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City Attorney Stephen Fischer (Photo by Chris Frost)
Thursday, January 7, 2021

By Chris Frost



Oxnard-- The Oxnard City Council on Dec 5, deadlocked on replacing Former Mayor Pro Tem Carmen Ramirez.


After reviewing Robert's Rules of Order, Mayor Pro Tem Bryan MacDonald changed his vote, so option three, which appoints someone right away, followed by an election in Nov., was approved. 


The first vote split 3-3 to appoint someone right away and hold an election in Nov.


The council also tied 3-3 on a vote to appoint someone right away without an election.


The council rejected by a 4-2 vote to hold a special election and leave the seat vacant for 11 months.


The vacancy arose when Ramirez got sworn in as County Supervisor.


City Attorney Stephen Fischer told the council that it could call a special election or appoint someone to the council right away.


The council can also adopt an ordinance that modifies the default statutory procedures to fill city council vacancies.


"The City Council can adopt an ordinance to modify the two options in various ways," Fischer said. "Those ways include requiring that a special election be called and requiring a special election of petitions bearing a specified number of signatures are filed. That option also allows the council to call for a special election without filing a petition."


The third option is a hybrid of the two default options, he said, which provides that any person appointed can only hold office until the date of a special election, which is immediately called to fill the term's remainder.


"Any special election under those options would be subject to a requirement that it couldn't occur earlier than 114 days," he said. "The council has 60 days to make this decision," he said. "The options for special election dates in the year we are now in are limited to March of this year and Nov. Because of that time limit, with how much lead time there has to be for a special election once called, the March election can't occur under the statutory requirements. If a special election is called and the number two option is taken, the vacancy would remain open until the results of the special election in Nov were certified and the results declared. For the better part of 11 months, there would be a vacancy in the district two council seat."


If the council chooses to appoint a council member for district two, he said whoever gets selected would serve the remainder of Ramirez's term.


"Basically until the results of the Nov 2022 election were declared," Fischer said. "There is no set procedure for making an appointment. Based on how we've seen other cities do it, one way is to call for applications. The council can direct staff to solicit applications, leave that application period open for a period-of-time and leave it open until the 20th. That would give an opportunity for people to be notified within district two of this vacancy if the council wishes to fill it with an appointment."


Once the application deadline passes, he said the council would schedule a special meeting to interview the applicants and ask the public for input.


"That gives the council an opportunity to reach that decision within the 60-day deadline," Fischer said.  


According to the county registrar's office, a special election for district two, which would be a standalone decision, will cost $93,000, plus legal publication costs.


"Under the special election timeline, if the vacancy gets filled through that method, once the election results are declared, the winner of the special election would serve the remainder of the term," he said. "Based on the time it would take to declare the results of the 2022 election, it will be in Dec 2022."


The third provision in the ordinance offers additional flexibility that can be implemented in the current 60-day period the council has to decide.


"A proposed ordinance to implement that third option is in the packet," he said. "The council can approve the ordinance by title only and waive further reading to amend the city code and allow an appointed council member to serve until a special election is held."


Councilman Bert Perello asked what the criteria were to create districts other than making them equal.


"The council was presented numerous maps to create the council districts," Fischer said. "Through the process, we used a districting consultant. That's a process we will be starting again this year once we receive the new census data in a few months."


District two's total ideal population is 32,984, and the goal is to have an equal population distribution among the districts.


"As summarized by the League of Women Voters, the order priorities for creating district boundaries are geographic contiguity, communities of interest preservation, geographic integrity, compactness and easily identifiable by residence and prohibiting favoritism by partisanship," he said.


Fremont South Neighborhood Council Chair Gabriel Tehran said his council sent a formal letter to the council about District two during public comments.


"I actually, as an individual, share the viewpoint our neighborhood came up with," he said. "After looking at the election code, staff material, and the report, I have to support an appointment, option one," he said. "The election code will not allow a special election to happen until Nov 2021.  "That is 11 months that our district will go without a dedicated representative at the table for a number of important issues coming up this year. There's Measure E allocations, the five-year priorities, the homeless shelter being proposed in district two, and the fiscal year coming up for the City of Oxnard. If we do a special election, not only would we have to wait, if we do option three, which is an appointment and a special election, the cost of $93,000 plus, I feel in any other circumstances, the people's voice at the ballot box is a priority. Representation is far more important to me right now.  We can't go 11 months without that representation."


Pat Brown said if she lived in district two, she would want the council to appoint someone.


"I think an appointment is the best way to go," she said. "There is such a financial hurdle to take here soon. This is a sensible way to go. If it happened in my neighborhood, this is what I would want to do."


During Council comments, Perello said he was elected in a special election in June 2013 and not appointed.


"The State of California at the time had their primaries in the month of June," he said. "The State of California big wigs in the political parties decided to move their primaries to March to have more say in the national election. Right or wrong, that's what they did. I ran for the seat in Nov 2012 and got my butt kicked. I came in eighth out of 13. There are some members on this council right now that were in the same race. The issue at the time was should we take the next highest vote-getter, or should they have an election? The council, at the time, voted for an election. It was city-wide, and there were no districts at that time."


He feels like he would be a hypocrite by endorsing an appointment because he survived an election.


"It was a unique situation because there weren't council districts," he said. "It was city-wide, and there were only five members on the council. The rest of the council looked out for the entire city. There is partisanship in these council districts."


Mayor Pro Tem Bryan MacDonald has spoken to plenty of people, and they agree the voters need to have a voice.


"I don't disagree with that," he said. "District two does need to have a voice. Whether it's by appointment or special election, district two will have the opportunity to voice an opinion. It will be at the ballot box, or if it is an appointment, it will be done in an open session where people are able to make comments or observations. Whatever they want."


Councilwoman Vianey Lopez said although council members get elected by district, they represent the entire city.


"In this spirit, I also believe that we should move forward with option one and appoint a representative that will be in a public process and be open to the residents of our entire city," she said. "Not just to the residents of district two, as today we hear from residents in different neighborhoods."


Councilwoman Gabriela Basua votes for what is best for Oxnard.


"We're voting for the city as a whole," she said. "Like mayor pro tem said, we get emails from different districts. We reply to them, and we are proactive with them.  When I hear comments about representation, I have to take a step back. I like to think that we represent everybody, not just our district."


Councilman Oscar Madrigal said advocates an appointed council member with an election this Nov.


"Looking back at 2013, I would not have been appointed, and I'm sure that Councilman Perello would not have been appointed," Madrigal said. "The district needs that representation right now. We should do an appointment within 60 days, but we need to have that election."


Zaragoza wants to appoint someone to the seat.


"We represent all the people," he said. "We have a lot of items we are going to look at in the next six months. The five-year priorities are coming up. We have to make decisions on the appropriations of Measure E, formulating the budgets, discussing the landfill agreements, the park master plan, the homeless issue, and the ambulance contract. We have a lot of issues we are going to decide that represent that district."