Santa Paula Candidate Forum: Hits and Misses

By Sheryl Hamlin

Citizens filled the seats in the Santa Paula Community Center for the October 4, 2018 Candidate Forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters with about one hundred in attendance.

The first “hit” of the evening was the presentation of the colors by the American Heritage Girls Troop, whose Coordinator Miriam Zamora, introduced Troop CA 0304 and their mission of faith and service for girls five to 18 years old.

Presentation of Colors

David Maron, moderator, presented questions assembled from the cards submitted by the audience in advance. Each candidate received the same question, but a different order was used for each question. Jose Luis Melgar explained in Spanish the procedure for requesting a translation.

Opening Statements

Council Member Crosswhite said that during her four years she has provided a different perspective to the council. She feels Santa Paula is on the cusp of great things in the areas of development, historic preservation, water, sewer and streets.

Mayor Gherardi, also a four year veteran of the council, agreed the city is on the cusp of progress. She cited replacing city management, fixing the finances, annexation to county fire, senior festival, bus lines, railroad crossing improvements, stopping the peaker plant, and commencement of East Area 1. The remaining challenges include streets, 37 acre park in East Area 1, police station upgrade, homeless and water sewer rates.

Stating that he would provide a young and fresh perspective, particularly with streets, Aaron Dunkel proposed funding streets via de-annexation to the Ventura County Fire Department. Having voted for Measure T, he said, streets have not been prioritized.

Carlos Juarez said he has been a volunteer since the 6th grade. He started in 1984 as a Reserve member of the SPPD. Since retirement, he has immersed himself in the community including the Service Corps and various tax measures. He would focus on public safety, housing and infrastructure if elected.

Andy Sobel reminded the audience that leadership means tough decisions. His experience in software, bilingual education and community organizing was a fit for Santa Paula. He would focus of transparency, fiscal health and infrastructure.

Council Member Araiza reiterated his 60 years of experience in Santa Paula and 100 years of family history, saying he has a feel about what is good and what does not work. He has been in most all service clubs in the city and often as President. He has a passion for Santa Paula, he said.

Question #1: What would you do about water and sewer rates and how would you help protect residents from rate increases.

Carlos Juarez said that there has not been a rate increase in several years and the citizens had one rebate. He suggested that when EA1 is built out, the addition of more rate payers supporting the system will reduce costs for everyone.

Council Member Crosswhite said that the rate study was more than five years ago. There are challenges in the water fund, which were exacerbated by transfers from this fund to the General Fund, a move she did not support. She was on the sub-committee which has only met once.

Andy Sobel suggested a “Smart Increase” noting that water and sewer funds are spending more than receiving.

Mayor Gherardi corrected by saying the Sewer Fund is not in trouble, but the water fund is short. How to equally charge is the issue. She agreed East Area 1 will help, but we need a new way to charge.

Council Member Araiza said we need to decouple sewer usage from water for billing purposes, have a senior rate and look at outside use.

Aaron Dunkel said the sewer budget is projected positive, but the water is in deficit. He suggested raising water rates but not sewer rates, essentially decoupling the two.

Hits and Misses

Hits: Council Member Araiza mentioned the outside use, which would require a new meter, perhaps suggesting the outside water could be deducted from the sewer rate. Mayor Gherardi suggested “a new way to charge”, but did not elaborate. Council Member Crosswhite mentioned the transfers to the General Fund from the Enterprise funds, a practice from previous city management but one which has increased with the new city management which has budgeted a flat 15%. Read about transfers here.

Misses: Carlos Juarez and Mayor Gherardi suggested waiting for East Area 1, which could be decades before a noticeable build out occurs.

Question #2: If SB1 (Gas Tax) is repealed, what to do about roads and how to deal with traffic from EA1?

All candidates said SB1 must not be repealed for the sake of the streets.

Andy Sobel and Council Member Crosswhite mentioned the EA1 bridge as a solution with Crosswhite adding the trolley.

Carlos Juarez said the city would depend on sales taxes and the sale of used equipment for revenue, noting the council voted unanimously against Proposition 6.

Mayor Gherardi said the city got into this from neglect, no city engineer, and no person aggressively looking for funds.

Hits and Misses

Misses: The street disrepair of Santa Paula reflects decades without maintenance, a period far exceeding the 8 years since Brian Yanez, Park and Rec Director, was appointed interim Public Works Director in 2011. Prior to Yanez, the former Director of Finance Quinn held the position temporarily. Director Wilkinson, an engineer, retired in 2002. So the question is one of oversight. Who has responsibility for oversight? When the streets started deteriorating 10 to 15 years ago, who was asking the questions?

As to the EA1 bridge, this is a requirement for the entire project to proceed. It is not a traffic mitigation issue, but one of safety. The project must have two means of ingress and egress. Without the bridge, there must be an alternative solution.

Question #3: Was the Fire Annexation good for Santa Paulla

Mayor Gherardi said it was the best thing to happen to Santa Paula citing less expenses and better service. Carlos Juarez said that many people thought it should go to the people for a vote, although having worked in the dilapidated SPPD quarters he sympathized with the Fire Department. Rick Araiza said his $2.3 million budget would be $3 million from the tax and will remain similar for several years citing the new county medic unit the city would not have been able to afford. Council Member Crosswhite said she voted against the annexation because there were no financial projections saying the first year was a wash, but future years were cloudy. Aaron Dunkel said the fire MOA was a bad financial deal saying the .165 out of 1.0 would reduce Santa Paula’s share from .20% of the total pie to 2%. Dunkel also said Santa Paula was the lowest income with the highest rate. Andy Sobel waid the agreement process was rushed and that Measure T funds could have been used to carry the City through a more thorough analysis.

Hits and Misses

Hits: Andy Sobel’s analysis of the use of Measure T as a carryover was practical and reasonable, given the magnitude of the deal.

Misses: Aaron Dunkel misstated the math. According to the FY 2019/2019 ABA 8 TRA report, Santa Paula gets about .2088 of the total pie. The report does not yet reflect the VCFPD carve out of .165, which will reduce the .2088 to .0438. The total allocation to Santa Paula for FY 2018/2019 is $4,315,619.91. If this is shared with .165 to VCFPD and the remainder to Santa Paula, VCFPD will get $3,410,331.80 and Santa Paula would get $905,288. See report here: SP_TRA_AB8_20182019 Link to county is here.

Multiple analyses showed a tossup at current rates, but if county salaries used and new equipment, then SP could not compete. The biggest issue, which Ginger forgot last night, is litigation. Fire sued Santa Paula. CalFire is suing California over new PEPRA laws. Fire is a litigious business due to loss of life and property. The Fire union has lots of money. One big lawsuit and SP is over financially. This is the only justifiable reason for the annexation: insurance liability.

Question #4: What is your experience in a diverse community?

Rick Araiza, Jenny Crosswhite, Carlos Araiza and Andy Sobel all mentioned working with the Hispanic community and all are bilingual. Aaron Dunkel said his experiences at Thomas Aquinas learning through amicable discussion prepared him, as well as bartending in Santa Paula. Mayor Gherardi said she was a problem solver and tenacious and had no problem working with a translator.

Hits and Misses

Hits: Aaron Dunkel’s answer showed that diversity may not be cultural or racial, but could be a diversity of opinion. Mayor Gherardi’s answer reflected decades of experience dealing with complex transportation issues and a massive bureaucracy.

Misses: All missed the point that the biggest cross-cultural issue is financial stability.

Question #5: How would you propose economic development in Santa Paula?

Council Member Araiza said the process is not user friendly and that the city needs someone to walk the applicant through the process. Andy Sobel said the process would include giving city employees the resources they need. He liked the BID (Business Improvement District), but did not want to chase off existing businesses. Carlos said that Santa Paula has maintained it character and is starting to look revitalized, but the rules are not black and white, so need to have more flexibility to make it work. Aaron Dunkel said a checklist up-front was needed with all expectations of the applicant. Mayor Gherardi said the city needs an Ombudsman to promote business development saying Ventura was a mess 30 years ago, but came out of it. Council Member Crosswhite said she was excited about the new restaurants and retail on Main Street and the EA2 commercial area, but drawing people away from Main Street was a huge problem. She also questioned the issue of high fees.

Hits and Misses

Hits: Carlos Juarez noted the character of downtown, which is essential in attracting businesses and tourists who like the feel of a historic California city.

Misses: All missed the proposed move of the SPPD and the Community Development Department to Lemonwood with a one-stop shop model where all resources for the applicant are in one location.

Question #6: How would you help youth and pay for the East Area 1 park?

Carlos Juarez cited Mieasure T (youth programs), and vocational classes. Council Member Crosswhite said she was looking forward to the Youth Needs Assessment Study. She was not convinced in the aquatic center for the EA1 park due to its $800,000 to $1,000,000 a year cost. Andy Sobel also mentioned the Youth Needs Assessment Survey and a partnership with the county college district. Mayor Gherardi said Youth Needs Assessment Survey, a city wide job placement listing, and help with resumes. She is 100% in favor of pool which will be funded by the 501(c3) she has proposed. Council Member said that Boys and Girls Clubs can take up slack and that the city should raise the rates for the outside teams using the parks. Aaron Dunkel said Measure T Funds for Youth are maximized and suggested a collaborative partnership with SPUSD and Federal Government. $11 million, he said, is a lot of money and the city should pursue a less expensive, smaller park.

Hits and Misses

Hits: Fiscally both Aaron Dunkel and Council Member Crosswhite hit this issue head on. Costs.

Misses: The other option under consideration to fund the East Area 1 park is the Park Assessment District, which would levy a parcel tax on every property owner in Santa Paula to pay for all parks. No one mentioned this option.

Question #7: How would you be the City’s Champion in obtaining county funds?

Andy Sobel cited the recent Health Fair where the county had 6 or 7 booths, which was encouraging. Aaron Dunkel said he could learn how to do this, but has no direct experience. Council Member said that with regard to homeless services, the city should take a large role than the citizens who are advocating for such services. She also suggested a college center to finish degrees in partnership with other colleges. Rick Araiza said he would work with Supervisor Long and mentioned other people he knew at the county. Carlos Juarez advocated a county wide taks force. Mayor Gherardi said she had a good working relationship with Supervisor Long. The city just heard from Mental Health, she said, and she would pressure Ventura County College District to provide classes for the community.

Hits and Misses

Hits: Aaron Dunkel’s honesty was refreshing.

Misses: Council Member Hernandez worked for the county for decades. The question arises as to why it is perceived that the city has not received its “share” of county funding. Is this true?

Question #8: What is the solution to the budget deficit?

Mayor Gherardi said the budget is in better shape than ever because the enterprise funds are better charged from the new transfers instigated by City Manager Rock. PERS is rising, she said every day, and the city has taken steps. She said PERS go up and down like a yoyo due to the stock market.

Carlos Juarez said that PEPRA will help employees and retirees.

Rick Araiza said that with Measure T the budget is not negative and that Measure T will help in the future. PEPRA will help, but the past deficit needs to be paid back. The future is no problem, he said.

Council Member Crosswhite said that starting in 2021, there is a deficit which was presented in the budget. The city needs Economic Development and cannot depend on sales tax. CalPERS dropped the amortization on the unfunded liabilities from 30 to 20 years, increasing the payments.

Aaron Dunkel also cited the projected deficits in the budget, but said that de-annexation of the fire department would solve this problem. He would like to see tables and rates of amortization.

Andy Sobel said that with a stronger budget, pensions will be less of a problem, but that city is dependent on Measure T revenues. The budget should be on-line and searchable and in a more comprehensive format.

Hits and Misses

Hits: Council Member Crosswhite’s answers reflected reality and understanding of PERS.

Misses: PERS does not go up and down like a yo-yo, as Mayor Gherardi said. Perhaps she meant the investment yields. The costs are increasing because PERS lowered the amortization from 30 to 20 years and it has lowered the expected rate of return on the fund, thus causing everyone to pay more. The League of California Cities has written a detailed document about this problem (with no recommended solution).Every candidate and vote should understand this issue. Read article here.

Council Member Araiza’s statement was incorrect. The budget is negative without Measure T. The future of PERS payments is definitely a problem with PERS projecting a 15% annual increase in payments due to increases cited in the previous paragraph.

Note the city council received a presentation on this issue from its auditors. For FY 16/17 the unfunded liability was $22,609,596. Read presentation here. The unfunded liability is the amount to be re-amortized over 20 years instead of 30 years, per new PERS guidelines.

This is the most important question going forward and it is unfortunate that council is ignoring the magnitude of the problem.

Question #9: Affordable Housing and Cannabis, what are your positions?

Aaron Dunkel suggested that ADU’s accessory dwelling units) could help with housing and increase personal wealth. He directed citizens to his Facebook page for a discussion of Cannabis.

Rick Araiza discussed the housing in-lieu fees with the city having discretion to give to developers. He said there is a four year wait for rental help. ADU is state law now. Medical Cannabis is highly regulated.

Mayor Gherardi concurs with Council Member Araiza about competing developers including farm worker housing. Cannabis not a panacea, she said.

Andy Sobel agreed with the idea of “granny flats’ and also suggested increasing height. Medical marijuana he said.

Council Member Crosswhite said the $6,000,000 in East Area 1 in lieu fees should be competitive process. Also said there would be workforce housing in East Area 1. She attended the Cannabis Forum. There were many issues, but the public was not ready for recreational use.

Carlos Juarez said to raise the minimum wage to $15.00 and agreed with competitive bidding for the in lieu fees. He said there were only six parcels in the city for such development. He agreed that the cannabis was overwhelmingly positive for medical use.

Hits and Misses

Hits: Carlos Juarez’ quantification of the possible solution was important.

Misses: Council Members Crosswhite and Gherardi attended the meeting where former Fire Chief Araiza described the deal between the city, the Santa Paula Housing Authority and the in-lieu fees. It was not mentioned at this forum. Does SPHA understand there is to be competitive bidding now? Read report here.

Closing Statements

These are best watched, so click here and forward to the end. Good to hear the candidates. Thanks to all for participating and supporting the election.


For more information on author click sherylhamlin dot com

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Mary Ann Krause
Mary Ann Krause
2 years ago

Hits and Misses for Question #2:
We had a highly qualified public work director/city engineer, Cliff Finley, from 2003 to 2010 or 2011. Cliff and City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz did a great job of putting together street paving projects and financing them. A plan was being formulated to borrow money from the State Infrastructure Bank at 1 3/4% interest and pay it back from future years road funds. This would have allowed many streets to be fixed before they got really bad and had to be rebuilt. it would have actually saved the City money in the long-run. When the City Council majority changed in late 2006, that approach was abandoned. We probably could have applied for Federal Stimulus Funds for any shovel-ready projects during the recession, but that Council was also averse to applying for Federal grants. As a result, the streets got really bad and repairs are much more costly because of their condition.

Citizen Reporter
2 years ago

No,the streets didn’t get bad because SP didn’t mortgage itself to the hilt: they got worse because SP’s priorities and revenue=raising weren’t up to snuff and state takes too much tax money.