Santa Paula City Council: Water, Dogs, Money and Deteriorating Streets

By Sheryl Hamlin

Ms. Maddie Sifantus, dosage minister of the Universalist Unitarian Church, one of the historic structures in Santa Paula, gave the invocation. Minister Sifantus invoked participative democracy and harkened to Earth Day using the phrase “sustainable future”.  Her invocation aptly mirrored the evening’s agenda as the council plans for citizen involvement in the budget process, as well as, the city’s response to the Governor’s Executive Order concerning the ongoing drought. The word “sustainable” is the central principle of California’s new groundwater management act, which Brown signed in 2014.

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State of Emergency

Brian Yanez, Public Works Manager, presented the status of the Executive Order on California’s drought. The base year is 2013 for comparison purposes, although he did not explain how the base is calculated. The monthly water reporting which was put into place in 2014 as part of Brown’s proclamation is now permanent. The State Water Board Announcement on the finalized rules will be announced in May 2015.

In October 2014, the city of Santa Paula issued recommended watering guidelines, as well as water usage guidelines, such as no sidewalk watering. These recommendations yielded savings of 10%, which means the city has 15% savings to go in order to comply with the 2015 Executive Order. The voluntary recommendations are now mandatory.

There is a water hotline. Citizens have been using this hotline to report issues of water waste. The city has been issuing citations and will start fining. water_hotlineThe first fine is $100 per day up to $500 per day. Mr. Yanez said that when they came to investigate a tip, they ended up canvassing the entire neighborhood.

Yanez said that they plan to include an updated list of regulations in the June billing. The city will attend the June Cruise Night and may give out low-flow shower heads and will be giving information with a survey form. He said a common question concerned filling a swimming pool. For clarification, a pool may be filled to maintain an optimal level for pumping, but may NOT be drained and refilled. Nor will there be permits issued for new pools.

Council Member Tovias asked about revenue loss to the city once the full conservation of 25% is in effect. Mr. Yanez said that the rate study of 2013 included a provision for drought rates. Such rates will be enacted where water users will pay more for less water. The Mayor asked about new development. Yanez said that water rights are transferred to the city for East Area One, but other developments under consideration did not have transferrable rights. City Manager Fontes added that East Area One “will be purple piped… infrastructure … even water in homes”.  This statement appears to contradict the published Development Agreement for this topic which says the following:

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Dogs and Spaghetti

Hozy is retiring and Ace is here. These names are famous members of the SPPD canine force. Raised in Germany and answering only to commands in German, these dogs are highly trained and successful. The initial cost of a dog is $9,000 with subsequent training $15,000 including basic training, narcotics school, hard surface, gangs and narcotics and more. The dogs will work on the force from four to six years before retirement. A bullet proof vest costs $4000 for 2 dogs. All expenses have been raised through the work of the Police and Fire foundations. On Wednesday, April 29, 2015, Santa Paula Community Center (530 West Main Street), a delicious spaghetti dinner will be served for $15.00 per person with dogs available for demonstrations. If you cannot attend, take out meals are available. Tickets can be purchased at the Santa Paula Times offices located on Davis near Main Street.

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Police Boundaries

Chief McClean reported on a successful operation executed with 130 officers from federal, state and local agencies raiding 39 locations over a period of 2 days. Eleven suspects were arrested, one in possession of a shotgun in Oxnard and one in Ventura. The goal is the dismantlement of gangs. Mayor Procter asked that each agency receive a letter of thanks for their work in this operation.

City Manager Fontes reported that every single crime measurement showed improvement in Santa Paula, including violent crime down 22%, property crime down 18% and serious felonies down 18% thanks to the work of the SPPD under Chief McClean.

The item for consideration at the April 20th meeting was the issue of residency boundaries for hiring police officers. Chief McClean proposed to either widen the boundaries or to eliminate them completely, so he could improve his hiring. He also is trying to hire a female officer. Mr. Cotti, the city attorney, indicated that the unions had requested this boundary provision be removed. Council Member Crosswhite asked if this motion would affect other departments. There was no answer. The council voted unanimously to eliminate the boundaries.

Water Treatment Plant Buyout

Mr. Fontes reported on the water treatment plant buyout which will close on April 30th simultaneously with the transfer of funds from the bond sale. Mr. Fontes did not report on the details of the sale at the public meeting. However, from a municipal bond website, the offering can be seen here. There were two series sold: Series A (tax-free) $66,595,000 and Series B (taxable) $1,825,000. The Total Interest Cost (TIC) was 4.1473%. Mr. Maas of FirstSouthwest supplied sale details outside of the meeting. The Series A bonds sold at a premium, which means investors (primarily mutual funds) paid more than the face value (redemption value) for a total to the city of $76,865,660, which will be enough to pay for the plant and fund the requisite reserve account. The pricing is a result of super low Fed driven interest rates which are supposed to rise within the next 18 months, so investors paid a “premium” for a higher coupon rate. As a result of this transfer of ownership and bond sale, the city cut its interest costs by one half; however, it is impossible to determine if there will be a rebate because the city must solve the chloride problem as soon as possible and hire a new operator for the plant.

Fiscal Review

Mr. Mike Sedell has been chosen to moderate the city’s 2015-2016 budget process. He has brought in Mr. Frank Catania, who was with Simi Valley for 12 years and LA for 30 years. Mr. Catania reported that he is analyzing 50 active funds to determine what is available for the fiscal year 2015-2016. This will be a starting point for the budgetary process. Council Member Gherardi had suggested since the first day of this new council’s existence, that the citizens be involved in the budgeting process. Unfortunately Council Member Hernandez is unavailable for 9 days in May and Mayor Procter for two, so the establishment of a schedule of public meetings was challenging. The proposed schedule is as follows:

  • May 4, 2015: First Draft of the budget presented at a regularly schedule council meeting
  • May 18, 2015: Budget continuation of May 4th, 2015
  • May 21, 2015: Public meeting in the evening during the week
  • June 1, 2015: Budget approval at regularly scheduled council meeting

City Street Improvements

The state of Santa Paula’s streets is a constant theme. Streets were to have been addressed with the failed sales tax measure in the 2014 election. City staff prepared a report showing dangerous conditions of major streets as they intersect with railroad crossings. Bids exceeded the $1 million planned. CMAQ will fund up to $1.1 million but staff is hesitant to use CMAQ because of the lengthy application process with uncertain results. The staff would prefer to use city funds. Council Member Gherardi reminded that there is a backlog of $5 million in street repair. She does not agree with staff’s recommendation to use city funds. She moved that staff be directed to apply for CMAQ funds, prioritize the work and use bicycle dollars to augment. This passed unanimously.

Sale of VacCon Truck

This item was pulled from the Consent Agenda. The $300,000 vehicle was designed to assist with sewer spills and to clean out storm drains, but was rarely used. The city staff recommended selling it for a price of $180,000, providing the auxilary motor functions. A failure with this motor will reduce the price $22,000. Monies from this sale will be posted to the waste water enterprise funds. The sale was approved.

Future agendas will be kept to a minimum so that time can be spent on the 2015-2016 fiscal budget.

To watch this meeting on-line, click here. To view the agenda and staff reports, click here.

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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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