City Council doesn’t want SP kept off the bus but tables transit agreement

January 01, 2014
Santa Paula News

By Peggy Kelly 

Santa Paula Times 

The City Council doesn’t want Santa Paula kept off the bus but they tabled a new agreement for an expanded Heritage Valley Transit District partnership.

The council opted at the December 16 meeting to hold off until January their decision on whether to support the new agreement between the cities of Santa Paula and Fillmore, Ventura County and the newly added Ventura County Transportation Commission to jointly manage transit in the Heritage Valley.

Councilman Martin Hernandez, who works for Supervisor Kathy Long, heard the report but recused himself from the discussion and later offered public comment.

With a change in the law the county and cities have until June 1 to implement their own transit services; Santa Paula and Fillmore had been bucking initial proposals of a joint west county transit agreement-that would be operated as Gold Coast-due to their concerns that the cities would be on the losing end of services as well as lose out on transportation dollars that can fix city streets.

City Manager Jaime Fontes said a formerly agreed upon Joint Powers Agreement between the two cities and the county-governed unincorporated Piru hit a rough spot in the road when “differences came to light, negotiations stalled” due to county concerns a JPA would create another layer of government.

Heritage Valley cities had initially agreed to remain independent of the larger county transit organization in order to better serve the needs of their constituents. 

Fontes screened the supervisors’ December 10 meeting that he attended with Fillmore City Manager David Rowlands.

Fontes told supervisors that it was “Our mutual belief that an independent entity is the best way to provide services,” to River Valley cities “managed at a local level...”

The issue was addressed in at times sharp terms by several supervisors, notably Steve Bennett who questioned how further delays could cause area residents to miss the bus of public transit.

Only Supervisor Peter Foy supported the cities noting that if they became part of the larger entity “they would only have two votes out of 17...”

Bennett said the cities would not have to use Gold Coast no matter what agreement is reached, but Foy noted, “They don’t have any say in what goes on in their city...”

Following the video presentation Hernandez left the council dais to offer public comment.

He noted although a “lot of good work has been done” with the study of  Heritage Valley transit needs, including creating fixed routes inside city limits finances were never addressed.  

“...I find it really difficult to see how a decision can be made with no comparisons made with price or cost,” of providing local transit services that Hernandez said he asked for in the past.

He questioned council decisions that could be made without service and cost comparisons, including JPA administrative costs.

Councilman Bob Gonzales asked about the opposition to the Heritage Valley JPA shown by Supervisor Linda Parks and John Zaragosa in the video.

“My opinion,” said Fontes, “is Supervisor Zaragosa is on the board of Gold Coast,” and spent a “considerable amount of time lobbying” for the transit provider.

“We here in the Heritage Valley are uniquely situated with the highest rider ship in the county...our fare box,” said Fontes “is the biggest.”

He noted Gold Coast has an employee retirement plan that long term is “a substantial amount of money.”

And the west county transit district has plans to construct, “A very large transportation center,” that could cost up to $100 million bonded by members.

East county cities, Fontes added, rejected Gold Coast for just such reasons. 

Subsequent city lobbied legislation by area lawmakers has assured the city’s will retain tax revenue for road and street needs, laws that Fontes said “probably left some hard feelings” on the part of supervisors’.

Although the Fillmore City Council had since endorsed the new concept, none of Fillmore’s council attended and “saw the flavor” of the supervisors’ meeting.

Councilman Ralph Fernandez, vice chair of the Ventura County Transportation Commission, said  Fillmore “Knew if we went to Gold Coast we would not be able to control our own destiny,” and state money for street repairs that would be under city control “goes away, we lose it and Fillmore loses it...”

Mayor Rick Cook asked if the city took no further steps “Who has to provide transportation?”  

Fernandez said if the local transit entity, the already approved Heritage Valley JPA, found it could not operate there would be the option of joining Gold Coast.

Cook noted, “If we disincorporate we would have county fire and sheriffs, would we still have transportation?” and he noted the risk of losing local control.

“This was a done deal,” and Vice Mayor Jim Tovias said the five supervisors, “can’t let it go, can’t handle,” that the Heritage Valley wanted independence.

“If we go to Gold Coast Oxnard would select our routes...we have a very small voice,” and Tovias said the city should move ahead with the revised plan.

Fernandez agreed noting that if the local authority is not successful “We can always join Gold Coast...but if we do not make an effort at this time,” to function independently it will be lost. 

He added that further research as well as meeting with Fillmore and perhaps the county would determine how to proceed.

Tovias asked, “If we voted tonight not to participate what happens next?”

With the new uncertainty of Fillmore’s position and all facing looming deadlines Fontes said what is best for the city interests must be considered.

Fernandez said the matter should be tabled until the next council meeting to allow him time to meet with the Heritage Valley transit subcommittee.

“While the timeframe is very tight,” Fontes said he agreed with Fernandez’s suggestion that was supported by the council.

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