“Don’t worry, we’ll pay it back later,” OR, Oxnard’s debt sandwich

July 23, 2009

If Oxnard's debt was edible, it'd look something like this.

If Oxnard's debt was edible, it'd look something like this.

The timing must surely have been coincidental.

Not more than a week after Gov. Schwarzenegger informed the public that the state will need to issue IOUs to its creditors and contractors if California can’t come up with enough dough soon, our very own Oxnard votes to issue bond notes to make up for $21 million that isn’t there.

It was the next best thing the city could do short of issuing an IOU, scrawled on a City of Oxnard napkin, to a developer who pulled out of a land deal at the last minute.

Now, officials are faced with millions more in debt, on top of the millions in debt they already have, and it could be decades until it’s all paid off.

By that time, this could turn into a nasty habit and Oxnard will be further in debt, issuing IOUs and emergency bond notes to pay back money that isn’t there.

If Oxnard’s debt was a sandwich, the city better go on a diet quick, because the calories are climbing fast.

Oxnard leaders are claiming that they couldn’t have seen it coming, what with housing developer Casden pulling out and asking for a refund. But the company’s contract stated they could renege at any time.

It just so happens they waited until the eleventh hour of their deadline to do so … which is practical, really. Why not wait until your allotted time is up to feel how the housing market is going? Casden acted in their best interests.

So did Oxnard, too. They did what they thought was practical. But rather than wait as Casden did, Oxnard went right to work and used the money from the deal to make capital improvements to golf courses and recreational land.

Whether or not those improvements are practical depends on how necessary they are. Is spending millions on 18-hole landscaping worth going into debt for?

It’s not when considering the Oxnard City Council ignored the developer’s “pull-out” clause, arrogantly sure the land deal was a done deal. It wasn’t, and essentially, they spent money that wasn’t there.

Sound familiar? It should, considering that we’re talking about a city who could epitomize our local example of why the economy is in such a mess. It’s not the first time Oxnard has racked up dollar signs in the red instead of the black.

We can lambast cities like Ventura or Camarillo all we want for being slowpoke and slow-growth, but at least those towns take their time to develop until the money is there. (Most of the time, anyway.)

In a way, Oxnard is its own worst enemy. Ambition, vision and drive are all good things, but they can be detrimental when trying to achieve something one can’t afford.

It happens all the time in places of employment: there could be a vision to improve and surpass the competition, but without the manpower, the resources or financial backing, a company can fall short, or even fall behind the pack.

Oxnard should take their bond issuing predicament as a lesson learned — that bigger isn’t always better, and that patience is a virtue (especially when it comes to saving money.)

Somebody get Oxnard an antacid … there’s a debt sandwich that needs to be eaten fast.

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