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

By George Millerdowinflames

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 the increases that he had so strongly led. But they also voted 4-1 in favor of the wastewater rate increase, because of the dire operational, financial, credit and human resource state of the wastewater enterprise.

The discussion was that water and solid waste increases would not be attempted again until the audit of the disastrous state of city bookkeeping is finished, reconciled and signed off and the utility needs are more closely analyzed. Several speakers suggested also reprioritizing and paring projects down. Things went pretty much as Mayor Flynn proposed, even with stiff opposition from Mayor ProTem Carmen Ramirez, Councilwoman Dorina Padilla, City staff and 3 speakers.

The council had voted 4-1 (with only MacDonald dissenting) for these very same  increases only a week ago, by approving the first reading.

So what changed so radically in only one week? Let us count the ways….  About 4800 people filed written protests, more than half personally delivered by opposition leader Aaron Starr, head of Moving Oxnard Forward (MOF).  Over 400 people showed up at the absurdly undersized council chambers and were shunted off to alternate locations with flat screen displays- at least those who could find a parking space and had time to wait… and wait…. and wait. Far more probably tried. Guess what- that was all BEFORE the vote last week, so why did they reconsider afterward?

It looks like after the Council members had time for it all to sink in and listen to the arguments, they (at least three of them, anyway) may have realized the following:

  1. The People were outraged by the huge increase. The impact on many people is great. About half of Oxnard residents have low or very low income.
  2. The People were outraged by past poor city management, much of which is also the fault of current 8-year council members.
  3. The People do not trust the city to do it right at this time.
  4. The People would like the City to sharpen their pencils and look into cutting down plans to size. Some specific projects, such as GREAT (desalination) water program expansion, some solid waste and wastewater capital expenses, have been challenged.
  5. At the 1-26-16 meeting, MOF leader Starr threatened unspecified ballot action, which could be anything from a voter initiative to a recall. It looks like he has the resources and people to make it happen. There has also been talk about lawsuits, which the city has more than enough of already.
  6. Mayor Flynn and others realized the rate increase impact on the ratepayers and likely also the political ramifications.

That must be why there are two readings for such things.

For almost a year, work has proceeded to analyze all three Oxnard utilities: wastewater, water and solid waste disposal- operations, maintenance, demand, capital needs, rates, reserves and financing. In November, a rate increase proposal of 60% was approved by the council and sent to about 40,000 ratepayers and also to property owners (some overlap there), per Proposition 218 requirements. These allow a protest, but rarely can ratepayers successfully overturn one.

An existing activist group, Moving Oxnard Forward, which had been focused on business license and permit fee reduction, swung into action to fight this, which would impact 40,000 families and businesses adversely. They mobilized to mail 60,000 flyers, post 50 huge signs and make 18,000 robocalls to reach and motivate as many people as possible.  MOF has refused to identify supporters, but many are evident at various meetings and events.

The meeting room was packed at the start, but most were actually there to push for project approval for the Victory Outreach church, which won unanimously, after a stunning series of testimonies of lives changed for the good by Jesus Christ and said church. About a dozen die-hard members of the public came back this week to fight the latest round in the utilities fight, but the 5000 protesters had already done their work.

The proposed increases totaled about 60% over the next  few years.The sorry state of reserves, the new financial utility policies, designed to exceed bond covenants for best credit risks, badly deferred maintenance and desired capital improvements motivated staff and council to try to fix all those problems at once. This resulted in financial indigestion and rebellion by the People. Was it too far, too fast?  Did it include some things that weren’t needed? All of this is in hot dispute.

Mayor Flynn also recommended the reinstatement of the neglected ratepayers task force, meeting with other concerned stakeholders and it sounded like MOF, too, to discuss these and work out a plan with City staff and council. Padilla and Ramirez criticized this as flip-flopping and backing down. Others thought it was merely recognizing reality and trying to work with stakeholders. MacDonald had kind of an I told you so attitude. Flynn’s proposals were rather well received by most in attendance.

Politically, this could be seen as bowing to Aaron Starr’s MOF, but it also defused much of the anger and opposition at a critical juncture. Maybe the Mayor inherited more political smarts from his father than most people realize.

A couple of past relevant articles:

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 up

By 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 […]

Oxnard moment of truth coming on utility rate increases- Tuesday

Oxnard moment of truth coming on utility rate increases- Tuesday

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 […]

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

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William "Bill" Hicks
William "Bill" Hicks
5 years ago

Here’s the problem then……These are likely items that were ignored in the past and would have likely cost less if they’d been addressed earlier.
Does anyone really think these are just going to go away by ignoring them? Does anyone really expect that the cost will get lower by kicking this down the road?