If a local government does nothing else, it must protect public safety. It is the foundational purpose for having laws and police and firefighters and judges, and collecting taxes to pay for them. Police and Fire should be the first departments to be funded, and the last to be cut. The city has to cut $11 million from its original estimates for the 2020/2021 budget. I oppose the June 15 budget proposal, which would cut ten positions from the Police Department and two from the fire department.
The Police Department is the largest general fund expense. Of 659 city employees, 192 are the sworn officers and non-sworn employees in the Police Department. That’s roughly 30%. And yet, of twenty positions proposed for elimination on June 15, a full ten (seven sworn, three nonsworn) come from the Police Department.
It’s true that in three years, the Police Department grew from 166 to 192 positions in 2019. We’ve also seen our crime rate drop, to the lowest levels in twenty years. For all the talk about defunding the police, the Ventura Police Department has embraced hiring civilian investigative technicians to take over tasks that used to be assigned to sworn officers, as well as supporting and cooperating with the Park Ambassadors downtown. When he was Police Chief, Ken Corney was quick to insist that “not all solutions require a badge and a gun.”
I’ve been proud to support the Ventura PD for years. My wife and I are members of the Ventura Police Community Foundation, and we’re always happy to support them, whether through purchasing a ballistic vest, or sponsoring their Heroes Among Us gala. I’ve been through the department’s ten-week Community Academy, and I participated in the development of the department’s Three Year Strategic Plan. I was honored to assist the department by participating in the interview process for Officers applying for promotion to Corporal.I became involved in policing issues when a rash of burglaries across the College Area and East End went unreported in the Star. When I’d learned that three homes in my own Campus View neighborhood had been burglarized over three days, I went around and knocked on doors, telling people to lock their windows during the day and keep an eye out for break-ins. That night, my car was set on fire. I arranged a community meeting in January, bringing 150 residents together with representatives of the police department and a couple Councilmembers. I started Campus View Neighbors because there was no other way to learn about crime in our neighborhood. The PD wasn’t publishing maps, and they’d cut all public outreach, even the Neighborhood Watch.
A year later, when he was the new Chief, Ken Corney came to a Campus View Neighbors meeting and promised to make public engagement a top priority. He kept that promise: publishing crime maps online, sending representatives to monthly Community Council meetings, encouraging residents to use Nextdoor.com, hiring a talented community engagement specialist, lots of press releases and posts on Facebook (with quick responses), Coffee With A Cop events, Curbside Chats at local schools, restarting the Community Academy, involving the public in developing each three-year strategic plan, holding public forums on topics including homelessness and local trends in narcotics. That level of civic engagement is one reason I’ve been a strong supporter of the Police Department.
We’ve expanded the Police Department, thanks to Measure O, and the crime rate in Ventura in 2019 was the lowest it has been in twenty years. I’ve spoken several times to the Measure O committee, in support of police requests, and to the City Council, in support of the labor contract negotiated in 2018. With Ken Corney’s retirement, I look forward to supporting the Ventura Police Department under Chief Schindler.
I oppose the June 15 proposal to cut two sworn positions from the Fire Department. The Ventura Fire Department has been underfunded for decades. In the last thirty years, the department’s calls for service have nearly doubled, without any real increase in the number of sworn firefighters. In 2006, the city adopted a Fire Department Master Plan, which included adding a new fire station by 2020. We haven’t come close.
Fire Station #4 , on Telephone and Petit, was closed for 18 months during the last recession. Response times went up, putting lives at risk. When the station reopened, the response times went back down. I oppose closing Fire Station 4 during this recession or in the future.
in 2018, Council approved adding a Medic Engine #7, a roving engine without a fire station. It is staffed for ten hours a day, four days a week. The three-person crew moves about the city, providing backup to the other six stations and responding to calls. I oppose defunding Medic Engine #7 .
We need to look past this recession to ways we can improve the lifesaving service our Fire Department can provide to the taxpayers. We’ll need to add six more sworn firefighters, combining them with the three who staff Medic Engine 7. With a crew of nine, we will finally be able to open a new fire station in Pierpont. In fact, in order to build the Sondermann-Ring project, the developers had to $3.25 million to help pay to build that fire station. That money is sitting in an account, waiting to be used. The longer we wait to break ground, the more expensive that project is going to be, and meanwhile, our Fire Department is stretched to the limits.
City Council is currently waiting for a consultant, working through the City Manager’s office, to produce a study on how staffing and overtime could be done more efficiently. I look forward to reading the report, and hearing the Fire Department’s response. But nothing will change the fact that even with the reopening of Fire Station 4, and the reintroduction of the roving medic engine, City Council must move forward with plans to open a new fire station.
Meanwhile, all of our existing fire stations are decades old. They are outdated, and while they have all the modern equipment they need, the stations themselves need remodeling. Some are out of compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. To renovate all of them would cost, according to city staff, approximately $80 million.With ADA issues, there may be pressing legal liability issues that would make some repairs a top priority. Otherwise, Council’s funding priority for Fire should be to reduce response times — which likely means a new fire station — before renovating the existing fire stations. It all needs to be done, but the city doesn’t have $100 million to do it all in the next couple years.