I’ve always attended Ventura’s State of the City addresses held annually at City Hall. While many of our surrounding cities task this solely to Chambers who charge to attend, ours is a free public event, as it should be for accessibility.
But our Chamber has its own paid event, too. I went to both this week. Probably because it was promoted more, the Chamber event on Thursday drew the biggest crowd.
Props go to Mayor Neal Andrews for delivering opening and closing remarks while recovering from double pneumonia. “I hope you appreciate how strong we are and how strong we will continue to be,” he said. In a change from previous years, staff delivered department reports, ever cognizant that our budget will need to cover fire-related expenses.
Fire Chief David Endaya and his staff are our heroes, but they are also working under a challenging situation. While Measure O funding now keeps our East End Fire Station 4 open permanently, our first responders are only meeting their goal of arriving at an emergency in five minutes or less 56 percent of the time because of an ever-increasing call load.
Still, he is grateful that 27,000 citizens, mindful of the tragedy in Santa Rosa, evacuated from the hills in 90 minutes. “We survived this with zero loss of civilian life and this is something I will hold onto for the rest of my career,” Endaya said.
Whitewashing our city’s recent crime statistics did not seem to be part of Police Chief Ken Corney’s playbook. He noted that serious violent crime is up by 25 percent, the highest totals since 1992. Sixty eight percent of those crimes resulted in arrests. Property crimes decreased slightly and business crime decreased due to focused patrols.
More officers are being added through Measure O funding, Corney said.
Our homelessness team has strengthened partnerships with County Behavioral Health to address key issues. The reconnect program has reunited 145 people with their families.
As we are currently in a Stage 3 drought situation, water is on everyone’s mind despite the recent deluges. Ventura Water General Manager Kevin Brown explained that the city is working with other districts on tapping into the state water pipeline and that project is due to be completed in 2021-22. A potable reuse program should be in place by 2025 that will produce 2,000 extra acre feet of water a year.
Public Works has been paving streets, including a big resurfacing project on Loma Vista, and working on storm drains, bridges, alleys and the pier. A parking lot at Palm and Santa Clara will become a parking structure. Kellogg Park on the Avenue is amazing and due for a grand opening April 14.
Arroyo Verde Park is open again but lost a pump house, playground, the interpretive center and 85 trees in the fire. Grant Park is still closed, but both the Ventura Botanical Gardens and the Serra Cross Conservancy, which manages Serra Cross Park, are making repairs.
Of particular interest to the Chamber crowd was Community Development Director Jeff Lambert’s report. Community Memorial Hospital is getting ready to open its new wing, the county hospital has opened theirs, and Kaiser has a new, highly visible presence on the 101. The auto center is expanding and the city is looking for other commercial entities to fill the area behind it. A Marriott Residence Inn will be built by the Golden China near Seaward and the Elks Lodge downtown is being turned into a boutique hotel.
Housing development has been rapid on the east side as I detailed here. Infill projects also continue at the Portside Ventura Harbor, Westview Village, Island View, Villa San Clemente and Solana Heights.
In a normal year, most of this would be good news, especially since the economy has picked up and we have Measure O to fill in funding gaps. But the Thomas Fire hangs heavy over these city events. And while green is returning to our hills, we are still healing.
My wish for us all is a better 2018.