Friday, December 25, 2009

Chief Miller's Last Shift

At about 9 o’clock this morning, a big Ventura Police Department SUV pulled up in front of my house on Anacapa Street in Midtown. I hope it didn’t scare my neighbors into thinking something had gone awry on Christmas morning. In fact, it was just Police Chief Pat Miller picking me up. Today was Pat’s last day on the job, and – along with a reporter and a photographer from the Star – I decided to ride along with him on his last shift.

The fact that Pat was working the beat on Christmas Day on the last day of his career is a testament to Pat and to the humane approach he has instilled in the Police Department. By longstanding tradition, the senior brass at Ventura PD work shifts on Christmas Day so that the younger officers can celebrate Christmas with their families. Today, Pat was working half a shift – 6 a.m to noon. – before heading home to be with his family. (Ventura PD officers work 12-hour shifts, 6 am to 6 pm or vice versa.)

It was mostly a quiet morning, interrupted only by a few typical domestic disputes. (“They don’t see each other all year long,” Pat joked, “and then they wake up on Christmas morning and realize they don’t like each other.”) Pat was assigned to the citywide beat, which meant he roamed all the way from Ventura Avenue to Victoria Avenue. It was clear that almost every street, almost every block, held some memory for him – good ones and bad ones.

Like every cop on every shift, he drove down Olive Street on the Avenue to figuratively tip his cap to the heroic Dee Dowell, who was killed there in 1978 -- the first Ventura police officer ever to be killed in the line of duty. And driving past De Anza Middle School reminded him of the time he spent all day with a distraught 13-year-old who finally revealed that she’d been molested by a relative; 15 years later, the girl – now a woman – called up Pat Miller to thank him, because he had been the person who helped her face her demons and turn her life around.

Pat was clearly born to be a cop. His family moved to Ventura when he was in high school, and at the age of 21 he went to work as a police officer in San Fernando, where his father was also a cop. In 1981, he switched over to the Ventura Police Department and he’s been here ever since.

The low-key older guy driving around in the police SUV talks calmly but with authority about his life and his career and his police work. Much of what he says is sobering. There was his first day on the job in San Fernando, when a fellow officer was killed and he worked the crime scene all day. There was the time when he knocked on a door and, for no particular reason, stepped a few inches to one side. The guy inside had a gun and shot right through the door; if Pat hadn’t moved, he’d have been hit and maybe killed. There was his recollection that the guy who sat in front of him and the guy who sat behind him in the police academy both were killed in the line of duty. And then there was his former partner Mark Riddering, who battled Lou Gehrig’s Disease for 13 years before finally passing away.

All these stories are told in a very matter-of-fact tone as the SUV tools around Ventura, interspersed with the occasional moment when his street antenna went on the alert – like the moment near my office at Main and the Avenue, when two guys scrambled out of a beat-up old car and left quickly because they apparently didn’t want to be seen by a cop.

Like all cops, Pat is always on the beat and loves chasing bad guys best. I can recall a time three or four years ago when I was waiting to meet him and he never showed up. It turned out that he had chased a bad guy all the way to Oxnard, then ran after him – Pat in his street clothes – only to be bitten by Oxnard PD’s K-9 dog. But that’s Pat. He always wants to be in the middle of the action.

And like a lot of cops, Pat has a great dark sense of humor. Always blunt, he is never funnier than when he is “telling it like it is,” even when that’s not the most politic thing to do. A few months ago, at a City Council meeting, after we had spent many hours hashing out consecutive items about regulating massage parlors, dealing with medical marijuana dispensaries, and considering whether to let homeless people catch some winks in their automobiles under highly supervised conditions, Pat broke the council chamber up – at midnight or so – by saying into the microphone, “Sure, come to Ventura – get a massage, smoke a joint, and sleep in your car!” So far our tourist bureau hasn’t picked up on Pat’s slogan.

To me, however, there’s far more to Pat than the passionate beat cop and the police officer with the dry sense of humor. After all, here’s a guy who’s a member of the President’s Homeland Security Advisory Council; he teaches homeland security courses at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey. Beyond that, of course, there are three other things about Pat which – combined with the beat cop’s passion – make Chief Miller one of the most remarkable people I have ever met.

The first is his passion for preventing crimes as well as solving them. Nobody has been more forceful in arguing for crime prevention programs that Pat has. Gang prevention programs, police officers in the schools, after-school programs – Pat has advocated for all of these ideas and more, often when it meant taking resources away from his men on the beat. That’s because he has always believed in “community policing”. Our cops are not an occupying force that drives by in armored vehicles. They are people you know, people you trust, people who help you and your neighbors and your kids. It’s a lot better for everybody – including the police -- if the teenager at risk stays out of trouble in the first place. Pat knows that you have to be both a cop and a social worker to keep Ventura safe.

The second is the way his leadership style focuses on results. Pat always says that if you can’t say what you’re after in 20 words or less, you’ve failed. He usually succeeds, and this no-nonsense style has helped him set clear goals and motivate his officers to achieve them. In doing this, he focuses – as police departments so often do these days – on tangible and measurable results. His proudest accomplishment is simply that crime has gone down while he’s been chief. But it takes meeting many other statistical targest to meet that larger goal.

For example, under Pat’s leadership, the Ventura PD set a goal of responding to major calls within 5 minutes 90% of the time. When he set the goal, the department hit the 5-minute response time 50% of the time. Now, with no appreciable increase in resources, it’s 80%. Pat may be a beat cop at heart, but he understands how to use information and numbers and goals to get the job done, and I admire that.

The last thing is just his sheer determination. There’s no brick wall this guy won’t walk through when he’s determined to do something. (When I asked him whether seeing a fellow officer killed his first day on the job made him angry, he answered: “No, just more determined.”) Pat played a major role in our attempt to pass a tax increase in 2006 to fund public safety because he had more passion and more determination than anybody else. With our Fire Chief, Mike Lavery, Pat made more than 300 presentations about the sales tax. And he knew how to boil it down to 20 words or less: A nickel on every $20 purchase to stay safe. We didn’t win – but we got 62% of the vote and I think people are much more attuned to public safety in Ventura than ever before.

About 10:45, we responded to an accident at Five Points. Not exactly a fender-bender, either; an SUV slammed into a sedan, the damage on the right side of the sedan is pretty nasty, and ambulances are required for both the driver of the SUV, who can’t turn his head, and the passenger in the sedan, who looks like she hurt her shoulder. Almost first on the scene, Pat goes to both injured folks, puts his arm on them, makes sure their injuries are not extremely serious. Once the paramedics arrive, he backs off and lets other do their job. There he is, the chief of police, one hour away from retirement, standing on Main Street directing traffic as the ambulances pull away.

Back at the police station on Dowell Drive (yes, named for Dee Dowell), Pat greets his daughter Nicole, a veteran dispatcher who’s going on duty at noon. (She had to wait for him to retire to be rehired, since a department head can’t hire relatives.) At just before noon, Nicole puts on her headset, and Pat heads out to the SUV with Ken Corney, his longtime assistant chief, who will take over as chief as soon as Pat steps down.

Pat sits down in the driver’s seat of the SUV, picks up the microphone and says, “151 – 10-C – 10-7.” 151 is his badge number. 10-C means he’s the chief. 10-7 means he’s checked out.

He stands up and Ken Corney grabs the mike. “199 – 10-C – 10-8.” 199 is Ken’s bad number. 10-8 means he’s ready to go. And 10-C means that Ken, not Pat, is now the chief.

Which seems fine with Pat. He shakes everybody’s hand, thanks them all, cracks a joke, and drives away, ready for some new challenge in life.

Thanks, Pat. It’s been a privilege to ride with you – not just today, but for the last 5 years.

You can download Pat's "final 10-7" here.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Prosperity and Sustainability

Last night, our new City Council was seated. Congratulations to Mike Tracy, who was seated as a new councilmember and selected as Deputy Mayor. Thanks to Christy Weir, who stepped down as mayor, and Ed Summers, who stepped off the council after four years of excellent service!

The council selected me as mayor for the next two years. I am very grateful for their support. Here's what I said at the meeting:

It’s long-standing custom to make this moment about the new mayor, who spends a lot of time thanking people and talk all about themselves. Don’t worry. I’ll get to that in a minute.

But I just want to take a second to step back to acknowledge what this moment is really about. What we have just witnessed is something that, in most parts of the world, would be considered nothing less than a miracle. The people seated up here will be responsible for governing this city for the next two years, and they were selected by you, the voters. And the Deputy Mayor and I are sitting in these chairs because, as our city charter calls for, the seven members of the city council have selected us.

In most parts of the world, you don’t elect the people who govern your community -- and even if there is an election, there’s no guarantee that the people elected will survive to serve.

I know it may be kind of silly to point all this out. After all, we're at zero risk for a coup d'etat. But it really is kind of a miracle. So the first thing we should be thankful for is that … in our nation and in our community … the democratic process and the rule of law prevail.

As voters, you may not always agree with what we do. But at least you know how we got here. You know where to find us. And you know that we are ultimately accountable to you.

The first thing I’d like to do is thank my six fellow councilmembers for selecting me as mayor for the next two years.

Being the mayor in Ventura is a tricky job. You have to be simultaneously a leader and a servant of the council; and, of course, a leader and a servant of the community as well. This is a job that has to be approached with a lot of humility. We’re a bunch of independent thinkers. But in these tough times, we will all have to pull together. I will do my best to herd the cats and still be responsive to the cats as well.

I’d especially like to thank Mayor Weir for her leadership over the lastwo years. Christy, I don’t think you knew what you were getting into when you took this gavel in December of 2007. You have had to deal with far more difficulty and financial hardship than anyone would have expected. And you’ve managed to face with two remarkable traits that don’t usually go together: You’ve stayed upbeat and positive about the future of our community; and at the same time you’ve been steadfast and held your ground when you needed to. Anybody sitting in this chair would do well to emulate your approach to this job.

There are so many people I would like to thank, including those who are here tonight and those who are elsewhere, but I will single out only a few.

I miss my mother, Fran, every day. Many of you remember her. Although she lived to see me first elected in 2003, I still wish she were here today to both inspire me and pester me. I miss my father too. Dad’s been gone for many years, but he was my mentor on political and civic affairs almost from the time we could hold a conversation. I know he’d be proud. He was a stubborn guy – back in our hometown, he ran as a renegade school board candidate in 1947 and almost won, but redeemed himself in 1948 by running again and getting creamed.

I’d especially like to thank my daughter Sara, who came down from college in Northern California to be here today. Sara kind of grew up here at city Hall during her middle and high school years and everybody around this building misses her. Sara inspires me every day. Just by the way she lives her life, she reminds me that the most important thing you can do every single day is wake up determined to make a difference in the world. Sara, I hope my service as mayor helps make your world a better place decades from now.

There are so many other people who have inspired and helped me here, but in the interest of getting on with it I think I will have to thank them individually.

Over the next few weeks the council will work out our agenda for the next two years. This won’t be an easy task. As a community, Ventura has taken a lot of blows in the last year or two. And I hate saying it, but I expect we’ll take a few more before the hard times are done. It is not a time to nurture resentment and assign blame. It is a time to pull together for the good of our community.

I can’t predict what direction the council will likely take, or how we will decide to get there. But I do know two things. First, we’re going to have to reinvent the way we do a lot of things – both here at City Hall and in the community at large. And second, we’re going to have to work together as a community more aggressively than we ever have before.

Ventura is a terrific place to live – so much so that sometimes we become a little complacent and often take it for granted that somehow or other things will work out fine in the end. But in this time of financial crisis, we can’t take anything for granted. We must devote ourselves to reshaping the way we do things in order to lay the foundation for a future that is both prosperous and sustainable.

We must be prosperous as a community , because without prosperity we cannot achieve anything else we want. But our prosperity must be enduring, based on achieving long-term economic goals, not short-term profits. Ventura has reinvented its economy many times on the past, and we are well-positioned to reinvent our economy again in order to ensure generations of prosperity.

We must be financially sustainable as a city government, because unless we are financial sustainable we will not be able to provide our constituents with the things they want and need. This will require not just increasing revenues, but reinventing how we do things, sharing community resources and helping each other, so that we will never again be faced with the difficult choices we are confronting right now.

And finally we must also be an ecologically sustainable community as well. As the Copenhagen conference begins today, climate change to most people in the world is an abstraction. To us it is not. The sea level will rise. It will rise in this city. It will rise in this neighborhood. And it will rise in our lifetimes. You can’t prosper when you are drowning.

If we make progress on all these things – enduring prosperity, a financially sustainable city government, and an ecologically sustainable community – then we will go a long way toward achieving our most important goal, which is to maintain and improve the quality of life of the people who live in Ventura, both today and in the future.

These are big challenges. But I look forward to working with the council and the community to lay the foundation for a better future. For the next two years I will do my best to be a leader and a servant to my colleagues on the council and the community at large.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Wright's Final Hours

Back in 1997, when my book The Reluctant Metropolis was published, I arranged to do a book reading and signing at the Ventura Bookstore on Main Street downtown. We did the book reading upstairs in the Odd Fellows Hall and then sold the books downstairs in the cozy confines of the bookstore itself. I loved that bookstore. It had been around for decades, and for most of that time it was about the only place you could go in Ventura to purchase a brand-new, just-published book. The shelves and aisles were crowded, and the selection of books was somehow simultaneously quirky and very solid, just like the owner, Ed Elrod – a local guy who knew everybody in town.

The Ventura Bookstore is long gone now. (The space is now occupied by Heart’s Delight Clothiers.) It closed down soon after Barnes & Noble opened up out on Telephone Road. Ed Elrod joined other independent booksellers around the country in suing Barnes & Noble and Borders for driving small bookstores like Ventura Bookstore out of business – a lawsuit they predictably elost. Few people remember the Ventura Bookstore today, but I do. I still miss it. Barnes & Noble is great – it has way more books and a much better atmosphere, which in a way is better for Ventura, and it is teeming with people 14 hours a day, 7 days a week. But somehow it doesn’t replace the Ventura Bookstore or the wonderful feeling of having a great bookstore right on Main Street downtown.

I got to thinking about the Ventura Bookstore tonight when I joined a group of about 40 or so people at Wright Library to grieve over the library’s closing. It was a very sad moment, because Wright is justly recognized as a great neighborhood institution for the people who live near Ventura College and all the students who go to school near there. (Half of the students in Ventura Unified go to school within a mile of Wright.) No matter what libraries evolve into in the future in Ventura, nothing will ever fill Wright’s place.

For the last hour or two before the 8 p.m. closing, folks milled around, talking and checking out books. Some were library advocates who have come to accept the loss of Wright; others were angry patrons who wanted to participate in a night-long vigil. After closing time, Library Director Jackie Griffin said the staff had to go home and asked people to leave. Many of the lights were turned off. Some people left, and a group of perhaps 20 remained. They began to chant, “Keep Wright Open,” and continued to do so for maybe 10 or 15 minutes. Then Debbie Giles, one of our most wonderful longtime community activists, asked the folks if they would like to speak their thoughts or ask questions.

For the next two hours, Jackie Griffin and I talked with these folks, answering questions and engaging in a dialogue with them. Little by little the crowd thinned out, but 10 or 15 people stayed till well past 10 o’clock to talk. Sometimes people yelled at me; once or twice I lost my cool and yelled back. Many people made it extremely clear that they don’t trust the City Council and a few clearly believe that somehow or other money has been mismanaged or Wright has been cheated by the county system. I don’t believe these things but I understand they are part of grieving a loss.

As time went on, however, we talked more and more about different ways that we might be able to raise enough money to maintain our current level of library service; or other ideas dealing with Wright or and our library system in town. Over time, this became, for me, a truly remarkable experience. It’s exactly the kind of conversation we on the City Council should have with our constituents every day – close up, emotional, intense, one-on-one. It was exhausting, but wonderful. It’s the kind of “town hall” discussion I believe we on the council must engage in more often.

The bottom line, of course, was that everybody in the room wanted me to tell them I would find a way to keep the library open. And, of course, I was unable to make them happy. During the course of the evening, three ideas emerged.

First, to use some of the $500,000 or so in funds set aside for a new library to operate Wright in the next year or two.

Second, to alternate days at Wright and Foster indefinitely.

Third, to “mothball” Wright rather than dismantle it and put a parcel tax exclusively for libraries on the ballot in June.

The first two ideas are clearly the most serious ideas to consider if the goal is to keep Wright open at any cost. As to the first one, the council’s policy throughout this financial crisis has been not to use “one-time” money for operating purposes. I believe that’s simply trading tomorrow for today, and it doesn’t solve the problem of not having a financially sustainable library program in the city (No one – not even the two council members who voted against my motion last week – proposed this solution publicly at our meeting.) As to the second, I never liked the idea and I believe that Jackie is right when she says that it may be okay temporarily but it’s not operationally sustainable in the long run.

As to mothballing Wright and running a parcel tax, I’m certainly open to the idea. But it would require a lot of work on the part of a lot of people and I don’t think it would pass. Nevertheless, I look forward to talking with library advocates and patrons about the idea in the weeks ahead.

But I think there is far, far more to the future of libraries in this town than wrestling with the Wright question. Last week at the City Council, the motion I made – and passed by the council – contained several pieces to it. All are important to bear in mind as we move forward. They include the following:

-- To accelerate our existing process of long-term strategic planning for library service in the city. Our library strategic planning task force faces one major decision that has an enormous ripple effect: Should we focus on one large central library, as Camarillo has, or many small libraries serving individual neighborhoods? I believe that if we choose the latter, we will probably – for cost reasons – have to consolidate our libraries with other neighborhood-level services (parks, rec programs, senior and youth programs), which means we’ll have to reinvent the libraries themselves so they can be smaller and still effective.

-- Explore with the library agency unconventional ways to bring library service to East Ventura. This may mean a bookmobile, but it may also mean promoting online alternatives and very localized library systems – for example, ordering a book online through the library agency and then “checking it out” at a kiosk in your neighborhood. Technologically, we’re totally capable of this now.

-- Work with Ventura College on providing library services through the college as well. This could mean things like, publicizing those services the college library does provide that are of value to the community (for example, certain research materials and computers) and seeing whether any services that were provided at Wright (for example, large-print books for senior citizens) could be provided at the college library.

-- Negotiating with the college for ongoing use of the building. Even if the college does take over the Wright Library building, I think it might be possible for the community to still use it for certain things – meetings and events, for example, or maybe even a homework center after school for all the high school kids who go to school nearby. Or perhaps we could provide a pick up and dropoff spot for books ordered by library patrons on line.

These are just a few ideas. As we work through this transition, there will be many others. Just as an example: I am concerned that the Vivian Distin Garden, named for Johnny Cash’s first wife and Roseann Cash’s mother, a longtime Ventura resident, may not survive on the Wright property. But that’s a community asset too.

Over the next few weeks and months, all of us will grieve in our own way. Since it first became apparent that Wright is likely to close, I have visited the library many times – often at night or on Sundays, when it is closed, so I can contemplate what it means to me. I remember all the times my mother volunteered there – and even the July 4th when the librarians let Mom and me join them in their own special area on the Wright property to watch the fireworks. I remember taking my daughter, now 19, to the children’s area when she was two or three – and meeting her after school at Wright when she was in high school. And I remember all the times I spent there reading books, magazines, and newspapers. Someday, different libraries – or even different types of libraries – will be available to all of us. But, as with the Ventura Bookstore, nothing will ever take Wright’s place.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Wright Library: Much To Grieve, But Much To Be Thankful For

As many of you have probably already read, this morning even the Star came up short in its quest to find a way to keep Wright Library open. After running through all the possible ways we in Ventura might come up with the funds to keep Wright open, the Star’s last “Hail Mary” pitch was to put on a Kevin Costner benefit concert.

The Star is not alone in wanting to wave a magic wand to solve Ventura’s library problem. Over the past couple of weeks, I have received and read an extraordinary range of communications about the possible closure of Wright Library. Most people who have contacted me directly have simply expressed great disappointment that the library might close. Many have asked – as the Star did today – why we can’t wave some magic wand to keep the library open. Some have engaged in an almost obsessive analysis of every last dollar in the library budget to prove that Ventura is being short-changed. And a few have accused me of being part of a conspiracy to close the library.

All of these viewpoints are understandable as we work through our collective grief at the closing of a beloved institution. The last thing I want to do is close Wright Library, especially with five pre-paid years left on the lease with Ventura College. As many of you are aware, it has been a part of my family’s life for decades. My daughter -- now in college – grew up there from the time she was a toddler until she graduated from Foothill Technology High School across the street. My mother is still remembered lovingly by the Wright staff as a dedicated volunteer.

Unfortunately, for 15 years as we have struggled to keep Wright open, we have not reached a community consensus on how to deal with the most basic problem: If we are going to maintain our current level of library service, we will have to provide more money from our community to do so. Again and again, our community has expressed a strong wish to keep Wright open. Unlike many of our surrounding communities, however, Venturans have chosen not provide the augmented funding needed to keep it open.

And so now, with libraries as with so many other public services, we face a difficult choice. We have to live within our means. That means cutting back our library service to a level that will be financially sustainable for the next few years while we determine how to create a solid long-term foundation for excellent library service in the future.

Even though the underlying facts are grim, as Thanksgiving approaches I believe we have an awful lot to be thankful for on the library front in Ventura. Even if Wright closes as scheduled next week, we as a community are endowed with great gifts that can help maintain library service for now and create great libraries in the future.

First, we should be thankful for all of the people and organizations that have allowed us to have more than 40 years of continuous library service at Day and Telegraph.

Over the years, our community has benefited from the remarkable generosity of others in building and maintaining Wright. We must have everlasting thanks to Helen P. Wright herself and to Ventura College, which has agreed to forego the use of their property for more than 40 years so that Wright could be available to the public. In our thanks, we must also remember the remarkable efforts of the San Buenaventura Friends of the Library, not only for their heroic efforts in keeping Wright open this year but for their dedication day in and day out to ensure that all our Ventura libraries have enough money for new books. I’m thankful for the Ventura Auto Dealers Association, which provided almost $70,000 to bail Wright out one year; and my colleagues and predecessors on the City Council, who committed $50,000 to $100,000 several times (during a better economy) to do the same. Finally, I’m thankful for my colleagues on the County Library Services Commission, who agreed for more than a decade to provide subsidies from countywide and state funds so we could keep Wright open.

But now, tax revenue for the city, the county, the library system, and the state are all in decline and will continue to go down for the foreseeable future; all these government agencies are cutting back on everything from salaries to paper clips. Private donors such as the car dealers are struggling to stay in business, and the faithful Friends – after raising an amazing $100,000 in five months – are tapped out and exhausted.

Second, we should be thankful that we have E.P. Foster Library to fall back on – and we should be especially thankful that the City and private donors paid for a major renovation and expansion only ten years ago.

Yes, Wright is more centrally located than Foster, and parking is easier there. But the fact is that it is a third the size of Foster. Foster may not be in a convenient location for many people, but it is the only building we currently have that is capable of serving as a large, central library.

I don’t favor the alternating days idea. It was confusing and frustrating the last time we tried it, back in the early ‘90s. We will have two locations, which is more convenient for patrons, but many of our materials are unavailable to the patrons at any given time. And because we still have to operate both buildings, it doesn’t save that much money.

That means we have to consolidate library service in one location – at either Wright of Foster.

Close Wright in order to consolidate at Foster, and we can easily move all the materials, personnel, and programs (including the popular Paws for Reading) to Foster. We lose a convenient location, but we retain the guts of our library service. We have a solid foundation to build on in the future.

But close Foster in order to consolidate at Wright, and we lose most of the library materials located here in Ventura. Because Wright is not big enough to accommodate more materials, most of the books accumulated over many generations here in Ventura will be distributed to libraries in other cities. We lose dozens of computers that are in use from morning till night every day – a vital resource for our community at a time when so many people are looking for jobs. We lose the genealogy room. We lose the guts of our library service here in Ventura – and it will be almost impossible to rebuild it, ever.

So we should be thankful that our predecessors on the City Council, at the library agency, and at the Friends of the Library had the foresight, a decade ago, to expend more than $2 million in tax funds and private donations to renovate and expand Foster. A dozen years ago, when I was first appointed to the city’s Library Advisory Commission, many people wanted Foster torn down. It was old, cramped, poorly ventilated, and uncomfortable. But the second floor was opened up for public library use for the first time ever, and the entire building was renovated.. Now, we are able to consolidate our library service in a building that is in good shape – airy, comfortable, spacious. It’s far from perfect – it’s not a fabulous building, like Camarillo’s new library or even Oxnard’s downtown library – but we are lucky to have such a well-renovated library to fall back on in these hard times. The choices would be far more grim if Foster’s renovation had not occurred a decade ago.

Third, we should be thankful that Ventura’s libraries have dedicated funding of about $2 million a year that can’t be used for anything else.

The $2 million total is not nearly as much as we would like, obviously. But it’s $2 million that goes straight to the library agency for use in Ventura, derived from the property taxes that people in the Ventura area pay each year. This money can’t be diverted by the city or the county to any other use.

To my mind, what this means is that, if we consolidate library service at Foster, we have temporarily fallen back to a fiscally sustainable level of library service. Our libraries will have taken an enormous hit. But we will be in the position of saying that we are now living within our means, and no further service cuts are acceptable.

And fourth, we should be thankful for Ventura’s library advocates – strong, passionate, and giving – because we are going to need their brains, their passion, and their effort going forward.

The whole battle to keep Wright open has reminded us that Ventura is endowed with creative, passionate, and committed library advocates. This is our greatest community asset as we move forward and try to shape a strong future for libraries in our community.

The truth is that libraries are in transition, and we cannot be sure what they will look like – or precisely how they will deliver library services – in the future. Increasingly, the role of providing library services is divorced from the physical location of the library. So as we move forward we have to figure out how best to provide services in a cost-effective manner, and what type of physical locations are required for libraries and other community services.

Even as our library system has struggled with budget cuts, we have made tremendous strides in providing library services online. With a library card from your own computer, you can already access many databases that would be too expensive for individuals, and even download e-books and audio books. Soon, you might even be able to load your Kindle with an e-book at a library kiosk anywhere in town – just like going to the ATM.

But libraries are still important as community gathering places too. That’s why the loss of Wright is so huge to the surrounding neighborhood. As we move forward as a community, we will also have to make some decisions about the physical location of libraries. Should there by just one big one, as there is in Camarillo? Should we have many small libraries? Can we afford many small libraries – or should we combine library service with senior services, youth services, and many other possible services on a neighborhood level for cost-effectiveness?

I don’t know the answers to these questions. But I do know we will need all the brains, all the dedication, and all the passion we can must in the months and years ahead to figure out. And so the last thing that I am thankful for is the dedication and creativity of the people serving right now on our city’s library task force, who are charged with figuring out what the future of Ventura’s libraries will look like. If you want to know move about task force, you can contact Peter Brown at

There is much to grieve over in the likely closure of Wright Library. But there is much to be thankful for in this community that has always been so dedicated to libraries – and, I’m sure, will continue to be in the future.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Message From Last Tuesday

We have to try harder to live within our means. We know it will be painful. We’re trusting you – very cautiously trusting you – to make this work. And we’ll be watching you very closely.

As one of your elected representatives, that’s what I’m taking away from last Tuesday’s election results. I’m committed to taking this message from the voters seriously. All of us on the City Council must work hard to earn the trust of the voters every day. This is always true, but it’s even more urgent now. So over the next few months I hope to be out there in the community more than ever – at neighborhood meetings, service club luncheons, church services, and so forth – to listen to what you have to say.

Measure A, the sales tax measure, was soundly defeated – about 56%-44%. Although three of the four incumbents were re-elected, in general incumbent vote totals were down substantially from last time. Even the big winner of the night – former police chief Mike Tracy, who finished first – was not a runaway victor. Clearly, the voters have decided to put us on a short leash. (The county has yet to count several thousand votes, but I don’t see the outcome changing as a result.)

It would be easy for us, your elected representatives on the City Council, to chalk a lot of these things up to some factor beyond our control, and in so doing escape blame. The economy is in terrible shape. People are in a “Vote No” mood. There was a huge field of candidates. Turnout was very low, as it often is in these off-year city elections.

All of these statements are true, and each one of them played a role in how the election turned out. But we on the City Council cannot wish away the most important message from this election: We will have to work hard to re-establish as strong and trusting relationship with the voters who turned out last Tuesday.

The short-term will be painful. There is no magic bullet here.

We have already made a lot of cuts – eliminating 40 positions, cutting 10% of the payroll, reducing the budget by $11 million – but there will be lots more cuts to come. In the campaign for Measure A, the sales tax measure, we tried to be up-front about the fact that if the measure did not pass, we would be forced to close Wright Library immediately, eliminate our innovative roving fire engine Medic Engine 10, cut back on park maintenance, and possibly reduce our staff in both the police and fire departments. Now we will have little choice but make these cuts – and make them within the next couple of weeks.

Nobody will like this, least of all those of us you have elected to the City Council. But the results of the election suggest to me that there is a community consensus that this is how we should proceed in the short run.

In the longer term, hard times do provide us with an opportunity to rethink what we as a city government do and how we do it. We’re already done a lot of this, but we’re going to have to do a lot. And we on the City Council can’t do all this rethinking. We need your help in figuring out what to do.

Again, there is no magic bullet – no one thing that will solve all the problems, restore prosperity, suddenly free up the money we need to pay for all the things we want. There is, instead, more hard work ahead on everybody’s part – yours and ours. It will take a million little steps to get where we need to go. Obviously, we at City Hall must restrain spending as much as we can – and we must pursue responsible business growth as a way of increasing our tax revenue without increasing our tax rates. I’m committed to both those things, as I stated last summer when I wrote a blog laying out five points contained in what I called “The Ventura Covenant” (just scroll down to find it).

Voters shot down both Measure B (the height restriction) and Measure C (the big-box retail restriction) on Tuesday. A lot of this might have been because of the “Just Vote No” mood. But some of it may have been in response to arguments from the “No” side that we in Ventura need to foster business growth and these restrictions would have made it more difficult to do so. I think it’s important to bear in mind that the defeat of these initiatives will not magically solve our problems either.

We need appropriate infill development, as both sides of the Measure B campaign readily acknowledged, but given the state of the real estate business we’re not going to get much of it anytime soon no matter what we do. We need healthy retail growth as well, but the presence or absence of one Wal-Mart is not going to magically give us the money we need to restore our city’s basic services, nor cut the need for those services in a significant way. (Measure A would have raised about 10-15 times as much sales tax revenue per year as the pending Wal-Mart on Victoria will do.) And the retail economy is undergoing fundamental restructuring anyway. All of us are becoming much more cautious about how we spend our money. We are seeing more retail businesses go under, whether they are big chains or small mom-and-pops. Once again, no magic bullet.

So we’ll all have to work together to figure out how to use whatever emerging opportunities are available to us to restore our prosperity and, with it, our tax revenue. And we’ll have to make some hard long-term choices about what our city government can do. In some cases, we may be able to redesign the way we deliver services to the public so that they are both more cost-effective and more responsive to community needs. I think there’s some potential there, and I’m looking forward to working on it. But in other cases, we may simply decide that the city shouldn’t be in the business of doing certain things. Either others in the community will have to keep them going; or we may decide that will have to do without.

So that’s the challenge. It’s a challenge all of us in Ventura must address together. Obviously, without your trust, we can’t do a good job of operating a city government. But without your help, your ideas, your energy, we can’t successfully rebuild, restore, or redesign anything. The 7 of us on the City Council are your elected representatives, and therefore we are the lightning rods for your attention and, often, your discontent. But it will take more than 7 people to move Ventura forward. It will take 108,000 people. I’m looking forward to reconnecting with all of you as we take on the challenge.

One last thing about the City Council race: As I’m sure you know by now, the voters elected Mike Tracy and chose not to re-elect Ed Summers. I’m really looking forward to working with Mike. He’s a terrific guy who knows our community really well, and I think he’ll bring a lot of common-sense leadership to the council. But I’m very sad to lose Ed from the council.

Most of you know that Ed has been a great community leader for many years, and I believe that during his four years on the Council, we accomplished some important things with Ed’s help and leadership. I have especially valued his leadership and advice on business and economic issues. Many of the steps we took on economic development with Ed’s leadership will have a long-term payoff that will help us maintain both prosperity and a great quality of life. We will be thanking Ed for many years to come, but I wanted to take a moment here to say: Thanks, Ed, for all you have done – and, I hope, all you will continue to do – to make Ventura a great place to live.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Why I'm Asking You to Vote No on Measure B

Most of you probably already know that I’m opposed to Measure B, the so-called view protection initiative on the November ballot in Ventura. I believe it’s unnecessary, overly cumbersome, probably unlawful, and -- most important – undemocratic.

As the campaign for Measure B has unfolded, I have come to have new concerns about Measure B and how it is likely to be implemented by Ventura Citizens Organized for Responsible Development (VCORD) if it passes.

For one thing, it’s very sloppily written – and apparently inadvertently leaves whole sections of the city off the View Resources Board.

If you live Downtown, or south of the college, or near Buena High School, your neighborhood cannot be represented on this new board.

Remember that once the voters have approved this initiative, neither VCORD nor the City Council can fix these problems because it must be implemented word-for-word. So whatever mistakes Measure B contains, we’re stuck with them.

Also, in recent weeks, VCORD spokespeople have focused more and more on the narrow issue of building heights as the “magic bullet” that will solve view problems – even though previously they had stated the solution should be up to each neighborhood.

They’ve also gotten more aggressive in stating what the new View Resources Board “will do” if Measure B passes. It seems to me that this is at odds with their oft-stated promise to appoint a broad range of community members from different neighborhoods and then step away from the process.

Given what I’ve been hearing lately, I can’t for the life of me understand why VCORD didn’t just write an initiative permanently restricting building heights along the commercial corridors to two stories – since that seems to be their goal. Then we could have had a straight-up discussion about whether that’s a good policy or not, instead of complicated debate over whether Measure B is too convoluted, unlawful, or undemocratic to work.

In explaining my opposition to Measure B, let me first explain what the initiative does, then talk about why I am opposed to it in concept, and finally further explain my concerns about VCORD.


Measure B is an initiative that does three things:

First, it places a moratorium on all buildings over 26 feet high for up to two years in most parts of Ventura. Many business areas are exempt, including parts of Downtown, the area around Community Memorial Hospital, the Pacific View Mall, the lower part of Johnson Drive, the Victoria Corridor, and most areas on the south side of the freeway, including the auto center and the industrial park.

Second, it creates a View Resources Board (VRB) of 23 members and charges the board with drafting a view protection ordinance within a year. Of the 23 members, 20 would be appointed by VCORD (18 from neighborhoods and 2 from business groups) and 3 would be appointed by the City Council.

Third, it creates a process by which the height moratorium can be lifted prior to two years under certain circumstances. The View Resources Board recommends a view protection ordinance to the City Council. If the City Council does not approve the ordinance as recommended, the Council must forward suggested changes to the View Resources Board. If the VRB accepts these changes and the Council approves them, the moratorium is lifted. If the Council does not adopt the ordinance, VRB members have the right to place the measure on the ballot as an initiative and, if voters approve it, the moratorium is lifted.


I have opposed Measure B from the beginning because I believe it’s unlawful and undemocratic – and the reasons it’s unlawful are the same reasons it’s undemocratic.

First, VCORD – a private political action committee – does not have the power to appoint a city board.

Under the City Charter, the voters delegated that authority only to their elected representatives on the City Council. This makes sense because only the City Council is accountable to the voters. You wouldn’t want to appoint a board to look at pension reform and have the members appointed by the firefighters PAC; nor would you want to appoint a board to look at reforming the planning process and have the members appointed by the Building Industry Association PAC. There’s no accountability.

VCORD has countered this argument by saying that the View Resources Board isn’t really a city board, even though it’s a board created by the city’s voters in an election. Rather, it’s a “community board”.

To me, this defies credibility. If VCORD wanted to appoint a community board to draft a view ordinance, they don’t need the voters to do it. They could just do it themselves.

The very fact that VCORD wants the voters to create the VRB suggests to me that it IS a city board, because through the initiative process the only thing voters have the power to do is enact city legislation.

Second, the process by which the moratorium can be lifted early impermissibly grants some legislative power to the VRB and hence to VCORD as well.

There are two things that voters cannot do in an initiative. One is give away their own legislative power to a private entity. The second is to direct that legislation be enacted by the elected officials. Measure B does both these things even though they are prohibited by the state constitution.

VCORD has quite rightly pointed out that the view protection ordinance won’t actually go into effect unless either the City Council or the voters approve it. Nevertheless, I believe Measure B gives the VRB – and, hence, VCORD – the power to interfere with the legislative process, which under our state constitution belongs only to the voters and their elected representatives. Here’s why:

The City Council can lift the moratorium in less than two years by approving a view protection ordinance. But the moratorium is lifted ONLY if the City Council adopts the ordinance approved by the View Resources Board. I believe this ties the hands of the City Council in violation of the constitution.

The only people who have the right to interfere with your elect representatives to enact legislation are you, the voters. Measure B gives the City Council the power to lift the moratorium -- but only with the permission of an unelected board that is appointed by a political action committee. That’s undemocratic.

For that matter, the VRB also appears to have veto power over the ability of the voters themselves to lift the moratorium in less than two years.

Although it’s not completely clear in the initiative language, it would appear that the voters, like the City Council, can lift the moratorium early by enacting a view protection ordinance – but only the ordinance approved by the VRB, which again is unelected and appointed not by your elected officials but by VCORD.

I also believe the provision that allows us on the City Council to lift the moratorium in less than two years violates the constitutional provision requiring that voters cannot direct that legislation be enacted. The idea behind this provision is that voters need to actually see legislation before authorizing its approval.

Under Measure B, if we on the City Council agree with the VCORD-controlled View Resources Board about what should be in the view ordinance, it gets approved and the moratorium gets lifted – all without the voters ever voting on it. That too is undemocratic – to say nothing of unconstitutional. In this case, the VCORD initiative tries to give us on the City Council power that, under the constitution, we don’t have.

More to the point, if you don’t trust the City Council on the view question, why would you vote for something that takes away your right to vote on the view ordinance and, instead, turns that power over to the combination of a board you didn’t vote for and a City Council you don’t like?

Third, the composition of the View Resources Board is inherently undemocratic.

The VRB would have 23 members. Three would be city representatives appointed by the City Council. Two would be business representatives (Chamber and Visitor Bureau) appointed by VCORD. The other 18 would be neighborhood representatives appointed by VCORD. But 14 of those neighborhood representatives would be appointed from areas west of Victoria. Only 4 would be from areas east of Victoria, where half the population of the city lives. As an example, the Westside – which has a population of less than 10,000 people – would get 3 representatives, while East Ventura – with a population of more than 50,000 people – would get 4 representatives. That’s undemocratic.

But it gets worse. Some neighborhoods have no representation at all. Downtown has no representatives. Neither do some parts of Midtown – especially the Preble neighborhood south of Main Street toward Channel Drive east of Seaward; as well as the San Pablo neighborhood around Telegraph and Mills. And the entire neighborhood south of the college – from Mills all the way to Victoria, including the areas around Elmhurst Elementary and Buena High – have no representatives. Whether purposely or accidental, they have been left out.

And VCORD does not have the discretion to appoint people from these areas. The fact of the matter is that the initiative designates board representatives from other neighborhoods, meaning people from these neighborhoods cannot be appointed. This may be simply be an oversight; but once Measure B passes, VCORD cannot correct its own mistake.

It’s also worth noting that the process does not guarantee representation to any other neighborhood group besides VCORD. If, say, the Midtown Ventura Community Council or the Westside Community Council wants a seat on the board, they must ask VCORD – and if VCORD says no, there’s nothing anybody can do about it.

Finally, significant drafting errors and other provisions will make Measure B difficult to implement.

When you adopt an initiative, you adopt the whole thing. You can’t pick and choose. So you’d better be sure you like the whole thing.

Measure B has a number of drafting errors both large and small that concern me. If it’s riddled with drafting errors, what other bombshells – intentional or unintentional – are hidden in the text?

To give just a few small examples:

-- Fir Street is incorrectly identified as Fir Drive.
-- The downtown exemption area is described as being bounded on the north by Poli and the west by Ventura Avenue. But, of course, Poli and the Avenue don’t meet.
-- There’s a math error in describing the number of VRB members appointed by VCORD.
-- In one section, City Council is accidentally spelled City Counsel – as in attorney. Does this man that a view ordinance can be adopted by our City Attorney (our counsel), nor our elected City Council?

Admittedly, those are small. But there are larger concerns about vague drafting.

As I said before, whether by accident or on purpose, significant chunks of the city – including Downtown and the neighborhoods south of the college around Elmhurst Elementary and Buena High – have no representation whatsoever.

Also, it’s not clear whether the VRB members – if they want to put the view protection ordinance on the ballot – must gather signatures like any other initiative proponents. VCORD says yes, they must gather signatures; but it’s not clear from the text. What VCORD intends to do is, unfortunately, not what you are voting on. You’re voting on what the text says and that’s not clear.


Like most people in town, I take in on faith that VCORD’s initiative proponents have no hidden agenda and simply want to do they think is best for the community. I have known both Diane Underhill and Camille Harris for a long time – we all live in the same Midtown neighborhood – and I know they are caring people with big hearts.

During the campaign, however, I have become more concerned about how VCORD will actually wield its newfound power. My concern falls into three categories.

First, VCORD representatives are getting more bold in suggesting that their agenda is to lower building heights, not empower neighborhoods.

From the beginning, I have believed VCORD when they say their objective is to bring more – and more diverse – neighborhood voices into our community discussion about how to protect views. VCORD representatives have stated that different neighborhoods might have different solutions to the view question, and so therefore many different neighborhood representatives should be involved. This makes sense to me.

Indeed, the city’s View Task Force – which Diane Underhill served on – quickly came to the same conclusion earlier this year. Even one-story buildings can often block views, especially along Main and Thompson. So lowering building heights won’t necessarily protect views; a wide range of techniques, including setbacks and variation in heights, must be employed.

During the campaign, however, VCORD has reframed its message. The real problem is not that diverse points of view aren’t being heard. The real problem, they are now saying, is that people who believe that allowable building heights along the commercial corridors should be lowered are not being heard.

The solution, they are suggesting, is to stack the View Resources Board with people who want lower building heights. If you don’t believe me, read Diane Underhill’s article in last Sunday’s Star,

This seems to me to be the opposite of VCORD’s previous message. Are they interested in many points of view – or just their own?

Second, VCORD representatives say things that suggest they have already decided what the View Resources Board will do.

VCORD representatives have repeatedly stated that although they will appoint the View Resources Board, they will not try to influence what it does. In fact, they often say VCORD will “step away” from the process once the board members are appointed.

More recently, however, VCORD representatives have made statements that suggest they do not intend to step away. Recently, for example, Measure B opponents have expressed concern that passing the view ordinance might require a special election that could cost a quarter-million dollars. In response, in her Star piece last Sunday, Diane Underhill wrote that if an election is required, “the View Resources Board will request that it be on the November 2011 ballot so that no special-election expenditures will be required.”

Huh? The board hasn’t even been created yet, much less appointed. Yet VCORD has already decided what the board’s going to do, at least on this one issue. This makes it hard for me to believe that they are really going to step away.

Third, VCORD does not appear to be listening to all neighborhood groups—only the ones they agree with.

Here’s an example: In writing the initiative, VCORD carved out many exemption areas, mostly around employment centers. But they did not exempt the property at Harbor and Seaward, where Anastasi Development has been working with the Pierpont Community Council and the surrounding neighborhood, quite successfully, to craft a project everyone likes.

Part of the project is three stories high, but most neighbors appear to support it, and the Pierpont Community Council has been in constant discussions with Anastasi and also has been participating in the city’s review process. Nobody wants a big hole in the ground at Harbor and Seaward forever.

But if it passes, Measure B will stall the project for at least two years, and nobody knows whether there will be a permanent height limit that will make this popular project impossible to build.

So why did VCORD not exempt this property? Did they forget to call up Pierpont Community Council and ask about it? Or are they just not interested in neighborhood groups who favor a three-story building?

Either way, once again this seems undemocratic and suggests that if the voters give VCORD power, they may not listen to all neighborhood groups but, rather, only the ones they agree with.

I’m sorry that this has been such a long post. But I wanted all of you to understand the reasons in detail that Measure B concerns me. I hope you will join me in voting against it on November 3.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Why I'm Asking You to Vote Yes on Measure A

This will be a short blog just to remind everybody that I am voting yes on Measure A in the upcoming election in Ventura. It's important to get the word out now because people are already voting. The absentee ballots arrived in people's mailboxes this week.

I won't go into detail about the Measure, because I've written about it a lot in the past. (Scroll down and find my much longer blog from July 22 on the "Ventura Covenant".) But here's a brief rundown:


We currently run our city on $85 million in the General Fund, of which $60 million is tax revenue. A half-cent sales tax would like to add another $10 million to our city treasury. This is money that Sacramento can’t take away from us, and money we can spend on our highest priorities. It’s not a permanent tax; it would last only four years, serving to carry us through to more prosperous times.

What It Will Go For:

In placing the sales tax on the ballot, the City Council has promised to spend the money only on vital public services, as follows:

-- 40% would go to public safety.
-- 35% would go to road paving, infrastructure, and transportation.
-- 15% would go to clean water and clean beaches, especially to improve our system of stormwater runoff.
-- 6% would go to keep Wright Library open
-- 4% would go to other community partnerships, allowing us to partner with community organizations to ensure that our dollars stretch as far as they can.

Thanks a lot!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Why I’m Asking You To Vote for Ed Summers

For the past four years, it has been my privilege to serve on the Ventura City Council with Ed Summers. During that time, I’ve seen Ed work tirelessly to help make our community better; and he and I have worked together on a variety of important issues. Ed’s up for re-election this year and I am asking all of you to vote for him again on November 3

Serving on the City Council is a constant quest for two goals that are intertwined with each other: Creating enduring prosperity for our community and improving the quality of life for our residents.

Over the last four years, Ed has focused his efforts on these issues over and over again. As a banker, Ed understands how the economic engine works and he has has taken the leading in making it work for us. As a longtime advocate for public safety, arts and culture, and supporter of preserving our hillsides and neighborhoods, Ed understands why quality of life is important and he has taken the lead on quality of life issues as well.

Whether it’s saving our libraries, increasing our police force, or attracting high-quality businesses to our community, Ed is usually taking the lead on the most critical issues facing our community. And he does his work with a combination of heart and brain. Ed’s heart is clearly in Ventura; he cares deeply about our community and the people who live here. Yet Ed’s brain – his analytical approach and his no-nonsense business background – helps all of us on the council to think through the different options and come up with common-sense solutions.

Serving on the City Council also requires knowing how to work with a very broad range of constituencies, people, and organizations. No one I know does this better than Ed. To see how effective he is at consensus-building, all you have to do is look at the list of people endorsing him this year. Here’s just one example: To my knowledge, Councilmember Jim Monahan – a business advocate and former owner of a welding company – has never agreed on anything with former Councilmember Gary Tuttle, an athlete and longtime environmental activist. Yet they both support Ed Summers.

Just to give you a taste of Ed’s leadership skills, here are a few things he’s accomplished in his first term:

-- Ed was our City Council leader on the Ventura Economic Summit last May. Thanks to his leadership, the city and the business community are now moving forward in an unprecedented partnership on a wide range of actions to improve the business climate in Ventura.

-- Ed has also chaired our City Council Economic Development Committee since his election in 2005. He has led the way in forging partnerships with entrepreneurs and venture capitalists in making Ventura one of the emerging high-tech centers of Southern California. As a member of the Economic Development Committee, I have learned a lot from Ed about how to attract business to our community.

-- Ed has been equally strong is protecting our neighborhoods from overdevelopment. Ed and I worked together to create the city’s View Task Force, whose stellar work has led to strong new protections to protect our community’s precious views and ensure that homeowners continue to have sunlight in their yards.

-- Ed has continually supported our community’s efforts to protect the hillsides. He has been a key player in implementing our General Plan provisions that prevent hillside development and has once again been endorsed by the Ventura Citizens for Hillside Preservation.

-- Ed is a big library advocate as well – and he’s gone far beyond the call of duty in helping to save his own neighborhood library, Wright Library. Last spring, Ed raised more than $6,000 for the Wright Library by dancing in the Salsa Festival over in Oxnard.

In short, Ed is that rare public official who can build bridges with practically everybody, who knows how to lead, and and – most important to me – who understands how prosperity and quality of life must work together for Ventura to be a great place.

I hope you’ll join me in voting for Ed on November 3, so that we can take advantage of his rare leadership skills for another four years.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Ventura Compact: A Covenant For Hard Times

The state has decided to balance its budget on the backs of our local taxpayers again, taking some $4 billion from cities and counties around the state as part of a short-term fix.

Since we can no longer count on the state to help us – or even, in some cases, let us keep our own tax money -- it’s time to take control of our own destiny. If we don’t, we will be at the mercy of Sacramento – and we won’t be able to provide our residents with the vital services they need and deserve.

In the City of Ventura, the state budget shenanigans make it all the more important for us to move forward with a whole series of steps – including our proposed sales tax increase but lots of other things as well – in order to protect our quality of life. In the words of my colleague Carl Morehouse, a former mayor of Ventura, we must move forward with what might be called “The Ventura Compact” – or else we face the possibility of down Sacramento rathole.

Over the past six years we in Ventura have worked hard to maintain fiscal solvency and improve our city services. During the good times between 2003 and 2007 we erased a structural budget deficit and added public safety personnel for the first time in almost 20 years.

In the hard times over the last two years, we have made tough decisions. We have implemented mid-year budget cuts in each of the last two years. Last winter and spring we worked through $11 million budget cuts – a 13% decrease – and we did it long before most other cities realized a problem was looming. We eliminated 40 of our 600 staff positions. Our city employees led the way by taking a 5% pay cut – a courageous move for which I am grateful. All these steps allowed us to balance the budget without cutting services much.

Now the state’s budget-balancing act is likely to take another $4-5 million away from us. We may be able to plug the gap temporarily by using reserves, but that’s not likely to last long. We must move forward with a whole fiscal program that will maintain our quality of life and our fiscal solvency in the long run.

Six weeks ago in this blog, I laid out five principles I thought we needed to follow to weather this storm and maintain a sustainable fiscal foundation for our community. Since then, I am proud to say, our City Council has taken action on every single one of these items. These are the five principles I would call “The Ventura Compact” – a compact not just among the seven councilmembers, but a compact between the City Council and our community moving forward. Here are the five principles – along with a brief description of what we have done in each one:

1. Spend additional tax revenue only on vital services

We’ve taken the unusual step of placing a local half-cent sales tax on the ballot in November. It may not seem like the best time to ask voters for more tax revenue, but this is the most important step we can taken in cutting the cord to Sacramento. We currently run our city on $85 million in the General Fund, of which $60 million is tax revenue. A half-cent sales tax would like to add another $10 million to our city treasury. This is money that Sacramento can’t take away from us, and money we can spend on our highest priorities. It’s not a permanent tax; it would last only four years, serving to carry us through to more prosperous times.

In placing the sales tax on the ballot, the City Council has promised to spend the money only on vital public services, as follows:

-- 40% would go to public safety.
-- 35% would go to road paving, infrastructure, and transportation.
-- 15% would go to clean water and clean beaches, especially to improve our system of stormwater runoff.
-- 6% would go to keep Wright Library open
-- 4% would go to other community partnerships, allowing us to partner with community organizations to ensure that our dollars stretch as far as they can.

2. Increase tax revenue without increasing tax rates

In May, the City Council and the Chamber of Commerce sponsored an “Economic Summit”. More than 150 people participated, and the result was a list of actions that should be taken to ensure future prosperity. The City Council will consider – and most likely adopt – all the short-term actions from the Economic Summit at our meeting on August 3.

At the same time, we recognize that must target and aggressively pursue the retailers that can help provide us with lots of new tax revenue. As the Star has reported, we have made electronics stores our highest priority and are negotiating with one major electronics store right now. This would be almost all new tax revenue, since currently Venturans must travel to Oxnard and elsewhere to buy almost all their electronics.

Finally, we know we must clean up our planning process so that the projects we want are approved more quickly – and the ones we don’t want are denied more quickly. Last Monday night, the City Council adopted a set of principles to make the planning process more efficient, including time limits to give developers a “yes” or “no” on projects.

3. Increase revenue from other sources besides taxes

In the budget principles we adopted last winter when the fiscal crisis first loomed, the City Council committed to a careful examination of the fees we charge individuals, developers, and others to determine which services we should seek “full cost recovery” from and which ones the taxpayers should subsidize. We have already made some strides in this area and we will be tackling this issue head-on in next fall and winter.

This can be a controversial exercise. Every time we propose creating or increasing fees for those who benefit, that constituency turns out in opposition to it, so we often back off. But that means we spend more money on those services out of the General Fund – leaving less for police, fire, libraries, potholes, and the rest. We have to decide once and for all which city services the taxpayers should subsidize, and which city services benefit only a small portion of the population and therefore should not be subsidized by the taxpayers.

4. Restrain future cost increases

As I indicated above, we’ve already cut costs by permanently eliminating 40 positions and temporarily reducing compensation for our employees. Now we have agreed to take even bolder steps. Last Monday night, the City Council voted to create a task force to examine our city pension system and make recommendations on how to reduce the future cost of these pensions to our taxpayers. We are the first city in the county – indeed, one of the first in the state – to commit itself to examining pension reform. In addition, our budget principles also commit us to cutting operating costs wherever possible – for example, to switch to more energy-efficient operations that can reduce our electricity bill significantly.

5. Save for a rainy day

We currently have a reserve fund of about $12 million, designed to help tide us over in the event of a natural disaster. But it has become clear that this is not enough. We need a bigger cushion. So the City Council has committed to adding to the reserves with every penny of the sales tax revenue that does not go to vital services. More specifically, we have committed to socking away everything above $8.25 million. Since the sales tax is expected to generate $10 million a year, this means we could augment our reserves by as much as $8 million, giving us a much-needed cushion of $20 million for hard times.

So that’s The Ventura Compact. It’s a commitment to cut the cord to Sacramento, take control of our own future, maintain sustainable fiscal health, and protect our vital public services and quality of life. Fulfilling the promise of The Ventura Compact will require a lot of hard work – passing the sales tax in November and tackling all the other hard issues as well – but if we stick to it we can maintain Ventura as a great place to live and work.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Should We Put A Sales Tax On The Ballot This Fall?

Monday night (June 8th), the City Council will once again discuss the possibility of putting a sales tax on the ballot in November. I still don’t expect us to pull the trigger on this yet, but it’s looking more and more likely that we’ll do it.

At first blush this might seem like a crazy thing to do. After all, we’re in the middle of the worst recession in decades. Nobody wants to pay more taxes. And people are skeptical of government spending – the state measures all got creamed a couple of weeks ago.

But here’s the reality: We’ve already cut more than $11 million from our budget – that’s well north of 10%. We’ve eliminated more than 40 jobs. We’re dipping into reserves already to maintain current levels of police and fire services. Wright Library is at risk to be closed – perhaps permanently. We’re cutting way back on maintaining our parks.

And we’re not done yet. The state is threatening to “borrow” close to $3 million in property tax from us, and we might also lose our gas tax money, which is the major source of funds for paving streets.

The news from Sacramento will continue to get worse and many of our revenue sources will continue to be placed at risk. So I think it comes down to this: We can find more local revenue sources and control our own destiny or we can put ourselves at the mercy of Sacramento. That’s not a tough choice to me.

Of course, there are lots of ways to raise revenue besides raising taxes, and we must pursue them aggressively. But none of them will generate lots more money in the short run, and none of them will generate the amount of money we need to maintain our vital services.

Last spring, our blue-ribbon citizen committee recommended a four-year sunset on the sales tax. This makes sense to me. It will get us through this tough economic time, and it will also ensure accountability because a majority of the City Council will serve the same term.

In addition, I think we need to make a sales-tax ballot measure part of a broader effort to maintain our solvency, our public services, and our quality of life in a tough economy – especially if it sunsets in four years. Therefore, I believe that if the City Council places the sales tax on the ballot, we should do so as part of a larger strategy that contains five points:

1. Spend additional tax revenue only on vital services

We know what the core services are to our community. They’re things like police protection, fire and emergency medical response service, libraries, paving the streets, and keeping our water and beaches clean. If we put a sales tax on the ballot that requires only a simple majority vote to adopt it, the money can’t be earmarked in a legally binding way. But my colleagues and I can – and should -- commit ourselves to spending the money only on these vital public services.

2. Increase tax revenue without increasing tax rates

Practically speaking, this means bringing in more retail stores that generate more sales tax – as well as some other development projects (such as industrial and office development as well as high-end housing) that produce more tax revenue than expenses. This is a long-term effort that will require a lot of work on a lot of fronts, because there is no magic bullet here. (Wal-Mart, for example, would likely generate a net increase of between $500,000 and $700,000 in sales tax – a healthy chunk but a drop in the bucket compared to $11 million in cuts.) We must follow through on all of our action items from the Economic Development Summit in May; we must target and aggressively pursue the retailers we want; and we must continue to clean up our planning process so that projects we want can be approved more quickly.

3. Increase revenue from other sources besides taxes

The city provides a wide variety of services to applicants or individuals who benefit directly from those services – for example, somebody who wants to add a room to their house or somebody who takes a recreation program – as well as services that mostly benefit one group of people (for example, hillside weed abatement). In the last couple of years, we have moved more and more toward “full cost recovery” for these services – that is, having those who benefit pay rather than all the taxpayers. I agree with Councilmember Andrews that we must make a conscious effort to decide which of these services we believe should be paid for by those who benefit, and which should be subsidized by the city’s General Fund.

This can be a controversial exercise. Every time we propose creating or increasing fees for those who benefit, that constituency turns out in opposition to it, so we often back off. But that means we spend more money on those services out of the General Fund – leaving less for police, fire, libraries, potholes, and the rest.

4. Restrain future cost increases

Since we can’t count on the same level of economic growth over the next few years that we have seen in the past, we are going to have to work toward restraining future cost increases in all areas. We’ve already done this in many ways, ranging from eliminating positions to contracting out tree-trimming. We may have to do more. And the big unknown in this arena is our employee pensions. When the stock market drops – like now -- the city has to pay more money to cover the pensions of retired employees. Some of my colleagues would like to address the question of pension reform (for future employees only) now. I agree that the pension question is an important one that we must start looking at.

5. Save for a rainy day

Some 15 years ago, our predecessors wisely set up a reserve fund equal to 25% of the General Fund – enough to run the city for three months in the event of a natural disaster. Since then, we have maintained the same amount in reserves -- $12 million – but we have not increased that reserve proportionately with the General Fund. Right now that’s about 15% of the General Fund. We should consider retaining a bigger reserve fund – permanently held at between 15% and 25%. This could be simply a council policy or we could put it on the ballot as a charter amendment. We would also have to decide what the rainy day fund is for – just natural disasters or financial crises as well?

I am not sure how tomorrow’s council discussion will go. But this is what I would like to see, and I will work toward a consensus along these lines.

I’m Committed to Serving Ventura

For the last couple of months, I have been thinking about entering the race for 35th Assembly district next year. That’s the seat currently held by Pedro Nava, who will be termed out in 2010. There are already two candidates for the Democratic nomination – Das Williams and Susan Jordan, both of whom are from Santa Barbara.

I thought maybe Ventura deserved a candidate too, and I thought I could do a good job serving our region in the Assembly. I’ve lived in this area for more than 20 years, I know Santa Barbara as well as Ventura quite well, I’m familiar with the most basic issues we face, and I know that the rules of the game that we all must live with are set up in Sacramento. These all seemed like good reasons to consider running.

Well, I’ve decided against it. I’m not going to run for the Assembly this time around. There are a lot of reasons, but the biggest one is that I want to be able to focus on my job as your City Councilmember and Deputy Mayor.

Eighteen months ago, my colleagues granted me the privilege of serving in a leadership position on the Council as Deputy Mayor. If my colleagues continue to support me, I hope to continue in a leadership position for the next couple of years. My time as Deputy Mayor has reinforced the idea that leadership on the Council is an awful lot [asj1] of work. It requires constant interaction and base-touching with my colleagues and constituents, keeping tabs on tons of issues, and working closely with others to make sure we are “ahead of the curve” and moving important issues along.

This level of leadership and involvement is going to be really critical here in Ventura during the next few years. Because of the downturn in the economy, tax revenue is down a lot[asj2] , and that means all of the services we value here in Ventura are at risk: public safety, emergency response, libraries, road paving, parks and recreation, bus and rail service. It will be a tough slog over the next couple of years to maintain these services and build our tax base for the future so we can ensure our continuing quality of life. I know this may sound kind of weird, considering times are so bad, but I am excited about this challenge. It’s tough times like this that make you realize why you want to serve the public—to help navigate through both good times and bad.

This requires a strong and deep commitment on the part of your City Councilmembers – a commitment to work hard every day to help Ventura get through this tough period and lay the foundation for a prosperous and livable future. I’ve thought about this a lot, and I don’t think anybody can make the necessary commitment if they are running for another office.

If I were to run for the Assembly, I would be distracted. I would not be able to devote my time to the interests of my constituents in Ventura. Frankly, I would have to view everything I do as your Deputy Mayor and City Councilmember through the political lens of whether it would help me or hurt me as an Assembly candidate. I may not always be able to speak or act with the best interests of the citizens of Ventura in mind. That’s not something I would feel good about.

I wouldn’t rule out running for the Assembly or some other office sometime in the future – but I’m not going to do it now. I’ve also decided not to endorse either Das or Susan at his time. Both are good people, but I am just beginning to think of them as possible Assemblymembers and I’d like to talk to them more before I decide whether to endorse either of them. Susan is an environmental activist who runs the California Coastal Protection Network; she’s also married to Assemblymember Nava. Das is a member of the Santa Barbara City Council and also works part-time here in Ventura for CAUSE, a local society equity advocacy group.

To all of you, I want to say thanks for bearing with me, and, although times are tough, I am very excited about working with you to help make Ventura a better place in the years ahead.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Comment Function Enabled!

I've finally figured out Blogger's comment function to enhance interaction on this blog. To comment, click the title of the blog entry, which should direct you to a new page related only to that blog post and a section where you can comment on that post. Thanks for your patience!

The Economic Summit

Ventura often gets a tagged for being a great place to live and a bad place to do business. But quality of life and prosperity don’t have to conflict with each other. Yesterday morning, more than a hundred community leaders gathered at City Hall for our first-ever “Economic Summit” – organized jointly by the City and the Chamber of Commerce.

I’m happy to report that the energy in the room was extremely positive. In fact, it was one of the most productive sessions of this type I’ve ever seen. Everybody in the room participated in breakout sessions dealing with different topics – the city’s own fiscal health, improving the business climate, retaining businesses, and so forth – and came back at the end of the morning with suggestions for how we as a community should move forward. Then the City Council took quick action to pursue some of the highest-priority items.

The starting point was the 2005 Economic Development Strategy – a document adopted by the city council to provide priorities for the city’s economic development efforts. These priorities included focusing on the auto center and the McGrath property, as well as figuring out how we can attract more high-wage jobs to Ventura in the future.

Biotech Opportunities And CMH

I spent most of the morning with the group dealing with business retention. It was a great group of about 10 or 15 people, and actually we wound up debating not just how to retain businesses in town, but also how to position the city better to attract startups and growing companies – especially in the high-tech and biotech sectors.

We’ve been talking for a number of years about the fact that Ventura is surrounded by one of the nation’s richest environments for high-tech and biotech startup companies. We’ve got UC Santa Barbara and a lot of venture capitalists to the north of us, and Amgen and some of the most important biotech activity in the nation to the south of us. A lot of the people who work in these businesses already live in Ventura – and many more find Ventura an attractive and (believe it or not) affordable alternative to places like Thousand Oaks and Santa Barbara.

We’ve tried to market Ventura as the place “where the digital coast meets the technology corridor.” In fact, though, we’re the place where the digital coast almost but doesn’t quite meet the technology corridor. Over the past couple of years, however, the city’s been able to take a couple of very important steps toward remedying this problem. We’ve partnered with a Santa Barbara venture capital firm in order to connect startup businesses with the folks who have money; and we’ve created a high-tech business incubator in the building behind City Hall to give some of these entrepreneurs a place to start out.

But at the breakout group on business retention, another urgent issue came up – the fact that biotech companies have particular space needs that are expensive and hard to come by. In particular, they need “wet lab” space, which require special plumbing and sterilization. At the business retention breakout group, two people I’d never met before – Colby Allen from Amgen (who lives downtown and rode his bike) and Theresa Hoenes from Fisher Scientific – talked about the great opportunities available to us in Ventura if we can create the right kind of space for high-tech and biotech companies. Amgen, for example, will sometimes fund outside folks as they develop a new product. Many of those folks would love Ventura (or live here already) but there’s no place for them to go.

This is where Community Memorial Hospital comes in. CMH is planning a big expansion that should open in 2013. The expansion is driven by the fact that CMH, like other hospitals in the state, must do a seimic retrofit. Patient rooms and surgeries would be moved to a new building, opening up CMH’s old building for other uses – like wet labs.

So I came away from Saturday’s summit convinced that the biggest change since 2005 is the opportunity that CMH provides – and the urgent need to move forward in partnership with biotech companies, venture capitalists, the hospital, entrepreneurs and many others to take advantage of a great opportunity that is on our doorstep.

Getting People Involved – And Working Together As Partners

The most remarkable thing about Saturday’s summit was the turnout. As I said, there were more than a hundred people there – and many of them were business and community leaders that I’d never met before. The Chamber of Commerce deserves enormous credit for the turnout – and the Chamber and our city staff together deserve credit for putting together a format that allowed a lot of creativity to flow out of the breakout groups. That gave us on the City Council a quick way to move on some of these great ideas.

The summit was a great model for how to get the public directly involved in setting – and implementing – the priorities of our community. I think we’ve gotten a justifiable rap in the last couple of years for being a little remote and not engaging the public as much as we should. But I’m proud to say that we’ve begun to turn that around in the last few months. Our task force on view protection – which presented its final recommendations to the City Council on April 6th – drew rave reviews even from Ventura Citizens Organized for Responsible Development (VCORD), the sponsor of next fall’s view initiative. Our blue-ribbon committee on the possibility of a sales tax also did a very good job of sorting through the issues, even though they had only a few weeks to do it. Now we can add the Economic Summit to this growing list of public involvement successes.

But we have to work together to do as well as plan. The weirdest part of Saturday was when we climbed back up on the dais and were suddenly separated again from everybody else – a group of elected officials far distant from a hundred constituents. Too often, the way things work in Ventura is that we do not work collaboratively with constituents and organizations in town. They come to our council meetings and ask us to solve their problems and fund their solutions – and, of course, we can’t do that in every case. The more we step down off the dais and work together with everybody else, the more likely we all are to succeed as a community.

Dealing With Landowners And Developers

And a clarifying post-script: Inevitably, issues about land use planning and development arose, and we heard the usual array of concerns about how our planning process works. Some of these concerns are valid (a recurring theme about the planning process is a lack of “customer service” – meaning, among other things, staff members who aren’t always clear or responsive or even friendly).

From the dais (again, separated from constituents!), I tried to address these concerns, but I didn’t do a very good job of it. What I was trying to say is that we have to be careful to separate out the concerns of people who have a legitimate gripe from those who don’t.

As I have said for several years, we have to decide what we want and what we don’t want and then make it easy for developers to give us what we want and difficult to give us what we don’t want. This is harder than it sounds.

A lot of developers complain that they are stuck in our planning process too long. Often, this is the case – and we owe it to those applicants to give them a quick decision about whether their projects are going to pass must with the city. Sometimes, however, applicants are trying to build projects that do not conform to our planning policies, which have usually been together after lengthy public discussion. We owe them a quick “no” – but developers sometimes have a hard time hearing no, and sometimes they are kicking around our planning process for a long time trying to figure out how to get us to change our minds. What I was trying to say was that we owe it to them – and to our constituents – to stick to our guns and make it clear that we are not going to lower our standards for applicants who want us to violate our own policies.

Similarly, I think we have to understand that there is sometimes a difference, as I was more or less accurately quoted in the paper as saying, between the short-term financial interests of landowners and the long-term prosperity of our community. Landowners often want to maximize the value of their land today by selling to today’s high bidder. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that yet another fast-food joint – or whoever can pay the highest price today – will help us achieve the enduring prosperity we all want, with good jobs and increasing community wealth that can help to maintain our city’s high quality of life. Again, my point was, let’s not lower the bar.

Monday, April 27, 2009

My Earth Day

It had been a carbon-intensive couple of weeks – those two weeks leading up to the Earth Day celebration in Ventura. Between Friday, April 3rd, and Wednesday, April 15th, I drove back and forth to San Diego, then took Metrolink to Los Angeles and back, then drove to downtown Los Angeles and then out by LAX and then back, then driven out to Ontario and Upland and back, then out to Riverside and back. So as Earth Day approached, it was pretty clear that I had to turn down the volume on my “carbon footprint” or else I was in big trouble.

There are a lot of factors that affect your carbon footprint, but the biggest one is traveling in vehicles that burn fossil fuels. Driving increases your carbon footprint significantly (buses and trains less so, but that’s still fossil fuel being burned). Our new state regulations for greenhouse gas emissions are promoting the idea that every household in California should only drive about 14,000 miles a year – that’s less than 300 a week, or a little over 40 a day. Yikes. And the experts will tell you that flying in an airplane balloons your footprint more than anything else. Double yikes.

I got serious about this on Thursday, April 16th. I had to go to Los Angeles and back again. This time, I took Metrolink again to Downtown L.A., where I had an appointment. Then I took the Red Line to connect up with a shuttle bus down to the University of Southern California, where I bummed a ride back to Ventura – in a Prius that had a total of five people in it. So far so good.

On Friday the 17th, I drove to work from my house near Ventura High School, met some friends downtown, and drove back to my house. Grand total: 5 miles. In my Prius.

Then I got serious. On Saturday the 18th, I wanted to go to the beach cleanup and the Ecofestival, both down along the Promenade. I managed to ride my bike. I decided not to go to the market – I ate out of my freezer instead – and I was too lazy to drive over to Mavericks Gym to work out, even though I intended to. I did drive back downtown to meet a friend for a drink. Two more miles, for a total of seven in two days.

Sunday the 19th: Again too lazy to go to the gym. Rode my bike over to the Midtown Earth Day event near my house. Drove to the office to catch up on some work, then home. More freezer food. Four miles – and 11 miles total in three days. Though, admittedly, I was chewing up frozen food assets to avoid driving to the market.

Then came Monday the 20th, and it began to get a little trickier. My typical Monday schedule is: go to work, then have lunch with Mayor Christy Weir and a couple of city folks, return to work for a little while. After that, prep for the City Council meeting by going to Mavericks for an intense workout (only way I can sit still on Monday nights), then back home for a nap before heading over to City Hall for the Council meeting, which starts at 6 (or 5 if we have a closed session to discuss litigation or personnel matters).

So I rode my bike to work, then walked to lunch, then walked back to the office, and rode my bike home. I was determined not to drive out to the gym, so I rode my bike around Midtown doing errands – the dry cleaners (dropoff, not pickup), the bike store, the bank, and the shoe repair store. All surprisingly easy. A touch over a half-hour altogether.

This allowed me to persuade myself that I didn’t need to go to the gym. So I took a nap and reviewed the council material, then took good old Gold Coast Transit Route 6 down Main Street, had a brief dinner in the back room at City Hall, and then sat in my chair on the dais for seven hours while the Council dealt with a variety of lengthy issues, including Wal-Mart.

As of 1 a.m., I had driven zero miles that day, and only 11 for a 4-day period. But I was at City Hall with no ride home. So I bummed a ride with Rick Cole, the City Manager, who lives near me – which reminded me that bumming rides is an essential component of lowering your carbon footprint. (At least he has a hybrid car too, but still, I’m mooching off of his carbon footprint.)

Tuesday the 21st – the day before the official Earth Day – was the day it all began to unravel. I had fretted about this one for a while, because I had a meeting downtown at 7 p.m. Should I take the bus or ride my bike to work and then walk to the meeting and walk home? Should I just drive? I tossed and turned the night before.

I finally decided to ride my bike to work, then walk to a series of two meetings in the late afternoon at City Hall, then walk back to the office – and after that I wasn’t sure, except I didn’t have my car with me. I would get back home somehow.

Everything went fine until I got to City Hall at 4 o’clock, when I realized that the two meetings were not at City Hall, as I had thought, but at the Chamber of Commerce office on Victoria near Telephone. I panicked, but Rick Cole again bailed me out by giving me a ride. I met him down at Ben & Jerry’s, where he was joining his kids on free ice cream cone day. I had a cone, thus regretting my missed trips to the gym, and then we drove out to the Chamber – arriving just in time for me to miss almost all of the first meeting.

Then the second meeting started – a planning meeting for the joint City Council-Chamber of Commerce economic summit scheduled for this upcoming Saturday, May 2nd, at 9 a.m. When it started, we realized that we were planning what was going to happen at an official City Council meeting, and there were four council members in the room (Mayor Weir, Ed Summers ,Jim Monahan, and me) – a majority. This held the potential to violate the Brown Act, the state’s open meetings law, so I stepped out of the meeting.

And had no way to get back downtown until that meeting broke up.

I fiddled around checking email for a few minutes, then went over to the Ventura County Transportation Commission next door, where I informed Darren Kettle, the executive director, that he had little choice but to give me an unscheduled briefing on what was going on. We shot the breeze till around 5:30, when I went back to the Chamber and bummed yet another ride with Rick Cole.

I was still fretting about how to get from my night meeting to home without a car when I realized Rick was getting off the freeway not at California but at Seaward. He was going not to City Hall but home. When he dropped me off at my house, the situation was that although I had driven no miles that day, now my car was at home, my bike was at the office – and I had a meeting elsewhere downtown at 7.

Now I had to make a choice. Do I drive back downtown? Do I leave the bike at the office and ride it home tomorrow? That lead to the second thing I was fretting about – the fact that I had another meeting out on Victoria the next afternoon (a very busy day) and I didn’t think I had the time – or the inclination – to ride my bike out there and back.

In the end, I drove to the office, put the bike in the back of the car (which required taking the front wheel off), drove home, unloaded the bike, drove back downtown for my meeting, and drove home. Seven miles – bringing my four-day total to 18.

The next day – Wednesday, April 22nd, the actual Earth Day – I stopped worrying about things. I drove to work, drove out to my meeting on Victoria, drove back to the office, and drove home. That was 16 miles, almost doubling my total for the week.

Still, 34 miles driven, one bus ride, and three bummed car rides is pretty good for a five-day total. Which was a good things because of what happened the nexy day, Thursday the 23rd. I began by going to the cleaners and the bank (cleaning too bulky to carry on a bike), then driving to a meeting at the Harbor (about seven miles total), then back to the office (about six more miles). Then I drove to USC to teach my urban planning class (about 70 miles, but there was a traffic jam and I outsmarted myself in the traffic jam by trying a workaround which failed, adding five more miles). After that, I drove to LAX (another 12 miles) and flew to Oakland.

At 10:30 that night I was standing outside the Oakland Airport facing the possibility of riding a bus to the BART station, then BART to Berkeley, and then walking a half-mile to my hotel at 11:30 at night in order to keep my carbon footprint down. But I'd already put in a hundred miles of driving and one airplane flight in a single day, so my carbon footprint was already blown.

That was when I decided Earth Day was over and hailed a cab.