Council: Perception, economic
development, policing issues of concern

May 29, 2015
Santa Paula News

Although public safety, specifically police services were the top priority of most speakers at the special May 21 City Council meeting, ways to better the community overall that in turn could impact crime rates also brought public comment.

And with a memo written by Police Chief Steve McLean noting crime stats cited by the FBI circulating through the community, he made it clear to the council that “The gangs are not out of control…”

But he added, “That being said I’m not going to sugarcoat it the fact that gang members are a significant threat.”  

McLean made his remarks after a break when most of the standing-room-only crowd had left the meeting to address budget priorities and community goals.

In general Public Comment Delton Lee Johnson said the vision of Santa Paula should be “quality” such as demonstrated in Santa Barbara, which has consistency of design and color that reflects its well-heeled residents.

Richard Rudman was another speaker that broadened the discussion that before his remarks had centered almost solely on public safety. 

Although he agreed that police and fire funding must not be cut other ways should be found to provide the funding to continue to strengthen public safety.

“I can’t think of any better way to spend Santa Paula,” revenue and Rudman said some methods of raising same could be through “identifying a tourism evangelist,” to bring visitors, encourage new business to locate in Santa Paula and make the process easier for same.

“Why don’t we do something about starting a farmers market here,” another way to attract lots of visitors such as is done by Cruise Nite.

“We have car shows without harm to the public,” he noted.

Rudman also urged the council not to forget an independent audit of city budgets that he said is “needed badly…”

Sheryl Hamlin said although she concurred with remarks concerning police and public safety, she also noted the “strong relationship” between “broken streets and graffiti” that is an “open invitation” to criminals, an “invitation for gangs to move here…the quicker,” cleaning and other improvements are made the faster criminal activity will decrease.

Hamlin suggested a benefit district or another funding arm to “get out and clean the place up” and noted “Now you have a great partner in your bond salesman,” who arranged the $70-plus-million purchase of the wastewater treatment plant who could help the city obtain, “a nice quick little source of funds…”

Connie Tushla, chair of the city’s Citizens Economic Development Advisory Committee as well as the Chamber of Commerce’s similar committee, noted the city’s — and the community’s — needs.

Financial reporting must be accurate and presented optimally every quarter and Main Street must be groomed and kept “immaculately clean…we cannot afford to have this street, the gateway to economic development,” continue to be dirty and unwelcoming to tourists, residents and potential businesses alike.

Roads she said should be fixed as soon as possible using money already held funds and to reimburse the General Fund appropriately for expenditures tied to enterprise services.

Tushla also noted that a “goal” for the city’s upcoming General Plan update should be creating a winner-take-all source of income — bed taxes that city’s wholly keep — by creating a resort in Adams or Fagan canyons.

Ojai collects about $3 million a year in bed taxes alone and Tushla estimated Santa Paula’s bed tax revenue is about $100,000.

“We have two canyons,” that could offer a resort; golfers could go to nearby existing courses and a trolley service to the city could be arranged for exploring the city.

With Santa Paula’s mountain views and famed “Mediterranean climate” Tushla said the area would be a popular destination.

When it comes to crime and Santa Paula’s eroding reputation, Tushla said although crime is present and must be taken control of, the perception of crime is blown out of proportion.

“Even if the perception is incorrect, in the eye of the beholder makes it true…let’s put this to rest once and for all.’

Proper communication and public relations are important said Tushla who suggested to the council that “an effective, well-organized advertising PR program” be developed. 

“We must ’declare war’ against the perception that Santa Paula is a crime-ridden city…”

She urged the council to “hire the police we need,” pay all a “decent wage,” support intervention programs for youth and develop a public relations program.

Former Vice Mayor Laura Flores Espinosa told the council she was representing Latino Town Hall.

“You cannot fix problems here with suppression as the only measures,” but more emphasis should be placed on youth services including youth employment and job training.

Espinosa, who formally headed up a program that provided dozens of summer jobs for youth, said the council must “Help us put pressure on the county and workforce investment board,” to provide local services and opportunities.

Labor project agreements must also be crafted for public projects to stimulate the local economy and outsourcing of city services discouraged. 

“The city should contract in by not contracting out…by contracting out you’re sending those dollars right out of the community,” she noted.

Espinosa said the city should also implement the UC-San Luis Obispo redevelopment study.

She noted “community engagement…I’m really pleased to see what a wonderful atmosphere you have created the last several months,” and Espinosa encouraged same by having the city regularly update its website, making it more accessible and up to date as well as providing council contacts addresses online.

When McLean stepped up to the podium he noted, “As a chief it’s tough,” to hear the fears of the community regarding their safety, but he said he wanted to “put the situation with gangs in perspective…”

He said that although 221 gang members cited in his memo does not mean they are all active: 25 percent are in jail, “some are aging out and some are trying to get out…”

And although the SPPD is understaffed with 24 officers — four are out on injury leave — they continue to aggressively make arrests and capture murder suspects, actions McLean said the public often helped make possible through tips.

Staffing levels and salaries are a concern that loses Santa Paula cops and McLean said he is trying to fill four additional open positions.

“Gangs are not out of control,” although a threat to the community with 10 reports of shots fired in the past eight weeks.

“The issue has to be addressed,” but public safety is a community issue that McLean said is “up to the community to fix,” perhaps through another tax measure.

“We’ll do our best and we’ll continue to do our job,” and McLean said he understands law enforcement is “no longer a sacred cow…”

Currently the police department is facing about $280,000 in cuts primarily overtime costs and vehicles.

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