Category Archives: City News

Friendly business competition to start on April 1

Athletes and dignitaries  kicked-off the 2017 Corporate Games at Ventura Community Park. Photo by Michael Gordon

To kick-off the 2017 Corporate Games, company employees, families and friends attended an opening ceremony at Ventura Community Park on Saturday, March 25.

The festivities included a business and health fair, music, demonstrations, jolly jumpers and interactive games, arts and crafts, food trucks and more.

To help, the celebration the Aquatics Center was open to the public for free.

Nearly 80 businesses throughout Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties are preparing for the five weeks of friendly competition, which begins Saturday, April 1 with beach volleyball, surfing, MB2 Racing, and soccer. Teams compete in four different divisions – based on company size – for gold, silver and bronze medals and a chance to be crowned Overall Team Champion during the Closing Ceremonies at Ventura Harbor on May 6.

Corporate Games is a fun way to develop team-building, plus it provides great health benefits. This year’s theme is “Play for the Fun of It!”  With a proven track record of building camaraderie through teamwork and lasting relationships among company employees, the games offer a wide variety of events so companies can tailor participation based on staff interests.

Corporate Games is hosted by the City of Ventura and many wonderful sponsors.

Schedule and information is available at www.cityofventura.net/corporategames or call 658-4738.

City Council mulls homeless shelter

Will a homeless shelter reduce the amount of homeless in Ventura? Photo by George Robertson

by Randal Beeman

Advocates who have spent upwards of two decades lobbying the City of Ventura for a permanent emergency homeless shelter will have to wait another month for a final vote authorizing the project. After making several small changes Council members will reconsider the revised ordinance at their April 20th meeting.

At their Monday, March 20th meeting, Council members heard from a number of local advocates for the homeless, including representatives of the faith community and social service providers who explained that a full time shelter would save the City money in addition to being an ethical imperative. Several audience members related personal testimonies on the plight of our homeless population.

While there is no proposal, site, or operator for the potential shelter, the City has designated a non-residential area – the Arundell neighborhood – for the facility. Council members discussed the language for an Emergency Shelter Zoning Ordinance and Map Amendment to shape the eventual size, scope, and operational guidelines. Councilmember Matt LaVere thanked audience members for their diligence on the issue, which has been a major humanitarian and quality of life concern in the community for many years.

Presently, the proposed law calls for a shelter with a capacity of 55 beds, and any potential operator would have to conform to a number of requirements including having a plan to provide security, to offering a variety of social services on site. There seemed to be a consensus among council members that this facility is needed and is long overdue, noting that any operator would be functioning under a conditional permit that would be periodically reviewed by the Council. The shelter is intended for short-term emergencies and will serve as a conduit for social services intended to keep people from returning to the streets.

Audience members who addressed the Council were overwhelmingly supportive of the idea. Stephanie Caldwell, President and CEO of the Ventura Chamber of Commerce and member of the Stakeholders Task Force on the homeless, presented a power point on the homeless problem, noting “it is more costly to keep the status quo than to house people.”

Other speakers lamented the high rental rates in the City that exacerbate the homelessness problem. John Jones, advocate for farmworker housing, noted that affordable housing had become the biggest issue in the state with some 130 bills on the issue currently being considered in Sacramento.

Other speakers implored the City to consider allowing space for pets. Cappi Patterson, representing Buddy Nation, promised that if pets would be allowed her organization would cover the cost of feeding and caring for the animals, including veterinary care. Patterson enjoined that pet ownership promotes “reliability, responsibility, and dignity.”

Another speaker spoke of innovative “Navigation Centers” that focus on getting people into housing first, then addressing issues like substance abuse and a lack of state issued ID cards after getting folks off the street, an idea that has seen success in other cities and countries.

Councilmember Christy Weir admonished that any shelter should offer some sense of privacy and dignity, instead of warehousing people in large rooms full of cots and bunk beds. After making several changes in the language and scope of the ordinance, Council members delayed taking a vote on the ordinance until the April 20th meeting in order for the public to review the changes.

In other Council business, the City accepted a grant from the National Police Dog Foundation, with Police Chief Ken Corney offering thanks to Suzanna Underwood for initiating the process along with assistance from the Wood-Claeyssen Foundation.

There was also a budget workshop presented by City of Ventura Finance and Technology Director Gilbert Garcia and staff. Garcia provided a summary of the City’s financial picture and the potential problems with pension costs and maintaining a City-owned golf course. While discussing potential use of Measure O money, (Measure O was passed by voters last November to raise the sales tax in Ventura), Councilmember Mike Tracy suggested that discussion of how that money is budgeted should be guided by the citizens advisory panel, which has yet been appointed.

 

Chamber of Commerce hosts “State of the City” breakfast

by Randal Beeman

Ventura is doing well at present, but “good times don’t last” stated Ventura Mayor Erik Nasarenko, as he discussed the ebb and flow of city government in a seamless breakfast presentation that lasted around 45 minutes at the Top of the Harbor Ballroom at the Crowne Plaza Hotel on March 9th.

Chamber President and CEO Stephanie Caldwell welcomed the large crowd to the breakfast.

Hosted by Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Stephanie Caldwell, the elite of the city’s business and government listened as Caldwell spoke of the need for the Chamber to reach all areas of our diverse city, to recruit high growth industries to Ventura, to ease the business startup process for new companies, and to address the homeless situation.

Mayor Nasarenko began his address with a snapshot of municipal finances, noting that Ventura is enjoying  a four-year budget surplus and previous draws on the cash reserves prior to 2012 are being repaid.

Under the stewardship of City Manager Mark Watkins, the city is prepared to fix streets damaged by recent storms, buckled sidewalks, clean up street medians and tree wells, and continue to fund Fire Station #4, which had previously been funded by a federal grant.

Nasarenko highlighted several new projects coming on-line, including the Community Memorial Hospital, the wing of the Ventura County Medical Center, and Kaiser Permanente’s medical suites next to the 101 Freeway.

He stated that “Patagonia and the Trade Desk are both expanding their headquarters in Ventura, VW is building a new facility, and Portside Ventura Harbor remodeling is well under way including the  addition of  220 new apartment units by 2019.”

On a cautionary note, Nasarenko spoke to the ‘fiscal pressures” on the city, including pension costs, the need to build cash reserves that meet  regional standards, the ongoing discussion about affordable housing, and the dearth of water supplies, which have not disappeared with the recent rains.

Since the early 1900s local Chamber of Commerce organizations have worked as city boosters and to represent the interests of the business community in local government. Members pay dues and elect officers. Staff are hired to run programs that further the mission of the Chamber.

The Mayor was keen to praise the Chamber for their support of Measure O this past November, The measure increased the sales tax in Ventura from 7.25% to 7.75%, which is expected to bring an additional 11 million dollars to city coffers this fiscal year. The law requires all of the money is spent within the city.

School District board voted 4-1 to fire Michael Babb

Michael Babb served as VUSD Superintendent for less than two years.

Ventura Unified School District Superintendent Michael Babb has been fired by the school board. Babb had been superintendent since July 1, 2015 replacing longtime Superintendent Dr. Trudy Tuttle Arriaga after she retired. He will receive six months of his annual salary of $215,605.

The board voted 4-1 to fire Babb without cause.  Trustee Sabrena Rodriguez voted against the firing. The decision was made at a special closed meeting.

The board emphasized that there are no alleged grievances or ongoing investigations into Babb but just felt that a new direction was necessary. Several members felt that his communication and leadership skills were not up to par.

Babb, who lives in Ventura, was previously superintendent of the much smaller Mesa Union School District. He was principal of E.P. Foster Elementary School for five years.

Deputy Superintendent Joe Richards, 60, will serve as interim superintendent until a replacement is hired by the board. Richards stated that he is not interested in filling the position permanently.

When hired Babb stated, “I came to Ventura Unified in 2001, when my own sons and daughter were small. I was a principal at E.P. Foster Elementary, and I brought my children to school with me each day. At the time, Ventura and fatherhood both were new to me, and, like all parents, I hoped and I worried. Would my kids be all right here? Would their teachers be kind? Would they be safe, make friends and learn and grow?”

“As a parent and as a leader, I have found the community and the schools in Ventura to be a rich resource, a comfort and support, a terrific place to work and to raise our children.”

“This is what I wish to preserve for us all, for you and for your children and for their children.  I am certain that if we work together as partners, if we use our collective intelligence, creativity and inspiration, if we treat one another with dignity and work cooperatively, we can provide an ideal learning environment for each one of the students in our town. I look forward to discovering together what wonders we can create by working with our hands and our hearts for their benefit.”

2017 State of the City-Ventura: Growing Stronger While Keeping Its Charm

Mayor Nasarenko stated “Ventura remains a magnificent and unique city to live in” during his State of the City presentation.

by Ventura Mayor Erik Nasarenko

Ventura has so much to celebrate, for it remains a well-managed and beautiful beach town that Sunset Magazine recently described as the “off-ramp to paradise.”

In terms of our fiscal management, revenues taken in by the city have exceeded expenditures since 2013, meaning Ventura is living within its means, balancing year-over-year budgets and even ending recent fiscal years with a slight surplus.  Growth in the transient occupancy tax—commonly referred to as the hotel bed tax—along with increases in sales and property taxes have strengthened the city’s financial position and enabled residents to receive outstanding police, fire and park services, among other city-delivered benefits.

Last November’s successful Measure O campaign, which nearly 59 percent of Ventura voters supported, will bring an additional $11 million annually to city coffers, with the first quarterly installment due to arrive this July.  Residents can expect to see the city perform immediate infrastructure improvements with the much-needed revenue, including street repaving, sidewalk repair, tree well maintenance and landscaping of road medians.  As promised in the ballot statement, the city will also allocate funds to maintain Fire Station 4 and its 9 firefighters and paramedics so that east end residents continue to receive rapid and effective fire and paramedic response.  I would also like to work with my colleagues to complete Ventura Community Park and fulfill the 2005 Master Plan by creating sports courts and a library component for one of Ventura’s largest recreational centers.

As the city grows, so, too, do many of its flagship businesses.   The worldwide outdoor apparel company and environmental steward Patagonia is scheduled to expand its Westside campus.  Similarly, the Trade Desk, which started with literally one desk eight years ago in office space adjacent to city hall, is now a publicly-traded tech company on the NASDAQ stock exchange that is looking to expand its Chestnut-street headquarters.

The health care industry in Ventura will see major changes in 2017 as Ventura County Medical Center (VCMC), Community Memorial (CMH)and Kaiser are all expected to open new medical facilities in the year ahead.  These wellness enterprises will not only bring high-paying jobs to Ventura but will also provide residents with outstanding emergency, acute and long-term care.

But, like many cities across California, Ventura faces an array of fiscal pressures, some known and others still uncertain.  For example, escalating retirement costs will continue to encroach upon our budget, especially given the fact that the California Public Employee Retirement System (CalPERS) recently told its member cities—like Ventura—that it is downgrading its assumed rate of return on its investments, which means we will have to make up the shortfall internally, an amount expected to climb above $6 million over the next several years.  The city has already budgeted this expected increase into its long-term fiscal outlook, recognizing that—based upon predicted revenue—we should be able to absorb the new costs.  But if the economy begins to retract or CalPERS reduces its assumed investment return further, this forecast could easily change.

Speaking of uncertainty, the city is unsure of how much funding, if any, it will receive from Washington, D.C. in the form of Community Development Block Grants, or CDBG funds.  Historically used to help fund assistance for low-income mobile home residents, the Avenue library, and the winter warming homeless shelter, among other worthy projects, CDBG dollars are at risk of being defunded, according to the National Conference of Mayors.  This loss would hurt Ventura, particularly its most vulnerable residents.

And water scarcity, despite the heavy rains, will remain a major challenge and fiscal stress for Ventura.  According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, much of Ventura and Santa Barbara counties remain in “Extreme Drought,” the only two counties statewide to be given this designation.  With Lake Casitas at only 38 percent of capacity and groundwater basins subject to new state and local regulations, Ventura has to identify new sources of water.  To this end, the city is now studying a connection with the State Water Project, a system of canals, pipelines and channels that brings water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and Colorado River to Ventura County and much of southern California.  The city is also exploring construction of a water reuse facility that would treat wastewater to the highest cleaning standards and subject it to strict safety and regulatory scrutiny before returning drinkable water back to the customer.

Finally, we are making progress to address homelessness in the city.  Next month the city council will consider a change to its zoning laws that would broaden the geographic area of Ventura where crisis housing and supportive services, such as mental health counseling, substance abuse assistance and housing advice, can co-locate.  The proposed regulations would allow for a maximum 55-person occupancy for up to six months, utilizing either a re-purposed structure or a new building.   I look forward to working with my colleagues to begin a serious discussion about using Measure O funding to jump start the project in conjunction with other government, non-profit and private sector supporters.

Ventura remains a magnificent and unique city to live in, and the Ventura City Council is dedicated to keeping it that way.  Whether you enjoy an afternoon looking at the boats moored at our Harbor, or prefer a walk along the Ventura Botanical Gardens before dining at a local (not chain!) restaurant Downtown, Ventura has something to offer for everyone.  Let’s continue to work together to grown stronger while maintaining our charm.

City of Ventura 2016 Employee and Supervisor of the Year announced

Right: Police Chief Ken Corney, Tracey Coert and Mark Watkins at the awards ceremony. Left: Fire Chief David Endaya, Thomas Hoffman and Mark Watkins at the awards ceremony.

On Feb. 15 the City of Ventura held an awards ceremony and recognized nineteen employees nominated for 2016 Employee or Supervisor of the Year. These awards acknowledge city employees who are role models for public service and exemplify the city’s commitment to excellence.

The thirteen nominees for Employee of the Year were:

Police Services Officer Tracey Coert was selected as 2016 Employee of the Year.

Fire Captain Thomas Hoffman was recognized as 2016 Supervisor of the Year.

At the ceremony City Manager Mark Watkins said, “The awards ceremony is my favorite event of the year. It’s great to see the pride in each department head’s eyes when they introduce and speak about their nominees. Congratulations to Fire Captain Thom Hoffman and Police Services Officer Tracey Coert, these two exemplify the dedication, professionalism and personal commitment of our outstanding workforce and represent the best of our employees commitment to serve the community.”

The Polymath of City Hall-Peter Brown

For more than two decades Peter Brown has been focusing on the local homeless problem.

by Randal Beeman

If the movie Caddyshack taught us anything, it is that golf is both therapy for the tired soul and a metaphor for the fundamental contradictions in life. Peter Brown tries to play a lot of golf. Peter Brown NEEDS golf, because Peter Brown is a busy guy who lives with a lot of contradictions.

As both the Code Enforcement Manager and Community Development Manager for the City of Ventura, Brown is a perpetual motion machine, fielding interview questions at his desk whilst answering emails, checking texts, and signing a stack of forms at his cluttered workstation. Brown, 53, a White Plains, New York native and a UCSB grad, is tasked with two seemingly contradictory missions.

For example, Brown’s Code staff recently had to play the bad cop and red tag (shut down) at 10 unit apartment complex near downtown because the owner had completed unpermitted renovations that were not up to code and unsafe for the (now at risk of being homeless) tenants. He points out that his Code Enforcement Officers wear kevlar vests on these ventures, and they have the same status as other law enforcement members, including extra penalties for anyone committing an assault on one of his team. Though the landlord has to pay two month’s rent, those tenants with fixed or modest incomes face finding an apartment in a tight marketplace with rents often reaching over $2000 a month for a mediocre unit. Peter Brown the Community Development Manager now has to play the good cop and work within the social and housing systems to help find these folks a place to live.

Brown notes that in a city of 107,500, a staff of only four Code Enforcement Officers (and their support squad of another 3.5 FTE’s), is overwhelmed by the weight of their duties, They deal with life threatening issues first and foremost, but his office also fields calls for plumbing and sewage violations, people camping in their cars, illgal signage on local businesses, stray basketball goals on a cul-de-sac, and complaints related to short term rental sites like Airbnb. Much of what concerns Brown relates to the dearth of affordable housing in Ventura.

Ventura County is one of the most expensive housing and rental markets in the nation, contributing to the homeless problem and making home ownership difficult for young families. A town known for slow growth policies, Venturans openly lament the lack of affordable housing for their offspring, Brown opines, while simultaneously opposing the construction of affordable multi-family units, especially if it impacts their particular neighborhood.

Brown’s passion and the bulk of his more than two decades working for the city has been focused on the local homeless problem, an issue upscale tourist oriented towns like Ventura have labored with for years – in Ventura with some modest success. The city’s official homeless count dropped from around 700 in 2011 to just over 300 in 2016, though Brown cautions the number will probably go up slightly this year.

The Safe and Clean Public Places Initiative, adopted by a very creative City Council in November 2011, seeks to link the homeless population with the drug treatment, mental health care, and social services support network in the community. With the Ventura Police Department Patrol Task Force leading the way, Brown and his team visit the sundry homeless camps on the fringes of Ventura. They specifically ask – “how can we help you out of this situation? What do you need?”

Brown emphatically states he does not make policy, he only implements policies directed from the City Council and City Manager. One project he hopes comes to fruition is Ventura joining with Oxnard, Thousand Oaks and the County CEO’s office to convince all of the communities of Ventura County to sign a MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) stating that since social service agency laden Ventura and Oxnard are disproportionately impacted by the homeless problem, that the other cities step forward to ‘take care of their own’.

He brings out charts and statistics showing where police and fire vagrancy related calls for service are most frequent, and the hotspots in downtown and West Ventura concern Brown. Brown goes back to his computer screen as the phone rings and there is another knock at the door. And somewhere a golf ball fears its next encounter with Peter Brown.

Vol. 10, No. 11 – March 1 – March 14, 2017 – City Classes

City of Ventura Barranca Vista Imagination Center classes. Check out hundreds more on web-site
Call 658-4726 or 654-7553 to register, if you already have an ACTIVENET account online, visit www.cityofventura.net Classes and events held at the Barranca Vista Center ~ 7050 Ralston Street in Ventura unless otherwise noted

Mad Science-Nasa Space Academy 5-12 years
3/7-4/18 Tu 4:30-5:30 $115+ $35 supply fee #8190
Explore our solar system and experience an astronaut’s life as you build a space station, compare the Earth’s atmosphere to other planets, follow stellar life cycles, find hidden objects with laser technology and build your own Skyblazer II Rocket to take home! No class 4/4.

Courage in the Kitchen 16 year-adult
3/7 & 3/21 Tu 6-8 pm $80+$20 monthly supply fee #8053
Get processed foods out of the pantry and learn to cook with fresh, seasonal and budget-friendly ingredients. We’ll meet to study recipes, learn new techniques and create meals that include vegan and vegetarian options. For view each month’s menus visit www.chefjudy.net. The $20 supply fee is due to instructor at first class.

COOKING WITH JUDY GILLIARD
Pottery and Ceramic Hand Building 16 years-adult
3/8-4/19 W 6-8 pm $110+$15 materials fee #7969
Pinch, coil, use slab construction, glaze and decorate to create your own ceramic masterpieces. Instructor Kim Clarke. No class 3/22.

Beginning Argentine Tango 18 years-adult
3/8-4/12 W 6:30-7:30 pm $69/person #8031
Tango in no time with our “true basics in six weeks” class. Classes held at The House of Dance, 3007 Bunsen #E.

Flamenco Dance 18 years-adult
3/8-3/29 W 7:30-8:30 pm $75 #8193
Learn Spain’s passionate gypsy dance form and its cultural significance as you build up your flexibility, grace, fitness and confidence. Instructor Wendy Castellanos. Classes held at Namba, 47 S Oak St.

Knights and Castles of the Middle Ages 6-12 years
3/13-3/27 M 4-5 pm $40 #7909
Discover the “knight life” of castles, combat, art and cathedrals as you learn how to make catapults and other crafts.

Belly Dance-4-Fitness 18 years-adult
3/13-4/10 M 6-7 pm $55 #7673
Dress comfortably to shimmy, twist and tone in this fun cardio class that includes a warmup, belly dance workout, choreography and cool down. Instructor Anja Christy.

Basic Guitar 9 years-adult
3/14-4/25 Tu 7-8:30 pm $55 #8040
Bring your own acoustic or electric guitar to learn folk and pop strums, patterns and chord progressions. No class 4/4. At Dudley House, 197 N Ashwood St. Instructor Randy Covington.

Ventura Police Community Academy

The Ventura Police Department’s Community Academy is coming! Have you ever wanted to know more about police operations? Not the ‘TV’ version, but the actual facts? Here’s your chance! The Community Academy will take you on a ride-along with a patrol officer, show you what a SWAT team does, let you experience a simulated firearms training course, give you a look at issues officers face in our community and much more.

The Community Academy is scheduled to begin April 19 and will be held on 9 consecutive Wednesday nights from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. with a final class and graduation on June 14. Each night features a new topic, with speakers, demonstrations, and discussions. We’ll answer your questions and give you an in-depth behind the scenes look at police operations.

Community Academy participants are selected by the Ventura Police Department through the application process. Applications are available from the Department or through the online web application found at http://www.cityofventura.net/pd/community-academy.

Potential candidates must meet the following criteria: minimum age of 18 years, live or work in the City of Ventura, no felony convictions, no misdemeanor convictions within two years of application.

Ventura Police Department, 1425 Dowell Dr. Ventura, CA 93003

*May 24 class held at the Criminal Justice Training Center in Camarillo

Wednesdays, April 19-June 14, 2017: Class dates: April 19, April 26, May 3, May 10, May 17, May 24, May 31, June 7 and June 14.

For more information, please contact Civic Engagement Specialist Ashley Bautista 805-339-4317 or abautista@venturapd.org.

Vol. 10, No. 10 – February 15 – February 28, 2017 – City classes

City of Ventura Barranca Vista Imagination Center classes. Check out hundreds more on our web-site
Call 658-4726 or 654-7553 to register, if you already have an ACTIVENET account online, visit www.cityofventura.net Classes and events held at the Barranca Vista Center, 7050 Ralston St. unless otherwise noted

Painting Flowers, Bugs, and Trees 7-12 years
2/21-3/21 W 4-5:30 pm $50+$10 materials fee #7972
Paint landscapes with trees, mountains, waves, waterfalls and other details using many techniques. Join artist Jen Livia at 4601 Telephone Rd #112 each week to explore new subjects
and paint them in a variety of styles to discover our own unique style. All supplies provided.

Morning Zumba® 18 years-adult
$40/$65/$80*
2/22-3/29 W 8:45-9:45 am #7880
2/24-3/31 F 7:45-8:45 am #7885
2/27-4/3 M 8:45-9:45 am #7879
Start your day with an exciting and effective Latin dance Zumba® workout.
*Session discounts: one day for $40; two days for $65; all 3 days for $80. Certified Zumba® Instructor Dala Sondors.

Yoga to Unwind 16 years-adult
2/23-3/30 Th 5:10-6:10 pm $65 #7664
Leave the work day behind to relax with simple yoga poses, stretching and breathing. Bring towel, mat and dress comfortably. Instructor Aurora Heinemann.

Friday Fitness Party! 16 years-adult
2/24-3/31 F 6:15-7:15 pm $40 or $7/day #7682
Join us and dance, body condition and cool down to fabulous music. Bring mat and water. Walk in fee of $7 is due at start of class. Certified Zumba® Instructor Dala Sondors.

Friday Night Tap 12 years-adult
2/24-3/17 F 6:30-7:30 pm $40 #8016
Learn basic steps, combinations and routines to upbeat rhythms and music. Classes are progressive but designed for the beginner. Instructor Elli Busch. Classes held at Billy Clower Dance Studio, 75 MacMillian Ave. To register call 658-4726.

Ballroom Dancing 16 years-adult
2/28-4/4 Tu 7:30-8:30 pm $55 #8023
Enjoy the magic of smoothly moving across the floor with the waltz, fox trot, swing and rumba!

Swing and Nightclub Dancing 16 years-adult
2/28-4/4 Tu 8:30-9:30 pm $55 #8025
Swing the night away, East & West Coast style! No partner needed.