Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Next Chapter For Me

Over the next few months, I will transition to spending most of my time serving as Vice President, Policy & Programs, for Smart Growth America in Washington, D.C. Smart Growth America is a national organization that advocates for better urban planning and smarter transportation investments. I'll spend most of my time assisting state and local governments around the country update and improve their policies.

But I will continue to be active here in California. I will continue to serve as a Principal (on a part-time basis), Shareholder, and Board member at The Planning Center | DC&E, working primarily on Transfer of Development Rights programs nationwide and high-profile projects in California, and I'll continue to serve as a Senior Fellow at the Price School of Planning, Policy & Development at USC (which was just endowed thanks to a generous gift of $50 million from the Price family).

I'll be spending most of my time here in Ventura until March or so, and after that I will spend most of my time in Washington, D.C. I expect to be back on a regular basis, probably once or twice a month. This is a hard decision for me, because I love Ventura so much. I have loved it since I first moved here 25 years ago, and I have to say I am enjoying every minute I spend here now. It's where my family was raised, and it is where I have experienced most of the really important moments in my life.

Going forward, I'll do everything I can to help Ventura continue to be a great place to live and work. I plan to retain my property here, and I expect to be in town once or twice a month. I will continue to work as much as possible on many issues important to Ventura -- the 2016 anniversary effort, our effort to build a thriving technology sector here, public transportation, access for the disabled, conserving our land, and building a sustainable future for Ventura in all ways.

In addition, I hope I'll back to playing a role I used to play before I was elected -- advance scout and cheerleader for Ventura. In D.C. and throughout the nation, I will continue to promote what I love about Ventura and look for opportunities to bring expertise, resources, and opportunity to our wonderful community.

I hope to chat with all of you more in the next couple of months as I begin to make this transition. Believe me, every day in Ventura is precious to me -- as it always has been!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Giving Thanks for Our Faith Community -- And Helping Them Prevent Homelessness

Tonight I’m giving thanks for Ventura’s amazing faith community. I just returned home from the annual Thanksgiving Service put on by the Ventura Interfaith Ministerial Association, which I’m proud to say was hosted this year by my congregation, Temple Beth Torah.

Every year, VIMA – a group of ministers from a wide variety of faiths – holds an interfaith service on the Tuesday night before Thanksgiving at a different congregation around town. It’s a truly remarkable service – beautiful and heartfelt and caring. In other words, a lot like Ventura.

As each minister and each choir came to our bimah at Temple Beth Torah to present a prayer of gratitude derived from their own faith, I remembered the times I visited so many of their churches and congregations over my two years as mayor. I went everywhere – from Evangelical Christian churches all the way to Hindu and Buddhist temples – and I am amazing at the range of our religious institutions, their commitment to our community, and the progress they have made in working together.

Tonight, in addition to our own Rabbi Lisa Hochberg-Miller, the service representatives from Seventh-Day Adventists, Mormons, Disciples of Christ, United Church of Christ, Bhuddist temples, the Baha’i Community, Methodists, Unitarian Universalists, and Methodists – as well as Captain Bill Finley from the Salvation Army, Rev. Rob Orth from Project Understanding, and Rev. Curtis Hotchkiss from Community Memorial Hospital. We prayed, worshipped and gave thanks in a half-dozen different languages.

In a world where religious observance, all too often, fosters divisiveness and hatred, tonight’s service was remarkable. All the more remarkable, however, is the community work that all these organizations do together, especially in feeding and housing the homeless and helping people in need. One of the most amazing things these organizations do together is help to support and run the Ventura Homeless Prevention Fund – a nationally recognized program that raises money privately to help keep families out of homelessness when they are at risk.

At a time when it’s easy to be cynical about how our charitable and tax dollars are used – and where we are all too accustomed to laying out money for good causes and not getting results – the Homeless Prevention Fund is amazing. Many families of modest means are always a paycheck or two away from homelessness, and often one single event – a broken-down car, a medical problem – can strain a family’s finances so much that they are out on the street. The Homeless Prevention Fund provides money to families at risk to keep them in their homes.

And it’s a great value. Once a family is homeless, getting them housed and back on their feet can cost, quite literally, tens of thousands of dollars. But the average cost of helping them through their emergency so that they can stay in the home is about $750. It’s a great investment in our community.

Tonight’s appeal was to provide funds for the Homeless Prevention Fund. Bill Finley from the Salvation Army – a remarkable, passionate, articulate, and effective leader in our community – made the appeal. I won’t try to repeat what he said here, but he claimed he couldn’t sing and therefore read a lot of song lyrics of his smartphone. The net effect was that he emptied my pocket.

And this Thanksgiving, I’d suggest you should let the Homeless Prevention Fund empty your pocket too. It’s easy – just go to this web site, and follow the directions to donate online. Or you can write a check to the United Way of Ventura County, with a note that you want to support the Ventura Homeless Prevention Fund, and mail it to the United Way at 1317 Del Norte Road, Suite 100, Camarillo, CA 93010.

To me, the most enjoyable thing about tonight’s service was seeing how much fun our diverse interfaith ministers have together. As a Jew and a Scot, I was blown away at the sight of Pastor Jim Ayars of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church playing the bagpipes while standing on our bimah at Temple Beth Torah. I just love this town, and I love the way the people in our community use their faith in a positive way to make Ventura a better place. That’s what I am giving thanks for this week.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Artists, Don't Ever Sell Yourselves Short

Here's an adapted version of the speech I gave at the Mayor's Arts Awards last Thursday night:

It’s been my privilege twice to present these awards to outstanding contributors to the arts here in Ventura. You’d think by now we would be past calling ourselves “California’s New Art City,” though I have to admit I’m a bit hesitant to call ourselves “California’s Old Art City”.

After all these years, we’ve begun to make a real impact in the arts – and the arts have begun to make a real impact on Ventura in more ways than I can count. As I prepare to leave office, my message to the artists and their supporters in this town is pretty simple:

Don’t ever sell yourself short.

I know that’s a funny thing to say, but artists have a tendency to sell themselves short – and then get mad because other people also sell them short. But don’t forget all the different ways that the arts help us.

In the business of running our city, we try to do three things. We try to create prosperity for our community. We try to improve the quality of life for people in Ventura. And we try to improve our sense of community and our sense of place. Everything we do is about one (or more) of these three goals; and the arts are vital in accomplishing all three.

We tend to speak generally about how the arts are good for residents of Ventura because the arts have the power to inspire and fulfill us; and we speak even more sweepingly about how the arts helps the economy because of the number of paintings and tickets so, and the spinoff effect, and so forth. But I want to take a moment to make these things more real.

Everytime somebody comes into contact with the arts, you are touching them – and you are changing and improving our community.

Every time a child creates something in school, and realizes that they can create, and gains confidence as a result, that’s you at work.

Every time somebody is moved and gains new insight into themselves and the world by experiencing art, that’s you at work.

Every time somebody is inspired by a piece of public art to renew their commitment to our community, that’s you at work. It doesn't matter whether commitment is a commitment to the arts -- it can be any renewed commitment to our community.

Every time somebody comes up with an idea for a business or a product, and uses creative thinking skills to figure out how to make that business or product a success, that’s you at work.

Every time somebody decides to move their business to Ventura – or keep it here – or expand it here – because the quality of life and the things Ventura has to offer are important, that’s you at work.

All these are examples of you at working helping us to achieve our three basic goals: prosperity, quality of life, and sense of community. So don’t ever sell yourself short. Don’t ever stop reminding yourselves – and reminding us – that the arts work every day, in every venue, to help us achieve our most basic goals as a community.

Thanks to all of you for what you have done. It has been my privilege to serve this community for the last eight years on the City Council and for the last two as Mayor. I hope I can continue to work with you in enhancing the arts – and leveraging the power of the arts to achieve our other community goals – for many years to come.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Let's Make Ventura "One Big Accelerator"

In eight years on the City Council, the one phrase I have heard more than any other is “economic development”. This means a different things to different people – jobs, tax revenue, easier permitting for businesses --but to me it has always meant creating a prosperity that can endure and benefit us all.

I spent Friday and Saturday participating in the economic development discussions at the National League of Cities annual conference in Phoenix. I focused on the sessions dealing with growing small businesses and helping entrepreneurs. I talked about Ventura’s experience in trying to nurture high-tech businesses, but I heard a lot from other cities and experts about what’s working and what’s not

There were a lot of people there telling their stories – people from Boston and Scottsdale and New York and all over the country. They mostly told stories about how cities can work with universities and others to foster the expansion of what are sometimes called “high-potential” businesses in their communities using incubators and “accelerators” (business centers designed to accelerate the growth of businesses once they are incubated). And the lessons were pretty clear: know what you’re trying to accomplish; make strong connections with your local universities; build an “ecosystem” of necessary services around the business sector you’re trying to grow; and, perhaps most important, be persistent and patient, because it takes a long time.

In Ventura, we have placed a lot of chips on nurturing tech businesses in the incubator we have created beyond City Hall. We targeted Internet startups for the incubator – companies that build things like online advertising auctions, geographical locators, and the like – because we knew that’s a business sector with very high growth potential that had a presence in neighboring cities, especially Carpinteria and Santa Barbara. We targeted ‘Net-based companies because they can raise large amounts of Ventura capital (many of the companies in the incubator have raised millions) and because each one has the potential to grow very, very fast. So far, we’re successful. There are currently 14 companies in the incubator with about 50 jobs altogether. But if even one of these companies because a big success, that will mean hundreds of jobs and lots of opportunities for vendors and suppliers in Ventura.

So what I learned in Phoenix is that we have a long way to go. Yet I was encouraged by what I learned.

From Boston – where Mayor Ray Mennino is setting up an “innovation district” – I learned that connections not just to science-based colleges but colleges focused on entrepreneurship are important. Babson College, a leading entrepreneurship college based in the suburbs, is setting up an operation in Boston at Mennino’s innovation center. There’s a lesson here. We already have a strong relationship with UCSB, where the engineering school spinsLink off a lot of startups. But we need to strengthen our relationship with Pepperdine, which has a great entrepreneurship program. Hey, Pepperdine, want to set up a branch here in Ventura?

From Arizona – where the City of Scottsdale decided to collaborate with Arizona State on an incubator/accelerator called SkySong ] -- I learned that you have to be patient even in the face of political criticism. SkySong’s been criticized for creating “only” 700-some-odd jobs so far, rather than the 10,000 promised. But as one of Skysong’s leaders said on Saturday, this is a long-term play. It takes 10 or 20 years to pay off – but if you do it right, it pays off for decades. (By the way, there's a really good urban revitalization story with SkySong. It's located on Scottsdale's old "auto row," and after flirting with both a Wal-Mart and an arena, Scottsdale did a deal with ASU.

Everywhere at the conference I learned that social media is important. The entrepreneurs in these growth sectors are mostly young, and they know how to use the Internet. After all, most of the startups in Ventura are Internet-based companies. I’m very proud of the fact that NetProspex recently ranked Ventura as the 4th most social-media-savvy business city in America – behind only New York, San Jose, and San Francisco. This means we ranked ahead of places like Seattle, San Diego and Austin. I can’t exactly explain why this is – my theory is that it has something to do with surf-town folks who seem mellow but are really pretty intensely interconnected – but it shows you that this is one really important part of the strategy that we are really on top of.

So going forward, what do you we need to do? There’s so much, but here are a few things:

Keep strengthening our university partnerships, so that UCSB, Pepperdine, Cal State Channel Islands, Ventura College, and others all play a role in our effort – and recognize that what we’re doing helps them too.

Keep building the ecosystem of services that these entrepreneurs need. That means making sure that angel investors, venture capitalists, intellectual property lawyers, and others know Ventura and want to do business here. It also means connecting these growing companies to local vendors, so that the economic benefits of their expansion stay local; and with local real estate brokers and landlords, so the companies themselves will stay in town.

Make sure these companies have the infrastructure they need. Right now our biggest problem is that our fiberoptic telecommunications network is spotty and doesn’t even reach the incubator. Ironic for an Internet-based economic development strategy! We must keep working with the telecom companies to bring good fiber to the places we need it.

In other words, we need to make all of Ventura into an accelerator.

So often, economic development is about the short-term win – luring in the big plant that will immediately provide jobs, grabbing the big retail store that will immediately throw off sales tax revenue. These short-term wins are important, but having worked in economic development for almost 25 years I have to say they often don’t last. The plant closes, the store moves – all for reasons the community has no control over.

But our high-growth tech effort is different. In Ventura, we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to create an enduring prosperity that will last us many decades. We can nurture locally based businesses that have vast growth potential. We can create hundreds – maybe thousands – of great jobs for people who live here. We can create a huge amount of new activity for local businesses who will serve the tech companies. We will create the consumer demand that will drive retail sales – and sales tax revenuf or our city. We can generate the wealth we need to endow our community and our civic life for many years to come.

We can do all this. But it takes patience, persistence, and focus – day after day, month after month, year after year. But I am convinced that the payoff is worth all the effort required to make this effort work. So let’s make all of Ventura an accelerator for our tech businesses. It’ll help every business, ever household, and every civic institution in town.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

A Victory For The Practical -- Not The Ideological

Yesterday, Ventura’s voters proved once again that they’re practical, not ideological, and they’re more interested in constructive solutions than angry rants.

The solid winners in yesterday’s election were my longtime council colleagues Christy Weir and Carl Morehouse and newcomer Cheryl Heitmann, whom I was proud to endorse. Ken Cozzens finished a strong fourth.

Sometimes there seemed to be a fair amount of shrill rhetoric in this campaign -- reflecting the polarization nationally. The Tea Party and others on the right tried to paint the incumbents and Cheryl as free-spending liberals who are in the pockets of the unions, whereas some Democrats and others on the left pounded on the idea that electing Carla Bonney and Bill Knox would mean the Tea Party would take over the City Council.

A lot of this was exaggerated. In fact, Christy and Carl have taken a very hard line with the unions in the last two years, and Bill Knox – although he is very fiscally conservative – is not quite a Tea Party guy. But in the end it didn’t matter. Christy, Carl, and Cheryl all ran positive campaigns that resonated with the voters. As VenturaTalk.com pointed out, the VCStar's online comments may be vitriolic, but clearly the commenters are not in the majority.

Though they often disagree with each other, Christy and Carl both presented themselves as experienced folks who know and care about our community but nevertheless have experience making hard-nosed decisions. Cheryl drew upon her community college board experience and her experience as executive director of the Ventura Music Festival to emphasize her skill at bringing people together and creating innovative partnerships.

The next few years will be tough ones for the city and these are the skills we will need on the City Council to face up to the challenges.

One of the big lessons from this election – a lesson that has been proven over and over again here in Ventura – is that if you are on the far right or the far left, you can’t win just with your political base. You have to have crossover appeal to those practical, moderate voters – Republicans, Democrats, and independents – who are not zealously ideological. These are the folks who hold the balance of power here in Ventura.

It’s telling, for example, that Tea Party favorite Carla Bonney and union favorite Danny Carrillo got almost exactly the same number of votes. They each got about 3,500 votes, which means about 23% of the voters who cast ballots voted for them. In other words, each one carried their base – on the political right for Carla and on the political left for Danny – but they couldn’t cross over.

As I say, these are not new lessons. The Bonney campaign discovered – as the Camille Harris campaign learned in 2009 – that there is a difference between standing in front of Lowe’s getting people to sign a petition and getting people to cast their ballot for you. The Carrillo campaign learned – as Jerry Martin’s union-based campaign learned in 2007 and 2009 – that you can’t get elected in this town with union backing alone.

Knox, who finished fifth, also fell into this "no-crossover" trap. Bill is an extreme fiscal conservative – too extreme for me – but he’s also an genuine community-oriented guy. Unfortunately for him, the community-oriented aspect of Bill did not come across in the campaign and he wasn’t really the serious contender that many people thought he would be. Cozzens, on the other hand, is well known in town and had broad appeal -- more from the right than from the left, but still -- and that's why he did well.

The bottom line was that most voters ruled out the extremes on the left or right and were left to choose among the four who had crossover appeal – Heitmann, Morehouse, Weir, and Cozzens. The first three were bunched together at the top, with Cozzens doing well in the fourth spot. Which just goes to show you once again: Here in Ventura, if you leave it up to the voters, they’ll usually make the right decision.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Five Things to Think About When Voting on Tuesday -- and Three Candidates To Support

Tuesday is Election Day in Ventura. Your vote is really important in this election. Because we have off-year elections, turnout is low – about half what it is in other elections. That means your vote counts twice as much. Don't let somebody else decide who will sit on your City Council.

There are 11 candidates running for three seats on the city council. I am endorsing my council colleagues Christy Weir and Carl Morehouse for re-election and Cheryl Heitman for the seat I am vacating. The other 8 candidates are, in alphabetical order, Ed Alamillo, Marty Armstong, Melody Joy Baker, Carla Bonney, Danny Carrillo, Ken Cozzens, Bill Knox, and Brian Lee Rencher. (They appear in a different order on the ballot.) Most of these folks are probably familiar to you by now.

Before I explain why I have endorsed Christy, Carl, and Cheryl, let me talk a little about the things I think all of us as voters should take into account when we fill out our ballots. So here are my five commandments about voting.

First, don’t throw your vote away on somebody who isn’t going to win because you want to register a protest. People often do this because they are mad or because they want to send a message. This impulse is understandable, but what you’re really doing is letting somebody else decide who is going to be on the City Council.

Second, don’t vote for somebody because you know their name or they’re a nice guy or a familiar face. These are qualifications for a good neighbor, but they are not qualifications for a good city Council member. Vote for people you think are capable of understanding the issues and making good decisions.

Third, don’t vote for candidates who have a narrow or extreme agenda. Particularly in Ventura, which is a politically diverse city, good governance involves balancing lots of different interests to create an enduring consensus. Somebody with a narrow or extreme agenda may make a lot of noise, but he or she is likely to be ineffective at best.

Fourth, don’t vote for candidates who tell you that everything will be fine and you don’t have to sacrifice anything. It’s always tempting for politicians to say this, but it’s never true. Especially in this prolonged economic downturn, we have all had to sacrifice something – and these sacrifices will likely have to continue. Better to have councilmembers who understand this than councilmembers who deny it in order to be popular.

And fifth, please vote for candidates who can make tough decisions and stick with them. This economic downturn has lasted far longer and has had a much more lasting impact than any of us could have imagined three or four years ago. No matter what we do, it will be many years before we have as much revenue as we had in 2007 or 2008. This means we have to keep making tough decisions about what public services are most important, how to pay for them, and how to change things around so we can deliver them more cost-effectively. We cannot afford to have politicians looking for the easy way out on our City Council.

I support Christy, Carl, and Cheryl because I believe they are all committed to Ventura; they all understand our community well; and they are willing to make the tough decisions.

I’ve known and worked with all three of them for many years. Christy is tough-minded and community-oriented. Carl is hardworking and conscientious. Cheryl knows our community very well and understands how to bring people together. All are independent thinkers – exactly what we need in Ventura – and all will be able to make the tough decisions that will help us survive in the short term and improve our community in the long run.

Please vote on Tuesday. I hope you vote for Christy, Carl, and Cheryl, as I am doing. Please email me if you want to know more.