By Chris Frost
The League of Women Voters City Council Forum at Oxnard City Hall Sept. 25 brought stark answers about essential issues in Oxnard and a lot of questions from attendees seeking answers.
Candidates for the District One and District Two seats differed on their answers as the election could change the city’s direction moving forward.
In her opening statement, District One Candidate Kari Cryder said she and her husband love Oxnard and its perfect weather, diverse population and coastal living, but the government is not perfect.
“The council has grossly mismanaged our city, our harbors have brown water and dead fish, our parks and common areas are overgrown and full of weeds, and our infrastructure is still crumbling, and your voices have been ignored, but luckily I’m here,” she said. “I have the business skills from being a business owner to rally and work with the city staff. I am not against them.”
She called herself a problem solver.
“With a little creativity, I think we can solve our financial problems and get the city running as it should be again,” she said.
District One Councilman Bert Perello thanked the League of Women Voters for the forum and applauded his fellow candidates for running.
When he took his seat in 2013, Perello said he'd fought hard for the council to be open and honest when it comes to governing Oxnard.
“I have developed a proven track record to fight for the people’s interests, and not the special interests and I have the political scars to prove it,” he said. “I successfully led the council’s effort to claw back supplemental retirement perks that were illegally gifted to senior executives, as determined by a court of law in 2014," he said. "I helped save millions of taxpayer dollars by casting the decisive third vote, opposing an ill-advised settlement to the former City Manager, Mr. Sotello, which turned out to be a bogus lawsuit.”
Perello said he developed the city’s whistleblower policy in 2017,
Candidate Ken Oplinger said he lives at the shores and people in Oxnard are currently in the crossroads when it comes to quality of life, staffing and infrastructure issues, public safety concerns, improve the financial picture in the city and redevelop it’s downtown.
“Where will we find the visionary leadership to harvest the 200,000 people in this community to work together to a common good,” he asked. “I am running for city council because I believe my 26 years of government experience will attack these problems.”
He said the time for crisis leadership is over and Oxnard needs a council member who can ask tough questions while bringing them together, understand how government works and work well with staff constituents and elected officials.
During her tenure on the Oxnard City Council District Two Council Member Carmen Ramirez said she has diligently represented her constituents and never missed a council meeting.
“We have to represent all in the city, the poor, the affluent, and the people with many issues,” she said. “It doesn’t take just one council member to make things happen, you have to be able to count to three, and that’s going to be more once there are seven of us.”
She said she has a proven record of making difficult decisions that saved Oxnard’s future by strengthening its infrastructure, health and credit issues, which are all crucial issues.
District Two Candidate Lance Ralston wants to bring a quality of leadership to the council, so it matches the “peerless beauty” of the area.
Candidate Tai Hartley is a single parent and said she learned early-on how difficult it is to get city resources.
“I want to take the opportunity to get better revenue to expand services and balance out something that is not equal,” she said. “I have a lot of responsible decision-making skills, and I hope to bring that to the city.”
Perello said the city became aware of the fisherman’s wharf and water circulation issue at Channel Islands Harbor in early June and learned of a problem with the power company.
“The City of Oxnard protested the closure of the permit for NRG," he said, "I attended the meeting with another member up here. I wish he had spoken, and at the meeting I spoke for myself and the residents of Oxnard and the State Regional Water Quality Board allowed the facility to go away,” he said. “I am personally working with Mr. Zaragoza, and this afternoon, we had a meeting with some other individuals from the harbor, and we reached out to get some help from the state.”
He said the Fisherman’s Wharf matter is about a contract between the city and Ventura County.
“I want to get the health safety and welfare of that water addressed before anything else,” he said.
Oplinger said the problem with Fisherman’s Wharf is because the city and county no longer have the same relationship they’ve had for the last 50 years and the city doesn’t have a say in what goes on.
“We have to get that agreement back in place, so we have some say of what happens in the Fisherman’s Wharf area,” he said.
He said the city needs to resolve the circulation problem.
“A lot of folks who are going to be constituents of mine are having substantial problems, but let’s not lose sight of why we are where we are,” he said. “We are there because we essentially made a decision to try and force this company to stop working, whether you like them or not. We did not go through the process of negotiating how this is going to be, so we did not know how it was going to be, which was in the EIR (Environmental Impact Report) back in the 1980’s.”
He said the water quality board meeting was interesting.
“They had a picture of the facility, and they decommissioned it,” he said. “Even if the permit was kept in place, there was no way we were going to use that pump anymore.”
Ralston said his understanding was the city had the opportunity to see the two power plants that “disrupt the beautiful skyline over the coast” be dismantled at the cost of the company that runs them, with a new and more efficient power plant installed in its place.
“That could have been negotiated to have that water circulation continue to go as it has for years so that that issue would have been taken care of,” he said. “Instead the city decided to file a lawsuit against them and drove them out of town, so they’re just going to rot on the skyline. That’s the issue with the brown water on the harbor.”
He said the Fisherman’s Wharf issue revolves around an adversarial relationship Oxnard has with its neighbors, which he doesn’t understand.
“We should have a healthy relationship with our neighbors, and if I’m elected, one of the first things that I’ll do is work to restore our relationship with our neighbors," he said. "It all comes down to relationships, and that needs to be resolved.”
Cryder said Fisherman’s Wharf needs redevelopment and help.
“Like Lance (Ralston) said, we do need to work on our relationship with the county to entice a builder in there who will give us what we want and need,” she said. “Our streets can’t handle the kind of density they want to put in there, so it’s not a good fit for us.”
She said the city should have known about the brown water issue for years.
“The harbor was built around that canal, and they knew the Edison plant was going to be pulling water through the harbor,” she said. “You can’t have stagnant water. Everyone knows this. So when they forced NRG to go away, and they wouldn’t give them a permit to tear down that building and build new, they lost that relationship, and those pumps no longer worked.”
Ramirez said NRG was never going to take down the power plants.
“It’s misinformation,” she said. “They bullied the city and wanted us to do what they wanted at no remedy for the city,” she said. “The reason why the State Water Board told them they had to close is all coastal plants had to close, and that was beyond our control.”
She said the council would have solutions for the issue.
“Algae blooms are more common now, and the city is working on it,” she said. “Regarding Fisherman’s Wharf, I think it’s important that the residents have something to say about it and that’s been the problem. It’s not the relationship between the city and county; it’s the relationship between the residents and the county.”
Hartley said she didn’t have enough information to make an informed suggestion about the brown water issue.
“I would like to see Fisherman’s Wharf redeveloped and I feel it’s been neglected for years,” she said. “The overall look is completely diminished, and it needs to be enhanced.”
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