Progress Made as Ventura City Council Implements Complex Fire Action Plan Last Monday Night

By Kevin Harris

The Ventura City Council passed emergency ordinances approving temporary on-site RVs and storage containers, and that clarified housing rebuild parameters during an exhaustive, standing-room only City Council Meeting last Monday night. They also directed staff to advise them of the costs and funding sources to potentially subsidize sewer and connection fees for those rebuilding after the Thomas Fire. 

Formal Item – Thomas Fire Action Plan Implementation

This Council Meeting was unusual for the remarkable resident attendance, who came to support and speak for not only the Fire Action Recovery Plan issue, but also for the meeting’s next Formal Item, on whether Ventura should join Los Angeles in their partnership with Community Choice Energy Authority (see separate article). It should also be noted that Council Member Jim Monahan was absent, while Mayor Neal Andrews joined the meeting via teleconference during the 4.5 hour long gathering. 

During the City Council’s January 22, 2018 meeting, the Council laid the groundwork for implementing the Action Plan. Community Development Director Jeffrey Lambert presented staff’s recommendations from the January meeting, which centered around rebuilding details like height limitations and flexibility, and some specific fees, in particular, fire sprinkler and water/sewer fees. 

One important decision regarding building height is that single-story structures will have a 17-foot maximum, measured from the pad. Two story structures were not initially given height flexibility because of their potential to interfere with the views of other homes – an ongoing issue to be dealt with on an individual basis. 

Ventura City fees for those rebuilding are estimated to cost between $6,300 – $7,500 for a 2,000 to a 3,000 square foot home. Impact fees will not be charged. Ventura County is estimating building permit fees will cost between $8,000 – $10,000. 

On the issue of water & sewer fees, however, things get a little more cloudy, because city staff said that some rebuilt homes will require upgrading from a three-quarter-inch meter to a 1-inch meter, which will cost thousands of dollars in extra fees. When City Council members questioned staff about which homes would require the upgrades and why, they were not able to get a direct answer at all. 

Public Comment

Following staff’s presentation came the public comment period, at which point it was announced that 16 speakers had filled out speaker cards. It turned out, however, that many were “industry” speakers, being representatives from construction, architectural or related businesses. But some were concerned and passionate Ventura residents, with legitimate grievances and questions. A sampling:

Carol Sparks – Asked the Council to cut the fees in half, and had started a local petition to achieve that end. “A lot of people aren’t going to be able to rebuild, because the insurance isn’t coming through for them,” she said. 

Kathy Bozeck – Together with her husband, lost their home of 30 years to the fire. She asked the Council to “reconsider the $10,000 permit fee.” Like Ms. Sparks, she pointed out that many homeowners are finding out that they are substantially under insured. 

Steve Knoll – Lost his home in the fire, but wants to rebuild. He told the Council that he has concerns about the height restrictions, because his home was built partially underground, as will his rebuilt home be. He said he is unsure is regulators will be taking those things into account, and added that he doesn’t see a need for the sewer fee. 

George Zobo – A retired architect living in Moorpark, Mr. Zobo said he is helping out some friends whose homes burned down. He explained in technical terms, why the current height restrictions are too low, to applause from the crowd when he finished. 

David Hurst – Mr. Hurst made a gripping plea to the Council, which also drew applause from the audience when he was finished. “When I attended the January 22 meeting, I was really disappointed with the conversation that went around the Council. There was only one Council member who was really battling for the residents in trying to do something about fees,” he said. 

He went on to ask the Council to discount the fees, and said he had already spent $50,000 in various fees, just to begin the process of rebuilding his 2,000 square-foot home. “Give us a break,” he added before leaving the podium. 

Jack Schaffer – Mr. Schaffer is an architect who asked Council for clarification about height requirements for two-story rebuilds. He gave an example of an original two-story home with a gabled roof at 28-feet high, but asked if it could have a flat roof and maintain the same height. He suggested that such a scenario would present view blockages for neighbors. 

Architect Jack Schaffer

CITY COUNCIL DISCUSSION PERIOD

Council Member Christy Weir wanted to know why two-story rebuilds didn’t have the same flexibility that one-story rebuilds were given. Jeffrey Lambert replied by explaining that two-story rebuilds have to be “like-for-like,” while one-story homes have some flexibility because one-story rebuilds don’t disrupt views. But he also said that some flexibility for two-story rebuilds can be added via a streamlined process through the Planning Commission. 

Council Member Mike Tracy talked about the difficult issue of fee subsidies. “Everyone on this City Council would love to be able to write a check to all of you to help you complete your projects. (But) we have a responsibility to everyone else in this community, legally and ethically, to make sure that we don’t give away the farm,” he explained. 

As is sometimes the case when dealing with complex issues, the final discussion phase before the Council vote became convoluted, and at times, hard to follow before the vote proceeded. 

The final vote had three sections. The first two, being Emergency Ordinances (approving RVs and on-site storage, and approving overlay zones, or rebuild regulations), required a four-fifths vote to pass. The third section was a customized measure proposed by Council Member Eric Nasarenko, which directed staff to return to the Council with details about potentially subsidizing all or some of the sewer and connection fees. 

The two Emergency Ordinances passed unanimously (without the absent Council Member Monohan), while the subsidy measure passed, 5-1, with Mayor Andrews voting against. 

The next City Council Meeting will be Monday, March 5, 2018, at 6:00 P.M.

You can watch this and other past meetings by going to www.cityofventura.ca.gov, then clicking on the “Videos” button, and going to the “available archives” section, where the video can be watched or downloaded.

 

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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