Oxnard holds second Townhall- accomplishments, hopes, challenges, plans, vision discussed

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The informal theme of Oxnard State of the City TownHall, 9-2-15.

By George Miller

Oxnard held its second TownHall in recent memory Wednesday night, 9-2-15 at the Oxnard Performing Arts Center. It addressed some serious financial and organizational challenges, as well as heartening highlights and opportunities.

The event was run by the Inter-Neighborhood Council Organizations (INCO), organized and run by residents. Its purpose was to provide an overview of the state of the city- financially, operationally and even, to some extent visionary. Mayor Tim Flynn and City Manager Greg Nyhoff were the main guest speakers. The TownHall also showcased the Oxnard Neighborhood Councils.  An earlier TownHall/Community Forum was held on 3-5-15, mainly to discuss spending/working priorities.  The Firefighters and Police unions recently held their own state of the city meeting last week, to attempt to make a case that the city actually has adequate funds to avoid public safety cuts.

 

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Crowd at Oxnard’s second Townhall, 9-2-15. Photo: CitizensJournal.us

Agenda: INCO Chair Len Schulman kicked off the session, explained objectives, agenda (see below) and introduced people.

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Oxnard INCO Chair Len Schulman. at State of the City TownHall 9-2-15. Photo: CitizensJournal.us

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Oxnard Mayor Tim Flynn at State of the City TownHall 9-2-15. Photo: CitizensJournal.us

Mayor Flynn’s keynote speech (summary)

The Mayor started off by establishing neighborhoods and quality of life as the top priority and de facto main reason for Oxnard city government. He wants Oxnard to be THE best place to live. However, many things have happened here, many of them not good. But, he says there is positive, new energy now and reason to believe in city government and Oxnard.

He quickly shifted to the positive and mentioned the accomplishments of opening the new ($24 million) Fire Station 8, that this is our second townhall this year (none existed in memory), that new professional city staff have been hired, with more to come. Flynn and Nyhoff both referred to the city management hierarchy pyramid (see diagram in Greg Nyhoff’s presentation section, below). Right now, Oxnard is still trying to firm up the foundation needed for achieving better service levels (middle of pyramid), while already working on a sharper, better long-term innovation and future focus.

Then Flynn quickly ticked off a number of endeavors, one by one:

Every street in the city needing pavement/repairs will be done within three years.

City finances are being addressed. After the city declared  a crisis and $13 million deficit, the $119 million general fund had to be trimmed down, $16MM borrowed from Measure “O” sales tax increment fund and reforms implemented to begin to get it under control. City Manager Nyhoff brought in forensic accountants and attorneys (at great expense) to provide an objective, expert look at city finances, identify shortcomings (129) and address staffing, policy and procedure issues(more details in Nyhoff’s presentation, below). Flynn was unwilling to go into more recent financial numbers, saying that figures “need to be updated.” Fiscal year 14/15 numbers are said not to be even available in unaudited form yet.

In the meantime, Public Safety Unions are claiming that the City has overstated its financial problems, yet has failed to inform bondholders about being “on the edge of insolvency,” as they told the public and employees. The unions hired an auditor, who has been forced to work with very old data, since the city has supplied him neither FY 14/15 CAFR working data, nor FY 15/16 budget data worksheets, models, etc.

Prepare students for 21st century jobs. Isn’t this the schools’ job?  Yes, but Mayor Flynn, council and residents have declared this a high priority, so the City will help ensure that job training is made available. He stated that schools are a factor people consider in deciding where to live. Flynn said Oxnard  Union High School District is the first 21st century learning and innovation district in the state. The idea was to combine schools, city and industry resources to make sure  that children are learning the skills and to apply 21st century education and training hand-in-hand. He said employers are saying “we have jobs but not the people with the needed skills.” “Partnering” will help solve that. (see CitizensJournal.us articles on this HERE).

Meeting the need for water. The city has finallly gotten output from the Advanced Water Purification Facility, which can theoretically take water from “toilet to tap,” that is to purify raw sewage into drinking water. That is not now legal, but could become  a reality if the drought continues. However, the city has the green light to ship water for irrigation and some industrial uses. It started off earlier this year by delivering water to the city-owned golf course and is now working on agricultural applications. Eventually, this water will be cheaper than the (40% of)  city water supply @ $1300/acre ft water now being imported. Farmers can now pump groundwater much more cheaply, but it may not last. Consider that Central Valley farms are already experiencing severe water shortages. (It is said that about 20% of land has been taken out of production-  a huge hit on employment and agricultural revenue).

The Del Norte Regional Recycling and Transfer Plant was taken over by the city and realized over $2 million in annual cost savings (as well as a higher landfill diversion rate).

The largely defunct eyesore Wagon Wheel zone is now being redeveloped privately, with 1500 new housing units planned, 54,400 sq. ft. of commercial space, a new transit station, including a park & ride, as well as open space, parks and trails.

The shiny new Collection mall has become a regional “destination,” with dozens of stores, restaurants, specialty shops, even a California Visitors Center (tourism promotion) and also generates substantial sales tax revenues.

Haas Automation, world-class advanced machine tool manufacturer, will do an $81 million expansion, generating up to 1235 new jobs. (This is really great news and especially remarkable, since CA is so unfriendly to manufacturers and Haas was being courted by Texas Governor Perry to relocate not so long ago). Haas has much higher than average paying jobs (but needs a steady supply of trained workers).

Channel Island Harbor is “the jewel” of the city- a fine recreational and fisherman’s harbor, with miles of fabulous, uncrowded, white sand, beaches. It has outstanding recreational and revenue potential, not nearly fully realized. It is a secret to many, who don’t know how good it is or that it even exists. Although it is in Oxnard, it is owned and managed by Ventura County- it was referred to as “a colony of the county.” The City wants more control of the harbor’s destiny and is negotiating for this. The harbor used to be a major “destination when the Lobster Trap, Casa Sirena Hotel, Fisherman’s Wharf, Port Royale and Whale’s Tale Restaurants were all in their heyday. anll but one are gone now and it looks like a ghost town.

Improving the business climate. Oxnard is not known as a good place to do business, because it is in business-friendly California and also because Oxnard has succeeded in erecting even more obstacles to doing business. But, finally, the city has gotten the message and is moving on multiple fronts to rectify this. A new position of Economic Development Director was established and filled. The city has already moved all related functions into what will become a “one stop shopping” center. Recognizing that even this is not enough, it is also establishing a “concierge service” to walk businesses through the process and find ways to get things done. Mayor Flynn declared that “Oxnard is open for business!”

Geo-Targeted Economic Development (G-TED) area. This area in South Oxnard, between Rose and Oxnard Boulevard is targeted for industrial/commercial economic development.

Downtown revitalization; The area has been spruced up considerably in past years, with cleaner, safer streets, graffiti removed, new businesses established, Heritage Square, the movie theater complex, restaurants and shops, but it simply lacks the traffic of spenders to achieve economic success. With the $6 million Collection mall settlement money, the right investment is being sought to take downtown to the next level. There is also some talk about putting in housing units for people who have some money to spend and could provide significantly more foot traffic to stimulate the downtown economy.

Vision: The Mayor said we are in a better position now to do things no other city has done- to attain the highest quality of life for everyone, the best colleges/schools, best training facilities, high disposable income, greatest city in California. During the session, it was mentioned that Ventura County had attained the highest rating of any county in the USA, in a (FDA) survey of quality of life (this was for climate and geography).

 

Performing Arts Center. This wasn’t part of the Mayor Flynn’s main presentation, but a new director, Chelsea Reynolds, was introduced who was hired this year, with the primary objective of getting more bookings in the center and supporting Oxnard performing arts.

Advertisement- 740 South B Street, Oxnard, (805) 486-6878

Advertisement- 740 South B Street, Oxnard, (805) 486-6878

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City Manager Greg Nyhoff at Oxnard State of the City TownHall 9-2-15. Photo: CitizensJournal.us

 

City Manager Gregg Nyhoff presentation (summary)

Mr. Nyhoff said that the city is focusing on organizational and process development.

There have been several key staff “retirements” (our quotation marks) of department heads/key staff during his 14 month tenure. Chief Williams, Assistant City Mgr./Asst. Police Chief Whitney and General Services Director Michael Henderson remain, as do some others. Phase I of the reorganization is done and Phase Ii is in process.

The city is actively recruiting several key management and admin positions, including: Public Works Director, another Assistant City Manager , Public Relations Director, IT positions, (also Finance, HR and other Public Works positions- not mentioned at Townhall).

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Oxnard improvement hierarchy pyramid.

 

 

 

 

129 major defects in policies/procedures/processes were identified in the audit.

– “Did not see the financial challenge initially,” but he did see the needed transition, Nyhoff told us.

Summary of major financial woes- $20.3 million  worth …..

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The damage- Oxnard Townhall 9-2-15. Photo: CitizensJournal.us

 

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Strong medicine- Cuts. Oxnard Townhall 9-2-15. Photo: CitizensJournal.us

 
Pension costs have and will continue to skyrocket and pose a major financial burden.
 
Major deferred capital investment/maintenance: No police cars replaced in years, IT (Information Technology) investment needed (60 recommendations), building maintenance, street repair, wastewater plant, water and storm water (also garbage trucks just recently starting to be replaced).
 
Fire Dept. “SAFER” grant approved- ($1,766,736 for 9 firefighters for 2 years).
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Much more to come. Oxnard State of the City TownHall 9-2-15. Photo: CitizensJournal.us

 
In summary, Nyhoff said, “we are getting used to each other… have gone through a lot of change….. the future is very bright…. sales taxes, property values, are up ….”
 
 
 
 
The TownHall was informative for the residents, even those civically involved who already knew much of it, but not all.  Nyhoff’s presentation was a forthright, yet tactful, summary of what’s going on, public safety unions’ claims that there are large uncommitted funds notwithstanding.  Mayor Flynn provided a broad brush, big picture look at the city, colored by highlights. City officials did not attempt to answer claims by the unions (firefighters and police) and their hired auditor that the city had overstated the crisis. However, standing by the deficit numbers that have been challenged constitutes a statement of its own. When asked about this at the event, Nyhoff said it would be addressed at the 9-15-15 City Council meeting. So fasten your seat belts.
 
It’s regrettable that in a city of 200,000+ that less than 100 non-city government residents were there. At least most were civically-oriented though. 
 
 Members of the public were invited to speak, followed by neighborhood council officials.
 
This was followed by breakout sessions by topic, including: infrastructure, public safety, public outreach and neighborhood initiatives, etc. The townhall breakout group approach sounded good, but in practice, lots of people had already left by the time it got underway and it was a bit loosey-goosey, based on my sampling of groups. There wasn’t enough time for the attendees to rotate through all the groups as envisioned, either. But it was beneficial for residents to see/meet the staff and interact with them and each other. It might be good to have something like that as a separate event.
 

The public speaks out: Some members of the public, including Neighborhood Council officers, made brief statements, limited to one minute. But mostly, the public was here to listen, not talk so much. Many outspoken members of the public have already made their views quite clear at City Council meetings.

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Some neighborhood Council officials.

Breakout sessions ….

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Please come to the 9-15-15 city council meeting which will feature the financial update discussion.

 

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George Miller is Publisher of Citizensjournal.us and a “retired” operations management consultant, active in civic affairs, living in Oxnard.

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