By Chris Frost
The League of Women Voters Mayoral Forum continues with a discussion about the homeless situation in Oxnard, where candidate Mario Quintana, who is running against Mayor Tim Flynn and challenger Aaron Starr, said there is a problem across the entire city.
“We see them every day when we are walking into the Senior Center building, and they are not bad people, they’re just looking for a place to sleep,” he said. “I don’t see them as individuals intentionally living on the street, it’s just a situation or circumstance, and it ties back into the cost of living. It’s outrageous, the cost of living, and you are going to see more homeless people on the streets because they can’t afford it.”
People tell them to move on, he said, but they don’t have that kind of control or power.
“Housing is a crisis, and it’s going to continue to grow, and you can’t say it’s just our city because it’s everywhere,” he said. "Whether it’s drugs or anything, it’s a debate about why homelessness is on the rise. We’re making some in-roads, and we are going to commit to a permanent homeless shelter, and it’s an epidemic statewide.”
Out of the 1,800 homeless people in Ventura County, Flynn said two-thirds of them reside in Oxnard and Ventura.
“Oxnard and Ventura, due to a variety of circumstances, have come to a point where we can no longer avoid and kick the can down the road when it comes to the homeless and addressing the needs they have,” he said. “Both cities are going to open a year-round shelter, and that year-round shelter will offer a compliment of mental health services and job training services, to get them out of their homeless status, off the streets, and resolve this crisis once and for all.”
Flynn said he took an active role locating a place for the shelter that is compatible with the residents as some people tell him they should put a shelter wherever they can find a spot.
“The neighborhoods, to me, are number one,” he said. “I am committed to not only resolving this problem but once and for all provide a shelter.”
Flynn said the shelter would not be a free lunch as he believes in giving a hand-up, not a handout.
“Those individuals now reside in carts and the river bottom, they’ll be given many options, and we want to help them, but there comes a time when you say enough is enough,” he said.
Starr said no one has a solution for homelessness, including him.
“My philosophy is that homeless programs should be here to help people who are temporarily homeless, somebody who lives here today and for some reason is homeless beyond their control," he said. "Maybe a spousal abuse situation or their house just burned down, those are the folks we should be helping, people who don’t make choices, but due to circumstances beyond their control are homeless,” he said. “Unfortunately, there are a lot of folks that choose homelessness either as a way of life or a mental illness or drug problems. I think the big question for us is why do they choose to live here, on the streets of Oxnard instead of somewhere else?”
He said it creates a real problem because of the hypodermic needles and feces they leave around which has hepatitis A.
“Yes, to the extent possible let’s have a police officer assigned to that but let’s also try to get these folks re-connected with their families,” Starr said.
Flynn said the city does not use Measure O funds to solve the landscape assessment district and River Ridge Golf Course, or any other community in the city and landscaping is a quality of life issue.
“No one has to have a vivid imagination to see what good landscaping does for a city,” he said. “Take any other city that has good landscaping, and that’s the way it should look in Oxnard. Those landscape districts are supposed to pay for themselves, they were not managed properly, and that’s going back decades, we’ve undone that and now we are reconstituting those landscape districts.”
At some point, he said the landscape maintenance districts would be able to determine their level of service, an A, B, or C level, and every one of them will have that choice.
“Last week I brought an issue before the city council on tree trimming, and ladies and gentlemen, we have 57,000 trees in the City of Oxnard, and we have a 2,700-tree backlog,” he said. “I made sure an agenda was brought to the council last week, and those 2,700 trees are on schedule right now to be trimmed, and that’s city-wide, not just the River Ridge neighborhood.”
Starr said Mayor Flynn makes big broad announcements about large programs right before an election, and in the end, they don’t get anything done.
“We should be doing the work during the entire two-year term, not just a month or two before an election,” Starr said. “One thing I have a problem within the landscape district is a complete lack of transparency. We had an audit that looked at the finances of these districts and we know the report is bad because the mayor voted not to disclose it and he was the deciding vote. If I become mayor I am going to release that report, you paid for that report, and you deserve to know what’s in that report. We shouldn’t be hiding bad news from you.”
Quintana echoed Starr’s sentiments about transparency and said residents need to know where the money is going.
“As far as reimbursing, I would look into it strongly, if you promise a payment and don’t deliver you need to make it right,” Quintana said. “You’ve got to take ownership of what’s done, or what wasn’t done under your management and you make it right for the members of our community,”
He heard about Measure O Funds in 2008 and said it could be for anything.
“The reason why those resources go there is it’s an affluent community,” he said. “The squeaky wheel gets the oil.”
Starr said the economy in Oxnard has potential and after reading a report from the city’s treasurer, Oxnard has the fewest number of businesses per capita in Ventura County.
“Thousand Oaks has more businesses than Oxnard, Ventura has more businesses than Oxnard; we’re almost twice the size of these two cities, and because we’re not allowing these businesses to come here, because frankly, the leadership we have is making it difficult,” he said. “There are businesses that take years to get a permit, and I’ve heard stories about two or three different churches that can’t get their pavement done without a permit two years later and the fees are horrendous.”
He said Oxnard needs to bring higher paying jobs to the city and has failed in that endeavor.
“I will fix that,” he said. “I am a controller of a manufacturing company, and I understand business, and the current leadership does not understand business.”
Quintana said Oxnard’s economy is on an upswing and it will follow the national economy.
“When you look at development, I think we’re ready for it, and we’re a community that can do a lot of things because we’re a coastal city,” he said. “The question is are we going to sabotage ourselves because in a lot of ways, when you go back to the conversation about the gang injunction, we can’t be this luxury city that needs a gang injunction to keep its citizens at-bay. It needs to be dissolved and it’s a loser in a lot of ways.”
Flynn said he questions if Oxnard, the most densely populated city in Ventura County, needs more minimum wage jobs.
“When we’re talking about growing this economy, we’re finished with minimum wage jobs, and that’s why you have two or three families living in a home,” he said. “We don’t need more minimum wage jobs, and to say Thousand Oaks and Ventura have more jobs, if they are minimum wage jobs, then we don’t need them here. What we need here are higher paying jobs.”
When you talk about the economy, Flynn said the city has more potential to attract employers who pay the highest salaries.
“I’ve been the leader in making Oxnard a fiber city, this is not a scheme, and a fiber city is already what we have, and we already have the infrastructure,” he said. “To attract higher-paying employers, not minimum wage employers, we can use the fact that we have the infrastructure right now to provide the highest speed internet anywhere in Ventura County, and probably one of the highest in the State of California and the infrastructure is already there. Aaron, it’s about higher paying jobs, not just jobs.”
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