By Chris Frost
Oxnard— Moving Oxnard Forward Chief Aaron Starr and his wife Alicia Percell filed their ballot initiatives with the city clerk on Oct. 28.
The duo came armed with many boxes of signatures from people who signed and want to see their initiatives on the ballot.
Starr and Percell spent many hours working the streets gathering signatures, along with volunteers and part-time vote gatherers stationed in places like Walmart and Sam’s Club.
The five ballot initiatives include:
• Road Repairs – Requires city hall to improve city streets and alleys over time as a condition for continued collection of “Measure O” sales tax.
• Transparency – Makes the elected City Treasurer accountable for the city’s financial functions; requires online posting of city expenditures and their supporting documents; requires the finance department to hire a certified public accountant and publish monthly financial statements; and requires the publishing of performance measurements for city departments.
• Open Meetings – Requires city council and other city legislative bodies meet no earlier than 5:00 pm (with a few exceptions); requires training on the use of Robert’s Rules to enable better run meetings; requires advance videotaping of staff presentations to allow more time for public comments; and expands the right of the public to comment on agenda items and make use of video presentations.
• Term Limits – The Mayor and the City Council to be limited to two consecutive terms, requiring a two-year break before becoming eligible to serve again.
• Permit Simplicity – Implements a program that will enable the city to issue permits in a single day, making it easier for business owners to bring higher-paying jobs to Oxnard and for homeowners to improve their homes. Similar programs have been successful in other cities.
According to City Clerk Michelle Ascencion, the term limits measure received 12,245 signatures, open meetings received 12,278, signatures, 12,445 signed the Fiscal Transparency Initiative, 12,980 signed the Streets Initiative. The Permit Simplicity Initiative received 12,233 signatures.
Ascencion said she and her assistants would spend the day counting signatures.
“The county will verify the signatures,” she said. “The county maintains all the voter registration records.”
She couldn’t give an estimate of how much the ballot initiatives will cost the City of Oxnard.
“I don’t have that number,” she said. “It’s going to factor the cost from the county for verifying the signatures, the cost for the printing that goes into the voter information guide. They charge us by the number of pages.”
The general fund will cover any city costs.
Ascencion will turn the signatures over to the Ventura County Elections Division, she said, and the county will have 30 workdays to verify the sample.
Starr and Percell needed 8,401 valid signatures to place the initiatives on the ballot. The duo collected between 12,000 and 13,000 signatures.
“We have a comfortable margin just in case people say they are registered voters, and they’re not,” Starr said. “That happens a lot.”
Starr called the submission exciting.
“I’m not aware of any other city in California where citizens have put on five initiatives on the ballot at the same time,” he said.
Starr and Percell funded the entire initiative process.
“We put it into the committee, the Starr Coalition for Moving Oxnard Forward, and the committee spends the money,” Starr said. “This is a ballot measure committee, and they have no limits. Even if it is a candidate committee, there is no limit on how much a candidate can spend on his campaign.”
Regardless of the cost, Starr thinks the measures are a worthwhile endeavor.
“It improves our city,” he said. “Alicia and I are dedicated to making Oxnard a better place.”
Assuming the initiatives are validated and get placed on the ballot, voters will decide their fate in November 2020.
“We’ll have to work on the campaign and educate the people about the initiatives about why they would be good for Oxnard, and why they should be voted in,” Starr said.
He did not promise a debate over the measures, but he is not opposed to the option.
“We haven’t discussed that with the City Manager (Alex Nguyen), and I don’t know what he wants to do,” Starr said. “We’re happy to discuss our measures with anybody.”
Throughout the signature phase, Starr said he had many great conversations with Oxnard residents.
“We’ve heard stories about people frustrated with the whole permit process,” he said. “I brought up this initiative idea to Greg Nyhoff four years ago, and he said no thank you, we’ll fix it ourselves.”
Starr and Percell waited, and it never happened.
“We approached Alex Nguyen about permit simplicity, and he said no thank you, as well,” Starr said. “He said to us in writing that he is opposed to the initiative process. There is no point in working with him on the initiatives if he is opposed to them.”
The city updated its permit software, but Starr is not going to judge that action.
“Whatever they’re doing to help is a great thing,” he said. “They seem to be inspired by what we’re doing, and I am happy if it motivates them to act to make things better. Sometimes, when you see someone else is ready to solve the problem, it becomes important for you to solve that problem.”
He questions whether or not the city can solve its problems.
“We’re promoting a system that works elsewhere,” he said. “It started in Phoenix, it’s been used there for 10 years, and it works great. It works with the surrounding cities, as well. Since then, it’s been used in Northern California. “We spoke with the folks up there who promoted it. We asked if you can help us, and they said yes. We’d love to see you do this elsewhere.”
One church on Wooley Road took over two years to get a permit to pave their parking lot, he said, along with another church trying to expand next door that is having difficulty.
“It’s crazy,” Starr said. “When you make a system that doesn’t work, people try to go around the system. You end up having a lot of illegal buildings and illegal construction because people can’t get through the system here.”
Getting the signatures was easier this time than during the recall election. Starr organized a recall election of council members Bert Perello, Oscar Madrigal, Mayor Pro Tem Carmen Ramirez, and Mayor Tim Flynn in 2018 over raised wastewater rates. Starr introduced Measure M, approved in Nov. 2016, which returned the wastewater rates in the city to its former levels.
“You didn’t have people trying to stop us from getting the signatures,” Starr said.
“Friends of the city council would come out and physically interfere with collecting signatures,” Percell added.
The city does have a budget crisis, but when it comes to roads, Starr said it’s about priorities.
“Camarillo has no half-cent sales tax, and they maintain their roads better than we do,” he said. “Thousand Oaks doesn’t have a half-cent sales tax, but they maintain their roads better than we do. Because the city refuses to put effort and resources into maintaining the streets, it is now more expensive to maintain them. It’s cheaper, in the long run, to maintain your roads at a high level.”
Starr and Percell put in about 425 hours gathering signatures.
“That doesn’t include the validation and all the other administrative work,” Starr said. “That’s the equivalent of one person working full time for 10 weeks.”
Percell added that she was putting in 16-hour days for the last three months.
For more information, visit movingoxnardforward.org.