The 2017-2018 Ventura County Grand Jury has been releasing reports and findings on everything from taxes to wild animals. The jury findings, while only recommendations, are used by county officials in crafting ordinances and regulations.

To read Grand Jury reports in their entirety, visit www.ventura.org/grand-jury and click on “Fiscal Year 2017-2018.”

Tax increase at Seabridge Community found unnecessary

Residents of the Seabridge Community adjacent to Channel Islands Harbor can feel justified in lodging complaints regarding an increase in taxes after the Ventura County Grand Jury released results of a study revealing the tax increases to be unnecessary.

Homeowners in the neighborhood have experienced tax increases up to 27 percent in a reserve fund under what is known as Community Facilities District No. 4. The city says that the reserve funds were meant to be set aside for “extraordinary or infrequently occurring expenses.”

The Grand Jury, however, found that the city of Oxnard had seen an increase of 18 percent in dues from the County of Ventura regarding extra services provided at the harbor and that the city had failed to properly budget to accommodate those fees. Further, reasoning used by the city to increase the taxes, including capital equipment, parks landscaping, hardscaping and structure repair as well as storm drain filter replacement by the county Harbor Patrol, are ordinary expenses.

The city cited the potential for an increase in cost in providing dredging operations through the Army Corps of Engineers as well, but the Grand Jury found that in the history of Seabridge, no such increase has ever occurred because the Corps is providing the service free of charge.

Wild animals as pets taken to task in Thousand Oaks

In the summer of 2017, while casually driving through a Thousand Oaks neighborhood, a driver came upon a deadly cobra. The venomous snake was promptly squashed, which led to an investigation by the Thousand Oaks Police Department and the subsequent arrest of Todd Kates, charged with 26 misdemeanor counts of Fish and Game Code and California Code of Regulation violations.

The Grand Jury investigated the city of Thousand Oaks’ policies and regulations regarding keeping wild animals in the city after the incident with Kates. Since 2014, several high-profile incidents involving snakes, reptiles and even alligators have called into question the city’s relationship with the Los Angeles Department of Animal Control, which is contracted with the city to handle its animal control services.

The jury found that the role of the LADAC is confusing, resulting in gaps in enforcement. The jury also found that there exists a lack of ongoing communication among the city, county and state regarding the permitting of wild and dangerous animals.

In addition to the lack of communication, the jury found that there is a “lack of will to enforce or prosecute municipal code violations.”

The jury recommends that the city be more proactive in enforcing and prosecuting municipal code violations and that consider establishing a process so that the city knows when a resident applies for a permit to keep a wild or dangerous animal in the city with the State Fish and Wildlife. Currently, there is no requirement that the city be notified of that.

Competitive elections in special districts nonexistent since 1970

The Grand Jury, investigating the transparency and public accountability of Ventura County special districts, has found that five of these independent districts have not held public competitive elections since 1970 and one has not held a public competitive election since 1960.

Ojai Water Conservation District, Oxnard Drainage Districts No. 1 and No. 2, Pleasant Valley County Water District and Saticoy Sanitary District have all been found not to have held elections to fill vacant seats since 1970; and the last known recorded election for the Hidden Valley Municipal Water District was in 1960.

Typically, if a board member resigns near the end of the term, the board appoints a successor to serve the remainder. The successor then becomes the incumbent at reelection time, gaining the advantage of being the incumbent on the ballot. If there is no challenger, no election is held.

The Jury recommends that all independent special districts reach out to the community, notifying residents of opportunities to serve on the boards, and that they discontinue the practice of appointing new board members months before the election. Further, the jury found that many of the boards did not have a website and recommends that they all get one replete with detailed information on their duties, structure and contact information.