Ventura planning commissioner accused of conflict of interest
A Ventura resident has filed a complaint against a city of Ventura planning commissioner alleging her day job influences her role as a public official.
Nicholas Bonge, co-founder of the grassroots nonprofit Neighbors of the Ventura Hillside, submitted a complaint with the California Fair Political Practices Commission asking it to investigate Commissioner Jane Farkas. It alleges that Farkas did not disclose her employment with Sespe Consulting and that her role with the company could potentially sway her vote.
Farkas recently voted on a proposal from Los Angeles-based developer Regent Properties that consists of 55 high-end, single-family homes being built on 40 acres north of Hillcrest Drive along the Ventura hillside. About 175 acres would be dedicated to open space. She is also a project manager with Ventura-based Sespe, which has a past business relationship with the developers.
Sespe is not actively working with Regent Properties, Sespe President John Hecht said.
Farkas said in an email to the Business Times on Nov. 25 that she has not seen the complaint. She filed a Form 700, which denotes possible conflicts of interest, on Aug. 10 but didn’t report employment income or disclose her relationship with Sespe Consulting, according to the complaint.
“It clearly shows that the process has been, in my opinion, fatally compromised,” Bonge told the Business Times.
The housing proposal has been a source of contention in Ventura, pitting developers against conservationists.
The project’s opponents point to recommendations laid out in the city’s Hillside Management Plan, which aims to shape development that retains its “natural and scenic character” and protects the environment. Regent seeks several amendments to the plan, including being allowed to build on steep slopes.
The planning commission staff report recommended allowing development on slopes that have more than a 30 percent grade, the construction of some streets that have a more than 15 percent gradient, and performing an infrastructure analysis during the project’s evaluation and CEQA review rather than at the pre-screening stage.
“It is essentially an approval to study the evisceration of the Hillside Management Program,” said Bonge, adding that the developers plan to fill many of the riverbeds.
The city is left to balance the potential economic impact with preserving natural resources.
Los Angeles-based research firm Beacon Economics estimated that the anticipated $97 million project could have a $167 million economic impact, which excludes the developer’s profit. The homes would range from 3,750 to 4,500 square feet and cost between $2 million and $2.5 million.
The project would add about 1,210 temporary full-time equivalent jobs and those workers within the city would earn an estimated $61 million in wages, according to Beacon.
As for ongoing economic impact generated by new residents, Beacon estimates that the potential homeowners would make an average of $173,000 a year.
It would add about 27 jobs, increase local spending by more than $2.6 million annually and the total economic output would be around $3.8 million per year, according to Jordan Levine of Beacon Economics.
“We got a pretty clear positive impact from an economic sense both in terms of direct spending but also, most significantly, the secondary impacts,” Levine said. “It’s not just the contractors and engineers working on the development who benefit, there are secondary impacts generated through supply chains, earning wages, restaurants, car dealerships, entertainment venues and things like that. It’s something that is good not just for those involved in the development itself but for the city of Ventura.”
The planning commission approved a “prescreening” process to deliberate the amendments; it moves to the Ventura City Council next. The FPPC has about two weeks to decide if it will pursue the investigation.
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