City of Ventura Council’s Contentious Meeting over Special Events

Special Events Rules and Homeless Shelters

By Kevin Harris

Impassioned Ventura area event promoters stayed late into the night to voice their opposition and concerns over proposed changes to the special event permitting processes on Monday night in Council Chambers. Those processes being reviewed for possible changes include increased insurance requirements for both for-profit and nonprofit vendors, and higher parking charges at local events, among others.

Some of the proposed changes faced little opposition or discussion, at least at the Council Meeting. For example:

  • No smoking in parks or open spaces
  • Food vendors get fire inspection prior to serving customers
  • Hard barricades must be deployed around event
  • Recycled materials must be recycled at a certified facility – not just collected at event
  • Rental fees to include set-up and breakdown time
  • Event promoter must provide portable restrooms

The new insurance requirements, however, are the apparent deal killer. If implemented, they would kick in on January 1, 2018, and double coverages from $1 million to $2 million for many promotors, but could raise coverages even higher for some others, depending on their size, how many events they put on and the types of events they do. 

The initial “pitch” or presentation for the new event requirements, which was item 13 during the long meeting, was given by Ventura’s Human Resources Department, with the city staff recommending increasing the city’s grant program associated with special events from $10,000 to $30,000, to help offset new costs to vendors, beginning in 2018. When they concluded their presentation, some of the Council members responded with their thoughts.

Council Member Matt Lavere began with a series of questions for city staff. He asked if any other local cities have increased their event insurance requirements in a similar way. Staff replied no, but that Huntington Beach has done so (corrected shortly thereafter by Council Member Christy Weir, who pointed out that Santa Barbara has done so as well). Lavere also asked if increasing the coverage from $1 million to $2 or $4 million would be enough to protect an event promoter from a catastrophic event like what happened in the examples given in the presentation (see photo). The answer was no.

Lavere also made note that he had personally received numerous letters and emails from constituents, all opposing the proposed changes, and a little while later, just before the matter was concluded for the night, he added, “We don’t want to increase insurance requirements just because someone went to a conference.” Deputy Mayor Neal Andrews then warned against “getting too far ahead of our competitors” by increasing our insurance requirements on vendors. 

The floor was then opened up for public comments, and speakers were unanimous in their opposition to the proposed changes. Speakers were unified, professional but determined to prevent what most say is an already difficult and costly process of putting on public events in Ventura, from becoming simply impossible to do. More than one speaker had to fight to hold back tears of frustration while speaking.

“Throwing more money at the Grant Program is not the answer,” one speaker said. He also suggested the city puts together an “Event & Tourism Council,” made of largely of local event promoters, to come up with more creative solutions.

Other members of the public reminded the Council that they have been Ventura residents for decades, have worked on the politicians’ campaigns, and want, more than anything, to keep their business and money in Ventura, if possible. But they told the Council that neighboring cities are already calling them, promising that they will not be raising their insurance costs, and would love their business. 

Stephanie Caldwell, President of Ventura’s Chamber of Commerce, gave a prepared speech that summed up the situation quite well. “We are already competing heavily with other cities on all fronts. Our auto mall has lost dealerships to Oxnard and other cities. The Pacific View Mall has lost retailers to The Collection and others. And most recently, Urban Outfitters was lured away by a neighboring city,” Caldwell told the Council and attendees. “We are still less competitive than several of our neighbors, (even) with the existing requirements. We need to be business friendly,” she said.

Stephanie Caldwell

Council member Mike Tracy suggested that the new requirements, if implemented, might be phased in over a couple of years, with permit holders being partially subsidized from the Grants Program. But he said the Council needed to communicate with the community on the issue more before anything would be done.

“I think this is going to have to come back after we’ve had a chance to engage the community, and work through some of these issues,” Tracy said.

Council Member Weir said she wanted to explore the possibility of creating an umbrella policy for vendors, among other solutions to the insurance issue, but in the meantime, said she wants the Council to reconvene at a later date before making any decisions. She then made an official motion to meet on the issue at some later date, at which the Council unanimously approved.  At that point, most of the public left the venue.

Council Member Christy Weir

Other business was conducted during the meeting. Items 14 and 15 were proposed salary increases for the City Manager and City Attorney. Both passed unanimously (Minus Council Member Cheryl Heitman, who was absent).

Item 16, which was the final major policy issue of the meeting, was a Water Services Agreement between the City of San Buenaventura and the Casitas Municipal Water District, with a recommendation that the Council approve the 30-year purchase agreement. While one advantage of accepting the agreement was presented – cancelling out the previous “rental water” balance (an oddly negotiated, expensive former function in the city’s water agreement with Casitas), not much else was. The new terms have not been discussed or presented in detail with the public. For this reason, the Council delayed any decision on the issue until May 8, 2017, to let the public see the details.

Earlier, Item 11 was a Public Hearing on the Emergency Shelter Zoning Ordinance and Map Amendment (continuation from previous meetings). On March 20, 2017, the Council passed a motion directing several changes to the ordinance. Tonight, the discussion and questions ranged from whether the security measures at the shelters would cover screening for weapons and drugs (Weir), to why the current plan would not allow clients (homeless residents) to offer onsite management services (Andrews). The vote was 5 to 1 to accept the Amendments, with Deputy Mayor Andrews voting against.

To close out the meeting, colorful resident Michael Tanner sang a short song, accompanied by his ukulele, called “Where Did Our Rights Go?” He was followed by a female speaker whose speaker card was apparently misplaced. She went unnamed, but was apparently a familiar face to the Council. She spoke passionately on the issue of medical marijuana, and implored the Council to add the issue to their agenda. She pointed out that a majority of Californians, as well as Ventura County residents, approved of legalization, and also that many local municipalities have already begun implementing marijuana policies.

The next City Council Meeting will be Monday, April 17, 2017, at 6:00 PM. To watch the City Council meeting online, go to: http://www.cityofventura.net/video. Then scroll down to “Public Meetings” where you can find the videos well as the downloadable meeting agenda.


Kevin Harris

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 


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Mike Judge

Move your events to Simi Valley we’d be happy to have them.