For the first time in eight years, Rick Cole will not be the city manager of Ventura and, in effect, the highest-profile person speaking on public policy issues in Ventura County.
Through his personal reputation as an expert in “new urbanism” and his regular columns in the op-ed section of the Los Angeles Times, Cole projected an image of a forward-thinking visionary on community development. As a proponent of a denser urban core with more mixed-use projects and a way to overcome the impediments that Highway 101 places on downtown development in Ventura, he helped elevate the city’s game.
He can also be credited with helping to launch the city’s effort to attract startup companies, a city-owned business incubator and fostering a nascent effort to develop jobs in emerging green industries.
But beneath the image comes a hard reality — and here the Cole legacy is not exactly sterling. The downtown parking fees are an experiment in traffic engineering that have had a mixed success — critics think the clunky meter system has driven traffic away from restaurants and retail shops at a time when many were struggling.
Ventura continues to have a reputation as a place where permits are hard to come by, where city planners are slow to respond and where the rules of the development game are not as transparent as they could be. In this, Ventura is not alone.
But among Ventura City Council members and indeed across Ventura County, a new consensus is emerging. In order to regain the relatively modest pace of growth and development that was the hallmark of the county prior to the Great Recession, change must come.
That change includes a new economic strategy being put forth by County Chief Executive Officer Mike Powers and some creative new ideas being floated by Simi Valley Mayor Bob Huber. It means capitalizing more directly on the promise of CSU Channel Islands and on the traditional strengths of Ventura County in agriculture, trade and manufacturing.
In recruiting former County CEO Johnny Johnston to serve as a volunteer interim city manager, the city council has done three things. First, it has created a clean break with the Rick Cole era without throwing out the best of his ideas. Second, it has brought on someone who can build a new economic approach for Ventura in a way that parallels similar efforts at the county level.
And finally, it will bring much more focus on efficiency and results — hallmarks of the Johnston approach to managing county government — to its flagship city.
We’ve said previously in this space that Ventura is poised for a major reinvention. Hiring Johnston to guide the initial phase of that reinvention is not a bad way to start.