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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.

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Oversight committee

Update On the Measure O Citizens’ Tax Oversight Committee

Reason is, And Ought Only To Be The Slave Of Our Passions”
—David Hume

EARLY SIGNS OF A TRAIN WRECK

The city’s Measure O Oversight Committee has shown signs of being inadequately trained and poorly prepared for the job they were appointed to do. This is not the fault of the committee members themselves but a reflection of the City Council and City Staff.

The Measure O Citizens Oversight Committee conducted their third public meeting on August 10,2017 at the Sanjon Maintenance Yard (Ventura Water Department). Each of the three meetings has been at a different location. They are not televised or recorded in any manner. Few members of the public attend.

This new tax oversight committee, appointed following the sales tax increase approved by the voters in the last election, serves ostensibly to provide recommendations to the City Council on how the new $10 million, in new sales tax money should,or presumably, not be spent.

The City of Ventura Finance Department did a yeoman’s job in attempting to provide the committee with a draft of proposed future spending of Measure O funds for the next 5 years. It was a suffocating spreadsheet which required detailed comments and direction on the evening of the meeting. If the purpose was to provide clear, informed and relevant information for the public and the committee as a basis for making decisions on how to spend the new tax money, it fell short.

The City Finance Department made a good effort to explain everything but the complexity of the subject required more than a brief meeting.

SPENDING PROJECTED TO EXCEED INCOME

For most citizens seeing this spreadsheet for the first time, be prepared to understand that
there is a projected deficit by the second year, and each year after that. See this detailed projection here.

Measure O overspends by $1.76 million in the second year

At first glance, the Measure O funding will be overspent by $1.761m in the second year. By the fiscal year 2022, the City of Ventura will be over budget (spending more than they expect to receive) by $3.732m. We must all keep in mind that this is a draft worksheet for discussion purposes only; but even so, to learn at the outset that the head of our finance department predicts a deficit in just 5 years for a new tax that will last 25 years does not bode well.

What is clear however is that the Committee is being asked to approve thisprojection, and that a very large percentage of those projections are for long term contracts for public safety and city personnel. History has demonstrated quite clearly that those “contracts” are never reduced thus we can expect more and more of this new tax money to be consumed for personnel and benefits.  Everything else – roads etc. – will be low on the list of priorities.

There were two things that the Measure O Committee needed to concentrate on. One was that the only annual budget recommendation that really needed to be discussed was for fiscal year 2018. The second was that they were only seeing a small percentage of the financial picture. The general budget line items were not presented, thus there was no way for anybody to perform an analysis of where money “should” or “should not” be spent, or to determine if the general budget had been modified and then back filled with the new tax money. Without a comparison to the general budget, it is impossible to perform that task.

For example, by not having the general budget for a  specific department, side by side to that departments proposed Measure O Funding, the Measure O committee had no way to determine if say $700,000 for sidewalks made sense because they have no idea if Public Works is spending another $1.0m or zero out of the General Fund Budget for sidewalks.

CITY DEPARTMENT PRESENTATIONS  

Each of the three sought the Measure O Oversight Committee’s approval to present their spending to the City Council. Public Works Director, Tulson Clifford, presented his department’s request for $6.1 million in 2017-2018. Police Chief, Ken Corney, presented his department’s request for hiring new officers in time to enter them into the training academy in October 2017. And, Nancy O’Connor, Parks Director, presented her department’s request.

Police in city government

Police Chief Ken Corney’s request was approved by the Oversight Committee

There were only 5 of the 7 Committee members present and this would present a potential problem for the Measure O Committee. After about 2 hours, the Committee Chair person suggested that no recommendations be made until all 7 committee members were in attendance. This was after hearing Chief Corney explained that timing was crucial and the funding for the Neighbor Drug & Crime Prevention required the hiring and training of 7 new officers at the police academy in October.  .

If it had not been for Committee Board Member Kristopher Hansen’s quick thinking and motion, to recommend to City Council the Police Chief’s request for funds, the outcome could have been detrimental to the Ventura citizens. Measure O Citizens Committee did their job and funds were approved for the police department and postponed for all other requests.

EDITORS COMMENT

To assist this new committee in their task and to maintain transparency for all citizens in the community VREG makes the following suggestions and recommendations:
  1. Have the entire department’s general funds budgets side by side the Measure O budget.
  2. The Department Heads provide a detailed cost breakdown on how the funds will be spent which matches the line items on the general budget.
  3. Discussing department spending five years is helpful but misleading. There are too many variables to factor over that period, such as personnel, maintenance costs, contracts, natural resources, safety, technology and public demand.
  4. Increase and improve the training for current and future committee members. Be satisfied they understand their roles,duties and responsibilities.
  5. Be sure they know Parliamentary procedures, so they help, not hinder, city government such as what constitutes a quorum to act.
  6. As needed, provide in-meeting guidance and direction from city officials whenthe committee appears confused or aimless.
  7. Hold the meetings in places that permit cable TV coverage. Transparency isimportant to Measure O. Thus far, it has not been transparentI nhibits transparency and confuses the public on where to attend meetings.
  8. Hold the meetings in the same facility. Moving from location to location

 

Addendum

 

THE STAFF PRESENTATION/REQUESTS FOR FUNDS

To help you better understand, we have included both Public Works and the Parks and Recreation presentations so you may judge for yourself that there is no correlation to the Measure O budget requests on a line by line analysis to the general budget. Here is a verbatim of what they were told:

PUBLIC WORKS

The Public Works Department is charged with designing, building, operating and
maintaining the Citys infrastructure including:

  • 75 buildings;700 lane miles of pavement and adjacent sidewalks;
  • 138 traffic signals;26 miles of alleys;
  • 22 parking lots; and
  • An extensive storm drain system (110 miles of storm drain lines, 2,400 storm drain inlets, and 9 miles of drainage ditches).

Some of this infrastructure was installed over 100 years ago, and much of it has
reached or exceeded its useful life. The following infrastructure improvements are needed to protect the environment for the safety, enjoyment and prosperity of future generations:

  • Improve streets, sidewalks, alleys, and provide safe facilities for pedestrians and cyclists – $191 million;
  • Clean and protect the beaches with storm water and drainage repairs – $34 million;• Protect and seismically improve bridges $27 million and
  • Repair public buildings and facilities $27 million.

Public Works has reviewed the infrastructure needs and prioritized projects based on existing conditions, risk, liability, and other factors. While we recognize that not all of these improvements can be made in year one, this proposal contributes to the long-term sustainability and resilience of Venturas infrastructure. The proposed Measure O budget for Public Works projects in FY 2017-18 is $6.1 million. These projects include pavement overlay on Telegraph Road (Main St. to N. Mills Dr.) and replacing the storm drain at Harbor Blvd. and Olivas Dr.

PARKS, RECREATION AND COMMUNITY PRESENTATION

            PRCP focus for Measure O will be aimed at delivery of service to activities that “reduce blight, assist the homeless, and maintain or improve existing facilities and infrastructure”.

            Safe and Clean. Expansion of current program allows for additional staff to respond to homeless debris cleanup as well as general trash, debris, weeds, in right of ways, sidewalks and roads.

            Urban Forestry Tree Maintenance. This proposal provides resources to prune 10,000 trees each year, in addition to the approximately 6500 trees that are currently trimmed annually. Expected outcomes will allow for all city maintained trees to be on a 3 to 5 year pruning cycle (species dependent). The current pruning cycle is 7-9 years.

            Median Maintenance. Current maintenance of medians is approximately once per month, medians only, minimal sidewalk maintenance at best. Expanded funding of the program will allow median and sidewalk maintenance on main arterials to be performed twice per month.

            Aquatic Center Maintenance. The Aquatic Center, at Community Park, opened in 2002 and most of the hard components of the center-pumps, motors, tanks, and the pools themselves, have a finite useful life, and need regular maintenance and replacement. There is no sinking fund associated with the pools and adding ongoing funding allows optimal maintenance, and helps keep the pools operating safely.

            Preserving Park and Recreational Facilities. Community Park has one entrance, at Kimball Road. The master plan for the park includes an additional entrance from Telephone Road, at Ramelli Avenue. Hundreds of people enjoy Community Park daily, and on weekend the number of visitors is oftentimes in the thousands. A second entrance improves access to the park, and allows for larger softball, soccer, and swimming events.

Restroom at Arroyo Verde. Many of the park restrooms are closed on a regular basis due to issues with cleanliness and safety. The City of Portland, Oregon developed a stainless-steel restroom. These restrooms have been installed in their downtown areas, and are frequented by tourists and the homeless. The restrooms main features are fabrication-alone piece, ease of cleaning, and drastically reduced cost due to prefabrication.

Have An Opinion? Share It With A City Councilmember.

Click on the photo of a Councilmember to send him or her a direct email.

Erik Nasarenko,
Mayor

Neal Andrews,
Deputy Mayor

Cheryl Heitmann

Matt LaVere, Ventura City Council

Matt LaVere

Jim Monahan

Mike Tracy

Christy Weir

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       Editors:

R. Alviani          K. Corse          T. Cook         B. Frank
J. Tingstrom    R. McCord       S. Doll          C. Kistner