Oxnard neighborhood councils in relaunch mode

It was the first time that John Beck led the ward council meeting as chairman.

He told his neighbors that he was the guy who lived in that blue house and then gave them his personal phone number. His wife could answer, Beck said in Wednesday’s meeting, and if they’re not there, please leave a message and he’ll call you back.

Neighbors began to tell him about their concerns – traffic, a broken slide in the park, dim public lighting. One of them asked if residents were allowed to have roosters.

The district of Beck is located in the largest town in Ventura County. With a population of 207,000 and growing, Oxnard is divided into neighborhood councils so that residents can collectively identify street-level issues and bring them to the attention of the city. The 43 neighborhoods can make a large city picturesque.

Neighborhoods range from historic La Colonia to the new development of RiverPark. There are coastal areas like Hollywood by the Sea and Oxnard Shores, and there are others unknown to most people outside of Oxnard, like Diamond Bar and Strickland.

But not all neighborhoods have active councils, and that’s what Jack Villa, president of the Inter-Neighborhood Council Organization, the umbrella group of all councils, is trying to change. About two years ago, Villa looked at the city map and realized that only one of the 18 southern Oxnard neighborhoods had an active council.

The older neighborhoods in South Oxnard are a recurring topic during election season, when voters have the opportunity to ask when neighborhoods will be revitalized. Villa believes the low turnout is the reason the south end has been overlooked.

“A lot of neighborhoods don’t get any service because they’re not participating,” Villa said.

Attendance was so low that at the monthly meetings of all board chairs there was no quorum. Villa and other neighborhood council leaders therefore undertook a civic engagement mission.

“If they don’t come to us, we’ll go to them,” Villa said.

With the help of Sharon Aranda, who works for the city’s outreach services department, Villa would organize a meeting to explain the benefits of setting up a council. Ideally, residents who find out about the meeting from a flyer in their mailbox would attend and decide to hold one.

“Jack really helped get things done,” Aranda said.

Two years ago, only half of the neighborhoods were active. That number has risen to around 75 percent, and Villa hopes to increase it to 90 percent by the end of the year, when his term as president comes to an end.

He said that it is impossible for a neighborhood not to have problems.

“I can’t imagine a neighborhood that doesn’t care about street maintenance, public safety or clean streets,” Villa said.

For a neighborhood council to form, at least 11 people must participate in an election to choose a president and at least two other leadership positions. The board must meet at least twice a year and hold an election once a year to be considered officially active.

Depending on the issues in the neighborhood, elected officials, public security representatives and other city service heads will come and speak at the meetings.

One advantage is that the city will come once a year with trash cans for a neighborhood clean-up. Large items, electronic waste and green waste are collected.

This clean-up was one of the first things discussed by residents of the College Estates neighborhood after electing Beck, the guy from the Blue House, as president. Villa suggested that during the clean-up day they could recruit more people for the neighborhood council meetings.

It can be difficult to get civic participation. When College Estates held its first meeting on Wednesday, about 30 minutes passed with just 10 residents in attendance. To have an election, you need at least 11 people.

A resident said her husband was not feeling well. She still managed to get him to come and suddenly a quorum was established.

The group elected Beck as leader and Eddie Martinez as co-chair.

“Congratulations, College Estates, you are now officially active,” said Aranda.

Martinez said he spent most of the day calling his neighbors to come to the meeting. Some told her they couldn’t come because it was Mexican Mother’s Day. Some said they would come but did not show up. Other times he had an answering machine.

“I’m disappointed that there aren’t more neighbors involved, but they have their own lives,” he said.

Martinez has lived near Oxnard College since the early 2000s, and the area has aged.

“The neighborhood is always good, but I want to make sure it’s the best,” Martinez said.

Another newly formed council is Southwinds, located in the southernmost corner of town. The board had been inactive for seven years.

“It’s an area with a large immigrant community that needs more education to know its rights,” said Celeste Gamino, a local community activist. “The more we educate them, the more we let them know that their voice is important.”

Gamino was among the volunteers who handed out flyers to launch the Southwinds Neighborhood Council. In one of the first meetings, Police Chief Scott Whitney spoke to the community about eviction issues. Whitney told an audience of around 100 that local police would not inquire about immigration status or enforce federal immigration laws.

“It’s a good sign that they want to be engaged,” Villa said of the Southwinds’ involvement. “They just don’t know where.”

For more information, call nearby city services at 385-7424. Neighborhood councils are also on Facebook at www.facebook.com/OxnardInterNeitherhoodCouncils.


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