Things got testy near the end of Wednesday night’s Oxnard ballot measures forum, as City Manager Alex Nguyen grew annoyed with Aaron Starr’s lack of answers to Zoom viewers’ questions.
Nguyen used his presentation on Measure E, a 1.5 percent sales tax, to make the case that Oxnard needs the money it would raise just to keep offering basic services and avoid layoffs.
But as Starr explained the four proposed rule changes he is sponsoring on the Nov. 3 ballot—Measures F, L, M and N—he repeatedly implied Nguyen is mismanaging the city.
“You gotta ask yourself the question, why aren’t the streets being fixed in the first place?” Starr said in response to a question about Measure N, which would set a new spending guideline.
Measure N would make repairing streets a city priority and stop it from spending sales tax money on other things until they are fixed.
The city has regularly spent money raised by the sales tax Oxnard voters approved in 2008 (Measure O) for services like fire, emergency response, youth recreation and other programs as well as streets.
“I keep having to hammer this, there are lots of cities that don’t have a Measure O, and they maintain their streets,” Starr said, adding that City Hall needs to “re-engineer” the way things get done.
“This is really a management problem,” Starr continued. “The city manager says this is a full-service city. You know what? No, we’re a no-service city.”
After listening silently to Starr’s answers to questions from people who were watching on Zoom and Facebook, Nguyen decided he’d heard enough. “Am I the only person here who’s going to answer questions directly?” Nguyen snapped. Forum host Gabe Teran then tried being firm when he asked if Starr is suggesting cutting fire and police services for landscaping and streets. “Let me tell you a story,” Starr began, prompting Teran to interrupt, “It’s a yes or no answer.” “I’m going to give you my answer,” Starr replied before continuing without answering Teran’s question.
Before the exchange, Nguyen and Starr outlined each of the ballot measures voters will consider:
• Measure E: A 1.5 percent city sales tax that would be used to fund emergency and public safety services like police and fire, natural disaster preparedness and programs for the homeless. The sales tax would come on top of money already raised by Measure 0; the city must make all expenditures public and conduct an annual audit.
Asked why he settled on a 1.5 percent sales tax instead of something smaller Nguyen was blunt.
“Because we evaluated what our needs were in order to restore services and this is what it’s going to take,” Nguyen said. “I didn’t want to play games and make it easy, nothing would frustrate our community more than to approve a sales tax and then not see results.”
Asked if the city can be trusted with the extra money given Oxnard’s history of fiscal mismanagement, Nguyen said voters are responsible for holding officials accountable.
“Local democracy is a two-way street,” Nguyen said. “It’s incumbent upon all of us to hold City Hall accountable, it’s not a one-way street.”
• Measure F: Provides a faster permitting process, basically by allowing people to start projects immediately and audit them after they are under way. Audits can also be done before construction. The new system will not bypass any zoning laws or building codes.
“It will make it easier for residents to improve their own home,” Starr said.
• Measure L: Makes the chief financial officer an elected position—currently the CFO is hired by the city manager—and gives the city treasurer control of the budget, effectively making the treasurer the CFO.
• Measure M: Requires City Council to use Roberts Rules of Order to conduct meetings, expands public comments to three minutes per person (currently people get 90 seconds), requires presentations to be pre-recorded and posted online and that meetings are held at a publicly accessible times.
The entire forum, which was sponsored by the Inter-Neighborhood Council Organization, is available to view at Teran’s Facebook page, www.facebook.com/gabeteran805.