Welcome to the 2012 Games of San Fernando

Accusations fly and tempers flare at a City Council meeting once more

By Alex Garcia, San Fernando Sun
Published on LatinoLA: August 21, 2012

Welcome to the 2012 Games of San Fernando

Originally published at San Fernando Sun

If sniping were an Olympic sport, the San Fernando City Council would go for the gold and probably win hands down.

Councilmember Maribel De La Torre described the Aug. 6 council meeting as a "circus" and "chaos," and she was right. Those who attended enjoyed the kind of spectacle they have grown accustomed to, and more. Only thing missing were refreshments and a program book.

Center stage for all of this was former mayor and council member Mario Hernandez. He sat in the first row next to San Fernando police Sgt. Alvaro Castellon, who videotaped most of the public comment period of the council.

Residents attending the council meeting later voiced concern that Castellon was inappropriately attempting to intimidate residents by videotaping them, and it was especially inappropriate as he is a San Fernando police officer.

Castellon, who is also Mayor Esqueda's boyfriend, has been at the center of controversy for months, and is currently under investigation by the L.A. County Sheriff's Department for telling a San Fernando police cadet that she "could disappear" for whistle blowing on the former ousted police chief with whom she had an affair. Mayor Esqueda intervened when his superiors attempted to place him on administrative leave.

Since then, interim Police Chief Jeff Eley has been placed on administrative leave after videotape of a police stop was placed on YouTube and Eley was accused of "ticket fixing " for SFV Congressman Howard Berman's congressional aide Fred Flores. Many both inside and outside of the department believe that Castellon is responsible for that video, and more recently for placing another YouTube video of Mayor Pro Tem Antonio Lopez, mocking him.

Castellon and Hernandez were there lending support to the embattled De La Torre and Esqueda, both targets of a recall election in November.

A "Soap Opera" Award"

Instead of Olympic medals, Renato Lira, a regular council attendee, gave De La Torre the "Telenovela del A??o" (Soap opera of the year) award.

Hernandez quickly asked him for his award. "YOU don't get one," Lira replied.

It was only the beginning of Hernandez' interjections for the night and an award may have been deserved for the ongoing drama De La Torre and Hernandez have provided city residents since last November when Hernandez ÔÇô then mayor of this small city ÔÇô announced their sexual relationship while his wife was sitting in the front row at a council meeting and was caught unaware in public.

Then came their physical fight in late June, which led to them filing restraining orders against each other that have since been rescinded.

But the travails continue because a police report was taken, and the Los Angeles District Attorney's office decided to press charges. De La Torre still faces those criminal charges despite Hernandez pledging to testify on her behalf.

Hernandez was not the only one in De La Torre and Esqueda's corner on this night of verbal boxing.

Also attending this meeting was Esqueda's father, Ralph Perez, who in an impassioned yet somewhat rambling and pathetic speech called for "repentance" from those demanding the recall election.

"I hear 'recall, recall, resign, resign,' but what I have not heard is 'repent,'" he said, before adding amongst the giggles, "its time to love one another with our hearts."

Marge Carranza, another local character who once ran for a political seat in Sylmar and now claims she lived in San Fernando all along, noted that, "Everyone has dirty laundry" and then accused San Fernando resident and regular council critic Patty Lopez of having an "affair with Antonio from Water and Power."

"I don't lie and I don't pass rumors," Carranza said, as many in the audience reacted with loud laughs and groans of ridicule, especially Lopez.

"Maribel's private business is her business," Carranza continued, before saying that Sev Aszkenazy of Aszkenazy Development (and co-publisher of the San Fernando Sun) "was the cause of the entire chaos in the city of San Fernando."

As the protests grew louder, including those from Councilmember Sylvia Ballin and Antonio Lopez, Carranza said to them, "Maybe you two should have been recalled." Obviously incensed, Patty Lopez took time to deny the allegations Carranza made against her of an affair. She said those accusations were orchestrated by De La Torre, who she said likes to "play dirty," and Hernandez, whom she referred to as "Mr. Sin Pantalones" (Mr. No Pants).

Hernandez again interjected with ]i]"Y tu sin calz??n"[/i] (And you without underwear) before Lopez closed her remarks by calling him "Mr. Sin Pantalones y Sin Verguenza" (No Shame).

Hernandez was adamant about passing a "decorum ordinance" to prevent disruption from the chambers while mayor. On this night, however, he continued to disrupt the council meeting.

Hernandez Takes His Shots:

Soon it was Hernandez' turn to take the podium. And now, no longer being a part of the council after resigning in the midst of another media hurricane following the domestic violence lover's quarrel with De La Torre, he seemed to enjoy being able to throw verbal darts against those who had long criticized him while during his tenure as an elected official.

Reading from what seemed to be an email, he accused Antonio Lopez of not doing anything in the year and half he's been in office. He also told Ballin she was always using the excuse of being "duped," and referred to Ballin and Antonio Lopez as "You're 'dupe it' one and you're 'dupe it' two."

Ballin and Antonio Lopez stayed quiet for the most part, enduring the barrage of accusations from the Esqueda and De La Torre camp, which continued when it came time for council comments.

Without television cameras, which had kept her mostly silent the past few meetings as the scandal over a domestic lover's fight with Hernandez developed, De La Torre was ready this time to pounce on critics like a school yard bully.

"The people have a choice to vote for a recall and council members have a right of whether to remain in their seat. This council member chooses to continue to do the work I was chosen to do," she said. "I take my job extremely serious and I'm not going to step down. If I choose to step down, it's not going to be because of a recall."

She also alleged "detectives falsified the police report" regarding her accusation of the domestic dispute with Hernandez, and said that she's been an "upstanding" council member (which prompted laughter from the audience).

"I have integrity. I am distinguished. I am what a gentleman said when I was in court -- class," De La Torre said. (more laughter from the audience).

Previously, De La Torre had criticized the "indecisiveness" on the part of Ballin and Antonio Lopez to vote on agenda items and accused them of playing games.

"I've never been indecisive. I've always taken a vote that I feel is right for the City of San Fernando," De La Torre said.

"You certainly have THAT track record," Ballin retorted.

Esqueda Gets Into The Act:

Esqueda also took time to trample on her detractors.

First, she said she did not get invited to last week's press conference prompted when a company was hired to try to remove the historical JCPenney name from the store. But she did attend, nonetheless, and accused Antonio Lopez of "running around the city yelling 'I'm the mayor.'"

Esqueda insisted she's always had the residents' "best interests at heart," and that Recall Committee leader Julian Ruelas, Aszkenazy and others have been meeting for lunch "plotting their next moves," something she called "scary."

She also accused Antonio Lopez of checking to see "which properties the city owns" to swap with Aszkenazy.

"Be aware, be careful and be scared," Esqueda said before City Attorney Maribel Medina admonished her for "politicking" about the recall while on the dais. Esqueda said it was her right to defend herself and would not curtail her remarks.

When Antonio Lopez raised his hand to address the allegations made against him, De La Torre and Esqueda quickly moved to adjourn the meeting, leaving him to continue asking for a chance to respond.

Both Ballin and Lopez had previously passed on their chance to make remarks during council comments. Only Ruelas raised his voice from the audience to say that he had invited everybody including Esqueda to that lunch, but only a few people accepted his offer.

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

Photo by Jeff Avila: Former San Fernando Mayor and council member Mario Hernandez (left) watches the proceedings while San Fernando police Sgt. Alvaro Castellon videotapes persons speaking to the city council during its Aug. 6 meeting.

About Alex Garcia, San Fernando Sun:
Originally published in the San Fernando Sun
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