The old adage defining the term “insanity” has been laid to rest, as instead of continuing to fight the Oxnard City Council’s wastewater rate increases, resident Aaron Starr has decided to attempt a recall of four of the five them instead.
Mayor Tim Flynn, Mayor Pro-tem Carmen Ramirez and Councilmen Bert Perello and Oscar Madrigal, who won a close race against Starr last year, have become the targets of the recall effort after a 4-1 vote on Tuesday, May 16, to approve raising wastewater rates by 5.25 percent annually over the next five years. On Tuesday, May 23, the City Council voted to finalize the increase. Rates will take effect on July 1, and Oxnard customers should expect on average a $2.22 monthly increase, increasing to $2.55 yearly until 2021, when the average household will pay $54.20 per month.
As part of the new ordinance, the council has directed the City Manager and the Public Works Director to set aside $500,000 per year in projected additional wastewater rate revenue “available only for unanticipated, unbudgeted and unscheduled emergency wastewater repairs.”
City Councilman Bryan MacDonald, who was re-elected last year and sits on the city’s Utilities Task Force, cast the lone vote of dissent and is not subject to the recall. At the May 16 meeting, MacDonald said that the proposed rates are “too big a hike in too short of a time.” Flynn, Ramirez and Perello will be up for re-election in 2018.
MacDonald voted in favor of the ordinance on May 23, however.
The City Council passed a 35 percent wastewater rate increase in January 2016 that was the subject of 2016’s Measure M, the ballot initiative written by Starr that repealed those rates, with 72 percent voting in favor of it. The Council brought a lawsuit against the measure, which isn’t expected to be heard in court until November, but there seems to be confusion among officials and residents on whether or not the 35 percent increase adopted last year has been impacted by Measure M or not.
Perello says that the time to take action regarding the increase is now. In the past, Perello has agreed with Starr on his opposition to an increase, but changed his mind recently when reviewing the consequences of inaction, he says.
“We have simply done no better than the past Councils on management, and the past Councils were
successful at kicking the can down the road,” said Perello. “The cost will be borne by the residents’ kids and grandchildren because we’re borrowing so much money for such a long period of time.”
Starr says that the Council should be looking at ways to cut spending in other areas rather than placing the increase on residents. For his recall effort, Starr will need 11,940 signatures per candidate in 160 days, once the petition has been approved by the City Clerk’s office, according to City Clerk Michelle Ascencion.
Starr says that he hasn’t ruled out running for an open seat, should the recall succeed.
At the meeting, City Manager Greg Nyhoff said that residents would pay less in the long run with the current increases, avoiding a possible credit rating downgrade that could be a result of the city not properly funding wastewater expenses. Nyhoff said that if the credit rating is downgraded, it could cost the city $20 million due to the loss of a series of variable-interest bonds. After Measure M passed in November, Standard & Poor’s put the wastewater and general fund into the negative credit rating. One more downgrade would result in a “junk status” rating.