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the truth behind venturawaterpure from the Carollo Report

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

the truth behind VenturaWaterPure from the Carollo Report

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

How The Narrative Began Based On Faulty Assumptions

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

First Faulty Assumption: It’s Safe To Drink

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

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

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

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

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

Second Faulty Assumption: The Project’s Costs Are Reasonable

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

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

Time To Make A Change

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

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

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

Hold Ventura Water Accountable

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

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

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

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

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

Editors’ Notes

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

Tell The City Council To Do Their Fiduciary Duty

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Let them know what you’re thinking. Tell them what they’re doing right and what they could improve upon. No matter what you write, however, share your opinion. Participating in government makes things better because our city government is working for all of us.

Will hire the most influential job in Ventura Will hire the most influential job in Ventura
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The 5-Year Thomas Fire Anniversary: Still Not Ready for Another Disaster

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

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

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

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

A Brief History Lesson

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

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

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

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

Where We Are On The 5th Anniversary

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

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

Rebuilt Houses on 5th Thomas Fire Anniversary

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

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

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

Did Ventura Fail The Victims?

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

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

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

Inexperienced Leaders For The Thomas Fire Recovery

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

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

Delaying Thomas Fire Rebuilding Ordinances

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

Digital Subjugation Through The Permitting Process

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

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

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

Revelations At The Thomas Fire Situation Review

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

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

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

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

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

Editors Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Protest the Ventura water rate increase

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

Strong men fight the Ventura Water Rate Increase

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

Ella Wheeler Wilcox

 

Chart of Ventura Water Rate Increase over time

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where To Get Your Rate Increase Protest Form

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

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

To prevent the rate increase, most property owners (51%) must file a protest. Renters have no right to protest.  Business owners have no right to protest.  Only the 32,000 people that own property with water meters have a right to vote.  The remaining 81,000 people in the City of Ventura are effectively disenfranchised. They have no vote but will have to pay.

Why Is Ventura Raising Rates?

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

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

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

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

The Unspoken Motivation Behind The New Plant

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

Why Is The City Council Reluctant To Change?

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

Editors Comments On The Rate Increases

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

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

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

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

Protest Your City Councilmembers’ Water Rate Increase

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

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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.

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Councilmembers
Councilmembers
Councilmembers Councilmembers

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Important Trends You Should Look For In The COVID-19 Recovery

COVID quote

Wealth Is The Ability To Fully Experience Life.”

Henry David Thoreau

COVID-19

We’re living through unprecedented times. No one knows how events will develop as we emerge from the COVID-19 crisis. Yet there are specific unmistakable trends to watch. We want you to be aware of the trends and to look out for the critical choices that will shape our future.

Now is the time to support our elected officials as they negotiate the COVID-19 epidemic. The time will come soon when the quality of their decisions will affect how much pain and sacrifice Ventura residents must bear. As a community, we’ve shown that we are resilient and generous. The Thomas Fire is a recent example. The impact of the Thomas Fire could pale in comparison to the coronavirus pandemic fallout.

Lost Sales Tax Revenue From COVID-19

The City of Ventura relies on income from two primary sources: property tax and sales tax.

Property tax revenue is constant and predictable. Yet, the Ventura City Council has little control over property taxes.

COVID-19 devestates sales tax revenueSales taxes will be severely impacted by the COVID 19 pandemic, and Measure O depends on sales tax revenue. Sales tax revenue has already 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 for the past six weeks. With no date set to reopen businesses, the losses will continue to mount.

How will Ventura make up the difference in sales taxes? Consumers are reeling from the loss of jobs, reduced hours, and volatility in the stock market. State unemployment benefits will help some. It’s notable, though, the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) has limited reserves, which will deplete quickly.

Furthermore, many businesses closed by the shelter-in-place order will not open. Those with large amounts of debt are most at risk. Don’t be surprised by some of the large businesses that fail in addition to the smaller, Mom-and-Pop establishments that will inevitably close—resulting in even more job losses.

Solutions Will Require Creativity

With the two primary sources of income for the City of Ventura in serious jeopardy, and the City Council has little control over either. Finding a solution will require ingenuity.

With no chance to increase income, the only option available is to reduce expenses for the city. Before COVID-19, the city faced a $4.1million annual deficit for the 2020-2021 fiscal year. After the business disruption from the epidemic, the $4.1 million deficit will be a welcome alternative to what is likely to happen.

City Major Expenses

COVID-19 firingsThe most considerable expense for any city is payroll—including benefits and retirement. The salaries, benefits and pensions are all controlled by labor contracts. In fact, because of the COVID 19 pandemic, these costs will likely blow up. The Ventura City Council’s control of this expense is limited to reducing staffing levels. Here are examples that the City Council is considering. See page 6.

CalPERS Damaged By The COVID-19 Pandemic

Before the start of 2020, CalPERS required Ventura to pay an additional $2 million above the $16 million it pays typically. Even though the economy experienced a decade-long economic boom, CalPERS is only 70% funded. The drop in the stock market following the COVID-19 panic hurt CalPERS’ investment portfolio even more. By October, the $2 million additional CalPERS requires Ventura to pay may be considerably higher.

Editor’s Comments

The City Council will be in the troublesome position of making significant, painful decisions to cope with the fallout. Payroll is the only controllable, significant expense that this Council can alter. While a hiring freeze is likely, it will have limited immediate effect.

COVID-19 will require many expense cutsThere are other costs the Council can influence. It’s time the City Council scrutinizes all the cost of services to consider less costly options. Those services can be General Fund items like fire and police, or they can be other operational items like water.

In fact, water directly impacts every household. The rates water users pay are approved by the City Council, even though Ventura Water operates outside of the General Fund.

Any increase to cost of water will be damaging financially to many families already burdened by the economic shutdown.

Lost sales tax revenue, steady property taxes, and an out-of-control, bloated retirement plan are out of the Council’s control. We hope they will focus on the things they can control and rein in expenses to avoid more extensive economic pain for the city and its citizens.

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

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

—Albert Camus

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

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

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

Water Will Dominate The 2020 City Council Election

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

Wishtoyo Consent Decree Compliance

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

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

VenturaWaterPure

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

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

Looming Water Rate Increases

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

Ventura River Cross-Complaint

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

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

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

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

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

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

Budget Deficits For The Entire Term

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

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

Pensions Are A Political Third Rail

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

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

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

Voting By Districts In The 2020 City Council Election

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

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

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

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

Campaign Finances

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

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

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

2020 City Council election

2018 City Council election contributions

Growth As An Issue In The 2020 City Council election

council candidates

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

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

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

Editors Comments

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

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

 

Make Certain All Councilmembers Can Address These Issues Adequately.

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

2020-2021 Budget Mocked By Laurel & Hardy

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

Laurel & Hardy

Sharpen Pencil To Balance 2020-2021 Budget

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

The Coming Problem

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

The Seriousness of the 2020-2021 Budget

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

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

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

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

Potential Revenue Enhancements to the 2020-2021 Budget

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

Potential Expense Reductions to the 2020-2021 Budget

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

Potential Use of Fund Balances

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

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

Considering the 2020-2021 Budget

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

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

Editors Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Decade Of The 2010s

This Is Why The Decade Of The 2010s Is Important

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

—George Washington

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

How We’ll Remember The 2010s

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

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

Key Events In The Decade Of The 2010s

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

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

The Thomas Fire

Thomas Fire was the biggest event of the 2010s

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

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

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

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

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

The Wishtoyo Consent Decree

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

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

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

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

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

Pension Inflation Throughout The 2010s

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

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

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

Homelessness In Ventura In The 2010s

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

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

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

Set Up For Failure

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

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

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

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

Anthony Mele, Jr. Murder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Real Estate Blunders Throughout The 2010s

2010s

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

Brooks Institute

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

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

The WAV Building

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Harbor Church

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

Downtown Parking Garage

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

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

Grand Jury Finding

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

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

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

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

District Elections

City Council Candidates will serve by district after the 2010s

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

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

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

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

Editor’s Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Clean water, not sewage

Are You Really Content To Drink Sewage When You Don’t Have To?

“If you can’t convince ’em, confuse ’em. It’s an old political trick.”

—Harry S. Truman

 

Before discussing water issues in Ventura, we must first dispel a myth. The City of Ventura has plenty of water. We have almost ten times the water we need annually in reserves. So, the City of Ventura’s insistence to conserve drinking water because we don’t have enough is untrue. There are many good reasons to save, but not having enough drinking water is not one of them.

No need for sewage water

Between Foster and Mound Basins alone, there are 141,600 to 184,600 AF of water. Assuming there is zero replenishing of groundwater—and not counting on our other water resources from Casitas, Santa Paula, Oxnard Basin or State Water (a combined amount of 12,072 AF more per year)—Ventura has almost ten times the water it needs annually in reserves.

Historically, Ventura has used an average of 21,000 acre-feet of drinkable water per year. This figure has been steady over the past 30 years. With conservation and reduced consumption, Venturan’s have managed to reduce our water usage to 15,000 acre-feet per year. So, regardless of doom and gloom declarations issued by the State of California, or what Ventura Water tells us, Ventura has enough water. (See Notes On Water Availability below for additional information).

THE REAL ISSUE

Ventura’s real problem is a legal Consent Decree, agreed to by the Ventura City Council in 2012.  That Consent Decree mandates that Ventura must stop dumping treated sewage* into the Santa Clara River.  The amount of sewage to be diverted will be as high as 90% (about 4,685 AF per year) according to one panel of experts, leaving the remaining 10% to be treated and left in the estuary for fish and wildlife.

*Ventura Water calls sewage wastewater, effluent, or tertiary treated flows among other names.

SO HOW DID WE MAKE THIS ABOUT DRINKING WATER?

To comply with the Consent Decree, Ventura Water conceived that Ventura would inject this treated sewage directly into our water system, thus began VenturaWaterPure.  For six years City leaders led citizens to believe Ventura has no choice but to move full speed ahead and accept the use of sewage using Direct Potable Reuse (DPR), but a primary reason for DPR was “because we need the water.” Few citizens knew about the underlying problem to comply with the 2012 Consent Decree. With that false justification of needing more drinkable water, the City committed to spending over $500,000,000 for DPR to abide by the Consent Decree.

DPR IS NOT APPROVED OR SAFE

Toilet to Tap is Sewage WaerCosting over $500,000,000 is not the only issue.  The more significant issue is that the City Council assumed DPR water was safe to drink.  It is not safe.  An expert panel, appointed by the State Water Resources Control Board, determined that DPR is feasible. Yet, using such water would be harmful to public health and safety with the current technology. They reported that except for two remote areas on the earth (Namibia and a city in northern Texas), which have no other drinking water options; such water is not suitable for human consumption.

There are no regulations in place anywhere in the United States, or the State of California, permitting or governing that use.  Nobody knows if, or even when, the state will publish such regulations.  It is highly improbable that this will occur by the December 31, 2025 Consent Decree deadline.

SO WHERE IS STATE WATER IN THIS PLAN?

Ventura Water has ignored the majority of citizens desire to tie into the State Water Project because it knows the State Water Project does nothing toward complying with the Consent Decree. In June 2018, the City Council directed Ventura Water to make importing State Water the top priority. While that pipeline project is in motion, Ventura Water plans to work on DPR while they work on the State Water pipeline.

WHAT CAN THE CITY DO TO CHANGE THE COMPLIANCE DATE OF THE CONSENT DECREE?

While Ventura must abide by the Consent Decree, the compliance deadline of December 31, 2025, may be unattainable. At this point, the Consent Decree remains the driving force behind all Ventura’s water decisions. With the land acquisition, planning, construction, EIRs and financing required, the 2025 deadline is not feasible.

However, the Consent Decree says the court can extend the time limit in the event of construction constraints, financing problems, or an emergency. It requires Ventura to petition the court requesting an extension, or an agreement with the plaintiff and their lawyers. That has not happened.

The most devastating natural disaster in Ventura’s history occurred in December 2017. The Thomas Fire wiped out over 500 homes and destroyed water systems throughout the city. The Fire further delayed Ventura Water in the planning, design, and construction of projects to meet the requirements of the Consent Decree. It seems clear that Ventura should petition to the US District Court for a 5-year extension. There’s only one thing standing in the way of requesting that extension — our lawyers.

WHY THE DELAY IN SEEKING TO EXTEND THE DEADLINE?

On February 4, 2019, Council Member Jim Friedman asked our City Attorney, Gregory Diaz about extending the deadline.

Mr. Diaz’s advice is that we should not at this time.  He wants to keep this option “in his back pocket.”

  • He said petitioning the Federal Court would be laborious for the lawyers with no guarantees.
  • He wants to maintain good relations with various Environmental Groups.
  • He was concerned an extension would cause the regulatory agencies to divert their attention away from Ventura.
  • We need water.
  • The State Water Resource Control Board and State Regulators may require a different timeline for our current temporary sewage permit than the Federal court if we petition to extend the deadline.

The Water Commission asked the outside attorney representing the City of Ventura about an extension.  She answered that Environmental Groups are very cooperative and would likely be favorable to an extension because of the positive relationship.

Mr. Diaz says that using the Thomas Fire sounds like an “excuse.” He’s concerned it might give the impression Ventura is looking for a reason to not act. If the most significant human disaster in Ventura’s history is not a strong reason, then nothing is.

EDITORS COMMENTS

Our City Attorney is taking a huge risk with our $500 million.  It is clear that he doesn’t intend to pursue an extension with his “keeping it in his back pocket” explanation.  Mr. Diaz continues with the myth that water is a problem for Ventura and that treated sewage is the solution Hopefully the City Council will remember that we must “keep our experts on tap and not on top.”

If he waits 4-5 years from now, the Federal Court may ask, “Where were you 4-5 years ago?” If he plays his “back pocket” card in the 11th hour and the court denies it, what then?  What seems clear, the further away from the Thomas Fire disaster, the less persuasive the argument for an extension. In the meantime, we spend millions that we may not have needed to pay in the next six years.

Would it be more prudent to send a letter proposing the extension?  The worst the Plaintiff or the Court can do is say, “No.”  If that is the case, then Mr. Diaz’s good faith argument disappears. Then, the Court’s ruling becomes ‘exhibit A’ in support of a motion in the Federal Court. The city could then use the argument, “What’s a poor mother to do? We asked. We thought they were nice and cooperative folks, but they proved to be something else.”

NOTES ON WATER AVAILABILITY

The California Groundwater Bulletin 118, published by the Department of Water Resources, reports that the Ventura River- Foster Park Basin has reserves of 31,600 acre-feet (AF) of water. It recharges 3,500 AF of water each year by underflow. In 2018, Ventura Water Department only pumped 2,384 AF from Foster Park.

The California Groundwater Bulletin 118 also reports that the Mound Water Basin, which is on the east side of the city, has 153,000 AF of storage capacity. During dry periods, Mound Basin is likely 72% full, for a total of 110,000 AF.

MAKE THE CITY COUNCIL INSIST ON ACCURATE INFORMATION FROM VENTURA WATER

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ventura water

Ventura Water Has A Wonderful Opportunity To Be More Transparent

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

— George Bernard Shaw

 

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

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

Oversight By The Water Commission

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

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

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

Here is how Ventura Water does things today:

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

Circumventing The Water Commission

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

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

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

Communicating Clean Water Safety Violations

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

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

Why You May Not Have Heard Of This

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

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

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

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

Not The Only Incident In 2018

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

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

Editor’s Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

Insist The City Council Makes Ventura Water More Transparent

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