MY TURN-I received a lot of questions asking me how I felt about Councilmember Felipe Fuentes (District 7) announcing that he would not run for election in 2017. I have been critical of him and his rather cavalier attitude toward most of his constituents. In fact, much of the central and northeast parts of the San Fernando Valley have not been well served by their elected city officials.
Fuentes is well known for not answering questions. And so is his staff. I have asked them all to state their points-of-view on issues I have covered in my articles. All have neglected to answer any queries, either negatively or positively. I don't take this personally because many of his constituents have also been ignored, and I’m not even a constituent. However, as my dear departed Mother would say, that is just plain rude!
The Los Angeles Times ran an interview with Fuentes in which he spoke about his sixteen years of public service. He gave the impression that he was burned out, that he could no longer give his constituents the service they deserved if he opted for a second term. I was rather taken back since I had yet to discover what services he had actually devoted to them in his first term.
His comments sounded rather noble, but what the interview did not disclose were the other factors involved -- including angry constituents. In September, Fuentes announced that the space occupied by the Sunland Tujunga Neighborhood Council (STNC) for the last eleven years would have to be vacated in November. He also gave an eviction notice to the Substation of LAPD housed in the same city-owned building.
He had decided to rent the space (for $1.00 a year) to two non-profit organizations involved in helping the homeless. A great hue and cry was raised both in CityWatch and by other Valley news outlets and social media. All the protest came to naught; the STNC and the LAPD had to find new homes.
Apparently, the City Council doesn't interfere with decisions made by individual Councilmembers, even when the Councilmember is not truthful in the file on which he is asking them to vote.
Fuentes claimed that the change would free up space for groups that address homelessness and other community issues. “I'm not going to be apologetic for bringing more services into the district,” he said.
Adding to the intrigue was an aide to US Rep. Tony Cardenas, who also represents part of the Valley. She disclosed last year that she had received a subpoena to appear before a Federal grand jury. Months later, the LA Times reported that several aides to another Valley officeholder, CM Nury Martinez, had also received subpoenas.
Fuentes' district director, Yolanda Fuentes Miranda, went before the grand jury in December. The councilman declined to comment on Miranda, who happens to be his aunt, but said her appearance had nothing to do with his decision to leave after one term.
Last September, when I began my research into District 7, I found that none of the NCs and non-profit groups were ready to go on record with their opinions of Fuentes – even though he is not running for re-election. Such reticence would indicate that they were afraid of retribution.
Northeast Valley politics has existed as a kind of political stronghold for a long time. Some stakeholders refer to groups in power as "the cartel" or "the machine." I don't think they mean they are literally relatives of the Mexican cartels or have anything to do with the drug trade, but they have pretty much picked the winners of the various electoral races in their area for several years.
One big exception, and what I think precipitated a grassroots push back, was the election of Assembly Member Patty Lopez who upset and defeated Raul Bocanegra. Incumbent Bocanegra was supposed to become speaker of the State Assembly…but Patty Lopez threw a nice monkey wrench into that plan.
It is rumored that there are grand jury ethics questions related to that election. Staff members from three different political offices were supposedly sent as “supervisors” and “watchdogs” for the recount of the Lopez/Bocanegra votes – all while working for other politicians.
I had a business office in Mexico for more than 20 years. Some of the political nepotism I see here is reminiscent of how political jobs were handed out down there during those times.
There are quite a number of staff positions occupied by people with the names “Fuentes” and “Padilla.” Some of them must be related to the elected office holders and their titular boss, Alex Padilla.
District 7 is really a microcosm of Los Angeles. There are ranchers seeking to retain the rural flavor of the area and they fight against most development. There are pockets of extreme poverty and a huge homeless population, attracting drug dealers, thieves and other ne'er-do-wells. There are also middle class sub-divisions and gated communities. The terrain is both hilly and urban inner city. There is a large Latino population and a conservative white group. The region runs the gamut on the economic scale.
The Bullet train is causing a great deal of stress to many residents. Plans now call for it to run through the middle of some of these Northeast communities. And El Nino will probably flood the Tujunga Wash where developers want to build 250 upscale homes.
But despite all these real and potential difficulties, residents of the Northeast Valley have seen that grassroots efforts can make a difference. A new group, initiated by Sunland Tujunga community leaders late last year, now has over 2500 Facebook members on its page called, "An Open Letter to CD7." It has spread to neighboring communities and they are working the social media and raising awareness.
Here is an edited look at their purpose:
OUR MISSION: CD7 Open Letter has been created to recruit members of the ST community to become signers to the open letter that the administrator will author in an effort to bring about positive change to CD7 in general and Sunland Tujunga in particular.
When the letter is complete, members will have the opportunity to decide if they support it. If they do support it, their name will be included as a signer.
The group is for people who support the following goals:
1. Cleaning out the homeless camps all over CD7.
2. Strict enforcement of vagrancy, loitering and trespassing laws.
3. Cleaning up the parks.
4. Initiation of patrols of the Wash, forest and sensitive wildlife areas to ensure that camps are not reestablished.
5. Proactive working with property owners who have been impacted by the influx of transients and trespassers caused by public policy failures…people who have no means to effectively deal with it on their own.
6. Enforcement of the homeless ordinances recently passed by the LA City Council but largely abrogated by the mayor.
Members agree that a solution should start with law enforcement. The city should work to make our streets livable and safe again and not give them over to transients and drug dealers. We believe it’s about being able to take our kids to the park or on a safe walk along the creek in Big Tujunga. It's about not being attacked in our cars by crazy people. It's about seeing new stores open because Foothill no longer looks like a mini Skid Row.
Members of this group truly want to help the homeless. We are all compassionate people, many of whom devote time and treasure to help. But unless the authorities make it more difficult to live on the streets or in the Wash and on the hillsides, no one is going to have the motivation to get help. The camps will continue to grow.
Transients who steal and the hard core drug dealers who have threatened us need to be dealt with by the authorities or, at the very least, they have to be made so uncomfortable that they relocate to other areas.
IF YOU'D LIKE TO PARTICIPATE, PLEASE VISIT HERE.
Just in the last couple of weeks, community leaders from different neighborhoods have met to talk honestly about the kind of person they would want to represent them on the LA City Council. The groups have included Republicans and Democrats, Libertarians and Independents but unfortunately (for me) no press. This is a non-partisan office. These leaders see an opening for neighbors to actually have a voice in who they elect, instead of being given just a few choices.
It is rumored that potential candidates will receive a “report card” from representatives of the entire area; their grades on the most important issues will be disseminated in the community.
Several people have indicated their desire to run. The big question is... who will be anointed by the old guard? Raul Bocanegra has already had several fund raising events; it’s rumored he wants a re-match with Patty Lopez.
I question why Fuentes decided to give so much notice in announcing his “retirement” from politics. During the next year and half he can continue to follow the same shoddy path or he can create a legacy of inclusion, putting his constituents before his personal agenda. If he would resign now the cost of a special election would be burdensome.
We will be watching his actions closely. As always, comments welcome…
(Denyse Selesnick is a CityWatch columnist. She is a former publisher/journalist/international event organizer. Denyse can be reached at: Denyse@CityWatchLA.com) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.
Vol 14 Issue 6
Pub: Jan 19, 2016