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Public Works Director Rosemarie Gaglione. (File photo by Chris Frost)
Wednesday, July 29, 2020

By Chris Frost


Oxnard-- The Public Works & Transportation Committee, July 28, approved an amended resolution for seawall funding in Mandalay Bay and committed to 50 percent funding unanimously.


The committee also directed the city staff to work with Mandalay Bay and iron out all the details of the funding mechanism.


The original resolution committed the city to share 50 percent of the cost if the Mandalay community forms a community facilities district (CFD) to satisfy its obligations for the other 50 percent.


Committee Member Tim Flynn suggested the compromise for the time-being.


The cost for the project carries an estimated $200 million price tag, which includes replacing the seawalls during the first 25 years and maintenance beyond those 25 years.


The original motion drew the ire of the Channel Islands Waterfront Homeowners Association, and they accused the city of stonewalling Mandalay Bay, not communicating with the group, withholding engineering reports, and other problems that kept the group from supporting the item.


Between 1968 and 1973, Oxnard approved developing 743 attached and detached single-family homes, along with 37 greenbelts, that made up the Mandalay Bay community.


The developer installed reinforced Boise and Zurnstyle walls that created lots for residential development. Those walls were constructed in the 1960s, and at the time, followed building codes.


There have been significant changes to the code regarding seismicity and retaining walls. There is much more knowledge about earthquakes and ground movement today—the last building code change for this was in 2019.


The city started seeing wall degradation in the first 20 years, because of their adverse reaction to the marine environment.


"There are two reasons for that," Public Works Director Rosemarie Gaglione said. "There are sulfates in seawater. Unless you are using specialized concrete, the sulfates react with the concrete. The other is that the aggregate that was used reacted with the concrete. Unfortunately, many structures, including bridges, were built in the 1960s and used reactive aggregate.  They have since been replaced."


The Mandalay Bay Water Assessment District got formed in June 1970 via resolution to fund maintenance and landscaping.


Residents in Mandalay Bay pay the maximum assessment without a CPI (Consumer Price Index) escalator.


The city can't increase assessments within the district because of Proposition 218, passed in 1996 without a majority vote and protest procedures.


"We can't add new items and increase the cost without a new vote," she said.


The city has made hundreds of repairs to the seawalls over the years and removed degraded concrete, weep holes, and jacketed concrete pilasters.


As the city heads into a recession, Gaglione said the economies of building might become favorable.


Funds for the project will not be approved until the capital improvement project gets approved, and the Mandalay Bay residents vote in a CFD. The city general fund identifies the method to pay for the obligation.


Channel Islands Waterfront Homeowners Association Vice President Debbie Mitchell spoke on behalf of the 743 homeowners in Mandalay Bay, which is also known as Special District Waterways 1, which accumulates approximately $500,000 of revenue each year.


"It must cover water quality, landscaping, and landscaping, in addition to dredging, which is important to water quality and boating, seawall repairs and maintenance," she said. "Seawall repairs and maintenance is the only part of our Waterways District 1 this CFD impacts. Every year, our budget gets approved with no comment on its inability to meet the needs. It has not been increased since 1993."


The Homeowners Association Seawall Team has been meeting with the city with no resolution for decades, she said, and the infrastructure ages and known expenses increase.


"Much of Oxnard considers us the rich people at the beach who should stop whining and pay for our own seawalls," she said. "The problem is the city owns the seawalls, and our assessment district was established to pay for repairs and maintenance. In fact, we cannot touch the seawalls."


HOA members have requested an increase in the assessment for years, she said, and some have moved away and passed on without satisfaction.


"Others have given up, while others continue to press for a resolution," she said.


The CFD will get voted on by residents instead of property owners, she said, who will incur the cost.


"At one point, the city went to court to prove its ownership of the seawalls and dedicated the channels and streets under Mayor Lopez," Mitchell said. "We all hear consistent complaints about the condition of the streets and the need for them to be addressed. Residents want the city to fix the streets, and there are homeowners who feel strongly that the city owns the seawalls and should be responsible for them."


Sewalls are a "huge capital investment project," and she said delays increased the investment required and the timeline for need.


"There are many homeowners who fully appreciate that the city is incapable of footing the expense of the needed work on the seawalls, and neither are we," she said. "With that in mind, the city should take responsibility for ignoring decades of doing nothing about addressing the problem and approach the homeowners with a plan for partnership."


The CFD will only cover seawall repairs and replacement. The plan would be determined and directed by public works.


Many of the funds in Mandalay Bay went towards studies, she said, and the significant staff turnover has led to delays and steps backward.


Mitchell suggests that her group does not establish a CFD, which can take over a year or longer to create.


If the seawalls fail, she said the consequences can be direr than a pothole.


During public comments, Carol Taylor told the committee that the city would show good faith not to tie the commitment to the formation of a CFD.


"At this stage, there is no way to know whether a new CFD or potentially increasing the existing waterways assessment district is a better mechanism," she said. "The city has complete control and power over the process and delays the formation of a new CFD indefinitely. At this point, there is so much that we don't know, and with the city ceasing communications, how can we know?"


Without the city's commitment and involvement, she said the group is not prepared to move forward with a CFD.


During committee comments, Mayor Tim Flynn said there is an irony in the situation, and during the 10 plus years he's been working with the Mandalay Bay Homeowners Association on the seawall problem, the city did not commit to a 50 percent portion of the funding for replacing and repairing the seawalls.


"Here we are for the first time since I served on the city council, and there is a formal resolution for the city to be on the hook for 50 percent," he said. "That's an enormous accomplishment."


He told the group that he's worked with a lot of different people, and there was a consensus that the city should be on the hook for 50 percent.


"I attended every one of those HOA meetings where that topic has been brought up," he said. "They said, look, mayor, where's our 50 percent? Here we now have 50 percent in the context of a resolution, but there are some issues."


One issue, Flynn said, is forming a CFD while the second issue is city control.


"This is a tightrope act on the part of the city because when I heard from the residents who spoke, they said they got information yesterday, July 27, and there's supposed to be a public meeting," he said. "I've been privy to this information as time has gone on and made inquiries and haven't let this go. I've tried to guide this to the point of where we are, right now."


He feels closer to agreeing on the issue than ever before.


He asked Gaglione about committing to 50 percent, but not to the funding mechanism, and he wanted to know what the disadvantage would be if they went in that direction.


He reminded everyone the entire council makes the decision on the matter, and Flynn predicated a significant public process.


City Manager Alex Nguyen said the committee system is a useful function for the item so that they can vett the issue in detail.


"It informs the community and the staff," he said.


When it comes to communication, he said the city is still screwing up when it comes to communicating with the public.


"We're not doing a good job, and I am highly disappointed," he said. "Having said that, we are not stonewalling at all. We are making efforts, and not to make excuses, but in the last six months, we've been busy with a different crisis. It is unacceptable that we've had this report, and it wasn't pushed out to the public. I have to take responsibility for that."


He appreciates the community's frustration about the problem and noted that the city had not made a policy decision about the issue.


"It's all been happening at the staff and community level," he said. "It's important, but until there is policy direction, nothing is real."


His other observation is the back-and-forth debate about engineering, which he acknowledged is important.


"It's also important that at a certain point, we take the best information that we can," he said. "Going back and looking at the initial cost and the current projected cost, it's pretty significant when you have one report that takes into no account the seismic stability. That's important."


He feels the CFD is a step in the right direction and said his predecessor made verbal commitments that split the cost.


"I heard it from so many people, including city staff, I have to believe those commitments were made," Nguyen said. "Without a policy commitment from the council, that commitment isn't worth anything."


He called it a chicken-and-egg situation because Mandalay Bay didn't want to commit without the city offering 50 percent funding, followed by the same group saying they don't want a commitment.


"It's important to get a policy direction from the council so that we can make this commitment formally," he said. "We can do that without making it dependent on a CFD formation. The reality is there is going to have to be a CFD formation to get the bond to pay for this macro policy picture."


This story will continue on Aug. 7.

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