Shades of Arizona, Part III

A sense of fair play and the "American way" gets put to the test in San Fernando, California

By Editor, San Fernando Sun
Published on LatinoLA: July 5, 2012

Shades of Arizona, Part III

Originally published in the San Fernando Sun, July 5, 2012;

The Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder has certified recall petitions to remove Mayor Brenda Esqueda and Council members Mario Hernandez and Maribel De La Torre in the City San Fernando.

Julian Ruelas, an organizer of the recall effort, announced that he was informed by San Fernando City Clerk Elena Chavez that enough valid signatures had been gathered to hold a recall election to remove the trio, which has been at the center of scandal.

For several months, residents attempted to appeal to the council members asking them to step down to spare the city the expense of a recall election, but they refused, and a recall committee formed. The committee started a petition drive at the end of last year in an effort to oust the three council members.

According to the clerk's office, organizers easily surpassed the required 2,029 signatures required.

The City Council now must schedule a recall election, with the vote expected in October or November.

"It's crucial now for the survival of the city that these people be replaced,'' Ruelas said.

Recall organizers have a long list of misdeeds from violations of the Brown Act, conflict of interest votes and a string of poor decisions and embarassing fiscal mismanagement that recall organizers believe has caused several lawsuits against the city, and adversely affected the city's financial standing in the World's view.

For residents, the tipping point was when it became public that the three have been embroiled in sex scandals, with council man and former Mayor Hernandez publicly admitting an affair with council woman De la Torre from the council dais, and Esqueda being sexually involved with San Fernando police Sgt. Alvaro Castellon.

Esqueda, has been criticized for using her council position to protect Sgt Castellon from being placed on administrative leave. Castellon was named in a lawsuit by a former cadet who accused him of threatening her that she "could disappear."

The three supported hiring and returning Police Chief Anthony Ruelas to his post, even though it was revealed that he was sexually involved with the same cadet.

It's been noted by community members that the three council members have never apologized to the community for the storm of negative media coverage and fallout following their scandals.

Instead the trio accused the recall organizers efforts' of being led primarily by the police officers' union and pathetically claimed they were attempting to fight corruption in the police department. However, they have never provided any evidence of corruption.

Ruelas said although the recall election is months away, he and the other committee members are confident that residents will come out and vote. "They were anxious to sign the petition and they want them gone," he said.

San Fernando Police Association President Irwin Rosenberg supports this action, publically adding:

Winds of change are coming! This week we received the very long awaited welcome news from the County of Los Angeles and our City Clerk. The signatures for the Recall petition have been certified and we will now have the opportunity to change the course and direction of the good City of San Fernando.

This historic special election will allow the residents of this community to restore integrity in City Hall and end the patronage demanded by the City Council's majority, Mayor Brenda Esqueda, and Councilmembers Mario Hernandez and Maribel De La Torre. If they care at all about this City, they will now simply step down to avoid being driven out through this election.

As we embark on this special election, which the City Council must schedule and will happen before the year's end, I ask you to remember why we got to this crucial point. It is why as a City we face significant financial challenges. The City's proposed budget reflects almost $18 million dollars in expenses with just less than $17 million in revenues expected to come in. The revenue projections are optimistic at best and include an expectation by the City Council Majority that residents will face increased code enforcement fines. The budget reflects more than a 75% increase in fine revenue meaning code enforcement officers must issue more citations. It also reflects an unrealistic projection of $200K in collected fees for people arrested and booked, something not done before and impossible with 7 less officers in past two years.

Even more ridiculously, the budget includes $335K for augmenting pool operating costs with general funds, the equivalent of 3 full time police officer's salaries and benefits, another legacy of incompetent decision making by the Majority Three lead by Councilmember De La Torre.

While businesses continue to leave this City, driven away by Mayor Esqueda's, and Councilmembers Hernandez and De La Torre's lack of credible leadership and vision, they set priorities for the City which include a 4th of July fireworks event, which is only possible because they demand patronage of the trash companies bidding on an upcoming contract for the City's Waste services.

Their other top priorities are a shopping cart ordinance and raising money for snack bars at the parks and building a Skate park. It is important to provide recreational activities for our community's children, something the police officers of this community support, but public safety is NOT EVEN mentioned on their list of priorities. If our City streets and parks are not safe, no one will use a skate park or feel safe at our park baseball diamonds.

In the past two years, the police department has been reduced by almost 20% in budget and staffing and crime rates are beginning to climb and it is taking longer to get a police officer to respond due to lack of resources. The City Council Majority's answer to this is to make a policy decision to leave vacant police officer positions unfilled as officers leave.

Good, capable Police Officers will leave this city because pay has been cut ,and they have been treated with contempt and disrespect, as the council majority has demanded their patronage in doing all they can to eliminate those who stand up to them. Is it possible Esqueda, De La Torre and Hernandez want to erode the police ranks to the point where they are ineffective so then they can personally contract with the sheriff?

Please don't forget the Council Majority just last month snubbed the LA City Fire Department, canceling an event that would have showcased the services provided by our Fire Department and Police Department.

The City Council Majority claimed it was because of a lack of the City of Los Angeles providing specific liability language for a certificate of insurance.

This was simply a smoke screen for the truth. Esqueda and De La Torre were upset the event was not a showcase for THEM to take credit, and their egos were insulted after they tried to run LA City Fire out of town and jeopardize all our health and safety with a private fire department, an action declared to be illegal by the State Attorney General.

This past weekend, a group of residents, led by the Recall Committee leadership and business leaders held a rally to save JCPenneys. They have waged a noble fight. They lead this fight because the City Council Majority again doesn't have the skill set, knowledge, and capabilities to wage this fight intelligently, or convince JC Penney's to stay.

The event was allowed and pushed through by the Council Majority, unlike the Fire Department event, only because Mayor Esqueda was provided a role and forum through this event to try to look as if SHE was doing something to prevent business from exiting our City. Business leaders, labor leaders, like the Police Officers I represent, and most important, the residents know better and want as well as demand change.

The winds of change are coming and the County's certification of the recall signatures provides great hope for th good people of San Fernando. We need competent leaders with vision, integrity, courage, common sense, moral and ethical values that provide examples for us and our children and not people who will continue to morally, ethically and financially bankrupt this City and demand the patronage of others.

...and life goes on in San Fernando, California...

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Shades of Arizona in San Fernando! Part II

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