Court delays Oxnard’s Measure M; current rates remain for now

Oxnard got a break in its ongoing battle with Measure M supporters on Tuesday afternoon, Dec. 13, when Ventura County Superior Court Judge Rocky Baio delayed the measure’s implementation. Baio rejected the argument of the attorney for Aaron Starr, the measure’s author, that allowing an increase in wastewater rates created too much hardship for ratepayers.

“Just because there are some citizens that are not happy about this does not mean the measure does not have to be legal,” said Baio, noting the city’s argument that the measure violates the California Constitution by doing something only the city can do, decrease wastewater rates.

After Starr launched a grass-roots campaign to get the referendum on the ballot, voters overwhelmingly passed it on Nov. 8, rolling back rates to January’s level. Baio’s order means that, for now, rates remain where the city set them in February.

“A crisis has been averted temporarily,” said City Councilwoman Carmen Ramirez, adding that she certainly felt for people with financial issues, “but we’ve always had to raise the water rates. They’ve been too low for a long time. We have to either pay the piper or watch the system fall down.”

Baio set a trial for Jan. 4 to settle the dispute between Oxnard and Starr, the comptroller for Haas Automation who nearly won a seat on the City Council, falling short by about 600 votes.

City officials say that an increase in rates is needed to maintain and upgrade Oxnard’s wastewater infrastructure and that without increasing rates, money for wastewater issues would have to come from other department budgets, such as public safety.

Starr argues that the rate increase not only causes hardship for residents on fixed incomes but will drive businesses out of Oxnard to other communities. He believes that averaging the city’s expenses for the last three years and increasing rates incrementally for inflation would be a better model.

Starr says the city has not proved that a substantial rate increase is needed, alleging that the real purpose of the rate increase is to fund bond issues for pet projects.

“We don’t have all the info because they’re not giving it to us,” Starr said outside of Baio’s courtroom on Tuesday. “In my opinion it demonstrates a lack of good faith.”

— David Michael Courtland

Oxnard warming shelter hosts over 100 first two nights

The West Ventura County Regional Winter Warming Shelter is officially opened as of Dec. 6, and with the opening came proof that its services were much needed as over 100 individuals made use of the facility over the two-day opening.

The facility, located at the Oxnard National Guard Armory, operates from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. daily through the winter months, providing bedding, showers, dinner and bathrooms for the county’s homeless population. Clients of the facility also can receive direct assistance and management from county agencies, including the Veterans Administration and the Ventura County Public Health and Behavioral Health agencies. Clients also receive bus passes to use during the day to return in the evening.

“The leadership of our local cities and the county know that colder temperatures can represent a serious public health danger, and they have taken action to provide this safety net for the most vulnerable of our citizens,” said Arturo Casillas, director of the Oxnard Housing Department.

The shelter was originally planned for the city of Ventura but due to renovations at the National Guard Armory in the city, the shelter returned to Oxnard for the third straight year. The shelter is a joint effort between the two cities with assistance from the county and other agencies.

The cost to operate the shelter can reach $80,000 per month, according to Peter Brown, city of Ventura community services manager, and so the operators are seeking donations to fill out funds provided by the two cities and the county for a total of $262,000. Donations can be made by visiting www.downtownventura.org.

Japanese internment camp survivor attends CSUCI

Ruth Maruoka, 88, of Ventura, spent the years between 1942 and 1945 in an Arkansas internment camp during World War II — victim of war-era paranoia following the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Seventy years later, Maruoka has enrolled in California State University, Channel Islands, Osher Lifelong Learning Institute’s course, “Through Barbed Wire: World War II and the Japanese American Experience.”

Maruoka and her family lived near Sacramento prior to internment. At the age of 14, she and her family were taken to the camps; in the preceding years, her family had lost their home and belongings.

“We were sad but we didn’t know where we were going,” Maruoka said. “I remember it was harvest season. All the strawberries were bright and red on the farm and ready to be picked.”

The Learning Institute, OLLI for short, serves individuals over the age of 50. Typically, a session is $15, but program administrators waived the fee for Maruoka.

“That class really caught my eye,” Maruoka said. “Although it’s been 75 years now since it happened, I’ve been keeping up with various news documentaries. I thought, ‘Wow, I’ve got to catch up.’ ”

For more information on OLLI, and for a list of upcoming courses, visit http://go.csuci.edu/olli.