Santa Paula: Citizens present to City Council

By Sheryl Hamlin

On May 21, 2015, the city council hosted the citizens of Santa Paula in preparation for the 2015/2016 budget. Recall that at the December 2014 City Council meeting, newly elected council member Gherardi proposed a “Goal Setting Workshop” outside of the format of a regularly scheduled council meeting. Subsequently she reiterated this idea as the time for budgeting approached. The meeting on May 21, 2015 was the first step involving the citizenry in the process of governance and goal setting. Every seat in the council chambers was taken with some standing in the rear of the room and the ante-chamber.

City Manager Fontes turned the meeting over to Mr. Mike Sedell, formerly Simi Valley City Manager for 20 years. As a way of giving back to the community, Mr. Sedell has been providing pro bono consulting to Ventura County cities. He and a colleague, Mr. Frank Catania, have been working with the city to prepare the FY 2015/2016 budget using a collaborative approach.


Mike Sedell


Mr. Sedell interviewed council members and citizens and found five common areas of concern: 1) public safety, 2) fiscal stability and financial sustainability, 3) infrastructure and utilities, 4) economic development and 5) transparency. As the four hour meeting unfolded, most of the speakers touched on one or all of these topics.

For informational purposes only, Sandra Easley, Financial Director, presented a recent iteration of the budget which showed a slight surplus including pro rata cuts to all departments without headcount cuts. No action was to be taken on this iteration of the budget at this meeting.

Public Safety

The topic of public safety was most frequently addressed by members of the audience. Through a translator Ms. Elvia Hernandez spoke of the Esperanza Project, a prevention program for children and families. She indicated her own fears for her sixth grade daughter at Isbel School because of the presence of guns.

Steve Smead, Gabrielle Muratori, Laurie Byers, Kevin Byers, Brandy Manzano, Devon Chichoski, Rhonda McKaig, John Demers, Bob Borrego, Steve Novack, Jim Procter, Richard Rudman, Sheryl Hamlin and Connie Tushla spoke about public safety.

Gabrielle Muratori

Gabrielle Muratori

Using a parable, Gabrielle Muratori described the crumbling foundation of a family home wherein the family avoided tough decisions on how to fix the problem by pulling weeds, thus giving the false illusion of productivity, rather than facing the problem directly. Brandy Manzano said there was no shared information within the city for collaboration mentioning that many had never heard of the Esperanza Project prior to this night’s meeting and referenced Agency 101 in Ventura where each department regularly met and shared resources. Steve Smead suggested privatization to get needed cash and said the city’s downturn had started 25 years ago. John Demers recalled the dysfunctional period of military sequestration wherein lawn maintenance was cut equally with aircraft maintenance leaving half an aircraft without maintenance, indicating that the council must make priorities rather than the pro rata approach in progress.

Connie Tushla

Connie Tushla

Connie Tushla, a 30 year resident of Santa Paula and chair of the Chamber’s Economic Development Committee and the council’s Economic Advisory Committee, presented an executive level road map for Santa Paula as follows:

  • Accurate financial reporting
  • Public Safety: perception and reality
  • Main Street: immaculate gateway to the city’s economic development
  • Infrastructure: deploy monies immediately
  • How to fund: look at the enterprise where legal
  • Tourism: include a resort in one of the two canyons during the upcoming General Plan revision

Although she did not say this specifically, the use of accurate financial reports should be a presentation of each council meeting. The council must know where the city stands with respect to the budget on a monthly basis. This information should be available at the push of a button. City finances should be ubiquitous in council discussions.

No one can argue that Santa Paula has a crime problem, but the perception of crime can be managed with proper communication. She suggested developing an “effective, well-organized advertising PR program” for the citizens and potential businesses. We must “declare war” against the perception that Santa Paula is a crime-ridden city.

The immaculate maintenance of Santa Paula’s Main Street is closely related to the development of new business. Unspent monies in the Public Works funds must be deployed as soon as possible to address the deteriorating infrastructure, again to attract new business and residents.

Finding money from other sources requires creativity. Clearly grants and taxes are obvious, but “shifting money” from the enterprise funds “where legal” should be explored. Although not mentioned at this meeting, the enterprise funds have large, positive cash-flows. The FY 2014/2015 budget showed a net positive of $3,955,058, according to the official statement for the recent waste water buyout bond sale. And in a recent council meeting, Interim Public Works Director Yanez mentioned that his department had revenues of $22 million with expenses of $16 million for a positive spread of $6 million. Clearly the water and sewer enterprises will have expenses for treating the chlorides and possibly fines, but at some point, there must be related activity from which the General Fund can draw.

The two numbers $3,000,000 and $100,000 should have given the council and the audience a rude awakening. The first number $3,000,000 is the amount of money the town of Ojai receives in transit-occupancy-tax (“bed tax” or TOT), while Santa Paula’s TOT is a mere $100,000. TOT is the tax you pay to the city when you stay at a hotel. Clearly, as Ms. Tushla said, the rustic areas of the Adams and Fagan canyons and the Mediterranean climate in Santa Paula are amenable to “a high end historic hotel resort, wellness spa and banquet center”. There is no need to build a golf course because there are two professional courses in quick distance (Saticoy and Spanish Hills) who would reciprocate with guests. A shuttle service could be provided. Not only should this be in the upcoming General Plan, but should be the focus of the city’s Business and Tourism Evangelist, a position suggested by Richard Rudman. Another citizen, Mr. Delton Lee Johnson spoke of high end as well, saying that the vision for Santa Paula should be “quality” citing Santa Barbara’s insistence of style, signage and color to develop its high-end branding.


Richard Rudman

Richard Rudman


Dr. Gabino Aguirre presented a detailed presentation covering three topics: 1) youth intervention, 2) educational development and 3) community engagement. Time permitted only a hint of the first topic, although he will give a written report of all items to the council. He said “we cannot arrest our way out of this criminal violence” and said that the Department of Public Health and Workforce Investment Board should be more involved with Santa Paula, stating that out of a $40 million budget, Santa Paula received only $72,000. Council Member Gherardi asked about the funding process. Dr. Aguirre responded that this is not a public process and that the city must work with the county supervisors and also obtain a seat on the Workforce Investment Board.

Dr. Gabino Aguirre

Dr. Gabino Aguirre

To view all speakers, please click here.

Mr. Sedell spoke of a “Community Visioning Process” which would create short and long term goals for the city. Once a vision is established, each staff and council action should be related to this vision. He said the budget this year is “tight” and trade-offs for this year would be necessary, but that these sessions should launch new, long-term plans and revenue sources for the city.


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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Connie Tushla
Connie Tushla
6 years ago

With reference to using money from the Enterprise Funds: For example it is my understanding that it would be legal to take money from the water fund where money would be used for water related issues such as software for water issues or staff salary when those staff members are working on water issues. This would probably not be large sums of money but would free some money from the General Fund to be used for other issues. It is my understanding that Mr Cotti felt that this would be an appropriate and legal use of water fund money. “Shifting Money” was probably not the best selection of words to describe this process.

Citizen Reporter
6 years ago

“Finding money from other sources requires creativity. Clearly grants and taxes are obvious, but “shifting money” from the enterprise funds “where legal” should be explored. Although not mentioned at this meeting, the enterprise funds have large, positive cash-flows.”

Doesn’t sound legal to divert them from their intended uses. Enterprise funds are to fund de facto businesses, such as govt utilities, etc. For example, ratepayers have a right to expect their money collected to be used for the intended purpose. What happens when govt, tries to raise rates after taking that money for something else?

Citizen Reporter
6 years ago

Amazingly detailed and comprehensive report, Sheryl. Next best thing to being there.