Thomas Fire Victims Demand Answers from City Council

By Lori Denman-Underhill

Tears flowed like water as Thomas Fire victims asked City Council members for answers. Where was the water that evening?

All city council members and mayor, who were in attendance for the Ventura City Council meeting on the evening of June 4.

Ironically, the council showed a video about water to kick off the meeting where fire victims stood at the podium during public comments. During the Special Presentations and Announcements portion of this evening, the free sixth annual Water: Take 1 Film Festival on April 12 was recognized for their exemplary contributions in honoring locals in Ventura who do water conservation, resource management and sustainability.

The group produces short films that honor these individuals that make a difference in the issue of water. Ventura Water showcased certain honorees. A video was produced by the City and shown during the council meeting. It honored those in Ventura who lead the way in water conservation, teaching the community and leaving a legacy. City Council congratulated the Ventura Land Trust, Jim Ackerman and the Wyland Foundation, who were this year’s honorees. Craig Jones and the Ventura Water Team were thanked for the community education event.

Also discussed was last Friday’s Police Activities League Golf Tournament, where 120 golfers attended the 21stannual event. It was sponsored by Aera Energy and proceeds go to support school programs. The league works with over 600 youth.

Aera was given acknowledgement and thanks for their ongoing support of Ventura citywide and also local parks. The group provides opportunities to at-risk youth of Ventura meaningful recreation, that keeps them away from drugs and crime. AIR is a cause for PAL, and thanked the police and officers for their work with them to do PAL.

This is an example of a partnership that Aera, the City and the police department can work together to make Ventura better, council said.

Closed Session Report

Heitman announced that the Ventura Council for Seniors is doing a presentation to seniors with diabetes at Lexington Assisted Living in Ventura. Seniors can call about the event on June 19.

Monahan then reported that last Saturday evening there was a fashion show to raise money for those affected by Thomas Fire at the Ventura County Museum.

Public Communications Section:

Vietnam Veterans of Ventura County spoke. A man announced that from June 21 to 25 an event will occur at the Ventura County Government Center. There will be a moving wall available for viewing, 24 hours a day. A group of vets described the wall. It replicates the Vietnam Wall and it was first showed in 1984. Also, at the Veterans Memorial on Telephone Road on June 23, there will be a memorial event at the Veterans Memorial in the morning. They will pay homage to the 101 casualties from Ventura County. The Vietnam Veterans of Ventura thank Monahan for representing the City Council and supporting the veterans. Monahan thanked them and said the event will be outstanding. Donations are welcome at Lzventura.org.

Mr. Foley spoke, a 65-year resident of Pierpont Beach. He said that short-term rentals should not be allowed and he sees them as unregulated hotels.  A list of 300 locals signed the list that they do not want them there. He said that filing complaints on the City website do not work. He said that renters are being pushed out by buyers who then rent out them as short-term rentals. “Why is City Council supporting non residents, over the long time residents of Pierpont. What can we do?” he asked.

A woman stood up and said that she is reading a letter from the VC Reporter, regarding the incident at Aloha and the homeless. The letter read that we should not shame the mentally ill and homeless. It said that Ventura needs more transitional housing with target services to affect change. The letter also said we need to give more help to those with mental illness. The City Center Transitional Living Center lets homeless parents and children have a secure and safe place to live temporarily.

The City Center, read the letter, provides a room for a family has been transformed into a little home. Each family is required to get a job, savings account, while they have a room in a home. They get financial literacy courses Each family has returned to society. The City Center has housed 62 families, helping them become self sufficient, said this speaker. The speaker said to support the City Center and that a new year round shelter is needed.

Six months ago, this next speaker lost her home in the Thomas Fire. She said the fire victims meet and support each other at group meetings. “What happened to the water that night of the fire?” she asked of City Council to answer. She wants to know what steps are being taken when the next fire arrives. She asked City Council to demand a report. She said the entire city of Ventura needs to know. She said tearfully that her family and others who lost their homes are living by the mercy of the City of Ventura and insurance companies. And that someday, she wishes to finally “return home.”

The woman who just spoke who inquired about City Council giving answers took a seat. Her husband then stood up to thank companies including Patagonia for giving endless contributions to Thomas Fire victims. He belongs to the Thomas Fire Group. Many people who attend this group’s meetings do not know what they are going to to. Jeff Lambert or someone from the City should come to the next meeting because the group has many questions. He said to the new manager, Kevin Brown, relating to an article in The Breeze.  The speaker asked that Brown use his words carefully, when talking about the Ventura Thomas Fire and what happened with the water. The speaker claimed that there was no water problem the night of the fire. He asked Brown to be sensitive towards the fire victims in interviews. He said that there was no problem with the water (from Ojai), nor with the tanks. The speaker said that he has received no response from council on these comments and that he and also Sheldon Brown called council with questions.

Lori, a volunteer for the Healthcare for Homeless One Stop Programat Community Action of Ventura. She asks people how she can help them at tables and refer them to services. When they say they need housing, this woman refers them to case management and then find out there is a lack of affordable housing. This is ironic, she said, as there is the term Housing First. There are also challenges for mental illness, who has no home for them to sleep safely. “How can they “keep appointments” for mental health issues or if they are struggling with breaking addiction,” she asked.

This woman said that Housing First should provide a quiet and safe place where they are not constantly feeling unsafe. She said that, “Housing First is not contingent upon a person’s sobrietyor mental health or otherwise cleaning up their act. Housing First is a step towards achieving these goals.” This volunteer also claimed that Housing First would save money on law enforcement.

A question to be asked outside of this council meeting — would providing free housing to a group of persons who may be addicted to drugs and not given drug tests and also have no rules to follow, or be required to find employment actually decrease  costs in law enforcement in that area? Many community members of Ventura think not. The housing, referred to as “wet housing” or half way houses may turn into a “festering open sore of crime” like the one in San Francisco, as stated by David Pu’u in Citizens Journal.  A wet house also failed in Reno and there is also the Halaco site  in Oxnard, that was overrun by crime when not regulated.

The woman asked for more affordable housing in Ventura and also a year-round emergency shelter. She said that Measure O funds should help in this. She said we need to help these suffering human beings.

A man spoke up about the cost of Pure Water system being too high. He said the rate payers deserve the right to speak up about this. He suggested using recycled water and delay spending for the Pure Water. He said to use Ventura Water, which can pull water from many sources. He asked, “Why is the city of Ventura letting the Ventura River lay dormant for years after a flood?” It’s the cheapest and best quality water available. He asked the city to resolve this issue.

A speaker returned to speak about the housing situation in Ventura. He said there are plenty of avail beds to the homeless in Ventura. That we have limited resources and that we should not provide housing to those who cannot afford it. This man said that as an example, he drives to the Riverside area to see his mother. He said his mother wants to live here but can’t afford it. “Why are homeless vagrants allowed to live for free here?” he asked.

Consent Items

There were seven consent items on the consent calendar that were considered non-controversial and were approved by the City Council.

Public Hearing Items

2018 Property Lien Assessments was discussed. A safe and clean strategy by the city was discussed. There are opportunities for property owners to not be on this list that includes payment plans, the speaker said. After speakers, public Items closed. Weir said to approve the assessments and this was moved and seconded.

Next item was during Public Hearing. It was the “Victoria and Moon” Master Sign Program and Warrant to increase the maximum allowed Wall Sign area for both buildings. The requirements are filed in the City Council office.

Staff Presentation.

This section of City Council meeting discussed the subject of business sign sizes. There is a center at the corner of Victoria and Moon, a development that is an active construction site, known to the public where “Starbucks will be located.” The zoning for the property is T39. City claims the developer is looking to increase the size of signs and “take a unique play” upon the main sign. The two other buildings will be a multi-tenant building and Starbucks. City Staff has already approved the graphics. Staff found that the text was not consistent with the graphics.

The city staff is wondering about working together to create sensible sign sizes, esp. with the various tenants. Having a cap to the signs, at 70 feet, that would match the Starbucks sign, is recommended. Recommended were “conditions,” and also an amount of time and a deadline to be given for sake of consistency. Then establish sign rules of what will be printed on them.

There were also discussions about water resource reports and a water shortage event update.

From the meeting this evening, it looks like the community is asking the City Council for answers regarding the Thomas Fire and also requesting a year-round shelter for emergencies.

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

Agenda, June 4, City Council Regular Meeting: https://www.cityofventura.ca.gov/AgendaCenter/ViewFile/Agenda/_06042018-1615

Video, June 4, Ventura City Council Regular Meeting

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

Closed Sessionhttps://www.cityofventura.ca.gov/Search?searchPhrase=city%20council%20closed%20session

 

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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