Santa Paula: Candidates Forum—The Race for City Council

By Sheryl Hamlin

The Candidate Forum was hosted by the League of Women Voters and the Chamber. Barbara Doyle gave a history of the organization which dates from the 1920’s santa.paulaafter the XIX Amendment was passed giving women the right to vote. David Maron was the moderator. The six candidates were: Jenny Crosswhite (Ordained Minister), Bob Gonzales (incumbent), Ralph Fernandez (incumbent), John Procter (former council member), John Demers (Planning Commissioner) and Ginger Gherardi (former Executive Director of the VCTC).

Summary of the Questions and Answers

1) Mr. Maron asked each candidate for an opening statement:

Ms. Crosswhite: she is running because she cares about the community, its high water rates, the crime and the struggling economy. Her themes are ‘collaboration’ and ‘trust’ and reaching out to the community.

Mr. Gonzales: he said he retired from the SPPD in 2005 and has also been on several school boards: elementary, high school and community college. He has served on the Santa Paula city council since 2006.

Mr. Fernandez: said he attended UC Berkeley where he obtained a degree in architecture. His wife and child are also Berkeley graduates. His parents ran a business in Santa Paula. He has also served on the Design Assistance Committee and the Aviary renovation committee.

Mr. Demers: said the city is failing on all counts: gangs, a troubled relationship between the city and the schools and the current city council in general. His experience includes the US Military (officer), duty in Iraq, Chief Operating Officer of Port Hueneme. He is used to running big projects and will be a careful steward of city money.

Mr. Procter: indicated his family had been in Santa Paula since the 1880’s. In 2003 he was mayor helping to craft the deal to bring back the local hospital via the development on the hill. He was also responsible for televised council meetings. He was involved with negotiations regarding the old sewer plant and has been asked repeatedly to run again over the last six years since he has been off the council.

Ms. Gherardi: said she brought lots of money to Ventura County, including the Ag Museum and the Bike path, to name a few. She also worked with the Pumpkin Patch and the Art museum. She says we need to refinance the sewer plant and reorganize the budget. She is known as an experienced, problem solver.

2) Mr. Maron asked the three most pressing issues of each candidate:

Mr. Demers: water/sewer rates, strengthening police/fire departments and strengthen relationships between city and county agencies.
Ms. Crosswhite: trust and communication, water and sewer rates (must be honest), public safety, police fire, water, roads.

Mr. Procter: public safety (supports Measure F), water rates, must buy back the plant and get out of the badly crafted contract, goal setting and youth recreation.

Mr. Gonzales: agrees with prior statements, but said they did “ the best we could at the time” and “chose the one we could live with” regarding the PERC/Alinda deal, where he negotiated a buyout in five years, and public safety.

Ms. Gherardi: sewer plant, public safety, on Measure F she would scrupulously redo the budget first to determine the need for the tax, youth services and work with schools.

Mr. Ferdandez: public safety, adding they have four new officers and a crime investigator, we need a new image of the community, need to build homes and get new businesses, sewer plant was a “no solution” and actually we got the “best solution”.

3) Each candidate was asked to describe how he or she would attract new business to downtown?

Mr. Fernandez: falls back to quality of downtown, we must support downtown, help businesses in entire community, not just downtown because the tax base is essential and we must attract new folks.

Ms. Crosswhite: look at the process, it is a challenge to open a business in Santa Paula and is easier in Oxnard.

Ms. Gherardi: identify the kinds of businesses that are right for Santa Paula, what is our niche, we are not big enough for a Target, but there are other niche businesses, also look at more tourism.

Mr. Demers: we must be welcoming to business, now we are overregulated and over taxed, we must help the business, the county is also onerous, Santa Paula should be a destination town.

Mr. Gonzales: flowers selling town, we need an Economic Development Director, homes will bring in people, canvas residents to see what they want, work with the Chamber,

4) What is your position on Measure F?

Mr. Gonzales: yes, support it, needs an effort to get it passed, 29 police officers today and 28 when he started in the force, we must fix the roads.

Mr. Demers: troubling because it doesn’t come close to the problems, $20 million public works budget with lack of accountability and transparency, highest sales tax will drive away business and is regressive on lowest wage earners.

Ms. Gherardi: last resort tax, $620,000 overtime could be spent on more officers, not sure about the tax until she audits the budget.

Ms. Crosswhite: personally, yes, but feels each citizen should ask questions, read the text of the proposed measure, tax won’t solve problems so we still need to work together, only a 12 year bailout, much larger problem.

Mr. Fernandez: not optimal, but is a solution, if we don’t repair the streets, soon we will be driving in dirt, hopefully the federal government can provide some funds.

Ms. Procter: yes on Measure F, we are a training ground for police who leave the force after a short while, costs money to train new recruits, yes, regressive tax, but it could also benefit lower income people, we must fend for ourselves as a community.

5) What are your positions for using waste water for resale and also in East Area I?

Mr. Fernandez: solutions are not easy, not free and involve millions of dollars, do we make money, should waste water go into the ground? Fillmore started then retreated on recycling.

Ms. Gherardi: we must use treated wastewater, federal/state grants are available and we must apply for these funds, get and bring back federal and state money back to the community.

Mr. Gonzales: in 2007/2008 there was talk of ‘shovel ready’ projects, so they went to Washington D.C, but were turned down, chloride treatment is required and they knew it going in, wastewater charges excessive.

Mr. Demers: we must reuse waste water and solids, not compliant now with Title 22, need to spend money to turn waste water and solids into a predictable revenue stream.

Mr. Procter: yes, it is the lynchpin for our community, Prop 84 Drought Relief, must look for these funds, change name of plant from ‘waste’ water to ‘recycled’ water, by 2020 we will have to reduce consumption.

Ms. Gherardi: yes, water not ready for reuse, need money to do this via refinance, purple pipe to East Area I expensive and must be done as a partnership.

6) What are your thoughts on improving roads?

Ms. Gherardi: Public Works department needs a qualified engineer running the department, TDA funds are misued, fix grade crossing, 10th Street time lights, need an overall plan.

Mr. Procter: scheduling of roads when they get to a certain condition, need well-organized plan.

Mr. Demers: his neighborhood is crumbling, a civil engineer knows that roads must be done every few years and they will last, but we did no maintenance and now they are disintegrating, need a schedule.

Mr. Fernandez: roads are a priority, state keeps cutting money, Measure F is a patchwork job, no money now, it does not exist, VCTC recently agreed to fix the railroad crossings.

Mr. Gonzales: staff doing pretty good job, doing best they can, he then enumerated all streets repaired saying we just can’t see it, “doing best we can”.

Ms. Crosswhite: yes, a schedule is needed, need to get back the $1 million the state “borrowed”, Measure F is not enough.

7) How will you rebuild trust:

Mr. Demers: transparency and accountability, public forums, find best use for taxpayer dollars, he takes citizens’ money very seriously.

Ms. Crosswhite: listening to each other, honoring one another, treat people with respect, partnering with council and community.

Mr. Procter: he reiterated that people wanted him to run again because he was sensitive to the community, we must welcome people to the dais, form community groups, simple human courtesy.

Mr. Gonzales: because of the Brown Act, they can’t share everything, particularly personnel matters or lawsuit, he knows the answers but asks questions to elicit response to inform the public, curious story about lawyer friend with whom he shared confidential information.

Ms. Gherardi: more transparency and accountability, treat people who come to the council respectfully, city council and school board are not communicating.

Mr. Fernandez: trust important, complacency, the public stops being interested, indicating the citizens are not involved.

8) Comment on the $35 million bond in 2010? What was done with the money and what is left?

Mr. Procter: doesn’t know, yes, must go to the bond market again, control the facility we own.

Mr. Fernandez: a new water tank on top of Steckel drive plus water piping, doesn’t know balance, infrastructure bond, look at restoring street with piping and work with EAI to combine with work.

Ms. Crosswhite: must refinance the plant with bonds.

Ms. Gherardi: the amount borrowed was $55 million and not $35 million, they defeased old bonds with new bonds, $10 to $15 million left, sewer plant, yes bond financing and perhaps GO bonds (general obligation).

Mr. Demers: $35 million, take what is left plus new bond and buy out plant and get out asap of this outrageous deal.

Mr. Gonzales: 1.5 acre ranch to put a $4 million tank, lots of projects, Well #13, $10 million left, yes, support more bonds and the five year buyout.

9) Do you support low income housing?

Mr. Gonzales: we have built affordable housing, now we need moderate housing, we have met state numbers for affordable housing, old Procter residence new project.

Mr. Demers: no more low income housing, move people up to moderate, of course, provide for seniors, help people find housing.

Ms. Gherardi: we need all types, good mix, mixed population must be accommodated.

Ms. Crosswhite: to be considered on a project by project basis, we need to raise our tax basis.

Mr. Fernandez: refurbish what we have, downward spiral when outsiders move into our low income housing, no family housing created and no place for kids to go.

Mr. Procter: consider on a case by case basis, a family of four making $70,000 is low income by Ventura County standards, some developers try to draw from local communities.

10) What can we do to stop gangs and drunk driving? How do you feel about an audit by an independent auditor?

Mr. Fernandez: yes to audit, for gangs work with schools, school resource officers, counsel students.

Ms. Gherardi: yes to audit, where does the money goes, stop rumors, for gangs direct as much effort to schools and sports, search out federal funds for gangs and drugs.

Mr. Gonzales: street gangs have been in Santa Paula since 1986, are even in Santa Barbara, need more police power, grants, partnership with DA’s office.

Mr. Procter: yes, audit, find out where the bodies are buried, Measure F is a boost and part of the answer, must have drunk driving check points.

Ms. Crosswhite: yes, audit, need neighborhood programs to attach crime rates, find leaders, get to know the neighbors, fourth grade reading levels predict crime.

Mr. Demers: yes, audit required, GAAP does not show how well decision are made, gang unit money available, work with school districts.

11) Mr. Moran asked for closing statements.

Ms. Gherardi: she has expertise, vision and will do things differently, particularly with the budget and how we pay our people, salary survey, how we treat people fairly, find the funds, we are not in dire straits, money is buried.

Mr. Procter: my experience in 2000-2008, how I deal with people, dignity, goal setting, only council member who voted against the Perc/Alinda waste water treatment contract.

Mr. Demers: leadership, the planning for the 1930’s waste water facility replacement should have started earlier, no vision, did plant by force, same thing with streets, if gangs were here in 1986, where was/is the leadership to combat them?

Mr. Fernandez: sewer plant had to be done, under the gun, “best solution at the time”, two bidders: Veolia and Perc, “no bond market”, 5 year buyout we are there, Santa Paula still the gem of the county.

Mr. Gonzales: audits are done regularly, no hidden funds, agenda, yes, Santa Paula moving forward, previous council’s spent $18 million studying sewer plant in the 1990’s, he recused himself from the council because of the on-going litigation and his belief that the city’s approach is wrong, he is opposed to the lawsuit.

Ms. Crosswhite: she has traveled and is educated, worked in South Chicago and South LA, bilingual and bicultural, will bring different gifts to council, together we will progress and then spoke in Spanish.

Notable Comments from Candidates with editorial commentary

• Mr. Fernandez and Mr. Gonzalez both used phrases like “best solution” or “best we could do” and were clearly defensive about how the solution turned out.
• Mr. Gonzalez and Mr. Fernandez both referenced the “five year buyout” but no terms and conditions have been made available to the public for such a buyout. I asked the city for a copy of the DBOF agreement but was denied.
• Ms. Gherardi’s comment about finding the right niche businesses for Santa Paula is the best approach. She indicated that a Target would not come here because of our size and she is right. The council has repeatedly raised the public’s expectations that there will be box stores in East Area I that will raise our tax rates. The probability of this is low. Ms. Gherardi also said to look at tourism. Again, this is the right vision. With a Mediterranean climate and mountains reminiscent of an Italian village, Santa Paula should be focusing on agri-tourism and not box stores and tract housing. Such a model is dated.
• Mr. Gonzales is exactly right. Santa Paula needs an Economic Development Director. Has this been proposed during his tenure?
• Ms. Crosswhite’s statement about reading the text of Measure F is sound advice. As of this writing, the text of Measure F is not on the city’s website for citizens to read.
• Mr. Procter’s work to bring televised council meeting to the public was an important step. I am surprised that no one followed up with televised Planning Commission meetings.
• Mr. Gonzalez’ statement “chloride treatment is required and they knew it going in” should be elaborated. To whom does he refer with the word ‘they’ and what did they know?
• Mr. Demers’ vision to turn the waste water and solids into a predictable revenue stream was the best advice of the night. Santa Paula needs revenue. With a small sales tax of only $1.8 million budgeted, it is dependent on its share of property taxes.
• Mr Proctor’s renaming of the plant from ‘waste’ to ‘recycled’ water plant is an excellent vision.
• The question about the $35 million in bonds was particularly troubling. First of all, the amount financed in 2010 was $55 million, as Ms. Gherardi correctly pointed out. Secondly, in the June 2, 2014 budget presentation to the council, the Finance Director was asked about the balance of these monies. Her response was $23 million. However, at the candidate forum, the consensus appeared to be a balance of $10 to $12 million. Why this discrepancy?
• Mr. Gonzales’ comments about the Brown Act should be revisited. He indicated that the Brown Act prohibited him from making comments, yet he obviously shared some confidential information with a “lawyer friend” who said “it was too bad this can’t be made public”.
• The lack of waste water for East Area I could be a deal breaker and no candidate reacted to the question except in terms of cost. As stated at the forum, the costs at this point to upgrade the plant are prohibitive and the trenching must be combined with street repair. Additionally, California is revisiting the use of all ground water. The council should read WATER CODE SECTION 13550-13557 and follow AB 2067, an act to amend Section 10631 of the Water Code, relating to water management. The days of landscaping with ground water are over.
• Mr. Fernandez’ comment about ‘fixing what we had’ in terms of housing was another good suggestion. That requires a developer who specializes in infill projects and would be a goal of the Economic Development Director.
• Mr. Gonzales’ comment that we have met state mandated numbers for low-income housing was important and should be part of the planning process with regard to future development.
• Mr. Fernandez’ statement that there was ‘no bond market’ in 2008 is refutable. Please see the document entitled ‘Bonds: Myths and Reality’ in the directory http://stealthfashion.com/santapauladocs.
• Mr. Demers’ comment about the $20 million public works budget without accountability and transparency is obvious to anyone who watched the presentation by the Finance Director on June 2, 2014 to the City Council wherein she had no slides about the enterprise funds. Please see document about the budget in the library at http://stealthfashion.com/santapauladocs

Summary

Clearly Mr. Gonzales and Mr. Fernandez represent the status quo. A forum like this is a challenge for incumbents because they are aware of things the public should not know; however, the public knows there are issues which have not been addressed. Mr. Demers and Ms. Gherardi are both experienced, successful government administrators, who are comfortable with large budgets, complex projects and legal issues. Ms. Crosswhite and Mr. Procter both exhibit a unique personal approach to government, one Mr. Procter has demonstrated successfully in prior years, while Ms. Crosswhite’s bi-cultural ethos could be her tool to unite the two Santa Paulas. This forum was recorded for televised replay. Look for the schedule in the paper.
Appendix

Below is a list of questions I submitted to the forum, some of which were merged into a more generalized question and some were not used.

• What was the rationale for the $28.6 million bond defeasance which was described in the audited financial statements? Who proposed the defeasance? How, where and when was it approved? Who voted yes and who opposed?

• What is the city’s plan for providing treated waste water to the purple pipes in East Area I? Who will pay for this project, including the new trenching and enhancements to the waste water facility?

• In 2013, Mayor Cook made the following statement at an Ad-Hoc Water meeting: …the city’s “no risk” deal for the wastewater treatment plant carries “a little over eight percent” … Did the city of Santa Paula obtain a bid from a licensed municipal bond underwriter for purposes of comparison to the Perc/Alinda bid?

• In 2013, Mayor Cook made the following statement at an Ad-Hoc Water meeting: …“We’re paying almost $1.2 million a year tacked on” to the payment for the plant, a cost Cook said is “tacked on” as an ill-defined loan guarantee. Is this $1.2 million included within the budgeted $6.8 million payment to Perc/Alinda or is it somewhere else in the budget?

• What is the plan to commercialize the waste water from the treatment plant as an additional source of revenue to the city?

• The city has promoted the amount of $1.6 million from Measure F. At what point chronologically is this amount realized, assuming the measure passes in November? Does the $1.6 million include new sales tax from East Area I?

• How will you prioritize the order in which streets and sidewalks are repaired, if Measure F passes?

• The proposed water/sewer volumetric rate calculation lowers the monthly bills for some and raises rates for others. What percentage will see increases and what will be lowered?

• Do you think it is good planning policy to demolish historic housing stock to make way for high school parking?

• Built in 1884 for Wallace Libbey Hardison, one of California’s pioneering oilmen, the house at 1226 Ojai Road was recently sold to a tract home builder. Documents that were signed in its library led to founding of the Union Oil Company. How will the city safeguard this historic property from demolition?

• Do you think it is good planning policy to have a massage parlor on the historic Main Street of Santa Paula?

• What is the city doing to attract new businesses to downtown?

• According to the audited financial statements, the Successor Agency Private-purpose Trust Fund accounts for the wind down of the Santa Paula Redevelopment Agency. What is the city doing to market the properties of the former Redevelopment Agency? Who is responsible for the outstanding $2,655,000 in principal and $1,233,445 in interest? What happened to the $6 million in bonds sold?

• According to transparentcalifornia.com, Robert S. Gonzales received pension income of $91,587.84. Why is this amount not reported on the California Form 700 Campaign Disclosures?

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.

__________________________________________________

Get free Citizensjournal.us BULLETINS. Please patronize our advertisers to keep us publishing and/or DONATE

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *