Oxnard, Ventura County, release proposed new 10 year Channel Islands Harbor agreement

Should be an interesting Oxnard City Council meeting on Tuesday

By George Miller

Channel Islands Harbor’s 50+ year-old management agreement between Oxnard and senior partner Ventura County, which owns the harbor and land and makes the development decisions via the Board of Supervisors, is up for renewal. A year and a half of negotiations has produced only a few compromises. So far, no major breakthroughs are evident in the newly released proposed agreement to be discussed and voted on at Tuesday’s Oxnard City Council meeting at 6 PM.

ChannelIslandsHarborLower

Area affected by the agreement is Lower Channel Island Harbor, bounded by Channel Islands Blvd, Victoria Ave. and Harbor Blvd.

Many people believe that the harbor has deteriorated considerably in the last 20 years or so. The evidence is plain: Lobster Trap restaurant, Casa Sirena Hotel, two key properties and THE places to go in the harbor in days of yore, are now decaying, abandoned derelicts. Fisherman’s wharf is practically a ghost town and looks like it is falling apart, although the Elite Theatre, a nice gift shop/studio (My Studio Gallery) in the back, HC fish restaurant and a few shops, survive. The fancy Fisherman’s Wharf sit-down restaurants are gone. Port Royale restaurant is gone, but somehow Whales Tail is still hanging in there. Charlotte Smith Yacht Sales fled to Ventura a couple of years ago. The “tall ship” Bill-of-Rights is gone. Walking through the harbor, it seems like an awful lot of boat slips are empty now- this was not the case years  ago. A combination of the economy, possible overbuilding (Seabridge Marina – north of the bridges and new slips along Victoria) and harbor decline might be why.  When times get tough, boats are usually the first luxury to go.  A few years back, the operator of the gas dock told me that 95% of the boats never go out.  The fishing boats along Victoria down by Harbor headquarters are docked near very shabby quarters.

To be fair, there have been successes, too. The harbor is a nice place to visit, moor boats, dine, stroll on the harbor walk, jet ski, visit the relatively new Maritime Museum, attend frequent harbor events and more. The new $7 million dollar mostly government-funded boating center was designed to provide water sports (sailing and kayaking) access and Channel Islands National Park information to young people, especially those lacking financial means to do so. But it seems under-utilized.  The rebuilt Marine Emporium Landing has become a harbor tourist magnet and local hangout, although the Chandlrey didn’t survive.  It houses the successful Sea Fresh restaurant, as well as the Brazilian Restaurant Moqueca, the Waterside Restaurant and Wine Bar, Channel Islands Kayak Center, a gift shop, spa, Hollywood Beach Fitness Club, watersports, fishing, Island Packers and other tour boats and more.  The successful, often crowded Toppers Pizza now occupies a building that was vacant for two decades. The Hampton Inn is a nice, affordable harbor front hotel and has also been rather successful. We have heard that weekends are often booked for months ahead. The large, aged Paz Mar apartment waterfront residential complex that stretches over most of Lower Peninsula Rd. is being spruced up. Not so for the shopworn one on Harbor Blvd. though. The launching ramp was recently renovated. Kayaks, paddleboards and electric boats have become far more popular, with rental and instruction companies easily ramping up to meet growing demand. Most of the thousands of boats remaining in the harbor need at least some maintenance and supplies.

 

The Harbor management agreement

HarborAgreement 004The proposed agreement was released on Thursday, appearing on the City Council web page in the upcoming 3-17-15 Council meeting agenda. Unlike other major agreements, there will be no multiple readings of this document and chance to study, discuss and coordinate on it.  The council just intends to cut right to the chase and vote the same night it is presented to the public, with a 3-18-15 agreement expiration date staring us in the face. Is this the “transparency and openness” we were promised by the  City Council and new City Manager Greg Nyhoff?

It doesn’t seem to contain any major changes to the half-century development formula which has resulted in both successes and failures. Instead it has been simplified and focuses on maintenance, operations/services, clarifying responsibilities, money flow and making it easier to read and understand, per Harbor Director Lynn Krieger. This is what 18 months of negotiations will accomplish.

The biggest single objection to the agreement we have heard to date is the lack of control of development by Oxnard, where the harbor is actually situated. A recent article by David Finn in this publication observed that Oxnard projects are moving ahead while some key harbor projects are lagging.

 

Oxnard City Manager Gregg Nyhoff

Nyhoff4Mr. Nyhoff’s comments:
Agreement is in its third extension. We chose to focus on maintenance of landscaping, parking lots, parks ,etc.
 
Staff evaluated revenue vs. expenditures.  The new agreement places construction and reconstruction on County where before it was either shared City/County or all City.
 
Agreement is purposefully vague on land use authority as we intend far greater discussion on who has authority and what process best allows for highest City/County benefit.
 
Harbor patrol is under a separate agreement which we will continue to discuss and debate.
Council will discuss on Tuesday whether or not to support a new governance model ie. Harbor Authority.
 
CEO Mike Powers and County staff have been meeting with us and we appreciate their openness to have further discussions about Harbor development and issues.
 
We did not want any longer term than 10 years because as stated earlier there are several important issues that need resolution.
 

Mayor Tim Flynn

Oxnard Mayor Tim Flynn

Oxnard Mayor Tim Flynn

Oxnard Mayor Tim Flynn is very high on the harbor and beaches as the city’s greatest asset (not including its people, of course). He is also one of the two City Council liaisons to the Harbor Task Force (the other is Bert Perello- comments pending). Mayor Flynn believes that better development and operation of the harbor would be a boon for residents, both financially and as a recreational opportunity. He told CitizensJournal.us that while he hasn’t yet studied the proposed agreement, which was only released yesterday, that he was briefed that it does not alter the current development arrangement, which is completely in the  hands of Ventura County, via Harbor Director Lynn Krieger, who reports to County Manager Mike Powers, who reports to the County Supervisors.

He also said that city staff have been looking at costs and revenues of services the city provides to the harbor and said preliminary estimates show a loss.

Watch video:

Oxnard Mayor Tim Flynn talks about Channel Islands Harbor management agreement renewal

Oxnard Mayor Tim Flynn talks about Channel Islands Harbor management agreement renewal

(3-10-15)- Host George Miller, CitizensJournal.us Publisher, interviews Oxnard Mayor Tim Flynn and Hollywood Beach resident/analyst David Finn, for KADYTV, on the upcoming Channel Island Harbor management agreement discussion and renewal vote coming up at the Tuesday, March 17 City Council meeting (will be listed 3-12-15 HERE). The Good Morning Oxnard Show is recorded most Wednesday mornings […]

Oxnard Councilman Bert Perello

PerelloBert2Councilman Perello  is the other City Council Rep to the Harbor project. He told us today that he objects to all the “secret” meetings held among various officials and not being able to get straight, consistent answers, or answers at all. He has been unable to get any response on the harbor from Ventura County CEO Mike Powers. He has been asked by Supervisor Zaragoza to trust him to get the best deal for Oxnard, to which he says he replied, “but you work for the county.” He says that this would be the equivalent of signing a blank check.

He said he doesn’t always know about meetings in advance and sometimes is only told about them at the last minute.  Both City Manager Nyhoff and Mayor Flynn seem to think it is the best deal the city can get right now.

Perello is not at all happy that the city has no real say in development decisions. He didn’t know what the new proposed agreement said about it and was not happy when we told him. He will read the document and be briefed by Planning Director Winegar before the Tuesday Council meeting, when it will be discussed and voted on.

He also feels that development projects should be open to bid, not secretive “Exclusive Right of Negotiations” “crony deals” and that the City of Oxnard should have the right to decide.

 

Harbor Director Lynn Krieger

KriegerLynMs. Krieger told us that she believes that the two staffs of Ventura County and Oxnard have reached a mutual agreement satisfactory to both parties. She said that the new agreement is much clearer on responsibilities, pay and services baseline, as well as being simplified by removing the seven amendments, consolidating it, making it “easier to figure out.”

She also told us that all parties agreed to and favor the shorter ten year term duration. She also pointed out that the County holds the certified Coastal Plan and owns the property.

We asked if the County and developer Brighton Management LLC had lost interest in the redevelopment of the Casa Sirena and Lobster Trap properties by allowing the ERN to expire last month.  She said no and that she/the County continue to deal with Brighton on an exclusive basis anyway.  She offered no time frame, but said the hotel would have about “200 rooms …. and be 3-4 stories.” Brighton owns 42 branded, well maintained hotels, with seven in the Oxnard-Ventura area alone.

When asked why these and the Fisherman’s Wharf deal have dragged on so long, Ms. Krieger stated that the previous leaseholder did not maintain the property in the last ten years, but gave no reason why or what the Harbor Dept. did about this. Then, the Great Recession hit very hard and there was no activity for five years. There are now no revenues from the first two.  The story for Fisherman’s Wharf isn’t much different, but some  leaseholds soldier on in what looks like a mostly abandoned and dilapidated complex, but at least its generating some revenue and creating jobs.

Casa Sirena and Lobster Trap properties: When we asked Ms. Krieger if developer Brighton or the County had lost interest in the redevelopment project by allowed the ERN to expire on 2/4/15, she said of course not.

BoatingCtr 028properties.  She says projects have been difficult because of the economy and required Coastal Commission approval and that projects that provide enhanced coastal access are preferred by the commission.

The down-at-the heels Channel Islands Sportfishing complex will be refurbished, by developers, she said.  The rebuilt launching ramp cost about $7 million, state-funded. Director Krieger seems proud of the new Channel Island Boating Center, which she says has “an active sailing team, high school teams,” a possible future rowing team and kayaking classes. It also has high-tech audiovisual systems to acquaint visitors with Channel Islands National Park, located 11-40 miles from the center and accessible by boat.

 

ChannelIslandHarborParcelMap

(Lower) Channel Islands Harbor Parcel Map, There are about 30 master leaseholds, per Channel Islands Harbor Director Lyn Krieger.

 

 

Ventura CEO Michael Powers didn’t respond to our inquiries by publication time. We shall follow-up later.

 

CallahanElizabethEDCO CEO Elizabeth Callahan

Ms. Callahan, who has only been EDCO (Economic Development Corporation of Oxnard) CEO since August, but has been with EDCO 19 years, told us that they are focused mainly on industry, not retail and have not had much dealings with the harbor projects.

 

 

The Number$$$

abacusIn the FY14 Harbor Budget to Actual report, it appears that the harbor is racking up significant deficits for the county. A brief look at the report for the Harbor Dept. suggested an $8.122 million operating loss on receipts of $15.377 million. The net loss was $2.706 million, after capital contributions, transfers, grants and contributions were factored in. However, Harbor Director Lyn Krieger informed us that the loss was due a timing mismatch of revenues and expenses related to the $7 million new Boating Center and that “the harbor has never had a deficit.”

Part of the problem is the lack of transparency and systems to even provide such information. Some of it may be found in the Ventura County CAFR (Comprehensive Annual Financial Report), but it isn’t really set up as an enterprise balance sheet and P&L, so it would take some digging to even begin to compare it to the much better  organized and probably more successful Ventura and Santa Barbara Harbors, which significantly, are run by their respective cities– nor is it made easily accessible with Harbor information.

This still needs more analysis and confirmation, so don’t take that to the bank.

Oxnard City staff was asked to quantify what was being spent to provide services to the harbor area vs revenues. Mayor Flynn told us on March 10 that preliminary indications are that the City is losing money on such services. The City doesn’t have a harbor district or separate financial records for it. To make matters even more complicated, some services, such as water, are provided by Channel Islands Beach Community Services District.  People doing landscaping work have pointed out some areas maintained by the City and some by the County.  We don’t know if this was simplified in the new proposed agreement.

We don’t know what the opportunity costs are for the undeveloped properties either. In other words, what would be gross and net revenues/expenses for developed properties and even what multiplier effect would result from more tourists in the area, spending money on local attractions? Would in result in the creation of even more recreational facilities as well?

 

Upcoming Council meeting- agreement to be discussed/voted on
Name Date Agenda Video
City Council Meeting March 17, 2015 – 6:00 PM
(4:30 PM Closed Session)
View Agenda

Previous articles:

Oxnard projects In Channel Islands Harbor finally move forward- County projects remain secretive

Oxnard Mayor Tim Flynn talks about Channel Islands Harbor management agreement renewal

 Some harbor photos, MORE, MORE, MORE

Channel Islands Harbor area development projects 3-12-15

 Harbor Project ERN’s (Exclusive Right to Negotiate agreements)

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George Miller is Publisher of Citizensjournal.us and a “retired” operations management consultant, active in civic affairs, living in Oxnard.

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