Oxnard caves on Starr utility rate initiative ballot statement

Moving Oxnard Forward moves forward with rate reduction ballot initiative

By George Miller

An Oxnard City Council majority has been

Aaron Starr, candidate

Aaron Starr, head of Moving Oxnard Forward and Oxnard City Council candidate

sparring with “Moving Oxnard Forward” (MOF), an activist organization led by local businessman and City Council candidate Aaron Starr, over MOF’s initiative to roll back the wastewater rate increase.

On Tuesday night, after a long closed session, the City Council and staff filed into council chambers, late for the regular 6 PM Council meeting. City Attorney Stephen Fischer tersely announced that the City would not appeal Ventura County Superior Court Judge Rocky Baio’s ruling for Oxnard to release the “Title and Summary” document necessary to start gathering signatures for a wastewater rate rollback. This would rescind the new rates just started in March. On Friday, Biao had ordered the City to release the document immediately and show proof of that on Wednesday. Starr went to the City Attorney that afternoon, who refused to provide it and claimed he had until Wednesday.

Starr commented at the council meeting that the document should have been provided in the first place and was amused that the City is now trying to expedite a  hearing on the legality of the initiative, now that its delaying tactic has failed.

Mutually accepted language appears below:

Wastewater Rate Rollback Initiative Title and Summary

 

Here is the original proposed ballot language from Moving Oxnard Forward, which more accurately reflects reality:

Wastewater rate rollback proposed initiative language

This is the language which will appear on petitions and ballot for the Moving Oxnard Forward proposed Title & Summary for wastewater rate rollback initiative

 

We heard from reliable sources that the document was delivered to Starr on Wednesday. He confirmed that with us yesterday and said that plans are still on track to start gathering signatures by month-end. But they must first advertise their intention, as required by law. The ad will appear in La Vida, a mostly Spanish language newspaper of record for the City of Oxnard. They must also print petitions, then gather signatures and submit them no later than May 20. 

Starr told us “we can live with the language” (of the Title and Summary document), but Fischer completely omitted any mention that this is to roll back a recent increase in the rates.

This struggle goes back many months, when Starr and other members of the public were disputing the need for much of the capital projects proposed, which came to $675 million, along with far higher rates (87% over 4 years) to support that, debt service and operating costs. The jawboning may have had an effect, since the amount has since decreased by about $130 million and the schedule has stretched out.

The initiative struggle has been a public relations setback for the City, since its legal strategy was clearly contrary to law, according to Starr’s attorney and concurrence by Baio. For some, it has taken on the appearance of a “David vs Goliath” confrontation, eliciting some sympathy for Starr.

MOF released a humorous video on the City’s document release:

https://www.facebook.com/903950649691896/videos/1036375453116081/

 

We also saw this notice on movingoxnrdforward.org

Oxnard Will Not Appeal Judge’s Order

Perhaps we got the Oxnard City Council’s attention when word got back to them that Judge Rocky Baio agreed to a hearing this Thursday, where we were to present our case for citing the City as being in contempt of court for not following his order to issue us the paperwork needed to start gathering signatures.

When the City Council emerged from closed session tonight, the City Attorney announced they had unanimously agreed to NOT appeal the judge’s order that the City Attorney immediately provide us the paperwork we have been fighting for.

It’s unfortunate they dragged us all through this nonsense.

Thanks to all who helped convince the City Council to stop wasting taxpayer money on attorneys to help them deny our constitutional rights.

We presume that means the city will now actually comply with the judge’s order and provide the long-awaited “title and summary” so we can collect signatures for the initiative to repeal 87% wastewater rate increases.  We look forward to receiving it.

 

Starr previously speaking out against increases:

  • 2:47
    President Aaron Starr speaking out against utility rate increases
    Aaron Starr, President of Moving Oxnard Forward, the organization that brought over 400 people to the Oxnard City Council meeting, speaks out against the city’s proposed 60% rate increases for water, sewer and garbage.
    MOVING OXNARD FORWARD · 1,067 VIEWS

 

However, there is also much sympathy for the rate increases, although a blizzard of nearly 5000 protests hit City Hall and nearly 500 angry residents stormed a City hearing on it. 

When questioned by CitizensJournal.us, Starr said he said that the City can commence action at any time to establish more reasonable rates and improve wastewater plans, priorities, budges and rates. 

At the Tuesday City Council meeting at about 11:15 PM, 2 council members- Mayor Pro Tem Carmen Ramirez and Mayor Tim Flynn spoke out for the rate increase and against the initiative.

The City intends to continue to fight the initiative in court and if necessary, at the polls.

The issue is more complex than whether higher rates are needed. According to a recent CitizensJournal.us article on it, the wastewater fund definitely needs more. The question is how much and what will it be used for. Even after dialing back the capital improvement projects, stretching them out and getting more efficient, it isn’t clear to us that even the current increases would be adequate. Why: Because the fund was losing money rapidly and was almost broke before the increase started and will barely meet expenses now. With the phase I capital improvements starting, replenishment of depleted reserves and establishment of a new capital reserve fund to offset depreciation, even the scheduled increases will be inadequate and millions must be borrowed, along with various fees and interest to be paid on these. The City estimates that total City debt would double. So, do the ratepayers/residents prefer to keep rates down more, or end up with far more long term debt and costs?

The benefit of the whole rate struggle is to help ensure that no more is spent than necessary and that it is spent in the best possible way.

Starr’s parting words to us were: “when people think they’re being watched, they’re more careful in what they do.”

 

Our last article on this subject, with other links:

Aaron Starr wins another round against Oxnard utility rate increase

Aaron Starr wins another round against Oxnard utility rate increase

By George Miller- High legal drama in Oxnard today …. local business executive, activist and City Council candidate Aaron Starr’s legal team defeated the City in court today, winning a ruling that the City must produce a ballot “title & summary” of his initiative to roll back the recent wastewater rate increase. He cannot circulate ballot […]

More: https://citizensjournal.us/?x=0&y=0&s=utility+rate+increase


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

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William "Bill" Hicks
William "Bill" Hicks
5 years ago

This draconian increase in tax/fee’s may have been avoided if there had been better prioritizing of projects and an increase in transparency.

This can only be caused by a lack of quality leadership. Maybe it’s time to sweep out the current city council members.