Public tears into, defends, Oxnard Council on Measure M wastewater rate rollback court victory

By George Miller

At the 5-29-18 special emergency  Oxnard City Council meeting, a two to one majority of two dozen speakers tore into the Oxnard Council for their actions leading to the Measure M wastewater rate rollback voter initiative and defeat of Council-ordered litigation against it and its author, local financial executive Aaron Starr. A smaller number was equally passionate about defending the Council and discrediting Measure M advocates. Only about 45-50 attended this weighty meeting which was called on short notice to deal with the stunning setback to the Council’s strategy.

Aaron Starr faces down Mayor Flynn and the Council in an earlier meeting in the long saga of the utility rates war. Photo: George Miller/CitizensJournal.us

 

City Council Special Meeting (Closed Session) May 29, 2018 – 06:00 PM Agenda
Video

 The Council was holding a closed meeting on what to do about their crushing defeat in court last week, upholding measure M and vacating the injunction against it. We believe it was to explore whether there was any way to fight or work around the ruling, which potentially would require the City to refund $5.2 million in excessive rate payments. Starr also has another lawsuit pending about alleged illegal levying of $7.5mm/year “infrastructure fees.”

The Brown Act permits public input, even for closed door meetings where they may never get to see/hear the proceedings and might only know the topic.

The City of Oxnard v Starr Measure M ruling was technically a tentative one, subject to the City coming up with a really good reason on why the ruling should have been different, which probably would have to be proof that Ventura County Superior Court Judge Rocky Baio had made some catastrophic error(s) in interpreting the facts and the law.

The public weighed in to provide the Council input on their wishes/thinking, to potentially influence the outcome, which was not announced at around 9 PM when the session ended.

Public Comments:

Shirley Godwin (Anti-Measure M)- George Miller (ed. note: yes, also the author of this article) emailed today that the city perpetrated a violation of Citizen rights & Proposition 218 (she didn’t agree). She added that the rates are not a tax. Ms. Godwin is troubled that she believes the judge was deceived by Aaron Starr and maintains that Citizens are not allowed to decide on a level of service and that it’s either there or it’s not. Can’t have partially treated sewage. Entitled to a clean and safe environment.

Eileen Tracy- (Pro-Measure M)- The cost to provide a service is the only cost you can charge. Starr tried to provide advice but Asst City Manager Ruth shut him up.  Aaron Starr  is the only one with the financial knowledge to solve the problem.

Nancy Pederson (anti-appeal)- There are other places money can go. Instead of spending money on appeals, spend money hiring better people. We are short-handed now.

Deborah Baber-Savalla (Pro-Measure M, not wearing Lady Liberty costume this time)- City’s actions gave rise to ensure success of Measure M. A sicknesses in our nation could destroy We the People. Objected to suing in court a private Citizen to stop Measure M. She supports “President Trump- Your President and mine.” “Dems won’t impeach President Trump, but (Judge) Rocky Baio impeached all of you (Council) (She was figuratively speaking).” Council displayed “unlawful arrogance”.$1 mm wasted. Now $5 mm owed. Own up to your responsibilities. Make the judge’s decision work “For The People”, not against them.”If not, impeach yourselves.”

Judy Dugan (Anti-Measure M)- Want to appeal decision. Want more civil discourse. This is the best Council we’ve had in decades.

Hector Moreno (Pro-Measure M)- Recommend not appealing. You already lost it. We don’t want a Cadillac or a Mercedes Benz,  just want the system to work and be maintained. The judge sided with us. Not your will. Do not spend any more of our money without our consent. Fix Oxnard’s infrastructure, esp. roads- potholes, damaged my car.  Lick all of your wounds and keep going. Don’t waste money on appeals.

Jackie Tedeschi- (anti- Measure M)- Intense situation. Glad no one was recalled. Took vote on health safety, welfare (voting for rate increase). Want APPEAL (she specified capital letters). The 72% who voted for Measure M may not have been fully informed.

Jeff Burum (Pro-Measure M, candidate for CD26 Congress)- Please do not appeal. He respects Jackie Tedeshi’s opinion, but need to go back to drawing board, suggested arbitration. You had a chance to negotiate. We need to have a game together. You do not have an accounting system problem. You have a leadership and process failure (Burum is a former CPA). Need a CPA in charge of Finance.. Need to separate utility/wastewater funds, separate capital fund. (These are theoretically separate, but do borrow among funds, capital appropriated is sometimes not spent on designated projects, per multiple sources). Pay back Aaron Starr.

Taki Kingston?- (Anti-Measure M)- Congratulations on recall results. Resources spent on Measure M could have been spent better elsewhere.

Steve Nash (Anti-Measure M)- Seems to be losing confidence in City- urges them to verify that numbers are correct (this came out in Measure M court hearings),. Staff has not made an effort to successfully push their case. Nash says he has put his integrity on the line supporting the City position, his patience is wearing thin, he does not trust the consultants, City must say what will be the cost to pay back the $5.2MM, also address infrastructure, what would be the impact of bond cancellations, loss of letter of credit,residents have rights, public needs to recognize consequences of its irrational decision (presumably measure M victory). Then he went into a particularly nasty anti-Trump rant which provoked shouts of protest from the audience and a reminder from the Mayor to the audience to “not shout” but no reprimand of the speaker’s inappropriate remarks about President Trump. 

Larry Godwin (Anti-Measure M)- He’s been following utility rates for decades. Saw lots of misinformation disseminated. Wants to appeal ruling. Pointed out that the three enterprise funds are separate. Appeal to judge, who is misinformed. Suing has to stop. Measure M never mentioned  a level of service.

Al Velasquez (Pro-Measure M, recall challenger candidate)- Don’t appeal, City did not meet the burden of proof (for its case). What part of that does anyone NOT understand? You owe me/ratepayers $5.2 mm. You lost- city lost. Don’t spend another half million of my tax money on this. Short $16MM for last year’s budget- had to borrow, now short another $7-8 million in current budget, now you owe us $5.2mm. Are you gonna take a chance on another $5mm? Where does your insanity stop? I’m blown away that you people don’t know yet.  Get off your egos. Spent $1MM just fighting NRG. Lost $2.8mm in future annual tax revenues from that. You subsidize the City with MY tax money.  thanks to (Steve) Nash for the warning.

George Miller (Pro-Measure M, with some qualifications)- City perpetrated violation of Citizens’ civil rights and Proposition 218. Judge Baio delivered a humiliating spanking to you in his ruling. It was proven in court that there was no real deficit., City had misstated both revenue and expenses. Aaron  Start proved this in court by making CFO Throop, who had no part in this, do it on his calculator. Actually needed some increase. There was no deficit mainly because Wastewater management- Thien, etc., were resourceful and cut back  drastically, but we need more maintenance and capital projects, but not as much as Council had approved, City is not following own investment guidelines- should be more funded from current revenues and less from debt- $300MM increase in debt planned I hope City will not be stupid enough to continue to fight this losing legal battle.

Ed Castillo (Pro-Measure M)- Nash spoke with a heavy heart. Reality. Castillo is concerned about anti-democratic sentiments of Council. We individuals have the right to govern the country.  The City lawsuit against Starr was a “Hail Mary play,” but Starr ran back past them for a touchdown.” Negotiate!

Alicia Percell (Pro-Measure M, wife and movement partner of recall  author Aaron Starr)- Facts vs fear. City has collected a 35% increase for 2 years and 3 mos., + an additional 5 3/4% for 11 months. They have been accumulating cash surpluses,, should be about $24mm now. So why is it a problem to refund $5.2 mm? Why is this a “financial crisis?”  The 2017 CAFR showed a $11.3mm surplus, consisting of $9mm in increased revenue and $2mm reduced expenses + a 5/34% rate increases. Should be about $24mm extra now. Need monthly financial stats, not just a yearly CAFR which comes out 6 months later. Need current info.

Cari Cryder (Pro-Measure M, recall candidate)- Encourages acceptance of Judge Baio’s decision. Council didn’t acknowledge 72% Measure M vote. This is a democratic republic, elected you as representatives. We expect a more affordable utility. Her husband is in construction, specializes in repairs of wastewater/water plants. Says he has never seen such high estimates as Oxnard has. Accept the judge’s decision, do not waste more. Stop this and infrastructure use fee. Credit ratepayers for over-payment.  Avoid a class action lawsuit. Get the financial house in order. Act in our best interests, make it affordable.

Barbara Macri-Ortiz (Anti-Measure M, public interest attorney)-  Started out by saying “good evening, Mayor Lopez.” A Freudian slip? Attorney are to follow process. She thought that there were conflicting statements in the decision. Said Oxnard wants a third world sewage plant. Would get sued for that. We have an obligation to go beyond that. Doesn’t feel the public has a right to make such decisions. Citizens have a right to vote, make voices heard, but cities have a right to do things right.

Aaron Starr (Pro-Measure M, Measure M author, recall Mayoral candidate and local financial executive)- Said there was a battle over increases, Mayor offered to meet with him then canceled, battle over ballot language, city sued him to prevent Measure M, attempted to deprive him of the right to petition government, currently have 2 active lawsuits against the City. Your law firm led you down the garden path.  There are large firms, specialty firms, but my single practitioner firm with only four years’ experience beat you. The judge agreed on our facts and law. What does that tell you about the quality of your attorney, who led you astray, probably said you had a slam dunk case. They cost us a lot of $, which they took to the bank, deprived the public of justice.

Jack Cleric (Pro-Measure M)- Water increase wiped out his Social Security increase. City ignored will of the People, who said “don’t do it.” Took them to courts. STILL not listening. What will it take to make you wake up? You’re working behind closed doors on an appeal. Do you have the guts to do it in front of us? You’ve already damaged me. Not gonna stand for it.

(Didn’t get name)- (Anti-Measure M)- Could use $500K somewhere else. City Council does good job.  Made comments about Trump and Clinton adultery. Need to get together as partners to repair infrastructure. $500K for electiun wasn’t good.

Ambrosio Casanova (Unclear Measure M position)- Ashamed at what has happened. Has Council actually looked for grants? Other cities have 30% less capital costs. Will volunteer to help.

Francine Castanon (Pro-Measure M)- Are you guys calling the bond covenants guys to see what is going on?  They will come and explain. Grants? We should remove utilities from cCity government and set up special districts & wipe our hands clean. Elect a board to run it. They would still be a govt. entity, but no longer your headache. Call Starr all the names you want, but hash it out,

Chuck Hamm (Pro-Measure M, local business owner)- Accused the Council of acting on political motivations, which is exactly what most of them accused Starr of. He warned the Council to understand the appeal process: you don’t get to retry the case, you don’t get to remake the record or introduce more evidence. Was there a legal error? He said “I’m not an attorney.” He didn’t disclose that he just finished law school.

Robert Chaki? (Pro-Measure M?) -There is a misunderstanding by those who suggest an appeal. Rates have already been superseded by new rates, Measure M has no impact on these new rates or future ones, only on the increase collected up until the lats increase went into effect, Therefore the City’s maximum potential exposure is $5.2mm + Starr’s attorney fees.

Council- you should play back the meeting public comments video over and over again to absorb the collective opinions/wisdom of both pro and anti-Measure M speakers who took the trouble to come out and speak to you, staff and the residents.

Starr’s Measure M Rate Rollback Upheld! City Overcollected $5.2MM

Starr’s Measure M Rate Rollback Upheld! City Overcollected $5.2MMBy George Miller Ventura County Superior Court Judge Rocky Baio has finally come back with a ruling  on the 1+ year old challenge by the City of Oxnard to Aaron’ Starr’s Measure M wastewater rate increase rescission, which passed with 72% of the vote. It would reinstate the Measure, which was stayed by an injunction […]

 

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


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5 Responses to Public tears into, defends, Oxnard Council on Measure M wastewater rate rollback court victory

  1. JACK CLERIC June 4, 2018 at 12:53 am

    Hey George :
    I finally get back into print and my name is butchered. “What a welcome that was !”
    My Daughter works for the Pleasant Valley Senior Center in Camarillo and I’ll see if I can get your cards passed around. As a matter of fact, where are you located and i’ll stop by and pick up some cards.
    Thanks,
    Jack Cleric

    Reply
    • Citizen Reporter June 4, 2018 at 7:43 am

      Sorry Jack- will fix. Hard to hear those names when they are called out. What other publication even attempts to report on all Citizens’ meeting comments?

      Just give folks our url/web address- http://citizensJournal.us. Subscriptions are free!- THANKS!

      Reply
  2. Phillip Molina June 2, 2018 at 11:00 am

    I am willing to participate in any process that will bring Oxnard together to provide recovery for everyone who made the “excess payments”, while doing our best to make the waste water treatment facilities function for every Oxnard facility user in compliance with State rules. This also means making all surrounding communities that use our waste water service pay their full cost of treating the sewage, where balances due currently exceed $1 million.

    Reply
  3. Bruce Boyer May 31, 2018 at 3:29 pm

    Wow! Kick their buts and kick em again!

    Reply
  4. Deborah Baber-Savalla May 30, 2018 at 8:18 am

    Excellent reporting, as usual! I particularly appreciate the last paragraph advising that the Council replay the public comments, both pro and con over and over again and work to absorb what We The People are saying!

    Reply

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