It’s been nearly two years since Ventura County District Attorney Greg Totten launched a major corruption probe in Oxnard. And it’s been a little more than year since City Manager Ed Sotelo stepped aside on paid administrative leave.
In that time, the region’s largest and most economically powerful city has operated under a cloud, facing a deep recession with far less than the full arsenal of tools that it needs to chart a comeback course. Yes, Totten should take all the time he needs to mount a thorough investigation.
But the time is growing near when it’s appropriate for Totten to announce the results of his probe and hand down indictments, if that’s the case, or issue a no-action letter and step away.
Of most immediate concern in the city is the threat by Haas Automation, one of its biggest employers, to establish a new manufacturing facility out of state. This is a threat that must be taken seriously, and it likely requires intervention by Gov. Jerry Brown or Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, the governor’s point person on economic development.
However, it is extremely difficult for statewide politicians to intervene in a situation where the people they’re dealing with are under a legal cloud. The Haas Automation situation needs to be addressed now, and Oxnard needs to do it without the cloud of the corruption probe hanging over City Hall.
Another issue is the future ownership of the city’s trash transfer station, currently under management of Republic Services. The city was close to awarding a contract when the probe was launched, and it has held back, keeping Republic on the job. By all accounts, Republic has performed well in managing the station, but neither it nor its competitors has a clear path forward.
Ending the corruption probe will allow the city to bring certainty to the future of this important facility. The list of issues facing Oxnard is long — it is trying to go to voters for approval for a special levy to support economic development efforts, it is facing increased interest in its long-dormant RiverPark retail shopping complex, and there could be additional opportunities for light industrial development.
But first, the district attorney must decide what actions to take, if any, on his corruption probe. Otherwise the city’s future, especially when it comes to big projects that could create hundreds of jobs, remains up in the air.