A real competition

Ventura City Council candidates get candid about local politics

By VCR Staff 10/10/2013

 

For the last two Ventura City Council election cycles, it’s been quite a circus, with as many as 16 candidates, all of whom seemingly split votes among themselves when perhaps the best man or woman could have been seated on the Council. This year, however, we breathe a sigh of relief as only nine candidates vie for four seats, including three incumbents after four-term City Councilman Brian Brennan announced he would not be running for re-election.


As we have in the past, the VCReporter gave out questionnaires with five questions to all of the candidates, with their responses revealing, we hope, all voters need to know when it comes time to cast their ballots. Due to time and space constraints, we will be running all of these online in our news section at www.vcreporter.com, starting Oct. 10, but we will provide equal space for each candidate, running three candidates per issue until Oct. 24. Candidates are listed in alphabetical order to avoid any perception of preference.


This week, incumbent Neal Andrews and candidates Lorrie Brown and Richard Francis are featured.


Incumbent Neal Andrews
Businessman


What will be your top priorities as a City Councilmember?

There are four major problems facing the city today, and they will be my priority: crime, jobs and the economy, affordable housing, and reform of the public employee compensation and pension system, particularly for public safety and management personnel. Crime has been rising, primarily in connection with the rise of poverty during the prolonged recession and the state’s “realignment” of prisoners, which has involved a significant number being released from jail early, only to go back to their criminal activity. Our unemployment rate is still far too high, and we desperately need to take steps to stimulate local economic activity and generate new jobs. We have a severe shortage of affordable housing for the working class and our low-income residents. Our pension cost for our public safety officers is projected to reach 50 percent of salary in the next few years, up from 40 percent today. Our revenues will not rise at anywhere near that pace, so it means there will be greater pressure to cut other vital services again. That system is simply not sustainable.

What do you think is lacking on the Council now?
We need people with the courage to stand up to special interests and to say “No, we’re sorry, but what you want simply can’t be done right now.” When the police union says they need to be paid as well as the county deputy sheriffs, we need to say, “No, what we need is more police officers so that your job is safer and our community is safer, and we can’t begin to do that if we attempted to pay you what the county pays its personnel. The county has more resources than the city does. That’s not likely to change any time soon.” When the Downtown Ventura Organization says we need to devote more resources to downtown, we need to help them understand that we no longer have any extra resources and there are very pressing general needs that affect the entire city. When the Pierpont neighborhood says that we need to dedicate all the Transient Occupancy Tax generated by short-term tourist accommodations in their area to the Pierpont neighborhood, we need to remind them that the TOT funds are general fund monies intended for general use to meet the needs of the entire city, not just one neighborhood. What would happen if every neighborhood in town said every property tax dollar paid by their neighborhood could only be spent in their part of town. That just won’t work. Everyone must contribute to cover the general needs of the entire city, and we need a Council that will stand firm before our squeaky wheels. We need a Council that stays focused on the true priorities that we have all agreed upon as a community and a council and does not flip back and forth from this to that whenever some noisy group fills the Council chamber. We need a council that doesn’t play favorites or overindulge the whims of those with deep pockets who contribute heavily to political campaigns. We need a Council who will treat every part of the city and every group evenhandedly and with balance. We have for far too long neglected the Westside and the East end of Ventura. Just take the time to drive down Ventura Avenue or the eastern part of Telephone Road and you will immediately see, from the extremely poor condition of those streets, the evidence of that neglect.

What are some good and bad decisions that the City Council has made in the past eight years?
One of the best decisions the City Council has made in the last few years was the inclusion of economic prosperity as one of the top goals of our City General Plan. Never before had the city ever made a formal commitment to attempt to develop strategies and policies that would support increasing our economic well-being. With economic prosperity we have the revenue base to support the many services and functions that our citizens want for their community. Without it, we cannot meet those needs and desires. I fought hard to get economic prosperity included among our major priorities, and I’m proud to have succeeded.

Among the absolute worst decisions the Council has made over recent years was the proposal of the fee of up to $50 for people to call 911 in an emergency. As the former head of an emergency medical system, I knew that the whole point of the 911 system was to make it as easy as possible to get help in an emergency — indeed, so easy that even a small child could do it. Can you imagine if people had to pay $50 to make a call, how many might tell their children never to dial that without permission, or how many, if they heard what they thought might have been a scream down the street, might decide not to spend $50 to report it — that they just weren’t sure enough that it really was a scream or maybe someone else would call? I alone voted against that proposal, and ultimately I was successful in getting it repealed.

Another very bad decision was the decision to increase the firefighters’ pensions by 50 percent, which increased our unfunded liability by millions of dollars. It has been one of the factors that has caused the state to require huge increased contributions to the state fund, which finances those pension payouts. These increased payments the state extracts have forced the city to cut further other important programs and services. I voted against that proposal also.  

A more recent bad decision was the decision to eliminate the position of a certified public accountant in our Finance Department. The city is now without a CPA on staff. I believe this is a fundamentally dangerous situation to not have anyone on staff who can answer questions authoritatively that staff may have about legal compliance or accounting laws, much less oversee financial transactions on a routine basis. I, again, was the only member of the council to vote against the adoption of the budget in which this position was eliminated.

What strategies do you have to improve the economic and employment outlook for the city?
I originally proposed the Jobs Development fund and was a strong champion for the creation of a business “incubator” to help stimulate economic development and job growth in the city. Those proposals were adopted by the Council and, as a direct result, Ventura was named one of the 100 best cities in the United States to start a new business by Forbes magazine. This concept was branded a “best innovative practice” for cities around the country. I proposed the creation of an Economic Development Committee of the Council and served as its first chairperson. We created the first economic development strategy for the city and have continued to both implement the original strategy and, more recently, to update and improve the plan. I wrote a proposal for a federally sponsored economic development insurance program to help stimulate economic growth in all communities that has been forwarded by the White House for review by the President’s Council of Economic Advisers. I have proposed that we consolidate funds that the city has been accumulating for many years, intended to finance some major public works projects so that we can fully fund one or more projects immediately and therefore put this money to work in our community now to support economic growth and produce more jobs. A few years ago I pushed to streamline the planning approval process to shorten the amount of time it takes for a proposed project to get from concept to construction. We need to continue to make that process more efficient. I’ve supported the development of more affordable housing. Housing construction provides a tremendous boost for the local economy. These are the strategies that will continue to be the focal point of my efforts over the next four years.

Is it time for an elected mayor and/or district representation?
I believe it is long past time for the people to select their mayor. The system of selecting a mayor today is rife with backroom deal-making and petty personal politics generally hidden from public view. I simply think that the voters should select their leader. I also think that if we move to a mayoral election by the people we should amend the charter to give the mayor some real authority to run the city and carry out the platform on which he or she might have been elected. The mayor under such a system should be more than simply another member of the Council and that distinction should be recognized.

As for the question of district elections, there are, of course, pros and cons, but some of us have talked over the last several years about what changes might be made to update and improve our City Charter, and I have come to the conclusion that Ventura has grown to a sufficient size with subcommunities and distinct neighborhoods that it probably makes sense to create at least some version of a district system. This could be a straight district system in which the city is divided up into some number of districts of equal population in such a manner to prevent gerrymandering or rigging the districts to favor this or that person or party or faction, or it could be a mixed system in which some Council members were elected at large as they are today and others were elected by district. The problem we have today with an all at-large system is that some groups dominate the electoral process, and their favored candidates have a much higher chance of consistently being elected, while other groups never get a candidate elected. How long has it been since we had a person of Hispanic heritage on the Council? When was the last time we had someone of color elected? I think it is only a matter of time before the federal government tells us we have to change the system to assure equal opportunity to all sectors and classes of our community. A district system would help level the playing field. By making the relevant electorate smaller, it would also reduce the cost of campaigns and increase the likelihood that finances would be less inhibiting so more good candidates might be able to undertake a campaign. In such a system, groups that essentially play the political money game have less influence.

 

Candidate
Lorrie Brown

Community development

What will be your top priorities as a City Councilmember?
The top priorities I am committed to are: fiscal leadership, public health and safety, and civic engagement. Fiscal leadership embodies economic development, exploring strategies to generate sales tax revenues for the city and reviewing the budget line-by-line to identify programs that don’t work. It also means reviewing city policies that have led to current litigation and seeking clean manufacturing business into the city. I also support developing efficient ways to help make our permitting process more consistent and certain for our existing businesses and new business.  I support small business initiatives and would initiate a vote to form a community water committee comprised of concerned citizens from organizations such as the Ventura River group.

Public health and safety means that we need to continue to keep our streets clean and repaired for our small businesses and tourists; it means we need safe places for our children to play; it means that we need to be sure that all communities have adequate access to basic services because good public health, is good business. If one is unhealthy, we all are unhealthy. We have over 400 homeless children on the street that go to our schools with our children. It takes a community to raise a generation of children and we want to be sure that those future leaders have a bed, some food and medical care.

Civic engagement means that we do not simply pay lip service to engaging our citizens, our community leaders and our stakeholders and that we work to preserve Ventura’s vision. This can only be accomplished if these voices are reflected in city policy. We must continue to approve our outreach to the various underserved communities such as college graduates, young families, people of color, those who need access to basic services and women.

What do you think is lacking on the Council now?
Balanced and diverse perspective. I am the only woman on the ballot. I am the only candidate under 40. All current Councilmembers are over 60. I seek to be a voice for underrepresented communities such as young families, working-class citizens, women, college graduates and other disenfranchised communities as it relates to the Council, affordable housing and jobs.

What are some good and bad decisions that the City Council has made in the past eight years?
It was a bad idea to demonize any former employee that the Council voted to hire. It is also bad to reverse direction on city initiatives already established and agreed upon by over 100 stakeholders. It is a bad idea to remove over 500 homeless persons out of their “camps” without strategies of where to put them. It is a bad idea not to revise the sound ordinance specifically for Downtown. It is bad idea to suggest that a terminally ill patient drive over 100 miles away to gain access to medically prescribed prescriptions.
 
What strategies do you have to improve the economic and employment outlook for the city?
Many cities attend International Council of Shopping Center conferences annually. They do this in an attempt to attract appropriate businesses that fit into their cities’ vision. I would support connecting the Olivas Adobe Corridor to Johnson Drive and continuing to develop the industrial area behind the Auto Mall. In order to support sustainable smart growth strategies we need to invite business other than retail development. I do not feel we should only invite a cluster of outlet stores or solely create more shopping centers. I would seek to invite clean manufacturing business to the city of Ventura. When I say clean businesses, I am referring to industries that can support Ventura’s vision to create sustainable ways of living such as technology. This has the ability to create jobs, increase revenues and diversify and strengthen our city’s industry portfolio.

Another idea is to establish a parks foundation to actively fundraise private dollars for the city’s parks, recreation and cultural programs. Many communities, including Santa Barbara and Santa Maria, have established these nonprofit entities to attract contributions from private donors and regional foundations to build playgrounds, pools and much, much more. The city could hire a grant writer to seek grants and private dollars, both for parks and for the library. Other communities are savvy on how to attract funds from outside the community, and Ventura should learn to do so as well.

One area of great potential is increasing occupancy taxes by drawing more visitors to Ventura. Given Ventura’s coastal location, we should create and promote more festivals and events that could draw overnight visitors. For example, Ventura would be the ideal site for art- or music-inspired multiday events.

On another note, it is important to understand that although redevelopment agencies have been dissolved by order of the state, the provisions of redevelopment law still remain. I support introducing initiatives or exploring ideas that build on this opportunity.

Is it time for an elected mayor and/or district representation?
Yes, it is time for district representation in the city of Ventura. Our population has exceeded 100,000 and the interest of the few on our Council currently does not represent the needs of the many in the city of Ventura currently. This will ensure that the Council reflects the many faces of our respective communities.

I also believe it is time for charter reform. The city of Ventura is one of the few cities left regionally that hold off/odd-year elections which cost the tax payers more money — it also decreases voter turnout and ensures that the same Council members get re-elected every election season.

I believe the city of Ventura may be ready for an elected mayor once our city has jumped a few hurdles such as charter reform, district representation, infrastructural improvements and then take it to the voter.

 

Candidate, former Ventura Councilman/Mayor
Richard Francis

Consumer attorney


What will be your top priorities as a City Councilmember?
My top priorities as a City Council member would be balancing revenue with the need to properly fund public safety and infrastructure. As a board member of Community Action, Ventura County, I am in a unique position to bring together the nonprofits addressing homelessness. I will work to fulfill the desires of the community’s expressed vision to infill areas such as Midtown instead of sprawl. I want to stay on course to implement “smart growth” measures as defined in the vision, including affordable housing, environmental protection, sustainability, energy efficiency, beach water quality and transportation. I hope to re-ignite the passion for saving open space and agricultural resources (SOAR) an initiative measure I co-authored, which will expire without a re-invigoration. Then I want to find a way to make the hillsides available to the public and usable for recreation and as a tourist destination, potentially linking them to the botanical garden. Finally, it is incredibly important but too easily overlooked to monitor our water usage. Too many units have been approved with no adequate water supply identified, putting undue pressure on the rest of us.

What do you think is lacking on the Council now?
Experience and vision. The Council has disavowed the collaborative effort of years of visioning by its citizens with no replacement. Having fired the city manager originally hired to implement the community’s collaborative visioning process, it is now a free-for-all and decisions are subject to a “by the whim of the majority,” with no grounding vision. This Council majority has never experienced the “growth wars” and fails to understand the antipathy held by the majority of the citizens to a pro-growth, traffic-inducing approach seemingly favored by this Council majority. Without that experience and without the visioning outgrowths of that process, the Council is directionless.

What are some good and bad decisions that the City Council has made in the past eight years?
Eight years ago the city’s 2005 General Plan was adopted, reaffirming the citizens’ collaborative effort made by over 300 citizen stakeholders in a visioning process. It was a vision that focused on sustainability — the economy, the environment and equity. A city manager was hired to implement that vision. Now, with a new Council majority, that vision has been abandoned, the city manager fired, and the majority has expressed a desire to go in an undefined “different direction.” Abandoning that vision has left the Council untethered and lurching from effort to effort with no central guiding feature, requiring unprecedented citizen diligence. That citizen pressure finally caused the Council to eschew an expansion into Cañada Larga — after spending hundreds of thousands of dollars it was warned not to spend studying the idea. The Council finally retained its inclusionary zoning; it has approved a park on the West Side; and, it has agreed to “study” a ban of plastic bags, none of which it would have done without the eternal vigilance of a concerned cadre of citizens. The Council approved (then repealed) a $50 fee to use 911; approved (then rejected) a study of growing into Cañada Larga; and it has refused to work with the citizens in the Pierpont to clear the sand, forcing the citizens to sue the city. Closing the H.P. Wright library and fire station No.4, reducing its five-minute response time to 13 percent of the calls were unfortunate budget decisions that it probably had to make, but which must be revisited as the economy rebounds. The Council majority needs a guiding vision.

What strategies do you have to improve the economic and employment outlook for the city?
Sustainability is predicated on the three E’s: environment, economy and equity. Economy requires connecting the dots. We don’t have to sacrifice the gains we have made in environmental protection, promoting the arts, improving parks and recreational opportunities, and energy efficiency in order to balance budgets, fund public safety and support business. It all works together. Our quality of life and our people are our biggest assets for businesses to locate here. So first and foremost, we must always protect our quality of life. In that vein I would work to improve our technological infrastructure to attract 21st-century businesses. In order to accomplish those goals, I would lobby for a return to the “vision” proffered by the citizens over many years of collaborative effort. That vision defined a sustainable city — sustainable in environment, economy and equity. That vision encompassed the uniqueness of Ventura — a family friendly, environmentally-friendly city. That vision has and will continue to bring the young entrepreneurs with families that want to take advantage of Ventura’s unique lifestyle and proximity to Los Angeles without being in its morass.


Is it time for an elected mayor and/or district representation?
I think it probably is, but it is not the foremost issue on my mind. There is certainly a credible argument that Ventura is small enough that it is important to have each Council member represent the whole. But the pockets of citizens are diverse enough that equal representation has reached a tipping point, making responsiveness by districts a good idea. The universally elected mayor would then be the binding fabric tying the entire city together.

 

Candidate Paul Meehan
Senior programmer analyst

What will be your top priorities as a City Council member?

• Quality of life is a big issue for me. My friends, my neighbors and my family have all been recently affected by crime. One friend came home in the afternoon to find a guy ransacking her house. He ran off and ended up getting away. Between 2011 and 2012, there was a 45 percent increase in auto thefts (282 incidents) and a 21 percent increase in residential burglaries (500 incidents).

I want to work more closely with the police department to provide what they need to do their jobs better.

I am also dedicated to enhancing the quality of our surroundings. That means the upkeep of services like trees being trimmed, roads being paved, libraries open and accessible, parks clean and well-kept. I want to ensure that those core services and many more be delivered efficiently and reliably. I want to ensure the completion of the Community Park at the East End of Ventura. There was a grand design for that facility that seems to have been mired down. I intend to pursue that until completion.

• Economic stability is a major issue for me

On my website, www.paulmeehan.com, I’ve set some lofty goals for various projects around the city. But there is no way we can achieve them until we achieve fiscal solvency and responsible spending first. A starting point is for the city to provide a more clear, and easy to read budget. Remove all the acronyms. Make the “account names” less mystical and much more detailed. I want the average person to be able to look at that document and know how money is being spent. My goal is to uncover wasteful spending. I’m confident that in a budget as large as ours that there are many ways we can conserve. I don’t want to simply cut line items. I want to improve the efficiency of our spending. I would advocate a system that rewards city employees and citizens for watchdog-like behavior. I will not pass any unfunded liabilities on to my children. 

I also believe the city of Ventura can do more to welcome business and foster economic growth. I will be proactive in courting businesses to relocate here along with fewer hoops and less red tape for those here already. If the city can encourage economic growth by partnering with new and existing business, then we will all benefit.

• Environmental issues are core for me

An important limiting factor for the health of our city and economy is water. Our reserves are limited. I want the city to offer incentives to conserve. For example, there are very low-cost ways to implement gray-water recapture hardware for houses. The water that comes from your dishwasher, sinks and laundry machines can very well be used to water landscapes. That saves us money and the city water.

The flow of traffic around town can be improved. Stop-and-go traffic reduces fuel efficiency and reduces air quality.

As a coastal town we have a responsibility to be sure the ocean is clean and safe. I want to work towards reducing toxic storm water runoff.

What do you think is lacking on the Council now?

The Council currently is lacking a voice for families. I am a father of a 5-year-old and an 8-year-old. Families with small children have some different priorities that may be overlooked in the day-to-day discussions of the current Council members. I intend to be the voice for families raising their children in Ventura. My plan is for my kids to grow up in Ventura, and so I want it to be the best place it can possibly be.

What are some good and bad decisions that the City Council has made in the past eight years?

A good decision was to ban medical marijuana dispensaries. I’m not against the use of marijuana as medicine when prescribed by a doctor. I know it is powerful and can be very beneficial to its users when used correctly. My objection is to the fact that marijuana would be treated differently from other prescribed medicine. It should be dispensed by a pharmacy as all other prescription medicines. If that were the case then I would support it.

Another good decision was to adopt the “infill first” strategy in terms of growth. Venturans have continually stated they don’t want the city to grow outward. They do want high-quality, new development in certain locations, especially in the downtown and along commercial corridors. That would both strengthen our economy and increase our quality of life.

The Council decided to reduce the number of City Council meetings per month. They will now be held only twice per month. A possible negative outcome could be that citizens have reduced ability to view and interact with the Council. One way to mitigate that would be to increase the total time that each individual has to speak. It’s currently five minutes total with three minutes per topic. If the meetings may be squeezing in more topics per session, then it makes sense to allow more total time per speaker. That would provide the opportunity to allow discussions for more than one topic of concern. Time will tell if that’s a good or a bad decision.

What strategies do you have to improve the economic and employment outlook for the city?

I can hit two birds with one stone here. If I address the task of improving the business environment in this city then the jobs will follow. I am one of the very few on this ballot who has owned a local business. Therefore I understand some of the impediments. Small businesses are the backbone of our economy. Sure, it’s nice to hit a home run and attract a large corporate entity, but it’s bit-by-bit that wins the race. I want to attract smaller companies to Ventura while I simultaneously work on the home run and support the businesses that are here now. I know that the city makes it costly for businesses to start, to upgrade tools and equipment, and to relocate.

I intend to solicit feedback from local businesses to see what works and what does not. I will bring those recommendations to the City Council in an attempt to get them adopted into the way we do business with our businesses. What works for the businesses we have here already will also work for businesses not here yet. I’m very pro-business as long as I can maintain that the business carried out within our city is safe and beneficial. We have the best weather in the entire state of California. There is no reason why we should not be able to attract all sorts of business to this climate as long as our business climate is welcoming too.

Is it time for an elected mayor and/or district representation?

I like the idea of an elected mayor. In a city this size, the duties of the mayor are less and less a figurehead who simply presides over the meetings of the Council. Many of our neighboring cities elect their mayors. I believe we should too. I don’t like the idea of district representation. If all Council members are concerned with the well-being and improvement of the entire town, then the town will be better off. Some focus by Council members on certain geographic areas will naturally occur anyway, but to limit the ability of certain Council members from taking on projects in areas not deemed their own district is a step backwards.

 

Incumbent Jim Monahan
Businessman

What will be your top priorities as a City Councilman?

The future of our incredibly beautiful city is very important to me. As a mayor and councilman, I have worked hard to make sure our quality of life is safe from overcrowding and our limited resources are secure for the future. My life has been committed to improving and promoting this city, which I love. I was born here, where I have lived my whole life with the exception of military service in Korea.

I returned and attended Ventura College, married and raised my family while working in my father’s business on the Avenue, which he started in 1928. In the 53 years I owned the business, we employed hundreds of workers so I understand administration, finance and budgeting. I believe that the city should be run like a business.

My top priorities are: financial stability, public safety, a clean and well-maintained city, creation of more jobs, protection of the environment, responsive and transparent government, business retention, senior services, cultural enrichment and a well-planned community.

I ask for your vote to assure that the voice of the people will be heard. Call me at 643-4275 or visit my website at jimmonahan.com.

What do you think is lacking on the Council now?

Enough money to adequately support existing programs, including: strong fire and police protection, clean beaches, tree trimming and maintaining landscaping, street and sidewalk repair, protecting and improving libraries as well as many others.

What are some good and bad decisions that the City Council made in the past 8 years?

Good: approval to develop Kellogg Park. Bad: the crazy idea of charging for 911 calls.

What strategies do you have to improve the economic and employment outlook for the city?

Recently I hand-delivered a proposal to Mathis Brothers Furniture. I will continue to personally solicit businesses to relocate in Ventura in order to bring jobs to people of Ventura.

Is it time for an elected mayor and/or district representation?

I have been in favor of electing our mayor for many years.

 

Candidate Erik Nasarenko
Deputy district attorney

What will be your top priorities as a City Council member?

 

Identifying a funding source to build and operate a third Ventura public library, a much-needed community resource that was sadly taken away when Wright Library closed in 2009. Libraries are not only a source of community pride and shared enrichment, but also important crime-prevention tools. 

Reducing crime and improving our quality of life by bringing more economic vitality to the city through responsible growth, job development opportunities and increased travel and tourism. 

Completing Kellogg Park on the Westside and fully implementing the Sports Fields Master Plan at Ventura Community Park, which called for picnic tables with shade pavilions overlooking the barranca, a multipurpose community center and several children’s playgrounds, among other community benefits.

Working with businesses, nonprofits, conservancies, landowners and government entities to create the 16-mile Ventura River Parkway Project; and helping the Ventura Botanical Gardens to begin to fulfill its vision of creating Mediterranean gardens above City Hall.   

What do you think is lacking on the Council now?

A parent of school-age children, someone who looks at city issues from that perspective and can bring new energy and fresh ideas to Ventura families and businesses. As a parent of a 4-year-old and 7-year-old, improving parks, restoring library services, and deepening partnerships with our school district is very important to me. It’s a significant part of why I’m running for office and a voice that is currently missing from the existing composition of the City Council.   

What are some good and bad decisions that the City Council has made in the past eight years?

Good decisions: Working with the Trust for Public Land, Kaiser Permanente, CAUSE and the Westside Community Council, among others, to purchase the property that will eventually become Kellogg Park, a badly needed public space for the city’s Westside families and children.   Further, the City Council’s recent decisions to allocate $550,000 to build a new softball field at Ventura Community Park and to maintain the city’s commitment to inclusionary housing, while studying alternative methods of providing it, were all good decisions.   

 

Bad decisions:  Closing Wright Library in 2009 and ceding control of the space to Ventura College before the expiration of the lease. Well before the economic downturn, the city had failed to identify a stable, ongoing funding source to continue to operate Wright Library, and instead relied upon a patchwork of corporate, nonprofit and government sponsors. Hence, when the Great Recession hit, Wright was extremely vulnerable and without a secure source of funding — a source that the city should have identified and built into the general fund budget years earlier. 

 

Another bad decision:  Not recognizing, beginning in 2006, that the city was receiving a significant increase in massage parlors requesting business licenses, and not issuing a moratorium on new licenses until 2009.  Ventura has approximately 65 massage parlor establishments today, compared with 27 in Oxnard — a city double our population. While some are legitimate businesses that engage in essential massage therapy, others are not. And the sheer number of them detracts from our overall quality of life and the image of our city as a family-oriented beach community.    

 

What strategies do you have to improve the economic and employment outlook for the city?

 

One-stop shopping for businesses: I would like to use, on a trial basis, a web-based company like License123. Specifically, License123 is a web-based company that allows you to access electronically what permits — city, county, state and federal — you need to open up a business in a specific location. So, for example, if you want to open a bakery in Ventura, you would put those parameters in your search and in return you would be given knowledge of all the permits you need to obtain in order to do so.  This saves businesses the time and expense of having to visit or call multiple government agencies.

Creating a technology corridor: California Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson, who has endorsed me, is seeking to create a Silicon Beach or technology corridor along the coastal area of her district. This is a great idea. We can attract technology start-ups, biotech firms and renewable energy companies to Ventura by emphasizing our attributes: great beach weather, a hip downtown, fantastic area colleges and universities like UCSB, Cal State Channel Islands and Ventura College and, of course, a business-friendly City Council! 

Economic Development Summit: We have too many pieces of land that are privately held yet not developed, including near the county fairgrounds, along Seaward near the beach, and on Thompson Boulevard.  If elected, I would like to convene a group of developers, investors, bankers, and policy-makers to understand what it’s going to take to get these properties moving again, and to help clear any obstacles that prevent our local economy from growing. 

Is it time for an elected mayor and/or district representation?

 

It’s time for our city charter to be reformed, but I’m not yet convinced that Ventura will function better if we had an elected mayor and/or district representation. I believe strongly that our municipal elections should be held on even-numbered years, mirroring the gubernatorial and presidential elections, rather than on the current off-year cycles. Reforming the charter in this regard should lead to greater voter turnout and help to decrease election-related costs. (It’s also the way virtually all Ventura County cities currently hold their elections.) Further, I believe we should consider moving to an all-vote-by-mail election, a voting trend that is already reflected in the fact that the vast majority of voters no longer cast ballots at the polls but rather vote absentee. 

As to directly electing a mayor, it is a process that I typically associate with larger cities, like Oxnard, Los Angeles, Pasadena and Long Beach. Ventura’s council-manager system, where the council essentially operates in a legislative, policy-making capacity while the city manager acts more as a chief executive,  is a model that I believe is working for Ventura. I remain open-minded, however, and would consider alternative arguments. As for district representation, I am somewhat skeptical that it will increase voter participation or make city government more effective.  Rather, my concern largely is that it will create separate identities and consequently separate interest groups in a city that functions best and is at its strongest when it creates common goals and shared purposes.        

 

Candidate Brian Lee Rencher
Businessman

What will be your top priorities as a City Council member?

The Ventura City Council’s top priority right now (yesterday in fact) should be to create high-paying jobs through intelligent economic development. And I’m not talking about the ongoing petty little “get rich quick” land deal schemes the Council members currently do with and for their benefactors in the back rooms. I’m talking about a real world-class economic plan and program that actually enriches the entire community. The five focus areas (properties) in their current “plan” are emblematic of these ongoing shenanigans. Instead of helping my pals make quick profits at the expense of the rest of the citizenry, I would apply real econometrics to develop a workable plan backed up with supporting policies, ordinances, zoning and public funding where and if needed.

 

Economics involves labor, land, capital and entrepreneurs. The first step is to inventory the skill levels of our labor pool and match them to the high-paying emerging industries that need those skills. After identifying these businesses, the Council zones sufficient land in the right locations for these businesses to be viable and profitable in Ventura. Next, we create a housing mix that affordably matches these workers, managers and owners’ incomes — including workforce, executive and even luxury housing (mansions).

 

Before we can get the capital here to do all these wonderful things, we will be required to demonstrate to the owners of the means of production why Ventura is the most profitable place to locate their businesses. We will not capture this opportunity unless we actively recruit these business owners through aggressive marketing and prove our capacity to actually deliver to their expectations.  All this will take a great deal of intestinal fortitude, work, time, creativity and up-front money.

 

And there’s the rub. To be innovators, we must stop doing what we’ve always done and make difficult changes for the better. But, apparently and unfortunately, the voters are indeed poised to continue re-electing the incumbents as usual and one of the two anointed replacements for Mr. Brennan — none of whom are trained economists.

 

It doesn’t matter what any of them promise to do for you; if City Hall doesn’t have the money to pay for it you are not going to get it — they physically have no means to deliver it. The only way to increase the city’s tax base (and, therefore, city services) is to grow the economy, and that will require intellectual honesty and real capability. And for Ventura to bring about this important change for the better, we must elect fresh thinkers that are actually qualified to take on this challenge to the Council.

 

What do you think is lacking on the Council now?

What the Ventura City Council currently lacks is objectivity and intellectual honesty — both attributes are punished in American politics.

 

Council seats are bought and paid for by people who want favors — they want citizens’ tax dollars given to them instead of to the taxpayers and/or land-use decisions that give them what they otherwise would not be entitled to, regardless of the costs to the entire community. Read the top vote-getters’ financial disclosure documents and match these names to favorable Council decisions and it all becomes quite clear.

 

What I offer the voters is a detachment from the quid-pro-quo status of American politics. I will make intellectually honest decisions based upon the facts as they are known, and on what appears to be in the best interest of the overall community (not just the “special interests”). In other words, on my watch, everybody is special and all Council transactions will happen in the open, on top of the table, and at arm’s length in a responsible, intellectually honest and honorable fashion.

 

 

What are some good and bad decisions that the City Council has made in the past eight years?

One of the best decisions the Council has made recently was to create a Medical District.  Medicine is a high-paying, high-tech growth industry where Ventura has a definite competitive advantage. It is also a clean, environmentally sustainable industry that is very good for humans as well as the critters. What the council should do next is aggressively expand this opportunity for community enrichment with more thorough follow-through.

 

On the other hand, the Council has lost tens of millions of taxpayer dollars over the years due to poor investment decisions related to its portfolio. None of the current or past council members over the last 26-plus years has been a trained banker or stockbroker. Yet they allow city staff members (who also possess none of these qualifications either) to “invest” hundreds of millions of dollars a year without professional oversight (or any oversight for that matter) year after year.  Perhaps they should seek professional help. This is beyond imprudent; this practice is just plain expensive and stupid. Period! It also needs to be remedied yesterday!

 

 

What strategies do you have to improve the economic and employment outlook for the city?

The city has focused for too long on tourism and retail. Tourism is only one aspect of our overall city economy; yet between 1992 and 2006 City Hall spent over $120 million promoting tourism.  Where’s the return on investment? How did they ever think that we could outcapitalize our competitors in Santa Barbara, Huntington Beach or San Diego?

 

At the same time, while the high-tech corridor was pushing up through Thousand Oaks and Camarillo, the Ventura City Council did nothing to capture this opportunity for sustainable economic growth. Thousand Oaks and Camarillo are now rich with high-paying jobs and all we got was a lousy Target T-shirt.

 

And most municipalities in California base their “economic development” strategies on businesses that fill their treasuries directly. These include sales taxes (retail stores) and transient occupancy taxes (hotels/motels). But as the Council focuses on getting more of this cash directly, they forget that all the other cities are also competing for the same money. The only real sustainable way to actually increase Ventura’s share of this zero sum game money is to increase the overall purchasing power of the community at large with more real jobs that pay well.  In other words, implement effective economic development policies that lead to a wider base of measurable economic growth.

Also:  See question one.

5.  Is it time for an elected mayor and/or district representation?

Yes, it is way past time to directly elect our city’s mayor. Additionally, the directly elected mayor should also be our city manager. Currently, Ventura’s city manager is the most powerful politician in town, yet it only takes four votes to put him or her in office. The manager is only accountable to four of us yet has the power to unilaterally create administrative law, appoint the police and fire chiefs, set the Council’s agenda, run the city administratively during declared emergencies, ad infinitum.

 

Do we really want this awesome municipal political power in the hands of an unelected official who is not subject to recall? Having a mayor directly elected by the people, who also serves as our city’s manager, will make the office of city manager (and mayor) directly accountable to the people he or she serves and not just four Council members and their supporting special interests.

 

A few years ago I formed a political action committee registered with the state to explore amending Ventura’s city charter to create an elected office of mayor/city manager, but I got no traction from the public at that time. Perhaps Venturans are ready to do it now.

 

As for district representation on the Council, I have heard good arguments for and against this practice and am keeping an open mind on the matter for now.

 

Candidate
David Swaffar

Entrepreneur/promoter

What will be your top priorities as a City Councilmember?

Open access to the governing process, integrity in leadership and a movement towards a direction that reflects a responsibility to preserves Ventura’s uniqueness.

 

What do you think is lacking on the Council now?

There is a lack of connection to our youth. One of the most valuable resources we have is local youth. They are faced with the reality every day that Ventura is unaffordable and the local businesses support groups spends more time courting out-of-town corporate business as we stand by watching the things that make Ventura unique slowly be stripped away. Local government and special-interest business groups have created a sense of alienation for our young entrepreneurs. We are turning a blind eye to some of the best and brightest to ever come out of our local schools. Our City Council has spent the last several years focusing on turning us into xyz insert whatever city the last Council member/city manager/ or dvp lackey is touting as the greatest thing since peanut butter. We need to look inward local first. We need to focus on and give resources to, our kids, our long time local businesses, lifelong residents, and the guy down the street that wants to start a new business that may not fit into the current model. We as locals need to be reminded that we are the voice that needs to be heard. We need to be engaged and excited. We need to know we can be the difference between what we desire and what others tell us we can have. We hold the key to promoting a sustainable future for the unique community that is Ventura. We don’t need to sit back and wait for the same old candidates to tell us they will make it better next time.

 

What are some good and bad decisions that the City Council has made in the past eight years?

Good: The development of community districts

Bad: Engagement of small local business instead of reaching out to the longtime local businesses

 

What strategies do you have to improve the economic and employment outlook for the city?

We need to focus on the existing community and build on the resources we have instead of relying on an outside influence to succeed.

1.      Preserving the historical uniqueness that our community enjoys (cherishes) so our youth and long-term local residents want to continue to raise families and retire in Ventura.

2.      Restoring faith in our community leaders.

            -Focus on local business,

            -Deal with finances in a more transparent manner,

            -Make it a true statement that local government serves the people and remove the

             special- interest stigma the plagues this and other local governments.

      3. Participation

            -Create more access for participation of community groups, i.e., youth and
           neighborhood organizations,

            -Excite local youth and engage them so that they feel they are able to stay and raise
          families in the communities they grew up in,

            -Make sure that the ideas that include growth include locals first, local business and placing value on our young, highly creative up-and-comers is vital to Ventura’s sustainable growth solutions,

            -Creating oversight to assure groups that are using public funds are truly using them to create an organic sustainable system of growth … and long-term local residents want to continue to raise families and retire in Ventura.

 

Is it time for an elected mayor and/or district representation?

No, I do not think it is time for an elected mayor. Yes, I would encourage more direct district representation.

 

Incumbent Mike Tracy (current mayor)
Former police chief (retired)

What will be your top priorities as a City Council member?

When I became Mayor, the entire council agreed to focus on four priorities:

 

·       Economic development

·         Public safety and core services

·         A safe and clean Ventura

·        Restoring public trust

 

During my time as mayor, the Council has adopted a six-year economic development strategy to help every sector of the business community be successful. We have added to our police and fire resources and we are coming to grips with our water resources to make sure limited development is practical. We have completed a variety of significant public works projects

We have strengthened relationships with critical social service agencies, and implemented a community intervention court to deal with homelessness and vagrancy. Our Safe and Clean Initiative has helped us deal with graffiti, trash, abandoned shopping carts and other public nuisances.  

Under my leadership, this Council has made a successful transition to a new city management team under the leadership of city manager Mark Watkins. For fiscal year 2013-2014, we have balanced our budget without using reserve funds for the first time in several years.

If re-elected I will continue to work on these four priorities and seek support from the rest of the City Council to further these efforts. 

 

What do you think is lacking on the council now?

I believe the current Council is working well together. We often vote unanimously on matters before the Council. Obviously, we don’t always agree, and occasionally have split votes on important issues. In most cases, that is healthy and reflects what a democracy is all about. I would point to the decision to change city managers and the subsequent actions of the Council as an example of the Council showing maturity and strength. After due consideration, the decision to seek a new top executive was decided on a 4-3 vote.  However, the Council quickly coalesced around selecting an  interim city manager, developing a process to recruit and select a new manager, and then decided unanimously on our new chief executive, Mark Watkins.

 

What are some good and bad decisions that the City Council has made in the past eight years?

I will focus on the good and bad over the time I’ve been on the Council — the last four years.  The decision to close Wright Library was made with information before the Council at the time, and in a very difficult fiscal environment. In retrospect, it may not have been the best decision.  However, I am confident that in the next year or two there will be a resolution to the problem of not having a library presence on the east side of town. The Council has made some very good decisions on development matters. Our recent effort to link more closely our water resources with planned development is good. We have had several projects before the Council on appeal of a planning commission decision, and I believe in every case the result has been a better project, or in one case, denial of a project that truly would have been detrimental to the neighborhood and the community. The allocation of additional resources to hire five new police officers, and to seek grant funding to re-open Fire Station 4 on the east end of town have proven very worthwhile in keeping our community safe. The City Council’s Safe and Clean Initiative has had a very positive impact on the community. Overall, this Council has done a lot more good than bad.

What strategies do you have to improve the economic and employment outlook for the city?

The City Council adopted a six-year Economic Development Strategy a few months ago. This came out of the work of our staff with our Economic Development Committee, on which I participate. The plan is built around several focus areas: 

 

·         responsive and effective government

·         tourism, retail and quality of life

·         entrepreneurship

·         healthcare and biomedical

·         manufacturing

·         regional agriculture and food. 

I am absolutely committed to working this plan for the benefit of our city and the business community. 

For reference, the complete report is available on the city website, under Community Development, at www.cityofventura.net.

One specific economic development project that I am involved in and committed to completing is the enhancement of our Auto Center.  This involves the extension of Olivas Park Drive from Johnson and Hwy. 101 to Victoria Avenue, and the construction of a levy along the Santa Clara River. This will create the potential for destination retail and the enhancement of sales tax revenues the city currently receives from our Auto Center. This will also be a job-creating project. 

 

Is it time for an elected mayor and/or district representation?

These issues are governed by our city charter. We have had requests over the years to look at the charter, and while I have been on the council there was one formal request to consider reviewing our charter for these two issues and others. I voted against that because at the time our city attorney’s office was overburdened with other matters and I did not see any urgency to doing it at the time. I am not opposed to reviewing the charter, but it will take a significant amount of Council time and resources of our staff. It will mean other important issues get delayed or overlooked, so the timing for launching into this effort would be critical. 

 

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