The 19 members of the Ventura County Grand Jury have released the 2014-2015 report on the state of several issues affecting the county and its residents, revealing the effects of Proposition 47 and realignment of county jails, the state of unincorporated sidewalks and soliciting in Thousand Oaks.

The grand jury also weighed in on the debate over motorists versus cyclists.

To read the report in full, visit www.ventura.org/annual-reports/reports-for-fiscal-year-2014-2015.

Realignment’s big effect on county jails
As mandated by the state, the Ventura County Grand Jury performs a yearly inspection of all 15 Ventura County detention facilities, and the results of the 2014-2015 inspection suggest that Assembly Bill 109, also known as realignment, has had and continues to have a major impact on the county’s law enforcement.

The report also suggests that Proposition 47, which reclassified some property and drug-possession crimes as misdemeanors, is having significant impacts as well.

The grand jury found that space limitations at the Oxnard police station have affected the department’s ability to “efficiently carry out its functions and responsibilities,” while the Santa Paula police department is operating with an “inadequate and deteriorating physical facility.”

Overcrowding at the main jail and the Todd Road jail is a continuing problem and the number of officers in Santa Paula and Port Hueneme is inadequate, the grand jury also found.

Though the affects of Proposition 47 have yet to be determined and are in the process of being evaluated, the grand jury finds that early indications are that it may be successful at reducing the state’s prison population but “the effects on local law enforcement agencies and communities are yet to be understood.”


Split between understanding of panhandling legality

After a complaint was received regarding soliciting in privately owned spaces open to the public in Thousand Oaks, the grand jury sought to understand the legal and social issues surrounding the practice of panhandling.

The jury reviewed Thousand Oaks’ policies regarding panhandling and soliciting, and spoke with the city’s public safety officers as well as store managers, pedestrians and others in Thousand Oaks shopping malls.

The jury discovered that the practice is entangled with the concept of “freedom of speech,” and that while the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office and the Thousand Oaks Police Department have an accurate understanding of the legal issues surrounding soliciting, many in the public do not.

In that regard, the grand jury recommended to the Thousand Oaks City Council to add a “frequently asked questions” section to its “Panhandling Resources” webpage, develop a survey of panhandlers and solicitors to gather information and to put questions regarding soliciting into a separate category from homelessness in its biennial Community Attitude Survey.

Motorists at fault for most local bicycle incidents
In a decision sure to stir the embers of the legendary battle between motorists and cyclists, the grand jury found that most bicycle deaths are the result of motor vehicle driver errors.

The grand jury, presented with the question “How safe is riding a bicycle in Ventura County?” gathered pertinent information from the Internet, newspapers, magazines and interviews with county and city officials and came to several conclusions.

Notably, there is a need to educate the public on bicycle-related laws and the safety benefits of wearing a helmet.

The grand jury recommended that the Ventura County Board of Supervisors and all cities within the county encourage their respective law enforcement personnel to increase enforcement of bicycle and related motor vehicle laws and that cities without a bicycle advisory commission establish one to advise on improving bicycle safety by developing bicycle lanes, signage, paths and trails and to encourage the use of bicycles instead of cars.

Where the sidewalk ends
The grand jury has recommended that the Ventura County Board of Supervisors direct the Public Works Agency to regularly assess the condition of sidewalks in unincorporated areas, develop a repair/replacement plan and to oversee the completion of all needed work, though it did not specify the means by which they should be funded.

Currently, incorporated cities manage sidewalk repairs and have a budget to do so, but homeowners living in unincorporated areas of the county are left to conduct their own repairs of sidewalk adjacent to their properties. Only the shaving down of raised concrete slab was performed if county workers happened to be in the area, but, as the jury found, information on how to request this service was not easily accessible.

The grand jury also recommends a more easily accessible Public Works Agency website with complete information about sidewalk repair and how to request service.

In 1978, Proposition 13 limited property tax dollars, which led the Ventura County Board of Supervisors to rescind previous funding for sidewalk maintenance, leading to the need to stop sidewalk repair in unincorporated areas.