The Ventura County Grand Jury is a civil investigatory panel of 19 created to serve “as a voice of the people and a conscience of the community.” The all-volunteer panel rules on issues presented to them, but their findings are not enforceable and are merely recommendations. The Grand Jury has several reports for the 2016-17 fiscal year.
Oxnard’s red light cameras
The Grand Jury has released a report on Oxnard’s red light camera system and the results show a need for improvement.
Since Jan. 31, the city’s network of 11 so-called “approaches” (lights that are monitored by a camera) at eight intersections have been deactivated after the contract with Redflex was allowed to expire. The city had had a contract with Redflex since 2003.
The Grand Jury found that while accidents are reduced at intersections with red light cameras (as shown by research conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety), the city has a negative $800,000 accrued balance with Redflex that would supposedly be “reconciled” upon termination of the contract, renewed in 2008. The jury reported, however, that “the contract is vague and does not make it clear if the city is required to pay any accrued balance at the end of the contract period.”
The jury reported that as currently structured the contract would generate a “significant balance” and that judging by the sizeable balance such as this, the program lacks oversight. The jury has recommended that an audit be performed of the red light camera system to examine “if adequate oversight, financial controls and procedures were employed in the management of the program.”
The jury found that four intersections have cameras that bare miscalculated timing of yellow lights, which could cost the city money as citations issued by these cameras could be thrown out of court, as previously reported in the VCReporter.
Jail overcrowding and law enforcement
Inquiring into the condition of detention and management facilities across the county, the grand jury inspected Main Jail, Todd Road Jail, East Valley Jail, all 10 city holding facilities, and two juvenile facilities and found various issues with each.
Of note, the jury concluded that overcrowding exists at both the Main Jail and Todd Road Jail and has recommended a continual guidance by the Ventura County Sheriff to the Board of Supervisors on the current situation and effects of realignment.
In Port Hueneme, the jury found that the city’s ongoing budget issue has resulted in understaffing and says that “the safety of citizens and officers could be compromised,” citing officers’ penchant to work overtime as dispatchers while also expected to make arrests. The jury recommended the city contract with neighboring cities for assistance.
Finally, the jury concluded that “body cameras have become a law enforcement best practice” and said that the Simi Valley Police Department is the only law enforcement agency in the county not making use of them. The jury recommended that the Simi Valley City Council provide funding to equip the department with cameras.
Children & Family Services
A Grand Jury audit of Ventura County Children & Family Services has found that while staff is “committed to providing the best possible case management services to families,” some members are overworked and carry excessive caseloads, which can affect their performance.
The jury recommended setting reasonable caseloads for case managers, develop a family-friendly grievance procedure, and allow families to provide feedback after the case has been resolved. Further, the Jury recommends the Board of Supervisors provide funding for additional substance abuse programs.
County’s urban water management plans
With the current drought lasting for the better part of five years, one would think that the excessive rainfall experienced at the end of 2016 and beginning of 2017 would alleviate the damage — that is wrong.
The jury reported that Ventura County remains in a state of drought, despite rains somewhat easing the severity. Several of the county reservoirs remain below capacity. In light of this, the jury asked all 10 incorporated cities to provide information on how they would address water needs through 2026.
The jury found that while the cities plans met the basic state requirements as proposed in the Urban Water Management Plan, every Ventura County city relied too heavily on imported water and desalinization, both of which would require a heavy investment, as there exists no such infrastructure to accommodate the need.
While the plans address a prolonged drought of three years, it fails to address the potential for another long-term drought such as the ongoing five-year event.
The jury recommended that all 10 cities collaborate with local water suppliers to draft plans in light of a possible catastrophic event, such as another prolonged drought, or other such disruption, as well as develop a plan that answers the potential need for plans greater than three years.
To read the Grand Jury’s full reports, visit www.ventura.org/grand-jury.