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Distrust Grows in City Council PDF Print E-mail
Written by Alex Garcia Sun Contributing Writer   
Thursday, 19 July 2012 05:18

Recall Election For Two Council Members Scheduled Nov. 6


The people of San Fernando are tired of waiting but will continue to do so.

Two similar proposals in the City of San Fernando council meeting on Monday, July 16, revealed the level of distrust that now permeates in the municipality's dais given the recent scandals that have rocked the small town.

The first item called for a special municipal election to fill the vacant position left by the resignation of Councilmember Mario Hernandez on July 10, and called for consolidating that election with the Nov. 6 general election.

The other item dealt with certifying the recall signatures collected in the city and calling for the recall election of Hernandez, fellow Councilmember Maribel De La Torre and Mayor Brenda Esqueda to be consolidated with the Nov. 6 general election.

If you're confused so far don't worry, you're not alone.

In fact, Councilmember Sylvia Ballin felt the same way and expressed it openly during the council meeting, giving way to a public display of the distrust generated by months of, "finagling and manipulation," as Ballin put it.

Ballin questioned several times why they had to vote on Hernandez' recall election separate from the other two in the council majority.

City Attorney Maribel Medina said that it was due to Hernandez' recent resignation after the media frenzy generated over a domestic fight with his girlfriend Maribel De La Torre on June 28. According to Medina, the council had two options to replace Hernandez: appoint someone or hold a special election.

But Ballin wasn't convinced.

"I want to check with the City Clerk because right now I don't trust a lot of people," Ballin said. "I want to know what I'm voting on without any finagling and manipulation."

Again Medina tried to explain the situation, adding that if no decision was made the County of Los Angeles would take over the matter.

"Well, I certainly trust the County a whole lot more," Ballin said.

Recall Election Set

At the meeting's end, there was no decision on the first agenda item dealing with only the recall of Hernandez. Instead, the council approved the second item dealing with the recall of all three council members, Hernandez, De La Torre and Esqueda, that is now scheduled for Nov. 6.

Such an action has already cost the City $10,000 in the 2011-2012 budget for services of verification of the more than 2,000 signatures collected for the recall of each of the concil members. Consolidating the recall election with the general vote will cost another $50,000 [The County is pitching in with $33,000].

The motion was approved by a vote with no objections and was received with enthusiastic applause.

"This feels great," said Recall Committee Chairman Julian Ruelas, after the motion was approved. "It seems like the City finally has a chance to get what it wants and needs."

He added that the obvious disagreement between Ballin and the city attorney "shows there's mistrust in city administration. It's disappointing, but we're happy that hopefully with this recall, the mistrust will end."

Resignation Calls Don't Stop

Once again, a large part of the public comments called for Hernandez, De La Torre and Esqueda to step down.

"What is happening in the City is crazy, deranged and undignified," said resident Dee Ackerman, who told De La Torre she did not want her to go and deprive her of the "pleasure of seeing you thrown out of City Hall."

Meanwhile, resident Patty Lopez continued to call on the trio to resign.

"Vayanse por favor (Leave please)," said Lopez, before recommending to De La Torre that she should go to counseling right away and telling her that he kept her in her prayers for all the hurt she's done to her family.

"Sorry for your loss Brenda," she told the mayor in reference to the passing of her mother, Jenny Perez. "You're just a puppet de Maribel. No tienen verguenza. Para que tienen tantos policias? Vamos traer la policia par que las saquen de su silla (You have no shame. Why do you have so much police here? We're going to bring the police to remove you from your chairs."

"You guys don't have shame," said Renato Lira, an outspoken critic of the trio, and particularly De La Torre. "Look at you sitting there as if nothing happened," he said speaking directly to De La Torre, who on Friday, July 13, turned herself in to police after being charged with assault and battery on her boyfriend, Mario Hernandez.

Hernandez resigned last week after it was revealed that both he and De La Torre had obtained restraining orders against each other following an incident of domestic violence, where Hernandez' laptop and framed artwork were smashed.

Both claimed the other assaulted them. In Hernandez' account, he said De La Torre choked him and told him that she was "going to f____n' kill him." In De La Torre's account, she said that Hernandez had slammed her on the hardwood floor of his bedroom and actually knocked her unconscious. She is claiming that Hernandez had also physically assaulted her in December of last year.

A judge must determine who is at fault during a July 24 hearing in a San Fernando courthouse.

"Resign your seat today," Lira told De La Torre, before addressing her in Spanish. "Esta señorita a hecho mucho daño (This lady has done a lot of damage). You're a traitor," he said, remembering his days working on her election campaign, when she pledged to work for the residents of the City.

"Necesitamos una persona honesta. Eres una creida" (We need an honest person. You're stuck-up)," Lira said finally finishing his comments to De La Torre.

The only dissenting voice in the public comment section was Oscar Garay, who claimed to be a psychologist, and in a rambling four minutes said people should stop with the accusations and hurtful statements, suggesting people use their energy for positive things.

He also suggested that there was some underlying issue not being address in the whole recall campaign. He also blamed Azkenazy Development for "a lot of empty buildings" in the City.

In addition and directing his comments to Ruelas, Garay said that people in the recall effort would be more credible if they were not thinking of running for city council later.

Ruelas said afterward he had no intention of running for city office.

Some sources later claimed Garay was related to De La Torre, and was obviously planted in the public comment section to favor her before the media present at the council chambers. The claim was not substantiated.

Police Department Asks For No Further Cuts

While scandals continue to plague the City of San Fernando, the budget deficit keeps growing and some city agencies don't want to see any further cuts.

Irwin Rosenberg, president of the San Fernando Police Officers Association, made that very clear during Monday's meeting.

"I'd like to make a comment on two things," Rosenberg said. "Number one, tonight you're going to go into [closed] session, you have on your agenda discussion over relations with your employees.

"As was mentioned earlier, there was a discussion over the fact that the police officers took a 4½ percent decrease in their pay in order to help meet the needs of the city. In the last two years, the city has cut the city's police department budget by almost two million dollars.

"In the last year, we have seen the loss of eight positions that are unfilled. Enough is enough, the officers have voted and I want to make sure it's very clear, their voices are very clear. They were unanimous over a month and a half ago for no further cuts," he added.

De La Torre Keeps Showing Up

De La Torre, fresh from her booking at the San Fernando Police Department, kept her composure throughout the meeting and once again sat stoically while people called for her resignation.

And once again, she left the chambers right away after the end of the meeting without making any comments to the waiting media.

"It's shocking to see you every time (at the council meeting)," resident Carolina Perez told De La Torre. "I think you have a lot of courage.

"Brenda, you're destroying the city, and Maribel you too," Perez told them. "Take the people seriously."

Then, Perez began speaking in Spanish and repeating her calls for resignation.

"Como quieren que se los diga? (How do you want me to tell you this? I don't know what language you want?)" she told them.

Even Councilmember and Mayor Pro Tem Antonio Lopez called for Esqueda and De La Torre to resign during the general council comments.

"We owe the residents of San Fernando some stability. As elected officials, we're supposed to be role models. I urge you to resign your council seats and focus on your personal life," Lopez said.

During her public comments, Ballin said "this is a very challenging time for all of us," and pledged that she would work with the council to get things done.

"I'm going to focus on city business and put the city first for the next few months," Ballin said.

Meanwhile, Esqueda, who was spared a lot of criticism due to the recent loss of her mother, adjourned the meeting in her honor.

"I'd like to close this meeting in memory of my mom who always made it easy for me to come to a council meeting and take votes that were not always popular," she said while crying.

"Always seeing her there (in the audience) gave me support, until some people told her it was best for her to stop coming to these meetings due to all the comments no one should ever have to hear about their daughter. I love you Mommy," she said, taking a swipe at her critics.

Today, July 19th, the Recall Committee is inviting residents to a Town Hall meeting to discuss the qualities of candidates they would like to see for the recall election as well as the issues they would like those candidates to address, should they be elected.

The meeting starts at 6 p.m. in the Valley Family Center, 312 S. Brand Blvd., in San Fernando.

Last Updated on Thursday, 19 July 2012 05:22