January 2021 Director’s Message

Editor’s Note: this message was edited on Jan. 19, 2021 to reflect a change in date for the Channel Islands Harbor Visioning Public Workshop. The workshop will be held on Thursday, January 28.

This is normally my HAPPY NEW YEAR!  message, but true happiness can be fleeting during this particular time in history.  I am in my sixth decade of life, and there has never been a time of so much upheaval, challenge and fear as we are witnessing now.  As we turned the corner into 2021, I urged my family to concentrate on the positives in our lives, and to continue to meet our current challenges head on.  We cannot give up and we must prevail, and we should recognize that we continue to live in the best area of the best state in the best country in the world.

As you can imagine, 2020 has proven very challenging regarding operations and development in the Harbor.  It has been heartbreaking to communicate with struggling businesses in the Harbor that they must curtail, and even close, their businesses as a result of this pandemic.  We can only hope and pray that 2021 will bring some normalcy to our Harbor and world as a whole.

While physical development has continued in a stall mode, we have been very active on the development front despite the pandemic, as we push forward with the Harbor Visioning Process.  On January 28, we will hold a virtual “Channel Islands Harbor Visioning Public Workshop.”   To summarize this workshop, and the remainder of the process, the following summary will be sent to all individuals registered for the workshop:

Thank you for registering for the Channel Islands Harbor Visioning Public Workshop, scheduled for 6 p.m. on Thursday, January 28, 2021.

In a visioning process such as this, the next step would be face-to-face public forums and charettes.  Those of us involved with the process would prefer to meet everyone who is interested in this process and registered for this workshop in person, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this workshop must be handled via a Zoom meeting.

I am sending this summary to provide context on development in the Harbor, which should assist in understanding the presentation as it is rolled out.  I hope this is useful.

The Channel Islands Harbor is owned and operated by the County of Ventura.  With the exception of the public areas of the Harbor, all of the Harbor is operated by private businesses that have been granted long-term ground leases by the Ventura County Board of Supervisors.  The Harbor Department, a department of the County, manages the 310 acres comprising the Harbor – 200 acres on land and 110 acres under water – and oversees approximately 30 leases with private sector businesses, as well as a County fuel dock, small boat and commercial fishing marinas, a public launch ramp, and several public parks and docks.

The Harbor Department is operated as an Enterprise Operation, which means our operations are funded solely by revenues generated from our leases, use permits and a fuel dock.  The Harbor Department’s harbor operation is not, and never has been, subsidized by the County’s General Fund.  This is consistent with other enterprise operations in the County, such as airports.  Like most local governments, the County’s primary responsibilities are public safety, health and other important services that directly serve County residents, particularly those in most need. In the Harbor, the revenue collected from Harbor leases is used to fund patrol of the Harbor, maintenance in and around the Harbor, leasing and accounting administrative staff, and capital projects to continually repair and replace the public infrastructure in the Harbor.

For decades, the Enterprise model has been a success, particularly in the early decades of the Harbor when infrastructure and facilities in and around the Harbor were new.  Over time, however, Harbor infrastructure and facilities have aged, and a number of lessees and businesses left or failed.  The Casa Sirena Hotel/Lobster Trap Restaurant, Whale’s Tail Restaurant, and Fisherman’s Wharf commercial/retail center are three excellent examples where the lease owner ultimately walked away from the lease.

Consequently, the funds needed for operations and improvements have outgrown the annual revenue received.  At the current time, I estimate the Harbor Department would need an additional $2 million per year to cover annual operating expenses and fund the deferred maintenance and capital project needs of the Harbor.  The Harbor cannot succeed with aging amenities, dilapidated buildings, and crumbling infrastructure including parking lots, public restrooms, perimeter rock revetment and surge walls. 

The cornerstone of financial success for the Harbor Enterprise has always been to attract private developers who lease land and build a variety of successful businesses, including a mix of marinas, commercial centers, restaurants, residential complexes, and other related businesses.  New and exciting development will attract residents and tourists, and will provide revenue to improve infrastructure and fund the capital projects.  We are currently at a moment in history of the Harbor where we need to have a laser focus on attracting private developers to develop or redevelop significant portions of our Harbor.

The Harbor Department has identified important parcels within the Harbor that are ready to be developed or redeveloped.  In the past, the process to attract private developers and the projects they have proposed has raised community objections and concern from the City of Oxnard – both important partners for the future success of the Harbor.  Harbor residents and other stakeholders have recommended a process which includes up-front dialogue regarding development in the Harbor.  

The Channel Islands Harbor Visioning Public Workshop is part of an overall public visioning process meant to obtain widespread input regarding Harbor development.  The visioning process is being facilitated by a consulting team which has extensive urban design and development economic experience, and is led by a Visioning Steering Committee.  The Steering Committee is  comprised of representatives from the County of Ventura, the City of Oxnard, the Harbor business community, and residential representatives.  The workshop is an opportunity for you to provide input on what types of development you would like to see in the Harbor.  At the meeting, the parcels that are ready for development or redevelopment will be presented, along with possible project ideas that have been discussed among the Steering Committee and in various stakeholder interviews. 

During the meeting, you will be asked for feedback via polling and have options to submit comments in real time. The feedback from this meeting will be used to develop a “Vision Plan” for the Harbor, which will provide the framework for development in the Harbor for the next few decades.  Once the vision is complete, the Harbor Department will work to facilitate required zoning changes and will initiate open and transparent Request for Proposals processes to identify developers to implement the vision for the developable parcels.

I trust that you will find the workshop useful and informative, and that you take the opportunity to provide input since the Channel Islands Harbor is a regional asset to be enjoyed by residents throughout Ventura County and beyond.

I highly recommend that you register for this workshop, as every voice matters with regards to the future of our Harbor.  Register by clicking on this link.

Hopefully the vaccine will begin to re-shape the future, although it seems as though it may get worse before it gets better.  As I told my family, concentrate on the positives in our lives, and continue to meet our current challenges head on.  We cannot give up and we must and will prevail.  Most importantly, it is paramount to treat each other with respect, dignity, and compassion – we are all in this together and our commonalities are much more numerous and important than our differences.

This too will end, and we will accomplish great things for our Channel Islands Harbor.  As always, live every day to the fullest.

Mark Sandoval, Harbor Director
Ventura County Harbor Department

Editor’s Note: this message was originally published on January 11, 2021 and edited on January 19, 2021.