Born and raised in Oxnard, and now serves as an academic director at UC, Santa Barbara. Lopez returned to academia after serving as the community affairs manager with Oxnard Police and the city of Oxnard where he was recognized as Employee of the Year in February 2016. Previously, he served as the policy and research manager with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute and a Fellow with the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence in Washington, D.C. I bring experience in government at politics at the local, state and federal level.
What are the major city issues of concern to you in the future?
The major issues during this time of financial crisis are many for Oxnard. The top issues however are:
- Fiscal Stability
- Public Safety
- Creating Economic Opportunities and Economic Development
Too often elected individuals we, the public trust in, disappoint us. For example, the first proposed budget by City Manager Greg Nyhoff came with a warning: “Oxnard is on the brink of insolvency.” Thus, the 2015 budget made severe cuts to essential services, including: personnel and staff; utilities and infrastructure; public safety; parks and recreation (including youth and seniors programs); and departmental cuts, including $4 million in staff concessions that were not credited back to city funds as promised.
Evidence suggests this was a manufactured financial crisis presented to Council and the public was created to leverage labor negotiations with each of the city’s organized bargaining groups. Those are jobs for residents and for members of our community. But during the same time, in the past two years, under Mayor Flynn, the three highest-ranking city officials — the city manager and two new assistant city managers — earned over $1 million in pay and benefits alone.
Many families — including mine — are growing more concerned about the current state of the city. The ability to see how City Hall uses our public funds is fundamental to good government. Transparency in use of taxpayers’ monies bolsters public confidence, improves responsiveness and promotes greater effectiveness and fiscal responsibility.
Now, after four years under the mayor’s administration, our city is facing a new reality: Not since the investigation of the city of Bell, the State Controller’s Office has turned its attention to the city of Oxnard — and is preparing to take over the audit of our finances. Council meetings have turned into a quagmire of discourse and dysfunction, which some even described as toxic and hostile. City Hall has become a rudderless parade of dilly, dally and delay.
I’m running to restore trust and leadership. I’m here to bring this community together, and put an end to the endless series of challenges and setbacks. I’m here to make a difference in the quality of life for our community, our families and our jobs. I am running to restore trust and leadership in the office of the mayor, at City Hall and throughout our community.
What issues in the past do you feel are not being addressed?
There are a number of issues that are not being addressed, including: fiscal transparency and stability; utilities and infrastructure; public safety; parks and recreation (including youth and seniors programs); and personnel shortages that is hemorrhaging our city and our public services.
For most of us, we recognize the variety of assets and attractions that brought social and economic prosperity to Oxnard — most all of which were developed and realized before the current mayor’s administration.
But now, after four years of mismanagement and poor leadership, our city is facing a new reality: Not since the investigation of the city of Bell, the California State Controller’s Office has turned its attention to Oxnard and is preparing to audit our finances. Add to that, in the last two years we have lost two (2) finance directors, two (2) fire chiefs, two (2) human resource directors, a (1) housing director and an admired (1) police chief while crime has increased 67 percent. We lack stable leadership and management.
The city of Oxnard has over 150 full-time vacancies with an already overstretched staff at City Hall. For me, this is the costly result of more failed leadership by the current administration. In fact, the city of Oxnard has not had a full senior management team in the past 24 months. The 150 full-time positions vacant, translating to over 6,000 hours of public services that are not being delivered to Oxnard residents per week. That is unacceptable, and an entire community is being neglected.
As a lifelong resident of Oxnard, I feel my far-reaching professional experience at the local, state and federal level will help bring vision and bold leadership to create substantive change. My mission is not to dominate (or even dictate), but to legislate with my fellow Council members. My research and service at UCLA, and my training at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government with emerging leaders from around the world have given me context, contacts, access to networks and the confidence to help lead our community out of this extended period of crisis.
We are at our best when we work together. We’ve proven it in the past. We can rally anew to strengthen the safety, health and economic welfare of our diverse community. As your new mayor, we will turn the page, celebrate our past achievements and use this incredible foundation we’ve established to once again propel the 19th largest city in California forward!
What are your thoughts on the state of local businesses in the city?
I am hearing from the business community that the city simply is not a business-friendly city. Business owners have expressed frustrations that it takes up to eight months simply to get plans approved, not including the permit process. This is unacceptable. Businesses large and small want to open their doors and be up and running in a matter of months, not in years.
I believe a reasonable and strong mayor needs to work with Oxnard Chamber and Economic Development Corporation of Oxnard (EDCO) to attract new business, to support and recognize existing business, and do our part as a strategic partner (with the business community) to see and seize these opportunities wherever they may exist. We need to understand that when business succeeds, Oxnard will have an opportunity to succeed. After all, it is these critical tax revenues that ensures the city can continue to deliver essential services that keeps us all going. Can we be doing more to work with the Chamber and economic development organizations to leverage our local resources to realize our potential? Yes. Am I committed to working to seize and realize these opportunities, yes.
We need to prioritize economic development. Today, the city of Oxnard only has one full-time person on staff to advance this important function. We need to create a more business-friendly environment that will once again attract new business to Oxnard, as well as support current businesses that already employ residents and are contributing to our general-fund tax revenue. In turn, this will allow us to enhance our city services and operations. We need to understand, that when businesses succeed, Oxnard succeeds.
What are your thoughts on current public safety issues?
After 18 years of steady decreases in crime, we have seen an increase in crime of 67 percent in the past four years. As late as 2012, Oxnard was one of the safest mid-size cities in the United States. During this time, we saw changes in state law and other factors that led to these increases; but during the Flynn administration, our city eliminated 18 vacant full-time sworn officer positions, which translates to 720 hours of less policing per week, as well as the elimination of over 20 civilian support staff. We should not have been so short-sighted. We cannot talk about public safety without talking about and balancing prevention, intervention and enforcement.
To thrive, we must feel safe at home, work and where our children play. We must revisit crime prevention and public engagement programs that have worked in neighborhoods, and bring them to scale throughout the city, including community-based policing programs, active neighborhood watch groups, and partnerships between Oxnard Police, businesses, schools, churches, community-based organizations and other stakeholders to strengthen our neighborhoods — and work together to address emerging public safety challenges.
We have seen this with the National Night Out events that have brought residents together to fight crime. We have seen residents, business and community- and faith-based organizations come together to strengthen neighborhoods and address quality of life with our Oxnard Neighbors Unite Project (ONUP) that I directed, and also seen initiative like Operation Safer and Stronger that I also developed, help inform, educate and empower residents to be partners in public safety. I will champion public safety, and am grateful for public safety’s support and endorsement.
What are your housing concerns for the city? How will you address them in the future?
According to The City of Oxnard July 2015 Housing Element (2013-2021), Oxnard has 54,490 total housing units, with nearly 800 are for rent. With such a low number of units for rent, is why rents are so high.
With Oxnard population projections estimated to grow by 40,000 in the next 20 years (source: SCAG Regional Transportation Plan Forecast, 2010–2035) we need to consider and plan for future housing needs, develop a long-term budget and smart-growth planning plan, analyze the current and future housing needs of residents within the City of Oxnard — and establishes housing goals, policies and programs to meet the needs.
I believe we need to pay particular attention to lower-income households and special-needs groups, including elderly, large families and single-parent families, families and persons in need of emergency housing, and farmworker housing.
We need to continue to work with Cabrillo Economic Development Corporation (CEDC) and other farmworker housing nonprofits on specific projects. As Mayor, I am committed to expand our partnerships with strategic partners and seek new development partners and funding that focus on affordable housing development.
How important are the city’s natural resources to you and what are you doing about it?
The city’s natural resources are amongst our greatest attributes. We need to preserve our pristine coastline and open agricultural space, and develop our human capital.
As a child, I remember city staff come into my second-grade class to talk to us about recycling. This is where I first heard “reuse, reduce, recycle.” I believe that the city needs to do a better job of informing and engaging residents — young and older — about our natural resources and develop a community public engagement and outreach programs to get our community to better understand who we are, and what is important to us.
Discuss other concerns you have with your city and what you will do to address them. This may include water issues, the state of your city’s school districts, the city’s financial stability, unemployment, etc.
Position on the Utility Rates, and why?
As we have seen, utility rates, and rate setting is a complicated and emotional process. As an Oxnard resident and ratepayer, recent proposals can be distilled down to a combination of both false operational and maintenance assumptions, and what could be assumed as unintentional misrepresentations based on misinformation regarding capital investment needs.
The only exception is that the Wastewater Enterprise desperately needs additional revenues to adequately meet both its debt service and reserve covenants, which was identified as far back as 2007, but ignored.
Therefore, my suggestion would be to proceed with the proposed Wastewater Enterprise rate adjustment for only the amount (adjustment) necessary to adequately address debt service requirements at this time, and postpone any other actions regarding rate adjustments until such time as the following concerns could be considered:
- a) Could the proposed Wastewater Enterprise Capital Replacement strategies be better and more cos- effectively accomplished/achieved by leveraging more modern wastewater treatment technologies that also reduce footprint requirements (eliminate property acquisition), capitalize on waste-to-energy conversion opportunities, and reduce the need for additional pre-treatment (capital investment) at the Advanced Water Purification Facility (AWPF)?
- b) Where are all of the supposed Environmental Resources Enterprise savings that were purported to have been realized through the in-sourcing what was previously contract Environmental Resources Enterprise Material Recovery Operations? Were these huge annual savings not supposed to have resulted in the additional revenues necessary to both cover capital reinvestment costs and provide a degree of rate stabilization along the way? Once on track to do so, should the city not now seriously consider outsourcing its transfer hauling operations to reduce capital reinvestment needs and labor costs?
- c) Why aren’t numerous existing Water/Wastewater Enterprise capital investments (including the Automated Meter Reading System, Brackish Water Desalter, Blending Station No. 6, AWPF and Ferro Pits) being maximized to reduce operating costs, increase revenues and leverage technology investments designed to increase operational efficiencies and reduce labor costs?
This is a matrix with abundantly complex challenges and issues that deserve serious consideration and evaluation before the current mayor and City Council unilaterally accept certain doom-and-gloom predictions.
As your mayor, I would propose a comprehensive peer review of both city staff and consultants’ myriad capital improvement recommendations, master plans, rate studies, Proposition 218 interpretations, etc., before stepping off a cliff from which there is no return.