Meet the candidates: Ventura City Council

10/13/2011

The VCReporter continues its coverage of the Ventura City Council election this week by publishing two interviews per week. Three weeks in, we have featured six of the 11 candidates. This week, Ken Cozzens and Cheryl Heitmann. As many Ventura residents will vote by mail, all interviews will be online at vcreporter.com starting Thursday Oct. 13. If it isn’t on the homepage, search for, Meet the Candidates: Ventura City Council 2011. We will also do endorsements in the Oct. 20 issue while interviews will still be published over the next few weeks.



2

Ken Cozzens

Lives in: East-end Ventura (area of Petit and Telegraph)

Recent work history: Retired sheriff's captain (2007), owner of A Secret Place Salon and Day Spa with wife, Trisha
Accolades and credentials that qualify you to run for council:

53-year resident of Ventura, member Downtown Lions, member Blue Knights California XVII, site director for Ventura City Corps, consultant for the Financial Abuse Specialist Team (FAST), liaison for Our Lady of the Assumption Church to the Kingdom Center, member of the Ventura City Flag Committee, M.P.A. Cal Lutheran University, Leadership Ventura, Ventura County Leadership Academy and P.O.S.T. Supervisory Leadership Institute graduate.

How would you characterize Ventura’s identity as it relates to tourism and what aspects of the city’s resources best define that identity?
Tourism is a clean industry and Ventura has many assets to attract visitors. As a member of the Flag Committee and City Corps director, I've had the chance to meet with tourists from the United States and Europe and ask them what they like about our city. They're quick to comment on our beaches, beautiful weather and historical assets, including the Mission, City Hall and museum. They also mention our beaches, bike paths and pier.

However, when I asked if they had seen the Ventura Harbor, visited the Channel Islands Museum or heard about the Channel Islands tours, they replied that they hadn't. I also suggested they visit the east end of Ventura to see the acres of citrus, avocados and vegetables grown locally. Many were grateful for my suggestions and assured me they would try to visit those areas.

New projects such as the efforts of a nonprofit group to change the Ventura River into a pedestrian/bicycle-friendly estuary, the Botanical Gardens and proposed amphitheater behind City Hall will all enhance our tourist trade. These, combined with our already growing arts community, will help provide the finishing touches needed to make our city the destination spot rather than the stopping-off place on the way to Santa Barbara.

However, for Ventura to become an even greater tourist location, we have to resolve our vagrancy problem in the downtown area. Each visitor commented on the aggressive panhandlers and how they were confronted numerous times while walking either on the promenade or up California Street. A united effort, including a greater enforcement of applicable laws, must be a priority.

With the loss of a handful of major companies in the area over the years, job and income diversity seems to be diminishing. What would you do as a councilmember to create high-wage jobs and attract companies to the area?
First and foremost, we have to change Ventura's reputation. I will work to reduce the fees charged by the city to build, and strive to streamline a process that is described as bogged-down, causing builders to "jump through the hoops". This will be beneficial in proving we seek new businesses as partners and will work with them to keep them viable.

The expansion of our two hospitals will result in many new, higher-paying jobs. We must capitalize on these new additions and encourage new medical companies to establish locations near the hospital sites. This will benefit the midtown area.

As a council member, it will be my responsibility, along with other staff, to prove to potential new businesses that we have the facilities they need, water and power they require, and qualified workers to keep their businesses strong. We must strive to insure that new clean industries have the opportunity to transport their goods safely on accessible roads. Lastly, we should make potential new businesses aware that both Oxnard and Camarillo Airports have flight accessibility for their executives, negating the need for them to fly into Los Angeles or Burbank.

Public pay and pension has been a bone of contention for many, especially those struggling in the private sector. If anything, what else do you think needs to be done to even the playing the field?
Ventura is part of the PERS retirement system. This state organization is currently reviewing its retirement plan, including the so called "spiking" of final-year wages. I believe for PERS to continue to function, it will have to seriously consider a two-tier-type system, with new employees paying in to their retirement plans. I respect Ventura's police, fire and public works employees and feel their pay rates should be on a par with adjacent jurisdictions. All three groups are operating with less than they've had and expected to handle more. However, our neighbors are receiving significantly higher sales taxes due to their voters approving a rate increase and/or significantly more retail establishments in their cities. City staff must work with what is available to negotiate contracts.

I'd like to see higher wages for those in the private sector as well, but unfortunately, our economy is stretched to the point that many are downsizing in an effort to stay afloat. For us locally, we have to stress the concept of "shopping local." If area businesses can show a greater profit, hopefully they can pass on some of these benefits to their employees

What does Ventura need more of and less of, and how would you implement carrying out the task to improve the city?
Ventura does not need more drinking establishments. We already have more than 300 locations to purchase alcohol throughout the city. On any given weekend, calls for service at those locations, especially downtown, constantly strain our public safety personnel and prevent them from conducting proactive-type law enforcement.

We need to abandon the California Street off-ramp and work with Cal Trans to build another nearby. That off-ramp is often the first thing visitors see when they come to Ventura. They may be one of the six or seven cars the light at Thompson Boulevard lets through. It's frustrating and unsafe.

As I mentioned earlier, we need a more concerted effort to sell Ventura not only as a "New Arts City" but "A Business-Friendly City" as well. Unless we work on obtaining a strong economy, we're doomed to failure.
Ventura needs a big-box-type store. Ideally, these could be located near the auto mall. Shoppers would have the opportunity to drive past the dealerships and possibly stop. Additionally, I'd like to see a big-box retail store in the west end of Ventura. This would attract shoppers from the Ojai Valley and Oakview areas as well as cities and communities north, such as Carpentaria. The additional sales tax incomes would be a major asset for solving our budgetary problems.

Finally, our city needs to take a stronger community approach to dealing with quality of life issues. Businesses, nonprofit organizations, schools and city government must all work together to solve them. Working together, we can clean the sidewalks of East Ventura, remove the palm fronds from the Ventura Keys, remove the sand buildup on beach access areas and assist Public Works with handling other problems. We can work together to resolve our aggressive vagrancy problem by working with the charities and educating the public on the importance of donating to organizations such as the Salvation Army, not giving directly to the panhandler.

Though Venturans love their cars, how could public transportation be improved?
Ventura's bus system is providing services to many, including the handicapped, students and senior citizens. I'd like to see a more functional bus station at the Pacific View Mall, one that protects waiting passengers from inclement weather.

The Ventura Avenue area is travelled often by pedestrians and bicyclists, including children going to and from area schools. There are currently plans to improve the streets and sidewalks in the area.

During the gas crisis, private organizations encouraged their employees to carpool. Even though the gasoline shortage is not as severe today, Ventura should work to get voluntary carpool programs started throughout the city, including our schools. Once again, a united effort between the Ventura Unified School District, Ventura Community College and businesses could significantly reduce our rush hour traffic.

There are many books written about traveling by bicycle, and many deal with bicycling the Pacific Coast. Efforts to welcome these travelers by providing signage that directs them into our city rather than around it would be beneficial.

Ventura as a tourist destination that provides a variety of attractions. I will work with the business community to develop an even more efficient shuttle service to provide transportation to each attraction from our public parking facilities, as well as our hotels. This shuttle could charge a minimal fee and would greatly reduce the amount of traffic in the downtown area.   

 

3

Cheryl Heitmann

Lives in: Pierpont

Recent work history: executive director of the Ventura Music
Festival

Accolades and credentials that qualify you to run for council: I served for eight years as a trustee on the Ventura County Community College District and was elected president during a financial crisis. I guided the board through challenging times with a budget twice the size of the city of Ventura’s. I know what it means to work as an elected representative of the people and am not afraid to make the tough decisions.

I am currently a member of the boards of United Way, Ventura Chamber of Commerce, Ventura Visitors and Convention Bureau and Downtown Ventura Partners. I am a member of Ventura Rotary, Pierpont Community Council and former board member of the Ventura County Regional Energy Alliance and the Ventura County Mental Health Board. I am married with three grown children and one grandchild. In 2008, I was chosen as one of the top 50 women in Business by the Pacific Coast Business Times and in 2010 as one of the Top Nonprofit Leaders by the Pacific Coast Business Times.

How would you characterize Ventura’s identity as it relates to tourism and what aspects of the city’s resources best define that identity?
Ventura should be a major tourist destination, not a drive-through on the way to somewhere else. As a coastal community, we have so much to offer: scenic beaches, cherished hillsides, Channel Islands National Park, the harbor, a wonderful Mediterranean climate, the San Buenaventura Missions, a unique downtown, and a rich cultural heritage that is committed to our diverse arts community. I serve on the Ventura Visitors and Convention Bureau board. I am committed to maximizing our natural resources to increase our tourist dollars. As the executive director of the Ventura Music Festival, I partner with the Visitors Bureau as well as the Rhodes Scholar program to bring more tourists to Ventura.

If elected, I think investment in our beaches, the Seaward Avenue district, continued enhancements to all of the Harbor Boulevard corridor including the harbor and preservation/maintenance of our historical assets will be key to continuing to draw to the community visitors who seek the special sense of place that has been preserved in Ventura and must be maintained in the future. Additional marketing resources are needed.

With the loss of a handful of major companies in the area over the years, job and income diversity seems to be diminishing. What would you do as a councilmember to create high-wage jobs and attract companies to the area?

1. Reach out to the business community to ensure the city is doing everything it can to help our existing businesses be successful. This can help create a synergy that would attract other companies who will want to share in Ventura’s prosperous business community.

2. Extend Olivas Park Drive to allow for major retail to locate in this area, making it a destination. This will assist the auto dealers with increased sales and provide a boost to our tax base.

3. Consider waiving some of the permit costs for new businesses locating in the city with at least 25 employees.

4. Explore creating health-care related jobs in biotechnology and research partnering with our two hospitals.

5. Support our existing businesses expanding into new markets such as international trade.

6. Work to promote Ventura as a tourist destination.

7. Work to pass an ordinance that, whenever possible, city businesses be given preference for city contracts.
Public pay and pension has been a bone of contention for many, especially those struggling in the private sector. If anything, what else do you think needs to be done to even the playing the field?

While many private employers have discontinued defined benefit pension systems, the city remains in the California Public Employees Retirement System (PERS). To opt out of PERS would be expensive due to the city’s unfunded liability and before the city considers this, it must have accurate information on the costs. We need to limit abuses such as excessive pension payouts caused by extraordinarily high “executive” pay, pension “spiking” or artificially increasing salaries in the last few years of service.

Our pension system has to be sustainable and we have to continually evaluate it and be willing to make formula adjustments based on the realities of the marketplace.

As a councilmember, I will treat our employees fairly while being mindful of the city’s budget. We need to annually obtain salary surveys from the public and private sectors in surrounding areas to be able to realistically evaluate our salaries. We need to eliminate “signing bonuses” and relocation assistance for city employees. We need to make sure new positions, especially at the executive levels, are necessary. And we need to evaluate our policies for new employees to make sure our obligations to them are sustainable.

What does Ventura need more of and less of, and how would you implement carrying out the task to improve the city?
Ventura needs less planning and more doing. Residents have grown tired of Ventura’s lack of implementation in favor of yet another plan that ends up sitting on a shelf. It is time for the Ventura City Council to get out of its excessive planning mode and transition into an aggressive implementation mode. If we don’t, Ventura will end up planning itself into oblivion.

To maintain our quality of life, Ventura needs more jobs and a sustainable economy. This should ensure adequate public safety resources to meet the community’s needs.

Ventura’s citizens care deeply about this city. We live in a time when we cannot rely on government to provide us will all the answers and requires the participation of our entire community to achieve our common goals and a council that is willing to listen. A recent example is Wright Library. Hundreds of citizens mobilized to save a precious city resource.

More than ever, we need leaders on the City Council who have experience bringing people together to find solutions. I value the input of our residents and, as a councilmember, will work with individual residents and our neighborhood councils to address the needs of our city and our neighborhoods. I will depend on my fellow residents to educate me on the issues they are knowledgeable and passionate about and to come together in a partnership with the city to find the solutions.

Ventura needs less homelessness and vagrancy. Working with the social service agencies, we must do everything we can to help the truly homeless and those who want to be helped. We must also enforce the laws and not allow them to be broken by those who don’t want any help and are infringing on the rights of others. And, as a city, we need to educate everyone in the difference between a hand out and a hand up.

Though Venturans love their cars, how could public transportation be improved?

1. A regional approach to our bus transportation system making it easier for a resident to go from one city to the next.

2. A more aggressive ride share, vanpool and dial-a-ride program for seniors and others.

3. The improvement and completion of bike paths.

4. Implement a system that uses some smaller buses, as well as flex cars    

 

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Comments

My Comment is to Mr. Cozzens. You state you want to encourage people to "buy local" then in the same discussion say you want to add Big Box stores. Big box stores are the death of local businesses. We need LESS big box stores and more locally owned stores. You pay a little more, but you create businesses and entrepeneurs, not just jobs, and the profits stay in the county, not just the wages.

posted by Harrington on 10/13/11 @ 04:04 p.m.
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