November 20, 2023
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Ventura County leaders ask for more housing to increase economic opportunity


Drawing on a century-and-a-half history of adaptation to change, Ventura County leaders pressed for more housing, increased economic opportunity and sound finances at the annual State of the County event on Nov. 2.

Held at the Reagan Library, the program attracted a standing-room-only crowd to celebrate the county’s 150th anniversary.

Since 1873, leaders have been able to build on a foundation of “agriculture, innovation and resilience” by “continually reimagine what Ventura County is,” Board of Supervisors Chair Matt LaVere said in opening remarks.

“Change is scary, but the status quo is something we cannot accept,” he said, adding that “we want a place that builds sufficient housing for a diverse workforce.”

In her second keynote address, CEO Sevet Johnson said the county’s accomplishments include AAA ratings from S&P and Moody’s, a $170 million rainy day fund and a pension plan that is 97.5% funded. “The rating agencies think that’s a typo,” she joked about the pension funding, noting that most public entities are not nearly that close to meeting future obligations to employees.

Johnson, a psychologist who was a deputy director for the Ventura County Health Care Agency before she was named CEO, said that 70% of the budget goes to health care, human services and safety.

She cited Supervisor Kelly Long’s comment that Ventura County is a “goldilocks county” in terms of its ability to balance growth and environmental issues, adding that it ranks number 230 out of 3,000 counties for innovation and is a global leader in biotech manufacturing.

Manufacturing is another strong point for the manufacturing sector, with most of the companies in the sector employing fewer than 10 employees.

Ventura County was formed out of land that formerly was part of Santa Barbara County in 1873, with a population of just 3500 when it was created by an act of the California legislature. The anniversary celebration and annual address attracted dozens of elected officials including a number of city council members, harbor and port commissioners and countywide officeholders.

To date, Ventura County has an estimated 850,000 residents and ranks as the safest large county in California. Johnson said the county was rolling out a new, “business forward” website, working to expand opportunities for women entrepreneurs, expanding broadband and spending $15 million in state funds to fight retail crime. “Don’t come to Ventura County to do smash and grabs,” she warned.

She said the county has created multiple projects to tackle homelessness and a shortage of workforce housing. She cited the board of supervisors’ “diligent financial management” for the county’s strong fiscal position.