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Moving Oxnard Forward Chairman Aaron Starr addresses the council about the initiatives. (Photo by Chris Frost)
Thursday, December 19, 2019

By Chris Frost



Oxnard--The Oxnard City Council certified four of the five ballot initiatives presented by Moving Oxnard Forward Chairman Aaron Starr during the Dec 17, meeting.


Starr spent the summer working on collecting enough petition signatures to place the items on the ballot and filed them with the city on Oct 28. 


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 p.m. (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.


Each initiative required 8,401 signatures.


City Clerk Michelle Ascension said initiative 4, the term limits require a full count by the county, and it will be returned to the council in 30 days.


"If that initiative meets the 8,401 ballot signatures, I will return with a certificate of sufficiency for that initiative," she said. 


During public comments, Aaron Starr thanked the community for their support.


"We spent the whole summer and early fall collecting signatures," he said. "We had great conversations with lots of people."


Starr spoke explicitly about the permit simplicity initiative and said it already works well in Phoenix.


"It implements a program to allow the city to issue permits on the same day," he said. "It will make it easier for business owners to bring higher-paying jobs to Oxnard and homeowners to improve their homes. Similar programs have been successful in Phoenix and the surrounding areas and up in the Sacramento and Yolo County areas." 


City Attorney Stephen Fischer told the council they could adopt the ordinance as proposed by the initiative, submit the ordinance to the voters without alteration on the Nov 3, 2020 ballot or order a report, pursuant to election code 9212, which allows the council to get a report on the proposed impacts of the initiatives such as fiscal impact, the effects on funding for infrastructure and any other matter to be included in the report.


"If the council ordered a 9212 report for any of the initiatives, that report would need to be presented to the city council within 30 days from tonight's meeting," he said. "The city council can then make a determination at that time about those ordinances and initiatives."


City Manager Alex Nguyen told the council that the staff recommends that it adopt a resolution adopting the permit simplicity item for the ballot in Nov. 2020.


"Staff does not support the initiative," he said. "We believe it will allow developers to approve their building permits effectively with little or no oversight by the city. We understand that similar measures have been adopted in Arizona and cities in Northern California. The impacts of such initiatives are widely and readily available. We look forward to presenting that information to the public."


He suggests the council request the 9212 reports before taking action on those three initiatives.


"Specifically, the initiative that would terminate Measure O in six years if certain pavement standards are not met," he said. "The one that gives the elected city treasurer substantial new duties, as well as the way the city council meetings and other legislative bodies are run. The 9212 reports would provide you an independent analysis by a neutral third party to analyze the impacts of these initiatives."


Nguyen said he would report back to the council at a special council meeting on Jan 15.


"That is a very, very, very strong recommendation from the staff," he said. "We believe the permit initiative is appropriate to put before the voters, even though we don't support it, and the other three initiatives are very dangerous for the City of Oxnard."


Aaron Starr said he never thought that having meetings after 5 p.m. would be described as dangerous.


He suggested that each initiative get adopted right away, rather than spend over $100,000 on each initiative, as the city did on Measure B.


Save the money," he said. "These are good proposals signed by a large number of people. We got these on the ballot with just a sample and not the whole count. 


Starr submitted language to the council for the initiatives and asked them to treat the citizen as their own.


Mayor Pro Tem Carmen Ramirez said it would be irresponsible if the council doesn't understand the fiscal impact of the initiatives.


"Some of them sound great," she said. "The permit simplicity; could someone come in and put a liquor store next to a residential development? We need to know,  and I'd like to call for those reports."


Councilman Bryan MacDonald is concerned about the Measure O initiative, and he called it a general-purpose sales tax.


"If this initiative makes it a specific purpose sales tax, by mandating it go to streets first before anything else, does that affect the validity of the original vote," he asked. 


Councilman Oscar Madrigal said there might be some dangers involved with the initiatives, but the public has to be informed.


"People did sign the initiatives, regardless if they knew what they were signing," he said. "The signatures are there, and it should go to the voters."


Councilman Bert Perello gave Starr a lot of credit for seeing the signature process through.


"I do believe it needs to go to the ballot, but we also need to know what the hell we are putting on the ballot," he said."We need to be prepared. I see enough problems here that I want to get a third opinion."


Council Woman Gabriela Basua said she is fiscally conservative when it comes to spending money, but if the measures pass, the city will not be sustainable.


"We'd have to hire more people, and we're laying them off," she said. "We need to spend the money and see how it's going to affect the city, and we also need to educate our residents."


Mayor Tim Flynn applauds anyone who takes on the initiative process, but he is especially concerned about putting the financial future of the city into the hands of one person, the city treasurer. 


"When that person is an elected person, it has the appearance of being democratic, but it is the equivalent of creating a dictatorship in a democratic government," he said. "It' taking the function of the city manager and council style. of government and largely abolishing that."


The item passed 6-1