Thomas Fire Building Permit Fee Questioned at Ventura City Council

By Lori Denman

Thomas Fire rebuild permit costs and other issues were discussed on the evening of August 6. All council members and the mayor were present. Deputy Mayor Matt LaVere was absent.

Special presentations and announcements

Mayor Andrews spoke of the Ventura Visitors Convention Bureau, calling it a “great partner to our city.” City is partnered with them to generate tourist dollars. The mayor said that the Transit Occupancy Tax that goes into the general fund is the highest it has ever been – over $6.1 million. It has increased over the past few years and Christy Weir voiced her appreciation for that.

In 2017, Ventura had 2.7 million visitors, Andrews continued to explain. Visitors spent $289 million, which generated $8.4 billion in taxes to the city. The mayor said that this evening council will hear from the Marlyss Auster, CEO of Visit Ventura.

Marlyss Auster, Visit Ventura

Auster spoke to city council and thanked them for their support. She said that she has been waiting to share those great numbers of tourism with the city for a while. Visit Ventura is happy that the city has grown stronger over the past year. She is proud that tourism provides 2,600 jobs. Auster also spoke about Visit Ventura’s Crisis Communication Plan. The plan was activated by Visit Ventura and communicated with the community during the Thomas Fire on emergency issues and offering direction.

It was also announced that this is the final week for the candidate nomination period for the November election. Registered voters in districts one, four, five and six who are interested in running for City Council should go in and apply. All applicants’ paperwork is due by Friday, August 10 at 5pm.

Closed session report with Mr. Diaz. He did not anticipate reportable action.

City Council Communications

Erik Nasarenko announced that he is seeking re-election to City Council and also welcomed Assistant City Manager Barry Fisher.

City Council members mentioned a few community members and said they should acknowledge them in memory for their passing.

Public Communications

Steven Brown, General Manager of the Gold Coast Transit District. He spoke about their recently published Community Report that will also be on their website. Brown said they had a great year and he has a few items to report. He is excited about the aspects of technology and efficiency and said that people may use their smartphones to tap into transit information. The engines of 26 busses are going to be replaced, which is another item Brown is happy to report. They will be eight times more clean than the engines of the current busses.

Terence Folley, a Pierpont resident of over 60 years claimed that he and other local community members of Pierpont do not support short-term rentals. He asked that existing permits should be reconsidered and if they are analyzed as being unjust, that they end. He said that home sharing would be better idea.

Consent Items

There were 24 consent items. Nasarenko asked questions on consent items 11 and 15. Item 11 is, “Street Resurfacing – upon various roads throughout Ventura.  He asked how the city prioritizes street paving and asked how they are funded. It was said that roads get prioritization depending upon the date of their construction. The funding is from gas tax, Measure O and SB1. There is $10 million available for street repaving projects.

Christy Weir had a question about item 13: Final Acceptance of Public Improvements and if there is a park being improved. It was said that yes, there is Linear Park, a dog park and also a small park which is part of the Neighborhood Park being improved. There is also a Saticoy Park process that will be under development. Weir said that council should be careful about approving parks in the future and that more planning should take place prior to approval. Item 13 was approved.

Public speaker Nicole Craig

A Thomas Fire Update was discussed which was item 26. There was a public speaker heard first who was Nicole Craig. She lost her house in the fire and discussed her rebuild problems and said that she spent 40K on staying in hotels. Craig said that it is extremely difficult to receive a permit to rebuild and asks for a clear process of what is expected of the build. She asked why there is a fee of $2,500 just to apply for the rebuild. She also claimed that 90 percent of Thomas Fire victims who have lost their homes are underinsured.

Jeffrey Lambert, Community Development Director, led a Thomas Fire Rebuild discussion. Yolanda Bundy, the Chief Building Official and Dave Ward, the Planning Manager were introduced in this next section of the Thomas Fire Rebuild discussion. It was said that the duo has been working seven days a week on this.

Lambert said it’s been eight months of working on this rebuild project and hopes to tweak their actions in order to make further progress for those who have lost their homes. Lambert said he, Bundy and Ward are working on fire recovery efforts. They have been doing the following: damage assessment including CalFire and FEMA surveys; property packets and property recovery kits (delivered to home owners) and Cross Department Teamwork.

There has been over 300 appointments with homeowners who lost their homes in the Thomas Fire. Some had plans and were ready to go and some had no idea what to do and Lambert or his team gave them advice. As of the night of this city council meeting, there has been 204 zoning clearances. Lambert makes sure they are completing the paperwork correctly, especially for zoning and building safely. He said that only 16 of 204 people needed to go back to their plans to fix them. Ninety out of 204 are being plan checked; only 16 rebuild permits have been issued; 278 repair permits have been issued, which is keeping residents on track, Lambert said. Building permit fees range between 6K to 8K each.

Lambert said that they welcome homeowners’ comments. Lambert responded to Craig, the public speaker who was upset about fees. He said that it is reasonable for her to ask to rebuild, but not to ask to add another story on her home.

“A whole floor is a completely different house and I’m not sure that is what the community expected as a Thomas Fire Rebuild,” Lambert said. “In this particular case, maybe a second floor would not be a big deal and she has surrounding supportive neighbors. Yet, she still needs a ‘Full Variance’ and needs to pay the fee of 10K and six months to get the Planning Commission. One thing that we can do is expand what is a minor modification because it still requires public notice, there is still a hearing and there are still storyboards required. There is still a discretionary process but it does not involve the full fee of a variance and the time frame of a Planning Commission hearing.”

Lambert said that when the fire occurred there was already the concern of homebuilders by the city of them adding floors or height. So the city developed perimeters and regulations. It costs less for a permit if the homeowner stays within these limitations on modifications. They do not expect second floors to be added.

Yolanda Bundy

Yolanda Bundy, the Chief Building Official said that it has been eight months since the Thomas Fire and many families are discouraged and eager to move back into their homes. However, the council and other groups are working through multiple State required processes for each set of plans.   Every set of plans also goes through the fire department, land development and a landscape review. Each plan goes through architectural, structural, plumbing, mechanical and electrical reviews.

Nasarenko said in a week there will be more direction given to homeowners who wish to make changes in their rebuilds.

Item 27 will be moved to September which is, “Information Technology Project Manager Updates.” The remainder of the council meeting discussed numerous improvements projects throughout the city.

SB1 money was discussed and Weir said that it is important for community members to know that this money is used for improvement plans, including the Public Works Capital Improvement Plan. On the ballot this November, citizens may vote to extend this use for SB1 money. If it does not pass by voting, numerous projects will end. SB1 projects will be listed on the city website, so that community members can see what improvements are occurring with this funding.

Ventura City Council Agenda, August 6:

City Council Meeting Agendas – Ventura, CA:

Video, August 6, Ventura City Council Regular Meeting Video:


Lori Denman-Underhill has been a professional journalist since 1996. She has worked as associate editor for the Los Angeles Daily News TODAY Magazines and has freelanced for LA Weekly, and more. She is now the Ventura reporter for Citizens Journal.

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