Ventura County Superior Courts are finally re-opening following the COVID-19 closures, and we're finally able to act to reverse the city council's illegal move with our term limits initiative. We previously told you part of that story, but we have more to share now!
On Tuesday we filed a lawsuit in Ventura County Superior Court against the City of Oxnard. Here’s why.
Late last year we gathered over 12,000 signatures to qualify a strong term limits initiative for Oxnard’s ballot.
Because the Oxnard City Council opposed our strong term limits measure, they decided to place their own competing measure ("Measure B") on the March 2020 ballot that would allow for more terms of office –– and even contained a loophole to allow some to avoid term limits altogether.
But the City’s plan wasn’t to compete with our measure ... it was to covertly supersede our measure with their own.
You see, back in January of this year the Oxnard City Clerk certified that we gathered enough signatures to qualify for the November 2020 ballot.
The City Council did not want the electorate to vote on our measure because they feared voters would adopt it.
So, they executed a sneaky maneuver: rather than place our measure on the ballot, the City Council adopted it into law –– barely containing their laughter as they voted for it! –– then they promptly adjourned the meeting.
And why were they cackling with amusement?
Because the Council knew that voters would unwittingly override our strict term limits with Measure B’s weaker term limits several weeks later –– the already printed ballots told voters they were imposing term limits, not loosening them.
Voters adopted Measure B with over 80% of the vote. The City Council succeeded in undermining the electorate ...
... or so they thought!
The City Council actually broke the law –– twice! –– when they executed their stealth attack against voters.
We wrote back in March about the Council’s first law violation.
Ordinarily, state law allows the City Council to either adopt a citizen’s initiative into law or place that measure on the ballot (see California Elections Code Section 9215).
But there’s an exception to that rule.
California Elections Code Section 9217 does not allow the City Council to adopt an ordinance that amends or repeals something that voters had previously decided. In that case, the only legal option available is for the City Council to order that the measure be placed on the ballot.
And that was the situation with our term limits initiative.
Back in 1973 the Oxnard electorate voted to separately elect the mayor with a two-year term. Because our term limits measure also extends the mayor’s term from two to four years, it takes a public vote to do that.
It was against the law for the City Council to enact our initiative as an ordinance ...
... but they did so anyway –– or at least they thought they did!
Which brings us to the City Council’s second law violation ... and this one is particularly embarrassing for the City Council, or at least it ought to be. We’re talking about failing Municipal Law 101.
The City Council was so giddy ... having pulled the wool over everyone’s eyes ... that they forgot that –– absent an emergency –– a city council is prohibited from adopting an ordinance when it is first introduced.
California Government Code Section 36934 requires, that to pass an ordinance, a city council must introduce the ordinance at one meeting then adopt it at a regular or adjourned regular meeting at least five days later.
Our city council couldn’t figure this out! They introduced our initiative as an ordinance that evening in January ...
... but they never arranged to adopt it at a second reading.
If you watch enough cops shows on television, you quickly learn that law breakers are often not the smartest people around.
So, where does that leave us?
Bottom line, the City Council neither adopted our initiative into law, nor ordered that it be placed on the ballot.
Consequently, we are scheduled with our legal counsel to appear this Thursday at an ex parte hearing in court.
Expect the City Hall to pay attorneys to defend the undefendable, on the off-chance they might keep you from voting –– and which they'll undoubtedly proclaim to be the noblest of pursuits.
Of course, for the City’s attorneys this is a sweet deal. They get paid to give the City Council bad advice, then they get paid to defend the resultant bad decisions in court.
It will likely take a few weeks to sort out, but our expectation is that a judge will review the evidence, apply the law and order the City Council to place our term limits measure on the November ballot.