Mayor’s “State of the City” and Budget Workshop – Ventura City Council Meeting

By Kevin Harris

Ventura Mayor Matt LaVere gave his “State of the City” presentation, followed by the city’s second 2019-20 Budget Workshop during Monday night’s Ventura City Council meeting. 

Ventura’s “State of the City”

Mayor Matt LaVere opened the public part of Monday’s meeting with his State of the City address, specifically titled, “A New Day in Ventura.” The 40-minute presentation had an optimistic theme, and spent some time reviewing 2018 events before looking ahead to 2019 and beyond. 

“I see this new council, I see the new city manager, I see new things and a new vision, and a lot of progress,” LaVere told the sizable audience, before defining the new city council as “the most diverse council in the history of the city.” 

Mayor Matt LaVere

The Mayor praised city staff for their heroic work and actions during the December, 2017 Fires and the long recovery the following year. During this time, staff approved 223 home rebuild permits; issued 420 repair permits; and reviewed 88 complete home rebuilds, among other crucial recovery tasks. 

He praised local firefighters by announcing that in 2018, they had responded to over 18,000 calls, while applauding the Ventura Police Department for its great work. “There was a 26 percent reduction in residential home burglaries in 2018 than in 2017,” Lavere said. 

The Mayor talked about local Measure O — the 25-year, 1/2 cent use tax passed by voters in 2016 to repair the aging city. In 2018, Ventura received $13.5 million from the Measure. “I think we spent those funds wisely,” LaVere boasted. According to him, staff’s purchases with those funds included 100 sidewalk projects; street construction projects; repaired parking lots; performed extensive deferred maintenance; tree maintenance; Fire Station 4 was fully funded; $2 million put toward the “Safe & Clean” program; and they doubled the Patrol Task Force and Ambassador Program. 

Mayor LaVere said he is particularly proud of the great work by the city in supporting senior citizens. “Many of you know that seniors are the fastest growing segment of our population, but what many of you don’t know is that seniors are also the fastest growing segment of our homeless population,” he explained, before revealing that he hopes to open a permanent homeless shelter in Ventura by the end of 2019. 

He also discussed new housing and commercial developments, and touted Ventura’s joining of the Clean Power Alliance, making it the city’s new electricity provider. He thanked Council Member Christy Weir for her leadership on that process. While on the topic of sustainability, Mayor LaVere also mentioned the State Water Interconnection Project, which he hopes to be complete by 2023, and the Ventura Water Pure Project, planned for completion by 2025. “This is the system that is going to give us a stable water supply for many years to come,” LaVere said of the Water Pure Project. 

His goals for 2019 include creating an economic development strategy, and he wants to see Ventura “truly become business friendly.” LaVere will also develop an updated coastal area strategic plan. 

Mayor LaVere wrapped up “A New Day in Ventura” somewhat poetically, using an analogy to a historic weather event that created beautiful, rolling waves entering Ventura waters. He said that now is like that rare event, with a new city council and exciting changes at hand. The mayor received a standing ovation by the attendees. 

2019-20 Budget Workshop #2

After the Mayor’s State of the City presentation, the city council took a brief recess, then returned to do their second Budget Workshop for fiscal years 2019-2020. The first Budget Workshop was held last month, while the final budget approval is scheduled for June, 2019. The main presentation was given by Interim Finance and Technology Director, Mary Eckman. 

The proposed General Fund Revenue Budget ($119 million) has the bulk of revenues sourced from property taxes and sales taxes equally, at 23 percent each. Most of the remainder will come from other taxes and charges for services. The lion’s share of the budget’s appropriations will be Police at 34 percent, Fire at 18 percent, and Parks & Rec at 16 percent. 

As previously mentioned during the Mayor’s State of the City, the Measure O budget for 2018 was $13.5 million. Ventura only spent $6.2 million of that allotment, however, so $7.3 million will carry over to 2019. 

The city’s budgets for wastewater and water are both projected to balance in 2019-20, with wastewater revenues/expenditures at $23.4 million, and water revenues/expenditures at $38.7 million. Of worthy note, however, are the Capital Improvement Plan figures for 2019 and 2020 for these categories. In 2019, water represents 28 percent of that budget, and wastewater representing 37 percent. For 2020, those figures jump to 60 percent and 55 percent, respectively. 

During the Public Comments period for the Budget, there was just one speaker. Sean Hughes, President of the Ventura County Fire Association, asked the council to direct staff to place Fire Station 4 back into the General Fund budget, and to use Measure O funds to increase their staffing. 

Following Mr. Hughes was the City Council Question & Comment period. 

Council Member Erik Nasarenko: Asked staff about a number of topics, ranging from sidewalks on the East End, to beautifying the “gateway” entrance areas to local cities in the county, and whether budget money would be applied toward those things. 

He then asked Ventura Police Chief Ken Corney about a line item budget request for criminal investigative technicians, specifically earmarked for gun violence. Chief Corney told the council that he intends to focus more on violence prevention than in the past. “We don’t necessarily need a person with a gun and a badge to do this job… what we’re proposing is an analyst-type position, a criminal investigative tech, a person who can actually carry a caseload and follow these people who have made these threats on a long term basis,” Corney said. 

Police Chief Ken Corney

Council Member Cheryl Heitmann: Asked staff what a $950,000 budget expenditure labelled “urban forests” was for. The answer was, “tree trimming,” as Ventura has 30,000 trees, and the city has been underfunded for this in the past. 

Council Member Christy Weir: Commented that residents passed Measure O with the idea that the extra tax they pay will go toward things they can directly see and benefit from in their own neighborhoods. “If we need to do city repairs on City Hall or fire stations or police stations, then we can figure out how to put that in our regular General Fund budget,” she said. 

Council also asked about budgeting for harassment training, animal control, and city beautification, among other local topics. Talk then turned to the “Push & Pull” concept with the current budget. Simply put, this is the council’s way to try to keep the budget balanced, the idea being, when an expenditure is added, some other expenditure is removed, such as a discretionary spending item. 

City Manager Alex McIntyre, who has only been on Ventura’s staff since November, 2018, discussed the challenges of “Push & Pull” within the city’s budget. “This is probably the tightest budgeting I’ve done in my career, and it’s the biggest budget I’ve done in my career,” he said. He told the council that he will come back (after all of these comments, suggestions and ideas) with a budget that is “earnest and honest,” despite the challenges of the city being both understaffed, and trying to play catch-up with the budget while at the same time, trying to move forward. 

City Manager Alex McIntyre

Cell Towers Near Residential Buildings

Near the end of Monday night’s meeting was “Public Communications,” when members of the public are allowed to speak on matters of concern. One speaker presented a timely issue to the council, which will likely receive follow-up attention during future meetings. 

William Lind: Ventura Resident. With the advent of 5G technology, he opposes small cell towers being installed in residential areas around Ventura. “There are no significant gaps in coverage in the City of Ventura… We need to stop this unjustified real estate grab by the telecom companies and the FCC,” he told the council. He also pointed out that the small cell towers will lower property values significantly, which can negatively affect property taxes and city finances. 

Mr. Lind also mentioned CA Assembly Bill 57 (2015), which exempted fire stations from having cell towers installed on them. “Studies show brain abnormalities in fire fighters exposed to the cell tower radiation. All citizens should be similarly protected,” he said. 

The next Ventura City Council Meeting is scheduled for Monday, April 8, 2019, at 6:00 pm. The agenda and video coverage for this meeting can be accessed by going to the following URL:  http://cityofventura.granicus.com/ViewPublisher.php?view_id=2. 

Kevin Harris

Kevin Harris is a reporter, editor and journalist, previous President of Cal State Northridge’s Society of Professional Journalists having worked for the LA Times and Newhall Signal. He is now also a Realtor and videographer, and lives with his two children in Thousand Oaks. 


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