The sudden announcement that the harbor director was retiring in March was accompanied by two unusual actions:
First, before her retirement announcement, the harbor director signed over power of attorney for the Fisherman’s Wharf project to the private developer Channel Islands Harbor Properties (CIHP). The county’s land use application with the cty of Oxnard for Fisherman’s Wharf says, “I, Lyn Krieger, hereby designate Tom Tellefsen (CIHP) as the Attorney-in-Fact for the
Property Owner (County) for all purposes of processing this application with the City of Oxnard.” This means that the County of Ventura has given the developer, CIHP, the right to negotiate on the county’s behalf with the city of Oxnard for the project that only benefits CIHP.
This move raises more questions about the Board of Supervisors. What do they owe this developer to turn over legal authority of the Fisherman’s Wharf project to CIHP and allow CIHP to represent the county? A public agency, like the county, should not be turning over its power of attorney to a private entity that has different and potentially adverse interests. This is an obvious conflict of interest.
The developer will clearly negotiate and protect CIHP’s interests first not the county’s or city’s. This is the same developer who was given a free two-year extension for an exclusive right to negotiate for Fisherman’s Wharf that eliminated alternative development opportunities with any other developer. This is another example of the Board of Supervisors making strange business decisions.
In a second strange move, the supervisors voted to make an exception to the requirements of the Public Employees Pension Reform Act (PEPRA 2013). They voted to allow the harbor director to become a part-time employee until the end of the year to work particularly on the Fisherman’s Wharf project. Strange, since she abdicated legal authority to the developer. The supervisors appear insistent on doing anything to promote the Fisherman’s Wharf project, including adding to the county’s staff cost. On Feb. 6, at the board meeting, the Ventura County Board of Supervisors moved the vote up two hours earlier than the published time estimate on the agenda, so the public was not able to voice concerns.
The law requires civilian government retirees to be absent from the workforce for 180 days before they rejoin as an employee, a temporary worker or contractor. Working on projects such as Fisherman’s Wharf is not the “critically needed” usual emergency exception. Nor are highly specialized skills required for these harbor projects. As reported by the Ventura County Star, the harbor director said, “The bulk of her time is spent working with businesses that lease land at the harbor and public agencies such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.” This situation does not justify making an exception to the pension reform law.
Why should the harbor director be allowed to continue to work like a consultant until the end of the year on this unpopular 400-apartment project at Channel Islands Boulevard and Victoria? Will she now claim attorney-client privilege in her communications with the developer?
In the past the harbor director has given partial responses to many public information requests sent to obtain information about the Fisherman’s Wharf project. With this new arrangement, information will be even more difficult to obtain. The community’s defense to these tactics is an open, transparent process that it currently does not have.
All these actions at the very least have the appearance of impropriety and demand a change in the process. The county’s questionable business decisions point to the need for a harbor commission composed of appointed and elected members with at least one member from the community. This commission must have real decision-making authority over development and leases at the harbor. It can’t be a toothless tiger.
Now is the time for change at the harbor. The county has exploited Channel Islands Harbor because it has been a cash cow and provides revenue to the county. It hasn’t, however, used the money to maintain the harbor. The county fails to see that this harbor is a rare treasure, a “hidden pearl,” one of the most beautiful small boat harbors in the nation. The Channel Islands Harbor should be treated with the respect it deserves and be available to all of the citizens of Ventura County.
Sumie Mishima and Rene Aiu wrote this opinion piece on behalf of the Harbor & Beach Community Alliance.