Supervisors approve next step in creating Heritage Valley transit JPA

August 09, 2013
Santa Paula News

By Peggy Kelly 

Santa Paula Times 

Santa Paula is one step closer to taking the road less traveled - albeit the one with the most travelers - after a majority of the Ventura County Board of Supervisors reluctantly authorized the creation of a joint powers agreement for the Heritage Valley Transit District.

The 4-0 vote Tuesday is the next step in the formation of the planned Heritage Valley Transit District, which will bring fixed-route bus service within the communities of Fillmore, Santa Paula and unincorporated Piru.

Dial-A-Ride service will remain the same, although the cost of the door-to-door service will jump and the Freeway Flyer will continue to take commuters to Ventura and beyond but Santa Paula will see the addition of two fixed citywide bus routes.

Supervisor Linda Parks abstained from the vote that represented the next step in the plan for the proposed district expected to be operational July 1.

Last year the Ventura County Transportation Commission moved to improve public bus service by better coordination among its 10 providers, but Santa Paula and Fillmore balked at being part of a larger transportation system.

According to the staff report by David Fleisch, county transportation director, options included each of the three communities would provide their own service, but “Challenges include each community having to administer its own program, higher costs due to the small size of each program, and the absence of coordinated service between communities.”

A second option was to join Gold Coast Transit (GCT) District, but Fleisch wrote, “Challenges include Fillmore and Santa Paula joining a regional organization, GCT to develop equitable performance standard for rural services which they currently do not provide, and potentially higher administration and planning costs.”

The third option was to develop a JPA to jointly operate services with Santa Paula, Fillmore and Piru: Challenges noted Fleisch, “include creating a new structure and organization, developing a high level of trust among JPA members, and providing transit where needs are rather than where resources come from.”

“Santa Paula and Fillmore look forward to working with the county in the development of an improved, locally based and regionally connected transit system” that is under local control, Santa Paula City Manager Jaime Fontes wrote in a July 31 letter to the county.

Fontes noted that Santa Paula and Fillmore “wish to keep Gold Coast Transit at ‘arm’s length’ due to issues related to their historic interest in adding the Heritage Valley to their service area and other factors,” but he added, “This perception is not viewed as permanent and the two communities will always have the option to join the Gold Coast District is the dynamics change.”

Santa Paula has already applied to VCTC to finance the cost of replacement buses for Dial-A-Ride as well as new buses for the fixed route circulator service. 

Discussions have already touched on Santa Paula acquiring vintage looking but modern trolleys that would service local commuters, provide an incentive to new residents of the future Limoneira East Area 1 development to visit the historic Downtown and other areas of the city as well as to be an attraction for tourists.  

Ventura County is undergoing change with transportation: the larger Regional Transit Plan adopted by a split Ventura County Transportation Commission last year and refined in March calls for the creation of three sub-regional service areas including the Gold Coast Transit District, serving the west county cities of Oxnard, Ventura, Port Hueneme, Ojai and unincorporated areas; a pending east county transit agreement covering Moorpark, Simi Valley, Thousand Oaks, Camarillo and unincorporated areas; and the Heritage Valley Transit District, which will establish fixed-route bus service for the Santa Clara River Valley.

City representatives’ outnumbered supervisors when it came to creating the transit plan with the former making a bid to create a countywide plan.

Fillmore Mayor Rick Neal, Fontes and retired Simi Valley City Manager Mike Sedell who has been working as volunteer with the cities, addressed the supervisors at Tuesday’s meeting. 

Fleisch told the board that each city and the county - which governs unincorporated areas of the river valley including the town of Piru - would each have one representative on the JPA, which would probably meet quarterly; administrative duties could be handled by the VCTC.

The success of the JPA, he added, could be examined after three to five years.

Several supervisors were visibly upset, including Steve Bennett who asked how JPA voting powers would be determined, as one vote per member could shoot down the county at any time.

“One vote one voice would actually give us more of a vote,” said Fleischer as “we are the smallest user,” of the river valley transit system.

Fontes told supervisors, “We think this represents a fair balance,” of interests.

“We’re not talking about the finished product,” which Fontes said is yet to be presented to supervisors.

Supervisor Kathy Long who represents the Santa Clara River Valley said she has doubts on the viability of the plan but made the motion to move it along the path.

“The Heritage Valley is unique,” she noted, “and has the highest fare box return than anyplace else in the county,” and the community will demand the best transportation system possible. 

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