Measure M just won a two year battle in Ventura County Superior Court!
On March 23, 2016, the Oxnard City Council personally sued Aaron Starr (President of Moving Oxnard Forward) to try to stop Measure M from rescinding the city council’s abusive 87% sewer rate increase.
Judge Rocky Baio stated in his May 23, 2018 ruling: "Oxnard has not met its burden of proof, and the Court finds Measure M to be a valid exercise of the will of the citizens of Oxnard as expressed through the initiative process."
First the city council sued to try to keep us from even petitioning to qualify Measure M for the November 2016 ballot. The city lost that fight, we made it on the ballot, and after the public adopted Measure M with 72% of the vote, the city council amended the suit to ask a judge to overturn the public’s vote.
The judge’s decision to uphold Measure M was an affirmation of logic, consistent with California Supreme Court precedent, and a recognition that the people’s power of initiative is reserved by them.
The city’s propaganda campaign to the public didn’t work so well in the courtroom, where allegations mean nothing unless proven with evidence. During five days of trial, the city called up witnesses to present ugly looking photos, and proffered opinions from engineers and consultants that stood to make a lot of money, should the Court agree with their conclusions.
The city argued the “rate increase was necessary to provide efficient and healthy wastewater service to the public.” However, we had done our homework and knew the city council’s arguments were over-the-top and not supported by evidence. As the trial went on, it appeared the judge became increasingly skeptical of the city’s case, waiting for incontrovertible facts that never seemed to arrive.
The city tried another line of attack, arguing that “Measure M impairs Oxnard’s ability to meet its bond and contractual obligations.” That argument did not withstand scrutiny. The City presented wildly conflicting financial figures with math errors that would make your junior high school math teacher cringe. We spent the better part of a day making the city’s Chief Financial Officer correct the math in his trial exhibits on the witness stand in front of the judge, demonstrating that the City had understated system revenues and miscalculated what is necessary to meet bond and contractual obligations.
The judge declared the city’s argument of financial Armageddon both “speculative and premature”, and he wrote, “…the Court cannot say that the citizens of Oxnard acted unreasonably.”
In the end, the court understood that it has a “solemn duty to jealously guard” the people’s initiative power and to resolve any reasonable doubts in the people’s favor. Thus, the judge properly found “Measure M to be a valid exercise of the will of the citizens of Oxnard,” and sustained the rule of law. There was really no other possible outcome based on prior court cases and the evidence presented.
The City Council is now obligated to uphold the decision by Oxnard voters. We citizens had the right to make this decision.
The ruling will not change the current sewer rates that Oxnard residents are paying because last year the city council adopted new rates to replace the ones repealed by Measure M. Those replacement rates will compound to a whopping 75% increase, which we still believe to be excessive, but it’s an improvement over the original plan.
The court ruling does mean that the city owes more than $5 million of refunds to ratepayers for overcharges during the 6.5 months between mid-December 2016 (when Measure M should have gone into effect, but the city didn’t implement it) and July 1, 2017 when the replacement rates became effective.