Oxnard moment of truth coming on utility rate increases- Tuesday

Make plans to participate in utilities rate hearing

By George Miller

On Tuesday 1-19-16 there will be a hearing on the proposed utility increases of 60% over the next few years. The city says that the utilities are underfunded and that service and safety will be endangered if increases aren’t made to fund necessary work. Rate increases have lagged behind cost increases for several years. The proposed  increases don’t even include the major future expenses of a proposed rebuild of the wastewater plant and major build out of the GREAT water desalination program, which would presumably jack up rates even higher in the future. Strong opposition has emerged. Both sides urge people to come to the hearing, listen and speak out. The council would adopt the new rates on 1-26-16, unless good reasons not to came up in the interim.

Oxnard info on rates: http://utilityrates.oxnard.org/

Ox-Wastewater-Treatment-Plan-Dec-2015-Print

StopOxnardUtiulityRateIncrease

Moving Oxnard Forward group is opposing rate hike via mailers, 4′ x 8′ signs, telephone calls and speaking at meetings. Signs like this are all over town.

By law, the increase can be stopped if  more than half of ratepayers/owners protest the increase. In practice, this is nearly impossible to accomplish. Consider how few people vote in regular elections, far fewer still in special elections. Most people we have talked to aren’t even aware that a rate increase is pending, even though the city and opposition have reached out to all ratepayers on this. But if a substantial number of people protest it and the city still moves ahead with it, there could be significant political repercussions, with elections coming up in November, or even a recall, which has happened in the past under similar conditions.

Simi Valley recently increased rates after only 8% of ratepayers protested. But even after the increases, Simi’s rates are lower than Oxnard’s are now, per Aaron Starr of Moving Oxnard Forward. Oxnard failed to include Simi in its comparative analysis of other cities. Simi also imports much more of its water than Oxnard does.

There is little doubt that there is deferred maintenance, that many positions are unfilled and that expensive consultants are used to fill the gap.

Some people believe that we need rate increases, but not so much, that elements of the proposed projects are unnecessary and that new debt should be minimized. They think the best action might be for the city to scale back its proposal somewhat and/or shift to less debt increase.

 

Here is the city’s formal rate increase proposal notice, which you can protest, up to 1-19-16: http://www.ci.oxnard.ca.us/Uploads/Proposition-218-Notice-Ballot.pdf

OxnardUtilityIncreaseNotice

Cover of Oxnard utility rate proposal notice, sent to property owners and ratepayer.

 

Organized Opposition

While there are several vocal rate increase opponents, such as perennial watchdog activist and candidate Larry Stein, retired municipal financial executive Jim Lavery and former Oxnard Finance Director Phil Molina, major organized resistance to the utility rate increase juggernaut is relatively new and coming from citizen activist group Moving Oxnard Forward, chaired by City Council candidate Aaron Starr, a financial professional who is Controller of Oxnard’s largest industrial facility.

The group sent out its own notice protesting the increase and urging residents to fight it. Their position is that the rate increases are based on some erroneous information and they object to some of what is in the plan. Examples are: questioning the need for a full waste water system rebuild,. which also includes what they say are some unnecessary frills, such as solar power, when methane power is already available. They also object to highly inefficient half billion dollar investments in desalination, which the city plan forecasts only $1.3 million in annual revenues for by 2025.

stoputilityrateincreases

This is part of a mailer sent out by activist group Moving Oxnard Forward to protest the utility rate increases and solicit help.

 

Upcoming rate increase hearing

Last night, the Tuesday agenda was posted on the city council web page:

Name Date Agenda Video
City Council Meeting – Utility Rates Public Hearing January 19, 2016 – 06:00 PM View Agenda

 

City Manager Gregg Nyhoff, who came on board June, 2014, said that the proposed increases exceed the total of all in his prior career. He said the utility funds are drained of reserves, revenues are inadequate to meet expenses, that bond ratings are as low as BBB, that 30% increases are needed the first year alone, that we shouldn’t have to worry about the wastewater system going down.

 

Community Forum

A community forum on the rate increases was sponsored by INCO (Inter -Neighborhood Council) this week, but the agenda was totally controlled by the city. Very few INO people even showed up, but it was a good opportunity to see hear the city’s  case, eloquently stated by Utilities Director Dan Rydberg. INCO did not give any agenda tome to opposing views, although brief resident comments/questions were accepted. Dan Rydberg responded to almost every one of them.

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Utility Director Dan Rydberg presents Oxnard’s case for utility increases at INCO Community Forum. Photo: George Miller/CitizensJournal.us

Nearly 20 residents made some very telling points. Aaron Starr attacked the GREAT desalinization program as a very inefficient waste of money. According to figures he said he got from the city’s cost report, the city will spend at least another quarter of a billion dollars on this program, which they have already spent a similar amount on, to yield $1.3 million dollars a year. This he said is a 200 year payback, not even including operating cost and interest.

Another resident warned to separate “want” from “need’ and said “we don’t need everything proposed or the toilet stops flushing.” She also said it was deceptive to talk about the ailing ($30 million) biotower which is no longer needed anyway.  Larry Stein said we’re getting “sloppy seconds” on the GREAT water program and that ratepayer classes are not being charged properly on cost bases,  a claim we have heard him make at uncountable city council meetings. He also criticized pumping high-priced desalinated water back into the ground.

A retired Edison employee (Rick Macias?) said that you don’t allow deterioration of infrastructure like Oxnard has and they had failed to maintain it. He said if someone came out and demanded a 60% pay increase they wouldn’t have a job anymore.

Only two people supported the increases: Ventura Resident and Ventura County water official Gerard Kapuscik and city council meeting regular Pat Brown, who both indicated that it was necessary and proper and noted no problems with the plan.

Somehow, part of the Las Posa section of Camarillo is on the Oxnard wastewater system. resident after resident stood up to protest past 200+% increases and asked why they had to pay so much more than Oxnard residents and that the rates weren’t even linked to water usage.

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About 100 residents (out of 206,000) came to the INCO Community Forum on utility rate increases at the Performing Arts Center on 1-13-16. Photo: George Miller/CitizensJournal.us

 

Some past articles:

Residential utility rates explained

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Oxnard Holds Utility Rates Workshops

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Former Oxnard Finance Director points out inequitable utility rates

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IS OXNARD MAKING FALSE CLAIM TO SELL UTILITY RATE HIKES?

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Private group mounts blitz to stop Oxnard utility rate increase- watch your mailbox!

Private group mounts blitz to stop Oxnard utility rate increase- watch your mailbox!By George Miller  12-30-15, updated 12:50 pm Aaron Starr, CPA, heads up local activist group Moving Oxnard Forward, which has put Oxnard’s proposed utility rate increase in its sights to defeat. Last week he told us that the increases are likely unjustified, poorly founded and work from some incorrect assumptions, prompting this opposition. Below is part of […]

Tonight’s Oxnard Council meeting (12-10-15): Utility rate increases, protest ballot

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Huge Oxnard utility bill increase possible- please protest

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Oxnard utility increase proposals overstated?

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Oxnard municipal financial expert disputes proposed utility charges

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Local Oxnard accountant-activist makes utility rate/policy recommendations

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

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Gerard Kapuscik
Gerard Kapuscik
5 years ago

George:

Just read your informative article regarding Wednesday night’s INCO Community Forum on Oxnard’s Utility Rate Increases.

For the record, I wanted to clear-up a couple of points you attribute to me.

First, I did not express either support or opposition to the proposed Utilty Rate Increases in Oxnard. That would be presumptuous of me, as I am not a resident of Oxnard, nor do I pay any City utility service bills.

Second, neither my presence, nor my questions or comments were made in any official capacity as an employee of the VCPWA-Watershed Protection District. I was there as a member of the public interested in the subject matter, and exercising my First Amendment rights guaranteed me under the United States Constitution.

Third and finally, if you view the tape of the meeting carefully, you will see that I acknowledged and commended the City for completing a long-term, strategic, utility master plan and cost of services study. Additionally, I asked Mr. Rydberg a question as to the City’s plans to prepare, regularly update, and publish, utility capital investment progress reports and track the return on the public’s investment in the City’s planned utility service capital improvement portfolio via various means (staff reports, performance dashboards, infographics) and deploy on various social media venues (i.e. City websites, Facebook, YouTube, etc..)

As you know full well, whether in the private or public sectors, such seminal strategic planning governance documents are critical in ensuring that best utility services management practices are followed, and accuracy, granularity, and precision in vital-factor information is ensured regarding operational benchmarks and performance management milestones.

Citizens Journal, and you in particular, are to be commended for the ongoing work you do to help the public keep informed regarding these vital utility service matters in Oxnard.