Oxnard Council race heats up
Five challengers, two incumbents run for two seats
By David Michael Courtland 08/21/2014
Though not as large as in the last two elections, Oxnard’s field of seven City Council candidates for the two seats up for re-election (the mayoral seat is also up for re-election) offers a sharp contrast between challengers emphasizing fundamentals and incumbents who favor activism.
Basics like road maintenance have taken a back seat to grandiose projects beyond the city’s normal purview, says challenger Aaron Starr.
“I was watching the city in operation; it seems like they’re not focused on the basics,” Starr said. “I think they’re distracted by activities cities aren’t naturally good at.”
A case in point is the city’s takeover of the Del Norte Regional Recycling and Transfer Station from Republic Services, said Starr, the comptroller at Haas Industries.
Starr compared the city’s policies to someone who tries to do things he or she is not qualified to do instead of paying someone else to do them.
“I want to focus on what I’m best at, and pay people to do the things I’m not good at,” Starr said. “You and I understand that, but the city doesn’t understand that.”
Starr says that because the city diverts resources to do things like manage a golf course or operate a recycling center, it doesn’t do as a good a job as it could on basics like maintaining roads.
Another newcomer running for the first time is Linda Lindemann, a retired sales manager for a computer parts manufacturer, who is concerned about transparency on the City Council. (A photo for Lindemann was not available by deadline.)
“I’m a little bit out of my comfort zone, but I think I’m up to the challenge,” she said, “I would try to do things to the best of my ability and everything aboveboard. That hasn’t happened the last few years.”
Lindemann says she is also concerned that RiverPark residents may be required by the federal government to buy flood insurance and wants to reduce the crime rate by discouraging children from joining gangs.
Longtime Planning Commissioner Stephen Huber is enthusiastic about his City Council campaign and says he wants to bring some leadership to the city.
“I really love Oxnard. I got involved with the city as soon as the Navy brought me here,” said Huber, who was commanding officer of the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Port Hueneme Division, and president of a management consulting firm. “I noticed how the City Council could use some leadership; I have that experience from the Navy and the Planning Commission.”
“I have a background in budget management,” said Huber, “and based on what I’ve done throughout my life I think I’m ready to start right now.”
Huber said he was prompted to run after the Planning Commission sent a mobile food truck ordinance to the City Council that has so far not been heard of after more than a year.
Also running is Oscar Madrigal, a substitute teacher who works parttime at Home Depot. Madrigal was one of 13 candidates in 2012 and ran unsuccessfully again in 2013’s special election.
As in his past campaigns, Madrigal indicated he is running primarily out of a sense of civic duty, but is concerned about heavy traffic.
“I know the city is working on the streets,” said Madrigal, “but maybe we could have more bus routes to encourage their use more.”
The fourth challenger is Dick Jaquez, a former Oxnard Union High School District trustee who also ran for City Council in 2012, narrowly losing to sitting Councilwoman Dorina Padilla by 136 votes.
“I’ve always been interested in (the City Council); I taught government,” said Jaquez. “I thought now that my son and daughter are well established, I could offer my experience.”
Noting that the police department has 25 positions open and fewer officers than other cities the same size, Jaquez also said the City Council needs to take a look at that as well as bring more business to Oxnard.
“We need more business, more money in the coffers, a more business-like mentality,” said Jaquez.
But incumbents Carmen Ramirez and Bert Perello say the city is generally on the right course and that they would like it to continue down the path it is on.
“You can’t get anything done in four years, it’s going to take a lot to get Oxnard new and improved,” said Ramirez, who is winding up her first term on the council and running for a second one.
“We’re on the right path and I’d like to take some credit for that,” she said, whose tenure has included the firing of one city manager and the recent hiring of another.
“I think we were in a bit of paralysis until we hired a city manager,” said Ramirez, who was among those who voted to hire new City Manager Greg Nyhoff.
“I think we’ve got a terrific new city manager; I’d like to take some credit for that, too,” Ramirez said. “One of the things we did get done was taking over the Del Norte recycling center. It was controversial, but I was convinced we needed to take the risk.”
Ramirez notes that city staff report the change from having a private contractor operate the recycling center will save residents $2.5 million in the first year.
Ramirez is also proud of the city’s opposition to allowing another power plant on the Oxnard shore, and thinks the City Council is healthier for not always being in total agreement.
Perello, who won a special election in 2013 and is running for his first full term, says he wants to continue his role on the council as the member who isn’t afraid to ask seemingly stupid questions.
“I’m willing to ask questions and (the other councilmembers) are not; they’re just accepting what they’re told,” Perello said. “If something wasn’t clear in my mind, why would I support it?”
Perello was the lone dissenter in the vote to hire Nyhoff in June because he objected to the hiring process and a clause in the contract offered to Nyhoff.
But ironically, Perello says he has been pleasantly surprised by the new city manager’s performance so far.
“I feel a lot can be accomplished with this new city manager,” Perello said. “Before, I wasn’t getting answers to questions. Now, someone’s calling me the next day with an explanation.”