Ventura | Homeless Vagrancy Issues Take Over City Council Meeting

Council and others respond to community concerns

By Lori Denman

Since the murder of Anthony Mele on April 19 by a homeless person, many of Ventura’s residents have been emphasizing the importance of safety issues in their city.

On the evening of July 23, City Council addressed these issues of crime committed by homeless vagrants. Police Chief Ken Corney gave statistics on this type of crime and the council reviewed an update on its Safe and Clean Initiative.

Mayor Andrews was absent at this meeting.

Citizens Journal has published numerous stories on this issue, including interviews with the police department.  One looming question remains as Ventura and Oxnard are both planning on constructing low barrier shelters, where entry will be granted to these homeless vagrants committing crimes. So, should the shelters be high barrier and require its occupants to follow rules of sobriety and abiding by the law?

Special Presentations

The director of the Ventura County Fair Board, Dan Long spoke about the fair that will start on August 1st and last through August 12th.

The full schedule includes motor sports on opening day; then Feed the Need and UB40 is on Thursday night. LeAnn Rimes plays on Sat. Aug. 4 and Sublime with Rome play on Mon. Aug. 6. Military Appreciation Day is Aug. 9. For further information, log onto their site.

Long showed this year’s poster and thanked the young local artists for submitting their artwork for the poster. He suggested looking online to save money. Discount tickets are on sale through the day before the fair starts and he suggested to check out the Well Pass.

Ventura County Public Health Department Director Rigoberto Vargas presented a Community Health Assessment and Improvement Plan. Some data that is tailored specifically to Ventura. Topics included: VCPH supports environments that protect and promote the health and well being in Ventura County – with partnerships in city and county groups. VC is ranked near the top and is ranked ninth as the healthiest county in the nation. They want to improve the quality of life, including individual and family behaviors. Access to care and behavioral and mental health is important to attain. The true drivers are promoting healthy social and physical environments. He covered the Social Determinants of Health – improving conditions of where people work is an important aspect of good health. Safe and affordable housing and good education are top factors.

Vargas suggested that Ventura County residents check out the Community Health Improvement Plan, available online.

Interim City Manager Dan Paranick gave an update on the Safe and Clean program. He wants the city to feel cleaner and safer in look, feel and action. It is not only about the police department but a multipronged approach. These are items they are working on.

Since the murder of Anthony Mele at Aloha Restaurant, Paranick said that City Council has given firm direction and created a 22-Point Action Plan. It has been implemented. The Safe and Clean Program has been improved through Measure O funding. He thanked the community for adding resources to attack challenges.

Paranick gave an update on stats, all that occurred only during the month of June.

From the law enforcement aspect, there were 190 arrests of 152 individuals who identified themselves as homeless. Thirty-two percent of them were for drug charges; 28 percent were outstanding warrants for those who committed crimes prior. The police department received in 476 calls for service of potentially crime related vagrancy issues. That was the estimation for receiving calls.

“In addition to that, the police self-initiated 202 of their own proactive initiated contacts of individuals who appeared to be causing safety-related issues in the community,” he said.  

Almost half of the police department’s time is spent on this issue.

The Patrol Task Force conducted two river bottom sweeps during the month of June; they removed teepees and tents from local beaches; 13 camps were cleared out throughout the city. Three out of 13 of the camps said that they would accept programs and services, but Paranick did not mention if they followed through.

Public Outreach was presented at various events in an effort to make the city safer and cleaner. The fire department is doing safe and clean patrols around the homeless populations. Since January of this year, 1,016 arrests have been made for vagrant related crime, which was 34 percent of the total made by police.

“From a resource perspective, City Council is looking to utilize five police officers that will target this, three will be targeted at ‘focus patrol’ at problematic areas of vagrant crime and two will be expanding the Patrol Task Force,” Paranick added.  “At your direction, we will hire four Safe and Clean groundskeepers, who will be hired in addition to what we have had before. In our budget, we have a Safe and Clean Program Manager, two criminal investigative assistants and 250K added to expand the ambassador program.”

Parks and Recreation performed about 500 site inspections from calls on complaints on camps. They picked up 15 truckloads of trash at 14 camps and took away 160 bags of debris, all in the month of June. The sign program has been expanded, giving direction to the community regarding this issue. Parks and Recs has been removing hiding spaces and installed signs stating there are enhanced cameras on the boardwalk. There were light repairs on the promenade walkway. Lighting and landscaping was completed, making the area more inviting. Areas where homeless camps exist were also cleaned up. New projects are occurring to improve the safety of the promenade.

Community Development is working on services in the homeless shelter. It is being discussed. Shelter negotiations with the county are underway. They have found a location.

“Hopefully those folks on the other side of it that got arrested – we now have a place where they can potentially seek services and help,” said Paranick with a smile (below).

The city got an update on the affordable housing and inclusionary housing programs. “250K was put in again for the community housing trust fund which targets low-income housing in our community.” A new Code Enforcement Manager and two new code inspectors were hired.

An Oversized Vehicle Ordinance is being worked on. Volunteers are being recruited for trash pick up. Timed or paid parking is being looked at to make the beach areas and parking lots more safe. Other services are being analyzed, including the Methadone Clinic, River Haven, and other community programs. These groups are being encouraged to “jump on board with our efforts,” said Paranick.

Later this evening in the city council meeting, a discussion will be held concerning the city’s expansion and focus on patrols for the promenade and high focus areas. City Council staff is in the process of creating a Community Action Plan called Safe and Clean 2.0. That will be rolled out in the next few months. Paranick said that completes his report.

Councilmember Tracy said that the police response also includes the fire department, along with paramedics, can help with this homeless vagrancy problem. Paranick said that he will add the information in, regarding the help of the fire department and paramedics.

Heitman asked about the Affordable Housing. There are 390 in the planning process, not under construction yet.

Closed Session Report

City Council met in closed session on July 16 to discuss the pending litigation filed against it by Andrew Scott Hernandez. The decision to settle the case was unanimous, by all council members except for Monahan, who was not present. The decision to settle this case was a difficult one made strictly for economic reasons, said council. The city believes that the police officers involved acted appropriately within policy. In agreeing to settle this case, the council is clear that the police, the chief and the individual officers, in exchange for the sum of 170K, the plaintiff has dismissed the case against the city. Copies of the settlement agreement will be available as a copy in the city clerk’s office. That concluded the report.

Consent Items

Consent items included recommendations

  1. To adopt a resolution re-confirming the existence of a local emergency and a local public health emergency
  2. Authorize the City Attorney to enter into an extended legal services agreement with Lawrence, Beach, Allen & Choi, PC, in an amount not-to-exceed an additional $200,000 to continue representation of the City and two of its Police Officers in a Federal Civil Rights case filed by attorneys for Andrew Hernandez, through trial to be completed in the 2018-2019 Fiscal Year.
  3. Confirm the Mayor’s appointment of Deputy Mayor LaVere as the City’s Voting Delegate and Councilmember Weir as the Alternate Voting Delegate for the League of California Cities 2018 Annual Conference.
  4. Approve 2018 Ventura County Fair contracts including the agreements to implement traffic control
  5. Authorize the City Manager, or designee, to apply for and accept up to $950,000 in grant funds from the California Department of Transportation for the purpose of preparing an Active Transportation Plan.
  6. Approve the contract plans and specifications for the Sewerline Replacement Seaside Wastewater Force Main Project – Harbor Boulevard, Specification No. 2017-008, and authorize the advertisement for bids to be received on August 16, 2018, at 2:00 p.m. in the City Clerk’s office.
  7. Authorize the use of $678,780 from Measure O appropriations to fund overtime for enhanced focus area patrols and video surveillance activities within the Police Department and amend the Fiscal Year 2018-19 Operating Budget.
  8. Approve funding for the reinstatement of the 3-person, roving 40-hour paramedic engine for the Ventura Fire Department.

Council discussed the authorization of the use of $678,780 from Measure O appropriations to fund overtime for enhanced focus area patrols and video surveillance activities within the Police Department and amend the Fiscal Year 2018-19 Operating Budget.

Chief Ken Corney asked City Council to approve funds for more resources for the police department.

The resources would be used for what the PD calls Enhanced Focus Patrol for the downtown areas and specifically Surfer’s Point will be expanded. Two officers will be doing a 20 hour day; it was then reduced to 15 hour day and on July 1 it was reduced to a 12-hour day with the two officers. The hours were reduced from 20 to 15, and then to 12 due to the fatigue of the officers. The focused areas were from Surfer’s Point to the pier area. This is in response to ongoing criminal vagrancy issues they have had. Corney said they started this effort the day after the Aloha incident with Mele. With this effort, it was expanded to other areas, because the vagrants moved to the different areas.

Homeless vagrants on Main Street. Photo by Jim Rice.

Additional resources would be used for the priority two and three calls; verbal domestic with no physical violence, suspicious circumstances, auto theft, homeless vagrants passed out/drunken in a park; etc. These calls have risen and it takes an average of 16 minutes longer to respond to these calls. Vagrancy calls also fall under priority two or three. There has been a 5,500 increase since 2013.

There has been an increase in crime since 2013. What else is the PD doing besides just arresting people? There are volunteers and investigative aides. It is the procedure to view the crime information and put out a report every seven days. They send out more officers where crime is seen in those areas analyzed. They do this because they see positive change when officers are sent to those focus areas often – especially with vagrancy Corney said.

Corney said that the PD needs more overtime money for officers on staff now. He appreciates the funding from Measure O that pays for two new officers. However, the new officers will not be on the streets for some time because now they are getting background checks completed and then they enter the academy in October, then they move onto training. With overtime funds, two officers will be on the promenade at all times for 12 hour periods.

Corney said that there has been an improvement and implementation of security cameras. By watching these videos, it enhances the response but is not a substitute for a response.

Corney recommends that City Council authorizes the use of $678,780 from Measure O to fund overtime for enhanced focus area patrols and video surveillance activities and amend the Fiscal Year Operations Budget. He said that crime changes with time and since the incident at Aloha, the community is concerned. City Council voted to approve Corney’s requests.

The next subject covered was to approve funding for the reinstatement of the 3-person, roving 40-hour paramedic engine for the Ventura Fire Department. A brief history of what the roving engine is was given. He said that Ventura Fire Department is an “all-hazards department.” The roving paramedic would include three positions at 40 hours per week including one fire captain, one fire engineer and a firefighter/paramedic. In 2009, an engine was eliminated so they are asking for another now again. The fire department estimates 17K calls for the year of 2018. This roving engine would provide faster response times with increased availability.

Paranick said that finances need to be analyzed before they make any decisions on the roaming engine. A check in with the council and a final analysis will be done with data and numbers. The fire department asked for a three-month deadline for answers. Paranick agreed. Lavere said the fire dept. have the same staffing as in 1988. Population and calls have risen. The most important issues are what we are providing to our citizens,” Lavere said. The added engine would be able to respond to city’s calls faster. Lavere said that he thinks back to when his grandfather had a stroke and the fire dept. arrived in a little over four minutes to save his life.

City Council Meeting Agendas – Ventura, CA: https://www.cityofventura.ca.gov/AgendaCenter

Agenda, July 23, City Council Regular Meeting:

https://www.cityofventura.ca.gov/AgendaCenter/ViewFile/Agenda/_07232018-1660

Video, July 23, Ventura City Council Regular Meeting Video: https://www.cityofventura.ca.gov/718/Videos

 

Lori Denman-Underhill has been a professional journalist since 1996. She has worked as associate editor for the Los Angeles Daily News TODAY Magazines and has freelanced for LA Weekly, Surfline.com and more. She is now the Ventura reporter for Citizens Journal.


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3 Responses to Ventura | Homeless Vagrancy Issues Take Over City Council Meeting

  1. William Hicks July 31, 2018 at 11:05 pm

    ONLY 3 OUT OF THIRTEEN HOBO CAMPS ACCEPTED HELP ? And there’s no way of saying if even those three really followed through with accepting help?

    WOW! that’s really encouraging. Why not take those not willing to receive help and forcing them on a bus to San Francisco where everyone there finds human excrement on the sidewalks an acceptable condition.

    Reply
  2. C E Voigtsberger July 31, 2018 at 8:42 pm

    The police can arrest sixty people an hour, 24/7 and it doesn’t do any good unless the District Attorney follows up with prosecution and the Probation Department follows up with appropriate recommendations with emphasis on maximum separation from the community and the courts follow through with appropriate sentences with emphasis on maximum separation from the community.

    It’s not a one department show, folks. The cops can only do so much. You can have 10,000 officers patrolling and arresting and if the courts turn them loose before the cop can file his report, its all for nothing. The DA has to prosecute on the tough cases and push for maximum separation from the community.

    In addition, and this is addressed to those of you who complain about the cops, you have to go to court and testify. Nothing happens unless citizens are willing to become involved. If you are a “I din’t see nuffin.” then don’t complain when crime doesn’t disappear. In order for evil to prevail all that is necessary is for good men to do nothing.

    Reply
    • William Hicks July 31, 2018 at 11:07 pm

      OOH! RAH!

      Reply

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