The Oxnard City Council has voted to study the concept of becoming a charter city, but the politically charged process could take almost a year.
Voters could decide the matter next November.
After a lengthy debate Tuesday, the City Council voted to act as a charter commission beginning in January to study the idea, as required by state law. In addition, a citizens charter advisory committee will be appointed to provide input from residents.
But the advisory committee's size remains undetermined. The mayor and several community leaders expressed concern that a proposed 17-member committee might not reflect the viewpoints of all groups within the city.
"We have to set the stage so that everyone feels they're invested" in the concept, Mayor Manuel Lopez said.
Switching from a general law to a charter city will provide a greater independence from the state, more local control and could result in greater monetary savings in the years to come, City Atty. Gary Gillig has said.
But some contend the change would remove safeguards that could result in an abuse of power.
"People are telling the government to 'stay out of my pocket,' and what else would a charter give them but the ability to stick their hand in our pockets because they are no longer restrained by general law?" said longtime resident Keni Hays.
Even though Hays said he has supported the concept of Oxnard becoming a charter city for at least 16 years--only to be rebuffed by previous councils--he said his suspicions are aroused by the sudden interest of the present council.
The city is debating hiring a consultant for the almost yearlong process, at an estimated cost of about $40,000.
Ventura is presently the county's only charter city.