer three questions from the City Council. The meeting day for choosing an appointee will be Saturday, February 20, 2021, beginning at 9 o’clock. The meetings will last twelve to fourteen hours.

The question-and-answer process will be virtual. The applicants will not be at City Hall, yet the interviews will be public. You’ll be able to see the proceedings over WebEx. (click here to watch on the day of the meeting). So will the candidates.

On that day, the first order of business will be for the City Councilmembers to select three questions to ask each candidate from the list of ten. Councilmembers will rank the candidates, deliberate and select the replacement.

Editors Comments

Because of the rush to interview and appoint, the process to find a successor in District 4 is possibly going to be little more than a beauty contest. An entire three-month election process gets reduced to a 20-minute Q&A session with the remaining Councilmembers.

The logistics of the procedure are grueling for both the applicants and the City Council. Interviewing all fifteen candidates in one sitting will be wearisome. It’s hard to imagine that the Councilmember’s attention will be as sharp at the end of the day as it was in the beginning.

Selecting three questions on the day of the interviews leaves little time for the Council to reflect on what “good” answers from the applicants should be. And, since there will be no objective way of grading or evaluating the responses, it will be hard for the Council to debate one candidate’s relative merits over another.

The process to appoint favors the candidates whose interview is later in the day. All candidates will be able to watch the proceedings via WebEx. After the first interviewee, the remaining candidates will know exactly which of the ten questions the Council will ask. They’ll be able to practice their responses. They’ll see the other candidates’ answers and see how the Council reacts to those answers.

Those who are concerned about a 3-3 split vote should keep this in mind. The consensus is that if you can’t convince one more person to support your position, it was probably not a solid idea from the start.

In the end, the selection will come down to whom the Council likes best based on a 20-minute performance, and it may not be who will best serve District 4.

District Voting Complicates Matters

A lawsuit filed against the city forced Ventura to move to District Voting in the name of “fairness.” We’ve been through one complete cycle of district voting, and we have a Council with a different makeup than we had before.

Then came the opening in District 4. The Council has the opportunity to appoint someone to fill the spot—someone to their liking. They say they will, yet it’s unlikely since none of them live there or know the voters. Instead, they’ll appoint someone “like-minded” that lives in District 4. Now, they’re perpetuating a Council in their likeness.

Have all we’ve done is move from one good ol’ boy network to another?

Tell Your City Councilmember Who You Think The Replacement Should Be

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 voted for an appointee replacement in District 4 Doug Halter voted against an appointee replacement in District 4
Mike Johnson voted for an appointee replacement in District 4
Jim Friedman voted against an appointee replacement in District 4 Lorrie Brown voted for an appointee replacement in District 4
Joe Schroeder voted for an appointee replacement in District 4

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step and merit increases were premature

Ventura’s Imperfect Evaluation On Step And Merit Increases

Confucius on Ventura's step and merit increases

The man who asks a question is a fool for a minute, the man who does not ask is a fool for life.”

Confucius

Time will tell if Ventura made a good choice with step and merit increases

No one makes a lifetime commitment based on a single moment in time. Yet, the Ventura City Council made just such a commitment. In November 2020, they awarded step and merit increases to city employees based on revised sales tax figures. This decision is disturbing on several levels:

  1. The city staff led the Council to believe financial conditions were improving based on very short-term statistics.
  2. The people benefiting from the salary increases were the ones making the recommendation.
  3. Our elected officials failed to question the rosy picture the staff presented during the pandemic economic shutdown.

How Did We Get Here?

In the city’s fiscal year 2020-2021, the Ventura City Council faced a $12.0 million budget deficit due to California’s coronavirus shutdown. The city staff recommended a dozen possible solutions to the problem. Among them was the option to ‘defer’ $1 million in employee salary increases for step and merit increases until financial conditions improved.

As a provision of the FY2020-21 budget, former-Mayor Matt LaVere, the City Council and all the bargaining units agreed to freeze employee step and merit increases as a down payment on the massive reductions necessary in the year ahead.

Mid-Course Correction

The City Council receives regular updates on sales tax revenue collected. These reports include recent figures and may also include projections based on current trends. The updates are very short-term, especially in the early part of the fiscal year. Predictions made from these limited data may seem overly optimistic. Any upward trend tempts city staff and the Council to overreact. Past City Councils have been guilty of spending money from these projections because they seemed ‘good.’ The tendency is to see these projections through rose-colored glasses.

Step and merit increases were part of a mid-course correction

What Was The New Projection That Justified The Step And Merit Increases?

To everyone’s surprise, the September sales tax report update was higher than anticipated. The city staff projected that General Fund would be $1.657 million higher than forecasted. The City Council seized this as the ‘green light’ to reinstate the employee step and merit increases.

At the November 9, 2020 meeting, the Council rescinded the suspended step and merit salary increases for city employees. The suspension lasted only eight months, from March to November 2020.

Was The Decision To Grant Step And Merit Increases Logical?

Awarding step and merit increases puts Ventura on thin iceThe Council made its November decision based on data presented on September 23, 2020, a month and a half earlier. The Council received no updated data on which to decide. If they had, the decision might have been different.

In a report prepared by Michael Coon, the Director of Finance & Technology, after the Council’s November 9th decision, the $1.657 million surplus became a $483K deficit.

By the January 2021 Budget Workshop presentation to the new Council, the General Fund was positive again by $264,000. Mr. Coon admitted that $264,000 is a slim margin on a $116 million budget (0.2%).

What’s Happening With The General Fund?

The $1.657 million General Fund surplus presented in September 2020 was misleading. Yes, sales tax revenue was higher, but that didn’t account for the excess. Two unique, one-time events inflated the figures.

The General Fund received $2.0 million from the CARES Act funding. The city also received a donation from the Marion Schwab Trust.

Without these two rare revenue infusions, the city would have had $2.4 million less revenue than the city staff led the Council to believe when deciding to award the step and merit increases.

What’s more, on September 24, 2020, the city staff failed to mention the City Council’s risks to the General Fund. Player’s Casino Card Room sales taxes, parking violations, and Parks & Recreation programming were below budget. Mr. Coon’s November 2020 report shows revenue fell more than $5.2 million below budget in those three areas.

The Result Of Their Actions On Raises

In June, Councilmember Jim Friedman warned of an “absolute financial disaster” in the coming years if the city doesn’t continue to cut spending. Yet, the City Council reversed their earlier spending restraint and awarded over $719,000 in pay increases to city employees.

In June 2020, City Manager Alex McIntyre spoke of “shared sacrifice” when announcing the step and merit increases. Today, thousands of Ventura residents are not working. And those private-sector workers that remain employed may experience outright cuts in their pay and hours. Scores of businesses are closed by the pandemic and face bankruptcy. At City Hall, where jobs and salaries are guaranteed, things look very different, however.

What Can We Do?

Every budget cycle, the city goes through the same experience. The budget process begins in January and ends in June for the following year’s budget. Each year, the city staff presents their best estimate of what next year will bring. Often, those Staff recommended step and merit increases and the Council followed like chickens with their heads cut offestimates are optimistic. “We believe we’re conservative not to paint too bleak a picture,” Mr. Coon told the City Council on January 11, 2021. And, our City Council makes long-term decisions based on the short-term data they receive.

Staff isn’t always right. No one has examined the budgeting process for a long time. Periodically, it would be a good idea to have independent, outside consultants provide an unbiased analysis of Ventura’s budgeting. This evaluation should be different from the accountant’s review of the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR), which is always 18 months in arrears.

Editors Comments

We believe the City Council made the November decision to award the step and merit increases on flawed forecasts from staff. The City Council accepted the General Fund revenue would be $1.657 million higher in the middle of a pandemic. The Council decided based on a September bump in the sales tax revenue for the first four months of the fiscal year 2020-21. And, the data didn’t include the all-important Christmas season sales tax revenue. The Council made long-term decisions based primarily on short-term data.

Step and merit increases were justified by improved sales tax revenueIt seems clear that city staff provided fluid, optimistic data to the Council for their decision. Mr. Coon explained the projections, saying, “We are feeling alright with the additional projection of $1.5 million in Sales Tax for the current fiscal year. It is something that we definitely want to keep an eye on, especially if we start to see more businesses close.

“Currently, we are basically projecting that we will receive the same amount of Sales Tax this fiscal year that we received last fiscal year…the city would have received about $30 million in sales tax for FY 20-21 without the pandemic. So, the projections do factor in about a 10% decline from the activity that was seen in Jul-Dec 2019. This decline isn’t on the higher end because online sales tax collection is doing so well and offsetting the losses of some of the brick and mortar stores that are experiencing losses at the higher end of the spectrum.”

At a higher level, citizens should be concerned about this process. The same people who prepare the reports used to decide salary increases are the same people who get the raises.

Our concern isn’t with the exact budget numbers. We question using numbers provided by the very people who enjoy the increases. We also have reservations about the Council relying on unseasoned numbers over time.

And, we’re disappointed by the elected officials that failed to question staff’s rosy projections when we’re in the middle of a pandemic. There were variations in the General Fund projections from September 2020 to November 2020 to January 2021. Two different City Councils spanned that period. One would have hoped that at least one Councilmember would have remarked on the General Fund’s changes from positive to negative and back to slightly positive over that time. Yet, no one did.

Only four Councilmembers remain from the group that awarded the increases. They are Lorrie Brown, Jim Friedman, Erik Nasarenko and Sofia Rubalcava. At the January 2021 budget workshop, two Councilmembers (Ms. Brown and newcomer Mike Johnson) expressed concern about the COVID-19 impact on the city’s finances. One wonders why the other five didn’t share the same anxiety. We hope that the new Council will be more rigorous in asking questions when preparing next year’s budget.

Write Directly To Your City Councilmember To Insist They Ask More Insightful Questions During Budgeting

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 voted for step and merit increases Doug Halter wasn't on the Council when they voted for step and merit increases
Mike Johnson wasn't on the Council when they voted for step and merit increases Erik Nasarenko voted for step and merit increases
Jim Friedman voted for step and merit increases Lorrie Brown voted for step and merit increases
Joe Schroeder wasn't on the Council when they voted for step and merit increases

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Watch This Year’s City Council Candidates Battle In A Forum

The 2020 Ventura City Council Candidates for Districts 2, 3 and 7 squared off in the East Ventura Community Council’s voter forum. 

We’re replaying the video for those voters who missed the virtual event. 

Video of Ventrua's 2020 City Council Candidates

Unlike in years past, voters attended the 2020 candidate forums remotely. Covid-19 prevented in-person candidate engagement to woo voters. 

Who Are The 2020 City Council Candidates?

In District 2, Doug Halter, Dougie Miche and Christy Weir (the incumbent) answered the moderator’s questions about their platforms. 

In District 3, Barbara Brown, Aaron Gaston, William Cornell, and Mike Johnson faced the moderator’s fire. District 3 has no incumbent running for City Council because Matt LaVere won a seat on the County Board of Supervisors. 

The District 7 candidates, Heather May Ellinger, Nancy Pedersen, Joe Schroeder and Michael James Nolan, answered the moderator’s questions. District 7 also has no incumbent running because Cheryl Heitmann chose not to seek re-election. 

What’s Ahead For The 2020 City Council Candidates

The City of Ventura faces challenges in the coming years. These City Council Candidates must prove they are capable of meeting those challenges. 

Ventura hadn’t recovered from the Thomas Fire in 2017, and it now faces recovering from the Covid-19 economic shutdown. 

Watch how the candidates present their ideas for economic recovery and vitality. Also, watch how the candidates respond to the moderator’s questions about the city’s most critical issues. 

VREG Has Reported On These Issues

For years, VREG has reported on the challenges the city faces. Feel free to review our previous articles on topics ranging from water to city employee pensions to failed economic development attempts. You’ll find some of the most in-depth reporting on these issues available. 

We founded Venturans for Responsible and Efficient Government (VREG) in 2007 to assist the citizens of this community in better understanding their city government’s fiscal management and the policy decisions that lead to our tax dollars’ expenditure. We advocate open government, freedom of information, constructive dialog and efficient use of resources. 

We’re a watchdog group determined to keep an eye on the city government to ensure it’s working for all. We’re ever mindful of Plato’s warning to the citizens of any representative democracy. He said, “If you do not take an interest in the affairs of your government, then you are doomed to live under the rule of fools.”

 

Campaign Issues 2020

All You Need To Know About Local Campaign Issues 2020

Kennedy on Campaign Issues 2020

The ignorance of one voter in a democracy impairs the security of all.”

—John F. Kennedy

Vote On Campaign Issues 2020 By Mail

We should say from the start that VREG does not endorse candidates. Our goal is to keep you informed and to educate wherever possible, but we shouldn’t pass up the opportunity to outline the critical campaign issues facing City Council candidates in 2020.

Vote By District For Campaign Issues 2020

If you live in District 2, 3 or 7, you have an important 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 issues should guide your selection.

Meet Your 2020 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. Zoom townhall meetings and campaign videos are replacing in-person, door-to-door campaigning.

Ten of the eleven candidates provided qualification statements.  We’ll highlight and summarize each declaration to save you from looking them up.

Here are the City Council candidates with their self-described ballot designations. The candidates are presented in the order as they will appear on the ballot.  The Secretary of State randomly drew names to determine the ballot order on 8/13/2020.

Do These Candidates Know The Campaign Issues 2020?District 2

Do Candidates In District 2 Know The Campaign Issues 2020?

Doug Halter is a local businessman. He a passionate about Ventura and is knowledgeable about how Ventura operates. He is running on changing the status quo. Mr. Halter ran unsuccessfully for City Council in 1999 and 2007 under the open election system. 2020 is his first campaign under the district system.

Dougie Michie is a certified financial planner with a degree in law and a doctorate in urban planning. He is running on his wide range of education and experience, which will enable him to guide the city through the challenges Ventura faces.

Christy Weir has been on the City Council since 2003. Historically, she has proven to be open-minded and approachable.

 

District 3Do The Candidates in District 3 Know The Campaign Issues 2020?

Barbara Brown is a business owner and a professor at Laguna College of Art and Design. She serves as a Public Arts Commissioner. Ms. Brown’s family lost their home in the Thomas Fire. Her passions include the Ventura Botanical Gardens, Interface Children Services, and Goodwill Industries.

Aaron Gaston is a realtor and business owner. He graduated from UCSB. For nearly 30 years, Mr. Gaston ran a technology company. He is interested in supporting a healthy business community with affordable housing to be compatible with smart growth.

William Cornell is a small business owner with over 15 years in the construction industry. He is concerned about the city’s ability to sustain itself on its current path. He also wants to improve public safety, community and economic development.

Mike Johnson is a faithful attendee at several city community subcommittee meetings on economic development, housing, water and Measure O. He is thoughtful with his approach to problem-solving. He is ‘ready to lead on day one.’

District 7Do The Candidates In District 7 Know The Campaign Issues 2020?

Heather May Ellinger is a real estate agent. She is interested in the homeless crisis, crumbling roads, housing and affordability and community development. The city budget is a significant concern, and a need to make the city more business-friendly to attract companies with high paying jobs will improve revenues. Her experience as a mortgage field inspector would assist in ‘navigating the complex issues’ in reconstruction.

Nancy Pedersen is a business owner and is chair of the Ventura Visitors & Convention Bureau Board of Directors. She has professional credentials with 40+ years as a business and legal executive.

Joe Schroeder is a retired CEO of the Ventura County Credit Union. His financial expertise and management experience are what he feels the City Council needs. He has also served on community boards such as Food Share and the Global Women’s Leadership Network. His priorities are supporting public safety, economic growth, natural resources, an updated coastal plan and a short-term rental plan that protects community interest.

Michael James Nolan is a realtor and communications manager, but without a statement of qualifications provided to the City of Ventura and we didn’t find an election website. VREG cannot give any useful information on his candidacy.

Ventura’s Key Campaign Issues In 2020

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

Water Is Among The Top Campaign Issues

Water Tops The Campaign Issues 2020 In VenturaWater will be among the costliest issues the City Council will face in the next four years. Ventura Water is asking the Council for over $300 million, making it as expensive to the city as public safety.

Find out from your candidates where they stand on VenturaWaterPure. Are they content to drink recycled wastewater? Do they know that no standards exist yet for purifying wastewater into potable water? Will Ventura ratepayers willingly accept the increases needed to pay for the $300 million Ventura Water is requesting?

How much do your candidates understand the litigation the city is involved in concerning water? Do they know what alternatives exist to the Wishtoyo Consent Decree of 2012? Do they know the Ventura River cross-complaint Ventura filed against 10,000 property owners along the river?

Homelessness and Vagrancy Are Important Campaign Issues

Ventura’s homeless shelter is operating. It costs the city $712,000 per year to house 55 of the city’s 531 homeless. Shouldn’t the Council and citizens know precisely 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 to panhandle. How do candidates plan to combat that so Ventura is more tourist-friendly?

Homelessness In Ventura Among Top Campaign Issues 2020

Future Budget Deficits Rank High Among The Campaign Issues In 2020

Balancing The City's Budget Is Among The Campaign Issues 2020

The current City Council balanced the 2020-2021 budget by reducing costs in 11 key areas. City employee pension costs continue to rise and may rise more quickly because of COVID-19’s impact on CalPERS’ investments. Each increase in pension costs squeezes money out of the General Fund that otherwise could go towards street repair, tree trimming or public safety.

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. Can Ventura last that long amid its other financial burdens? The city still hasn’t recovered fully from the Thomas Fire. The COVID-19 pandemic shuttered businesses for months, robbing the city of sales tax revenue, and there is no clear plan to reopen them completely.

Campaign Finances

The first district elections in 2018 were the costliest in history. The top three fundraisers were Jim Friedman, $60,887; Kevin Clerici, $44,862; and Erik Nasarenko, $36,464. Messrs. Friedman and Nasarenko won. On a cost per vote basis, Mr. Friedman spent $19.90 to get a vote. Mr. Nasarenko paid $11.97. Mr. Clerici, who lost, spent $45.52 per vote. Big money doesn’t always win, but the exception proves the rule.

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

Growth Is Always Among The Key Campaign Issues

Growth Is One Of The Campaign Issues 2020

Growth means different things to different people. 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 the opposition to more houses (the NIMBYs) by some in the community. Forward progress on growth means accommodating, integrating and compromise.

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 2020. 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 clichés candidates use to get your vote. Candidates always discuss growth and public safety while campaigning. Look beyond that. These are not the pressing campaign issues in 2020. The most demanding issues are water, labor contracts, long-term planning and reductions in services. 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. Accountability and transparency are glossed over and only get ‘lip service’ during election time. In the past, Councilmembers knew voters would forget 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. It is not easy to subject yourself and your family to public scrutiny and comments. So, regardless of the election outcome, we applaud everyone who threw their hat in the ring.

Postscript

The Fire and Police Unions are supporting Doug Halter in District 2, Aaron Gaston in District 3 and Nancy Pedersen in District 7.

Here’s How You Can Write Directly To Your City Councilmember

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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Councilmembers

How To Connect To Your 2020 Ventura City Councilmembers

Councilmembers

To make democracy work, we must be a nation of participants, not simply observers.
—Louis L’Amour

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.

Meet Your 2020 City Councilmembers

We have a new Ventura City Council for 2020. We have three newer Councilmembers and four seasoned members. Each of them has an email account with the city. Not everyone knows how to contact them, though.

Governing By Districts

For the first time in Ventura’s history, 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 Councilmember regardless of the district in which you live.

City Council Elections In 2020

This is an election year for Ventura’s City Council. In November, three seats will come up for re-election. These three seats will be voted on by districts. Districts 2, 3 and 7 will vote. Christy Weir will run in District 2. Cheryl Heitmann will run in District 7. Mayor Matt LaVere has announced he is running for higher office, so District 3 will have an open seat and s0meone new will represent them after the election.

Click On A Councilmembers Photo To Email

Below you’ll find the photos of our current City Council. Click on any Councilmember’s photo and you’ll open your email program ready to write directly to that Councilmember.

Let then know 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. Not participating in government makes us worse because our city government isn’t working for all of us.

Councilmembers Councilmembers
Councilmembers Councilmembers
Councilmembers Councilmembers
Councilmembers

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Scrutinizing Travel Expenses From Conferences

Do You Know The Truth About Ventura’s Spending On Conferences?

Conference spending

Three groups spend other people’s money:  children, thieves and politicians.  All three need supervision.”

—Dick Armey

Examing Conferences Expense

The cost and benefit of every spending decision by Ventura’s City Council is magnified as the city faces budgetary losses for the next five years. The city is projecting to have a $10-$25 million shortfall during that time, so the City Council should be more careful how it spends tax dollars. Are we getting our money’s worth from our Councilmembers’ travel to conferences and seminars?

The City Councilmembers don’t think anyone is watching their spending or cares what they do. They believe voters gave them the mandate to be concerned with the details of how and where the city spends money. And, they’re right—to a degree. While citizens fret over the large expenditures on pensions, water, public safety, and staffing, it’s easy to overlook the spending habits of our elected officials.

Conference Boondoggles

The city publishes the expenditures by each sitting Councilmember quarterly. Here’s a summary of the expenses for the past three full fiscal years of the active members of Council:

Councilmember Spending On Conferences

It’s immediately clear that the spending by the active Councilmembers is rising year-over-year. It jumped 32% to $15,964 from $12,039 from Fiscal Year 2016-2017 to Fiscal Year 2017-2018. It increased 76% to $28,098 from $15,964 from Fiscal Year 2017-2018 to Fiscal Year 2018-2019.

Highlighted in yellow is the amount spent each year to attend the National League of Cities (NLC) Conferences. The NLC holds regional conferences and a national conference in Washington, DC.

Where’s The Value From The Conferences?

Ventura taxpayers get little information about the benefits the city derives from these conferences. There are no written reports of what the attendees accomplished. Sometimes, there is a verbal report made to the Economic Development Committee of what happened, as we see in the Agenda for the April 2nd meeting.

No Value for Attending Conferences

There are no meeting minutes posted for the public of the Economic Development Committee meetings. Nor are the sessions videotaped. There is no permanent record of what happened. There are no archives to refer to in the future. What’s more, the entire City Council doesn’t hear about the findings.

If all the value we receive is a report on the “relevant legislative issues from the NLC,” do we need to send representatives to Washington, D.C.? Couldn’t we get the same information by email or in written form? If we did, there would be a permanent record of the discussions for others to review.

The Value Is In The Connections

The attending City Councilmembers may claim the value of attending these meetings is in the contacts Ventura nurtures with other politicians throughout the country. That’s a specious argument. The relationships are personal between our serving Councilmembers and the people they meet. Those relationships break whenever our Councilmember or his/her contact leaves the office. What’s more, the value in a relationship with a politician in another city has a small direct impact on Ventura.

Auditing ConferencesThe justification may be to learn the “best practices” from other cities attending the conferences. What best practices did we learn on homelessness from representatives from Sacramento, Los Angeles, San Francisco, or Seattle? Homelessness in those cities is worse than it is in Ventura, and it’s not improving. Or did we learn something about water from Sacramento? Except, the California River Tunnel isn’t working out so well. Or did the reps from Washington, D.C., or Sacramento teach us about budgeting? The fact is, our reps need to convey any best practices we learned at those conferences need to city staff. The staff are the ones to put in place new ideas in City Hall. And without written guidelines, implementing the changes is nearly impossible.

The truth is any networking with others at these conferences is nothing more than socializing. Should we pay the expenses for two Councilmembers to hobnob with politicians? No.

Next Conference

Attending Conferences

Mayor Matt LaVere, Deputy Mayor Sofia Rubalcava, and Councilmember Brown are attending the National League of Cities Regional Meeting in Long Beach, CA, on October 16-18, 2019. What value will Ventura get from sending three Councilmembers to this meeting?

Editor’s Comments

In the best of times, these conferences may benefit Ventura, but these are not the best of times. The city faces a multimillion-dollar shortfall over the next five years. Frivolous spending of any kind must not happen, regardless of the dollar amount spent. Spending taxpayer money on these seminars and conferences may appear to be harmless at first. Still, scrutinize each trip to decide whether it’s a necessity. And if it is determined to be necessary, the value must outweigh the expense.

Tell City Council, “Spend Better On Conferences!”

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ventura water

Ventura Water Has A Wonderful Opportunity To Be More Transparent

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

— George Bernard Shaw

 

In Ventura, the city staff uses the Brown Act to do precisely the opposite of what lawmakers created it to do.

The California Brown Act guarantees the public’s right to attend and take part in meetings of local legislative bodies. Legislators designed it to end “back room” deals and bring local government out into the open. Ventura Water uses it to throttle the flow of information instead.

Oversight By The Water Commission

Ventura established a Water Commission to advise Ventura Water.  The Commission is to review and make recommendations about:

  • Water rates
  • Water resources infrastructure projects
  • The integrated water resources management plan
  • Water supply options
  • The Urban Water Management Plan approval process
  • A water dedication and in-lieu fee requirement
  • Other water resource issues

Before the Commission, Ventura Water operated with little oversight. Even with the Water Commission, it continues to control all meeting agendas and minutes. At best, this restricts the flow of information to the City Council. At worst, information flow is non-existent. The City Council doesn’t receive any meaningful information that may help with their future choices.

Here is how Ventura Water does things today:

  • Ventura Water’s General Manager and the City Attorney make and approve all agendas. The Commission can only discuss agenda items at the meeting. Any deviation may violate the Brown Act.
  • The General Manager controls all minutes for all sessions. Minutes reports only action items, eliminating the record of any discussion.

Circumventing The Water Commission

Ventura Water forces the City Council to get their information from the General Manager. Thus bypassing the entire reason the city established the Water Commission.

Rarely does Ventura Water share the discussion on relevant topics—if ever. Debates over issues are not reviewed or scrutinized. Important issues never enter the public record such as water quality, testing quality results, fees, costs, timelines, water capacity, water usage, what other agencies are proposing, and deposit account balances.

Because minutes show only action items, all discussions of issues are as though they never happened. So, when the City Council looks to the minutes for any records of problems or concerns, the minutes are no help. Nor are they sufficiently transparent to Ventura’s citizens.

Communicating Clean Water Safety Violations

Ventura Water deals with a water system that impacts all Ventura citizens directly. In August 2018, the department violated the Federal Clean Water Safety standards. Ventura Water breached the Total Trihalomethanes (TTHM) drinking water standard in August. The U.S. EPA regulates TTHM at a maximum allowable, annual, average level of 80 parts per billion. Any amount above 80 ppb results in harmful health effects over time. Ailments such as cancer and adverse reproductive outcomes can happen. Ventura Water has corrected the problem, but that’s not the issue.

At issue is how the utility communicated the problem and the solution.

Why You May Not Have Heard Of This

You may not have heard about the incident. It’s not because Ventura Water didn’t announce it. They did. Ventura Water fulfilled the letter of the law, but it may have missed the intent behind it. Meeting the legal requirement seems to be the minimum standard.  Yet setting the bar at the lowest level may place everyone’s health at risk in the future.

What wasn’t said is as important as what was said. Bathing in or cooking with the TTHM water was not mentioned, for instance.

Open communication is what builds trust with a public utility during a crisis. The TTHM violation happened in the Pierpont Area. Unless you live in the affected area, Ventura Water would not have contacted you by mail. Ventura Water notified the schools and nursing homes in the area. Schools and nursing homes informed the parents or residents at their discretion.

Ventura Water obeyed the “letter of the law,” but failed to respect the spirit of the law. They reported the incident to residents in the affected area by mail, posted it on their website, and took out an ad in the Ventura County Star.

Not The Only Incident In 2018

In July, Ventura Water withheld information from the Water Commission. A panel of experts examined Direct Potable Reuse (DPR) of treated wastewater. There are no quality standards or guidelines today. The experts found DPR (for drinking purposes) was a threat to public safety. The City Council did not know that. They were only alerted to that fact after private citizens brought it to their attention. The result was, the City Council decided not to use DPR as an alternative for now. Still, the staff soldiers on asking for large sums to build projects for DPR.

There are many laws to protect citizens and keep them informed about what happens in city government. When a government agency does the bare minimum but goes no further than the law requires, regardless of the impact and financial consequences, citizens mistrust it.

Editor’s Comments

Ventura Water needs to be more transparent. The City Council allows it to operate in secrecy and subterfuge. Stop. Ventura’s citizens deserve and expect open communication. Here’s what the Council should do:

First, make hiring the next General Manager a priority. Insist City Manager Alex McIntyre interview the Water Commissioners. He should do this without Water Department staff present. The goal is to get the knowledge and details of Ventura Water over the past fifteen years. He’ll gain the perspective to understand what lies ahead in the next six years.

Second, have the Water Commission’s Chairman set the meeting agendas, with input from all commissioners.

Third, ensure all Water Commission’s minutes reflect topics and discussions from all meetings.

Fourth, have the Water Commission Chairman provide a written report to the City Council on a quarterly basis.

Fifth, expand the communication channels Ventura Water uses to inform the public. Set the standard higher than the minimum legal standard.

Insist The City Council Makes Ventura Water More Transparent

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It Was The Best And Worst Of Times For Ventura In 2018

“Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.”— Winston Churchill

Last year was a most transformational year in Ventura’s history. Every aspect of life in Ventura was affected. The city was in the national spotlight, twice. Leadership changed but at a high price. Old ways of doing business didn’t change, though. Overall, it was a year to remember.

December 2017

To understand 2018, you must appreciate December 2017 and the Thomas Fire. The fire destroyed 535 houses in Ventura. The city was the epicenter of the national news.

Thirteen months later, Ventura had the opportunity for the most significant economic stimulus since the oil boom but failed to capitalize on it. Rebuilding the homes will stimulate the local economy by $350 million. The only thing standing in the way of that economic windfall is the city.

What are the lessons we learned from the Thomas Fire? Good question. Thirteen months later we still don’t know that answer. The city has yet to produce a report on its findings. [Read More]

January 2018

The Montecito mudslides closed off transportation into and out of Santa Barbara along the 101. Many Venturans that work in Santa Barbara were unable to commute.

March 2018

The City Council waffles on second-story height restrictions for rebuilding Thomas Fire victims’ homes, delaying the rebuilding process and adding costs for many. [Read More]

April 2018

Jamal Jackson slays Anthony Mele, Jr. on Ventura’s promenade. Once again, the city was thrust into the national news.

Ventura Police increased patrols along the promenade. The City Council approved funds to continue the patrols. Arrests increased after the incident.

Post-incident, the Police department reviewed its procedures. There have been changes to the security camera monitoring as a result. The review also concluded the call was not improperly prioritized when it came in two and a half hours before the murder.

Since May, the community has returned to business as usual. [Read More]

June 2018

Ventura Police officers sign a new contract with a 5% pay increase. The timing of the announcement was questionable, but the contract was a fair one. [Read More]

July 2018

The City Council instructs Ventura Water to focus on connecting to State Water over Direct Potable Reuse (DPR). DPR takes recycled wastewater and injects it back into the drinking supply.

The City Council approves a $600,000 per year “roving” fire engine and three paramedics over the objections of Interim City Manager Dan Paranick. Ventura Fire hired two of the three paramedics before the Council approved the funding. [Read More]

September 2018

Ventura Water hires eight new positions. The City Council approved the department’s budget that included these positions. Ventura Water based that budget on Direct Potable Reuse (DPR) projects being the city’s top priority. When the Council realigned Ventura Water’s priorities in July, the department didn’t adjust its manpower requirements.

October 2018

Ventura Water begins installing new digital water meters. It is a $9 million project that will take three years to complete. The new meters allow more precise leak protection. The new meters also measure water usage more precisely. You can expect your water bill to be more accurate, too.

November 2018

Ventura held its first City Council elections by voting district. Lorrie Brown (District 6), Jim Friedman (District 5), Erik Nasarenko (District 4) and Sofia Rubalcava (District 1) won. The candidates raised a record amount of money, despite campaigning in districts instead of citywide. The cost-per-vote skyrocketed to win a seat from $2.75 per vote in the last election with an open position to a record-high $26.42. [Read More]

City Council Election

December 2018

Alex McIntyre starts as City Manager. He replaces Mark Watkins who resigned in November 2017. The city had operated with an interim-City Manager since January 2018. McIntyre comes to Ventura from Menlo Park where he was City Manager for six years.

Ventura’s new City Councilmembers are sworn in. The Council has four female members: Lorrie Brown (District 6), Cheryl Heitmann (District 7), Sofia Rubalcava (District 1) and Christy Weir (District 2). Ventura has its first female-majority City Council in history. It’s also the most diverse set of Councilmembers the city has ever had.

Wish The Councilmembers Good Luck In 2019

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New construction after Thomas Fire

Ventura Has Opportunity To Improve After The Thomas Fire

Improve After The Thomas Fire

The City Council waffled on second-story height restrictions for rebuilding victims’ homes. Indecisiveness delayed the rebuilding process for many. Councilmembers exhibited big hearts and small brains settling on the new height ordinance. They attempted to please fire victims wanting to improve their homes. Doing so delayed rebuilding for everyone. It was clear that many of the burned houses would have to come up to existing building codes. Many of the homes were built decades ago when the codes weren’t as strict. Plus, setbacks from the street had also changed. For fire victims to rebuild their houses “as is” would cost more. The new home would have a different footprint on the lot and impede neighbors’ views.

What’s more, some homeowners wanted to change the design of their new home since they were rebuilding. To please those homeowners, the Council created exceptions. They decreed restoring a home could include as much as 10% increase in the size of the structure. While well-meaning, this decision meant every house was a custom-built home. The decision put added pressure on city staff when reviewing and approving plans. And it further delayed homeowners receiving building permits.

There was another consequence of the Council’s lack of urgency. Most homeowners’ insurance provides 18-24 months of living expenses while rebuilding. The Council’s delay will force rebuilding beyond 24 months for many homeowners. As a result, those homeowners will have an added financial burden. They will pay for temporary living expenses when their insurance runs out. Plus, they will also be paying their mortgage on a destroyed home.

Don’t Miss This Chance To Improve After The Thomas Fire

The City Council’s inaction delayed a significant economic stimulus for Ventura. It reinforced the perception that Ventura lacks urgency and is bureaucratic. Now, there is a new City Council. We hope they’ll look at this process with a fresh perspective. If they do, they’ll see the need for change. We want them to force the city staff to streamline and simplify the building and permitting process.

Powerful VFD Union Exerts Its Strength On The Council

The City Council approves a $600,000 per year “roving” fire engine and three paramedics in June 2018. Ventura Fire insisted they needed the engine because response times “were especially high.” He gave no information on what’s driving the increased calls for help. Nor did he offer any cost-effective alternatives to deliver the services.

Uncertainty Over The Fire Engine

Interim City Manager Paranick did not recommend funding the roving engine in 2018. He said, “I haven’t gotten myself to a place where I’ve been comfortable yet, where I could sit here and justify the need based on demand. That’s why I did not recommend it.”

Ventura Fire Chief David Endaya wasn’t sure what targets the roving engine could hit, or by how much response times could fall.

Even so, Councilmembers Cheryl Heitmann, Matt LaVere, Jim Monahan and Erik Nasarenko voted for it. Councilmembers Mike Tracy and Christy Weir voted against it.

The Reason VFD Got Its Fire Engine

What motivated four Councilmembers to override the City Manager’s recommendation? Why did they believe the city needed to spend $600,000 in 2018? Simple. In late May, Union Leader Battalion Chief Doug Miser requested a meeting with each Councilmember. He wrote, “As you are hopefully aware, every single member of the Ventura Fire Management group dedicated a significant amount of time in call banks and walking districts to pass Measure O. We believe we are way past due in staffing another fire station in the city.” Two months later, the Ventura Fire Department had a new engine and three new paramedics.

The Councilmembers heard Miser’s message loud and clear. Ventura Fire contributed during their campaigns. Ventura Fire helped deliver Measure O money to the city’s General Fund. Now, it’s time for quid-pro-quo.

What’s more, Chief Endaya announced a hiring decision. He hired two of the three paramedics before they approved the roving fire engine. He said they’d been “over-hired” in anticipation of adding City Fire positions.