By Kevin Harris
The Ventura City Council approved its 2019-20 Community Development Block Grant Funding Plan, and authorized the local Housing Authority to issue up to $25 million in tax-exempt, commercial bonds for the construction of 50 affordable housing rental units for seniors, during its Monday night meeting. Thirty or so residents also commented on those, and other topics during the “Public Communications” period early in the meeting. Mayor Matt LaVere was not present during the meeting.
Public Hearing: Community Development Block Grant (CDBG)
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) had notified Ventura that the Community Block Grants have been determined, and that the city can prepare and submit its Action Plan to implement the program, no later than May 17, 2019.
The anticipated CDBG funds available for projects, after administrative and other costs are taken into account, is just under $922,000, leaving Ventura with a projected shortfall of nearly $433,000 (based on requested funds). Areas to receive funding include General Activities, which include Public Facilities/Infrastructure; Economic Development; and Affordable Housing, and Public Services.
With the total projected amount of $922,000, the city has recommended $777,000 allotted to the General Activities and the Public Services, leaving about $145,000 unallocated, in the event that future program income is less than expected.
The 2019-20 HOME Grant allocation is $371,000. Those applications will be reviewed and funding recommendations will be made on June 3, 2019.
During the “Public Comments” period of the public hearing, several speakers expressed their gratitude to the council for the block grant approval, though not every interest received all of the funding they asked for, such as the Avenue Library.
Kathy Thompson: Board Member for “Friends of the Library.” Made sure to specify the following, however: “But I’m speaking for myself this evening.” Ms. Thompson said she is very disappointed they are not allocating all of the funds available in the block grant for the library. She pointed out that each year, less money goes toward the library, even as Ventura grows.
During the City Council Question & Comment period, Council Member Lorrie Brown asked staff, “What is the plan for the extra $200,000 at this point?” (actual amount left unallocated is $145,000).
The staff response was that those funds “are not reserved, they’re not dedicated to any project, but it’s just good to have a subset of funding available in the event that something doesn’t pan through.”
Council Member Erik Nasarenko asked the staff if the council could shift some of the unallocated, remaining $145,000 and “restore the library’s grant to last year’s amount.” According to staff, the library falls under “Public Services,” (as opposed to General Activities), and that category only has $2,000 remaining for such a purpose.
“My concern is the trend has been downward (for library funds) for a number of years now,” Nasarenko told staff and residents. “I wouldn’t want this trend to continue into next year,” he added. He then asked staff to go ahead with allocating the remaining $2,000 from Public Services to the library.
The council’s vote to approve the Action and funding plan passed unanimously, minus the vote from Mayor LaVere, who was absent from the meeting.
Public Hearing: Issuance of Tax-Exempt Bonds for Affordable Senior Housing
Also during Monday night’s meeting, the Ventura City Council held a legally-required public hearing in relation to Willet Ranch — a low income senior apartment project (ages 62+), and the issuance of up to $25 million in tax-exempt bonds to help pay for it. The property address is 2686 Ventura Avenue, and is a part of the broader Solana Heights Residential Community.
The bonds will be issued by, and guaranteed by HACSB, not the city. As such, Ventura is not responsible for bond repayment, or project construction or operations. The bonds will be placed with a private investor. Repayment of the bonds will happen via rental income.
During the city council question/comment period, Council Member Cheryl Heitmann asked staff how much the low-income rental rates will be. Staff replied that one bedroom units will go for $570 per month, while two bedrooms (much fewer will be available) will rent for $680. Staff also confirmed that the units will be Section 8 housing.
If approved by the council, construction is expected to be completed by February, 2021, with residents able to move in the following month.
The council approved the resolution to have HACSB issue the tax-exempt bonds, unanimously.
Earlier During the City Council Meeting; Public Communications/Comments
Before the Public Hearings, there was an extensive “Public Communications” period during the council meeting, where 30 residents filled out public comment cards to speak! Though the topics varied, a few repeat issues surfaced, including the city council’s lack of progress on mobile home issues; requesting the lowering of electric vehicle charger fees; requests for additional bicycle lanes and infrastructure; apartment trash building up in the streets along the city’s Westside; and one Earth Shattering final speaker, with his own unique topic. Following is a small sample of those speakers:
Linda Otaviano: From Lemonwood Mobile Home Park. Ms. Otaviano was upset about the dramatic increase in capital improvement costs at the city’s mobile home parks, and the council’s lack of action on the issue, more than three months after receiving an attorney letter on the matter.
Craig Hull: President, Ventura Manufactured Home Residents Council. He spoke about the “Rent Stabilization Ordinance,” and wanted to know what was happening regarding the letter the council received on February 4, 2019 from attorney Bruce Stanton regarding amendments to that ordinance. Mr. Hull got audience applause when he was finished.
Kent Bullard: Self proclaimed advocate for sustainable transportation. Has driven an EV since 2011. “As of now in this city, there are over 1100 electric vehicles registered by the DMV,” he said. He asked the council to reduce the residential fee to install a home EV charger from $125 to $25. He said the submittal process, becoming entirely electronic, has lowered the costs for the city considerably.
Gene Rubin: Also for lowering the fees for installing home EV chargers, but specified that many of today’s EVs use a 50 amp, 240 volt socket instead of a traditional charger to juice up their cars at home, and asked to council to lower the fees for those setups to $25 as well.
Ron DeSanto: “My friends have brought me meteors and rocks, and the big one is of extreme importance. They’ve been helping us from extinction. They’re here again to help me release great technologies to save our planet from extinction… They want to help President Trump, and put America back on the foundation of God.”
Mr. DeSanto then asked to have his art work displayed at City Hall, and for the council to provide him funds so he can launch the incredible, Earth-saving technology.
The next Ventura City Council Meeting is scheduled for Monday, May 13, 2019, at 6:00 pm. The agenda and video coverage for this meeting can be accessed by going to the following URL: http://cityofventura.granicus.com/ViewPublisher.php?view_id=2.
Kevin Harris is a reporter, editor and journalist, previous President of Cal State Northridge’s Society of Professional Journalists having worked for the LA Times and Newhall Signal. He is now also a Realtor and videographer, and lives with his two children in Thousand Oaks.