Today a judge agreed to grant our lawsuit against the City of Oxnard an accelerated hearing schedule. Even though the city’s lawsuit against our wastewater initiative is still active, today’s ruling means we do not have to wait until the prior suit’s August 19 hearing to have a court address the dispute.
We'll be back in court next Friday, April 15. At that time the city will need to tell a judge why they have refused to do their duty to issue a title and summary for our initiative to repeal recent wastewater rate increases. Without that in hand, we cannot start collecting signatures to qualify for the November ballot.
We asked for an April 15 expedited hearing on our suit against the city. In arguing against the expedited hearing date, the attorney for the city argued two main points, both of which were logically absurd:
1. The attorney for the city argued that the city had only been served with the lawsuit two days prior, and they need more time to prepare to defend their refusal to provide our initiative with a title and summary.
The attorney for the city requested a hearing date be set for May 23 or May 24. The city knows full well that May 20 is the deadline for us to file petition signatures to qualify our initiative for the November ballot. Since the point of our suit is to force the city to provide the title and summary we need to start that process and qualify on time, delaying the hearing until after that date would undermine the point of the suit.
Our attorney rightfully pointed out that the city had been aware of their legal obligation to provide a title and summary since March 8 when we filed the initiative, and it should have provided it by March 23. Given that timeline, it is absurd for the city to pretend that as of April 7 it hadn’t yet had time to analyze its position on the question. Our attorneys have obviously had to prepare for the case on an even shorter timeline, and we are ready.
The judge also pointed out to the city’s attorney that the city had time to file a lawsuit against our wastewater initiative on March 23 asking to be relieved of the duty of providing a title and summary, so it made no sense to say they can’t yet explain why they’re allowed to file such a suit in lieu of providing the title and summary.
2. The attorney for the city claimed that there was no “irreparable harm” if the city’s refusal to provide the “title and summary” prevents our initiative from being on the ballot for another two years. She argued that there will be other elections in the future, and qualifying later was just as good as qualifying now.
Our attorney replied that since placing initiatives on the ballot is a constitutional right, the irreparable harm is that we would be deprived of our constitutional rights. The judge noted our claim that the suit is merely a delay tactic, and we assert that its entire goal is to keep our initiative off the ballot this year.
Understand also that the city’s rate increases support its plan to issue large amounts of debt for future projects that we believe are unnecessary. Our initiative is perhaps a last chance for the voters to reject those unnecessary projects which are grossly inflating our utility rates. Over the next two years, the city’s plan is to issue bonds to prepare for those future projects. If the city successfully stalls our initiative until 2018, by then the city will have already issued $92 million of bond debt and will then argue that rates cannot be reduced because we have to pay for that debt. Our initiative must be on the ballot this year before they take on the debt we are contesting.
Thankfully, the judge saw through the city’s arguments and granted our request for the expedited April 15 hearing.