Court Orders Changes to Oxnard's Prejudicial Ballot Materials

Last week, the court decided on two lawsuits between us and Oxnard City Hall.

In the first case – the one that was more substantive – we petitioned the court over the false and misleading language the City Council adopted for the ballot titles and questions destined to appear on November’s ballot.  We had warned the council that this was a problem before they adopted the language on July 17.  They didn't listen.

Many voters do not read more than the ballot title and question when making a decision on how to vote ... so it is especially critical that the language be concise, accurate and impartial. Otherwise, the City is abusing its power by placing its thumb on the scale of democracy.

In this lawsuit, WE were the prevailing party. Here are just a few snippets of what Judge Borrell wrote in deciding this case:

  • “the court agrees with petitioner that the ballot title is unduly partisan.”
  • “Ballot titles are no place for advocacy.”
  • “The petitioner is correct,” in response to our argument that the ballot question for Measure E is argumentative.
  • “crosses into the realm of partisanship.”

The judge ordered that twenty-nine words be deleted and thirty-five words be added ... to correct the city’s false and misleading ballot language.

We were successful, but we do believe the judge should have gone further than he did. When it comes to a matter as sacred as a ballot, voters deserve to see language that represents a “true and impartial synopsis,” that is “neither argumentative nor likely to create prejudice for or against the measure,” as required by Elections Code Section 13119(c). 

For the city’s 1.5% sales tax increase (Measure E), we believe that the City citing a laundry list of popular programs that a sales tax COULD POSSIBLY fund – but for which there is no legal requirement that the City do so! – is clearly argumentative and prejudicial.

The judge challenged the City’s attorney to show him where in the measure those programs were even mentioned ... the City had no answer.  Unfortunately, the judge’s ruling only addressed this argumentative content by inserting words such as “help” before the prejudicial list of programs.

With the changes ordered by the judge, here is what will appear on the ballot as the title and question for the city sales tax increase (Measure E):

Shall an ordinance establishing 1½¢ sales tax to help maintain 911 emergency response times, natural disaster, public health/emergency preparedness; fund fire stations; address homelessness; attract/retain local businesses/jobs; keep public areas safe/clean; aid Oxnard's long-term financial stability; fund general services/infrastructure; requiring annual audits, public disclosure of all spending; providing $40,000,000 annually until ended by voters, used only for Oxnard, be adopted?"

It’s a slight improvement over what the City Council approved ... but compare that to what we proposed:

Shall an ordinance establishing an additional 1½% sales and use tax to provide $40,000,000 annually for the City’s general use without any specific end date be adopted?

When you compare the two side-by-side, which one do you believe is a “true and impartial synopsis,” that is “neither argumentative nor likely to create prejudice for or against the measure”?

Similarly, our Measure N merely requires that the city improve our streets ... or else the ½% Measure O sales tax (adopted in 2008) will sunset early. But the city again inserted an argumentative and prejudicial list of popular spending possibilities to scare voters away from demanding that our streets be repaired. The judge ordered no change to that language.

In the second court case – the less consequential of the two – the City sued five Oxnard residents over the title (“Director, Oxnard Peace Officers Foundation”) that one of the five authors of our ballot arguments used with her signature.

The City argued that using a title related to public safety was misleading because voters would falsely assume all members of public safety have the same opinion.

Yet, the City’s opposing ballot arguments are signed by people using public safety titles. The City’s entire objective is to make you think all of public safety agrees with THEM, which of course is not true.

The City’s original objective was a bit of an overreach – they sought to have our ballot arguments removed from the ballot. Our attorney convinced their attorney that no judge would grant them such relief, so the City scaled back its goal to removing the title.

Both sides agreed that our signer’s title was TRUE. But the City argued that her title ought to be removed because she did not receive permission from the organization.

Yet, signers of the City’s opposing arguments used titles from organizations that had not even met since the court ordered these measures onto the ballot last month, and thus couldn’t have authorized the use of those titles either. 

Judge O’Neill ruled in favor of the City, but we never saw a written ruling that explained why City Hall shouldn’t be subject to the same standard required of the rest of us.  We are still somewhat baffled by an outcome that rewards the City’s blatant hypocrisy ... and will only encourage such bad behavior in the future.

City Hall knows that the truth doesn’t help them, so they play this dirty game, manipulating the ballot questions and use of titles.

That’s why we need your help to ensure your friends and family in Oxnard see through the City’s smoke screen.

Vote NO on Measure E, and Vote YES on Measures F, L, M, and N.

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