Imagine this. You learn that your child pocketed 36 cookies that did not belong to him ... and he ate 32 of them. After you confront him, he returns the remaining four cookies and proclaims what a good boy he is for doing so.
Does returning ONLY SOME of what he took excuse him … or even make him noble?
Of course not! But that’s what Oxnard City Hall would have you believe about its utility rate refunds.
As a result of our previous lawsuit, the Ventura County Superior Court in March ordered the City of Oxnard to return $36.5 million to the City-owned utilities (i.e. water, wastewater and solid waste) and reduce utility rates by about $4 million per year – the amount of an illegal Infrastructure Use Fee (IUF) the City embedded in the utility rates charged each year.
Last week -- nearly two months after City Hall failed to meet court deadlines to reduce utility rates -- we scheduled a hearing back in front of the same judge to compel the City to explain why it is out of compliance ... and possibly face sanctions.
Suddenly, Oxnard City Hall discovered religion, and publicly announced rate reductions and refunds.
The City’s public relations spin machine went into overdrive, putting out a press release proclaiming that City Manager Alexander Nguyen agrees with the judge’s ruling and that it was "fair and reasonable."
Yet, City Hall spent four years fighting us in court, which is evidence of its real attitude.
Shamelessly, the release even states that the City is now going to go beyond the Court’s ruling by refunding illegal overcharges going back to January 2020.
But that’s disingenuous.
What the press release fails to trumpet is that our organization filed a refund claim on behalf of all ratepayers in January 2021 – shortly after the Court ruled that the City violated the law – to make the City refund to ratepayers overcharges dating back to January 2020 (the one-year statute of limitations limits how far back we can claim a refund).
And to give City Hall an opportunity to avoid litigation, we signed an agreement with the City back in February to preserve all rights to the refund, but delay filing a class-action lawsuit for refunds until September 1.
City Hall knew that fighting the refund claim was futile – the court had already determined that the IUF charges embedded in utility rates were illegal – but the City wanted you to believe that it was being magnanimous when it announced refunds were coming.
"The City was determined to make things right," wrote City Manager Nguyen, perhaps breaking his arm while patting himself on the back.
But if the City was truly motivated by accountability, it wouldn’t be refunding ratepayers ONLY for overcharges going back to January 2020.
It would instead be refunding ratepayers for an additional $32 million in overcharges dating back to 2014 – when the City expanded upon their illegal scheme.
Had we not filed the refund claim and threatened a class-action lawsuit, does anyone actually believe City Hall would pay any refund at all?
At next week’s City Council meeting, our elected officials could "make things right" by ordering the return of the remaining $32 million wrongfully taken from ratepayers …
… or the Council might instead declare, “No, sorry, that’s the way the cookie crumbles!”
What do you think they will do?