Judge granted Oxnard stay on wastewater rate increase while city working on rates, opposition to Measure M. Trial will be on June 20.

Measure M/Wastwater rate update

By George Miller

  • Measure M stay granted on December 16
  • Most recently, trial was set for June 20
  • Oxnard to work on rate-setting process meanwhile

Opponents of an Oxnard utility rate increase have been battling over it for nearly a year. Months before that, the  city had commissioned  a rate study which recommended 87% in wastewater increases over a 5 year period, along with water and solid waste hikes as well. The Council approved the wastewater increases only , which were almost immediately challenged via a ballot measure to rescind them.

To say that the rhetoric surrounding the controversy has been inflammatory would be an understatement. Measure M people have accused the city of incompetence, deception, overkill and even trying to illegally influence the outcome of the Measure M vote. Proponents of the increases have accused Measure M supporters of trying to destroy city utilities and the city itself. At the 12-20-16 Council meeting, Mayor Pro-Tem Carmen Ramirez compared Measure M supporters (72% of the voters) to the politicians who allegedly deliberately and knowingly allowed the water in Flint, MI to be lead poisoned.

Nearly all parties involved agree that a rate increase is needed, but there is much dispute about how much, how it should be spent and the appropriateness of some allocations and other charges. Wastewater renovation plans have ranged in scope from a: 1)- $74 million dollar fix to last 10-15 years , to 2)- a complete rebuild of the entire plant back-end along with a headworks renovation, all the way up to a 3)- complete relocation and rebuild of the plant to also protect it from what city staff claimed to be a danger of inundation due to alleged “Global Warming” (Climate-Change)- induced sea rise. City staff is currently pushing #2.

At a hearing on 12-16-16, Ventura County Superior Court Judge Rocky Baio opined that he was inclined to grant a stay on implementation of Measure M, initiated by local financial executive and head of “Moving Oxnard Forward” Aaron Starr. It passed with a 72% vote and mandated rolling back the 35% increase and a total of 87% over 5 years. Baio said that the city’s interest in keeping the wastewater infrastructure running while the rate-setting process was underway outweighed the currently presumed legality  of the measure.

 

StarrHearing1216

The rate and future increase schedule now in effect may be over and above certain CPI and supplies-related rate escalators. The Utility Rate Commission will be reactivated and supposedly will provide input and direction to the rate-setting process. There is a consensus that it had little effect on last year’s rate setting.

The packed standing room-only courtroom was full of familiar faces on the political and spectator scene supporting both sides, as well as news media.

Both sides stated their case, which Baio limited to new information only. There wasn’t much.

StarrPressConf1216

Starr and Counsel David Ktshozyan, of KBR held an impromptu press conference outside the courtroom on December 16. Photo: George Miller/Citizensjournal.us.

Baio scheduled a Jan 4 conference to discuss next steps and plan a trial schedule linked to depositions and other discovery work required.  The outcome was that the trial will be June 20, with discovery/depositions underway,

Starr and his attorney David Ktshozyan, of KBR (Kaufman Borgeest & Ryan LLP) held an impromptu press conference directly outside the courtroom while dozens of onlookers listened. Starr did almost all of the talking. He opined that the city may be dragging its feet on the rate -setting process and that no study has yet been approved or commenced. 

 

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


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