by VREG Editors
Ask anyone what the pressing issues are facing Ventura; you’ll get a variety of answers. We interviewed the retiring Councilmembers and some former Council candidates to get their perspectives. Each pointed to several significant issues facing Ventura in the next few years.
Governing By Districts
As Citizens expect their elected officials to represent their district’s interests, concern for the city as a whole may take a backseat to district wide issues.
Governing by districts means inexperienced new Councilmembers will lead the city. They will face a steep learning curve to be effective. Their inexperience means two things. First, existing Councilmembers and city staff may marginalize them until they gain experience and knowledge. Second, the new City Manager and the city staff may take more control without voter accountability. Neither of these is good.
More distressing may be the loss of a citywide perspective on the Council. Wrangling for projects will probably intensify.
Growth meant different things to each interviewee. All agreed Ventura needed to grow. They also concurred that growth and water availability are inseparable. Each acknowledged the need for affordable housing but recognized the opposition to more houses (the NIMBYs).
The Solution is Sensible Growth
Growth and water are inseparable. The next City Council must forge a reasonable growth plan. The new Council will also have to convince the “no-growth” citizens that the city needs to grow to be vital. The Council should also call for the city staff to streamline current fees and permits practices.
Everyone acknowledged water was a concern. The specifics on how to address the issue varied widely, however.
Solutions for Better Water Management
The new City Council can take three steps to address water. First, they must request a modification to the Heal the Bay Consent Decree to extend the deadline for extracting wastewater from the estuary.
Second, The Council must force Ventura Water to table Direct Potable Reuse (DPR). It is an expensive gamble. No State approved testing exists for DPR today and may not for 4-8 years. There’s no reason to proceed with an untested and unproven method that risks the public’s health.
Third, the Council must make Ventura Water more transparent. The goal is two-fold. Increase accountability within the department and increase communication to the public.
Housing Ventura’s homeless was a high priority. Some thought affordable housing was the solution. Others mentioned the homeless shelter. Some interviewees distinguished between the mentally ill living on the streets and the vagrants. Each saw it as a countywide problem with Ventura as its nexus. The county jail and the psychiatric hospital are in Ventura, making the city a natural final destination for the homeless to stay.
Consideration Toward Addressing Homelessness
The new Council should distinguish between criminal vagrants and those willing to accept help. We should be willing to help those who help themselves.
Re: City Staff Accountability
All the interviewees wanted more accountability from the city employees.
Improving City Staff Accountability
The new Council needs to apply critical thinking and be willing to question all city staff reports and recommendations. To do so requires financial literacy. Each Councilmember must study the city budget and Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR).
Second, the Council should stop accepting mediocre performance from the staff. Stop praising the employees even when they don’t perform. False praise is not an antidote for low morale. It may be detrimental to the top performers by cheapening the value of the kudos. The new City Manager Alex McIntyre should confront the staff morale issue.
Third, the new Council should scrutinize the expenditures on outside contractors. Last year, Ventura spent $30 million. They should be fiscally responsible and look for ways to cut these costs.
Many complex issues face Ventura. We can’t rely on the candidates alone to be knowledgeable. It’s each person’s responsibility to be aware of the challenges before us. It’s equally important that each voter be confident that the candidates understand them.
Even though voting districts divide the city, our elected Councilmembers must represent the entire community. When deciding on issues, they must think about the city at large.
Keep these points in mind as you go to the polls in November.