Public Comment Section Dominates Council Meeting

The July 8, 2014 Fillmore City Council Meeting was filled to capacity as over 100 people attended, with many coming to speak during Public Comments. There were three subjects of interest brought forth by those who spoke; the Chevron Superfund Site, the Equestrian Center and the Fillmore Western Railroad. Other agenda items included a presentation on access to a renewable energy infrastructure, establishing a Fillmore Development Council, modification of a housing development in the North Fillmore and forming a committee with the Fillmore Unified School District.

The meeting began with a Proclamation to retiring Detective Senior Deputy Taurino Almazan, who twice received Officer of the Year (1994 and 2003) and completed his last day of assignment on June 28, 2014. Almazan began his career in law enforcement in 1979, coming to work in Fillmore in 1989. He was promoted to Senior Deputy in 1996 and was assigned to the Main Jail in Ventura for two years. In October 1998 Taurino returned to Fillmore where he was continuously assigned. Taurino told those in attendance, "I don't regret anything with my career."

The Public Comments lasted almost two hours as speaker after speaker addressed the Council. Julie Longoria, a fifth generation Fillmore resident, voiced her health concerns with the Chevron Superfund Site which is also called the Fillmore Works Project. Others voiced the same concern and asked the Council to not approve moving forward with the project until a more in-depth study has been conducted on the potential health risks to residents.

There were a number of Public Speakers who spoke on Fillmore Equestrian Center's new $2 per day fee ($60 per month) for storing horse trailers along with the requirement that dogs be kept on a leash and the lack of communication from the City. Chuck Brian asked "Where are you (the Council) going with the Center?" adding he had contacted City Hall with questions that were not answered. He informed the Council that the plumbing in front of his horse stall has had a leak for a year and wanted to know what City employee is responsible for its repair. Brian, along with Steve McKinnon from Santa Paula, complained about the Center's lack of direction and said that people are leaving due to the cost.

The cost to stable a horse at the Center is $90 a month per horse. When you add that to the new $2 a day fee, most of those addressing the Council said they would expect a better facility at that price. Shelly Barber complained the restrooms are unfit to use and said City Manager David Rowlands "does not want to meet with us." Sybil Stringer, who drives 45 minutes to the Equestrian Center, said the cost of gas and the added fee make the Center less desirable and that she would like better communication between the City and the renters, instead of information through a "rumor mill". Rick Barber, who has lived in Fillmore for over 20 years, stated, "We build our own stalls and are fully responsible for the care and upkeep of these corrals" and the new cost is what one would expect from a facility with more services.

Another group that came to address the Council was concerned with keeping the Fillmore Western Railway (FWR) running. They expressed what they felt was a lack of effort by the Council to defend the trains continuing here in town. FWR, which employs 22 people, is in a legal battle with the Ventura County Transportation Commission over the cost of maintaining the railroad tracks. Joel Bingham who lives in Saticoy and is a former employee of FWR told the Council the Federal Railroad Association has inspected the tracks each month and they passed inspection. Nick Martinez, who lives in Santa Paula, informed the Council of his fellow Santa Paula residents’ disappointment with the train not continuing to operate and come to his town. Martinez, who is 19, said, "I've wanted to work for the FWR since I was five, when my father would drive me to Fillmore to see the trains."

The Council could not respond to the Public Speakers; to do so would be a Brown Act violation. The Council did comment at the end of the meeting stating that the Council does want the FWR to remain operational, but it is going through the courts and that process will proceed. On the Chevron Superfund Site the Council stated, "It is between a for-profit company and the EPA, a federal agency, which is requiring the cleanup of the site" and that the Council has nothing to do with that. Mayor Manuel Minjares addressed the comments regarding the FWR by reading a statement he submitted to the Gazette. Council Member Douglas Tucker responded, "It's a shame those in the public make a decision on how we feel without talking to us. I have a problem when someone points a finger at me and says, 'You don't care'”.

Rowlands responded to the Equestrian Center fee by saying that the fee is needed to make sure people, both renters and others, do not use the Center as a storage lot for other vehicles and that dogs not on a leash are a liability.

Agenda items included an approval to establishing a Fillmore Development Council and with regards to the School Board it was decided Council Members Diane McCall and Steve Conaway will approach the Fillmore Unified School District in an attempt to approve a joint meeting of the Council and the District a couple times a year.

Also on the agenda was a presentation by Dustim Reilich, Director of Municipal Development for HERO, Home Energy Renovation Opportunity. HERO is a program that provides opportunities for residents to upgrade their property with energy and water-efficiency improvements and allows the owner to pay over time through their property tax payments. Because the financing is recorded as an assessment on the property, the remaining balance may be transferred to the new owner if the property is sold. Improvements include solar photovoltaic systems, heating/ventilation/air conditioning, cool roof systems, windows, skylights, doors, solar thermal water heating, water efficiency measure and other energy saving systems. The Council approved the City joining the program.

Another agenda item, which the Council also approved, was modification of a housing development in the North Fillmore. Suncal, a land development company out of Irvine, California, has asked for a modification of a higher to a lower density by removing the previously proposed apartment and condos that were part of the development and replacing them with all single family housing (146 proposed). There was also a modification to add 20 ft. wide alleys and a reduction to 5-units per acre. These are still in the pulmonary stages and exact housing plans have not been submitted.

At the end of the meeting the Police Chief David Wareham reported that during the evening hours of July 4th between 6 p.m. and 2 a.m. the department responded to 47 calls; 26 disturbance calls, 15 citations for illegal fireworks, 6 crimes of violence, and those calls did not include the fireworks disturbances. It was also reported that public restrooms were vandalized with broken glass beer bottles all over the floor and beer cans stuffed down the toilets to clog them.