LAFCO Adjudicates Transit Turf

cialis arial, check sans-serif;”>By Sheryl Hamlin

thumb arial,sans-serif;”>On July 15, 2015, the Ventura County Local Area Formation Commission (LAFCO) discussed the Sphere of Influence for the Gold Coast Transit District. The staff report may be read here.

The effective commencement date of the Gold Coast Transit District (GCTD) was July 1, 2014, having been previously approved by Governor Brown on October 13, 2013. Prior to its designation as a district, the Gold Coast Transit operated since 1973 under a Joint Powers Agreement (JPA) with the four cities it served (Ojai, San Buenaventura, Oxnard, and Port Hueneme).

Most citizens have never heard of Local Area Formation Commissions, although California LAFCOs have much power and responsibility and are actually a state agency and not a county agency. The LAFCO originated in the 1950’s under Governor Brown, Sr. and was written into law in 1963 with the goal of “coordinating overlapping, inefficient jurisdictional and service boundaries”. The history of LAFCO can be read here. Besides transit, many other agencies require LAFCO approval, such as fire and healthcare districts. For a complete list of the types of agencies reviewed by LAFCO, click here.

The LAFCO legislation has been updated several times. A 2000 update to LAFCO legislation calls for a review of a newly formed district one year after the official formation, which is why the Ventura County LAFCO is reviewing the Gold Coast Transit District at this time because it has been slightly more than one year since the GCTD formation.

The staff report notes that the GCTD provides approximately 3.96 million passenger boardings annually with a proposed operating budget of $22,096,000 including a staff of 193 and 54 fixed-route buses, which translates to about $5.58 per passenger boarding.

The LAFCO staff presented two options for the Commission to review and adapt.

lafco_option1

lafco_option2

While these may look similar there are some important differences, as follows:

Option 1 enlarges the GCTD to include the entire county, including the areas of Santa Paula, Fillmore, Camarillo, Moorpark, Simi Valley and Thousand Oaks. These cities already have municipal transit systems providing service within the city boundaries. Option 2 excludes those six cities. LAFCO staff originally recommended Option 1, but based in input from the six cities, a second option was made available to the commission. Both options provide for inclusion of the six cities at any time; however, under Option 2, inclusion would trigger a LAFCO boundary change, which would require a planning fee and study, a fee which would not exist in Option 1.

It is important to note that all six cities opposed Option 1 at this meeting and also opposed the formation of the GCTD in 2013. All sent representatives to the LAFCO meeting and several of the city representatives spoke in public comments.

  • Steven Keuny, Moorpark City Manager, spoke first saying that it was premature to think of extending the GCTD Sphere of Influence to the entire county and that there were no plans for GCTD to include Moorpark in its Service Area.
  • The Simi Valley City Manager, Eric Levitt, recommended Option 2 saying there could be “unintended consequences” of enlarging the GCTD Sphere of Influence. He also said that Simi Valley had a partnership with the GCTC in planning and legislative issues. He did not want to interrupt the momentum already gaining traction in Simi Valley and that Option 2 allows inclusion later.
  • Mitnick, the Thousand Oaks City Manager, said that the Thousand Oaks service is a regional provider “of sorts” and stressed local control saying that the GCTD model is a public model giving citizens no choice.

The LAFCO commission asked many questions during the discussion which lasted over an hour.

Commissioner Ramirez asked about the fee and who would be responsible for payment. LAFCO staff indicated that the applying agency would pay the fee. Commissioner Ramirez also asked if Simi Valley could form a MOU with GCTD. LAFCO said that formerly this could be done and existing agreements would be valid, but that the law now says that all “new” agreements require a Sphere of Influence agreement change, including the annexation of previously incorporated land into a city, because that would move the land from the GCTD Sphere of Influence to the city’s sphere. Such sphere changes have a planning fee and study.

Commissioner Parks asked Mr. Levitt to give an example of an “unintended consequence” but he provided no example.

Commissioner Zaragoza indicated that GCTD wants to “work with everyone” and was not going to “step on toes”, asking the representative from GCTD to speak. Mr. Steve Rosenberg, director of Finance and Administration indicated his board was comfortable with either option. All inclusions into the GCTD are voluntary, he said, but he cautioned that Option 2 makes joining more challenging in the future.

It was pointed out by one commissioner that the language in the staff report was leading to favor Gold Coast. Staff replied that Gold Coast had supplied data and some working text, but staff later added Option 2 based on the municipal concerns.

Commission Parks quoted from the LAFCO mission saying that LAFCOs are charged with “efficient provision of government services”. She said that citizen polls indicate that the bus system is not coordinated between the ten different agencies and is essentially “dysfunctional”. She also quoted from one city’s letter citing the need for “transit autonomy” which, she said was the antithesis of efficiency. Why does it take 5 hours from Simi Valley to Ventura on a bus? She cited long wait times and lack of connection and asked what option is best for the rider. She reiterated that Option 1 allows for inclusion with a request from the city. There is no forced inclusion. Riders will benefit from one system and she is disappointed in the energy put into maintaining separate systems.. Option 1 is logical for the future, providing coordinated systems and eliminating “transit autonomy”.

One commissioner responded to this saying “there is no need for communities to interconnect and reprised the “unintended consequences” theme saying Option 2 allowed for independent thinking from individual agencies. She also said that service could improve without expanding the Sphere of Influence.

Commissioner Ramirez, who worked for 40 years as a legal aid attorney at the county offices, said that there is a piece missing from the discussion and that piece is the riders themselves. Many people need to come to the county offices for services, jury duty and more, but it can be a two day trip. Lower income people use the bus, so there must be more response from those “condemned” to use “our inefficient system”. The gridlock on 101 is horrible and we have to get out of our cars, she said.

Commissioner Zaragoza said that 600 people in a survey complained of long waits getting from Point A to Point B and that it was impossible to get to work. 101 is a major problem. The county bus service has “major connectivity issues”, he said.

Commissioner Parvin remarked that she had never seen such passion from the city managers for any issue, so out of respect they should consider Option 2.

One commissioner asked why there was no recommendation from VCTC. Victor Kamhi, VCTC Bus Transit Director, said that VCTC never received information and was informed of this by reading the Gold Coast board report. However, LAFCO staff said VCTC was notified.

The newest commissioner, David Ross, who was just appointed at this session as a “citizen representative”, was asked to comment. He said that Option 1 encouraged communication and cooperation going forward. Mr. Ross is a realtor and a farmer of avocados and lemons, in addition to being a Ventura County native.

After more discussion, Commissioner Parks moved approval of Option 1 citing the following:

  • the ability to “do more”
  • gives the option to join in the future
  • gives cities in an emergency situation, such as complete loss of service, an easy route to inclusion into Gold Coast

The motion was seconded and approved with a 4-3 vote.

Note that prior to this lengthy discussion, Commissioner Ramirez asked the commission attorney to explain the conflict of interest rules with respect to LAFCO. He said that according to the FPPC (Fair Political Practices Commission) as long as there were no “personal interests”, there were no conflicts, but on a broader view, the LAFCO legislation itself dictated that 6 of the 7 members are required to be public officials, so there will be some overlap.

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Sheryl Hamlin: With an MS in Industrial Engineering, Sheryl Hamlin spent years in technology with stints at Motorola, Tandem Computers and various startups. She has been on the boards of neighborhood organizations both in San Francisco and Palm Springs where planning issues were her specialty. She now resides in Santa Paula and loves the historic fabric of the city.  Ms. Hamlin’s blog Stealth Fashion  and  technology product ‘ Plug and Play Webmaster’.

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One Response to LAFCO Adjudicates Transit Turf

  1. Sheryl Hamlin July 16, 2015 at 8:09 pm

    Vic Kamhi of VCTC just relayed the following information via email:

    …I did go up to talk to the LAFCo Director at the break, and asked about the notification to VCTC. The staff planner then informed the LAFCo Director that VCTC was NOT notified. …

    Additionally Mr. Kamhi said this regarding service improvements …

    There are improvements occurring, and more in the works. Because of the way the funding pipeline works, and the time it takes to order (and have built) new buses, starting a new/expanded service typically takes one to two years. But things are happening. At the GCTD Technical Committee meeting yesterday, GCTD staff discussed their new route connecting Saticoy with Oxnard – and noted that the route cuts out over 1 ½ hours from the trip to get from East Ventura/Saticoy to St. John’s Medical Center in Oxnard…. a 10 minute car ride. VCTC has approved funding for a direct route directly from Simi Valley-Moorpark-Somis-Camarillo-Ventura (Courthouse/Ventura College) with funding from the 3 east county cities (but not GCTD/Ventura)…. However, once the Federal Transportation Department processes the funding, and buses are ordered and constructed, the service will not be able to be started until sometime in 2016.

    Reply

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