OXNARD — In a tension-filled meeting, the city attorney told council members this week that Mayor Manuel Lopez's recent transit vote was invalid.
The City Council, however, agreed at its Tuesday night meeting to review an earlier decision to withhold funding from South Coast Area Transit.
Last month, the Oxnard council approved sending $1.9 million to SCAT. Lopez had voted with the council majority, but changed his mind at a June 7 SCAT board meeting and instead voted to give SCAT $2.1 million.
City Atty. Gary Gillig said Lopez's action effectively increased the city budget, which only the full council is allowed to do. Consequently, the transportation agency would not automatically receive the funds voted on by Lopez.
"The June 7 vote by the mayor has a cloud over it," Gillig said. "I would suggest that SCAT be informed that the additional money would not be coming to them because this was an invalid approval."
The council discussion was highlighted by an angry exchange between Councilman Tom Holden, who had been vocal in denouncing the mayor for his actions, and Mayor Pro Tem John Zaragoza, a Lopez supporter.
Holden said he merely was trying to understand why the mayor went against the council's original 5-0 vote and agreed to a more expensive program.
Lopez, reading from a prepared statement, said he changed his vote after receiving more information at the SCAT meeting.
"When the issue came up at the SCAT meeting I realized what I had voted for earlier, but there was more information that led me to vote for the increase," Lopez said. "I attempted to contact our city attorney for direction but he wasn't available."
Lopez said he then relied on advice from the transit agency's attorney when voting. Gillig said the transit agency's lawyer would only give advice beneficial to SCAT.
Port Hueneme Councilwoman Toni Young, who is on the SCAT board, also defended Lopez.
"What the mayor saw at the SCAT meeting gave him cause to rethink his position and maybe all of you should too," Young said.
Holden told his colleagues that Lopez's actions set a dangerous precedent of council members acting independently of the full council.
"That could be a big problem if we start doing things on our own," Holden said.
Many in the audience said the extra funding should be approved by the entire council because the service is beneficial to seniors.
"Without the SCAT service I'm an invisible prisoner," said 87-year-old Oxnard resident Sylvia Moores. "What the mayor did was right, and Mr. Holden should stop double talking and allow me and other seniors to have this service, which is the best thing that has happened to any of us senior citizens in a long time."
After Gillig said the council could reevaluate or change its vote to comply with Lopez's higher appropriation to SCAT, the council agreed to have staff provide an updated report on the issue and return the matter at its meeting on Tuesday.