Oxnard Council Deliberates on Channel Islands Water Quality

By George Miller

The Oxnard City Council meeting met on the morning after July 4, virtually guaranteeing a very light turnout. I counted six members of the public, including this reporter and  the head of the Channel Islands Neighborhood Council. 

The meeting purpose was to extend a contract with Aquatic Bioassay and Consulting Laboratories, Inc., for an intensive testing regimen at 26 sampling points,  a pilot aeration program and other possible solutions in the upper Channel Islands Harbor. This is to better diagnose the water condition to help pinpoint the cause and determine if aeration is a potential solution to presently perceived problems.

Agenda and presentation materials

Meeting video

HarborTest Results


For those just tuning in, hundreds of harbor residents and users have complained about water color, opacity and smell over the last month. The upper harbor water has turned brown/gray.

Some attribute this to the Mandalay power plant shutdown, accompanied by the shutdown of its circulating pumps,which evacuated many millions gallons of harbor water hourly to cool the plant machinery.

City staff have suggested that this may be just a seasonal algae bloom. But this June was fairly cool in the harbor area and such blooms do not ordinarily manifest themselves until it gets warmer.

The Seabridge development was designed with provisions to install aeration pumps in multiple locations, which could potentially help mitigate this problem. No such provisions exist in the larger, older Mandalay Bay development or at Westport neighborhood.

Previous tests were for harmful bacteriological presence, thought to be the greatest potential dangers, We were previously told that there are not dangerous bacteria levels, but that dissolved oxygen was less that five parts per million, which is considered unsatisfactory.

Many have previously complained to the city privately or showed up en masse at a recent Channel Islands Neighborhood Council meeting at the Pacific Corinthian Yacht Club. A reputed 200 angry people stormed the meeting. Most did not even have an opportunity to speak their minds there. A few were able to speak after raising their hands and being called upon or simply shouted out their complaints and questions.  Chanenl Islands Task Force members Mayor Flynn and Councilman Bert Perello (guest speaker) also attended and spoke there.

Assistant Public Works Director Ng Thien made this meeting’s staff presentation (see presentation materials link, above). He said that the engaged would be testing for various types of biomass and chemicals. 

Asst. Public Works Director Ng Thien (publicity photo)

The vendor will operate sampling stations in the upper harbor, sampling daily, analyzing the results, compiling and reporting them. They will also participate in public meetings, answer questions and help develop solutions to mitigate problems uncovered.

26 sampling stations in upper Channel Islands Harbor (Screen shot)


All Council members were very supportive of doing the tests and whatever is required to diagnose and solve the problems which may be causing water quality issues. They voted 5-0 to go ahead with the proposed step one program.

Public Works Director Rosemary Gaglione said that this is only the first step.


Public speakers:

Several public speakers alternately criticized the Council for only responding after mass protests and made suggestions

Channel Islands Neighborhood Council Chair Audrey Keller. Photo: Dan Pinedo./CitizensJournal.us

Channel Islands Neighborhood Council Chair Audrey Keller gave herself and herself and the Neighborhood Council credit for forcing action on the matte, saying we were the flash point of the Channel Islands effort and action direction and didn’t know what would happen if their June meeting hadn’t taken place. She urged action by the  Channel Island Harbor Task Force. She supported an ongoing testing effort.  She wants to know if the algae situation was impacted by the Mandalay power plant closure. Wants Harbor Commission, in partnership with the County, which she said hasn’t done much.

Robert Chatenever- Wants a water aeration program or to dig out the Edison Canal to the ocean and create a new inlet. This a a major project requiring quite a bit of money and permits. He thinks it would be better to hire a hydrologist than a biologist.

Local activist/Seabridge voter initiative author Robert Chatenever. Photo: Dan Pinedo/CitizensJournal.us

Akshay Manek- was in agreement with Mr. Chatenever and added  that more circulation  or other alternatives should be pursued if aeration alone is insufficient.

George Miller (Ed. note- he author of this article) stated that according to Mayor Pro Tem and Aaron Starr, only mass protests and lawsuits seem to prompt Council action. Lamented light meeting turnout. He pointed  out that some areas of the harbor have been smelly, that the circulation pumps shut down are said to have a capacity of 2.75 million gallons per hour, Cautioned to look at storm sewer outfalls and old residential plumbing.

Council/Staff comments

Madrigal- supports it.

Ramirez- This is a problem for the whole city not just the district. Harbor is important to the city’s economy. The state water board shut down the pumps. Is curious about Chatenever’s inlet idea. Wanted to know if sea life/birds were really dying off as some residents have claimed. No staff members would venture an authoritative opinion that there was a die-off. Is this an emergency that justifies bypassing the normal bidding process? According to City Atty Rep. Shari Klima- yes.

MacDonald- The proposed program is “a no-brainer”- supported.  “Makes absolute sense.”

Perello- Thanked everyone who worked on this. Said he spoke to County Supervisor Zaragosa’s staff about this and said he was told aht tey and CEO Powers will do everything they can to help resolve the situation. He will keep the new City Manager Nguyen informed. He said the new District voting system is not in effect until November, so the Harbor is still all Council Members’ districts. In any case, this affects the whole city and all council members are united in addressing it. Wanted to know if the city has identified funding sources and how this effort would affect general fund reserves. Police Chief and former Interim City Manager Scott Whitney said is would leave them at 12/.5%, vs 18% target.



Mayor Flynn told me that he is seeing good progress on staff addressing the problem, had to call this meeting when he did or there would have been even more delay in moving the program ahead, that he had been heavily engaged visiting the harbor 4-5 times, on the water twice and working with the Neighborhood Council. He had discussed the problem long ago with the  Public Works Director Roshanian. He said that water quality problems go way back and that other harbors have them, too. Flynn said he talked to a long time diver/boat cleaner who claimed that the tide had washed it in one day and it got gradually deeper and deeper. He mentioned that this issue will be discussed at the Harbor Task Force meeting, along with the voter initiative on Seabridge services, affecting Harbor Patrol coverage and costs deemed to be excessive by many residents,


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

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Charles McLaughlin

It’s just a shame there wasn’t any councilman in Oxnard with some common sense and awareness regarding the NRG issue. If NRG was left alone and not attached by the Oxnard City politicians we would not be having these problems.
Now instead of major economic development and increase in tax revenues they will be spending more of the taxpayer’s money trying to correct a wrong. They all should have been repealed for this reason alone.

William Hicks

“Seasonal Algae Bloom’s” have a cause. A combination of temperature, circulation and chemical makeup in the water are a part of the cause.

Affect any one of these, or combine them, and you have reason for concern.

Although I’m not a professional in this field, this is what I was taught in a college field biology class.