August 2021 Director’s Message: Goodbye Channel Islands Harbor

Mark Sandoval, Channel Islands Harbor Director

I am writing this message with sadness, as it will be my last.  I will be retiring at the end of the month, and moving to my home in Alabama, where I will be close to my two grandsons and two of my daughters.

I have had a wonderful career, and could not be happier that I was able to end it here in the wonderful Channel Islands Harbor.  When I was given this position, my intention was to stay here at least five years, but a current battle with cancer and the resultant pressure by my family to start the retirement phase of my life now, made me realize it is indeed time to move on to the next chapter of my life.

When I arrived here, I knew there were challenges.  Harbor development had essentially stalled due to conflicts between the Harbor Department, the City of Oxnard and many Harbor residents.  In addition, the finances of the Harbor Department were moving in the wrong direction because a 50-year agreement with the City had expired and the Harbor Department had to absorb maintenance of the Harbor’s public areas for the first time in the history of the Harbor. At the same time, a voter initiative had reduced Harbor Patrol revenue by hundreds of thousands of dollars.  On top of that, Harbor Patrol and Administration had recently moved into “temporary” trailers because the headquarters were grossly inadequate, and the price tag for a new headquarters building is in the neighborhood of $10 million, which we do not have in reserves.

When I came in, I promised to be open and transparent, and to do all I could to change the direction of the Department.  Even though I was only able to last three years, I believe I have done just that.  The recently executed Cooperation Agreement with the City of Oxnard underscores a new cooperative and collaborative approach between the County and City as it relates to the management and development of the Harbor.  This is definitely a win-win-win for the two agencies and the Harbor, as it creates an environment of cooperative development, which is much-needed in the Harbor.

In addition, the recently completed Harbor visioning process is the first step in developing the developable areas in the Harbor in line with the desires of the County, City, Harbor businesses and residents.  As a next step in the Harbor development process, and to continue to be open, collaborative and inclusive, I recently assembled a Channel Islands Harbor Advisory Committee which includes the Harbor Department, City of Oxnard, a Harbor Business representative, and two representatives for Harbor residents.

This committee will work with the Harbor Department throughout the entire development process, including the search for developers/projects, identification of desired projects and developers, and completion of projects.  It is our intention that potential developers will understand the desires of Harbor stakeholders as well as the steps needed to get to a successful development, but more importantly will know that the County, City, Harbor business community and the residents are working together to make development as easy as possible.

Harbor Finances

For the first time in many years, the Harbor Department incurred an operating loss in Fiscal Year 2019-20, for the reasons I mentioned above.  We were budgeted to lose again in Fiscal Year 2020-21, but we actually generated an operating surplus of more than $700,000.  Part of this surplus was from one-time revenue including a $250,000 lease transfer fee and a COVID-related reimbursement of more than $200,000 for Harbor staff re-assigned to the pandemic battle.  Aside from these one-time revenues, our lease revenue and fuel revenue were much higher than anticipated, which is a positive trend for the future.

The Harbor has a capital needs list for public improvements which totals more than $30 million, and we have about $10 million in reserves.  I have drafted a financial plan for the Harbor which will involve using the reserves, a recently approved capital infusion by the City and new debt to fund all of our capital needs within the next six years.  I will present this to the County’s finance team before I leave.  I believe it is a sound plan which is attainable given the recent positive financial results and new development which is closer than it has been in many years.

Harbor Development

In line with the recently completed Harbor Vision, we are currently finalizing Requests for Proposals (RFPs) for two of the six “opportunity parcels” discussed in the vision report – the former Whale’s Tail restaurant parcel and the Anacapa Boatyard parcel.  It is my intention to have those two RFPs out for proposals before I retire.  In addition, we will be developing a plan to search for developers for the Channel Islands Sportfishing (CISCO’s) site, and begin discussions as to how we move forward on the Fisherman’s Wharf and X-3 parcels.

With these accomplishments, I can leave the Harbor knowing that I did all I could to improve the Harbor Department, improve relationships with the City and Harbor residents, and improve the prospect for the much-needed development in the Harbor.

I want to take this opportunity to thank the Board Members I worked with and who supported our actions the past three years, County CEO Mike Powers, the best leader I have worked for in my career, the County Leadership Team, the most professional and passionate team I have ever been a part of, my Harbor Department staff who worked diligently with me as we changed the course of the Department, the Harbor businesses, who have shown resiliency and patience as we work to make much-needed improvements, and the residents in and around the Harbor I have had the pleasure to meet and work with to improve this great Harbor.  Improving the Harbor is truly a team effort, and I believe we now agree that the only way to make improvements is to be pushing in the same direction, since we all have the same objective which is to improve and polish this jewel of a Harbor.

As always, live every day to the fullest – I know I will………………

Mark Sandoval, Harbor Director
Ventura County Harbor Department

Editor’s Note: this story was published on August 2, 2021. (Happy Retirement, Mark!)