By George Miller
The Oxnard City Council met in “Social Distancing” mode on Tuesday, 4-7-20. It went reasonably well considering that they are new at this.
The most important order of business was discussion and approval of pandemic emergency procedures/orders and assessment of the overall situation. The first part of the discussion was safety-oriented. But it also transitioned into awareness that the lockdown is precipitating a financial emergency. Preliminary estimates indicate a catastrophic reduction in city revenues which could very adversely affect services and even solvency. So, it will require a combination of judicious cuts, innovation and higher level government subsidies to come out of this whole, we were told.
The Housing Dept five year plans, mostly federally funded, focus on 4 key objectives: advance economic opportunities, reduce homelessness, enhance rental assistance and streamline operations. Mayor Flynn, as he has done every one of the seven years Citizens Journal has been covering the Oxnard Council, wants more emphasis on getting client families to attain economic self-sufficiency and is not satisfied with what has been seeing. Housing Director Emilio Ramirez (here only a year) promised “pleasant surprises.” Even for a capable Housing Director, having the additional responsibilities of making housing clients more self-sufficient and ending homelessness is formidable.
Modifications for compliance to the previously approved Rio Urbana development plan for office and residential units on Vineyard Ave. were quickly and easily approved.
C- Closed Session
City Attorney Fisher said that tonight’s closed meeting discussions couldn’t be revealed due to legal and confidentiality reasons.
E- Ceremonial Items
The Council approved a “Climate Action” proclamation for Earth Day – April 22- and accepted Climate Change as the biggest challenge for humanity. They also protested “environmental ignorance.” The Mayor didn’t elaborate, so make of that what you will. They celebrated the EPA.
F- Public Comments on Items Not on the agenda (phoned in for “Social Distancing”)
Ray Blutel- said that 5 public safety employees made more than the City Manager and that many employees had pay which was twice their base pay. He said 35 more public safety employees could be hired with the amount of overtime spent.
G- City Manager Report
Ratification of Director of Emergency Services emergency orders:
City Attorney Stephen Fisher presented the orders, encouraged us to see COVID-19 FAQ on city web site:
Vote- Approved 7-0 unanimously
City Mgr. Nguyen:
Library staff repurposed to help with food delivery.
Summary of activities:
Police Chief Scott Whitney- Asks for common decency, social distancing, only go out for essential functions.Thorough hand washing, sanitizing of workplaces/common areas. Cancelling public meetings, go on line, limit access to police building, new patrol schedule limits overlap schedules. Try to keep open spaces open, but not the skate park, dog parks, amenities, restrooms, play areas. All city beaches and parks, restrooms, associated parking lots will be closed Easter weekend. Mandalay State Beach closed (just Easter week.). Ventura and Pt Hueneme closed all beaches and piers.
Police Dept. is surveilling beaches with drones- they have been uncrowded. Don’t see need to close except for Easter weekend. Skate park social distancing violations noted. Overall social distancing compliance looks good.
Whitney- we are champions of keeping parks open. Residents have been good about social distancing.
Councilman Perello- appreciate report, actions. Some residents lack open spaces. City is trying to accommodate general population.
Councilwoman Lopez- How is this info reaching Spanish-speaking residents, especially Easter weekend restrictions? Whitney- will be on Spanish radio and have English/Spanish videos + Instagram, bilingual signs.
Nguyen- no evictions, residential or commercial during pandemic emergency- aftermath to be determined. No delinquent utility shutoffs or penalties. Ditto for SoCal Gas (he didn’t mention SoCal Edison). Ditto for business taxes and parking violations. Charter Communications doing likewise and offering free student WiFi for the duration. Food distribution – see VCEmergency.com and City website. Ventura County farmworkers outreach. Homeless resources-: shelter expanded for social distancing. County has opened 4 county hotels for at-risk homeless quarantine. Warned of Coronavirus scams (see oxnard.org and Police page). Unemployment benefits and Small Business administration loans- city will help you apply. An extra $600/week and 12 week extension provided over and above standard amounts/durations. Repurposing city facilities and staff to do some of this.
Economy- Is melting away in front of us. Shrinking much faster than during the Great Depression. Sales tax revenues imploding- expecting $3MM reduction. Govt deferring some sales tax payments, which will make it worse and present acute city cash flow problems- another $8MM hit in final 2020 quarter. Hotel tax will decrease $1.6MM. Gas taxes will decrease. Other city revenues, parking fines, interest, fees will all drop a maybe $1-2 mm hit on the city finances. Working on a 15 month financial plan. $2 trillion Stimulus provides no direct funding to Oxnard. Lobbying for this for next stimulus to help fund cities of less than $500,000. Update on this at next council meeting.
Working on next fiscal budget plus some major development projects which can bring many jobs to the city. We are in unprecedented times- need to be open minded, innovative, creative. No escaping impact of COVID-19.
MacDonald- Cooperate. We’ll survive.
Perello- Born in 1950, I’ve never seen anything like this. We’re all in the same boat. Sacrifices asked from all. Utilities- water, sewers, trash pickup, also a key part of public safety! Get on city info dist list-805-385-7803.
Lopez- Thanks to staff, residents for cooperation.
Basua- Thanks staff, Alex. Want to be kept up to date on financial situation, activities.
Flynn- Had already made $6mm in budget cuts vs $9MM required. Now, it will be worse. Hoping for state/federal largesse, but only so much money to go around. Hoping for full subsidy to make up shortfall.
Nguyen- It will get bad financially, Need to be realistic and plan accordingly, Sky isn’t going to fall altogether. Many business closed, many people out of work. County Treasurer/Tax Collector will accept waiver of late tax/penalties for second payment – can be moved to August 20.
Ramirez- Those who can pay property taxes and utilities- please do to keep city afloat. Wants single payer (health care). Wants a Council resolution supporting this. (She is not letting a good crisis go to waste.)
Perello- Honored recently deceased activist Martin Jones. He worked to open up doors, turn over rocks for good govt and protecting city residents. Need to hear good and bad news. Appreciates how city has brought us the bad news. Families have lost jobs/incomes. We may ask concessions of city employees. Hope that ex-parte items dealt with. Listen to Queen Elizabeth speech on the crisis. Should visiting families be restricted?
Madrigal- Thanks to essential workers, doing a marvelous job. Please stay at home, take care of things.
Basua- Try to find grace in every adverse circumstance. Likes having her kids home, Likes to see online learning. Get closer to your families. We’ll end up stronger
Lopez- Thank you. Please continue to follow law enforcement/government for safety
Flynn- His Friday night (on his personal Facebook page) info broadcasts will also be translated into Spanish.
Chief Whitney- Closed city golf course use is now a misdemeanor. Recurring offenders will be cited, arrested. Nursing home visitors are restricted. Gatherings of over 10, especially from outside the area, are restricted. Not considered essential business.
K- Information Consent Agenda
For discussion- Perello- Item #5- How will this purchase fit in with leasing program. Asst PD Chief Sonstegard- It’s a donation of a special K-9 vehicle.
Vote- approved 7-0 unanimous
Permit (PZ) No. 17-610-01 (Annexation) to Include Local Agency Formation Commission
(LAFCo) Requested Language. The Project Consists of a 15,000 SF Office Building and 167 For
Sale Residential Units Over Nine Individual Buildings. Filed By Rio School District, 2500 East
Vineyard Avenue, Oxnard, California and The Pacific Companies, 430 East State Street #100,
Development Director Jeff Lambert- This is a redo of a February 4 Council action. LAFCo requested modification for regulatory compliance.
Vote- Unanimously approved 7-0
L-2- Five-Year Public Housing Agency (PHA) Plan, Annual Agency Plan and Capital Fund
Program (CFP) Five-Year Action Plan for Low Rent Public Housing
Housing Director Emilio Ramirez presented:
This plan is a federal/HUD requirement.
The plan incorporates 4 major goals:
trying to do better with Section 8 housing vouchers, including getting them for the homeless and veterans (VASH vouchers),
No written public comments at all have been received.
$2,170,000 grant for 2020 was requested.
Mayor ProTem Ramirez- Supports. Proposed new navigation center has not been voted on by the council
Madrigal- Slide 3- economic oppty: what is current vacancy rate for public housing. Director Ramirez- about 2%- very low. Madrigal- re family self-sufficiency programs- likes. Numbers may not be good at first but I think they will get there. Re; improved customer services. Many residents lack on line access. Ramirez- we will never end in-person opptys. Want as much on line or via phone as possible- more efficient.
Lopez- This is an extensive plan covering important areas.Please explain amount of capital fund plan and is it based on approval of entire plan? Ramirez- Capital funds are for maintenance, improvement, repair- it’s for the entire amount. All is contingent on continuing Congressional approval.
Basua- Concerns- Please use tracker to track changes. Very hard to compare now. Now giving preference to homeless. How to deal with families already on the wait list, after adding additional preferences? Ramirez- I do have a redlined (highlighted changes) copy for you. Basua- these changes have profound changes on the wait list. Ramirez- We don’t think changes are significant. Homeless preference is not new. But there is a changed definition of Homelessness- HUD considers the definition as amongst adults vs school district definition of children. It’s now inclusive. A person who is homeless is one without a fixed nighttime, adequate residence. Couch surfing doesn’t count. There was a protracted technical discussion on what constitutes homelessness and how that would affect the wait list- mostly between Director Ramirez and Councilwoman Basua. She was satisfied with the outcome.
Flynn- why wasn’t this vetted at committee level? What % of section 8 vouchers are project-based? Ramirez- don’t know, but they only apply at Los Cortez and Ormond Villas at this time. He thinks about 8%. Flynn likes project-based vouchers. Why- Hope residents will move from project-based vouchers to better conditions/area. Ramirez- 1845 Section 8 vouchers allocated to Oxnard now. Flynn- we want to get to 20% project-based vouchers. How are we helping people become more self-sufficient? Should be a goal. Wants to know how Ramirez can do that and what’s being done now.
Ramirez- agrees with Flynn on the latter points. Specifically “supportive” housing for very, very low income. Project based vouchers do not necessarily do that. Landlord contract provisions are needed to achieve objectives. He doesn’t like the term “self-sufficiency,” but need to improve long term stability of the household. People should not necessarily remain poor the whole time they are in the program. Have stats on how many moved out of program. Moving to work is important and transitioning to higher paid work so that Section 8 isn’t needed. Will make changes in self-sufficiency program- credit management, on-site education/training, SBA, business management to our sites. (his talk was rather complex, so you might want to watch the meeting video if you want the full story and nuances).
Flynn- really big on self sufficiency. (is the city taking responsibility for social mobility or are individuals to take more responsibility?)
Nguyen- In answer to Flynn’s question on why this item wasn’t first vetted in committee. He said because it must be vote on by council.
Dir. Ramirez- we are up against an approval deadline, but could modify later, Suggested workshop with officials and stakeholders.
Mayor ProTem Ramirez- Who is in public housing? Seniors/disabled will probably not get great jobs or find other places to live. Public housing is for those without other choices. Others should be moved up and out.
Housing Commissioner Andretti- Thanks
Perello- Gotta show results or there will be a lot of fighting over direction. Ramirez- I believe you will be pleasantly surprised.
Vote- Unanimous- 8-0 (Commissioner Vega not present).
Adjourned meeting in honor of deceased Oxnard activist Martin Jones.