SPCC: Fillmore avoids path towards possible litigation in transit dispute

January 03, 2014
Santa Paula News

By Peggy Kelly 

Santa Paula Times

Fillmore continues to move full steam ahead in partnering with Santa Paula and others for the Heritage Valley Transit Agency, but the city to the east is putting on the brakes when it comes to becoming involved in a potential dispute.

According to correspondence between Mayor Rick Cook and Fillmore Mayor Manuel Minjares, Santa Paula is on its own in a war of words with the county, as Fillmore does not want to take the “path” towards possible litigation.

The Ventura County Transportation Commission adopted a regional transit plan in 2012 and the now named Gold Coast Transit District will initially include Oxnard, Port Hueneme, Ventura and Ojai.

But Santa Paula and Fillmore, citing concerns of specific services to be provided and retaining funding, formed the independent Heritage Valley Transit Agency. Piru, also located in the Santa Clara River Valley, was also included on the proposed JPA adopted earlier this year. Each city also has Dial-A-Ride pickup service, which will be retained but a major improvement will be inner-city bus service on fixed routes and the Highway 126 traveling VISTA bus service extended to Piru.

The new transit plans must be implemented by July 1.

Although in August the Board of Supervisors approved the Heritage Valley Transit Agency on a 4-0 vote, with Supervisor Linda Parks abstaining, but before the vote, many supervisors questioned the need for the localized agency, urging greater regional cooperation and consolidation into fewer transit providers, not more. 

Some supervisors have remained testy since Santa Paula and Fillmore reaffirmed their independence, even though in recent weeks the cities and county agreed to expand the JPA with VCTC to provide administration.

The December 10 supervisors’ meeting to consider the new partnership was attended by City Managers Jaime Fontes of Santa Paula and Fillmore’s David Rowlands.

“...things appeared to go smoothly,” according to a December 12 letter from Cook to the Fillmore City Council, that is, “until the commentary portions of this agenda item.”

Supervisor Steve Bennett was highly critical and noted much time has been spent on the issue. He said that the cities resistance could also be attributed to Gold Coast having “union” employees perceived as being more expensive.

And, if the cities decide later to join Gold Coast, Bennett said, “It might not be doable...”

Supervisor Kathy Long, who represents the River Valley, said that although there were “protracted conversations” that have pushed action close to implementation deadlines, “The true statement that came out of the study,” was that “a good transit system” would be put in place.

Supervisor John Zaragosa said it would be “more efficient” for the cities to join Gold Coast, an agency whose board he sits on.

Supervisor Parks said she could not understand the cities’ resistance to “More connectivity” that would benefit all.

Only Chairman Peter Foy supported the cities, noting that if they joined Gold Coast they would be only two votes out of 17, but Bennett reminded Foy that joining Gold Coast was not the issue supervisors were asked to take action on but rather VCTC being added to the Heritage Valley Transit agreement.

Cook’s letter to Fillmore was accompanied by a video so officials could observe the comments from individual supervisors that Cook wrote “caused myself, VCTC Commission Chairman Ralph Fernandez,” and the council, which Fernandez is a member of, “great concern.

“We wanted to make sure you were aware of the Board members comments,” which Cook wrote he “personally found improper and to a great extent condescending. They do not bode well in terms of our future working relationship with the Board of Supervisors.”

Cook noted that the council would discuss the issue at the December 16 meeting, and, “We will immediately notify you of our decision regarding the issue that is of such great importance to both our constituencies.”

Fontes told the council at the December 16 meeting that since the supervisors’ meeting the Fillmore council agreed to the plan proposed by the county, but “No councilmen were at the meeting and did not see the flavor of the meeting...”

And just hours before the Santa Paula council meeting a letter was received from Fillmore’s mayor noting that the council was not alarmed by Rowland’s update on the supervisors’ meeting.

Wrote Minjares, “...while the comments could be construed as inflammatory, we chose not to take them simply as instructive of the feelings of certain board members and their intent as to their position if VCTC did not concur in the cooperative proposal.”

Supervisors did note they would support the recommended action, which Minjares wrote would render their comments “moot” although “We also recognize that some board members are still frustrated,” that River Valley cities did not wish to joint Gold Coast. 

“While reviewing the board’s comments and actions in this perspective,” Minjares wrote that Fillmore staff was directed to continue to work with all parties, “in a positive direction toward a better transit system for all our mutual constituents, as opposed to moving down a path toward possible litigation and dissension between public agencies, a path which we believe does not benefit any of those whom we represent.”

Fontes noted that Fernandez had other communications with Minjares that might have been more enlightening than statements made by Rowlands to the Fillmore council. 

“I hear a different message,” than what was communicated in the letter said Fernandez, although at this point he is unsure where “Fillmore is” on some of the issues.

The council agreed to table the matter until January for a report from Fernandez.

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