Oxnard Ormond Beach Power Plant Extension Approved; City Moves to Improve Internal Financial Controls; CAUSE Demands Rent Control

By George Miller

The state water board has approved an extension to the Ormond Beach power plant to run for an indeterminate amount of time to meet unfilled power needs  brought about by premature shutdown of fossil and seawater cooled power plants in favor of so called “clean power.” The City was hell-bent on closing down the two seawater cooled natural gas-powered generating plants (Mandalay plant is already retired) to “save the planet” and bring “racial justice”. They helped stop a new, cleaner modern, smaller plant at the Mandalay Beach site. But they jumped at the chance to cut a deal to support the extension of the fossil fuel plant in return for the operator establishing a trust fund of up to $25 million to pay for demolition of the facility and remediation of the land when the plant is eventually shut down. A win-win.

Ormond Beach, Oxnard power plant

The Council also approved a new internal controls regimen which establishes the architecture and approach to help ensure the integrity of financial data, prevent fraud and improve timeliness and accuracy of reporting.

Progressive group CAUSE orchestrated about 60 speakers to highlight the plight of farm workers caught in a vice of low income and high expenses- especially rent- made worse by the government reaction to COVID-19, which has adversely affected their hours or even jobs-  They are asking for rent control to be imposed on landlords. This item was not on the agenda, but the city manager quickly consented to do a report on this at the next council meeting.

 

Agenda item B-1 Presentation of Internal Control – Integrated Framework.

The city has been heavily criticized for having weak financial controls. This was addressed piecemeal via responding to over 100 audit “findings” in the last several years. The Council voted to get an  internal auditor and CFO Riper has had finance work on a more comprehensive approach to internal controls.

Ms. Williams presented the newly developed internal controls approach and status and said this is all to ensure the integrity of financial data, prevent fraud and improve timelessness and accuracy of reporting.

She cited the goal of compliance with COSO/Treadway Commission conclusions, which have been endorsed by the major accounting professional groups.

Five aspects of internal controls

Control environment

Risk assessment

Control activities

Info and Communications

Monitoring

 

9 policies and 16 administrative guidelines were developed for implementation …

Adopt framework, assign oversight responsibilities, committee duties/resp, assignment of authority for operationa reporting and compliance, performance evaluations of City Mgr. and City Atty.

Risk assessment policy, implement internal controls, transparent and complete info, implementation of monitoring system, for full compliance.

This will all be phased in over time, with initial upcoming major milestones in December and January, but continuing for years.

The Finance and Governance Committee will be responsible for oversight of all this. Flynn, who is Committee Chair, said the committee members are now “auditors.”

Public Comments

James Aragon said he is an expert in internal controls- has seen hundreds of similar programs. He’s concerned that the City Manager is reporting to the Council about how well they are doing. In essence, the CEO (City Manager) is supervising the audit team. (This is a built-n conflict of interest).

Council/Staff Comments

City Mgr Nguyen responded that industry hires outside auditors anyway. He said the city already has an outside independent annual audit. He added that even if they reported to the city attorney, that situation would exist. The Mayor asked for CFO Riper’s opinion. Nguyen answered for him, saying he had nothing to add.

Mayor Pro-Tem Ramirez- said we are also subject to review by the State Controller’s office. We have lots of scrutiny, unlike the private sector, which has “headlines every day”-  the implication seemed like govt. is somehow held to a higher standard. The independent auditors don’t let get anything by them, she asserted. Yes, she really said these things.

Perello- Met with State Controller’s office- lots of info came out. We found we couldn’t make heads or tails out of the audits.

Vote– approved unanimously 7-0

 

D- Public Comments for items not on the agenda

Only one minute was allocated to each of the 60 or so speakers, most of whom appeared to be farm workers, orchestrated by CAUSE to push rent control, in response to their personal budget crunch of low incomes, rising rents and  high cost of living, worsened by the COVID-19 crisis impact on employment.

Lucy Cartegena- There is a 9-6-20 PACC (Performing Arts and Convention Center) meeting on census, book fair and a free reading

Lauraine Effress- Coastal commission voted unanimously against Fisherman’s Wharf 400 unit apartment complex. We want this area used for recreation, not a wealthy enclave. Thanks you. Come visit the harbor.

Zula- CAUSE Community organizer- high eviction rate. Want rent control

Cecilia-  CAUSE Community leader and laid-off farmworker, difficult for her to pay rent. Rents are too high.

Anna Maria- CAUSE Community leader, having rent increases for a while, unfair for those of us not currently working due to virus. PAYING $1138- a lot for me. Our hours have been cut back and working in poor air quality conditions due to the fires.  Difficult situation for a lot of people.

Naome- Youth member of CAUSE. May cannot pay increasingly expensive rents. Want rent control. Make Oxnard affordable.

Lucia- CAUSE Community leader- Implement rent control in Oxnard. Currently pay $1500 rent, a lot for a farm worker and single mother. Not working every day due to the pandemic. Rent will soon be increased. Will not be able to pay.

Andriana- CAUSE Community Leader. Farmworker. Paying $1050 for one bedroom apt. Work hours cut back due to pandemic. Rent goes up every year.

Elende- with CAUSE- rent is too high, Oxnard families are struggling. Keep Oxnard affordable for working families. Include rent in council discussions.

Jose- CAUSE Community leader- farm worker. Paying $1050 rent. Work hours cut back due to pandemic. Must draw upon emergency savings. Rent goes up every year.Wants rent control.

Celia-  Need rent control due to Coronavirus impact and rising rent. Went up $100 last month. Want rent control.

Diego- With CAUSE. Rent getting higher citywide. Having trouble paying and pandemic has made it worse. Many families living in single rooms. Raising rents mean landlords don’t take the people into consideration. Wants rent control

Daniel- Youth leader with CAUSE. Increasing rates affecting his family. Pandemic made it worse, reducing work hrs. Landlords not taking people into consideration. Wants rent control.

Benito- CAUSE Community Leader. Farmworker, hours reduced due to pandemic. Concerned about annual increase. Can barely get by now. Want rent control.

Other speakers were told they could speak at the end of the meeting. Mayor Flynn estimates that if everyone remaining spoke, it would take another two hours. Many  needed Spanish-English translations. There will be a City Manager talk on this at the next Council meeting in 2 weeks.

Council Comments

Perello- Farm workers have to get up at 4 or 5 am, so it will be hard for them to stay up this late to speak.

 

E- City Manager Report

City Manager Alex Nguyen- Good news from state water board- approved Ormond Beach power generation contact extension. Some revenues will be used to establish a $25 million trust fund to demolish the plant after contract termination. Editor’s note: The state realized that shutting down the power plant this soon before sufficient alternative power was available was far too ambitious and has taken steps to keep some fossil fuel plants open.

Mayor Pro Tem Carmen Ramirez- worked hard to shut down Mandalay plant, look forward to tearing down Ormond plant and restoring land.  Councilwoman Lopez: Pleased to her the news about the extension, Need to clean up our coast,especially South Oxnard. Can’t access beach due to power plant (this is untrue),

Councilwoman Basua- Looking forward to see what happens and getting funds for demolition.

Nguyen- we are still in the throes of the pandemic, 6 months in. Should be second nature to take precautions: sanitation, social distancing, etc.,

Nguyen- re: evictions., Governor signed eviction moratorium until January. State hasn’t stopped commercial evictions, but this is in the works in Sacramento.

State has widespread infections. Need to keep selves/others  safe. Hair salons, barbers, malls. Only 25% capacity authorized. Must register to reopen. Capacity restrictions don’t apply to grocery stores. (In spite if this, some businesses and churches are open anyway, fighting city and county efforts in the region)

Rent assistance program- federal money, administered by state, $11.45 MM for Ventura County, 1690 applications, 32% of that for Oxnard residents. $13.9 mm for businesses, 621 businesses, Oxnard  received 1/3 of county grants plus $5,000 payments for businesses for this month. There is a new fund to help farm worker households- see county web site. City will help you through the process.

There is a State program to provide resources to intervene in the homeless crisis- a “silver lining” in the COVID crisis, Nguyen said.  The justification was to prevent COVID outbreaks in the homeless community. Theb county used grants to rent hotels (4). The state has decided to purchase some hotels to convert to homeless housing. The City is looking into buying the Vagabound Inn on Oxnard Blvd (special meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 2 to cover this and get community input.

Census deadline is end of this month. Very difficult to count some Oxnard communities. Oxnard has the lowest response rate. Counts affect federal funding and representation. Need for “safety net” $$$.  Please respond.

Fire Chief Darwin Base retired, Asst Chief Alexander Hamilton is now interim Chief . Wanted yo use Broadway Hamilton poster to announce (a highly politicized play).

Item E-1- COVID-19 Update, Ratification of Director of Emergency Services Orders

City Attorney Fischer- Need to vote on Director order to suspend CUPA program late fees  (Certified, Unified Program Agency).  Involves hazardous waste processors.

Perello what action did the state take yesterday- landlords, tenants – what was it? Fischer- it was suspension of evictions, AB3088. Tenants do not have to immediately pay late rent, but landlords can litigate it starting next March. Evictions are suspended, 25% of rent must be paid and a hazard declaration filed. Late rent will be converted to consumer debt.

Ramirez- not as much as people want, but an improvement. This is not automatic. Tenants must apply for relief.

Public Comments

None

Vote on CUPA E-1- Unanimous 7-0

E-2 Cultural and Community Services response to COVID-19:

Director Terrell Harrison- some programs in the library being done virtually. In recreation, we are doing food distribution in parks and helping FoodShare at College Park. Doing curbside pickup and delivery at library. Recreation- Zumba, Yoga, Tai Chi done outdoors at 4 locations. We have “Joey” the GPS robot to create playing fields. It paints the lines ($65,000 total system cost, which he says is a savings $520k in ten years over existing methods).

Perello- people not following orders. Very large gathering at Oxnard Beach park on 8-22- unauthorized. Crwod got “testy.” Police had to extract code enforcement people. He is very concerned about this and such incidents. Health and safety is #1 priority. He plugged the TriCounty Sentry and promoted it.

 

F- Council Comments

Lopez- Liked public comments, efforts to deal with Pandemic.

Perello- Complimented Tony Skinner, who passed away. represented interests of organized labor. Eileen Tracy passed away- beloved in community, volunteered extensively, asked questions, rocked the boat, asked tough questions, taken off boards and volunteer positions for it. Dug out info, would not be intimidated. Brought in HUD to investigate. 17 people running for Oxnard offices. Endorsements being made without interviewing people. Regretted endorsing Steve Bennett- very upset about his changed vote to extend exclusive right to negotiate a Fisherman’;s Wharf.

McDonald- Agrees with Lopez

Ramirez- agree on Skinner, except for his Puente (Mandalay) power plant position. So many people lost to COVID. Don’t have a chance to mourn them all. Can’t meet in public, must wear mask, wash hands. 900 nurse died. Objects to large gatherings, especially in short term rentals. People struggling with rents. CARES money being used for rentals and business. Fantastic City Clerk Michelle is leaving to work for the County. Worried about what will happen. Thanks, Michelle. Rose Chapparo running for City Clerk- unopposed. Thanks to volunteers cleaning up the city.

Basua- Visited Gabriel House (women’s shelter)- impressed with services. Rent control- looking forward to staff recco’s- should go to committee first- what are other cities doing?

Madrigal- School is back in session- remote learning is great (he is a teacher). Problems with people going back to their normal routine (pre-COVID). Please continue precautions, Thanks for neighborhood cleanup volunteers. Condolences to Mr. Skinner’s family and two of his students who died in a car accident.

Flynn- lauded volunteer city cleanup efforts. SB1120 failed in CA Assembly. So-called “Duplex law”- duplex, accessory dwelling unit changes and granny flats up to 520 sq ft. would have been allowed without ability of city council to overrule. No additional parking required. It is a “shotgun” approach and will come back to the legislation. Oxnard is already addressing affordably housing. This bill would take away local control. He is opposed to it. Feels council has been making very good housing  decisions.

Perello- wants project labor agreements.. Flynn “seconded” it.

 

G-I- Information Consent Agenda

Items pulled for discussion:

Perello- 3, 7, 11

Lopez- 7

MacDonald- 3

Ramirez- 10

Nguyen- 2

 

MacDonald-3- is it null and void? Was a letter on it reviewed? Fischer- recommend proceeding. Ifg changes are requie, will advise the ordinance.

Perello-3 – NOT unanimously approve by council. We were told not approving it would jeopardize funding.

Lopez- 7- Budget for downtown projects using downtown settlement fund- outreach by police to homeless. Emilio Ramirez HAVE CITWIDE HOMELES team in place.

Perello- 7- Have great expectations. Virus is hurting efforts. Money is being whittled away and some expenditures are not doing much for objectives.  Ashley Golden- original amount was $6.7MM. Down to $4MM, expenditures have been itemized.; Upcoming report on fund will review all expenditures,

Ramirez- 10- Contract is for $1.

Flynn- 19- Re: best use of city property on Vista Del Mar. Problems with overcrowding, parking, unsafe units,

Perello-11- Will benefit community and appease Measure O oversight people.  Signs installed at fire station 6, new roof at #5, plus parks.

Flynn- 3- supports accessory dwelling units. Can’t support

Public Comments

Lucy Cartegena- Need to table downtown project. look at the numbers, this is too much money. $147K staffing for one year plus a professional contract service for$91K, plus homeless coordinator $51, $200K for police. Way too much money. What will homeless coordinator do? Too much money to be wasted. And this is a 3 year project. Make it for something tangible, sustainable. Instead, fix infrastructure.

Ray Blittell- Item I-7- Why is overtime the first solution? Why not just hire more police officers? Why not have  a community proposal?

James Aragon- 15 and 16- “Free money”- city applies for every grant/ #15 choice neighborhood low income housing grant. Doesn’t sound like they know what they would do with it. #16 COVID detection via wastewater testing. It is actually a research grant. I see nothing about that in there. Universities will be applying for this. I think Oxnard lacks the sophistication for this.

Council/staff

Nguyen- We;’ve been p[laying a “whackamole”  now we have programs to address it, but DO need patrolling. There is a place and time for overtime- more economic in this case- goes to 6 or more officers. Lack money for fully staffed “cohort.”

Vote on Consent Agenda- unanimously approved  7-0  (except Flynn no on #3). Andretti did not vote, Vega absent.

 

Employee giveback

Nearly $2MM will go back into general fund due to employee/staff givebacks.

Public Comment

none 

Council Comments

Perello- Thanks for labor groups for givebacks, thanks toi city management for cuts, including City Clerk and City Manager, ($25,000). Perello took 25% cut, other council members did not, he said.

Flynn- Thanks to City Manger for soliciting the givebacks.

Vote- Unanimously accepted 7-0

 

The Council continued with the speakers for item XXX, which we re nearly all to complain about unaffordable and increasing rents, pandemic impact on their jobs and income and demand for city rent control to help address the situation.

 

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


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One Response to Oxnard Ormond Beach Power Plant Extension Approved; City Moves to Improve Internal Financial Controls; CAUSE Demands Rent Control

  1. Mark September 2, 2020 at 3:38 pm

    “The City was hell-bent on closing down the two seawater cooled natural gas-powered generating plants (Mandalay plant is already retired) to “save the planet” and bring “racial justice”.”

    I will remember this as I sit it my dark home during the rotating power outages.

    The city sees the big bad smoke stacks and wants to close them down (even though what you see is actually water vapor).

    Now my SCE bill is higher because I was automatically enrolled into the Clean Power Alliance scam that you cant opt out of for 6 months.

    Reply

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