Economic Development is the main reason I’m running for City Council. The city’s top priority is maintaining and improving public safety, and we’re on the path towards doing that. The city’s long-term infrastructure priority is securing an adequate supply of water, and we’re doing that. The city’s most vexing failing is homelessness, and we’ve made huge strides in the past year.
But our local economy was stagnant even before the pandemic. While the national economy saw ten years of steady economic growth, for the last six years, Ventura County has seen almost zero growth. We can not survive as a city if we just stay in place during the good times, and then fall back every time there is a recession. Council must focus on Economic Development.
I’ve taught Economics, and so it’s not surprising I approach many of the city’s issues from that standpoint. Many of the issues I’m campaigning on are, at heart, about Economic Development, and I’ve devoted separate pages to each of them. Follow the links to read a more in-depth explanation; a broader analysis of how Council should improve the internal processes at City Hall follows.
The Immediate Crisis
A recession was on the horizon, but in the last three months the global economy suffered a shock unlike any ever seen. Venturans are losing their jobs, their savings, their investments at an unprecedented rate. Council must do everything it can to stop the bleeding. Read more at Pandemic Recovery.
The three factors of production are land, labor, and capital. We have difficulty attracting capital to Ventura because we are notorious for being a black hole for investment. People spend hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to build something in this city, only to face roadblock after roadblock. Read more at Streamlining the Development Review Process.
I take the Chamber of Commerce at their word when they say that high housing costs and low vacancy rates starve our local economy of oxygen. If you want to open a shoe store in Ventura, you can’t charge much more for a pair of Nikes than they do on Amazon or Zappos. But when a typical one bedroom apartment costs $1800/month, you can’t hire and keep qualified people while still selling enough shoes to meet your expenses, let alone turn a profit. The rule of thumb — and what many credit checks require — is that rent is no more than about 30% of your income. To afford $1800/month requires an annual income of about $72,000. That’s an hourly salary of $34/hour. So residents like me, who can’t buy shoes online — I have weird feet, you see — I usually have to drive to Los Angeles, where a retail store can draw from a population of six million people. Read more at Housing Crisis.
Securing Land (more specifically, water)
When economists speak of land, labor and capital, “land” means natural resources, including water. Nearly every business needs access to water. Our current city policy makes it expensive to secure water for a new business or new housing. Read more at Water: Net Zero Fee.
Economic Development Strategy
I’ve been attending the Council’s Economic Development Subcommittee (EDC) for years. I’ve seen how the approach of the subcommitteee changes with which three councilmembers sit on the committee, and I’ve seen how Economic Development has changed as the city has hired a new City Manager and a new Economic Development Manager. I’ve watched as discussions at EDC became formal items which were debated and passed and set to Council — the Matrix Report is just one example, and it promises to transform our development review process. It will have a profound effect on how this city does business.
Right now, the Economic Development staff, and the ED subcommittee, are drafting a new Economic Development Strategy that will be a component of the General Plan. At the same time, there have been questions about what concrete actions the subcommittee can take to assume a leading role in economic development.
The Economic Development Strategy should include a litany of goals, such as attracting new businesses, and helping existing businesses thrive. Who could argue with that? But those goals can work at cross-purposes to one another. Attracting new businesses could cannibalize sales from existing businesses; helping existing businesses thrive could starve a new business of resources, or put barriers in their way.
There will be times when the city will want to thread the needle, will want to attract new businesses in a way that helps existing businesses thrive. But right now, for example, the city’s focus should be on helping existing businesses survive the pandemic crisis, even if the temporary policies they implement discourage new businesses while the crisis is ongoing.
City Council should charge the Economic Development Subcommittee (EDC) with setting priorities in implementing the strategy. The EDC would rank the top priorities, which would then be confirmed by Council. Staff would have clear direction where to focus their efforts. This would give the city a nimble footing, the ability to shift policy based on what is happening in the broader economy.
As we move out of this crisis, the EDC could revisit the issue, and might make attracting tourist dollars a top priority, to save our hospitality industry. The brilliant Economic Development staff knows how to do this, knows how to work with Visit Ventura and the Chamber and the Ventura County Lodging Association and Downtown Ventura Partners. Having EDC debate and rank the top priorities, and having Council ratify them, will give staff clear direction and the authority to meet Council’s clear direction. It will also help guide budget discussions — if tourist dollars are a top priority, for example, that should preclude cuts to the funding for Visit Ventura.