While Port Hueneme ranks third smallest city in population in Ventura County, it has ranked high over the last few years with some of the worst financial and management issues. Though Oxnard is the most notable, with residents and union leaders pushing back against needed fiscal reform, including pay cuts and rate increases, and demanding audits of auditors, Port Hueneme has for too long had a confusing array of leadership issues that left residents wondering just who should be held accountable.
It was only two years ago that Port Hueneme was making headlines over the mishandling of Housing and Urban Development funds, with the feds mandating repayment of $2.4 million. More disturbing financial decisions followed, with the majority of the City Council approving raises for top management while proposing cuts to city services, such as lifeguards, a utility subsidy program and the annual beach festival. Also, tensions with city employee unions worsened over pay and other issues.
In the midst of these risky fiscal decisions, several top managers resigned or retired, a number of disgruntled employees filed lawsuits (including some of those in management positions), and two of the five City Council members who raised their concerns over all of these problems were subject to scrutiny. This was after a failed ballot measure and years of costly litigation to get the Port of Hueneme to pony up more money to use the city roads and other services.
There is, however, some relief in sight even in the midst of more bad city budget news. The Port Hueneme City Council and the Port Hueneme Housing Authority on Jan. 3 agreed on a budget that earmarked $1.2 million from revenues to repay HUD for the current fiscal year, forcing the city to rely on dwindling reserves. The good news: the City Council majority who led the charge over the last few years is no longer. One of two in the vocal minority — Tom Figg — was appointed by fellow Councilmembers as the city’s mayor and there is a new voice on the City Council, Will Berg, who walks a fine line between his job at the Port of Hueneme and being of service to the residents of Port Hueneme. Berg comes with years of experience as the director of marketing at the port in understanding the operations of a public agency.
The road ahead for the city will be rough and bumpy, and certain sacrifices are bound to be made, but with cooperation, transparency and lessons learned, Port Hueneme has plenty of potential to stabilize and have a more promising future.