Oxnard resident in opposition to Measure M

By Steve Nash

MEASURE M

History
In recent years, insufficient funding to address all of the needs at the OWTP has resulted in deferment of required maintenance precipitating frequent failures of equipment and process units as well as safety concerns. In addition, staffing shortages have exacerbated these problems at the facility and resulted in criticism from the State Water Resources Control Board.

.In March 2014, staff presented an assessment of the treatment plant conditions, with particular concern for the safety of the bio-towers. Staff also discussed delayed maintenance due to inadequate funding. Overall, the wastewater treatment plant was determined to be in critical need of repairs.

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In July 2015, the master plan consultant confirmed the wastewater treatment plant infrastructure conditions, rating it in whole with the letter grade “D.” That means 80 percent of the wastewater treatment plant infrastructure has been designated to be in fair, poor, or very poor condition. The master plan consultant also identified some of the critical treatment processes that are beyond their useful lives and are in danger of failure. These facilities are the primary clarifier equipment, bio-towers, cogeneration equipment, biosolids dewatering equipment, pumping facilities, and the plant control system. The master plan consultant also recommended that the City immediately address all failing infrastructure before tackling the longer term wastewater treatment plant upgrades.

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System Failures Since January 2016
• Plant control system failure (dropped out of communication): 92 times
• Headworks odor scrubber monitoring system failure: 2 times
• Plant process water piping failure: 3 times
• Cogenerators failure: 3 times
• Sewer overflow but 100% contained: 3 times
• Treated primary effluent discharged into Pacific Ocean: 1 time
• Sewer manhole failure: 4 manholes
• Sewer overflow but 100% contained: 2 times
• Sewer overflow less than 100% contained: 1 time

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Justification for wastewater utility rate increases
The “$74 million temporary fix” simply postpones the approximately $450 million major rehabilitation on half of plant. Operational cost and risk of failure will remain higher until the plant is fully rehabilitated. Why would we apply a $74 million band aid to a patient who has advanced cancer? Cure the cancer and save $74 million.

With the adopted rate increases, the Wastewater Fund can maintain the appropriate staffing levels, make much-needed capital expenditures, and eventually build reserves in accordance with the City’s reserve policy.

If Measure M passes, the Operating Reserve could run out of money as early as February 2017, entire cash balances within the Wastewater Fund are depleted by approximately October 2017, and upon depletion of cash reserves, the Wastewater Fund must then borrow from other City funds to maintain operations.

Other negative implications include the inability to meet bond covenants, the Wastewater Fund credit rating would likely be reduced to “junk” status, the associated credit swap could be called costing the City $4 million in addition to the immediate repayment of over $16 million in wastewater bonds for a total hit to the general fund of $20 million. Increases in the cost and difficulty of future debt financing for required plant rehabilitation are also certain to occur.
Also, urgent and immediate needs projects are delayed, potential failure of primary treatment and bio-tower processes, potential failure of Central Trunk manholes, potential electrical facilities and plant control system failure, the postponement of a sewer nuisance odor control program, staffing levels and maintenance would not meet regulatory requirements, National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) violations and potential fines are triggered by spills and the inability to maintain the plant and provide adequate staffing levels.

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Municipalities that have been fined for wastewater spills
Fines of up to $27,500 per spill may continue to mount with every violation of the federal Clean Water Act. Insufficient investment may not be enough to keep pace with aging infrastructure — a problem faced by many other cities. The EPA has brought similar suits against Atlanta, Miami, New Orleans and Baltimore. San Diego, under an administrative order from the EPA, recently increased residential sewer fees to pay for upgrades to reduce a pattern of spills similar to those in Los Angeles.

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“Sewage spills are a major source of pollution and a significant threat to human health,” said Wayne Nastri, the EPA’s regional administrator in San Francisco. “Making sure municipalities manage their sewage properly moves us toward the EPA’s goal of purer water … and better protection of public health.”

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The California Regional Water Quality Control Board reviews all such spills into California state waters and determines if any regulatory action is appropriate, reviewing such incidents on a case-by-case basis.

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A judge has ordered a state agency to consider reducing a $2.3-million fine imposed on Thousand Oaks after a faulty pipeline caused 86 million gallons of raw sewage to spill into Conejo Creek. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Dzintra Janavs’ ruling Thursday determined that the evidence presented in court by the state Regional Water Quality Control Board did not justify the hefty fine, which was imposed on the city after the spill in February 1998.

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Thousand Oaks officials have said they would accept a fine of between $600,000 and $1 million to settle the dispute, which so far has cost it more than $1 million in legal and consulting fees.

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A 72,000-gallon sewage spill at the California Men’s Colony was caused by inmates throwing trash into toilets. Even after a $30 million sewage treatment plant project was completed, the prison had to pay $40,000 fines in 2008 because of numerous violations dating back to 2007. Because the treatment plant discharges to Chorro Creek, which flows into Morro Bay, the sewage must meet very high treatment standards.

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The city of San Diego will spend approximately $1 billion over the next six years to make improvements to its sewer system under a comprehensive settlement filed today by the Justice Department and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The consent decree filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California by the United States, along with co-plaintiffs Surfrider Foundation and San Diego Baykeeper, is the third and final settlement that addresses current violations in the city’s sewer system, and will require the city to continue to undertake capital projects and perform operations and maintenance through 2013, to prevent future spills of raw sewage from San Diego’s system.

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Regulators proposed slapping a $503,000 fine on Costa Mesa Sanitary District. It is a steep penalty for a 77,000-gallon sewage spill into Upper Newport Bay that closed beaches for four days. The sanitary district, while admitting the spill at the hearing, opposed the fine, saying it was more than two times higher than it should be.

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The decision on the fine will likely draw attention from sewer managers both for its severity and how disputed it is. Regulators insisted the fine was within reason, and that it accurately reflected the severity of a raw sewage spill into a high-value recreational area. The fine was less than an allowed maximum fine of $851,000. “We want to send a message to the discharger,” said Hope Smythe, the environmental program manager for the regional water board. “The proposed fine stands on its own as an appropriate fine.”
Rebuttal to the pro-Measure M coalition

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Maintenance has been delayed for many years in order to keep rates artificially low. This cannot be done any longer. Efficiencies have already been made and are continuing. State regulators have said that the City needs to hire more qualified and certified staff.
The pro-M advocates will be held accountable for every spill, every fine, every worker injured because of the inadequate and crumbling infrastructure. Actions obviously have consequences and people on both sides of the dais must be held responsible.

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I trust City Manager Nyhoff’s ability to hire consultants with the required expertise. I trust the consultant’s ability to plan, design and assist in the implementation of a wastewater project that protects and enhances the health, safety and welfare of the residents of Oxnard.

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While I respect the bean counters ability to count beans, that’s all they are competent at doing. Bean counters can tell you 1 + 1 = 2. The smarter ones will sometimes tell you 1 + 1 = 11. They are neither design engineers nor operators of wastewater systems.

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Certain individuals of this pro-M coalition have agendas that range far beyond saving the economically disadvantaged a few shekels. Their end game is to privatize as many government functions as possible. And in so doing, eviscerate the ability of government to improve our quality of life. The voters should be aware of this and be wary of advancing their brand of Libertarian extremism here in Oxnard.

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Yes, some ratepayers might struggle to pay the increases. But why the sudden “compassion” for this unknown and surely limited group of ratepayers who might be impacted by the rate increases? There are increases in cost for every aspect of modern urban living. The pro-M folks have not really been front and center on other issues that monetarily impact the economically disadvantaged people of Oxnard.

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Where were they to advocate for rent control and subsidized housing? Medicine? Food? Gas and electricity? Auto, medical, homeowner’s insurance? Why this sudden concern over utility rate increases? There are so many battles that the truly poor have to face.

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I want to live in a city where the infrastructure is modern, well-maintained, staffed by qualified personnel and not on the verge of collapse and prone to severe negative environmental impacts.

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We can’t afford to wait while all of the parties try to come to some sort of “great compromise” (which, by the way, would probably never happen). This is why we elect council members to represent us and make these tough choices. If you don’t like their decisions then vote them out.

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I just have a real uneasy feeling about the pro-M coalition and the political demagogues who are using Measure M as a means to sway public opinion and garner votes without offering any real solutions.

Steve Nash

Steve Nash

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Steve Nash is a Planning Commissioner in the city of Oxnard.  He holds a B.A. in  Environmental Studies from U.C. Santa Barbara

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3 Responses to Oxnard resident in opposition to Measure M

  1. Bruce Boyer July 17, 2018 at 12:09 pm

    So you propose to just give the drunk more money?? How about firing the incompetent corrupt people in charge? Oh wait, that would mean you go to! The solution is not gouge the taxpayer. You can dismiss it is a’a few sheckels’ and that shows that you have no concern for the working people whpo pay thoise taxes at the expense of other bills. It it is just few sheckels” how about you pony up for everybody else? Oh wait you talk it but you do not walk it…

    Reply
  2. Steven Nash November 5, 2016 at 6:02 pm

    Also interesting is the Oxnard Chamber of Commerce recommending a “No” vote on Measure M.

    Reply
  3. Steven Nash November 5, 2016 at 3:34 pm

    Interesting that Moving Oxnard Forward’s pro-Measure M opinion piece has been removed.

    Reply

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