Trash Rates; Street Lights, Adult Businesses… Council Meeting Fun in Ventura Monday Night

By Kevin Harris

The Ventura City Council approved a trash service increase, will keep the same outdated streetlights, and extended its contract for legal services dealing with adult businesses Monday night.

Trash and Recycling Rate Increase

Item number 10 during Monday’s City Council meeting was a Public Hearing on the proposed increase to the E.J. Harrison and Sons, Inc. franchise fee of 2% total, over the next year, on Ventura’s solid waste and recycling services. The hearing was presented by Ventura Public Works Director, Tulson Clifford. 

E.J. Harrison’s contract with the city, initially approved last August, is exclusive. It includes services for trash and recyclables pickup, as well as oversight of local street sweeping. Tonight’s fee increase approval could technically still be overturned, but only with a significant protest by residents – 50 percent of the 24 thousand or so notices sent out would have to decline, according to Prop. 218 requirements.

There was a moderate public attendance at the meeting, all over this issue, and a couple of those attending spoke after the initial presentation ended. One speaker wanted to know why the Harrison bills they receive in the mail are not broken down by services, like the other utility bills. Another speaker complained that his street never gets swept – a sentiment later repeated by Mayor Nasarenko.

Council Member Mike Tracy then asked whether they were up against a deadline for a decision. Could they put off the decision on the fee increase? A staff member reminded him, and the Council, that the fee increase was already approved, and that the purpose of tonight’s hearing was to confirm final passage of the fee increase – that the increase is all but set to go into effect.

Mayor Nasarenko then asked the audience if they had any written protests to submit and discuss before he closed the hearing, but there were none. The tally of all public protests was read; there were just 52 protests of the 24,179 notices that were sent out – nowhere near the required 50% to stop the fee increase.

But before the Council’s final vote, Council Member Tracy announced that he would not support the fee increase, in light of the recent gas tax increase and local water rate hike. “Let’s give our residents a break,” he said. 

Trash service rates in Ventura are well within the average for local cities. Beginning in July, 2017, the 1% increase (of the 2% total) will add about .30 cents to the basic residential bill, making it $28.14. All Council members except Tracy voted in favor of the increase. 

Council Member Mike Tracy

Street Lighting

Item 9 was another Public Hearing, and a Consent Item, for street lighting for District 36 – to maintain the same annual assessment rate for 2017-18 as previous. Presented by Public Works Director, Tulson Clifford. 

Clifford explained during his brief presentation that the company the city contracts with for streetlights covers about 90% of streetlights in the district, or about 80,000 lights. This year, the assessment is expected to cost about $875,000, not including electricity. 

Immediately following the presentation was a Q&A period between the Council and staff, where Mayor Nasarenko deducted that, due to its contract with SCE, the city has little to no control over its street lights. This concerns the Mayor not because of current costs of the program, which are within acceptable limits, but because it prevents the city from upgrading its street lights from high pressure sodium to the longer lasting LED lights, which use much less electricity as well.

Despite that issue, item 9 passed unanimously.

Mayor Erik Nasarenko

More Money to the Lawyers to Regulate Local “Adult” Businesses

Earlier during the meeting (Consent Item 4), was a request to authorize the City Attorney to extend his contract with the law firm of Mayers Nave for an additional $70,000, to include within additional planning consulting services , for potentially up to $281,834, total. This is to continue assisting the city with updating its adult business regulations. 

Right away, Council Member Matt LaVere said he noticed that the city is spending an “excessive amount” in fees to this law firm, and asked City Attorney Gregory Diaz to explain how the fees got to where they are. Diaz responded with the following:

* They had to train staff to ask the right questions and stay within their legal limitations when dealing with adult businesses – who have full Constitutional Rights, and tend to be very sensitive about defending them. 
* One adult business is currently suing the city, and time and resources are needed to continue fighting that case.
 
“Most likely, the most expensive part has to do with land use and zoning with adult businesses,” Diaz told the Council. After explaining that staff had to do extra legal research and work related to zoning laws, he asked the council, “What do you want to put next to an adult business? A church? A school? A residential area? They walked all of the sensitive areas around those industrial zones (of the adult businesses), and that was an additional expense.” 
 
Diaz also pointed out that by paying these legal fee snow, the city will likely prevent paying much more later by losing a future lawsuit to an adult business. The Consent Item passed unanimously. 
 

City Attorney Gregory Diaz

New City Website

Near the end of the meeting, Item 11, was a City Council “Formal Item,” where the city’s new website was unveiled. Presented by IT Director Tim Cool and Senior Management Analyst Kelly Flanders, the website update is long overdue – the last one being in 2010. 

The city chose the company Civicplus as the website provider, a very experienced provider that is also very competitively priced in the industry. Even though the company spends $1 million for online security, the new website only cost Ventura $69,000, with an annual maintenance cost of $15,132 – which covers support, backups, analytics and upgrades. 

Aside from being very clean looking, modern, easy to navigate and functional, the new website is also highly mobile-device friendly. The access the site, go to www.cityofventura.ca.gov.

The next Ventura City Council meeting will be Monday, June 5, 2017, at 6:00 pm. You can watch this and other past meetings by going to www.cityofventura.ca.gov, then clicking on the “Videos” button, and going to the “available archives” section, where the video can be watched or downloaded. 


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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One Response to Trash Rates; Street Lights, Adult Businesses… Council Meeting Fun in Ventura Monday Night

  1. David Grau May 25, 2017 at 10:12 pm

    Nice reporting. Before the council meeting Ventura County Taxpayers Association emailed each council member expressing our concern about the 40 percent increase in the franchise fee tax.

    I realize tonights decision is simply related to the “Protest Ballots” – would be surprised if more than a handful protest due to the lack of transparency in the way these notices are sent out.

    My concern is when is enough, enough?

    As you know2016 taxable sales (measure of economic activity) increased in almost every city in Ventura County except for Ventura. In fact taxable sales in Ventura fell 0.6 percent – the city economy shrunk. Contrasting that pathetic result with surrounding cities who all grew solidly.

    The reported reduction in economic activity occurred before the city successfully pushed for and received an increase in the sales tax rate. If you can’t grow the local economy, you might as well increase the tax rate.

    The other point I would like to raise is last year median pay for workers in Ventura (those who pay all the city taxes) was $35,755 or 13 percent below averages for Camarillo, Thousand Oaks, Oxnard and Simi.

    Contrast for a moment the stark difference between the low median pay of $35,755 for people who work in Ventura with the high median pay (excluding benefits) of $90,241 for City employees.

    Ventura’s economy shrunk last, while people who work in Ventura generally do so at a lower pay than surrounding cities and Ventura city workers median pay was 2.5 times median pay for workers in Ventura’s private sector.

    Then Sacramento increased the car tax and the gas tax – both highly regressive taxes that will negatively impact our residents and tonight the City of Ventura is increasing the trash tax (franchise fee) 40 percent. Why? Because you can.

    I know, each tax increase by itself doesn’t amount to much, but for a $35,755 per year worker – it matters.

    In 2015 you passed the water tax (tiered rates) because of the drought, in 2016 you passed the Net Zero tax on developers, in 2017 you passed the sales tax (on everything we buy) and now the trash tax. Can’t keep track of fee increases.

    When is enough, enough?

    Thanks,

    David Grau
    VCTA

    Reply

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