The Oxnard City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to ask for a delay/stay of Measure M, the voter referendum that overturned a controversial wastewater rate hike.
“We unanimously voted to protect the voters, to stop the impact of Measure M’s passage,” said Mayor Pro Tem Carmen Ramirez, Esq., shortly after the meeting.
“We couldn’t allow that to happen, there’d be a domino effect,” with the city’s credit rating threatened and creditors ready to call in their loans if the rates are scaled back to January numbers, said Ramirez.
Ramirez says the city’s infrastructure isn’t simply old; it’s dilapidated and needs to be modernized.
“What’s the alternative, to be a city where we can’t flush the toilets or drink the water?” Ramirez asked.
Councilmembers voted 4-0, with Dorina Padilla absent, to have staff ask Ventura Superior Court to stay the implementation of Measure M.
In the same vote the City Council approved a new study of wastewater rates and to start the Prop. 218 process of notifying the public of a pending rate hike.
During the meeting City Manager Greg Nyhoff and Chief Financial Officer Jim Throop outlined the complex financial implications of the wastewater rate repeal in detail.
The picture they painted was of a wastewater fund that would run out of cash in several months if rates are scaled back to their previous level.
That scenario did not stop residents from asking the council to respect the will of the voters during public comments on the report.
“I think 72 percent should be a wake-up call, I think you should listen to some of your opponents,” said George Miller, referring to the percentage of votes in favor of Measure M on Nov. 8. The referendum rolled back wastewater rates to what they were in February.
“I think your first mistake was to sue me back in March,” Starr told the City Council, referring to the city’s effort to keep the referendum off the ballot. “You got yourself in a real pickle, but I’m going to do whatever I can to help.”
Starr, who spearheaded Measure M and rode its coattails to a seat on the next City Council, leading opposing candidate Oscar Madrigal by a little over 200 votes by deadline (the vote count should be finalized in the next week or so), went on to say the public wants a safe and financially sound wastewater system.
The substance and tone of the public comments following Nyhoff and Throop’s report prompted Mayor Tim Flynn to remind everyone that this was not a public hearing.
In their comments following the report, City Council members still maintained the wastewater rates would eventually have to go up, but were willing to look at ways to soften the blow of an increase.
“I’ve always been OK with doing a new rate study,” City Councilman Bryan MacDonald said after the meeting. “But I felt like I was being held hostage; you heard us concede that Measure M is legal, and I’m not convinced it is.”