The threat of a possible recall of four Oxnard City Council members made some headway last week when Oxnard resident and two-time former City Council candidate Aaron Starr submitted 68,377 signatures for verification. Each City Council member subject to the recall needs 12,043 valid signatures to make it to the ballot for the special election.
The impetus of this recall effort was over an increase in wastewater rates but the real fight began in February 2016 when city officials urged and the City Council passed a 35 percent increase to those rates. Oxnard voters then overwhelming supported Measure M by 72 percent in the November election, which would have restored wastewater rates to February numbers. By December, however, Oxnard won a legal ruling for a temporary stay on restoring old rates. This spring, in May, the City Council unanimously approved an annual 5 percent increase to wastewater rates through 2021. Though the rate increase had the full support of the City Council, Starr targeted four of the five members who had initially vocalized support the week before the actual vote and did not target the lone dissenter at that time, Bryan MacDonald. When it came time for the final vote, everyone was on board.
The real issue at hand here is not the oddity of how the four were chosen, but rather the cost to Oxnard residents to hold a special recall election during a regular election year whereby three of the four City Councilmembers subject to the recall were already up for re-election. The newest member of the City Council, Oscar Madigral, was elected last year and is also a recall target. Further, on the recall ballot, voters can choose not to recall anyone, and if that’s the case, the recall effort will be completely moot. So now, how much will this cost Oxnard residents?
Oxnard City Clerk Michelle Ascension said that the cost of holding the special election is $220,678. To verify the signatures — Ascension requested that all the required signatures be verified and not just a sample since the recall would make such a big impact on the makeup of the City Council — the county charges 50 cents per signature; 48,172 verified signatures are needed but there are 68,377 total that were turned in. The cost to taxpayers to verify: between $24,086 and $34,188. The total cost of this recall effort and special election, which could potentially be held sometime in late April or early May, is at least $244,000. By November, however, all successfully recalled candidates could run again and win back their seats on the City Council.
On top of holding this costly special election, the whole grandiose display of showing City Council members who’s boss with a recall may be even more pointless with the recent move to support district voting. Oxnard City Council adopted a resolution, 5-0, on Monday, Nov. 27, declaring its intent to transition to district-based elections, a move that would enable city voters to elect councilmembers who live in their districts. Also, the number of seats on the council may increase from five to seven for better district representation. With Starr having already filed his 2018 City Council candidate papers, we can’t help wondering about the real motivation behind Starr’s effort, since saving taxpayers money doesn’t really seem to matter. Plus, should Oxnard adopt district voting, it might be even harder for Starr to win a seat on the Council, depending on who runs against him.
Oxnard has been on the hook for years of financial mismanagement, so it should not bode well for anyone running for City Council who cares more about making a point and winning than about the bigger picture of saving residents money, which was what we believed to be the purpose in the first place.