by Mike Mercadante
Channel Islands Community Association

During the recent May 3 Ventura County Board of Supervisors meeting, members of the Board pointed out that a “new” planning process was being used for Channel Islands Harbor, to make the point that they were listening to the community. What Supervisors Zaragoza, Bennett and others didn’t realize was that our proposals for changing the planning process had been intensely edited, removing almost all of our key recommendations. These edits (mostly deletions) simply appeared — there was no consultation of any type by the county. The Board of Supervisors doesn’t realize how insulting this process was. Did they expect that we wouldn’t notice that our recommendations had been removed from the process diagram they presented? 

Our position is straightforward: Channel Islands Community Association (CICA) has always felt that interested stakeholders should be given a voice at the beginning of the planning process, before RFP’s are proposed, before ERNs are granted, and long before lease commitments are made. In mid-2015, Supervisor Zaragoza suggested that CICA make a recommendation for enhancements to the process, which he would then bring forward to the Harbor Department and county management on our behalf.

CICA accepted this assignment, and two members of our team invested considerable time, reviewing existing documents and interviewing officials from Ventura and other counties. They worked diligently to recommend a new process and presented the results to Supervisor Zaragoza and his staff at multiple meetings. Our goal was to engage in an open conversation, have our recommendations considered, and engage in a discussion to refine the proposal. 

Once completed, however, our work was greeted by silence. Attempts at follow-up were met with more silence. When our input was dismissed without even a conversation, we concluded that the County of Ventura was sending a clear message: “We don’t really care what you think!”

These planning recommendations continue to be ignored. The decision-making process for the harbor remains secretive and unchanged. It is inherently structured to create conflict. Citizens have to play a cat-and-mouse game, watching for harbor-related items to appear on the BOS agenda. Then, citizens’ only opportunity for input is to present their views to the Board on the same day as the Supervisors will vote on the project. Since the Supervisors arrive at the meeting already having decided how they will vote on various issues, this public commentary on the day amounts to little more than theater. This cannot be how democracy is supposed to work. 

County officials suggest that we object because we simply don’t want the harbor to develop. Nothing could be further from the truth. We are committed to having this unique community develop and grow, but this growth needs to be driven by a shared vision, not a developer’s bottom line. Harbor properties are publicly-owned coastal resources.  Our vision for them is not controversial: a beautiful coastal destination for all citizens of Ventura County, a destination for family-time at the coast, a place to relax, to be entertained, a place to learn about California’s Galapagos.  

We are objecting because we see a flawed plan for the harbor, and an astounding level of mismanagement over time. The BOS should not assume that these two- or three-minute sound bites allowed at the meetings, right before approving a project, are the same as listening thoughtfully to the people who pay their salaries. Our greatest disappointment is with those currently sitting officials who are either unable or unwilling to represent their constituent communities. 

For our part, we have been speaking out in a fact-based and professional manner; we have done the analysis, conducted surveys and held public forums to gather opinions from our neighbors. We had hoped that the county would see this activity not as a threat, but as the work of a committed and informed community, hopeful of collaborating with government. Yet every time we have invited the officials to participate in our community forums, no one from the county shows up. This is in stark contrast to the effort to engage the community in other parts of the county. Why?

Channel Islands Harbor is a county asset that has been allowed to decline to a disgraceful level. When the community speaks up, we are effectively being told, “Move along, there is nothing here to see — we don’t care what you think.”

So this brings us to how we as a community should respond to our representatives, who treat our serious proposal for a process change, community participation and recommendations for a shared harbor vision with such a dismissive attitude. 

We think it’s time for a change!  A community of more than 30,000 Ventura County residents surrounds the harbor, it’s time they have a real voice. It’s time to immediately form a Channel Islands Harbor Authority, become more vocal as a community, and to vote for change on June 7.  F

Mike Mercadante is a member of the Channel Islands Community Association.