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By Chris Frost
Oxnard-- The Ventura County District Five Board of Supervisors forum continues with Alex Rey Rivera asking Mayor Pro Tem and candidate Carmen Ramirez if she has any outside the box homeless solutions.
He also wanted to know if she learned anything from the "tense situations" at Plaza Park and Halaco?
Ramirez and Mayor Tim Flynn are locked in a struggle that could change the county's voting direction as they compete for the District Five seat. Both candidates, for example, share radical differences of opinion on oil.
Ramirez said homeless people are responsible for half of Oxnard's police calls, and the county needs a balanced approach.
"People aren't well, they have no place to go, some use drugs and hurt other people, but many homeless people got priced out of their rental," she said. "They were priced out of the room they were renting, lost their job, and are living in a car. We have to have compassion for them. One size doesn't fit all."
Ventura County has enough homeless students to fill a high school, she said, which is a tragedy.
"That's a problem for us," she said. "They're not going to be growing up to be productive citizens if they can't get an education. Out of the box, yes, it's been difficult. Nobody seems to want homeless services, except Mr. Tehran in the Fremont neighborhood. I'm not saying you wanted it, but you found there weren't problems there, and I appreciated that. We have to take steps to house people, and then, we'll see fewer problems."
She pointed out that homelessness isn't solely an Oxnard problem.
"The county has been doing a good job," Ramirez said. "I'm on the continuum of care, there's state and federal money, and we need that, so we don't use our general fund money to provide services to the homeless.
Flynn said one thing that affected him was the inaction of the Oxnard City Council for years on the homeless.
"The thought was if we go down this path, it's a slippery slope, and it will consume more of the limited resources the city has," he said. "The Halaco situation made it apparent to me, and the majority of my colleagues that us not doing anything about the homeless situation was costing the city more than doing something about it. That's where the opportunity cost switched in the city policymaking."
He acknowledged that Oxnard is a little bit behind.
"There are no easy solutions," he said. "Beyond mental health, how about talking about upward social mobility, higher-paying jobs, or just a job for those who are homeless. Mental health will be my number one priority, and my second priority will be job training and upward social mobility for the homeless."
Dave Ebbitt asked the candidates what they would do to increase physical and mental healthcare for Ventura County residents?
Flynn said he's been talking about the Assist Program, which is based on Rachel's law, which comes from a 2001 California State Legislature public law and allows counties to voluntarily opt-in to service programs for people who resist mental health opportunities.
"Now it's expanded to eight different categories of people, starting with family members that can request the court to order treatment," he said. "That's one of the problems with chronic homelessness in particular service-resistant individuals. We can probably safely say that a good portion of those individuals who are chronically homeless suffer from mental illness, drug, and alcohol addiction, and physical disabilities. I want to put an end to that. It's chronic homelessness at the core of this problem."
Ramirez said she went to a wellness center in Thousand Oaks, and there were therapists that spoke Spanish five days a week, and at the Centerpoint Mall, there were therapists on-hand twice a week.
"In Oxnard, there has been a lack of Spanish-speaking therapists," she said. "I've known of people who have worked for the county who are Spanish-speaking that have been poached away because they were offered better compensation. We need to have a behavioral health workforce that can relate to our community. There are a lot of Spanish speakers who are not literate and don't have computers. We need people who can serve people with a need and not find somebody who speaks English and needs mental health. It's a critical problem, especially now, during the pandemic. People are depressed at every level. You have to deal with it."
Diana Velzy asked how high on the list climate change is and wanted to know how Flynn and Ramirez would address the problem?
Ramirez said she's been addressing climate change since before she got elected to the Oxnard City Council.
"We are in a crisis," she said. "Look around, read the newspaper, and smell the air. It's not a distant thing. The climate crisis is here. I'm endorsed by Tom Steyer, who is an advisor to Governor Newsom on business recovery. His main focus is getting people into renewable energy jobs, so we can do our part in California and in the City of Oxnard and our county to address climate change with healthier solutions like renewable energy and cleaning up the solution that's already there."
She cited the Thomas and Woolsey fires that have devasted Ventura County.
"There are more coming," Ramirez said. "We have to have our disaster preparedness plans; we have to have our firefighters up to speed. They're stretched thin right now. One of our firefighters were hurt in the San Bernadino fire. We have to beef up those people and protect the homes and businesses in harm's way. The only thing that will help is trying to mitigate all that climate change."
Flynn said that jobs and higher-paying jobs are more important than climate change to the people of Oxnard.
"When you're in an aircraft, and that aircraft is decompressed, and you lose oxygen, it says that the adult puts the mask over their face first, then you affix the mask over the child," he said. "That oxygen is our jobs in the City of Oxnard. How can the residents of Oxnard begin to make a transition in this economy of acknowledging that we do have a climate crisis when they can barely feed themselves? Climate change is the last thing on their mind. What's first on their mind is money and jobs. Once you have that oxygen and can breathe, then we can focus on climate change, and yes, it can be a priority. Jobs are a number one priority, and then at the same time, get around to climate change and act."
Manuel Herrera said some people in Oxnard blame Flynn and Ramirez for the fiscal problems the city face. Those people maintain that if they can't solve the fiscal and structural problems as mayor and council member, why do they think they should be the supervisor?
Flynn said he and Ramirez, along with the other council members, equally share the responsibility of restoring the integrity, honesty, and transparency of the Oxnard City Government.
"You can't have decades and decades of mismanagement, misappropriation of funds at the highest levels, illegal and unlawful behavior, and in a couple of years; why haven't you solved Oxnard's financial problems," he said. "That is absolutely absurd. It is ludicrous for anyone to suggest that. I take pride in the fact that honesty has been brought back to the Oxnard government, and right now, it is transparent.
People may disagree about the priorities, he said, but they can't disagree that honesty, integrity, and transparency has been restored to Oxnard's finances.
"Two-thirds of all the revenue we get comes from property taxes and sales taxes," Flynn said. "When you have three or four families living in one home, you don't have enough property tax revenue. When those same families don't have disposable income, you don't have sales tax revenue. We have a revenue issue, it needs to be addressed, and upward social mobility is the key."
Ramirez said it was a council decision to do what it needed to do to get its finances in order, and one thing they did was increase the wastewater rate.
"We all know what the consequences were," she said. "Four of us, including the mayor and I, were recalled. We survived because we did the right thing. By doing the right thing, we increased the credit rating of our city. It means, ultimately, if we have to borrow money, and we probably will, to fix things like the sea walls and other essential services in the city, it's going to cost the residents less. We also did something they said couldn't be done. We took back our recycling center because it was being run by a vendor who was gouging the residents of the city. That first year, we saved the city $2 million. We have an audit now that has no material deficits. It takes a long time to fix these things. Our revenue is shrinking, or else we'll lose more essential services."
This story will continue on Oct. 23.