By Chris Frost
Special for the Tri County Sentry
On a split vote, the Oxnard City Council voted not to explore map 635 being voted on by the city's residents.
Mayor Tim Flynn told the council that Councilman Bert Perello isn’t asking for the matter to be placed on the ballot, but for staff to do an in-depth study on the issue.
He said it would take two weeks minimum to turn the matter around.
“I’m willing to have the staff look into this further and give us choices,” he said. “If we exceed the safe harbor timeline, then it places a different burden on me and what I decide.”
He said if the city falls out of the safe harbor timeline, it could be subject to litigation.
Perello said there are certain things you have to compromise on when you sit on the city council.
“As our city attorney has told us, the last time we took action on how the elected sitting up here, representing the City of Oxnard, is over 45 years ago,” he said. “One of our council members wasn’t even alive at the time.”
He reminded people there were terms of service in that action for the council members and mayor.
“Those things were taken by the direction of the voters,” he said.
The council may be able to overturn things, he said, but they can’t reverse things that voters enact.
“In the future, there could be five other people on here (the dais), and it could be as soon as May 2,” he said. “Four new people could be up here, and I hope not.”
He “buzzed” the idea to other people, he said, and someone is “eating him alive” over the issue and asked him about Measure M.
“Measure M is an issue where the council was put in-between a rock and a hard place,” he said. “We were given information, data, a deadline and we had to make a choice.”
He said one thing you can’t compromise on is to take the rights of the voters away who elected them.
“This takes the rights of the voters away from them, based on the threat of a lawsuit by one individual in the City of Oxnard,” he said. “Not a group, one individual in the City of Oxnard.”
He told the council that he’s compromised on the number of districts and “other things.”
Perello added that people are telling him the city will be at risk if they leave to the voters.
“I cannot compromise on the issue of the residents not having a say in their future,” he said.
Councilman Oscar Madrigal said that he and Perello spoke about the issue several times.
“No city has ever beaten the state, (on the California Voting Rights Act) based on the act as it is written,” he said. “As stated differently by many different people, it is not the best-written law as many can agree with in the state; however, it is the current law that we live by.”
He said, “it is what it is” and the city can fight it and raise a massive bill.
“The city will lose,” he said.
Mayor Carmen Rodriguez said she forwarded a case, Higginson v Becerra, in the US District Court to the council.
“That case was started by the former mayor of the City of Poway against the California Voting Rights Act,” she said.
She said they dismissed the case.
“Another city bites the dust trying to fight it,” she said.
Many people want district elections, she said, and there was an “extensive process,” and people expressed opinions.
“I wouldn’t want to put a yes or no vote out there because it can affect the city,” she said. “I respect Councilman Perello’s wishes, but I don’t think we should put it on the ballot.”
Councilman Bryan MacDonald said when the discussion began; he supported putting the item to a vote.
He asked City Attorney Stephen Fischer asked if they can be protected from any future litigation if the item is voted down.
Fischer said no.
“Having the voters adopt a certain voting system does not provide any protection against the California Voting Rights Act,” he said.
Although he does favor a vote on the matter, MacDonald doesn’t want to put the city in another rock and a hard place situation.
“We’re already facing another special election that will cost us a half-million dollars or more,” he said.
“This will be another election that will cost us more money. I would love to say yes, but that would be an expenditure of more money.”
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