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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.

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What You Need To Know About The Schools And Communities First Initiative

You'll Pay Through The Nose If The Schools And Communities First Initiative Passes

Some taxpayers close their eyes, some stop their ears, some shut their mouth, but all pay through the nose.”

—F.J. Raymond

vote against the schools and communities first initiative

The pandemic has impacted everyone and everything.  Businesses large and small struggle, and while it has probably not come to your attention, this November, a proposed ballot measure aims to increase the cost of living for everyone.  Under the guise of “helping our children,” the legislature placed The Schools and Communities First (initiative 19-0008) on the ballot.  If approved, this will push prices higher for all residents.

Today’s property tax regulations — Proposition 13

On June 6, 1978, the voters passed Proposition 13 reducing property tax rates on homes and businesses by 57%.  That happened because legislative bodies were raising taxes aggressively, the only limits being a legislator’s imagination on how to devise the next tax increase.  So, Prop 13 rolled back and froze the taxable value to the 1976 level.  Any increases were limited to no more than 2% per year as long as the owner did not sell it.  Once sold, assessors re-valued the property at 1% of the sale price, and the 2% yearly cap applied to future years.

Changing Prop 13 Through The Schools and Communities First Initiative

The Schools and Communities First Initiative seeks to repeal Proposition 13 protections for commercial and industrial property owners. Every business, commercial and industrial property will be reassessed every three years and taxes assessed based upon “the fair market value” or the “income approach “of valuation, whichever is higher.  They project it will raise $12 billion per year in new tax revenue.

Declining enrollment doesn't warrant schools and communities first initiativeWhether owned by a large corporation or a family, the initiative would be a massive tax increase. It will affect office buildings, retail stores, shopping malls, movie theaters, gas stations, supermarkets, factories, warehouses, self-storage facilities, auto dealerships, car washes, restaurants, hotels and every other job-creating business in the state. Even small businesses that lease space in a strip mall would see their operating costs jump sharply due to tax increases passed through from landlord to tenant.

Many public unions support this tax Initiative — the California Teachers Association (CTA), the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), California Tax on Commercial and Industrial Properties for Education, Education and Local Government Funding Initiatives (2020).

What The Proponents Say Is Wrong

Advocates argue that this is only a “split roll,” and it is “for the children.”  Split roll is a shorthand term for proposed changes to Proposition 13 that would allow higher property tax assessments on a commercial property, but would not change for residential property.

Another argument advocates make is that corporations have benefited more than homeowners under Proposition 13. They assert that the business property tax-burden shifts from companies to homeowners; they call a “property tax loophole.” They say passing The Schools and Communities First Initiative closes this loophole.

The suggestion that there has been an “enormous shift” is untrue. Displayed is a chart showing the percentage of tax paid by business versus individuals in 1979-80 and then in 2015-2016. Using data obtained from the California State Board of Equalization and the California Legislative Analysis Office, the following pie charts show business property owners pay more in taxes now than they did 40 years ago:

schools and communities first charts on ownership

Source: California Tax Foundation

How You Will Be Affected If This Passes

All consumer costs will jump. Business property owners will pass the tax increase to consumers in the form of higher prices for everything, for all goods and services.

  • Chain stores will pass on the costs to consumers and survive, maybe. Five hundred companies have filed for Chapter 11 since the pandemic began.
  • Shopping malls like the Pacific View Mall, where a retail tenant typically pays a Triple Net Lease (N-N-N),meaning the tenant pays the taxes.  In this instance, property owners will not pay the higher taxes, as the proponents would lead you to believe. Instead, store owners will pay the tax and pass that expense on to their customers with higher prices. If not, they will fail.
  • If you rent a self-storage unit, pay attention. The self-storage industry is very concerned about the effect on its business. The industry calls the tax disastrous. Who are the most frequent users of self-storage units? Renters!
  • Gas Stations. If you drive, Schools and Communities First Initiative will hurt you. Retail gas stations would see price hikes and closures. A quick review of gas stations for sale shows that the split roll will negatively impact many of them. Gas prices will go up accordingly.

Opponents to the Schools and Communities First Initiative

A list of the opponents to the Schools and Communities First Initiative includes the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, the Ventura County Taxpayers Association, the California Taxpayers Association, the California Chamber of Commerce, the California Farm Bureau, the California Business Properties Association and the Western Manufactured Housing Communities Association.

schools and communities first image of willie brownWillie Brown, former San Francisco mayor and the longest-serving Speaker of the California Assembly, also opposes this measure and stated: “…that the Schools and Communities First Initiative will harm small businesses, especially minority-owned small businesses.”

David Kline, vice president of communications and research for the California Taxpayers Association in Sacramento, said, “The last thing this state needs is higher taxes, and especially a tax that would increase the cost of everything we buy in California.”

The California Assessors’ Association (CAA) is also in opposition. Larry Stone, Santa Clara County’s assessor, said, “it is impossible to implement as written.”  CAA President Don Gaekle, the assessor for Stanislaus County, wrote in a letter to lawmakers, “Current local budgetary realities will make the implementation of the initiative extremely difficult.”

Editors Comments

The high cost of living in California would be pushed even higher by this massive tax increase. Passing the Schools And Communities First Initiative would hit every business in the state at the same time.

Don’t be fooled when “split roll” advocates say that it just hits businesses. When their costs go up, so do the prices you pay for goods and services.

The “split roll” would make California’s brick-and-mortar businesses increasingly uncompetitive with online companies based in other states where costs are far lower. It would also accelerate business flight out of California.

Advocates of a “split roll” say it merely closes a “loophole.” They maintain that voters never intended Proposition 13 to apply to commercial property, but this isn’t true.

California has had a single or “unified” roll, treating all property the same, since the 1800s! Proposition 13 didn’t change that.

The government employees charged with implementing the Schools And Communities First Initiative say the law is untenable as written. They would need extra appraisers and support staff to do what the law requires, thereby increasing the government’s cost and adding to California’s pension burden.

Taxes are already too high in California, yet the demand for more is unrelenting. Read past the Schools And Communities First name on the ballot. Look beyond the rhetoric to understand the real costs to you.

Learn Where Your City Councilmember Stands On The Schools and Communities First Initiative

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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Making VenturaWaterPure Better

What VenturaWaterPure Should Do To Be Better

Commentary on VenturaWaterPure

Of all the tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive…those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”

—C.S. Lewis

Time to Improve VenturaWaterPure

Eight years ago, Ventura Water decided to pursue VenturaWaterPure single-mindedly. They are pursuing this course in the face of data that demonstrates it’s not in the best interest of citizens cost-wise or health-wise.

How Things Began To Go Wrong For VenturaWaterPure

Ventura Water based their decision on a faulty premise that Ventura needed additional water. The Wishtoyo Consent Decree opened the door for Ventura Water to select Direct Potable Reuse (DPR) as an integral part of VenturaWaterPure. Since 2012, nobody has tested the assumptions or sought lower-cost alternatives.

Ventura Water will do anything to pursue this goal, even when confronted with facts to the contrary. In June 2018, a group of concerned citizens went to each Councilmember to show them DPR was not approved and deemed not safe, yet. When the Council presented that fact to Ventura Water, they changed course slightly to Indirect Potable Reuse (IPR), but they didn’t drop VenturaWaterPure or challenge their assumptions.

More recently, when Ventura Water presented to the Water Commission, they said State Water was unreliable and they can only count on water 33% of the time. Commissioners pointed out that historical data show State Water was reliable 50%-75% of the time. Ventura Water backtracked again and said they’d upgrade their data, but they never questioned their assumptions.

What These Decisions Cost You

A September 12, 2019 report titled Ventura Water Supply Projects and Alternatives, commissioned by Ventura Water (Appendix E starting on pg. 405), shows estimated project costs of another $320 Million plus the annual operating expenses of $29.Million for VenturaWaterPure. The added expense could saddle Ventura’s citizens with another $260 per month in water rates unless Ventura Water takes an alternative direction.

High cost of VenturaWaterPureSpreading $320 Million over ten years, divided equally among the 32,000 water ratepayers in Ventura, will cost about $83 more per month on your water bill. An extra 20-27 employees are required to operate the new facility, adding to the Ventura Water’s payroll, benefits and pensions. If Ventura Water adds the minimum number of new employees, using an average annual cost of $100,000 per person, plus benefits, will add $29.1 Million annually. Dividing $29.1 Million by 32,000 water ratepayers adds another $76 per month to each water bill.

Assume the average monthly water bill in Ventura is $100 per month ($200 every two months) when adding another $83 for building and $76 for operations and maintenance, the new average total is $260 per month. The amount could be even higher if Ventura Water hires more than 20 new employees.

Known as the Carollo Report, this September 12, 2019 report looks at the high price of the VenturaWaterPure project. It also attempts to provide alternatives that would be much more cost-effective and allow Ventura to meet its three primary water goals. Ventura Water has rejected all lesser cost alternatives.

Ventura’s goals remain: 1) remove tertiary treated wastewater from the Santa Clara Estuary, 2) increase the water supply and 3) improve the water quality in the east end of Ventura.

The Driving Force Behind VenturaWaterPure

VenturaWaterPure is a runaway trainVentura Water has already spent eight years to meet the demands of a Federal Consent Decree. Ventura must fully comply with the removal of remove tertiary treated wastewater from the Santa Clara Estuary by 2025. To achieve this mandate, VenturaWaterPure was set in motion to recycle its wastewater into something useful.

In 2012, there was no idea what the costs of VenturaWaterPure would be, from where the money would come or whether it was scientifically possible. The ideal outcome would be to make the recycled water drinkable and add to the dwindling water supply. The idea of ‘toilet to tap’ originated on the premise that ‘if the astronauts can drink it, we can too.’ That mantra assumes a great deal but is not that simple.

What Is Ventura Willing To Spend?

According to the Carollo Report, the current VenturaWaterPure carries a price tag of over $250 million and another $70 million to complete the project totaling $320 million. Do you spend another $320 million if Ventura Water can meet its three goals for less regardless of the money already spent?  And if you do, how will a family afford a 260% water rate increase?

Today’s Plan

The current VenturaWaterPure plan calls for the construction of an advanced water purification facility, new pipeline infrastructure and three injection wells. This current plan also requires the addition of 20 to 27 more positions, with salaries, benefits and pensions.  The Carollo Report indicates that much of the costs and liability that Ventura Water plans to take on as an independent project could be shared and reduced on a more regional basis.

So, What’s The Alternative?

It is not too late to reconsider some of the alternatives suggested in the Carollo Report. The redirection of the first part of the planned $270 million project does not mean the end of VenturaWaterPure. VenturaWaterPure can be completed at a savings of $270 million and meet all the city’s goals.

The alternative is for Ventura Water to construct a pipeline to the United Water settlement ponds near the intersection of 118 and Vineyard Avenue. The water can then percolate into the Oxnard plain basin. Ventura Water had always planned to inject the well water into the Oxnard plain basin under its current plan.

The United Water settlement alternative plan eliminates the need for Ventura Water to construct the advanced water purification facility, pipeline infrastructure and three injection wells. That is a savings of $320 Million. It would require the construction of nine miles of a 24-inch pipeline with a cost of about $50 million, so the net saving is still $270 Million.

 

Alternative Costs to VenturaWaterPure

 

There will need to be negotiations with United Water to complete the water transfer loop. Given the Groundwater Management act legislation (GMA), agencies transferring water to other agencies require cooperation in water exchanges. In that process, Ventura Water can obtain additional water allocations to add to the water supply.

Why Would There Be Any Objection?

The possible resistance to redirecting the tertiary treated Santa Clara Estuary wastewater to the United Water Saticoy Spreading Grounds is that Ventura Water may fear losing control of their water resource. This concern is unfounded, however. All water injected into any wells, may be drawn out by any water user with access to the Oxnard plain basin.

Improves The VenturaWaterPure Program

Saving Money on VenturaWaterPureSaving $270 million by redirecting the Santa Clara Estuary tertiary treated wastewater to the United Water Saticoy spreading grounds does not derail the other Ventura Water goals. With the continued construction of the State Water Project, State Water will provide an additional water resource to compliment the river, groundwater and recycling programs in place. The State Water will also improve the water quality for the east end of Ventura. Additionally, the tertiary treated wastewater to the United Water Saticoy spreading grounds would remain available to be drawn out of the Oxnard Basin just as it would be if injected into any wells currently planned.

Editor’s Comments

The challenge in 2012 was to comply with the Federal Court Decree, and the chosen solution was to convert the estuary into drinkable water. Ventura Water created VentruaWaterPure on the pretense that the cost of moving the water away from the estuary could be justified because we could then drink it. At the time, the costs not known and the scientific reports were incomplete. Fixated on controlling all water resources, and reject all alternatives, sounded good eight years ago. However, the original plan is too costly now, and the scientific studies still discourage drinking the treated wastewater.

Utilizing the regional resources to accomplish the same goals at a lower cost is better for Ventura. With this one primary change, VenturaWaterPure will succeed, and the citizens will save as much as $137 per month or $1,644 per year on their water bill.

Call or email your City Councilmember to tell them you want to save $270 Million and not have your water rates nearly triple.

Tell City Council you want to save $270 Million and not have your water rates nearly triple.

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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Beaten Up Dollar: Deficit

The Best Thing The Council Can Do About The Deficit

History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.”

Mark Twain

Ventura finds itself staring down another multi-million-dollar budget deficit. This time we must overcome a 10% deficit, or $12 million.

Most people’s attention won’t be on the budget because they’re focused on COVID-19 and the upheavals it has caused. The City Council will use the pandemic as a reason to make decisions they otherwise might not make. Make no mistake, however. The budget deficit existed before COVID-19 but became worse because of the economic shutdown.

Decisions by several past City Councils have brought us to today’s $12 million budget deficit. Previous Councils have not fully replenished the city’s financial reserves and have not planned for an economic downturn like the one Ventura is facing today. Now, the current City Council must find ways to make up for the lack of vision of previous Councils.

The Covid-19 Impact

The Covid-19 shutdown put hundreds of people out of work and decimated the local economy. Six of the seven Councilmembers and many of the city staff have never experienced such a dire situation. Fortunately, City Manager Alex McIntyre has. Even so, the current conditions will test his mettle.

The spotlight will be on Mr. McIntyre as Ventura moves forward after the pandemic. The burden is squarely on him to prove his effectiveness and value. The recommendations he makes—and the decisions the City Council make—will impact the city for years to come.

What Faces Ventura

Mr. McIntyre’s challenges are daunting. The local economy is in shambles. The city government and businesses will struggle to put people back to work safely and quickly. To survive the impending recession will require working closely with the city’s three unions, Fire, Police and Service Employees International Union (SEIU). And, he will have to guide an inexperienced City Council through budgeting during a recession.

Sales taxes have been severely impacted by the COVID 19 pandemic. Sales tax revenue has plummeted. The auto dealers, the casino, the Pacific View Mall and restaurants aren’t generating the taxes the city expected. They are the city’s most significant contributors to sales taxes. To make matters worse, the transit occupancy tax (TOT, or bed tax) has been non-existent.

Procedures are in place to reopen businesses, but reopening will be slow. Under the best circumstances, returning to pre-pandemic sales revenue levels will take time.

Consumers are reeling from the loss of jobs, reduced hours, and volatility in the stock market. Venturans may be reluctant to return to “normal” right away based on the experience of other people in countries that have already opened up.

A Daunting Deficit

Ventura faces a budget deficit the likes of which haven’t been seen since the 2008-2009 Great Recession. Four months ago, city staff projected the 2020-2021 budget was to be a $4.1 million deficit. In April, before the effects of the business shutdown were fully realized, the gap rose to $7.2 million. Now, the staff has revised the shortfall to be about $12 million below the projected $118.7 in revenue.

Plans To Address the Deficit

The city staff presented the City Council with 13 possible ‘tools’ to balance the budget. Seven of the 13 recommendations are personnel-related. These include:

  1. Transfer the Harbor Garage Debt to Parking Fund
  2. Hiring Freezes
  3. Reduce Employee Travel
  4. Eliminate of Cost-of-Living Adjustments (COLA)
  5. Eliminate Merit & Step Increases
  6. Reduce Support to Outside Agencies
  7. Draw from Unrestricted Fund Balance/Financial Reserves
  8. Increase Cost Sharing for Employee Benefits
  9. Reduce Benefits
  10. Furloughs/Reductions in Hours
  11. Separation Incentives (e.g., Early Retirements)
  12. Reduce or Eliminate Services
  13. Revenue Enhancements

Interestingly enough, what is missing is the ‘modification of current and future construction projects.’

Working with the Unions To Bridge The Deficit

Balancing the budget will involve cooperating with the city’s unions. There have been closed session discussions between the City Manager, Mr. McIntyre, and the union representatives.

In April, Councilmember Lori Brown reported at the Finance, Audit & Budget Committee meeting that the SEIU union rep was already circulating through City Hall. These are signs of a union anxious to defend their current status. The substance of these talks has remained private.

Hurrying City Councilmembers Up the Learning Curve

As we already described, the recovery may be slower than many would like. When confronted with a list of alternative solutions, inexperienced Councilmember might leap at the easiest, viable solution. One Councilmember seems to lean towards using all of the city’s financial reserves. While no one considers using up the city’s financial reserves to be the first option, they must answer specific questions if they choose this solution. First, how would the city replenish the reserves?

Second, what happens if the city uses all its reserves this fiscal year, but the recovery takes several years? From where will the city get the funds to pay for services in 2021-2022?

Third, how would using the city’s reserves impact the City’s bond ratings?

Another Councilmember wants to replace the word ‘Eliminate’ with ‘Defer’ COLA or Merit increases. And finally, other Councilmembers search for a solution that equally spreads the pain, sort of a “one size fits all” approach.

The problem with this narrow thinking is that it does not address unintended consequences. As an example, a 10% cut for an employee making $100,000 is far different from a 10% cut for someone making $40,000.  While a $10% reduction of $40,000 is less money in absolute terms, the $4,000 reduction has a much more significant negative impact. Whereas, a 10% cut for the person making $100,000 still leaves that person with $90,000 in spendable income for food and transportation.

If the Council chooses to cut salaries, maybe a higher percentage for higher gross-salaried employees and a lower percentage for income under $100,000 would address this disparity. Over 250 Ventura city employees are making over $100,000 a year.

Voters Elected the Councilmembers to Set Policy

Voters elected the Councilmembers to set policy, set goals and let the city staff execute the plan.  It should not get bogged down in the details of the City budget. As an example, the City Council recently took valuable time at a Council meeting reviewing fee increases to discuss whether a fee should increase by 3% or $5. Such debate appears to be a poor use of City Council time.

More impactful and vital discussions on how to help Ventura citizens recover faster and have more spendable income for their families is needed. For instance, this Council can spare Venturans from the potential tripling of water rates by redirecting Ventura Water’s plans. Changes can save hundreds of millions of dollars immediately.

Get Everyone Safely Working Again Safely

The state and the County Board of Supervisors have outlined the Phase Two procedures to return to work. This return will be slow as businesses and governments grapple with social distancing. No one knows how long this recovery will take. However, time will eventually fix our problems. Getting all companies safely up and running will fix a lot of these budgetary problems.

One thing the pandemic has shown us is how to work efficiently. It has forced us to evaluate what’s essential and what’s not. Post-pandemic, we will need to learn to do “less with less with less.” We hope the city government heeds this lesson.

Editors Comments

A Safer Approach would be for the City Council and our City Manager to consider a combination of all 13 possible ‘budget-balancing tools.’ What’s more, they should consider deferring a few more pending projects. Take nothing on that list off the table.

In the past fifty years, there have been recessions in 1974, 1978, 1982, 1987, 1992, 1999, and 2008-2009. Each downturn caught the City Council facing a budget deficit they didn’t anticipate. It’s happened again in 2020.

We strongly suggest the City Council give City Manager Alex McIntyre the chance to do his job. Let him draw on his experience and knowledge to navigate the city through the challenges it faces. Mr. McIntyre knows what works and what doesn’t. We pay him to make these decisions. He is the one to implement the plans.

Our elected officials should not make each minor budgetary decision. Only one Councilmember has been through similar difficult times before. Some have limited experience when it comes to running a business or managing a multi-million-dollar budget.

Tell City Council To Let The City Manager Do His Job

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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

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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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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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How To Connect To Your 2020 Ventura City Councilmembers

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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.

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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.”

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Why You Should Worry About VenturaWaterPure

And it never failed that during the dry years the people forgot about the rich years, and during the wet years they lost all memory of the dry years. It was always that way.”

—John Steinbeck, East of Eden

Examing Conferences Expense

For the second time in four years, Ventura Water failed to present scientific findings that challenged its decision on VenturaWaterPure. Either Ventura Water withheld this pertinent information from the Ventura Council, or it is unaware of the reality that Indirect Potable Reuse (IPR) is unhealthy.

IPR presents a danger to humans. The September 2019 study from the University of Southern California (USC) concludes that IPR contaminates water with antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Once infected with the bacteria, medical science cannot combat these antibiotic-resistant strains.

Reasons VenturaWaterPure Is Not Ideal

There are several reasons VentuaWaterPure is not an ideal solution. For whatever reason, Gina Dorrington, Ventura Water’s Assistant General Manager, neglected to tell the Council about these findings at the October 14th meeting.

It appears that the health of Ventura’s citizens is not a priority in these decisions. Furthermore, it begs the question, “What is the motivation for a misguided recommendation?”

VenturaWaterPure project will need an extra 20-27 employees, according to Susan Rungren, Ventura Water’s General Manager. Each employee will earn a pension. At a time when rising unfunded pension liabilities threaten the city’s finances, the prudence of adding 20%-27% more employees to Ventura Water is questionable.

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

To recommend anything contrary to moving forward on this project would not only jeopardize many jobs, but it would also imply that past City Councils and City Managers were wrong with previous decisions, and we have wasted millions of dollars in the process.

City Council Has Its Motivation To Approve Plan To Spend $1 Billion To Drink Wastewater

The City Council has been rushed by Ventura Water to comply with a Consent Decree Ventura agreed to in 2012. The 2012 Consent Decree with Wishtoyo Foundation contended that Ventura Water was dumping its waste into the Santa Clara River Estuary and harming the Santa Clara estuary. The decree requires Ventura to divert seven million gallons a day beginning in 2025 and concluding no later than 2030. What better way to justify a horrible decision than to convince people that it was for their good? They pointed to drought conditions and offered VenturaWaterPure as the solution.

When anyone is looking to justify a bad or ill-conceived idea, they look for another similar decision to defend their own. A case in point is finding other locations in California that have made bad decisions. Misery (bad choices) enjoys company. Two locations in California, Orange County and Monterrey, use Indirect Portable Reuse (IPR). The real question should be ‘Why only two?’ It took Monterrey 10 years to get a permit and build it. That alone is not a sound reason to pursue this premature direction to recycle wastewater in drinking water.

By misdirecting attention to drinking water—fundamental to life—it created the misperceived need for VenturaWaterPure. Complying with the Consent Decree is not the same as providing drinking water. Yet Ventura Water has been mingling the two needs since 2011. Separating the two issues helps make decisions more transparent.

Conflating Two Issues To Achieve The Desired Result

Ventura Water has confused the City Council by combining two different ideas to falsely heighten the urgency to drink wastewater. Since 2011, the campaign has been “We are short of water,” they say, “and the best way to meet that shortage is to drink wastewater.”

Ventura Water was quick to adopt DPR as the solution for an alternative water source.  Then-Ventura Water General Manager Shana Epstein had no data to support that assertion, except for the representations of the sales company designing the hardware for VenturaWaterPure.  Ms. Epstein repeatedly announced it was good water to drink. She and the other supporting that view were dead wrong.

Dispelling the Myth about Drinking Water

Ventura has enough drinking water for the next 15 years at current consumption rates, according to the 2019 Ventura Water Report (Table 4-3, p. 65). Unlike most cities in California, we are fortunate to be bounded by Ventura and Santa Clara rivers, Lake Casitas, plus groundwater basins.

To add more reserves, in 2018, the City Council approved a project to construct a pipeline to access a new water source—State Water. Besides providing more water to the city, we can mix State Water with our existing water to improve the taste of Eastside water. Ventura has had this option for the last 47 years.

Ventura Water’s public objection to State Water as a primary source has been that it is not available in dry years. They contend that State Water is thus “unreliable.” However, allocations of State Water over the past five drought years have averaged 55% of the contracted allowance. Ventura Water also conveniently ignores the fact that 75% of Ventura County relies on State water as a primary water resource.

Missing the Consent Decree Deadline

We may not be able to meet the timing of the Consent Decree if we pursue VenturaWaterPure. It took Monterrey ten years to apply for permits, be granted permission from the different agencies and build its IPR plant. Ventura has not applied for a single permit to begin constructing its plant. If it takes ten years from today to complete our plant, we will miss the Consent Decree deadline by five years. There’s no reason to believe Ventura will apply for permits and build its plant faster than ten years. VenturaWaterPure is destined to miss its target date.

A Waste of $1 Billion For VenturaWaterPure

IPR is inefficient and will not meet Ventura Water’s projections. Orange County and Monterrey use IPR already. IPR shows a net water loss of 23%, based on Orange County’s experience. If VentuaWaterPure treats 4.5 million gallons per day of tertiary water, this will yield approximately 3.5 million gallons per day of drinking water, or about 3,900 Acre-Feet per year (AFY). According to the Final Environmental Impact Study, that is 1,500 AFY short of the 5,400 AFY needed to meet Ventura’s estimated demand.

The fact is that Ventura reduced its wastewater by 17% from 2009-2018, despite increasing water connections by 3.5% (according to the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report). The amount of wastewater sent to VenturaWaterPure is decreasing. We can reduce the affluent further by using more tertiary water for irrigation in the city. Ventura could increase to 1,200 AFY for irrigation from the current level of approximately 500 AFY. The cost to ratepayers is only the cost of a pipeline for the delivery of tertiary water.

Ventura’s Imprudent Decisions

This City Council has shown a propensity to pay for the same outcome they could have gotten for less. We saw this when the city placed its high-use electricity accounts in the Clean Power Alliance. We may be witnessing it again with VenturaWaterPure.

The opportunity exists to adhere to the Consent Decree at half the cost to ratepayers compared to VenturaWaterPure. For the price of a pipeline, Oxnard will take Ventura’s treated tertiary water. They may even provide Ventura clean water credits. It’s unthinkable not to consider Oxnard Advanced Water Treatment Facility (AWTF) as an option.

Editors Comments

Every citizen should have serious doubts about the pragmatism of the City Council’s decision to fund VenturaWaterPure. It’s time to slow down. Some studies show that VenturaWaterPure is unsafe. Ventura Water for six years has continued to announce that it is safe for human consumption. Yet, the fact that there isn’t a consensus among scientists should be a warning flag to Councilmembers. Do they want to be remembered as supporting VenturaWaterPure if it’s shown to be unsafe, unregulated and unhealthy in the future? Let’s hope not.

One billion dollars is a large bet to place with the taxpayer and ratepayer money for a process that is questionable among scientists. There are cost-effective alternatives available, but it’s unlikely they’ve been examined since the initial decision to create VenturaWaterPure was made in 2011. Times change. Circumstances change. Now is the time to reconsider options to be sure we’re making the best choice available.

Reverse the decision to proceed with IPR, and certainly DPR, until there is more investigation on its safety. The Council is dealing with public health. The Council reversed its decision on DPR in 2018 when they learned a state expert panel deemed DPR unsafe. The Council should be prudent with IPR and change or pause that decision, too.

Finally, the City Council should more rigorously question Ventura Water on its proposals and actions. Twice, Ventura Water has failed to present scientific findings that challenged its direction with VenturaWaterPure. The Council would do well to keep in mind the adage, “Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me twice, shame on you.”

Tell City Council, “Slow Down On VenturaWaterPure!”

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