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Barbs Continue at San Fernando Council Meeting PDF Print E-mail
Written by Alex Garcia Sun Contributing Writer   
Thursday, 06 September 2012 04:27

De La Torre Questions $1,500 Payment for Music at Rally to Save JC Penney; Mayor Says Money came from Sponsors

The political alliance between Mayor Esqueda and Councilwoman Maribel De La Torre appeared strained Tuesday as the two sniped sharply back and forth from the council dais.

The JCPenney store that recently closed in the city of San Fernando caused some of their verbal sparing, over a $1,500 payment to musicians from the band War that performed at a public and city supported rally held to raise community awareness about the store's closing and show community support for keeping the store open.

City councilwoman Maribel De La Torre took issue with the payment saying she never knew about it. "That item was not brought to us," De La Torre said sharply. "I'm extremely disappointed," she continued.

This sparked a verbal spat with Mayor Brenda Esqueda who, along with city administrator Al Hernandez, told De La Torre that the $1,500 fee was covered by sponsors and the money did not come from the city's general fund.

"This was not $1,500 of taxpayer money," said Esqueda. As for De La Torre not knowing about it, Esqueda told De La Torre that she didn't know about it because "we called a special meeting, you did not show up. We were here waiting."

"I get it from here, I get it from there," said Esqueda of the criticism being levied against her by De La Torre who accused her of not following the rules and deciding on the matter without a council majority.

The $1,500 payment was made to drummer Sal Rodriguez and his band, who provided the entertainment for the rally. According to Esqueda and Hernandez, the money was covered by Rydell, the San Fernando Mall Association and other sponsors.

The rally, widely covered by media was held in the store's parking lot front of the store and was the first public effort by residents to gather in a show support for keeping the store in the city it. Many signed a petition that was circulated and various people spoke including actor Danny Trejo and City Councilman Richard Alarcon. De La Torre said she never supported the effort and still does not see what good came of it.

"Paying $1,500 for a band at a rally is not my way of engaging JCPenney," she said, suggesting that a better way to engage the company would have been flying out to the company's headquarters in Texas to meet with executives.

Layoffs and furloughs

Layoffs and furloughs continue to be a reality for municipal employees, although the city council has yet to take action. Irwin Rosenberg, President of the Police Officers Association (POA), expressed the organization's opposition to the city taking such measures public Rosenberg said the POA has presented the city with a proposal to deal with the budget issues without "any more cuts to the police department."

Rosenberg also pointed the finger at former mayor Mario Hernandez who resigned his seat on the council last month along with and the "council majority" (Esqueda, Hernandez and De La Torre) for delaying labor negotiations and the "mismanagement" that are now responsible for the financial troubles the city faces.

However, Mayor Esqueda recognized that they are looking at furloughs and layoffs and asked city administrator Al Hernandez "Are we in this situation because of this city council mismanagement?," which prompted chuckles and laughs from the residents in the council chambers.

It has become the practice of Esqueda to solicit support from Hernandez during the meeting. Observers have noted that it would not be in the city administrator's best interest to publicly disagree with Esqueda, although Hernandez has expressed his concern about the state of the city's finances. "No, it was due to circumstances beyond the control of the council," responded Hernandez, adding that new state laws and delays in labor negotiations also contributed to the problem.

Public comments

The public comment portion of the council continued to illicit negative comments that have been flying around for months, from the dais as well as from the floor.

This time was no exception.

Margie Carranza, who previously claimed to be a Sylmar resident when she ran for state office, now said that she lives in San Fernando, continues to be at the center of the commotion.

Carranza has made some strong accusations and has defended Mayor Esqueda, former councilman Hernandez and De La Torre. She has accused and was once again at the center of them, defending councilmembers facing a recall election in November (Esqueda and De La Torre) and asking for a reprimand of Mayor Pro Tem Antonio Lopez for "overstepping his duties" and accused him of claiming to be the mayor while Esqueda was available.

The evidence of her claim stems from a press conference called a couple of weeks ago after JCPenney hired a company to remove the sign from the store in the middle of the night.

The next day, Aszkenazy Development, owners of the building convened the media to denounce JCPenney for taking the clandestine action, given that the building and the sign are in the middle of being designated historical sites.

Esqueda disrupted the news conference and announced that she was not invited to the press conference and accused Lopez of "running around the city saying he was the mayor."

But Carranza's comments were cut short by City Attorney Maribel Medina, who told her the comments were political and she could not discuss political campaigning.

However, Carranza's continued to speak, even after the 3- minute buzzer sounded, when she began asking for someone to give her a blue speaker card, but nobody would give it to her.

Esqueda then got into an oral argument with a resident who asked for her to treat everybody equal, and challenged her for letting Carranza speak past her time limit.

"I don't know where all respect has gone," complained Esqueda to the city attorney. "Let's respect one another," she pleaded.

"This is embarrasing, this is a shame," Esqueda murmured later. But residents have expressed frustration that Esqueda has exhibited a double standard in allowing more time to speak for those that support her versus those that do not and has not abided by the "decorum ordinance" that Esqueda put in place. Residents have also complained about the presence of Esqueda's boyfriend San Fernando police Sgt. Alvaro Castellon who has used "intimidation tactics" by videotaping residents at council meetings Ralph Perez, Esqueda's father, also showed up to plead for respect for council members.

"I would like us to examine our hearts and our motives," he said. "I haven't agreed with a lot of councils in the past, and with all of this one's, but I tell you, accusers and non accusers, the council is not your enemy," he said, before quoting from the Bible about "loving your enemy."

"Let's examine our hearts. If anybody is without sin, let him throw the first stone," he added lifting his cell phone to represent the "stones" and asking if anybody wanted to throw stones. No one got up.

Long-time council critic Patty Lopez also spoke and chastised Esqueda and De La Torre for "continuing to bring people to attack residents."

"Nobody's respecting you because you're not respecting people," Lopez told them. "Margie (Carranza) is already telling a lot of lies about me. Maribel you're just using people."

However, De La Torre took time to "clarify" these allegations and denied asking or bringing residents to the council to speak on her behalf.

"I will never ask anyone. I don't persuade anybody. I do not bring any residents to attack city councilmembers or other people," she said.

"Whatever" said someone from the audience and De La Torre quickly followed with "Who said whatever? Chief, I want that person removed." But City Attorney Medina told her the Rules Decorum approved by the council a few months ago require a warning before someone is escorted out of the room.

Former councilmember Mario Hernandez also sought to clarify comments made against him by Rosenberg saying he did not delay negotiations and a lot of comments were "half truths and lies." He also took time to criticize council member Sylvia Ballin and mayor pro tem Lopez.

He also said he found it "ironic that my former employer (Aszkenazy Development) did not question my financial abilities as I managed his newspaper receivables and other investments, the UPS store."

Hernandez, however was "His statement is an exaggeration of his duties while at ADI. He was never in a management position," said Martha Diaz Aszkenazy, ADI vice president .

Hernandez' who resigned his council seat last month after filing a restraining order against his girlfriend Maribel De La Torre, following a physical fight that he reported to police and De La Torre is currently facing charges for vandalism and battery.

Hernandez has since attempted to convince the court to drop the charges against De La Torre but the District Attorney's office is pursuing the case. Hernandez when announcing his resignation said he was doing so the "city could heal," but residents including council member Sylvia Ballin has grown tired of his antics. At a prior meeting, Hernandez called Rosenberg names from the back of the room and then later accused Rosenberg of making an inappropriate remark and filed a complaint against Rosenberg.

Rosenberg called Hernandez' accusation a fabrication. "It never happened," he said.

Hernandez has made it a practice at each council meeting to try to be the last one heard during the public comment period, but his comments fell on deaf ears and back of Council member Ballin who let her displeasure with Hernandez known by turning her council chair around.

"Thank you for your back city councilmember," Hernandez said.

Last Updated on Friday, 07 September 2012 21:04