Harbor commissioners charged this week that giving two local cities greater control over the Port of Hueneme could jeopardize the commission's attempts to gain more of the world trade market.
But the city manager of Port Hueneme, which abuts the 80-acre port, argued that his city and Oxnard are fed up with a port government that continues to ignore their concerns about noise, traffic and air pollution.
The charges and countercharges continued to fly as the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO), in charge of county boundaries and special districts, postponed a decision on changing the boundaries of the Oxnard Harbor District, which governs the port.
The 400-square-mile district now includes Oxnard, Port Hueneme, Camarillo, a portion of Thousand Oaks and some unincorporated areas of the county. Only one of the five harbor commissioners is from Oxnard. None lives in Port Hueneme.
The cities of Oxnard and Port Hueneme want to shrink the district by 70% so commissioners are elected only from their two cities, which they say bear most of the adverse effects from the port.
But the current commissioners claim that the port affects all 630,000 county residents and should be governed by a seven-member body elected from the entire county. A countywide district also would increase the prestige of the port and help advance its plea for federal support.
Meanwhile, cities around the county have entered the fray.
Some contend that Oxnard and Port Hueneme want to control the port so they can raid its treasury and increase city funds.
Oxnard and Port Hueneme deny such accusations, saying that the current harbor commissioners don't care about their neighbors and are interested only in keeping their posts.
So far, Camarillo and Moorpark--and the Oxnard Chamber of Commerce--have sided with current harbor commissioners. Simi Valley and Ojai, though, maintain that the district should be shrunk.
Everyone agrees, however, that the current district boundaries, drawn in 1937 to conform to the Oxnard High School District, are useless.
"The boundaries of the district are very capricious and arbitrary," said Bob Braitman, LAFCO's executive officer, who is expected to release a report favoring one of the proposals in the near future.
LAFCO recommended in 1972 and again in 1985 that the boundaries be changed to encompass the entire county. At those times, however, the required formal steps were not taken.
In 1978, the cities of Port Hueneme and Oxnard made an unsuccessful bid to abolish the district and run the port themselves.
Relations between the port and surrounding cities have been troubled at best, said Port Hueneme City Manager Dick Velthoen.
"I would say the port wants to maximize the port's opportunities at the expense of the local community," Velthoen said.
A $15,000 study commissioned by the two cities showed that Oxnard and Port Hueneme reap about 85% of the indirect economic rewards from the port.
But they also pay for the roads damaged by passing trucks and the police and fire services used by the port.
It was not until 1983 that the port entered into an agreement with Port Hueneme to pay a percentage of its $4-million gross annual revenues for road upkeep. Nonetheless, the port is unresponsive to city needs, Velthoen said.
"The port hasn't done anything for the city or for Oxnard willingly without the threat of denial of a permit or a lawsuit," Velthoen said.
The port's executive director, Anthony Taormina, however, said he thought the relationship had been as amicable as ones between most neighboring jurisdictions.
"While we've had disputes and differences of opinion, the results of the disputes have been resolved and gone forward," Taormina said. "I think all the parties will work together."
He said he thought shrinking the district would hurt the port.
"If we become a smaller entity, I'm afraid some regional aspects of the port won't be maintained," Taormina said.
Commissioners concurred, questioning the ability of other people to run the port.
"We're involved in trade in four continents," said Commissioner Ray Fletcher. "The present harbor commission is successful in increasing the port's revenue."
The Port of Hueneme handles about 1% of the total tonnage of cargo that comes through the West Coast, mainly automobiles and fresh fruit.
Taormina said he would like to see the port capture another 1% of the market--1 million tons of cargo--by 1995.
The port took preliminary steps last month to put in an automated cargo-transporting system that could spin off more than 2,000 jobs and bring about $530 million into Ventura County.
Omniport Hueneme would be one of five such computerized terminals in the nation. By increasing the port's ability to handle cargo, it would help increase the business the port could do, Taormina said.
The plan is also a bargaining chip in negotiations with U.S. Customs to grant the Port of Hueneme a Port of Entry status. Taormina, who returned last week from a working session with customs officials in Washington, said he is hopeful that the port will be granted the status by May.
The status would designate federal funds for the port as well as increasing its prestige, thereby attracting more business, Taormina said.
To increase the port's pulling power and "compete on an even playing field," the port needs to increase its status, Taormina said.
"Part of our change in status is perception," Taormina said.
But as the port tries to forge ahead with plans for an international future, Taormina and the port commissioners face increasingly intransigent city officials in both Oxnard and Port Hueneme.
If port government doesn't change, Port Hueneme's Velthoen bluntly warned that his city may exercise all the leverage it has.
"Any expansion has to be approved by us," Velthoen said. "If the port is really going to grow, it's going to have to grow in concert with the cities."