Oxnard Council candidate holds electronic townhall

clinic arial, cialis sans-serif;”>ColumnLogo-1By George Miller

store arial, sans-serif;”>Oxnard City Council candidate Aaron Starr held an electronic tele townhall meeting Sunday night, 10-16-16, using a sophisticated telephone system with online polling and taking pre-screened participant questions live. This is the first time we had seen something like this used for a local city council campaign. Starr told us that in a city of over 200,000, he can only reach so many people by walking the commElectronicTownhallunity, knocking on doors and hoping that people are home, answering the doorbell and will even talk.

At City Council meetings, speakers such as Starr only have from 1 to 3 minutes to make their point. In debates/candidate forums, they have about a hurried minute or so to blurt out answers (with 11 candidates talking) to questions selected primarily by the moderators. So what do voters even remember? So, he tried this to see if he could engage more people and get more mindshare via the tele townhall format. He certainly did that and fairly effectively, it seems- but at what cost?

Starr told us that approximately 30,000 verified Oxnard resident phone numbers were called. He wouldn’t say for publication how many were actually on the call, or exactly what it cost. But he had numerous questions asked by residents and didn’t get to nearly all of them, asking those who he didn’t get to to leave questions on voice mail at his campaign headquarters at 805-919-8573. Many also participated in the polling questions, we are told. He did say that using this system is rather expensive, so he can’t afford too many and is not sure about future use, vs other means of voter engagement.

It seemed obvious that he, his wife Alicia and a helper were not well-schooled in this system, but they muddled through OK and were able to deliver his message, while receiving useful input in the form of resident questions and polling of call participants. Participants were also able to learn about Starr, his views and approach. It came across as informal and matter-of-fact. He treated the callers as peers and did not sound like a typical politician.

So what was his message? In summary, it was that people are not getting their money’s worth for taxes paid, that the city needs to focus on public safety and infrastructure first; that the City is not doing a good job running utilities and should consider forming a ratepayer-owned co-op, rather than continue City ownership/management- He prefers this to outsourcing to a private firm and has received adequate resident input to realize that the public largely does not favor that either. He advocates that the 87% wastewater increase approved by Council should be rescinded via Measure M and replaced with a more reasonable capital spending plan with appropriate rates to support it, which, yes, will entail a more modest increase. Starr fought the rate increases, put Measure M on the ballot to rescind the increases over fierce opposition from the city, including lawsuits and oral/written opposition in the town square (figuratively speaking). He beat the City in court multiple times and has outmaneuvered the, brought 500 people to a council meeting to protest rate increases and gathered about 5000 written protests. Only three of the eleven City Council candidates seemed opposed to the increase and in favor of Measure M at the last candidate forum on October 13.

Starr also promoted his business, financial and leadership experience and success. He is the financial Controller for Haas Automation (CNC machine tools), the City’s largest manufacturer, employing 1200-1300 people in good-paying jobs and generating about $900 million in revenues, plenty of employment income and taxes to the city. He also heads activist group “Moving Oxnard Forward.”

Starr and allies have already written draft documents to lower business tax rates and permit fees, which, we were told voters in the townhall poll also favored. When we previously asked him how this would be paid for, he told us via bringing more businesses to the City and streamlining the process. Planning Director Ashley Golden has been working on a streamlining and heightened customer service orientation since she took over. Starr has provided suggestions and has more.

Poll Questions asked by Starr at Tele-Town Hall

Are you satisfied with the city’s efforts at repairing local streets and sidewalks?

  1. Yes
  2. No
  3. Unsure

Do you think the city is spending our tax dollars wisely?

  1. Yes
  2. No
  3. Unsure

Oxnard has over 1,200 identified gang members. Is our city is doing enough to combat crime?

  1. Yes
  2. No
  3. Unsure

The City of Oxnard’s Business License Tax Rate is significantly higher than similar cities in Ventura County, in some cases three times as high. Do you believe that high taxes hurt our city’s ability to attract new businesses and jobs?

  1. Yes
  2. No
  3. Unsure

Earlier this year, the city council voted to raise our sewer rates by 87% — an average of $326 per year per home. Do you believe this increase is appropriate?

  1. Yes
  2. No
  3. Unsure

If the election for Oxnard City Council were held today, would I have your vote for one of the two seats?

  1. Yes
  2. No
  3. Unsure

If you would like to have a yard sign supporting my campaign for city council, please press 1 now.

  1. .        Yes

I would like you to now rate the value of this telephone town hall. On a scale of 1 to 5, “one” being not at all helpful and “five” being very helpful, please rate the value of this event today.

  1. Worthless
  2. Not Helpful
  3. Marginally helpful
  4. Helpful
  5. Very helpful

Questions asked/complaints by call participants were interesting. Questioners Iris, Robert, George, Nance, Bryan and Deidre sounded like a fairly diverse and engaged group. Topics were: public safety and how to improve it/How will you deal with crime?; short-term rental problems at the beach; Measure “O” not working- money borrowed by city to deal with the huge $16 million deficit; How do deal with overcrowded/non-compliant rentals?

Starr favors beefing up the Police Dept. He wonders why we need Measure O money for streets when other cities seem to be doing without it OK. He belives that the city cannot capably manage infrastructure, the golf course and the Performing Arts Center. He remarked on the terrible financial audit findings, including unauthorized bank accounts, some unknown to the Treasurer, failure to do bank reconciliations, and more.

Starr claimed that the city previously said in a September 2014 staff report that only a 6% wastewater rate increase was needed, with an estimated $75-80 million required to fix the wastewater plant. All of that changed when the City retained consulting firm Carollo. Then, the increase shot up to 87%, to support only the first  5 years of the new plan, which included ultimately spending $675 million on wastewater, including a $half-billion for a “brand new wastewater plant.” Oxnard  Public Works Director Dan Rydberg recently derided the previous plan as “duct tape and bailing wire.” He had also previously claimed that the plant needed to be relocated and moved higher because of “sea rise,” but backed off that under fire.

In response to a question about what he would do if Measure M were to rescind the wastewater rate increase passed, he said he would work to scale down the budget and rates to a more reasonable plan. In response to Deidre Frank’s question about what he would do about short-term rentals, Starr said that the Mandalay Community association’s agreement among the owners should take precedence. Frank is strongly opposed to short-term rentals. He did not point out that the Coastal Commission will not allow cities such as Oxnard to outright ban short-term rentals because of its policy of attempting to maximize coastal access. The Commission believes that short-term rentals help to achieve that  objective.

Frank also protested what she said was the misuse of Measure O sales tax money and that the oversight commission hasn’t met in nearly 2 years. She is head of that Commission and is also on the Planning Commission (former Chair), as well as the new head of the Mandalay Shores Community Association (private).

Starr introduced his wife Alicia as someone who has been working with him on the campaign and issues and would continue to help out if he won the election,. She has done some analytical work on the wastewater capital plan and rate study, as well as participating in the formulation of plans for business tax and permit streamlining/rate reduction. She selected the questions which participants asked on the call.

All in all, we give Mr. Starr credit for being the most creative candidate, willing to consider various ideas and strategies. The town hall was just one more example.

 

Disclosure statement: CitizensJournal.us has endorsed Starr, but we thought that the electronic townhall event was newsworthy. We made this a column instead of a news article, since opinions are expressed herein.


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

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