Oxnard Attempts to Spike Starr Initiatives; Ponders Electrical Supply

Oxnard Mayor Flynn attacking initiatives, Aaron Starr and his motives at 1-15-20 special meeting.

By George Miller

A very contentious 1-15 -20 Oxnard Council special meeting featured mostly strong opposition to the Aaron Starr-led Moving Oxnard Forward voter initiatives. Open discussion was bracketed by before and after closed sessions to discuss and determine next steps on the Russ Branson consultant’s report on 3 of the 4  initiatives. The open meeting presented the report and aired council, staff and public views on the matter. The Council intends to sue Starr to keep three of the initiatives off the ballot, allow the fourth, with the fifth still in signature review.

Unlike some other major projects/initiatives discussions, the authors were not allowed to have more than their three minutes per agenda item, except for one extra minute granted. For example, the Fisherman’s wharf advocates and opponents were granted ample time to air their positions. Not so at this session.  The Council and staff were strongly opposed to the initiatives , along with a majority of the public speakers, which included some officials, contractors, union reps, backers and the general public. But advocates made some strong counterpoints, including characterizing the report as highly biased and one-sided. Without agreeing or disagreeing on the merits of the report, it dwelt on alleged drawbacks of the initiatives and did not bring out their advantages.

Briefly, the initiatives consist of: 1. Running council meetings, legislative bodies*; 2. Early Termination(/extension) of Measure O Sales Tax If Specific Pavement Standards for City Streets and Alleys Are Met/Not Met*;  3. “Expedited Processing of Certain City-Issued Development Permits; 4. Expansion of Duties of Elected City Treasurer*;  5. A fifth one is still in signature review.

*These will be litigated by the city

Agenda Report
2020.01.15 Resolution Calling Election – Meeting Procedures
2020.01.15 Resolution Calling Election – Measure O Sunset
2020.01.15 Resolution Calling Election – Expedited Permits
2020.01.15 Resolution Calling Election – Treasurer Duties

The Council also discussed, in closed session, an Order Instituting Rulemaking to Develop an Electricity Integrated Resource Planning Framework and to Coordinate and Refine Long-Term Procurement Planning Requirements Public Utilities Commission Proceeding No. R.16-02-007.

 

Meeting Agenda, Video

 

Councilman Madrigal was absent (came later).

At the end of the first closed session, the City Attorney advised that advice from counsel was provided- no specifics.

 

Consultant’s Report on Initiatives and Discussion

At the request of Council on 12-17-19, three of the four initiatives that Moving Oxnard Forward submitted signatures for were analyzed for potential impacts by Russ Branson Consultants. Branson then delivered  a summary of his finding at this meeting. He said that he analyzed for Governance, organizational structure and fiscal impact.

A digest of his comments:

Expansion of Duties of Elected City Treasurer

This is a considerable expansion of duties of elected City Treasurer. Makes Treasurer also  the Finance Director, which Branson is not in favor of, citing removal of some council prerogatives,  He thinks it requires an increase in the Treasurer’s compensation, per ordinances. It takes away/shifts  City Mgr rights to do the budget, hire and firing certain dept. heads  and some reporting. He was very vague on the impact on this. He’s concerned that the initiative takes away internal auditor’s reporting to Council and internal controls and shifts them to the Treasurer. Reduces Council authority and creates a schism.

He questions that only rudimentary qualifications (age, residency, citizenship, no felonies) are required for the position (but same is true of Council and Finance Dept). He incorrectly stated that only very basic qualifications exist for elective positions in CA.

If this is adopted, Council will NOT be able to change a voter initiative without voter approval (not strictly true).

Treasurer’s salary is now $5400/yr, plus additional duties, such as investment management. This might raise the Treasurer’s salary to $336,000. He though that the initiative would grant “plenary authority,” which he described as unlimited. He thought that it reduced separation of powers/oversight.

His claims of more staff required lacked foundation. He naively believed that the new software would do some of the specified reporting. He thought that it would politicize performance reporting, because of pressure to get re-elected, when the same pressures exist for others to keep their jobs. He said having the Treasurer set the budget is a problem and that it could only be changed by the council and will go into effect automatically on July 1 unless changed by the Council. But this is pretty much how it works now with the City Mgr. submitting a budget,

There is much more detail in the report in the agenda package.

Elected officials- Treasurer, City Clerk, City Attorney-  also have some dotted line administrative duties. This may eliminate some of the Treasurer’s.

Can’t fire an elected official.He claims that staff would have to be added for performance reporting and budgeting- he estimated 3-4. But if the responsibilities are merely shifted, why would this require more staff?

Has anyone else done this in 5 surrounding counties, he asked and answered- No Treasurer/Finance Directors. Not aware that this is done anywhere else in the state, but the reverse its true, where Finance Directors also have Treasurer responsibilities, but he expressed no concern about that. So, if he’s concerned about separation of powers with  Treasurer over Finance, why is he not similarly concerned about Finance over Treasurer? Both have trade-offs.

He believes that the biggest impact of the initiative would be on governance.

Meeting Requirements initiative

He was concerned about imposing Roberts Rules, after 5 PM meetings, etc, video tape staff presentation in advance, focus on answering questions. Members may address council on any items. Presenters must provide hard copy to the legislative body. Legislative bodies consist of Council, committees, citizen commissions and boards (398 presentations last year for meetings of applicable bodies.  This would be costly- 398 presentations, video recording, production, publishing- estimate $175,000/yr. plus equipment plus Spanish translations.  Estimates $250-400/hr to subcontract. Claimed implementing Robert’s Rules would require special training, but that was already the previous requirement. Says it would require a burdensome change of committee meeting times, but many are complaining about lack of public accessibility for daytime meetings.

“Measure O Termination” Initiative

The initiative is really about forcing improvements in roads, but the city has turned it around into a negative, labeling it the “Measure O Termination” initiative, since it would terminate the cash gushing 1/2 cent tax increase that funds this, but only if the city failed to achieve targeted road improvement targets. It would also extend it if goals wee met.

Tying retention of Measure O 1/2 cent tax to road improvement/pavement quality…. The Pavement Condition Index (PCI) needs to hit certain targets on a schedule to keep Measure O in place. It is currently 61 (a drop since last year).

He says it would require all of the Measure O funding (which would eliminate police, fire, recreational projects funding by Measure O), plus $204 million from the general fund to meeting these goals.

This would undermine the original intent of the voters and make Measure O into a de facto special tax.

PCI level of 80 by 2028 plus other milestones. He estimates it would cost $30 million/year.

He claims that 53 positions funded by Measure O would lose its funding.

The alternative is that the PCI targets would be missed and Measure O would be terminated 6 years early, which would obviously eliminate a heck of a lot of revenue (est. $153 million). If the city slipped, it would eliminate the very revenue that already deficit ridden, deferred maintenance-saddled Oxnard desperately needs to survive. I confronted Aaron Starr about this months ago when I first read the initiatives. His response was that it would incentivize the city to stay on top of the streets maintenance program. But of course this would also force them to allocate huge amounts of funds to the streets program, to the likely detriment of public safety and recreation programs.

In public comments later, initiative backers pointed out that maintaining roads at optimal levels cost a only 1/8 of playing continual catch-up with fair roads like Oxnard has. But there is also the issue of what funding is required to catch up to the optimal level first. Starr said the estimates Branson provided from a “model” did not take that into account. Starr pointed out that PMI, the city’s  streets consultant,  said that and said far less would be needed. He quoted from and handed out the reports the city had accepted and approved. We did not get one.

In summary, he sees disruption of governance- a split in oversight, loss of some programs, loss of staff and revenue, vague language which will likely result in litigation.

Public Speakers

Chris Williams (Oxnard Police- President of Oxnard Public Safety Managers assoc)- Predicts catastrophic effects from passage of initiatives, especially the PCI/Measure O one. He said Measure O funds 16 officer positions, fire station funding and fire fighting positions. This initiative would hurt an already strapped public safety budget. He supported Measure O. He says voters should accomplish their objectives by who they vote for. This is cutting off your nose to spite your face.

Phil Molina- Tim, Carmen and Jeff all asked for his endorsement (Flynn later told me he did not ask Molina for his endorsement). Referred to previous Mayor who flaunted laws. It is possible to elect officials who flout laws. The consultant never interviewed Molina. Consultant rendered opinions not backed by facts. We previously did budget and performance reports. He pushed for the internal auditor position. He has already been a CFO. He says he was not asked to participate in the “objective report.” Proposed system would allow public more immediate opportunity via a recall. City resisting his attempts to get information. Why would Treasurer  submit a budget that you don’t agree with if you could reject or change?

Ray Blutel- When you don’t like something, you will spin it any way you like to make it smell. How would a poor City Treasurer being in charge be any worse than an unacceptable council? You could do committee meetings in the evening- preferred. You already have staff to do the videos. Re: Meas. O termination- to achieve 65 street PCI (quality level) in 2020. Questions the stated cost of improving PCI.

Peter Martinez- ret. probation officer and criminal justice instructor. Said these are reckless, dangerous  and irresponsible initiatives. Cited anecdotal crimes crimes in Colonia and shootings/violent crimes elsewhere. Puts community safety at greater risk- especially Measure O, which he claims pays for 60 police officers, and much more. Doesn’t wasn’t to see it all used for street repairs,

Nancy Lindholm- Oxnard Chamber of Commerce CEO-  Likes Branson report, fiscal impact “hits you in the face.” Would the measure need a super majority vote if converted into special tax, which initiative would do?  Described Starr as someone rejected by voters twice. Suggested he was extorting the city. City could oppose and or litigate.

Kaye Brenner- We can’t let Measure O be terminated. Her seniors group  has received needed funding.

Debra Baber- Presentation said “the sky is falling.” Measure O has been so successful, yet we’re treated to a list of violence. Starr bemoaned loss of $100MM in revenue. City’s own public works has said good road maintenance costs only 1/8 of dealing with poor roads. City promised better roads under Measure O. Hasn’t happened.” In private sector, people get paid for the work they do, not what they don’t. Measure O would only be terminated if the city didn’t maintain the roads. Does this mean the city has no intention of doing needed road maintenance?

Laurraine Effress- Re: Merging Fiance Director and Treasury is “a land grab,” resulting in horrendous governance problems and would create problems like we had in 2008. Reject. Put it on the ballot and pray Oxnard voters are smart enough. Measure O – between a rock and a hard place. Fire, police requirements are most important. Need better prioritization from oversight committee.

Steve McNaughton- Votes and is an Oxnard firefighter. Initiative is detrimental to firefighting. $40% of Measure now going to fire dept. 30 firefighting positions would lose funding along with station 8 funding.

Aaron Starr- Brought a fire extinguisher in case someone’s pants catch fire. Money does need to be spent but they did not specify lowest life cycle costs. Previous reports say maintaining PCI at 70 would cost less. Avg PCI range is 75-80%.  Costs less to maintain streets at ideal level. Pavement Engineering Inc submitted report said spend a dollar today or $8 down the road. Some cities without additional sales tax have better streets. Well maintained roads do NOT cost more.

Alex Burum

Alicia Percell- Report claims to be impartial and objective. But, it shows no benefits to initiatives at all- just another biased report paid for by taxpayers. Has cynical view of what might happen. Not the likely impact. This is a shameless scare tactic. Projecting current problems to the initiative. We have had 6 CEO’s and staff turnover. Audits have had 117 findings. The chicken little report said it would obliterate our finances. But the same criticisms could be made of City Manager- same potential corruption/incompetence. We already have external auditors. (would still report to council). Initiative gives the council wiggle room to change it. 8400 people have approved this for the ballot, not 2 as consultant said.

Alex Burum- Re: Financial transparency. Report says no qualifications for city treasurer. Treasurer would only PROPOSE the budget. What are qualifications to run for City Council? THE SAME. Would we argue similarly that they are unqualified?

Steve Bunger- Native Oxnardian. If my grandfather was here, he’d be pissed. Initiatives are frivolous, irresponsible, waste of our time and we don’t have the money.

Pat Brown- Can’t find any one of them to be acceptable in the report. Someone counting the money needs someone else to verify. Mistakes are made. We need more transparency. No choice to vote for this. Wish we wouldn’t have to lay off anyone, We have some bad streets, especially due to truck traffic. Getting trucks out of there would reduce road damage.

Greg Runyon- Once again, we don’t have enough money, right priorities. Important to get it on the ballot. 8,000 agree, but how many disagree? We don’t know. The idea behind Measure O is most important one. Our cars are important, but our lives are more important. Not willing to gamble on public safety. I walked for Measure O. Not OK with having our money yanked away if performance not met.

Daniel Chavez, Jr.- Claims were that they fought against each other. Molina himself made a case for why merger of City Treasurer and Finance is bad- lacks checks and balances. Measure O was NOT supposed to go specifically to roads. No. Went to various purposes. Termination of Measure O would terminate programs. Taking away Measure O is reckless.

Tim Lummus- Retired OPD Sergeant, also criminal justice teacher. Walked for Measure O. Was designed for public safety, fire, youth programs. Would take away 60 police officers and a fire station. Starr has done this before. It cost us a lot of money for the recall.

Mike Gregson- President of Oxnard Peace Officers Assoc- reckless to get rid of Measure O. Operating on a shoestring budget.

Gabriel Teran- Dug into each initiative. Mathematically impossible to dedicate (to roads). Says $17MM year to get to 65 PCI, $28MM to get to 80. Plus $65MM to repave alleys. CFO can be fired, but Treasurer cannot. City Mgr is administrative head. Teran said he could beat Molina or Starr for Treasurer. Says initiative promoters flat out lied to the public. He did videos on initiatives-said Starr would not be interviewed for them.

Armando Delgado- SW regional Council of Carpenters- Won’t accept rolling the power of two positions into one, or allow change in city meetings.  We work all day. Early termination of Measure O- not gonna happen. Get rid of PCI and get another opinion.

Council Comments

Lopez- Concerned about the initiatives.

Ramirez- Concerned. Measure O is a lifeline. Doesn’t want to lose it. Concerned about layoffs.Totally takes away representative form of government.

Madrigal (now here)- Initiatives probably not in best interests for residents of the city- should go out to the voters.

Basua- Extremely upset, Can’t believe we are actually up here discussing this. The most reckless thing I have seen in my 17 years of govt. All nonsense. Originators have not concept to what it is to run govt.  apologize to Citizens, taxpayers for what we will have to spend.

MacDonald- Will save comments for last item.

Perello- Measure O was passed as a general tax, so how could it be allowed to use all for streets? Re: “Objective report.” It sounded like worst case scenario. Agree with Molina on a couple of points such as outgoing checks, compensation. I was concerned that Measure O would be used for all purposes. Oversight committee is like a toothless dog. Wants to make govt more transparent. Can’t support combining Treasury with Finance. Can’t go along with Measure O or meetings initiative. Grateful that Starr handed out pavement report.

Flynn- (Very angry and emotional, as he always seems when he discuses Aaron Starr)- Assumes all officials/employees are continuing to engage in corruption that this council put an end to. This individual is attempting to say that everyone in city govt is corrupt and incompetent. Couldn’t be anything further from the truth. I know and admire the author (Starr), but he ‘s not more intelligent than the combined intelligence of city officials. A democracy is not a dictatorship. Some merit, but common thread is arrogance and I (Starr) am above the public.). I would like public to put an end to the arrogance, falseness and say we are sick and tired of this. This is a waste of time and tax dollars. Time that this nonsense stops.

Re: Permits Initiative

Provides for expedited processing of certain projects, if project meets certain conditions.

This report was done by Development Director Lambert and two assistants, not the consultant. Its emphasis was on analysis in how this would impact our customers administrative, safety and fiscal impacts.

It says that every project would be eligible for self-certification. Supporting professionals would be eligible if they passed the city certification program, which the city would have to provide. It allows for peer review for projects that need a structural engineer- about 35%. The city would have to manage a board of appeals. A permit revocation process is there. Allows for field revisions- mandatory and voluntary. Any permit could be audited.

Phoenix, AZ has the most prominent self-certification program. Elk Grove, and Sacramento do it, Riverside has  more limited programs. This initiative is more expansive than any of these.

Says initiative removes checks and balances and reassigns to certified non-govt professionals. Seismic, flood, fire, accessibility, energy code items are of special concern.

35% of plans received have significant safety issues. Says 28% of Phoenix projects audited failed. Says that after the fact audits provide potential grave financial harm to the applicant. More chances of projects under construction being stopped.

Says it would eliminate the one stop process. Says applicant is responsible for getting all other dept approvals first. Claims it creates a new layer of bureaucracy, not necessarily better, that it would convert Development from being a facilitator to a regulator. Would make them make a decision in one day, which may prompt more inspections. may (negatively) affect city’s insurance rating.

Summary- Eliminates one stop shop; creates new layer of bureaucracy; eliminates safeguards; requires more staff; potential adverse budget impacts for customers; increases potential legal exposure; decreases city’s insurance rating.

Public Comments

Laurraine Effress- Permitting process is the subject of a lot of complaints. Don’t understand all. Re: self-certification: “Boeing,” which she said is the product of self-certification (presumably referring to 737Max situation). Result- 376 lives lost, $billions, plus inconvenience. Be careful with self-certification.

MacMcLaughlin- 45 years construction experience. Don’t agree with any of the initiatives. Why no limits on expedited projects? Large projects need oversight on design, workmanship, materials. Needs new bureaucracies/$. Many cities have tried, none have no limits “Texas style” approach like this. Most have scaled back or eliminated. Urge council to keep present process.

Nancy Lindholm- permitting process very complex. Have heard many complaints. How are voters going to understand this? This is way over the voters’ heads. What is city’s potential liability if a building falls down.

Corey Harpool, of Oakwood Communities. As a  developer- what a great idea. But the devil is in the details Concurs with staff concerns, This increases risks. Insurance premiums would skyrocket. Improvements are being made already, but not perfect.

Armando Delgado- Carpenter’s union- There are some positive things about the initiatives. In the past, cities have done it with far smaller staffs in New York City. Had a self-certification program. Building owner can appoint competent architect, engineer, builder. Then he cited examples of poor oversight and recurring violations.

Jonathan Duran- Union carpenter- Permit simplicity doesn’t make sense. You have to have someone watching to make sure you don’t err, cut corners. Cited bridge collapse, sinkholes, tilt-up building on Camino Del Sol., etc.  Need checks and balances

Scott Zimmerman- Opposes all initiatives, including permit simplicity-bad for public safety and construction personnel. 28% of Phoenix, AZ projects  failed inspection (audit) and they are the “flagship” program. Being limitless is just insanity- lacks checks and balances.

(Some speakers assume reviews would solve the problem, even though some of the disasters happened with processes similar to Oxnard’s.)

Pat Brown- Better to be safe than sorry. Always a chance something will be left out, someone will cut corners. One stop shop just didn’t seem to work out. No way to do it any faster. (She inadvertently attacked Oxnard’s new approach gradually being implemented).

Aaron Starr- Yet somehow city of Phoenix has been doing it for 10 years and still doing it. Everyone know that the city’s (Oxnard) permit system is broken. We attempted to work with the city. But Alex (Nguygen) said he would do everything in his power to oppose it. We put language in that the Council could change initiative language.  The report doesn’t mention success of other cities. Building boom resulted in Phoenix. Fewer projects will be done without permits (if this is not done). We are not proposing something like Idaho and Texas. Still must use city approved professionals, inspections. Report made No attempt to provide any objectivity. Taxpayer funds were used for political purposes.

Alicia Percell- Not enough time to point out all the falsehoods (in the report). Contained accusations about other city’s systems. VC Star report page 7 said it would reduce safeguards, that there would no longer be oversight. This is not true., This was designed to scare the public. Must still pass all of the rigorous inspections, still has audits. Also made claims of higher costs, professionals not want to work in Oxnard. This is already true. Lots of professionals have told us that they don’t want to do projects here. There are illegal , unpermitted projects all over Oxnard.  Existing system will still be here for projects that don’t use this route.

Miguel Rodriguez- Thinks this would influence his insurance rates, Doesn’t want another code enforcement dept and not allowing permit dept to do its job. Unrestricted construction would be out of control. 2MM+ violations filed in NY similar program.

Jackie Tedeschi=- Under Development Director Lambert, things have been better under the permitting process.

Greg Runyon- This isn’t about money, it is about human life. Fear of falling buildings.

Council Comments

Ramirez- Sounds real good- permit simplicity. Already seeing improvement in planning (with existing improvement efforts). Agrees with Effress on Boeing example. Need oversight. Want to know the liability. Would city really be indemnified?  A; (Fischer)- unresolved issues. Design community is very good at legislating (self) protections, He really doesn’t know.

Perello- Agrees with Runyon. Cited St. John’s mold  issue, library problem. Said somebody didn’t check the job. We make lip  service when we say we’re gonna do “one stop shop.” What about the PACC (existing potential hazards)? Self-certification is wrong. Cited the Southbank hydrogen sulfide problem. We have people who will cut corners to make the almighty dollar. Need better systems- this is not it. I cannot support this. Cited a road paving project with wrong material. Grateful for recent interaction of City Mgr. with an applicant.

Flynn- Heard many complaints about the existing process. Council supported one-stop shop concept. Changes were made. Since (Dev. Dir.) Lambert came here, things have improved. We try to find reasons to give you the permit and get the job done faster. Claims that the infinitive is trying to address problems from 5 years ago and things are better now. Today Oxnard is open for business- different attitude, different people

City Mgr. Alex Nguyen- I have much to say about initiatives, but there will be ample opportunity to later. Clever of Mr. Starr to say he met with me. Nguyen then read a letter he wrote after meeting Star and Percell., saying  I do not believe in managing through the initiative process or courts, I am now analyzing on how to improve the process. Then he said I don’t oppose ballot initiatives and that Starr wants to throw out the baby with the bathwater.

MacDonald- Gave a recent example of a residential repair plan approved at warp speed. Have made great strides in improving.

Back to closed session to decide on legal action, if any,

 

Public Comments on Closed Session

Aaron Starr- I’m actually a very collaborative person. Only litigated once before until experiences with Oxnard since 2016. Tried to work with city on utility rates. City tried to block signature gathering, (then sued to block passed initiative and appealed again when they lost). We want the same goals, but only disagree on approach.

Alicia Percell- Heard descriptions of problems that happened even when city approved plans. Very dramatic opposition and wild accusations over Measure M. You (city) thought you had a great case against us. You got bad advice. Still fighting us. Just because you disagree with a policy position doesn’t mean it is illegal. Putting items on a ballot is not a dictatorship or anarchy.  Now you may sue us again.

After Closed Session

Public Comments

Greg Runyon- Not sure I agree with lawsuit, but you should not have had that vote without public comments. Too much negative emotions surrounding this. Be decent with people you disagree with.

Council Comments

Mayor Flynn- There were comments prior to the closed session.

Perello- Please explain item G-1. 

Ramirez- This is not personal animosity. My vote will be for good of city and residents – not personal.

The Vote

A motion was made  to place only the expedited permits initiative on the ballot. They are failing to put the others on the ballot and plan to legally contest putting them on the ballot  (the fifth one is still under signature review until late January.).

Briefly, the initiatives consist of: 1. Running council meetings, legislative bodies*; 2. Early Termination(/extension) of Measure O Sales Tax If Specific Pavement Standards for City Streets and Alleys Are Met/Not Met*;  3. “Expedited Processing of Certain City-Issued Development Permits; 4. Expansion of Duties of Elected City Treasurer*;  5. A fifth one is still in signature review.

*These will be litigated by the city. Madrigal dissented. We may never learn why.

Vote was 6-1 to approve, with Perello dissenting, saying that the otrher initiative should be litigated too.

Meeting was adjourned.

 

After Meeting

Alicia Percell said they must put it on the ballot and can then sue and sent me the following:

The one vote they took at the end was to put Permit Simplicity on the November ballot. Fischer advised them that because they decided to sue over the other three that they didn’t have to take the vote about putting them on the ballot. State law only gives them two choices: adopt them, or put them on the ballot. There is no exemption.- Alicia Percell

 

I also spoke to Mayor Flynn

He reiterated some of his sentiments from the meeting, toned down just a bit. He said he met wit Aaron multiple times. Aaron would just tell him what he wanted and there was no give. He said with Aaron Starr, its my way or the highway. He said some of the initiative content has merit, but overall, he is opposed. He didn’t have problems with the term limit initiative (although he approved putting a competing, watered down version on the ballot).

Flynn said that 1-2 decades of poor decisions have been corrected by the current council. He added that Aaron is a very smart person with some good ideas, but he thinks his arguments trump the whole government. He is not smarter than the whole government. Flynn maintains that the whole basis of the initiatives is distrust and continuing to ferment trouble

 

Alex Nguyen did not respond to our request for comments/interview. 

 

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


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