VC Star: Oxnard’s “Mistake”

Op-Ed by Aaron Starr

 

Contrary to the soft-pedaled view expressed in The Star’s recent editorial (“Oxnard moves on from a mistake”), the City of Oxnard’s Infrastructure Use Fee charged to utility ratepayers was much more than a mistake – it was quite deliberate.

Not only did the Ventura County Superior Court describe the City’s too-clever formula for siphoning the money as “arbitrary, capricious, unsupported by facts, and entirely speculative,” it also labeled the City’s scheme “illegal and unreasonable.”

Applauding the City for admitting its mistake now – after losing a four-year court battle with us – is comparable to praising an embezzler for admitting his crime after the jury found him guilty and the judge sentenced him to prison.

The appropriate time for City officials to admit a mistake – and cease the “illegal and unreasonable” behavior – was when we first brought this violation of law to their attention back in late 2016.
Instead, City officials fought us in court for four years … and lost.

As a consequence, the Court ordered the City to pay back $36.5 million to its enterprise funds.
City Hall is also being forced to issue a PARTIAL refund of $7.1 million to ratepayers – including $3 million collected after the court handed down its decision! – for overcharges since January 2020.

But a partial refund is not an expression of benevolence; rather, City officials understood they were facing a certain loss on a class action lawsuit for ratepayer refunds that we told them we were ready to file.

Rather than make ratepayers whole, City officials are only refunding illegal charges since January 2020 by exploiting California’s one-year statute of limitation on the refund claim we filed on behalf of utility ratepayers in January 2021.

A truly repentant City Hall would also refund the additional $32 million it illegally charged ratepayers from 2014 through 2019.
Instead, City officials reveal their true character by pocketing the money – averaging roughly $800 per ratepayer – taking cookies and returning crumbs. That is not contrition; it’s taking advantage of people.

Once the editorial board completed its disservice to readers by minimizing the City of Oxnard’s bad behavior, the writers then had the audacity to pigeonhole me and other whistleblowers with a pejorative term, and scolded us to stop publicly complaining about how money is being spent at Oxnard City Hall.
But we will not stop holding local government officials accountable when they break the law. Unfortunately, bad behavior by City officials does not end with their Infrastructure Use Fee.
Stay tuned, there’s more to come!

Aaron Starr
[email protected]
805-804-9101


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