Community Struggles to Work Together on Homelessness: Ventura City Council Meeting May 7th

By Lori Denman-Underhill

The Ventura City Council meeting on May 7 announced an event the community is proud of – the Amgen Bike Tour, which kicks off this Monday, May 14. The meeting also discussed an issue they are not so proud of – decreasing vagrants’ illegal activity and violence.

More than 40 speakers at the 5-7-18 Ventura Council meeting had varied ideas on the vagrant violence situation and what to do about it. Photo: George Miller/CitizensJournal.us

Public Comment

Working together to solve the homeless issue, not divided by conflicting beliefs, was the centralized theme of the public comment portion. No matter what their beliefs or opinions, the majority of public speakers at the meeting – 47 of them to be exact – spoke with concern and compassion for helping the homeless find their way. The people also stressed the importance of establishing separate categories of “homeless” and “vagrancy.”

This was a hot topic that reigned the start of the evening, as far as public speakers. All ages spoke their concerns with passion – from teenage CARE members aiming to decrease discrimination of the homeless to a 96-year old woman who was perplexed of the disappearance of the “Granny Flats.”

Overall, the majority of the community speakers this evening expressed a common concern — taking a humane approach to homelessness.

People mentioned that since the murder of Anthony Mele at Ventura’s Aloha Restaurant, they have had concerns. After the murder occurred, the community emerged in numbers at the rally on the promenade by Crowne Plaza hotel on May 3, upset and concerned for their safety.

The public speakers tonight said they have since had concerns. Some had concerns including the vilification of the homeless and fear, anger and racism towards them. They also said that hateful rhetoric is happening in the community and that this fear and anger has no place in it. They said that incarceration is not the solution to helping the homeless. That there is a need for increased compassion, treatment and counseling services. They also discussed solutions. Many speakers offered their assistance to the homeless. Diana Sporania with the Housing Authority in St. Vincent De Paul at the San Buenaventura Mission said, “we have your back and please contact us for help.”

Important Distinction: “Homeless” vs. “Vagrant”

One important topic surfaced during these discussions, introduced by Ventura’s Quality of Life (QOL) Secretary Catherine Myers. She has been speaking out about criminal vagrancy for “a number of years,” she said.

“I’ve been a victim of criminal vagrants,” Myers said. “And I am not talking about homelessness. There’s a big difference. Public places are suddenly void of vagrants. The parks and promenade are clear. Suddenly, the city seems safer. Because we have seen such a vast and rapid change, we are done with being told that the vagrancy problem in Ventura is complicated and that it will take a long time to fix… the problem is just a matter of enforcing the law.

“Regardless of their mental, physical, social or emotional health, vagrants are necessarily committing crimes by choosing to live on the street or camp in public places,” Myers said. “It is against the law to camp; loiter; litter; drink; drug; dump waste; urinate; discharge sewage; scatter needles and pills; sell or trade illegal substances; brandish weapons and assault women, children and the elderly. It is also illegal to demand money from the public and engage in prostitution. Those are crimes. Criminal vagrants can and should be picked up daily and every time they are found to be engaging in illegal activity. You have been doing that these last few weeks.

“We have long had the laws and ordinances that allow us to do this,” Myers added. “Citizens now know, based on recent results, that the manpower and facilities can be found as well. Residents have recently been putting you on notice that we insist our laws and law enforcement be fully employed to keep us safe. Criminal vagrants cannot just be left on the streets to kill and be killed. Enough is enough.”

Meyers’ speech made it evident to many that In order to work together to solve the homeless issue, there must be two categories set in place from this point forward. There are two distinctive descriptions for those living on the streets – “homeless,” who have been reported by the community as being peaceful, non violent, kind and usually willing to live in “dry houses,” shelters where they are required to be sober. These homeless persons may also like to help contribute to society and the community.

On the flip side, the “vagrants” are persons who are doing illegal drugs on the streets, leaving needles and pipes behind, added Myers. They have been acting in violence towards community members, who have been reporting their assaults. They do not stay in the dry houses, they stay in the “wet houses,” where they are not drug tested. They are allowed to drink, do illegal drugs and are not mandated to receive counseling. They should be criminalized for illegal activity.

One question on a few minds at this City Council meeting was – why are these wet houses allowed? Many at the meeting shared the opinion that It was a vagrant with a prior arrest who murdered Mele, not just a “homeless” person. The dry houses are 40 percent empty, stated public speaker and Citizen’s Journal publisher, George Miller.

One man spoke during public comments, who backed up the claim that wet houses don’t work. His son has been eight years homeless and he applauded the police force and court system for “saving” his son’s life. Yet added, “if you have a treatment program that allows drug use and provides housing, you are just going to get the same results.”

Interim City Manager Dan Paranick responded to these comments that Ventura Police Chief Ken Corney is doing his job.

Regarding the public comments of this evening, CAUSE Policy Director Lucas Zucker told Citizen’s Journal, “”Most Venturans don’t want to use this tragedy to spread hate and blame against our homeless neighbors.  Most of us want to tackle the root causes of our severe housing crisis, loss of mental health facilities, opioid and other epidemics.  There is incredible positive work being done in Ventura to address homelessness and we urge those who want to work productively to roll up their sleeves and get involved.”

Following the close of public comments, consent items that were discussed by City Council included, “Approving a Memorandum of Understanding between the City and Ventura Police Officers’ Association and Salary Resolution.” Councilmember Matt LaVere stated that due to to the recent occurrence of the Aloha Steakhouse murder, that there is no better time to talk about the need for the police force and a possible increase of funds.

One of the many remaining important topics discussed this evening was when Councimember Nasarenko spoke for himself, Weir and Heitmann (who was absent at this evening’s meeting), approved a formal item. This item was “Policy Consideration – Opposition to U.S. Interior Dept. Proposal to Offer Leases for Offshore Oil and Gas Exploration and Drilling.” Nasarenko said that the three council members oppose offshore drilling due to environmental consequences of an offshore oil spill, as evidence of the Refugio spill in 2015 and the Santa Barbara spill in 1969, which in total cost millions of dollars to clean up. Citizen’s Journal will be reporting on this issue.

Laurie Martin asking for Fair Enforcement of the Law

City Council Meeting Agendas – Ventura, CA

May 7 Meeting Agenda: https://www.cityofventura.ca.gov/AgendaCenter/ViewFile/Agenda/_05072018-1583

City Council Meeting Videos 

https://www.cityofventura.ca.gov/718/Videos

May 7 video: http://cityofventura.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=17&clip_id=1355

Closed session:

https://www.cityofventura.ca.gov/AgendaCenter/ViewFile/Agenda/_05072018-1582

 

Lori Denman-Underhill has worked as a Senior Associate Editor, Los Angeles Daily News TODAY Magazines, freelance photo journalist, and is now the Ventura reporter for Citizens Journal


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4 Responses to Community Struggles to Work Together on Homelessness: Ventura City Council Meeting May 7th

  1. T payer May 12, 2018 at 9:09 pm

    The speakers at the council were mainly highschool students,church groups and sj warriors. The claimed that speaki g out against dangerous vagrants is hate speach.
    My vote is for enforcment of the laws. Zero tollerance for vagrancy. I want to see ” no vagrants allowed” on the ventura sign hanging over the 101.

    I also want to see and end to the clean and safe program and i want head officials in the police fired.

    Reply
  2. William Hicks May 9, 2018 at 9:30 am

    Sounds like the “broken hearted” over the plight of vagrancy got the word out to put them in another protected status that we have to live with, while simultaneously ignoring the ever present danger they represent.

    Reply
  3. C E Voigtsberger May 9, 2018 at 8:42 am

    I was the lead court reporter for the depositions of the plaintiffs in the 1969 oils spill case against the five oil producers involved in the litigation. The depositions went on for several months. There were hundreds of plaintiffs who were deposed. After hearing the testimony of hundreds of plaintiffs and seeing hundreds of pages of documents I came to a couple of conclusions.

    The first conclusion was that the disappearance of the vast fisheries that had existed in the Santa Barbara Channel was due solely to overfishing. Nobody probably remembers the huge pile of abalone shells that covered several acres to a depth of, perhaps ten or more feet in Goleta, adjacent to the freeway on the west side. According to the fish reports required to be filed with the DFG there were tens of thousands of tons of abalone harvested in the decade before the oil spill. I was particularly interested in the abalone harvest as I was a sports diver who looked for abalone out at the islands during that period.

    Secondly, the oil spill was of significant benefit to the economy of Santa Barbara particularly and also to Ventura as well. The benefits of the oil spill in terms of employment, goods purchased and other services provided far outweighed the loss sustained. Between the casual labor provided to clean beaches and marine life; the painting and repair of hundreds of boats, the litigation which provided a significant source of income to the local legal field and to the Biltmore Hotel which was the headquarters for the legal proceedings and ancillary hospitality facilities the overall benefit to the community far outweighed the loss in my opinion after I heard all the plaintiffs’ testimony.

    I think being in the position I was in, I am far better able to judge the overall effect of the oil spill than any local politician who continues to whip up public sentiment against the oil industry for their own political purposes or some other demagogue who uses environmentalism to advance their own career.

    Reply
    • William Hicks May 9, 2018 at 9:55 am

      Agree. Most people have ignored the fact that we were getting a heavy accumulation of tar on our beaches before any drilling started. It would make some degree of sense that drilling for oil may actually, in the long run, in spite of any oil spill, would reduce the pressure of seepage causing the ever present tar on the beaches.

      Reply

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