Ventura | Budget and Year-Round Homeless Shelter Move Forward

City Council meeting raises concern of low barrier shelter with no rules of sobriety

By Lori Denman-Underhill

The Ventura City Council meeting on June 18 was lengthy, which included the passing of the Fiscal Year 2018 to 2019 budget and also allocated funds to create a year-round shelter.

At this meeting, there were no announcements or special presentations. Councilmember Mike Tracy was absent and there was one reportable item this evening. It was stated that the council met in a closed meeting earlier to discuss one potential litigation matter. It was a California Riverwatch matter. There were claims by CA Riverwatch that Ventura’s wastewater collection system and wastewater treatment plant are under violations of the CA Clean Water Act and that the CA Riverwatch Group intended to file a citizens’ suit, in order to have the city avoid future violations. After learning more details of the city’s efforts to fix the collections systems and wastewater treatment plant, the CA Riverwatch group has withdrawn its intent to sue. Special thanks was given by Matt LaVere to environmental groups that assist the city with this matter.

Councilmember Cheryl Heitmann said that school is out and there are terrific programs through the Parks and Recs department and to check the city’s website.

Consent Items

Deputy Mayor Matt LaVere thanked city staff for the help with the Green Building Expo. Attendees included those who lost their homes in the Thomas Fire.

Councilmember Christy Weir pulled consent item number eight, “Administrative Streamlining for Capital Improvement Plan Projects.” Heitmannpulled consent number five, “Sewerline Replacement Project – Ann St. Area Authorization to Advertise.” There was one public speaker.

The public speaker Sharon Troll on item eleven, “Parks Security Ambassador Services General Services Agreement,” and said she was speaking on behalf of the Westside Development Corporation. She read a letter from the Westside Community Council Corporation that conveyed their support for the expansion of the ambassador program. The group recently went out to business owners to conduct a survey and she said the number one concern is vagrancy which includes vandalism and harassment. After their group held a meeting they reached out to Kevin Clerici of the Downtown Ventura organization and are pleased to know that the group is already thinking about how to serve the avenue. The Westside Community Council Corporation will continue to work with their local businesses to establish long term goals on cleaning up the avenue.

Heitmann commented on item seven, “Pierpont Nuisance Sand Removal Project – Contract Amendment.” She said that this comment comes up a lot in this area. She said that they are hiring a new Public Works Director now and this will be addressed soon. She asked that the topic be looked at often.

Weir said she wanted to comment on item 13, “Consideration of an Emergency Ordinance Repealing the Ban on the Use of Leaf Blowers.” She said this is an ordinance about repealing the ban on leaf blowers. Weir said that after hearing from community members of their concerns, that she believes leaf blowers are not healthy nor helpful. Weir voted no on the repeal of the ban.

Item two was withdrawn from the consent calendar which was, “Request for Authorization for Outside Counsel Services for Potential Litigation.” Item five and eight (“Administrative Streamlining for Capital Improvement Plan Projects) were pulled. Item 13 needed to have a unanimous vote. Paranick moved to pass the consent calendar. It was motioned and seconded. Yet, Weir voted “no” on 13. Items passed, with the exception of item 13. The mayor was going to ask for guidance from the city attorney on how that item should be reconsidered.

Other items that were pulled, were discussed. Item five was the first to be discussed. This isSewerline Replacement Project – Ann Street Area Authorization to Advertise and is about improving city projects including sewer lines. Heitmann asked about the city laying the fiber for broadband and if and when that would happen. “Will we be able to do this for this project?” she said.

A representative with Citywide, Mary Joyce, spoke and said they are looking at a broadband strategy. When they replace the traffic signals, there is an opportunity when they go to fiber that it may be a better option with a type of fiber. When Ventura Water is ready, they will begin to do the work with the purple pipe. The expansion of the purple pipe is looking at the pipe already being used. Paranick commented and said that he is assuming that once the pipes have been analyzed, that it will be an item to be discussed at a city council meeting. He also said that there should be a feasibility study completed before the rollout of broadband. The projects, including purple pipe, need to be analyzed and discussed prior to agreements, which include prices and spending. It just may not be feasible, Paranick said. They will look at the cost of this pipeline project. A timeline was also asked to be completed and Paranick said he would do this. Heitmann moved the item and it was seconded. Each councilmember voted yes, except for Tracy who was absent.

Item eight, which was pulled, was discussed. The recommendation was that “Authorize the Public Works Director, or designee, to advertise utility infrastructure Capital Projects to specifically include projects for waterline replacements, sewerline replacements, and storm drain replacements, without the need for prior City Council authorization to advertise.”

Weir said that project descriptions are needed for the public to understand this item and that the public needs to know what is going on. Weir said she will not support this item as written because there is a need for public approval and city council authorization prior to advertising. She recommends to the council that they deny this item for this evening. And that they learn more about this and other projects. Joyce agreed and said that there is a value to knowing information, prior to approving projects that have to do with roads, pipes and more. Weir said that “public transparency” is good and needed. Weir made a motion to deny the staff recommendation. In the end, the majority of council members agreed that the council must give authorization prior to advertising.

Item 13 did not pass this evening. It was a five to one vote, due to Tracy’s absence. The item would be brought back when all city council members are present.

Public Hearing Items

The first public hearing item was heard which was, “Public Hearing and Adoption of User Fees and Rates for Fiscal Year 2018 to 2019.”

Staff presentation began with Clearsource and its analysis and explanation of fees for Thomas Fire rebuilds. When a specific service is provided for the city, a specific source is searched for and fee studies are completed. The city’s full cost to providing those services are analyzed and a master fee is updated. Regulatory fees are analyzed and updated. The large projects will be listed in the fee schedule and the city’s finance staff addresses costs. Fees in relation to those who suffered losses in the fire and their rebuild, Paranick said that council should fix the fee rates to a more appropriate schedule for those affected by the Thomas Fire. The staff report was concluded and there were no public speakers. It was voted and passed that the Thomas Fire victims get those lower rates.

The final proposed budget for the fiscal year was reported. The $306.5 million budget, an increase of 10 percent over last year’s, Paranick said there were challenges but also opportunity. There are needs of infrastructure, public safety and other issues from the community. Paranick said that Ventura is “in pretty good shape,” and that there were many recommendations to be read this evening.

Paranick started to discuss Safe and Clean Public Places, the city’s safety in public spaces. He said they have a robust CIP Program across the board. He said that the budget proposed on this evening is in alignment with the council’s goals which were adopted in January and are also within lines of the public’s wishes.  Paranick called upon the council staff to introduce the budget, but asked to be conservative due to current financial times. Paranick recommended this specific budget.

Greg Morley, Assistant Director ofFinance presented the FY 2018-2019 Operating Budget was discussed. Overview of budget process; changes since proposed budget; overview of citywide budget; general fund balancing; Measure O balancing and capital spending were discussed.

The $306.5 million budget, an increase of 10 percent over last year’s, was shown as a pie graph with various sections. The increase of the budget is due to an increased gas tax fund and water projects.

Larger sections included:

  1. Charges for services at 32 percent
  2. Prior year resources at 22 percent
  3. Other taxes
  4. Sales tax
  5. Property tax
  6. Internal

Personnel services was the highest cost, but Morley said that is normal for any city. The general fund budget of the city is $118.5 million. Over $1 million will be used for boosting reserves in this budget. An increase of this budget since last year’s at $115.2 million was caused by increased property tax, license and permit renewal, sales tax and more.

Pension costs of $19.7 million stands out as a large increase and one-time funding to Thomas Fire victims will be $5.6 million.

Almost $1.9 million will be used for the Safe and Clean Public Places initiative. A homeless shelter would cost $300,000 and a park ambassador program would have implemented for $225,000. $1.6 million was set for roadway maintenance.

The Measure O Appropriations was set at $11.8 million which included programs and services needs; maintenance needs and capital needs. The Measure O fund, approved by voters two years ago, consists of a half-cent sales tax increase. There is an unused amount of $1.1 million from ’17 to ’18.

Paranick covered outstanding financial issues that would be included in this budget including, “Extra Patrol Staffing to Address Vagrancy.” Paranick has been working with Police Chief Ken Corney and discussing funds to pay for patrol staff targeting vagrancy. Corney proposed an amount of $650-670,000 to continue enhanced patrols that begun since the murder of Anthony Mele. City Council is enhancing permanent staffing of police officers with increased patrol. Gap funding and an enhancement of security effort was asked by Paranick, to then put an amendment to Measure O to gain these goals. Paranick also said that outstanding issues also include the Safe and Clean Programs, which includes Public Works engineers and water/wastewater restructuring. He said that these items will be considered with financial support. The staff needs time to go through these items and will return with answers in September, Paranick added.

Public Speakers

Mary Jo Kusiack approached the mic and spoke about the importance of a year-round shelter and affordable housing, calling it fiscal common sense. She looked at other cities where they have year-round shelters and said that it costs more to provide emergency healthcare services and incarceration, as compared to providing a year-round shelter. What is needed here is “political will,” she said. Another woman, Judy Alexander also supported the establishment of a year-round full-service transition to housing shelter. She asked that the five different groups in the audience stand up and show their support. $600,000 for Measure O by the end of 2018, to commit to the development and facilitation of extremely affordable housing. Many more speakers approached and said that Measure O funding should be used for a shelter and affordable housing. One woman said that when they did a count of the homeless, homelessness has risen by 13 percent. She also claimed that 41 percent of those homeless who responded have been living in Ventura for 10 years or more.

The mayor responded to these comments and said that there was a memo last week asking for $600K of Measure O to be used for a shelter and affordable housing. Last year’s budget for Measure O asked for 300K for housing and this year’s Measure O is 600K. If adopted, the 600K and 200K for operating expenses would be allocated.

Paranick said that a site is being explored, a budget of 600K may go up or down, depending upon construction and operating costs. Depending upon the structure of funds to operate the shelter, 200K is available but will also have to be modified. Paranick said that if costs increase, they will need to approach the city manager. Shelters are community shelters, not city shelters, Paranick said, and that the city will be part of the shelter work. He said that the Measure O funds may be able to used for the shelter. Once a site is chosen, Paranick will return to the City Council. He said there is 600K available for construction costs and 250K of city contributions for operating costs. There is incredible momentum for a homeless shelter. However, costs may be altered. Basically, Paranick needs to see what the shelter will look like first. They also need to see a permanent cost number. The county deals with the social services aspect of the shelter and also the location. Paranick said he will know the location soon. If the city votes to put in 600K, then the County would match the funds.

Weir asked the city manager about the direction for the extra patrol staffing. Paranick said that the council enhanced patrol staffing by paying officers overtime. Measure O has the ability to hire additional officers. They have not been up and operational yet. Since there is an immediate need, GAP Funding would be used to pay for more overtime. Paranick said that Measure O is the appropriate place to ask for more overtime from, until they move forward with more officer(s). Paranick said that security cameras could also be created from Measure O as well.

Weir said that extra police and a homeless shelter are important and Measure O can help this. She said that there are two different viewpoints from the community lately. That “housing will solve all of our vagrancy problems,” or that people see it as, “vagrants don’t want housing. We have two extremes and where reality lies is in the middle, as we all know. We up here (pointing to councilmembers) have a lot of experience with this over the years. We do have homeless individuals that do want housing and we do have criminal vagrants. Our city hears reports almost every other day about criminal behavior including a stabbing, indecent exposure, etc. It’s a big mix and so we need a hundred different solutions that deal with all the people. What we are talking about is one part to the ultimate solution, which is shelter. Having visited successful shelters, success lies in location and management mostly. What we don’t want to have, and I have seen in many cities, is a giant dorm. Where the stability, the dignity, the privacy and the support is not provided. Our vision is more humane and personal and small. There are many beds in LA empty because of the inhumane treatment at the shelters. Let’s not just put them in a bed for a night. The next step would be an RFQ for operators?”

Paranick said that the County will consider an RFQ after receiving input from operators/professionals in the field of social service. Ventura and Oxnard are working together to select that operator that will be in compliance with council direction. The county is working with both cities to pursue locations for shelters. There may ideally one person to operate shelters with both counties. They are unsure and looking at proposals.

It was also said that increased fire staffing should be considered in the budget. In 2009, there was a cut to fire engine staffing. Measure O is helping fund station four, but they are down one fire engine.

Paranick said that they need to approve the budget tonight, due to a deadline. The budget was approved by all. This includes the 600K for the shelter establishment and 250K for costs.

Formal Items

Items 17 and 18 were read, including “Consideration of Emergency Fireworks Social Host Ordinance – Adoption and a First Reading of Non-Emergency Fireworks Social Host Ordinance.”

Chief Ken Corney spoke, alongside the fire marshal and fire chief. Corney suggested the concept of a Social Hos Ordinance, in order to deal with the use of fireworks on the 4thof July and year-round. An administrative citation can be given by a police officer to any person operating illegal fireworks. Or if a neighbor sends in a video of the act of the user of illegal fireworks to the police station, they may be able to give a citation later. The number of calls to the police regarding fireworks in 2017 was 113.

The last item was discussed, being “Adoption of Salary and Benefits Resolutions for FY 2018-2019.” Recommendation was to “approve and authorize city manager to execute on behalf of the City the Memorandum of Understanding between the City and the Ventura Police Management Association.” It was also recommended to “Adopt a resolution providing for a systematic classification of positions and a standardization of salaries for police management unit employees for the City (salary resolution) to reflect salary increases proposed herein for the VP Management Association.” Staff recommends approval by city council of the proposed changes included in the report. There were no public speakers and council approved these items.

With the news of a year-round shelter being constructed in Ventura, one might ask if this shelter is “low barrier,” meaning that there is no requirement of sobriety. For instance, should a person doing meth on a daily basis be allowed to sleep in the same room as a person who has worked to become sober? Will the city grow to be safe and clean by allowing those who do illegal drugs sleep in the same area as a mother and child who need peace, quiet and safety? These are subjects to ponder.

Councilmember Weir raised the topic and asked, “What we don’t want to have, and I have seen in many cities, is a giant dorm. Where the stability, the dignity, the privacy and the support is not provided.” Well, does low barrier housing bring the stability and dignity she has in mind?

Budget: https://www.cityofventura.ca.gov/DocumentCenter/View/7542/FY-2016-17-and-2017-18-Adopted-Budget-PDF

City Council Meeting Agendas – Ventura, CA: https://www.cityofventura.ca.gov/AgendaCenter

Agenda, June 18, City Council Regular Meeting: https://www.cityofventura.ca.gov/AgendaCenter/ViewFile/Agenda/_06182018-1627

Video, June 18, Ventura City Council Regular Meeting Video: https://www.cityofventura.ca.gov/718/Videos

 

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, Surfline.com and more. She is now the Ventura reporter for Citizens Journal.


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