Huge Increases in Oxnard Development Fees Approved; Drones Watching You

By George Miller

At the Tuesday, May 19, 2020 meeting, the Oxnard City Council voted huge increases in development fees, nearly doubling, with increases up to 2687%. New fee structure in total will add $28,000-$36,000 to the cost of a new home. Some fees hadn’t been increased since the 1970’s to 1990’s. However, the Council elected to phase the increases in over three years, over the objections of City Manager Alex Nguyen. Multiple officials pointed out that this would bear the cost of development related infrastructure costs. Others are taken on directly by the developers as a condition of project approvals. They also pointed out that many amenities are never provided or if they are, it is at the expense of all taxpayers. So, presumably this would reduce or eliminate that- we’ll see.

They voted final approval to gut most of the duties of the City Treasurer, eliminating independent checks and balances over expenditures. They buried this item in the Consent Agenda, which is pretty much approved by default.

The Council also resolved to crack down on illegal fireworks,  recognized Public Works Week and changed the name of the Colonia Boxing Gym to honor former Mayor Manuel Lopez.

The meeting was again conducted electronically due to the stay at home order, using a Zoom type format on the meeting video to show offsite participants.

Meeting AGENDA, VIDEO

 

D-1- Renamed Colonia Boxing Gym in honor of former Mayor Manuel Lopez

Done.

D-2 Fireworks Problems

The city has been frustrated in its efforts to stop pervasive private fireworks celebrations around the citiy, which create potential (and actual) hazards, annoy many residents and generate literally thousands of complaints. People have been terrorized, injured and even killed. The Police Dept will deploy extra forces to counsel residents, present a deterrent and enforce compliance. They also intend to use drones and snitch lines to help.

Oxnard Mayor Pro-tem Carmen Ramirez at 5-19-20 Council meeting: “I’m looking forward to the drone activity suppressing the desire to misbehave.”

The annual city fireworks show was cancelled, so there may be more motivation for do it yourself shows than ever.

 

D-3- Treasurer’s report

Treasurer Phil Molina reported on the status of city funds. Invested funds have an estimated current value of $244.3 million. Unfortunately, they are yielding extremely low rates because of the Federal Reserve driven rate collapse, attributed to their response to macro financial problems.

Molina pointed out that an unusually large amount of $30 million in cash is now in the general fund, because rates are so low and because he and CFO Ken Riper are discussing transferring $20mm of it back to the main general fund (from enterprise project accounts), where he told us it belongs.

 

F- Ceremonial Items

1. SUBJECT: Presentation of a Proclamation Designating the Week of May 17-23, 2020 as “Public
Works Week.”

Public Works Director Rosemary Gaglione highlighted her dept. of nearly 500 employees and their responsibilities/hazards during the pandemic.

Mayor Flynn read a proclamation to Public Works professionals and employees at all levels.

 

The council mourned the passing of Councilman MacDonald’s brother.

 

G- Public Comments on Items Not on the Agenda

Speakers were contacted by telephone.

Manuel Herrera- Paraphrased a Star article on Ventura’s proposal to let restaurants expand into streets for social distancing. Part of supporting recovery. Wants it done here. Implied that city is doing nothing to help citizens and local businesses. Urged them to be the city that leads rather than follows.  Mayor Flynn said a presentation on business efforts would be given. City Manager says they did last week but hadn’t yet announced.

Lawrence Stein- Concerned by lack of transparency by city- specifically development fees relative to GREAT program (water recycling). Said fees have not been addressed. Mayor Flynn pointed out that this is an agenda item tonight.

Larry Barberini- Praying for those lost and celebrated 75 years after WWII and Memorial Day. Says John Morlock, an accountant in the state legislature, who found that unfunded liabilities are at dangerous levels- approximately $10,425 per CA resident + $10,000+ for federal debt (before last round of bailouts) + over $1000/person for city unfunded liabilities. Urges pension reform and more money paid by employees toward pension and health care.

Lang Martinez- Spoke on a show for victims of child abuse last night. Homeless situation in Oxnard is different from other cities. Homeless haven’t had showers in months and have no place to plug in phones, get mail, due to closure of “Community Action” facility. Called upon Council to take action to reopen it. (Community Action is an NGO,primary government-funded, dedicated to helping indigent, especially homeless people, with certain basic services often not available to those living on the street. It ran out of funds, we heard, due to improper filing of grant requests, forcing it to close. It appears to be very cost-effective.

 

Skipped to …

Item M-1- New fee structure for development impact/capital and other fees.

City Development Director Lambert and Harrison Associates outside consultant said that Oxnard has much lower land costs and fees than surrounding cities, so they feel that there is room for fee increases. Lambert said current fees do not cover costs. These increases are quite steep. They claimed some fees hadn’t been updated since the 1970’s They did not provide an estimate as to the overall financial impact or probability of developers passing on projects.

To reduce sticker shock, they will phase in some of the more outrageous (but largely cost-based) increases, some of which are over 100%.

Police, fire, cultural govt. facilities, parks, traffic circulation, “mobility fee” (bicycle and pedestrians) – all require more development-related funding, they claimed.

The consultant  quickly ran through some slides, some of  which were impossible to read (see them in agenda materials):

They had another set of numbers for “affordable housing,” which will become less so when they’re done with the fee increases. Developers may have the option to include affordable units on site in new developments or put them on separate sites. 10% (5% low income and 5% very low income) must be provided for single family units and 5% for multi-family projects.

They calculated the “affordability gap” between market rate and affordable housing.  Guess who will pay the difference? Answer: subsidies/credits will be provided which will be taxpayer-funded. So, if people decide they want to live in Oxnard, which is more expensive than most of the rest of the nation, they get to do that and taxpayers must make up the “affordability gap,” instead of moving somewhere they can afford. We’re talking bucks here. Get a look at the per unit gap, below:

$85mm  to $150 mm total fee increases proposed (nearly double) ….

The fees respectively would be: $36,000, $35,000, $28,000 per unit., which they said is less than calculated cost, but higher than the average of nearby cities.

They acknowledged that simply increasing supply will not necessarily lower prices to affordable levels and that additional “intervention” will be required. That intervention includes mandated quotas and subsidies (mostly via tax credits),

The underground utility fee is an in lieu fee for smaller developments (larger ones must do this themselves).

Public Comments

Barbara Macri-Ortiz- Public interest attorney for low income people- Disappointed that city focused on fees rather than ordinance. She said staff wants to update inclusionary housing ordinance. She said all land will go for market rate housing otherwise. Doesn’t want fees lowered to compete with other cities. (Not sure how that will keep housing affordable). Need has gone up. 10% affordable target is totally inadequate.

Ann Wolf- Director of Development for Shea/River Park. Oppose fee increase, especially for remaining projects for River Park. Says they have already paid their fair share for infrastructure development. They are also paying some ongoing operations costs.  Wants fee adjustment for remaining River Park projects. Proposal will reduce probability of further development

Jonathan Cornelius- Follow up on previous comments. Is also a Riverpark Developer. Impact of this would be $3.75 million. With 36 million people out of work, these fees area deal-killer. Said developments will die. Please exclude existing projects which have already paid infrastructure fees

Larry Stein- Concept of affordable housing is ludicrous. Low income housing here will cost $400-500,000. There is no affordable housing in Oxnard. Water not discussed. GREAT Program has enormous debt service, developers not playing for it.  Housing cost has increased from $55/sq ft to $300. Consultants ignore his attempts to contact them.

Nancy Lindholm- (Chamber of Commerce CEO)- Submitted letter of concerns, which city has not addressed. Why use Santa Clarita and Goleta as a comparison? Not comparable. Why does it cost double to permit SFR vs Camarillo?  Double or more? Slide 19 mobility fee is at least double- ludicrous in this economy. Please consider phasing in all fees if you must levy them.

City Comments

City Mgr. Alex Nguyen- Agrees with staff/consultant conclusion. This is a very bad time to bring in increases, but we must do it. Former City Mgr said we need it too. Some not updated since 1972. That is neglectful- kicking the can down the road. This is fundamental, elemental, for city to develop and grow.  Now woefully outdated. We are underpricing ourselves. Lack funding to develop parks. Willing to renegotiate ongoing developments. But they took on the risk that fees would increase in the future. Investors have enjoyed very low fees. Our state-mandated affordability quota is 8529 units.

Committee Chairs:

  Oscar Madrigal- Have issues with huge increases, but affordable housing fees were ridiculously low.

  Perello (chair)- Thanks to all involved and public comments.  Addressing things put off for far too long (cited examples). People complain that their neighborhoods aren’t nice. Lack originally planned amenities. This is part of the reason. Lack of fees additionally burden existing residents with additional taxes or mean people will go without amenities. Oxnard is an undiscovered coastal gem. e have not fulfilled our contract with the residents, not “bitten the bullet.”  There was not consensus on the committee.

Bryan MacDonald- I applaud committee/staff for work. Needed to update fees, now we’re doing it at the worst possible time. 40% of closed businesses may not be able to reopen. Increases trickle down to end users. Huge increase in unemployment. Hardest hit are those least able to pay. Fee increases up to 2687%. We may harm business community which will make us suffer. Should not raise fees overnight.  Santa Clarita and Goleta are not comparable. He said Hollywood Beach sandy lots were once $500 each and people said they were worthless. Should phase in. Can’t support proposal.

Ramirez- Wanted to update (increase) fees for many years. Can’t afford to provide parks, services. Sees softening of commercial office space- more working at home. But housing demand is going up. want increase from 10% affordable housing- wants 20%. Director Lambert says that would require an amendment. We are an older city, infrastructure is not in good shape. Calls increase “fair fees,” but wants them phased in.

Basua- Tough decision, especially with COVID-19. Want nothing subsidized through general fund. Wants fees over 50% phased in, over 2 years, 50-75-100%. Lambert says 100% increases would be phased in under staff plan option.

Lopez- Not the best time, but necessary, supports phase-in. Fears project abandonment. Affordable/ housing fees. Need inclusionary housing ordinance. Lambert- open to update inclusionary fee after updated related ordinance. Looked at existing developments G street, Riverpark., Heritage on K, hotel on Esplanade, Mission Produce office building, Arctic Old food processor  and several smaller projects at landing might be renegotiated.

Director Gaglione- are Santa Clarity and Goleta comparable? Traffic fees not based on community wealth, except right of way costs.

Flynn- Re: renegotiated development agreement for existing developments? Do we know what will kill projects or is it just a play? How do we retain all projects. Nguyen- we will evaluate each project and existing contributions. Want existing developers to succeed- will work out a fair deal. Flynn said Ventura intends to phase in any increases greater than 15%. He said Oxnard has been able to raise some of the money via grants. He added that he can’t stomach bringing these fees rapidly, especially the “astronomical” increases. Asked Lambert what can we do to raise the money but spread some over multiple years? Nguyen- that doesn’t change actual physical needs if we phase in increases. Stretching out increases will only make city recovery more difficult. Development community enjoyed low fees for a long time. Lambert will attempt to do rough estimates for phasing in tonight before the end of the meeting.

Asst. City Mgr. Ashley Golden agenda pp 213-4 have criteria. MacDonald- But I want to see those formed into recommended actions.

Perello- Yes, Ventura 15% numbers were discussed. But, Ventura addresses fees every two years. If we had done this, we would not be where we are tonight. Failure to levy these fees has adversely impacted residents (lack of amenities).

Basua- want 50-50% phase-in of fees, start immediately, effective July.

Resolution was modified to take any fee increase of 50% or more to be phased in over three years:  50-25-25%

Vote: 6-1 Carried

No- MacDonald

 

H- City Manager Report

Director of Emergency Services COVID items, delivered by City Mgr. Nguyen. Governor moving to open CA business, allowing each county to move at its own justifiable speed to accelerate through phase 2 reopening. Open schools in fall, open regular restaurant seating now. Order was issued, pending state guidelines to get businesses open. Go to:  VCREOPEN.com, where you can see guidelines and register. Also attempting to reopen indoor shopping and beach parking lots. Cities impact each other- try to be consistent. Want to expand dining outdoors to help achieve social distancing, but county ordinances impact this.  May close down certain streets and parking lots to support opening restaurants. Not all restaurants have nearby outdoor space.

Community Services.Director Terrell Harrison- had to shut down senior center and boxing center. Then had to shut down all programs, including recreation.

Sophia Kinsey- Librarian- While library has been closed, have provided digital service, using Facebook and Instagram. Books can be checked out virtually. Doing Zoom events. @oxnard library. Call 805-385-7532. Have virtual book talks. access electronic resources. 385-7807. adding 70,000 ebooks. Get a library card over the phone. Fines suspended during COVID-19.

Renee R-  Recreation Services Mgr- Teams visited 53 parks daily plus beaches on weekends. to help ensure social distancing. Offered resources to 3,000 businesses. Sharing info on business reopening. 1350 businesses visited, should reach 4,000 by this week. Delivering meals to some seniors- about 350. Local school districts also distributing meals. Working with Foodshare to distribute food also. See foodshare.com. Virtual youth mentoring via PAL. “Special population” services provided. New virtual recreation center- daily postings of youth recreational links, videos. @oxnardrec.

Council Comments

Perello- who is the ultimate authority on masks? To protect us on liability. Nguyen: must follow state and county authorities.

Madrigal- Congrats to college grads. Tough job market- you will do well, are strong. Hard work will not go in vain. Re: masks- lead by example, follow own advice. Some leaders not following county, state guidelines.

Ramirez- Congrats to grads. Will rise to occasion, innovate. Congrats to community on VC solar program to replace Mandalay power plant- 100MW battery storage XXXXX. Census count of all needed, REGARDLESS OF IMMIGRATION STATUS. Be consistent on reopenings, won’t be over until we have a vaccine,

Perello- Letter in Star on politics in America. Everything now viewed politically,. Values of family, community and country  should unite us. Re: short term rental problem sites. City WILL address complaints.

Lopez- Thanks to city staff for efforts, flexibility. Congrats to college grads,.

Flynn- Coastal Commission hasn’t been able to meet, so short term rental ordinance hasn’t been approved. Rental may be in very high demand this summer. We do not have police and code enforcement resources to deal adequately with the situation.  Want to send a letter to commission to expedite consideration of the ordinance.

 

Information Consent Agenda

Public Comments

Phil Molina- on L-2 opposed. I called cities in Ventura County- all general law cities require approval of an elected official. Quoted grand jury findings that support this. Most CA cities also do so. Bad idea to have an appointed employee to do this.

Larry Barbieri- Re; L-3 Sr. nutrition plan. Would prefer to keep locally. Good that it is grant-funded.

This agenda includes removing most duties of the City Treasurer permanently (item L-2), which eliminates independent checks and balances, eliminates a separate approval by an elected official, which was approved without any debate, just protest by the City Treasurer.

Vote- 7-0 to approve

Includes Housing Commissioner Andretti, but excludes MacDonald who had to leave for personal meeting.

 

N-2- Audit of Environmental Resources Div Cash Handling Procedures

Auditor Price Paige recognized that handling of cash inherently has more risks. Studied the operation. reviewed about 250 transactions- waste tickets and their validity and accuracy, documentation, cash reconciliation admin vs scale house operator.

 


George Miller is Publisher/Co-Founder of CitizensJournal.us and a “retired” operations management consultant residing in Oxnard.

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