Letter to the Editor from Aaron Starr
We had a major victory in court this week!
On Monday, October 25 the appellate court issued a ruling that the Oxnard City Council “enacted an ordinance that served to deny voters their rights guaranteed by the Election Code.”
You may recall back in 2019 that we spent the better part of that year gathering signatures to qualify a measure for the November 2020 ballot that would change the mayor’s term from two years to four years, and establish a two-term term limit.
The Oxnard City Council did not like that, so they hatched a VERY naughty scheme to deny you your right to vote on citizen-proposed council term limits … and the courts have now agreed with us.
Here’s what the City did:
- In October 2019, two weeks before we turned in our signatures, the council crafted its own proposal – a limit of three terms with a loophole to evade those limits by swapping positions between council and mayor. Similar to our initiative, the council’s proposal changes the mayor’s term from two years to four years.
- During the October 15, 2019 council meeting the City Manager (with a nod of agreement from the City Attorney) told the council that to adopt their looser term limits measure the council was required to place it on the ballot – and prohibited from adopting it themselves – because it modified the mayor’s term. (Voters had decided back in 1973 to set the mayor’s term at two years, so any change to this must go to a ballot.) Following his advice, the council voted to place what became Measure B on the March 2020 primary ballot.
- In December 2019 the council wrote voter guide materials for the March 2020 ballot, telling voters that Measure B would “establish term limits.” The March 2020 voter guides were printed in January 2020.
- On January 21, 2020 – shortly after the county certified that our initiative had a sufficient number of valid signatures – the Oxnard City Council was legally obligated to place our measure on the November 2020 ballot. Instead – and here’s where they broke the law – the council “adopted” our strict term limits just three weeks before voters would begin voting by mail on the council’s looser term limits.
- Because it was too late to revise the voter guide materials, the council’s action to “adopt” our measure turned the March 2020 voter guide materials into a lie, deceiving voters into believing that Measure B would “establish term limits” when instead it would replace our stricter term limits – created when the council illegally adopted our measure – with the council’s looser term limits.
- On March 3, 2020, the voters adopted Measure B, after falsely being told in the official voter guide that it would “establish term limits.” The city’s taxpayer-paid polling informed them that Measure B was likely to pass – and it did!
Immediately before voting on January 21, 2020 to “adopt” our term limits, the city council went into closed session, allegedly to discuss in private a potential “initiation of litigation.” It was a ploy. They had zero grounds and no intention to sue over a routine term limits measure. We pointed out at the time that it was fishy.
Those of us in the council chambers during the closed session could hear RAUCOUS LAUGHTER emanating from their private meeting room. We knew that something foul was afoot when the council then emerged from closed session.
Contradicting advice he gave the council in October that changing the mayor’s term required going to a ballot, the City Attorney then told the city council they should go ahead and adopt our measure “in an effort to save costs of an election.”
Then-Mayor Pro Tem Carmen Ramirez admitted what they were up to by saying, “I do think two terms is really not sufficient … I prefer Measure B, but I am going to move to adopt this ordinance now so we can avoid an election later on.”
In this link to the video of that meeting, at time stamp 03:06:52 you can witness several council members visibly LAUGHING as they voted to deny voters their rights.
Of course, we filed a lawsuit, complaining that what the city did was illegal and that they needed to place our strict term limits measure on the November 2020 ballot.
The trial court got this wrong, but a unanimous court of appeal has fixed that error and has ordered the City to place our term limits measure on a future ballot.
This will give voters an opportunity to make an INFORMED decision about which term limits measure they prefer.
As one of the appellate judges noted during our hearing, the city council created this “problem”, and now with this ruling, they’re going to have to fix it.
And that’s appealing!