by Sandra Kallander
A post-Election Day drama has been playing out in Aaron Starr’s twin battles: one for a seat on the Oxnard City Council, which he lost by less than 1 percent of the vote, and the other to implement Measure M, a ballot initiative Starr championed and won, but which now finds itself back in court.
Measure M, seeking to overturn and renegotiate the council’s 87-percent wastewater rate hike, won decisively with 72 percent of the vote. But it would take the Ventura County elections department four weeks for all of the provisional ballots to be counted, to determine which of the 11 candidates vying for two open seats on the council would prevail.
Starr remained in second place after 21 days. Shocked incumbent council members, who had filed suit to invalidate Measure M before the election, talked of working with a presumed councilman Starr — the defendant in their lawsuit. His third-place opponent, the eventual winner, and the press (including LP News) also expected Starr to win.
One week after Election Day, city staff admitted that it was possible to meet the city’s operating and bond covenant requirements with less than an 87 percent increase in rates. They also finally accepted an offer to work out a rate schedule compromise with Starr and his group, Moving Oxnard Forward.
Given Measure M’s overwhelming passage, the council appeared to abandon its lawsuit. A four-hour meeting on Nov. 21 ended with progress made on rate models that could meet the city’s bond covenants.
On Nov. 22, however, Standard & Poor’s, the bond ratings agency, citing near-term uncertainty about decisions to be made by the city council and others, set the city of Oxnard’s wastewater revenue bonds rating to “CreditWatch with negative implications.”
Six days later, the city ended the post-election honeymoon with Starr and the voters, canceling the next scheduled negotiation with three hours’ notice.
The following day, Starr reported to supporters that the city’s action likely increases the uncertainty and the odds of a bond rating downgrade.
Starr suggested that the city would be better served not to overturn the will of the voters, but should follow Measure M’s requirement that they negotiate the rate increases with rate-payers, and thereby salvage their credit rating without all the legal expenses.
One day later, Nov. 30, an update to the county’s provisional ballot count showed Starr’s lead was eroding. Starr had refused to declare victory until the last vote was counted; he now projected he would not win the seat. On Dec. 5, the count was final.
Then the council struck again.
On Dec. 7, Starr and his supporters were informed that the city would be going to court the following morning to file for a temporary restraining order (TRO) to prevent implementation of the rate-hike repeal measure. The order contained 700 pages of documents. With only hours to prepare, Starr sent out a request for supporters to show up.
On Dec. 8, before a crowd reported by the Ventura Star to number about 50, consisting of “mostly” Measure M supporters, the judge delayed ruling.
On Dec. 13, the judge granted the city’s requested TRO, keeping the rate hike in place for now. Starr quoted the judge as saying his decision was based on the relative ease of refunding any overcharges if the passage of Measure M is upheld, not because he thought that the city is likely to prevail.
On Jan. 4, the parties were back in court to schedule a trial date, now set for June 20.
This article was originally published in LP News, Feb. 2017 issue (p. 11).