Mike Johnson On the Issues
We are fortunate that Ventura was able to delay adopting its next budget by a month, giving staff the opportunity to revise the budget with a grim forecast of revenues. We are fortunate that this happened before we signed new contracts with city employees. And we are fortunate that our community has, relative to many cities, not suffered from as high a death toll. But many local business that had a bright future are now barely holding on. Some Venturans face financial ruin, not just a loss of income, but a loss of their wealth. Others will see pay cuts and unpaid furloughs. Many won’t be so lucky — they’ll be laid off. When the average rent for a two-bedroom apartment is $2,300, a married couple can have trouble hanging on if only one of them loses their job.
There are a handful of things the city can do to reduce the cost of living for struggling residents. ‘our first priority should be on capital, then land (by which I mean water). We must continue to cooperate with the Economic Development Collaborate, Women’s Economic Ventures, and local lenders to ensure local businesses know about small business loans, and have the tools to pursue them. Somebody who wants to build a new business should not face years of hearings, and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on architects and engineers and consultants and city fees, only to see their project go nowhere. Somebody with a local business that wants to fix up the parking lot, or widen the entrance, shouldn’t face years of hearings, and spend tens of thousands of dollars on architects and engineers and consultants and city fees before they can spend some money to make an improvement. I support nearly all the recommendations of the Matrix Report. City Council should create a Pandemic Recovery Task Force, City Council should closely examine Net Zero:
• Does the revenue come close to original estimates?
• How many projects drop out when they find out what their Net Zero bill will be?
• How many jobs and how much tax revenue has the city missed out on because of Net Zero?
• What is the cost to administer the program?
I supported the creation of a year-round, low-barrier shelter at the Homelessness Subcommittee, at the Planning Commission, at City Council, and at the Measure O Committee. The City Council must formally direct the Community Development Director to fast-track projects that exceed the bare minimum requirements for affordable housing. We must adopt an improved Housing Element Land Inventory. And we must apply Regional Housing Needs Assessment numbers evenly across all areas of the city. But cities can’t act in a vacuum. The city of Ventura must strengthen its ties with the County, and help the county implement a county-wide approach. Because of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision in Martin v Boise, cities have little choice but to find ways to provide shelter beds, which will mean cooperating with each other and the county. Ventura should reach out to other local governments to share our successes.
If a local government does nothing else, it must protect public safety. Police and Fire should be the first departments to be funded, and the last to be cut. The city has to cut $11 million from its original estimates for the 2020/2021 budget. I oppose the June 15 budget proposal, which would cut ten positions from the Police Department and two from the fire department.
Water is going to get more expensive, but City Council should not increase rates for residents on the lowest tier of monthly usage. With one big and one very large project on the horizon, we’ll be diversifying and expanding our water sources by hooking up to state water, and building the WaterPure facility. Together, those projects will cost about $300 million. So higher tiers of usage will need to be increased.
Economic Development is the main reason I’m running for City Council. A recession was on the horizon, but in the last three months the global economy suffered a shock unlike any we have seen. Venturans are losing their jobs, their savings, their investments at an unprecedented rate. Council must do everything it can to stop the bleeding. We have difficulty attracting capital to Ventura because we are notorious for being a black hole for investment. People spend hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to build something in this city, only to face roadblock after roadblock. So the development review process must be streamlined. High housing costs and low vacancy rates starve our local economy of qualified labor. And the cost of water for businesses is too high. The city’s new Economic Development Strategy should include a litany of goals, and helping existing businesses survive the pandemic crisis is paramount, even if the temporary policies they implement discourage new businesses while the crisis is ongoing. As we move out of this crisis, the EDC could revisit the issue, and might make attracting tourist dollars a top priority, such as to save our hospitality industry.
Three key routes have been neglected by the city: Telegraph, Loma Vista and Foothill. Improvement should be addressed in several ways. First, the College Area infrastructure must be brought up-to-date. Second, capital Improvement projects should be based on what traffic studies show. Third, we need to ensure any development’s impacts on traffic are carefully modeled, closely examined and mitigated. And fourth, we must enable and encourage other forms of transportation by adopting a rigorous Active Mobility Plan that goes beyond just cars and city buses.