Blog

12 Oct
0

Money and your City Council candidates

Of all my volunteer projects, one of my proudest has been my work for the California Clean Money Campaign. This grassroots organization has done more to shine a light on the funding of the political process than any other group in the state. You can learn more about them, here.

It takes money to run a successful race, but special interests who fund you often come calling later. Voters need good information on who is influencing those who make decisions for them. The Clean Money folks have worked hard to make that happen.

Given my background in this arena, I have been adamant that I will not accept money in my District 5 race from those who have business pending before the City Council.

Part of the appeal of our new district races for me was the leveling of the playing field. The districts are small, so we don’t need to raise as much as those who ran citywide.

I always advise voters to look at the fundraising reports online because they are often a pretty reliable predictor of how elected officials will vote. You can go here and click on the District tabs on the left side to see fundraising totals in the Form 460 filings.

Candidates also have to file Form 700s, which state their income in the City of Ventura. These are available at the City Clerk’s office and by law they are required to show them to you. They provide a picture of what council members may need to recuse on and who they have been beholden to in the past.

There are also Political Action Committees and other groups who endorse candidates. You’ll see filings from these outside groups here. By law, PACs can’t coordinate with candidates, but they aren’t subject to the same fundraising limits candidates are. Many of the same donors who gave to the candidates also donated to the PACs.

As a note of explanation, candidates only have to list donors who give $100 or more – smaller donors are rolled up in the totals received. All candidates are limited to receiving $325 from any individual. But if somebody really likes you, their spouse, children, aunts and uncles can also pitch in.

I’m really proud of what I’ve raised so far. I have almost 150 donors, mostly in the smaller range that is not itemized. They’re my neighbors, electeds and city leaders who have endorsed me, folks I know from my volunteer work, former bosses, and others who believe in me. Then there’s my friend Melina, a single mom of two who sends me $25 when she can.

There is a big-money train that often propels candidates to victory in this town. Glancing over the money all the candidates have received, you will see a lot of development and real estate interests involved in our council races.

If you’re not sure who somebody is, do some detective work. It can be very enlightening.

Part of my reason for running was to provide more transparency to City Hall. Campaign finance is just the beginning.

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27 Sep
0

Ventura’s new city manager comes from Menlo Park, home of Facebook headquarters

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16 Sep
0

“The tsunami is here”

If anyone had told me I would be running for office while putting my mother on hospice and then losing her and making final arrangements, I would not have believed I could do it. And yet somehow I have summoned all that inner strength and come out the other side.

But I am not special. As I share my mother’s battle with end-stage dementia, I realize that families everywhere are struggling with how to care for a wave of aging Baby Boomers and the generation before. And we are all living longer without the proper savings for end-of-life care in a country which is ill prepared for the challenge.

Adding to the dilemma is the fact that degenerative brain disease is on the rise across the U.S., according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

As Ventura senior activist Suz Montgomery puts it, “The tsunami is here.”

Montgomery, vice chair of the Ventura County Area Agency on Aging and president of the Ventura Council of Seniors, is an outspoken and fierce advocate for this population and their families, and they need her. She is a popular face at local senior facilities where she has taught classes for 17 years.

But she has harsh words for the City of Ventura’s efforts for seniors, pointing to Senior Concerns in Thousand Oaks and the Simi Valley Senior Center as better models for what could be done here. We lack transportation services like Dial-a-Ride and have only one senior center to serve the entire city and it is located on the west side away from the large concentration of seniors on the east end.

“We are the poorest child out of the 10 cities in the county,” she exclaimed. “Why are we so negligent in caring for our population of seniors?”

Montgomery blames our country’s lack of preparation for aging in general on our fear of death. “In America we run away from it. We don’t want to die.” People in other countries have better integrated the aging process into their culture, she said. “We look at seniors as a nuisance.”

The Ventura City Council recently set aside a small amount of money for a Senior Strategic Plan and Montgomery is pumped about it. “It’s going to be a road map for where we’re going.” A senior site in east Ventura and better transportation are at the top of her wish list. She wants better education for families, senior-youth pairings and help with negotiating Medicare and Medi-Cal. “It’s gotten really sophisticated and you need someone to explain it to you.”

In my own struggles with a family member with brain disease, I found help from a great program, the Coast Caregiver Resource Center, which offers families counseling, respite care and support groups. But it is perpetually underfunded by the state and that’s too bad.

Montgomery has devoted her life to the cause, but needs more warriors to help.

“Why should you be involved? Because it’s gonna be you.”

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05 Aug
0

One paycheck away from homelessness

Marina Porter recounts the day she sat with her young son in east Ventura’s Community Park tearfully watching a happy parade of young mothers and their children walking by.

Struggling from an oppressive chain of events that had left her homeless, she pondered her own situation. “This isn’t me,” she thought. “It’s so awful and embarrassing and humiliating at the same time.”

Porter, who now resides in Ventura’s District 5, is a college graduate and had spent 15 years in an interior architectural design career that had her working in Beverly Hills and Downtown Los Angeles on multimillion-dollar residences and hotel projects. But she and her husband both lost their jobs following the birth of her son, and her car was sidelined with an expensive repair. State assistance had been problematic and her job hunting efforts had come up with nothing except work that paid by commission only.

When her unemployment insurance payments finally kicked in she used them to pay for child care.

Porter’s dilemma is not all that unusual, said Mary Kerrigan, the program director at Step Up Ventura, which works with young families to stem the root causes of homelessness. “The fact is that there are many, many families that are one paycheck away from homelessness.”

In our many conversations about Ventura’s homelessness issues, very little has been mentioned about the toll it takes on families. It is a cycle that repeats itself through the generations. The majority of children going into kindergarten who are homeless end up being homeless some time during their adult lives, Kerrigan said.

A vicious cycle
Lack of childcare also contributes to the vicious cycle. “If you don’t have child care, you can’t get a job. If don’t have a job, you can’t pay for child care,” Kerrigan said.

Porter points out that the prevailing wages in Ventura County don’t match well with the very high cost of housing. It doesn’t take very much to make it all come tumbling down. “I never thought I would be in this circumstance, ever,” she said.

Understanding this precarious situation only too well, local leaders like Kerrigan and social worker Judy Alexandre formed Step Up Ventura in 2014 to break the cycle. The nonprofit organization is aimed squarely at children in the 0-5 age range and their parents. The program currently pays for childcare and preschool for homeless children at Happy Ventures on E. Santa Clara St., having recently moved from the Magic Carousel in east Ventura. They also do parent coaching, and provide educational toys and materials.

The organization is filling in the gaps for other programs like Head Start preschools which currently have a huge waiting list locally. Homeless children don’t get priority. “We had a 4-year-old who had been on the list for two years. By the time we took him in, he was significantly behind,” Kerrigan said.

Many families live in crowded situations with friends and relatives, in motels, shelters or their cars. It’s traumatic for children in their early formative years. Their developmental process lags behind their peers.

Porter and her husband took that path as well. She is especially critical of the system which she says discourages families from being together. “All of the available shelters would not take husbands,” she said. And some are not well equipped for mothers with infants. She tried receiving vouchers for low-cost motels, but while there dodged drug addicts and prostitutes.

Porter and her family eventually pulled it all together and now live in a rented duplex. She is working three jobs and is co-chair of the Chamber of Commerce’s Young Professionals group. Still, she said, 58 percent of their income goes to rent.

Step Up Ventura has been a savior to many families and Porter is now doing marketing for them. She’s passionate about keeping others away from homelessness and works with families to find them resources, anything to keep them out of the position she was in.

She tells her story often in the hopes it will help. “We need to see each other for the human beings that we are,” Porter said.

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12 Jul
0

You can’t make it rain

Monday night city staff and council made headway on two of the most serious problems facing our town, vagrancy and our worsening water situation. It was one of the most productive meetings I have seen in awhile.

Just a few short months ago, I would not have thought a year-round homeless shelter would be in place by the end of the year. But that’s now a possibility. To see it propelled so quickly down the runway was heartening. The county has committed a building on Knoll Drive near the cemetery to the effort and will help provide services. An RFP has gone out to find an operator. The council asked for priority for Ventura residents and for our police when bringing people in.

Staff is hoping to capture money now available from the state for these efforts. And whatever operator is chosen should have the capacity to generate funds as well.

Solving a city’s thorniest problems requires money and political will. Often neither are in abundance. But if the stars align, you can add shelters, hire more staff, pave roads and build infrastructure.

But you can’t make it rain.

And therein lies what I believe to be the city’s most pressing problem. I detailed our city’s water situation a month ago in this post. It came to council again Monday night. Lake Casitas is now at 33.8 percent of capacity. In a normal year it accounts for about a quarter of Ventura’s water supply. We are now receiving only 70 percent of our allocation and we may go to 60 percent soon. Our climate is changing and even in rainier years, storms have not replenished this lake. Our groundwater sources are also dwindling.

Dan Cormode of the East Ventura Community Council makes the same point at every City Council meeting that water is discussed. What if Casitas goes dry before we can get our connection to the State Water Project built?

He never gets an answer.

It is clear Ventura Water General Manager Kevin Brown and staff understand the urgency of connecting to state water. He is trying to get the connection built before its anticipated date of 2023 and it is currently in the draft EIR stage. But it will not bring us more water, it likely will just make up for the reductions in other sources. We have paid millions over the years for the rights to this water.

Water staff is instead counting on the WaterPure recycled water project to be our reliable source. It could bring up to 3,898 acre feet by the year 2025. Because of a negotiated settlement with groups who threatened a lawsuit under the Clean Water Act, we are under orders to divert some of the discharge from Ventura’s Water Reclamation Facility from a nearby estuary. The diversion program could become the state’s first direct potable reuse project when regulations are developed for it. Water from our treatment plant could be cleaned to high drinking water standards and put back into our system. Many other cities use recycled water but put it into settling ponds or groundwater supplies and clean it again before it goes into the system. This is called indirect potable reuse and it already has regulatory approval. It is more costly than direct potable reuse. A cost comparison can be found here.

Understandably, some residents — and councilmembers — are squeamish about being the state’s direct potable reuse pioneer, but it could attract more grant money to the project which is estimated to cost $176 million. A public relations effort would be needed.

And how do we pay for all this? The city is applying for grants, which the Council approved Monday night. In addition, the Water Commission proposed and the Council voted to impose a Net Zero water fee to assure that new development does not adversely affect the water supply or water supply reliability of the city’s existing customers. It has generated $418,398 so far. For the new 24-Hour Fitness that will occupy the old Barker Brothers building at our mall, it came up at $300,000. It will also be leveled at both market-rate and affordable housing projects, new hotels that could bring us tourism dollars, and any new project that will add square footage or increase water use on an existing parcel. 

This has not pleased our business community which feels it will discourage new investment in our city. Matthew Graczyk, chair of the Chamber of Commerce PAC, said he wants to look at how we are all using water and restructure our rate system to spread the costs of new water infrastructure out among all users. Other residents believe we should just limit growth.

Dwindling water resources have the potential to affect every facet of our lives. Why did Ventura wait so long to tackle a problem that has been on the radar at least since 1992 when voters gave the go-ahead for a desalination plant? A Los Angeles Times article shows we were having identical conversations 26 years ago. At that time, the cost of a desalination plant was estimated at $30.4 million and was estimated to bring in 7,000 acre feet a year.

We’ve kicked that can down the road a long time time and now that we’re opening it we find it may be full of worms.

 

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01 Jun
0

Ventura’s water woes

As Ventura enters its seventh year of drought and Lake Casitas drops below 35 percent of capacity, city staff have delivered a new Comprehensive Water Resources Report and it isn’t comforting.

This paragraph immediately jumped out at me:

“The results of this report indicate that the spread between the current water demand and the current water supply is very narrow. If the continued drought condition persists, the supply could be less than the demand. The city’s customers will need to continue to conserve and/or pay penalties for overuse of the city’s water supply sources while the city secures new water supplies. This presents significant challenges for the city moving forward in the ability to allocate water supply to development projects that will generate additional water demands.”

Mother Nature could send us a deluge this winter, so it’s reasonable not to panic. But as our climate changes, it’s also reasonable to believe predictions that our area will become a more arid place.

Statewide, preparations are being made. On May 31, Gov. Jerry Brown signed two new bills which mandate that cities, water districts and large agricultural water districts set strict standards for usage, even in non-drought years.

In September 2014 Ventura declared a Stage 3 Water Shortage Event with a 20 percent mandatory reduction. And we are consuming less water, from a high of 19,014 acre feet in 2008 to a low of 13,973 in 2017. When the new report was presented to the City Council on June 4, they voted to continue our Stage 3 reductions. Our city also has a Net Zero water ordinance which charges a fee for new development which can be reduced through putting conservation measures in place. By law, the money collected can be used only to develop new water sources.

So where does Ventura’s water come from?
The city’s normal supplies include the Casitas Municipal Water District (Lake Casitas), Ventura River/Foster Park, Mound Groundwater Basin, Oxnard Plain Groundwater Basin, Santa Paula Groundwater Basin, and recycled water supplies.

Minutes from the last Casitas Water Resources Committee Meeting show that agency is likely to move from a Stage 3 to a Stage 4 condition. Currently, we receive only 70 percent of our allocation from Lake Casitas. Under Stage 4, it would be further reduced to 60 percent, a loss of 525 acre-feet. That was factored into the new report.

Water from Ventura River/Foster Park may decrease if the drought continues, the Mound Basin is expected to increase slightly with the addition of two new wells, the Oxnard Plain basin is stable for now and the Santa Paula basin, under a legal judgment, could see reductions.

Of note to my District 5 friends: we have some of the hardest water in the county, as our water comes from the Mound Basin.

So what now?
Ventura has a yearly allocation from the California State Water Project, which could provide as much as 4,000 acre-feet in a typical year. But we have not received any of this water because there is no way get it directly into our distribution system.

That’s about to change with the proposed intertie to be built off the Springville exit on the 101 in Camarillo in conjunction with the Calleguas Municipal Water District. It should be in place by 2023, Ventura Water General Manager Kevin Brown told the East Ventura Community Council, adding, “I’m hoping to beat that if I can.”

State water is not meant to add more water into the picture as it is expensive and unreliable, water managers have cautioned. But it will replace sources that have been lost, bring more flexibility, and improve quality when mixed with local resources, especially on the east end. It will also allow the city to build the Ventura WaterPure Project.

Staff is hopeful the WaterPure Project could add 2,381-3,898 acre feet by the year 2025. Touted as “the future of water” at a recent Ventura Water Commission meeting, it comes with a high price tag but it is still cheaper than ocean desalination.

The city is already obligated to divert some of the water discharged into the estuary from the Water Reclamation Facility near Ventura Harbor, per a settlement entered into with the Wishtoyo Foundation/Ventura Coastkeeper and Heal the Bay. Those organizations brought a Clean Water Act suit against the city in 2010.

The WaterPure project treats our wastewater to purity levels above current drinking water standards. (I’ve tasted it and it was just fine!) It makes sense to reuse this water rather than send it off somewhere else. Currently some is being used for landscaping. There is no regulatory framework yet for injecting this straight into our water supply, a process called direct potable reuse. But it could be mixed with other sources.

And then there is ocean desalination. It could potentially deliver up to 3,000 acre-feet a year, but it would be more expensive than our current sources, and is unlikely to be built before 2030. Surrounding communities are building inland desalters to make our brackish groundwater useable. But, according to Brown, that is not something Ventura is looking at right now.

“Whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting over,” goes an old saying. So water challenges aren’t new. But as our weather patterns change, those of us in the drier climates must adapt to new ways of thinking. Ventura is beginning that process.

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Harmon Canyon
15 May
0

Coming soon: Ventura’s new playground Harmon Canyon

The Ventura Land Trust’s Executive Director Derek Poultney has the look of a man who loves what he does.

And why not? He’s in charge of a project that could be transformational for Ventura. The Land Trust (formerly the Hillsides Conservancy) has always had big ideas. But while they won the hearts of Venturans years ago, their land holdings have been small. That’s about to change in a big way with the upcoming acquisition of Harmon Canyon.

Poultney and staff are busy these days leading tours into the 2,123-acre property north of Ventura and they are excited. The property hasn’t changed hands since 1862 when the Sextons acquired it and it’s been off limits to the public ever since. But beyond the gates near Missionary Church is a scenic wonderland which will eventually be fully open to the public with trails, a natural spring, and a glorious seasonal wildflower display. It goes back four miles as the crow flies and rises to a height of nearly 1,700 feet.

Right now Land Trust staff are traversing the property Lewis and Clark style, reveling in every acre. For people who love the outdoors, it’s a jackpot right in our own backyard.

“Ventura’s larger companies say this is going to bring in top employees,” Poultney said. “Tourists will want to spend more time in Ventura.”

The varied geology of the property is unique, from huge swooping sandy canyons to shady groves of live oak. The Thomas Fire raced through here in December and for awhile the landscape was blackened and devoid of life. It had not burned like that since 1957. But it is so green now only the charred stumps of trees — most sprouting new life — and large piles of ash where underground fires burned tell the story.

The azure-blue lupine has found new inspiration this year. Nobody has seen anything like it.

Fundraising continues
The Ventura Land Trust needs just $2 million more toward this $10.5 million project. They’ve raised $5.7 million and are hopeful about a $2.9 million grant they’ve applied for. Naming opportunities for donors abound. Do you want a meadow named after you? This is your place.

The Land Trust currently owns 30 acres of habitat in the Ventura River, the 21-acre Big Rock Preserve near Foster Park with year-round running water, and the 8.93-acre Willoughby Preserve near the Main Street bridge.

The organization is preparing for the day it opens the preserve to the public. They’re working with the National Park Service on a comprehensive management plan for upper Harmon Canyon.

For now Poultney is living happily in the present. “You can spend hours here,” he said on a recent tour, stopping to chat with an excited hiker who announced she’d found a species of wildflower nobody had seen before. “We’re only about a quarter of a mile up and you already feel like you’re not in Ventura any more.

“Being able to get away — right here locally — is going to lift Ventura’s  spirits.”

For more information, go to www.venturalandtrust.org. Until the preserve is open to the public, only private tours hosted by the Land Trust are allowed. Contact them to register for a tour if you are interested in a sneak peak. Please respect the current landowners and do not trespass.

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24 Apr
0

Vagrancy issue reaches its boiling point

As a regular observer of our Ventura City Council meetings, I do not recall a night quite like Monday night. Raw emotion and fear took over this room filled with people whose numbers spilled out the door, down the hall and into an overflow area.

We have been through a lot in these past months since the fire, but the death of a young father enjoying a night out with his family on the Promenade a week ago has lit a fuse. A homeless man who authorities observed by remote camera a few hours before and deemed not a threat at that time has been charged with his murder. In a random incident, Anthony Mele was stabbed in the neck while holding his five-year-old daughter. He died the next day.

The sheer horror of that attack haunts us, especially those of us who have had our own bad experiences with vagrants. The stories were recalled in emotional testimony to the council.

Most of these disturbances are nothing new to Dave Armstrong, president of the Downtown Ventura Partners (DVP). “We live with this day in and day out,” he said. “Vagrants chasing away business, that’s our No. 1 issue.”

Heidi Golff, who sells real estate on the Promenade, has seen it all, too. “Most of the time the vagrant criminals are preying on each other and fighting with each other,” she said. “Most disturbances that I saw were between themselves.”

Homelessness vs. vagrancy

It’s important to distinguish between the homeless and criminal vagrants. And those whose mental illnesses have so completely overtaken their lives that they can no longer function but are not receiving the care they need. Others have drug and alcohol problems.

The DVP has been active in getting people to stop disruptive behavior and find the help they need. Their Ambassadors program has trained personnel to interact with those who live on the streets. They work on the Promenade, and in Plaza and Mission parks and may soon include the new Kellogg Park. “We keep really detailed information on the regulars,” Armstrong explained. “Their job is to know everybody, document everything, steer them toward services, intervene when they can and call when they need help.”

But the man who allegedly stabbed Mele was not on their radar.

The DVP also funds a reconnection program which has led to 145 people being reunited with their families elsewhere. Armstrong recalls a man who lived under the pier for 20 years. He was recently sent home to Pennsylvania.

The Ventura Police Department’s Patrol Task Force, part of the city’s Safe and Clean Initiative, has expanded from key areas downtown and in Pierpont to citywide and works with social services. Chronic violators are assigned to Community Intervention Court and referred to a variety of places for help.

Interim City Manager Dan Paranick and the Council acknowledged these efforts and more, including our regular beat cops, have not been enough. Armstrong said he would like more help from the county with behavioral issues.

In order to beef up coverage, the Patrol Task Force will be working 20 hours a day, Paranick said. Remote cameras will be monitored around the clock seven days a week. Park ambassadors and Safe and Clean personnel will spend more time on the Promenade. The Fire Department has also been directed to the area.

As I left the meeting, I realized I needed to walk alone at night back to the Promenade where I had left my car. I, too, have been accosted by vagrants downtown and near the pier.

We need to feel safe again, and that includes those out on the streets. But patching together a solution is a tall order in a state where prisons often serve as de facto mental health facilities.

Every problem has its tipping point. We’ve found ours.

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12 Apr
0

Good things come to those who wait

Our city’s General Plan defines the fabric of our municipal lives, adding guidelines for development, doing business, recreation, the arts, education, open space, public safety, transportation, sustainability and civic involvement. The current plan was adopted in 2005, after seven years of more than 200 workshops and hearings.

In 2014 an ad-hoc committee of the City Council embarked on a process to address a variety of land use issues that have arisen since the plan was finalized. Ventura’s Planning Commission heard the details Wednesday night.

While the committee was no doubt well intentioned, it is clear community sentiment favors a more thorough discussion of these important issues in a full General Plan update process, due to begin at the end of this year. Wednesday night was a heartening example of cooperation as members of the activist and business communities came together in support of more transparency.

Briefly, the refinement sought to do the following things:

  • Distribute residential options in commerce- and industry-designated land use areas with an optional residential mixed use overlay.
  • Apply recommendations from the Montalvo Community Council to the Victoria Avenue/Montalvo area. These primarily restrict heights to three stories from a previously allowed six stories.
  • Resolve inconsistencies between the General Plan and zoning code.
  • Revise the text of the Our Prosperous Community Chapter of the General Plan.
  • Revise our principles for infill development.

The recommendations affected properties all over the city and resulted in some unpleasant surprises for landowners who received a cryptic card in the mail letting them know the zoning for their properties would be changed, prompting concerned calls to city planners.

The changes also resulted in a reduction in the number of parcels that could be developed as housing. “We realized we were pretty deep in the hole,” Planning Manager Dave Ward explained. So staff went through the city and identified vacant and underutilized sites where housing could go to provide the numbers the state is now requiring in order to meet the demand for housing.

Affordable housing advocates who attended the meeting felt the refinement would lessen the availability of places in our city to build this type of housing and many weighed in. Others cited the failure of the city’s mixed use policy in an era of declining retail sales.

Of particular interest to my area of town was a letter from the director of the Ventura County Planning Division. The changes, as well as current zoning, are not compatible with the county’s own Saticoy Area Plan which the city did not significantly participate in due to lack of resources, Ward said. Ventura provides water service to this area.

Planning Commissioner Rob Corley called the refinement and number of policy changes “overwhelming,” but felt there were parts of it that needed to be looked at sooner than a robust General Plan could be completed.

In the end the Planning Commission denied all of the changes citing inadequate public process and civic engagement, while still praising staff for the work that went into the refinement. This work could be used as a basis for several recommendations in a full General Plan update.

Good public policy should not be rushed. Careful consideration always needs to go into how government action affects the lives of those it serves. But the amount of public participation at this little-noticed but important public meeting gives me hope that we will have many robust discussions when we do a full General Plan update. And that is a good thing.

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29 Mar
0

What’s new in Ventura? An update

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.

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