Tuesday, February 2, 2010

State of the City 2010: Prosperity and Sustainability

Mayor Bill Fulton

Ventura State of the City Address

Feb. 1, 2010

Mayor Fulton:

On behalf of the City Council, I’d like to welcome all of you to San Buenaventura City Hall.

There is no question that in this economic climate, the state of our city government is challenged. As is the state of our school district, our county government, our Chamber of Commerce, and any number of other agencies and organizations around town. Money is short; businesses and institutions we depend on and cherish are at risk, and we are often at the mercy of events and circumstances beyond our control.

But the state of our community – the state of Ventura as a living, breathing, thriving place of 100,000 people – is stronger than ever.

The people of Ventura bring an enormous amount of passion and energy every day to task of sustaining our community as a terrific town: soccer leagues, little leagues, community organizations, arts and cultural activities, education, music, and businesses that are born and grow and prosper. It is all of you who make our community strong and give us the passion and the energy to deal with hard times.

And these are indeed hard times. But if you think back over the last decade, it’s remarkable what Ventura, as a community, has accomplished:

* We have paved almost every street in town. This may not be the most headline-grabbing accomplishment in history, but it’s one that affects everyone’s life every day and we should be proud of it. It shows we can focus on the basics and get them done.

* We have built a world-class aquatics center at the Community Park and a nationally recognized links golf course at Olivas. These new facilities enhance the quality of life for our local residents. But they also bring in many tourists and visitors, adding to our emerging “brand” as a center of outdoor recreation that also includes the Channel Islands, boating, surfing and kayaking, bicycling and hiking.

* We established downtown as a regional attraction that benefits local residents and again, brings visitors and their money into our town. There is nothing like our downtown scene, our art, culture, music, and restaurant scene anywhere along the coast between Santa Monica and Santa Barbara. And people are discovering it. How many other retail “draws” anywhere in the country can say they have increased their business in the last two years?

* Up here on this dais, we eliminated a structural deficit and have maintained a balanced budget every single year. This has involved making tough choices, and you may not like the way we’ve done it, but we have faced these hard issues head-on.

* As a community, we created a community Vision; and as a city we have translated that Vision into a new General Plan, new development codes that are much more understandable, and a more predictable development process.

These are remarkable achievements for any community in any decade, and we should be proud of them. They remind us not only that Ventura is a great town, but that even in hard times, we remain a community capable of pulling together and getting things done.

Now is the time to rely on that passion and energy to lay the foundation for the future that is both more prosperous and more sustainable. In working with the City Council since the swearing-in back in December, it has become evident that achieving long-term goals requires us to focus on three things:

n Creating and sustaining an enduring prosperity;

n Sustaining the environment that supports us; and

n Reinventing the way we provide our public services so that we can sustain those services at a high level in the long run.

Our most important job is to do everything we can to restore prosperity to Ventura.

Here at City Hall, we tend to think of prosperity in terms of the tax revenue that supports vital city services.

But to the community at large, prosperity means far more. It means creating jobs that give all of us a sense of security and stability. It means creating business opportunities that allow the entrepreneurs among us to innovate and thrive, and creating wealth for our community so as to create an endowment for generations to come just as we continue to benefit even today from the endowments bestowed upon us generations ago by the Bards, the Fosters, and other pioneers of our community.

Over the past few years, we’ve raised our development standards, and this is beginning to pay off with high-quality projects such as the new beachfront Embassy Suites Hotel approved last year. But we’ve also made adopted many new plans and codes – literally from Downtown out to Saticoy – that will make it easier for us to keep our promises to both neighborhoods and developers. New projects can and will protect the quality of life in our neighborhoods; and new projects that follow our codes and plans can and will be processed more quickly.

These reforms in the development process are very important. But all by themselves they will not get us where we want to go. Just as important as high-quality developments that will be built are the businesses that will occupy them.

Enduring prosperity comes from a robust entrepreneurial climate for businesses to thrive. This requires us to do three things:

First, encourage business sectors that are growing rapidly and will enhance Ventura’s wealth rather than deplete it.

Second, encourage the growth of business opportunities that will provide our community with high-wage jobs.

And third, encourage retail and visitor opportunities that are unique – that you can only find in Ventura – instead of those you can find anywhere.

I am proud to say that we are doing all of these things, and they are beginning to pay off.

We are fortunate to be located close to two major economic engines – institutions that constantly spin off startup businesses in the high-tech and biotech centers: UC Santa Barbara to our north and Amgen to our south.

In the past two years, Ventura has made a major effort – unlike any other city in this region – to connect with these institutions, with startup entrepreneurs, and with venture capitalists, to encourage spin-off businesses to locate and grow here in Ventura. And it’s working. Today - for the first time - we are part of the high-tech/biotech business ecosystem.

Just last Thursday, more than 200 people gathered for a launch party for our Ventura Ventures Technology Center (V2TC) business incubator, located only a few steps away from where we are standing right now.

The incubator was designed to foster a creative environment where high-tech companies and entrepreneurs can network with each other, brainstorm their ideas, and grow their businesses. At that’s exactly what the 10 firms now located in our incubator are doing right now here in Ventura today. Here are a couple of examples:

* The Trade Desk is an exchange for online ad networks. It was founded by Jeff Green, whose last startup was sold to Microsoft after two years of operation and now employs 50 people in Carpinteria.

* Lottay.com is a web site that allows you to donate money through PayPal as a meaningful and fun gift. With the assistance of our venture capital partner DFJ Frontier the City participated in Lottay’s financing out of the City’s Jobs Investment Fund (JIF).

* In addition to bringing Lottay to town, our Jobs Investment Fund and DFJ partnership also helped to attract Ventura’s first venture capital firm to Ventura.

Peate Ventures manages the BuenaVentura Fund and their offices are headquartered in Downtown. It’s said that venture capitalists have a tendency to “invest in their back yard” and already the BuenaVentura Fund has invested in Lottay and one other Ventura company.


Jeff Green, CEO, The Trade Desk

Harry Lin, CEO, Lottay.com

Frank Foster, Managing Partner, DFJ Frontier

John and Dan Peate, Principals, Peate Ventures

All of the companies I mentioned are raising capital creating new jobs and stimulating the local economy. Those that succeed will grow rapidly, creating many new high-quality jobs for people who live in Ventura - exactly what our General Plan and our long-term economic development strategy call for.

We’re also working closely with Community Memorial Hospital to help facilitate their $300 million expansion, which should break ground in 2011.

The new Community Memorial will be a tremendous asset to all of us in Ventura by ensuring that we will have access to very high-quality health care for decades to come.


Gary Wilde, CEO, Community Memorial Health System

But the expansion of Community Memorial is also a crucial part of our ability to nurture and grow biotech companies here in Ventura.

Part of the expansion, we hope, will be to create the all-important “wet lab” space that biotech startups require in order to do their work – space that is currently lacking in Ventura, which is one of the reasons why biotech startups are going to neighboring cities.

The expanded Community Memorial can also help give biomedical entrepreneurs a real-world partner where they can learn more about what patients and doctors need, making Ventura even more attractive to biotech companies.

All of these efforts will bring high-quality paying jobs for our residents and with the path-breaking assistance of Ventura College, which is a real innovator in technical training.

I am sure that as these companies grow, we can provide them with a highly trained “green collar” workforce. In fact, Ventura College has just received a grant from Southern California Edison to pursue a Green Jobs Education Initiative.


Ramiro Sanchez, Executive Vice President, Ventura College

During this deep recession, the success of our downtown and our other unique destinations has been a remarkable story. Business downtown has continued to grow even as retail sales have dropped precipitously elsewhere. Our visitor and convention business has held its own as Channel Islands National Park and other local attractions have continued to draw people from California and throughout the world.

In a world where retail and tourism is changing rapidly, we must work hard to differentiate ourselves and focus on those things that are unique to Ventura – that people can get nowhere else. So we must further promote and develop these unique attractions – not just our downtown and the arts and music scene there, but also our remarkable array of outdoor recreational opportunities, including the islands and the Ventura Harbor, Olivas Links, surfing, and great hiking opportunities nearby.

Indeed, the combination of our terrific downtown and the outdoor recreation opportunities may be the biggest attraction Ventura has. We’ve also got to make sure that the very precious remaining space we have for retail opportunities, such as the Ventura Auto Center, which is close to many of those outdoor opportunities, is strategically used to reinforce the unique experience Ventura offers.

And, by the way, the more we are able to strengthen and promote these unique experiences in Ventura, the more attractive Ventura will become as a place for entrepreneurs and innovators in the high-tech and biotech industries. And create more jobs for people who live here.

Over the next year as we move forward with these efforts we will continue to work with the Chamber of Commerce and our business community to pursue the goals we crafted at the Economic Summit last spring. We’ve already put into place a business ombudsman, whose job it is to help businesses navigate the permit process at City Hall.


Randy Hinton, Outgoing Chair, Chamber of Commerce

Dave Armstrong, chair, Downtown Ventura Organization

Doug Wood, General Manager, Crowne Plaza Ventura Beach

Let me turn now to the underlying foundation of our future prosperity - sustaining this beautiful and fragile location where we live.

As former Mayor Brennan often says, living in Ventura is like living on an island. We are bounded by the ocean, two rivers and a mountain range. It’s easy to forget that this is a very fragile place to live. We are reminded only occasionally when we are inundated … as were last week, or when fire threatens to overwhelm us, or when we are cut off temporarily from the outside world.

Yet people have made this small piece of land their home – living sustainability with the environment – for many thousands of years. It’s been two and a quarter centuries since the Mission was founded and almost a century and a half since the creation of Ventura as a municipality.

Sustaining our lives in this beautiful and fragile place has never been easy, but we have always been able to do it somehow. In order to continue doing so, we’re going to have to find new ways to live sustainably on this small piece of land we have claimed as ours.

For example: Unlike most communities, we have the privilege of actually seeing the entire “life-cycle” of water and how it gets polluted – from the moment rain lands on the ground and runs across our driveways, down through the storm drains, down the barrancas, and out into the ocean, picking up whatever there is along its path. When my daughter Sara was young, we used to try to race the rain to the sea.

Today we face enormous pressure from State and Federal regulations to be even tougher on ourselves in protecting water quality and we are responding with green streets and green landscaping and green stormwater improvements that make our community more inviting and beautiful, while at the same time making water quality better.


Paul Jenkin, Environmental Director, Surfrider Foundation

Similarly, we are engaged in an enormous effort at City Hall and community-wide to green our operations so that we consume less energy and pollute less, which, by the way, means we save money as well. We power much of our city yard through photovoltaic cells on the roof. We use co-generation to produce energy at our Community Pool. We’ve reduced electricity use citywide by more than 25 percent.


Ron Calkins, Director, City of Ventura Public Works Department

And of course Ventura is proudly home to some of the greenest businesses in America, most especially Patagonia, which has been declared by no less than Fortune Magazine as “The Coolest Company on the Planet.” Patagonia has much to teach the rest of us in Ventura about being truly green, and I hope we spend a lot of time learning from them over the next couple of years.


Pedro Lopez-Baldrich, General Counsel, Patagonia

Now, however, our community faces a very real and very grave environmental threat to our long-term survival.

To most people, climate change is an abstraction. To us it is not. No matter what causes climate change, as a result the sea level will rise. As a result, it will rise in this city and it will rise in our lifetimes.

Throughout the state, scientists are forecasting a rise in sea level of somewhere between 16 and 55 inches – that’s somewhere between one and a half and four and a half feet – by 2050. If that seems a long way off, think of it this way. In 2050, Alec Loorz – the Ventura teenage activist who went to Copenhagen to fight for a climate-change accord will be about the age that I am now. For Alec and his generation – including my daughter Sara and so many of our children – climate change will shape the world they live in and the lives they lead.

So we have to start planning now to protect our community from the rising sea level. How will we protect our harbor and our Keys and Pierpont communities? How will we protect our sewer plant?

How will we protect the investments we make along the Promenade and Downtown? How can we work together with our neighboring communities, with the Navy (which is also dealing with this problem), and others who are at risk?

No matter whether we can stop the process of climate change, we must take steps – by reinforcing our traditional infrastructure and creating new, greener infrastructure – to protect our community from inundation.

As I have said before, we can’t prosper if we are drowning. But we can prosper if we take the lead in finding ways to deal with sea-level rise, not just attacking the problem, but nurturing businesses that can lead the way with green solutions.


Rachel Morris, President, Ventura Climate Care Options Organized Locally (VCCOOL)

Finally, I’d like to speak about the third theme that has emerged as vital to our community: how we can provide our constituents with the quality of life they rightly expect at a time of steep declines in our revenue.

In these hard times, we have had to make difficult decisions to cut services. We have lost some of our most cherished businesses and community institutions, and many more are at risk. This in turn has understandably led to tension over how to live within our means today.

On this question, it often seems as though Ventura is being torn apart by two warring camps.

On the one hand, there are those who zealously believe that we must continue to do things the same way we have always done them… and raise taxes to pay for it.

On the other hand – the polar opposite – there are those who zealously believe that we must continue to do things the same way we have always done them… and cut everybody’s wages to pay for it.

But I’m afraid that if we frame the debate about the future of our community this way, we will never get past the logjam.

No wonder our City Manager often likes to repeat a quotation – often attributed to Winston Churchill – about Great Britain’s dire financial situation in the middle of World War II. To the Cabinet, Churchill supposedly said:

“Gentlemen, we have run out of money. Now we have to think.”

So maybe it’s time to think about more than simply how to pay for continuing business as usual. Maybe it’s time to think about how to do things differently; reinvent things; ask ourselves questions we’ve never asked before; questions such as:

Does every fire truck have to be attached to a fire station?

Does every library book have to be attached to a library building?

Does every person who wants to travel by bus have to be attached to a 40-foot, 20-ton vehicle?

We have always taken these things for granted. But thinking this way is very expensive. It requires us to build separate buildings and create separate systems for everything we do. But we can’t afford to think this way anymore. We must think differently.

We’ve already made some progress on this front – for example, our Fire Department greatly increased response times during the time we had Medic Engine 10, which is essentially a fire and emergency response vehicle not tied to a particular fire station.


Kevin Rennie, Chief, City of Ventura Fire Department

We’ve had to park Medic Engine 10 for the moment because of budget constraints, but I suspect it will be back because it’s exactly the kind of innovation we’ve going to have to focus on in the months and years ahead. Indeed, reinventing public services through this kind of creative thinking was the one unanimous high priority that came out of our City Council goal-setting workshop a couple of weeks ago.

So we’re going to keep asking these kinds of questions: Can we find a way to make sure that everybody has access to library services even if they don’t live near a library?

Is there a way for firefighters and police officers and code enforcement officers to work together as they traverse the streets of our community, keeping an eye out for our well-being? Can’t we work with together with nonprofit organizations like the Serra Cross Conservancy, the Ventura Hillsides Conservancy, and the Ventura Botanical Garden to manage Grant Park and actually make it better than it is now, at less cost?

Similarly, we must think about how to create and strengthen our neighborhood gathering-places no matter what role they might currently play.

Here in Ventura, we have terrific parks and schools and senior centers and recreation centers and libraries. Every neighborhood should have all these things.

But it’s clear that we will never be able to afford to provide every neighborhood with each one of these things.

So how do we find a way to provide every neighborhood with a civic gathering space where they have access to all these things in the same place in a way we can afford?

This kind of transformation obviously requires creative thinking and an open mind, but it also requires a collaborative heart. We here at City Hall can’t do everything by ourselves. To reinvent the way we do things in Ventura, all of us must emerge from our silos and work together: our city, our college, our school district, our county agencies, our nonprofits, our philanthropies, our businesses, and of course, most important of all, the people of Ventura.

The people of Ventura are truly remarkable in their commitment to our community and their passion and their energy and their ability to constantly both reinforce our community and reinvent it so that it can continue to thrive. We do this not just through the political debates that we engage in up here in this dais, but more importantly – every minute of every day – when we volunteer to coach soccer or little league, help with the PTO bake sale, join a service club, or help out at a school, or sit on a committee to plan the future of our libraries, helping our police department, or working on a weekend beach cleanup.

That’s why I am grateful to my predecessor Christy Weir for making sure that Ventura was one of the first cities in the country to sign up for the national “Cities of Service” effort started under New York mayor Bloomberg, which highlights volunteer efforts in communities all over the nation. And Ventura is beginning to get national attention for our commitment to volunteer service. Friends: we need all of your to help us through this time of need in laying the foundation for the future.

This is a time of great change and uncertainty in our society. Old ways of doing things are falling by the wayside quickly and new ways are emerging rapidly. Such times can be frightening, but they are also pregnant with great possibilities. We in Ventura are very determined and well positioned to take advantage of those opportunities in order to reinforce Ventura as a great place to live and work.

Ten years ago this spring, in this very chambers, the Ventura City Council agreed to move forward aggressively to accept a new vision for our community created by the community itself and turn it into a reality. The result has been a decade of remarkable progress toward our commonly held goals.

Now, at a difficult moment in history, is the time for us to look forward to 10 years from now – to 2020 – and once again work collaboratively and aggressively to ensure Ventura’s future prosperity, and for another generation, to sustain the wonderful quality of life that we all enjoy. I look forward to working with each and every one of you over the next year in taking the first steps to making that prosperity and sustainability a reality.

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