Oxnard: $79MM Wastewater Plan; COVID Economic & Safety Threats Reviewed; Homeless Shelter Budget Increased for Social Distancing

By George Miller

COVID-19 Economic & Safety threats were the big topic of the Oxnard City Council 4-24-20 meeting. Discussions were on maintaining safety without totally destroying the economy, with the latter of these not going well at all so far. The budget impact will be enormous and far reaching. There are hopes for bailouts/grants. Most restrictions are driven by state and county edicts, but the city has some latitude.

Public works Manager Ng Thien presented an ambitious $79MM wastewater plan, to council enthusiasm.

The Council approved homeless shelter cost increases of a third.  City Housing Director Emilio Ramirez attributed this to “social distancing” requirements. He said this entailed moving shelter residents into a second facility to accomplish that, with attendant manpower, equipment and layout changes.

About $20MM was authorized or allocated in the consent agenda, with very little discussion, so read the agenda materials if you want to know more.

Meeting AGENDA, VIDEO

 

D- Closed Session

City attorney said he had no announcements to make about what transpired.

 

E- Ceremonial Items-  Sexual Violence Awareness Month.

The Mayor read a proclamation noting sexual violence awareness month. A .Medina, a speaker from a farm worker rights organization, amplified his points and mentioned that her organization focuses on social, economic and political issues,.

 

F- Public Comments on Items Not on the Agenda (remotely by telephone)

Joan Tharpe- of Friends of Ormond Beach, to protect wetlands/wildlife. Want to enforce Ordinance 2906- camping. Problems with vagrant encampments. City has only intermittently enforced and there are still some squatter encampments there. etc. Thousands of tons of trash have been removed by residents, to no avail. Please DO something.

Laura Orgil- no answer

Danielle Rise & Cassandra Rogers submitted written comments supporting Ms. Tharpe’s points.

 

G- City Manager Report, including update on COVID 19 emergency orders

City Manager Nguyen

US census completeness is important since grant. etc., revenues are dependent upon it. Anna Lugo, with Census Bureau: Please fill out paper or online 2020census.gov questionnaire. 50% have responded nationally- 52% in CA, Ventura County 59%, Oxnard 50%. COVID-19 has affected Census operations. Will now run until 10-31-20. Will knock on doors of non-respondents starting August 11. Phone: 844-330-2020

Nguyen- Economics are rapidly decaying, lots of debate about recovery, need to plan for this. No scenario will allow public employees to go unscathed. Executive staff will be taking cuts in health increases and some other fringes- $130,000 savings. Nguyen will take $12,500 in cuts plus a salary reduction of about the same amount. A federal bailout may allow them to undo some cuts. This is only a drop in the bucket but it’s important for leadership to lead on this, he told us.

But there was a $9 million structural deficit, reduced to $3MM. Were hoping for a stable status quo budget, but all that’s out the window now, with this drastic economic decline. He said that the organization was already too lean- nothing left to cut without cutting entire programs. He outlined proposed cut areas as follows.

1. Must utilize General Fund reserve. This is exactly the type of thing it’s for, he asserted.

2. Have asked labor leaders about foregoing upcoming year’s increases.

3. Most hiring will be frozen, except for some urgent, mandated work.

4. Further “scrub” various contracts.

5. Part timers and fire academy already cut (14 firefighter candidates). Will cut some police vacancies.

6. Further furloughs/cuts being considered if no other way can be found.

7. May borrow from enterprise funds, which are primarily utilities.

8. Sales tax payments are being deferred, which will hurt General Fund receipts. May borrow.

9. May get some federal bailout money. Current legislative bills are dead, but efforts continue. He is hoping for new bill. Will there be loans, grants, what flexibility is there in use of funds, how to apply?

Will discuss more in coming weeks. This all dovetails with the new budget process underway. We must take charge of our own destiny, recovery efforts, revenue stream, particularly sales taxes.

Re: updates stay at home order (2 county orders in last 3 days)

Focus is on social distancing and mitigating spread. SeeVCemergency.com. Updates include permissions for certain businesses., county parks, beaches, golf and tennis open now.  Orders in effect through May 15. Oxnard golf course (only one of two) to open Thursday, most likely. Will be playing rules. Tennis courts will open, too.

(Note: launching ramp to open too- not a city facility)

Doing our best to maintain open space for people in parks, IF they follow distancing protocols. Gabe Teran held a Zoom neighborhood council meeting, warned of real estate fraud scams- emails/phone calls on mortgage help. Call legitimate lenders instead.

 

G-1- COVID-19- Ratify most recent orders

Police Chief Scott Whitney on safety, beaches and parks

6 ft social distancing or mask, 20+ second frequent hand washing, regularly clean high touch areas, no gatherings, Essential businesses only. OPD social distancing team surveilling community, working with businesses on protocols. Some problems at parks., Will remove basketball hoops. No gatherings, sport,s in parks. No yoga groups, no organized exercises, soccer, etc. Call 805-385-7740 to report violations.

Crime reports down 32%- But stolen vehicles, up 138%. Fewer domestic violations. Traffic violations down 99%. Collisions down 60%. Zero bail for almost all misdemeanors and some felonies. VC was already thinning jail population, but car thefts immediately soared with the latest releases. You can help prevent- 45% of increase was facilitated by keys nearby. Want to keep beaches/parks open, with public cooperation. Had to do a few citations at skate park. Park amenities closed- restrooms, playgrounds,etc.

Whitney showed a video of beaches (Neptune Square park area), showing how uncrowded they are (see video screen shot below)- it looked the same to us on three trips this week, but a bit more crowded on Saturday).

Oxnard beaches are not crowded. Recent Police Dept photo.

CFO Kevin Riper- COVID-19- related economic issues-

Things have changed rapidly. Who would have predicted negative oil prices?  ALL AMC theater co. employees are on indefinite furlough. Unemployment numbers higher than Great Depression, averaging 5.5 million/week- 22MM so far. Sales taxes reducing 30-37% in this quarter statewide. Expect lesser but still serious drop in Oxnard. Hotel tax may drop 80-90%- Oxnard is forecasting 83%. Business tax may 10-15% drop over two years. Property tax receipt drops are forecast to be minimal, unless lockdown extends considerably. Decline in assessed values may also be a factor.

Public Speakers

Edward Sierra- no answer.

Armando Delgado- Rep. with SW Regional Council of Carpenters- 1800 regional members. Virus has dealt a harsh blow to industry. Construction remains open, including work for emergency response. This crisis affects many. Developed protocols for COVID-19, to permit certain work to continue. Wants govt. to adopt its safety protocols.

Council Comments

Councilman Perello grateful on attribution to released criminals and crime. Perello volunteers a 25% pay cut but wants to know what tyhe unions are doing to help.Parking on Mandalay very busy due to beach access. Whitney says it;s just a couple of dozen cars and beach is uncrowded, although more expected this weekend. Nguyen is still in discussion with labor bargaining groups who must then take it to their membership. People may not have absorbed how bad the (economic situation is. Will to get something more concrete. Perello said this is obvious and urgent. The poor have it worst,

Ramirez- People are having a hard time just getting their heads around how drastic this is- worse than 9/11. Worried about people from other areas coming here because beaches are open and overwhelm them.  Many people buying on line. Will this replace local retail? Do we have access to data? Nguyen- yes and “baked into” our estimates. Separate workers so entire depts. aren’t wiped out of work.

MacDonald- Highly dependent on sales taxes. Transient occupancy (hotels) have dropped to 15% occupancy. Other revenue drops- sky is close to falling- need to plan for this (sounds like staff already is).

Lopez- Thanks to all. Question about county report on number of cases, by zip code. Any insights from this on case locations/.actions/.needed enforcements? Chief Whitney- Limited in what we can talk about- but no deep clusters. Also, we’ll look to see if our beaches get crowded by outsiders- could cause closures.

Flynn- also concerned about outsiders coming here, because other beaches/parks aren’t open.  Re: Homeless shelter additional funding. Costs $60/homeless person housed/day.  Now $80/person.  It would be more if we didn’t own the facility.He was asked why can;t we house all 600 estimated Oxnard homeless? It would cost an additional $13 million.

 

G-2- Modification of Shelter Services for More Funding: 

Increased shelter budget +$236.707 to $1,423.267, not to exceed. $2.4mm, to comply with COVID-19 social distancing needs. Shelter was expanded into two facilities (formerly just K street and now also PAL Center, too), which requires more manpower to run.

Housing Director Emilio Ramirez explained why this was needed. This affected bed placement, meal delivery, state guidelines compliance, including bathrooms,. showers,”sick” bathroom and showers), sanitation stations. More security, attendants, management. 5 people added, plus security. This amounted to a $236.707  increase in funds needed.

Council vote on #1 & 2 – approved 7-0 unanimous

Nguyen- Re: our effort to help people complete unemployment applications-  phone: 385-7407. Many calling have filed already and want to know what’s happening.

 

Overall Council Comments

Madrigal- Stay safe. Try to stay at home.

Basua- Many Ormond beach vagrancy complaints.

Ramirez- re: Ormond Beach. City police have been patrolling. She claims vagrants not squatting on city property.. (Others have called Citizens Journal and said otherwise). Tomorrow is Earth Day. Look at saving environment. Cleaner air with fewer driving. Listen to governor’s daily update. She didn’t mention federal update. No COVID treatments. Don’t be scammed into using any. Our first duty is public safety/health. Some must go out to work, care for people. So, we’re not all in this together. Be aware of vulnerable people/seniors.

MacDonald- agrees with peers.

Perello- Spoke with Congresswoman Julia Brownley. Asked about assistance for cities under $500,000 and business stimulus money. She said more stimulus will likely be coming. Some $ went to major banks. Money is gone, went to biggest customers. National leadership is a disgrace. Seemed to focus on Trump without mentioning his name. Denying science. Health, safety and welfare are highest priority.

Lopez- Serious situation. Many know COVID death victims or friends/relatives of them. Continue to stay at home.

Flynn- Re: today’s Senate small business bailout, says $380 billion of the$480 billion was for small businesses. House will vote on it this week. City will help small businesses apply for loans. It would be more if city didn’t own the facility. City also helping out of work employees to apply for unemployment.

 

I-K- Information Consent Agenda

Except for a few items pulled for minor questions/discussion, a large amount of funds- over $20 million, actually were approved at this meeting for appropriation, allocation or authorization- almost by default. Since these items were supposedly vetted by committee before appearing on the council agenda, they are assumed to be good to go, unless a Council member pulls something for discussion. In practice there is rarely a serious concern and hardly anything is ever not approved. The increase in consent agenda amounts is attributable to a new approach, implemented last year. The good news is that it makes the council meetings shorter and less frequent and supposedly allows more in-depth vetting. The bad news is that hardly anyone has the time and inclination to catch the varied, long daytime committee meetings. The net effect of this is less de facto public transparency.

Items pulled for discussion:

K-4 Lopez- Re CA SB 1 local streets and maintenance, Rice Ave repaving. Will this funding be impacted by COVID situation? Per Public Works Director (inaudible to all). Per CFO Riper-  Awaiting state budget revision. Will affect timing and availability of revenue, but not this item. Flynn- Oxnard has 833 miles of streets plus much mileage of alleys and parking. Repeal of bill failed. Will pave lots of Oxnard streets. Would like to see map of planned repaving.

K-1 Perello- Omission under council comments. He had asked that meeting be closed in honor of (the late) civic activist Martin Jones (he did).

K-3 Ramirez- Re: development grant program. Unfortunate we didn’t have more money to give. We can’t re-purpose this money.

K-4 Madrigal- recused because he lives nearby.

Public Comments

Laura Deiago- Representing  Cultural Arts Commissioners. Approves proposal for grant awards to artists and organizations. Arts are needed more than ever in this difficult period. Thanks for Council support. Arts are a ray of hope and glimmer of sunshine to give hope.

Calia Delea-  Cultural Arts Commission- Similar sentiments. This will be excellent for the community.

Council vote approved 7-0 unanimous

 

L-1- Update of Wastewater Division Capital Improvement Projects.

Was vetted by committee prior to tonight.

Public Works Manager Thien gave presentation. This is a part of the integrated master plan

Public Works Manager Ng Thien presents public works capital plan at 4-24-20 Oxnard Council meeting,

Wastewater plant and equipment condition 80% fair or worse condition. 10 year capital improvement plan developed. Year 1-2 emergencies. 3-5 reliability improvements, 6-10 years long term modernization. Several rate increases approved, last one is due next year,

There is a project timeline in the agenda materials if you want more detail. A new polymer method was introduced to improve processing. Some equipment/facilities in serious condition have been repaired or replaced. Co-generation facility was overhauled. All four solids processing belt presses were replaced, lab HVAC was replaced, primary clarifiers refurbished and more.

$46 million is forecast for reliability improvement for things such as:  new electrical building, backup generation, switch gear, headworks control system, digester covers, site process, primary clarifier and scrubber covers and control systems to reduce odors (now especially bad for nearby Hueneme residents). Will go out for bid in July for completion in 2023.

Some ongoing work in wastewater collection system, pumping system, manholes, piping, chemical additions, vehicle replacement (specialty trucks).

Funding- Credit rating is important. Raised from BBB to A-, which cuts interest rates/costs. Refinanced existing debt and saved up funds. Emergency repairs are done with  cash, not debt. Have $16MM cash for projects, $9.5 mm grant. Got a $60,000 FEMA grant for 2 backup generators. Also got a low interest loan. Water and wastewater are considered essential functions, so existing projects will be unaffected. Another $1.5 MM  grant for sewer repairs.

Council Comments

Perello- had some local neighborhood project concerns. Happy with approach. Criticized council recall effort. Credit to Jaqui Irwin for helping to obtain grant.

MacDonald- technical difficulties. He’s on the public works committee.

Ramirez- Thanks for comprehensive report and thanks to Jackie Irwin for getting wastewater grant. Projects are critical. Hearing reports of people clogging the sewer system. Is it really a problem due to toilet paper shortage? Thien- no, not an issue here. But other cities have experienced that. (We heard that the only toilet paper factory in California is in…. Oxnard).

Madrigal- Thanks for update. Essential. Looks completely different than he saw on a 2016 tour- big improvement.

Lopez- Great to see every step in presentation. Re: aerators. Will it be noticeable to neighbors expressing air quality concerns. Thien- Air piping will be 17 feet below water level- won’t create odors.

Basua- Similar thoughts, thanks. Concerned about enterprise fund borrowing. Want presentation on that.

Flynn- On Public Works Committee. What’s important to understand. Whined about the recall done over what he said was a $25/month increase. Attacked Aaron Starr without mentioning his name, incorrectly claiming Starr said all this work could be done for $11mm. Flynn said Council erred in not raising rates sooner. Really happy with Public Works Dept and progress.

 

Meeting adjourned 9:11 pm

 


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


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