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the truth behind venturawaterpure from the Carollo Report

From Crystal Clear to Money Pit: Unveiling the Truth Behind VenturaWaterPure

the truth behind VenturaWaterPure from the Carollo Report

The current Ventura City Council could reverse twelve years of poor financial decisions by Ventura Water based on faulty assumptions. Prior City Councils have been misled and pressured into believing VenturaWaterPure is the only solution to Ventura’s water problem. That is not true now, nor has it ever been confirmed. There are several solutions the city could pursue. Yet Ventura Water pushed the project with the zeal of religious fanatics to the point where VenturaWaterPure has become dogma at City Hall. Today, the City Council has more information to make a more informed evaluation of VenturaWaterPure. We urge them to use all the information before committing ratepayers to spend more than half a billion dollars.

How The Narrative Began Based On Faulty Assumptions

In 2012, a false narrative about water in Ventura began because of a Consent Decree the city agreed to with environmental groups. Wishtoya, Heal the Bay and other groups sued the city for discharging treated sewage into the Santa Clara River. The Consent Decree required the discharge to go somewhere else. So, city officials built a narrative like this, “Ventura must comply with the Consent Decree; therefore, we can use the treated discharge as another source of water for citizens at a reasonable cost.” The narrative sounded so compelling that one Councilmember said, “If the astronauts can drink it [recycled wastewater], then so can we.” And so, the project known as VenturaWaterPure began, and the narrative became dogma at City Hall. No one at City Hall questioned the false narrative, even though Ventura Water built it on two faulty assumptions that would later prove incorrect.

First Faulty Assumption: It’s Safe To Drink

The only fact in the false narrative is that Ventura must comply with the Consent Decree by 2025. The other parts about recycling wastewater into potable water at a reasonable cost are conjecture. New technological and financial information challenges the dogma. The current City Council should weigh the latest information to reevaluate VenturaWaterPure.

the truth behind VenturaWaterPure from the Carollo ReportVentura Water’s first faulty assumption was debunked in 2016 by an expert panel appointed by the State Legislature. The panel concluded that even after treatment the water was unsafe for human consumption because microscopic contaminants and chemicals pose a danger to humans.  The Ventura City Council didn’t learn of the 2016 report until March 2019.

A group of concerned citizens brought this information to the city officials, and the 2019 City Council took action to change VenturaWaterPure’s direction. VenturaWaterPure planned to use a process known as direct potable reuse, or DPR, to deliver water to residents. Yet, the City Council forced them to change plans. Ventura Water falsely assumed it could use the treated discharge as potable water.

When the council learned the news from the concerned citizens, they directed Ventura Water to change course on DPR and go to a process known as IPR, or indirect potable reuse, where the treated water is injected back into the aquifer before being extracted and delivered to customers.

How the Ventura Water general manager and its staff did not know about the 2016 expert panel’s report or why they did not tell the City Council that DPR was unsafe for three years remains a mystery. Yet, during those three years, Ventura Water extracted higher water rates from residents and continued to spend the money for VenturaWaterPure.

Second Faulty Assumption: The Project’s Costs Are Reasonable

It was apparent in 2019 that there were flaws in Ventura Water’s narrative about VenturaWaterPure. Yet, City Hall and Ventura Water continued to follow the dogma unquestioningly. That is until another flaw surfaced. The faulty assumption that Ventura Water could implement VenturaWaterPure at a reasonable cost began to unravel.

Ventura Water hired Carollo Consulting in 2019 to estimate costs for several options to handle the treated wastewater, including VenturaWaterPure. The Carollo report projected VenturaWaterPure’s costs to be $277 million (page 415, Table A-7). In January 2024, the City Council learned of the enormous, additional expense VenturaWaterPure will cost citizens. The cost is over $556 million; $279 million more than the Carollo estimate from five years ago—more than double. There are excuses for the cost overruns, of course. Ventura Water blames inflation and COVID-19 as reasons no one could have predicted. Yet, faced with these higher costs, Ventura Water offers no alternatives to contain costs or provide reliable alternatives. They are wrong not to do so. No one at Ventura Water dares to challenge the VenturaWaterPure dogma. Instead, they place the decision at the feet of the City Council to demand alternatives.

Time To Make A Change

the truth behind VenturaWaterPure from the Carollo ReportIt’s up to the 2024 City Council to meet their fiduciary duty to Ventura’s citizens. This council has more information about costs and technologies than any previous council. Now is the time to examine all reliable alternatives before continuing with VenturaWaterPure. Past actions by City Councils are no longer relevant to any decisions this City Council takes because technological circumstances and costs have changed to achieve VenturaWaterPure’s goals.

Ventura Water commissioned the Carollo Report four years ago to provide options to resolve the Consent Decree. The report identified the under-utilized Advanced Purification Facility in Oxnard as a potential solution to reduce duplication of processing plants and reduce costs. At the time, the Oxnard option was 60%-80% less expensive than building VenturaWaterPure.

City staff and Ventura Water rejected the recommendations outright because Ventura Water wanted to keep “control” of the water and did not trust partnerships with Oxnard or United Water.  So, Ventura Water convinced prior City Councils that control and trust were worth the extra $200 million it would cost to “go it alone.” We now know that Ventura Water’s projection has ballooned to $556 million.

Hold Ventura Water Accountable

Prior City Councils have periodically asked Ventura Water to revisit lower cost alternatives. According to Ventura Water Department General Manager Gina Dorrington, “The city staff met with United [Water] and Oxnard [Water] staff several times during the development of the EIR [Environment Impact Report] and again in 2020. We also met with the Oxnard staff in November 2023.”

the truth behind venturawaterpureMeeting with Ventura Water’s counterparts is an ambiguous term. What does it mean exactly? Were new quotes or figures discussed? Was there anything that would resemble a Request for Proposal (RFP)?

So, we asked the Wastewater Division Manager at the Oxnard Water plant. He said there were conversations in November, but they have yet to discuss figures or anything that someone would construe as an RFP.

Words like “met,” or “talked,” or “contacted them” are not formal negotiations or even a reasonable faith effort to negotiate. At the least, Ventura Water misrepresented the exchange in November. At worst, it appears that Ventura Water has no intention to change the dogma surrounding VenturaWaterPure because prior City Councils have given them an unlimited budget and blank check.

It’s time for Ventura Water to stop this behavior; only the City Council can make that happen. If Ventura Water is so confident in the cost analysis presented, why wouldn’t they agree to have a full-scale RFP update from Oxnard Water and United Water? Instead, Ventura Water continues to rely on faulty estimates from Ventura’s internal consultants. For the sake of all ratepayers for this ballooning multimillion-dollar project, why not get outside, independent estimates of the costs? Aren’t we owed that? The answer is yes.

Editors’ Notes

It’s time for the 2024 Ventura City Council to meet its fiduciary duty. It’s time to break the dogma surrounding VenturaWaterPure. The council must force Ventura Water to provide reliable alternatives to VenturaWaterPure. We now know the “cost to go it alone” exceeds the $200 million Ventura Water projected in 2019. Collaborating with other water agencies may be less costly, as the Carollo Report indicated. If Ventura partners with other agencies, demand documented costs for those alternatives. Please do not rely on the estimates and projections of Ventura Water or its consultants.

Tell The City Council To Do Their Fiduciary Duty

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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.

Will hire the most influential job in Ventura Will hire the most influential job in Ventura
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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

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

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

—Albert Camus

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

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

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

Water Will Dominate The 2020 City Council Election

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

Wishtoyo Consent Decree Compliance

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

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

VenturaWaterPure

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

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

Looming Water Rate Increases

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

Ventura River Cross-Complaint

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

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

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

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

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

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

Budget Deficits For The Entire Term

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

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

Pensions Are A Political Third Rail

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

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

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

Voting By Districts In The 2020 City Council Election

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

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

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

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

Campaign Finances

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

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

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

2020 City Council election

2018 City Council election contributions

Growth As An Issue In The 2020 City Council election

council candidates

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

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

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

Editors Comments

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

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

 

Make Certain All Councilmembers Can Address These Issues Adequately.

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Councilmembers
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What Services Will Ventura Cut In The 2020-2021 Budget?

2020-2021 Budget Mocked By Laurel & Hardy

Another Fine Mess You’ve Gotten Us Into, Stanley.”

Laurel & Hardy

Sharpen Pencil To Balance 2020-2021 Budget

The 2020-2021 budget presents a challenge to the City Council. This Council must weigh how to close the budget deficit in the coming year.

The Coming Problem

the 2020-2021 Budget Makes People WhingeToday’s Council is still operating on the 2019-2020 budget that shows everything is fine. In six months we will be in a new budget cycle, how does that look? The city staff projects a “most likely” budget scenario that will have a shortfall of $4.1M.  How can the seven members of the City Council take action to save jobs and essential services for the citizens of Ventura?

The Seriousness of the 2020-2021 Budget

In two of these three scenarios, Ventura residents should be concerned about possible severe cutbacks in services and personnel.  Ventura has a 67% probability of significant shortfalls in the next fiscal year and the next four years after that. This Council may play a game of fiscal musical chairs with the budget hoping the music doesn’t stop and throw the city into insolvency. Is there a better solution?  It may be time for the Council to focus on a multi-year budget to better spend the limited money available to us.

The Council must come to a decision soon and may need to cut back services and personnel. If they don’t, the specter of insolvency looms over the city. The Council should inform citizens and allowed them input before taking drastic measures. Please keep reading!

What Can The Council Do With The 2020-2021 Budget?

The city staff presented the Council with several options to consider remedying the projected shortfalls. The team looked at revenue and expense items available to the Council.

Potential Revenue Enhancements to the 2020-2021 Budget

  1. The added revenue from proposed changes to Prop 13.​ These changes are beyond the City Council’s control. They are purely wishful thinking at this time.
  2. Increase the Transit-Occupancy-Tax (TOT) rate.​ The TOT, also known as the bed tax, impacts tourists visiting the city. Each 1% rise in the tax generates an additional $600,000 in revenue. The downside of increasing the TOT is that it makes Ventura less desirable for tourists to visit or may shorten a visitor’s stay.
  3. Additional revenue from cannabis sales might generate $500,000 or more.​ Prop 64 made recreational marijuana use legal, yet Ventura has been slow to embrace pot sales. Outgoing Police Chief Ken Corney believed Ventura should exercise caution when rolling out cannabis. Yet, even if Ventura pushed hard for cannabis sales, the revenue would barely dent the projected $4.1 million deficit.
  4. Other revenue-generating ideas.​ The city staff didn’t elaborate on what those ideas might be.

Potential Expense Reductions to the 2020-2021 Budget

  1. Limiting Overtime in the 2020-2021 BudgetReduce overtime for city employees.​ The largest single expense category in the city is staff salaries and benefits. Reducing overtime might save as much as $5.6 million in the budget.
  2. Reduce “extra help” expenses.​ Such a reduction would generate $2.3 million in expense reduction. Extra helpers supplement city workers.
  3. Reduce anticipated pay increases.​ That means fewer raises or smaller raises for city employees. Every 1% decrease in pay raises contributes approximately $800,000 in savings.
  4. Transfer some Information Technology (IT) or Internal Services Fund (ISF) costs to Measure O. ​The city staff believes transferring some of these costs to Measure O will support staff needs. The cost savings would be $120,000. If they do move those costs, though, it will represent a shift in policy.The Measure O proponents told voters the money would address specific needs. IT and ISF costs were not among those needs. Measure O money goes into the General Fund, so the City Council can use it as they see fit. Yet, using it for operating purposes would invalidate the spirit of the sales tax increase.  Using Measure O breaks one of then-Mayor Erik Nasarenko’s promises of the Measure’s benefits. The Measure O Oversight Committee should be concerned.We warned you.​
  1. Review warehouse costs. ​ This alternative lists no amount of savings.
  2. Review all discretionary spending:
  3. Museumm Cuts in the 2020-2021 BudgetReview the money Ventura pays to support the Ventura County Museum. ​ This option will save $250,000 per year. ​Prior Councils agreed to give the museum more than $1 million through the fiscal year 2022-23.
  4. Review the money spent on Ventura’s Libraries. ​ Savings could be as much as $250,000 per year. No one mentioned the unintended consequences of such a cut, however.
  5. CAPS may be cut in the 2020-2021 BudgetEvaluate Community Granting Programs. ​ The amount of potential savings is not listed. This category includes programs like Community Access Partners (CAPS). CAPS received a contentious fourth amendment​ through December 31, 2019.
  6. Assess contributing to Ventura’s Visitors Bureau. ​ The savings could be as high as $968,000.
  7. Examine other discretionary spending. This alternative included no specifics.

Potential Use of Fund Balances

  1. Use $3 million in 2021, $2 million in 2022 and $1 million in 2023 (or some other variation) from the Unassigned Funds.
  2. Use the Catastrophic Reserve of $15 million if a recession strikes.
  3. Use Measure O revenue. Certainly not its intended goal.

These three options are the most troubling items presented by the city staff. Using the city’s various fund balances should be considered as a last resort and, while it’s prudent for city staff to present them as options, the City Council should consider using them only in dire circumstances.

Considering the 2020-2021 Budget

The city staff assumed some projects would continue as planned. That is a false assumption. The City Council should consider all alternatives. More than ever, the Council should review “Business As Usual.”

  1. Do we the Citizens want to authorize spending up to a BILLION dollars on a water project?The Water Agency and the Council continue to put forward the need to spend $1 billion because we need drinking water, thus the need to use recycled wastewater by building VenturaWaterPure to satisfy supply needs. Are there regulations in place to allow that?  The State of California won’t have an approved test for water safety until 2024, at the earliest. Seemingly the purpose behind this is that the Council needs to ship the Santa Clara River effluent somewhere else. Yet, they could choose the most cost-efficient option of shipping that water to Oxnard’s Advanced Water Treatment Facility.  A $70 million option versus $1 billion. What do the citizens want?
  2. Should the Council ask city employees to contribute a higher percentage of their pay towards their retirement?
  3. Should the Council consider options for the Fire Department? Evaluate whether to merge Ventura Fire with Ventura County fire?
  4. Shouldn’t the Council and citizens know precisely how Homeless services cost and how they get allocated? Let’s ask for the facts as citizens. Just some of the costs include:
    1. The Homeless Shelter ($712,000 per year)
    2. The police Homeless Task Force (seven officers)
    3. A Safe & Clean Program manager
    4. An embedded mental health professional
    5. The Downtown Ambassadors
    6. The police and fire personnel that answer service calls in addition to the Homeless Task Force

Editors Comments

We’re confronted with several key questions when considering the 2020-2021 budget. How is it that after more than ten years of economic growth and market growth, and the imposition of a sales tax increase, we are about to face a sudden, significant budget deficit?  We believe it’s the cumulative effect of more than a decade’s worth of poor economic policy choices by both the city government and the citizens.

Ventura hasn’t projected a budget deficit this large since the 2008-2009 Recession. With the stakes this high, there is little room for error. Poor decisions could lead to the city’s insolvency.

Yes, we must solve the current budget shortfall. We expect this City Council will focus on meaningful change and keep citizens informed. This Council has a difficult task ahead and must weigh how to best spend the limited revenue we have and substantially cut expenses to close the budget deficit.

Citizens expect the Council to be astute when evaluating these alternatives and to have staff report as clearly as possible.  That’s why we believe taking on a $1 billion water project is lunacy without direct input from the voters.

The decisions the Council make with the 2020-2021 budget will have consequences for years to come. Citizens must help with input and oversight. Please consider contacting your representative and let them know you are concerned, want to be informed, and are watching the process.

Tell City Council You’re Concerned, Want to be Informed, and Are Watching the Process.

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The Decade Of The 2010s

This Is Why The Decade Of The 2010s Is Important

Do not suffer your good nature…to say yes when you ought to say no.”

—George Washington

As the 21st century teeters between the 2010s and the 2020s, it’s a perfect time to take stock of an eventful decade. Over the last ten years, several key events changed Ventura forever.  Let’s look at what happened and the effect these incidents had.

How We’ll Remember The 2010s

We’ll remember the 2010s as a decade that began with the city struggling to get out of a recession, followed by ten years of decisions made with good intentions gone wrong. Bureaucrats and politicians pushed their agendas on the city. And like Sisyphus pushing the boulder up the hill, we kept falling backward.

Leadership circus of the 2010sIt’s remarkable that the city accomplished anything in the 2010s. We had three City Managers and three Interim City Managers. No one person was in the role for more than three years. Turnover created a leadership vacuum that minimized any chance for meaningful change.

Key Events In The Decade Of The 2010s

The 2010s started as “business as usual.” Then the Thomas Fire happened. Citizens quickly became interested in how the Ventura would handle two issues: public safety during and after the fire, and rebuilding. After twelve months of intense interest, citizens have returned to “business as usual.”

Here are the key events of the decade: the Thomas Fire, December 2017; the Wishtoyo Consent Decree, 2012; Pension Inflation, 2010-2019; Homelessness, 2010-2019; the Anthony Mele, Jr. murder, April 2018; Brooks Institute’s failure, 2016; the WAV Building, 2012; Ventura’s Grand Jury Finding against Ventura’s building & safety inspectors, 2013; and district elections. Let’s look at what happened in each case and how it affects you.

The Thomas Fire

Thomas Fire was the biggest event of the 2010s

The biggest misfortune in Ventura’s history was the Thomas Fire, which began on December 4, 2017. The fire destroyed 535 structures in the city, displacing hundreds of residents and impacting everyone’s lives.

During the fire, Ventura’s public safety performed admirably. Despite the widespread devastation, police and fire protected the lives of everyone living in the city. Evacuations were orderly, albeit slow. There were many stories of heroic efforts by police and fire going beyond the call of duty.

Other aspects of the city’s performance didn’t go so well. Several groups pilloried Ventura Water for inadequate water supply to fire hydrants in the affected areas. An investigation is on-going. So are lawsuits.

The City Council added to the misery of the victims in an example of good intentions gone bad. The Council waffled on second-story height restrictions for rebuilding victims’ homes. Indecisiveness delayed the rebuilding process for many. They attempted to please fire victims wanting to improve their homes and doing so delayed rebuilding for everyone.

After two years, only 80 families have returned to their rebuilt homes.

The Wishtoyo Consent Decree

Wishtoyo Decree in the 2010sThe Consent Decree stems from a federal complaint filed by Whistoya Foundation [WISHTOYA VS. CITY OF SAN BUENAVENTURA, CASE NO. CV 10-02072]. The Consent Decree requires Ventura to stop putting 100% of its treated wastewater into the Santa Clara River estuary. The city must divert a percentage of the 7.5 million gallons-per-day starting in 2025. The balance must be redirected by 2030. That decree is silent on how and where Ventura diverts the wastewater.

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

Ventura Water has confused the City Council by combining two different ideas to falsely heighten the urgency to drink wastewater.

VenturaWaterPure will cost $1 billion over 30 years. That’s a considerable sum of money for the community to absorb. Expect your water bill to double to pay for VenturaWaterPure’s infrastructure alone. Remember, water costs already went up by $220 million with water and wastewater increases in 2012-13.

The Wishtoyo Consent Decree is a fiscal calamity for the city. More cost-effective options exist, but the City Council and Ventura Water fail to consider them. Times change. Circumstances change. Now is the time to reconsider options to be sure we’re making the best choice available.

Pension Inflation Throughout The 2010s

Retirement pensions are the city’s number one problem. Pensions in the 2010s Ventura currently has a $215.1 million unfunded pension liability, and that number continues to grow. CalPERS (the California Public Employees retirement fund) demands rapidly increasing contributions from Ventura. We will have permanent increases of at least $2 million per year for five to six consecutive years.

We respect the work city employees do. There is no denying that fire and police preform a vital job that is both dangerous and requires a high level of training and responsibility. Our concern is not about their work. It’s about the structure by which their retirement is accumulated and paid after retirement.

It is undeniable that city employees’ retirement pensions are crowding out the city’s ability to provide the service itself. Moreover, chronic underfunding of pensions will eventually hit a breaking point jeopardizing the employees’ benefits too. Expect your taxes to increase (á la Measure O) and the services the city provides to decrease.

Homelessness In Ventura In The 2010s

You may remember Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Farewell Speech when he described the Military-Industrial Complex. Now, we have something new, the Homelessness-Industrial Complex. Today’s Homelessness-Industrial Complex shares some of the same characteristics as the Military-Industrial Complex. There is an alliance of special interests. It includes government bureaucracies, homeless advocacy groups operating through nonprofit entities, and large government contractors, especially construction companies and land development firms.

Here’s how the process works: Developers accept public money to build projects to house the homeless – either “bridge housing,” or “permanent supportive housing.” Cities and counties collect building fees and hire bureaucrats for oversight. The projects are then handed off to nonprofits with long term contracts to run them.

Homelessness mushroomed in the 2010sSounds good, right? That is until you see the price tag. Developers don’t just build housing projects; they construct ridiculously overpriced, overbuilt housing projects. (Keep in mind Ventura’s permitting fees and stringent building codes). Cities and counties create massive bureaucracies. The nonprofits don’t just run these projects; they operate vast bureaucratic empires. These fiefdoms have overhead, marketing budgets, and executive salaries that do nothing for the homeless. They do not overpay the workers in the shelter.

Set Up For Failure

Ventura selected Mercy House from Orange County to run its homeless shelter. Larry Haynes, Marcy House’s president, said in a speech in Ventura, “Housing is, ‘An inalienable right.’”

Mr. Haynes believes a cornerstone to Mercy House’s success in Ventura depends on developing affordable housing. Herein lies the rub. If Ventura doesn’t build affordable housing, how does that impact Mercy House’s performance? Affordable housing isn’t something Ventura has been able to do historically. “It makes it harder,” he said.

The City of Ventura has 555 homeless people. Of those, 387 are unsheltered. The Homeless Shelter will house 55 people from Ventura, leaving 332 people vulnerable.

Ventura will spend $712,000 each year for its 55 beds in the new homeless shelter. That equates to $12,945 per bed per year. And if what Mr. Haynes says is true, expect the city to pay more and more on homelessness and less on other services.

Anthony Mele, Jr. Murder

Jamal Jackson stabbed Anthony Mele, Jr. to death on Ventura’s Promenade in April 2018, thrusting the city into the national news.

Jackson was a repeat offender and was homeless. Many citizens jumbled his criminal act and his impoverished state. Of Ventura’s 555 homeless, 85 (32.7%) have mental health problems, and 93 (35.8%) have substance abuse problems.

The crime prompted an immediate reaction by Ventura Police. First, patrols along the promenade increased. At first, two officers patrolled the boardwalk 20 hours per day. Shortly after that, police expanded the patrol radius to include downtown. In July 2018, the City Council approved funds to continue the patrols. Now two officers patrol 12 hours per day. Arrest data increased since the incident. Ventura Police still deal with a significant number of recidivist criminal homeless.

Following the incident, the Police department reviewed its procedures. Chief Ken Corney admitted poor judgment. Substituting video monitoring for an officer responding was not the right choice.

Since then, there have been changes to the security camera monitoring. The changes include:

Extra cameras, active surveillance, more training, changes in monitoring policy, and re-prioritization of Calls for Service response. The review also concluded that the police adequately prioritized the call when it came in.

Public outcry diminished, but the problem of criminal vagrancy continues beyond the 2010s.

Real Estate Blunders Throughout The 2010s

2010s

The city mismanages taxpayer money on real estate deal routinely. In the past decade, there have been several notable instances: Brooks Institute, the WAV Building, the Harbor Church and the city parking garage. In each case, the mistakes have cost taxpayers’ money.

Brooks Institute

With Brooks Institute, the City Council believed relocating the school downtown would benefit the city. The City Council’s good intention went wrong. Brooks Institute was financially insolvent. It pulled out of town contractors and the city money.

The folks at City Hall tried hard to put on a brave and jubilant face in trying to explain why their decision to accept $71,000 to settle a lawsuit against Brooks Institute is a victory. Readers of this letter know better. The settlement does not even cover the rents and security deposit that Brooks was to have paid in the first six months of their lease. Nor does it account for the future lost rents and property damages. By our best estimate, the city lost well over $261,000 in this settlement.

The WAV Building

Ventura completed construction on the WAV (Working Artists of Ventura) Building at the beginning of the decade. The building included 82 low income and subsidized housing units, commercial spaces and 13 condos for sale at market rate.

What did the WAV Building cost? $55 million according to the city.  That figure is too low, however. It doesn’t consider the cost of the 1.7 acres of city-owned property Ventura sold to the developer for $1. It also doesn’t include the $1.5 million in deferred permit fees. A reasonable estimate put this at $65 million.

The city acquired tax money from many sources to pay for construction, but it was not enough. Then city officials did something devious to finance completing construction. They took $1 million from the Ventura Water funds, transferred it to the Public Art Fund, then loaned the money to the project. Even worse, the city subordinated the loan to a $4.5 million mortgage from Chase. Selling the 13 condos for between $725,000 to $850,000 each would repay the city’s inter-department loan.

2010sThe concept flopped. The condos finally sold in 2018 for a fraction of what the city hoped to get. Buyers paid $413,000-$470,000 for the units. Once the sale completed, the mortgage holder, Chase, was repaid both principal and interest. Ventura Water was left holding the bag, however, for the $1 million “loaned” to the city. The city received only $105,893 from the sale of the condos after paying the Construction Loan, sales commissions, sales expenses, the City Deferred Impact Fee Loan and the developer.

What’s more, the city loaned $2 million to the Regional Development Agency (RDA) to build the WAV project. The city expected to be repaid $1 million before the California Assembly eliminated RDAs statewide. Ventura wrote off $1 million when the RDA disappeared. Ventura is pursuing the outstanding principal and interest through the Recognized Obligation Payment Schedule (ROPS), but has received nothing so far.

All totaled, Ventura lost $1,894,107 on the sale of the condos.

Former Mayor Bill Fulton projected the project would “produce 25,000 visitors a year and would stimulate the local economy, resulting in $75,000,000 in new investments.” He also said the city used no local tax dollars to build the WAV Building.

The reality is that most of the money came from Federal and State taxes. But the funds noted above came from the city, plus another $334,176 to offset various construction fees.

As for the $75 million in new investment, we will never know because the estimator, Bill Fulton, left town.

At the time, we noted our elected representatives lack the understanding, the capacity to ask the more profound questions or political will to stop these types of actions.

Harbor Church

The city paid church officials $2.3 million to buy the Harbor Church property in 2016. City Hall and Harbor Church agreed the value of both the land and the church building was $1.6 million. The actual sales price included an extra $700,000 to pay the Church to move. By any measure, Ventura overpaid for the property.

Downtown Parking Garage

And there was a mistake with the city parking garage—the city grants private, reserved parking spaces to select businesses downtown as an incentive to operate. The city approved ten parking spaces to entice Cinemark Theaters to remain downtown. The trouble was when Lure Restaurant opened at 66 California, and the city staff provided them the same ten spots. This may not seem like a big blunder, but it shows that the city is inept at managing real estate, or the staff lacks good leadership to make sure mistakes don’t occur.

We’ve believed the city should get out of the real estate business throughout the 2010s. The litany of poor decisions grows. Ventura owns commercial real estate throughout the city. As these examples demonstrate, the city has not made responsible decisions regarding these properties. At the very least, the city should seek advice from licensed realtors and experts whenever making a real estate decision.

Grand Jury Finding

The 2011-2012 Ventura County Grand Jury opened an inquiry and issued a report condemning the City of Ventura’s Code Enforcement practices. The report addresses the aggressive collection of fees by Code Enforcement, motivated by the need to raise more revenue.

Ventura's Code Enforcement Scrutinized in the 2010sCity government and Code Enforcement officers serve a valuable and essential service to our community until they start acting like bullies with their use of force, intimidation, abuse of power and excessive punishment of the citizenry.

At the time, the city’s response to this report demonstrated their lack of understanding or constituted a brazen and irresponsible attempt to obfuscate the truth when they dismissed the report as vague. It was not.

For much of the 2010s, citizens overlooked or forgot the Grand Jury’s report until we had the Thomas Fire. Suddenly, city permitting and inspection of new buildings was of paramount importance. Sadly, stories from the fire’s victims indicate nothing has changed at City Hall.

District Elections

City Council Candidates will serve by district after the 2010s

For the first time in Ventura’s history, voting districts divide the city. The districting forced Mayor Neal Andrews and Councilmember Mike Tracy to retire. Councilmember Jim Monahan decided to retire after forty years of service. New Councilmembers are bringing fresh perspective and energy to the Council. They also are facing a steep learning curve to be effective.

Governing by districts means inexperienced new Councilmembers will lead the city. Inexperience leads to two possible outcomes. First, existing Councilmembers and city staff may marginalize them until they gain experience and knowledge. Second, the new City Manager and the city staff may take more control without voter accountability. Neither of these is good.

Citizens will now expect their elected officials to represent their district’s interests. As a result, concern for the city as a whole may take a backseat to districtwide issues. The loss of a citywide perspective on the Council is distressing.

Nowhere was this more evident than in the first forum for District 1 candidates. Citizens expressed concern for a Westside pool, learning how governing by districts will work, affordable housing and labor force opportunities. Very few of these issues aligned with what the outgoing City Councilmembers thought was most important: 1) growth 2) water 3) homelessness and 4) staff accountability.

Editor’s Comments

We will remember the 2010s as one of the most significant decades in Ventura’s history. It was a decade that saw our city leaders allow uninformed good intentions to overrule good governing. As a result, the city finds itself with budget deficits for the next five years. This is due, in part, to a growing pension debt obligation. The city is poised to pass along the most substantial rate increase for water in its history. The money the city spends on homelessness will grow. So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the city will have to raise taxes, cut services or a combination of the two.

The groundwork laid by city leaders in the 2010s provides a shaky foundation for the 2020s. The specter of higher taxes and reduced city services looms. Several things must happen to overcome the city’s current situation.

First, The City Council must have a cohesive, long-term vision. That vision must focus on the fundamentals of governing: public safety, maintained streets, safe neighborhoods, clean, affordable water, and business growth. In the early 2010s, the Council had a vision, but it didn’t concentrate on the fundamentals. As a result, the Council left the city with the Wishtoyo Consent Decree and the WAV Building. From 2013 on, the Council was divided and lacked any vision. The landmark accomplishment of those Councils was to push the Measure O sales tax increase. Yet, if you ask ordinary citizens how the extra money helps them, they’d be hard-pressed to answer.

Second, Ventura must retain a City Manager for more than three years. The City Manager leads the city staff to fulfill the City Council’s vision. Constant turnover disrupts that vision. A City Manager needs time to build a team and get them performing at a high level. We hope our current City Manager, Alex McIntyre, will have the opportunity to show the city what he’s capable of doing.

Third, voters must get involved. District voting means every vote is more important than it’s ever been. Your vote is one in 15,000 potential voters in your district. Your ballot carries more value than it did when we had citywide elections and your vote was one of 64,976. If the city is to overcome the current obstacles, we can’t have districts in which only 3,781 voters cast ballots.

Tell City Council, “Don’t Repeat The Mistakes Of The 2010s.”

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.

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