Oxnard moves to block voter initiative to roll back wastewater rate increase

City files complaint for declaratory relief to delay/kill voter initiative

By George Miller
 

This article contains:

stoputilityrateincreases

From Moving Oxnard Forward flyer opposing rate increases

– Background/situation
– City’s press release explaining their attempt to keep initiative off ballot and including City’s attempt (3-23-16 request for declaratory relief) to tie up Aaron Starr of Moving Oxnard Forward ballot initiative to rescind wastewater rate increase of 69% over several years
– Aaron Starr response to this City ploy
– The original initiative to rescind rate increase
 
1. Background/Situation
 
The city filed a complaint for declaratory relief, to stop a voter initiative to roll back the wastewater rate increases which went into effect this month. The move was done on the deadline day for the initiative to move forward, a slick move of questionable ethics which de facto kills the initiative and disenfranchises voters. Interim City Attorney Stephen Fischer says that the initiative is “illegal,” because it would deprive the City of revenues required to provide needed service levels and meet debt obligations. The case is being hired by outside legal firm Colantuono, Highsmith and Whately PC of L.A.
City utilities (water, wastewater, solid waste management)  have allegedly been neglected/mismanaged for quite a few years. For several years there was only shifting interim management of utilities and the City itself. There are still major gaps in management/technical expertise and allegedly inadequate funding to cover maintenance, capital projects, debt service and principal payment. We say “alleged” because city finances, management and records are in such admittedly poor condition that this is not even certain. There is also major disagreement on the necessity of some proposed projects.
 
OxnardUtilityIncreaseNotice

Oxnard held rate increase hearing in January, 2016.

The City of Oxnard attempted to make 60%+ rate increases  for water, solid waste handling and wastewater services, effective in March. A grassroots opposition: “Moving Oxnard Forward,” headed by local financial  executive and City Council candidate Aaron Starr, successfully fought off two of the three increases. About 5000 protests were delivered to City Hall and 400-500+ people showed up, packing council chambers, hallways and several satellite viewing rooms. A compromise brokered by Mayor Tim Flynn stopped the water and solid waste increases, leaving the wastewater increase intact, because that fund was so badly depleted. Technically, there weren’t enough protests to legally block the increases, but it was an unprecedented number which sent a very strong message to Council, staff and the public.

 
We contacted Mr. Starr about the rationale of his initiative and his reaction to the City’s ploy. He said the city’s complaint, filed in Ventura County Superior Court on Wednesday (we could not yet find a case number assigned last night) was a trick to delay the initiative past the deadline, in effect to kill it. We asked him how the wastewater fund could stay solvent without an increase, in light of the projected revenue/expenses/fund balance/bond rating situation. Starr, a high level financial executive who is Controller of Haas Automation, the largest manufacturer in Ventura County, responded that no one really knows exactly what the situation is and should be because: the city finances/records are an admitted mess and the need for hundreds of millions in planned projects has not been properly justified. It is also unclear what the current plans are/should be for the amount of new debt vs. funding with ongoing revenues. Bond ratings could be adversely affected if covenants are not met. He said that the City has the alternative of proposing more reasonable increase and plans.
 
City staff has parried these objections and promised, but put off, requests for Starr’s group and also CitizensJournal.us to meet and discuss this with staff  in more detail. The City Manager has not returned calls, which this reporter remarked on to him after this Tuesday’s Council meeting. They do plan to have a review of utilities at the 4-5-16 Council meeting, but such events are not suitable for interaction and in-depth queries at the level needed to really delve into the situation and discuss multiple alternative scenarios.
 
2. Oxnard Press Release 3-23-16 & Complaint for Declaratory Relief
 
Mar 23, 2016
City files complaint for declaratory relief in response to proposed ballot initiative
 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
#021-16

OXNARD, Calif.–The City of Oxnard filed a complaint for declaratory relief with the Ventura County Superior Court on Wednesday, March 23, 2016, in response to a proposed ballot initiative seeking to repeal the City’s increase in wastewater rates.

“The proposed ballot initiative is illegal because it would set wastewater rates too low and would unconstitutionally force the City to violate its contractual obligations to meet annual bond debt service,” said Oxnard Interim City Attorney Stephen Fischer.

The increase in wastewater rates was approved by the Oxnard City Council on Jan. 26, 2016, after the City completed a public outreach process and held a public hearing that met the requirements of Proposition 218. On March 8, 2016, a resident submitted to the City a notice of intent to circulate a petition for the proposed ballot initiative aimed at repealing the wastewater rate increase.

“The proposed measure would prevent the City from carrying out essential government functions that are vital to public and environmental safety,” said Assistant City Manager Scott Whitney. “Thirty percent of our wastewater infrastructure is in extreme disrepair, and deferring maintenance is simply not an option.”

The increased wastewater rates went into effect March 1, 2016. The money generated can only be used to fund wastewater services.

The City of Oxnard is a full-service general law city incorporated in 1903. Oxnard is the largest and most populous city in the County of Ventura, serving 200,000 culturally diverse residents. Located along Southern California’s central coast, Oxnard is 60 miles northwest of Los Angeles and 35 miles south of Santa Barbara. Read more about the City of Oxnard at www.cityofoxnard.org. Follow us on social media at www.twitter.com/CityofOxnard (@CityofOxnard),www.facebook.com/OxnardNews and www.vimeo.com/cityofoxnard.
Download File

3. Response to City legal action and press release from Aaron Starr

CITY HALL’S LAWSUIT IS A STALLING TACTIC DESIGNED TO FRUSTRATE THE WILL OF VOTERS

It is a shame that Oxnard is wasting precious resources to hire outside attorneys to stop the people from being able to vote on the unfair rate hike.  Nowhere does the City acknowledge the harm this rate hike of more than $325 per year for a typical household will cause the working families of Oxnard.  Rather than let the people speak, the City Council is using expensive outside lawyers to delay the process until after the election.

Astonishingly, the City essentially argues that they need to increase rates because they have so poorly managed city resources that they are in a deep financial hole. Moreover, they argue that the very specter of having this measure on the ballot will prevent them from going further into debt, as if the City needs to go further into debt to improve its finances.

We believe this is a strategic lawsuit designed to delay the people from having a say in the finances of their government.  Why? Because Colantuono, Highsmith & Whatley, PC, the city’s law firm on this lawsuit, lost on this very same issue back in 2014 in Vagim v. City of Fresno, when that city also refused to exercise its legal duty to prepare a title and summary for a local initiative.

City Hall pretends that there are only two options: huge rate increases or Armageddon.  What they will not tell you is that while our initiative reverses the recently passed rate increase, it does not prohibit the City from proposing other reasonable rate increases or making reasonable infrastructure upgrades.  Instead of exercising prudence, the City insists on raising rates to fund their plans to spend $675 million on yet another extravagant pet project based on a faulty study.  This City has proven time and again that it cannot be trusted to manage such ventures.  Voters understand this.  And if the many hundreds of people who showed up at City Hall on January 19 is any indication, this city council has good reason to fear that voters will not buy their “sky is falling” scenarios.

– Aaron Starr- [email protected]

 

4. Original Moving Oxnard Forward Initiative to rescind wastewater rate increase

Download: Repealing Oxnard Increases of Wastewater Rates Act — 2016-02-04

(Note: Strarr filed an intent notice in early March. The above link contains the proposed changes to the rate increase. first page left blank deliberately, to contain final initiative description summary language)

 

Some past articles:

Oxnard nixes huge water and solid waste utility rate hikes amid strong opposition, council second thoughts

Oxnard nixes huge water and solid waste utility rate hikes amid strong opposition, council second thoughtsBy George Miller High drama tonight 1-26-16. The council voted 3-2 to reject the huge proposed rate increases for wastewater and water, with Mayor Flynn, Council Members Perello and MacDonald all voting against the increase. Surprising everyone, including City Attorney Stephen Fischer and perhaps himself, it was Mayor Flynn who led a coup to stop […]

Oxnard poised to approve 60% utilities increase after contentious meeting- up to 400 show up

Oxnard poised to approve 60% utilities increase after contentious meeting- up to 400 show upBy George Miller On Tuesday 1-19-16, the Oxnard City Council approved the first reading of new policies and ordinances to increase utility rates for water, wastewater and solid waste disposal by a mind-boggling 60% or $750 annually for a typical residential customer, over the next few years. Future plans appear to be even more costly. The […]

The Not-So-GREAT Oxnard Water Recycling Facility

The Not-So-GREAT Oxnard Water Recycling FacilityBy Moving Oxnard Forward, January 13, 2016 Oxnard wants to raise your city utility rates by 60% so that they can spend $1.23 BILLION on capital improvement projects.  Many of these so-called “improvements” will not provide value to ratepayers. For example, according to pages 14-15 of the cost-of-service report produced for the city by outside […]

Oxnard moment of truth coming on utility rate increases- Tuesday

Oxnard moment of truth coming on utility rate increases- TuesdayBy 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 […]

IS OXNARD MAKING FALSE CLAIM TO SELL UTILITY RATE HIKES?

IS OXNARD MAKING FALSE CLAIM TO SELL UTILITY RATE HIKES?Moving Oxnard Forward   IS OXNARD MAKING FALSE CLAIM TO SELL UTILITY RATE HIKES?   YOU can stop it! Oxnard’s government is going all out to sell you on proposed 60% utility rate increases that will cost … See entire post on Moving Oxnard Forward: Utility Rates


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

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