by Venturans for Responsible & Efficient Gov’t
When the city needs money, they go to the old trope, “We’ll attract new business.” After all, Ventura is open for business, according to this Council. Actions speak louder than words, however. The recent incident with Seaward Sushi illustrates the confusion and shortsightedness in City Hall.
In June 2019, social media blew up over closing of 40-year old Seaward Sushi. After owner Rachel Woodward closed her doors June 14th, for the final time, her story spread on the internet. Based on what Rachel posted, it would have easy to jump to conclusions. One could conclude that Ventura’s permitting, and code enforcement’s strict policies and slow processing time were the villains in this situation.
After telling her story on social media, it got the attention of several people like Jim Friedman, Stephanie Caldwell at the Chamber and others at City Hall. While we don’t know all the facts, only after this story attracted attention on social media, the City of Ventura hastily arranged a meeting on June 24th.
In an interview with Rachel Woodward, she revealed that she kept meticulous notes. She has a complete phone and paper trail of all dates and times that someone spoke to her, and a list of appointments and promises broken from representatives from City Hall. Rachel felt she needed to keep these records. She got the impression that everyone at City Hall was “very defensive,” and nobody wanted to be “held responsible” for what had occurred before the June 24th meeting.
The city gave Rachel a temporary permit on June 24th to reopen on June 28th. Without the privilege of knowing what they discussed in that meeting, we do know that Ashley Batista, from the city helped to obtain a permit to reopen June 28th.
Rachel voluntarily agreed to a hearing on August 6th. At the August 6th hearing, there was zero opposition, and the city granted a permanent permit. She has been in business ever since. Business is still down, but it can only get better.
Rachel further felt that it was also apparent that few, if anyone, was in the community visiting businesses. And, when someone visited a company, there weren’t clear directions on how to streamline the process.
The story does not end here, in any case. If it took one meeting to find enough support to justify reopening, how did the original staff fail to reach a similar conclusion in the first place?
From this experience, Rachel learned a few things. She felt that before the June 24th meeting, nobody wanted to take ownership of the situation. It seemed to her that nobody in City Hall knew the specifics, and no one was clear on the process to follow.
If Ventura is open for business, maybe the city staff involved in the process did not get the memo. The city needs to do a post-mortem on the Seaward Sushi approval process to find ways to improve if they are going to claim to be open for business. We recommend changing the current approval process to one that requires two employees to examine and approve exceptions to ordinances or policies.