Recommendations made on invasive species, freedom of information, school safety

The Ventura County Grand Jury has made recommendations on a number of issues in recent weeks, most of which suggest that the county could be doing better in certain respects.

The jury found that the invasive plant species known as arundo has the potential to cause damage to bridges as well as to accelerate erosion and flood-plain inundation should it not be removed from the Santa Clara Riverbed. The Jury studied the actions being taken to remove the arundo and found that a conflict of interest exists between the need to clear vegetation to protect infrastructure and the need to preserve natural habitat.

Because a “significant portion” of Ventura County residents live within the flood plain that borders the Santa Clara and Ventura Rivers, the Jury found that it is important to keep waterways clear of vegetation to prevent flooding.

Final recommendations include having the Ventura County Board of Supervisors develop a plan to rid the watershed of the arundo plant.

When it comes to freedom of information, the Grand Jury found that while the city of San Buenaventura’s response is improved, work needs to be done to assure 100 percent compliance with the California Public Records Act.

The second report from the Grand Jury comes 11 years after an initial investigation, launched after inquiries were made by members of the public to revisit the city’s compliance. The Grand Jury found that Ventura has outsourced the Freedom of Information Act process to a third party, allowing for better tracking and distribution of requests.

While Ventura’s goal is to reach 100 percent compliance, the Grand Jury found that the city is only 92 percent compliant, and even that percentage may be inaccurate as not all requests are tracked through the electronic system.

The Grand Jury recommends that all requests, regardless of origin, be logged, and that statistics regarding inquiries be improved, as well as stamping inquiries with the time and date collected.

Finally, the Grand Jury has found that Ventura County’s special education schools are in need of extra security in the form of school resource officers.

The Jury opened an investigation into safety at the Phoenix schools, which serve students with severe mental or emotional disturbances from the Ventura County and Las Virgenes Unified School Districts. The Jury found that while the staff is well-trained, often handling students who act out in frustration, administrators at the Phoenix-Airport school in Camarillo call law enforcement “an average of two to three times weekly for situations they are unable to de-escalate.”

The Grand Jury found that the current Ventura County Office of Education understanding is that having a school resource officer would “escalate rather than defuse volatile situations.” For this reason, the Jury recommends that Ventura County Sheriff and the superintendent of schools formulate a relationship to increase patrols and law enforcement presence at all phoenix campuses.

The Jury also recommends that any responding sheriff’s deputy have Crisis Intervention Team training and that the board of education seek funds for a dedicated school resource officer.

The Ventura County Grand Jury is an all-volunteer watchdog group that investigates complaints received from the public and, after investigation, issues a report with recommendations addressing the issue. For more information, visit www.ventura.org/grand-jury.

— Chris O’Neal