Letters to the Editor
July 10, 2014

To the Editor:
Last year, the relatively new executive director of the Ventura County Transportation Commission (VCTC), Darren Kettle, arbitrarily decided the Fillmore & Western Railway (F&W) wasn't paying enough toward maintenance costs on the county-owned railroad line. This was in spite of the fact there was a long-standing contractual agreement that had been amicably made by both parties and specified those responsibilities in detail. Instead of trying to privately discuss his concerns, Mr. Kettle chose to publicly make an issue of it and end a 20-plus year relationship between the parties had always been extremely cordial.
I can attest to the positive and productive nature of that relationship. I was the tourist railroad professional who was hired in 1993 to transform what had been exclusively a movie train operation serving Hollywood into a passenger railroad offering rides to the public. I had the pleasure of working with then-VCTC executive director Ginger Gherardi and her wonderful staff, all of whom were dedicated to doing things that would benefit then and future generations of Venturans. What is going on today is a far cry from those halcyon days. The present VCTC is an embarrassment.
Dave and Tresa Wilkinson of the F&W – who I know to be very reasonable people – were not close-minded when Mr. Kettle ignored common professional courtesy and opted to take a confrontational approach. They were always willing to negotiate. They even publicly offered to assume all of the maintenance costs, entirely relieving the VCTC of what was Mr. Kettle's original stated problem. This was not acceptable. Solving the stated problem was not good enough. The VCTC opted, instead, to arbitrarily cancel the railroad's track lease and took actions to evict it.
If the railroad goes away, the entire burden of maintenance will fall on the VCTC. How is this a solution? Or was that ever the real problem?
The VCTC or Mr. Kettle, apparently, wants the F&W gone – for unspecified reasons – even though this would be to the detriment of the economies of cities of Fillmore and Santa Paula. Closing the railroad puts dozens of people out of work immediately. It also economically impacts the County of Ventura in ways that can't be determined now, but will be slowly revealed over time. More jobs will certainly be cut by local businesses in the near future as tourism in the Heritage Valley region shrinks. Local businesses and residents that planned their finances and assumed debt on the assumption of a certain income level may find themselves in default. People's real-world concerns have been ignored by the VCTC every step of the way.
I have been disappointed that in the many months this issue has been dragging on, no one in government at the cities or the county has vigorously protested this situation and demanded that the VCTC seriously negotiate a solution that benefits all parties. Maybe everyone was just hopeful that rationality would prevail and at some point this situation would be resolved. Actions always speak louder than words and it is now abundantly clear that the VCTC is not willing to negotiate – period – and never was. They either have a hidden agenda of some sort as an organization, or the VCTC executive director has gotten so far into a "pissing match" of his own making that he is now bound and determined to "win" at any cost – including misrepresenting truths – the good of the county be damned. Neither is acceptable.
Many questions come to mind: Why haven't leaders at all levels of city and county government been looking out for the best interests of their constituents? Why have the county supervisors and the VCTC board of directors let their employee behave like a common bully when people's livelihoods are at stake? Why hasn't anyone demanded to know – in detail – exactly what the VCTC plans to do with the property in the future, if its railroad use is being terminated? If a "better use" for the property is contemplated, how much will this cost the county to develop and where will that money come from in these tough economic times? Since the VCTC's reasons for permitting this situation to exist in the first place aren't publicly known, have they been making decisions behind closed doors in violation of open meeting laws? Is there any sort of accountability in Ventura County for actions by government agencies that are detrimental to the best interests of its residents? And finally, why hasn't the press been asking these questions; is investigative journalism dead in Ventura County?
Looking from the outside at this sad situation, I'm seeing elected officials who may need to be replaced and a minimum of one government employee who should be shown the door. Public servants who aren't serving the best interests of the public are useless. Bullies only prevail when good people do nothing.
Larry Jensen
Gunnison, Colo.