Even before the COVID-19 crisis, the Ventura County economy was showing signs of major trouble:
- Citing record low growth of 0% over the past five years, experts had warned in mid-2019 that the region’s economy was “either in recession or very close to recession.” In addition, according to Census Bureau data, tens of thousands of residents left the region between 2013 and 2017 due to affordability concerns.
- A recent Brookings Institution analysis based on 2018 data ranks the Oxnard, Thousand Oaks and Ventura region an alarming 55th out of 56 in economic performance when compared to peer metro areas of 500,000 to 1 million people. The analysis showed the region lagging on key indicators like job growth, productivity, and median earnings, which declined by 6.6% over the study period.
Of course, the economic damage brought by COVID-19 has only added to the challenges in Ventura County: new data shows that half of all low-income workers in the region have lost jobs or faced reduced wages in recent months. More than 106,000 Ventura County residents filed unemployment claims between March 1 and mid-June, raising the region’s unemployment rate from under 4% to 13.5% in a matter of weeks.
Still, despite the massive economic challenges and uncertainties – and as the region’s hospitals enter “surge” plans as they run out of beds for COVID patients – the Ventura County Board of Supervisors is unnecessarily pushing ahead with a General Plan update that will shape the next two decades of economic life in the region. And, even in the face of alarming economic data, some Supervisors continue to champion adding new policies to the General Plan that will cut even more jobs and eliminate tax revenues for key priorities like K-12 schools and public health and safety.
While the Supervisors’ General Plan update process has already faced criticisms for restricting and circumventing public input on proposed changes, many business leaders are now asking whether the county should be moving to finalize the 20-year plan at all, given all the unknowns posed by COVID-19.
How can Ventura County expect to make hugely important decisions about the next 20 years when we don’t even know what the next 20 days will be like? The General Plan update doesn’t have a statutory deadline or timing requirement, so why are local officials rushing to complete it amidst the current challenges and unknowns?
Instead of unnecessarily rushing to finish a flawed General Plan update process in the middle of an ever-changing public health crisis, Ventura County should pause and focus on the basics: coordinating the ongoing COVID response and recovery, and rebuilding the regional economy to attract jobs and support local businesses.