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San Fernando City Council Passes Controversial Decorum Ordinance Despite Public Protest PDF Print E-mail
Written by Diana Martinez   
Thursday, 07 June 2012 04:13

A group of residents faced the council on Monday wearing tape over their mouths in protest of the decorum ordinance that the city council placed on the agenda.

Several residents spoke out about the ordinance that they said sends a strong message that punishes and discourages residents from speaking freely. But their opposition fell on deaf ears as the city council majority passed the controversial ordinance which will remove people from council chambers and impose fines on those who are considered out of order.

City council members Brenda Esqueda, Mario Hernandez, and Maribel De La Torre voted "Yes" to pass the ordinance while Council members Sylvia Ballin and Antonio Lopez voted "No."

Those who voted "Yes" are facing a recall effort by residents. .

Resident Jesse Avila, who is also a member of the local recall committee, said he along with other residents are now considering whether litigation against the city can be pursued which he points out will be more costly. "You will go farther into debt. You [council] have chosen the attorney with limited experience and you've [city attorney] proven it. Decorum goes two ways, city attorney. "

Residents have complained that while their comments have been scrutinized, members of the city council have been allowed to arbitrarily interrupt residents while they've attempted to speak during the public comment period and council members have improperly injected their comments rather than follow the protocol to speak during the council comment period.

"You lost that control," said resident Robert Ortega. "My freedom of speech was taken away from me and the people are afraid to talk now. You guys all went to the dark side and now the people don't want you. No one likes to be criticized, but you have to at least listen to the people."

Ortega referenced a recent conversation he had with former councilman Dr. Jose Hernandez, "He never imposed fines on people, when people criticized him, he said he would just go home and take an aspirin."

Mayor Esqueda said she's talked with other cities about the ordinance. "They were just very grateful that they didn't have to do this because they haven't had people coming up to the podium like we've had people coming up. I'm not trying to stop people having their right to speak, people have told me they don't like my makeup. Cursing in the chambers is not respectful."

Councilwoman Sylvia Ballin, meanwhile, said she strongly opposed the action of the council majority to impose the decorum ordinance and said people should be allowed to speak freely. She asked for clarification on fines. Following Ballin's opposition, the city amended the ordinance to further clarify that a violation of the ordinance would not be a misdemeanor but be considered an infraction.

"It will be like a parking ticket," said City Attorney Maribel Medina. City Administrator Al Hernandez said the first violation or the ordinance would impose a fine not to exceed $100 dollars, $200 will be imposed for the second violation and $500 for any further violation.

City Clerk Elena Chavez said the ordinance will go into effect in thirty days, although residents point out that the council has already imposed the ordinance during recent council meetings.

"I believe the council members should go and get training to see how meetings should go," said resident Paty Lopez. "Whatever you get right now is what you deserve. You think we will forget?," she asked. "What do you do for the business people? Nothing here [in San Fernando] compares with other places like Valencia, All of the businesses here are closing and what are you doing for those people... nothing.

"I am really disappointed that the rules that go for the residents have to go for all of you. I wish you could see how you affect the residents."

Lopez and other residents take issue with the council who they believe have encouraged the city's code enforcement to clamp down on the city's poorest residents. Last month, code enforcement officers with the San Fernando police knocked on residents doors and according to residents gave them the false impression they were looking for a police suspect but after gaining entry to their home issued tickets for code violations.

Noelia Prado said she like other residents don't have the money to pay the ticket that she believes was illegally issued to her when police with the code enforcement officer came into her home under false pretenses. "I have no answers and I don't know what to do. I feel my rights were violated and now I can't feel comfortable in my home. Every time I hear the door. There are other people who are afraid and sometimes we don't know our rights."

Prado was asked by Mayor Esqueda if she went to the Chief of Police, Gil Carrillo, with her complaint. "You think after what happened to me, you think I'm comfortable with them?" Prada said. "They [code enforcement] came into my house with the police and I don't trust them any more."

Another resident, Mrs. Rodriguez, said, like Prado, she was given a ticket that she can't possibly pay.

"My ticket is for $2,300 I have eight children and I don't have the money to pay this fine. I believe elected officials should protect me and when the police came to my residence, they made me think that they can do anything to my property. When I asked the police what the papers were ... they told told that they were there for everything and she was lucky they didn't have signed papers from a judge. I believe now that it was an illegal search and I am asking the council to look over the documents."

Last Updated on Thursday, 07 June 2012 21:00