By Diana Martinez | Editor
San Fernando’s council meetings may be a sure cure for insomnia. New Mayor Joel Fajardo hasn’t yet got a handle in understanding that plowing the agenda with endless items and then allowing those that speak to hold court will quickly clear the council chambers.
In the mix of numerous agenda items was a detailed pitch to add more staff to the city’s recreation department, a discussion of services provided by Republic, the city’s trash company, which included their billing system and difficulty in getting their customers to pay their bills, the construction of a new parking lot to accommodate new retail development, replacing problem ficus trees, the approval of sending a letter on the city’s position to the High-Speed Rail Authority, the placement of council members on committees. And there was even more. Prior to the actual meeting, council members had a closed session to discuss other issues that included the city manager’s performance review.
Mayor Fajardo wasn’t finished. He added new items that included his desire to have liaisons and a community forum on LGBTQ issues, a June event in conjunction with a Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality that would include placing the rainbow flag outside of City Hall. And Fajardo proposed to hold a “State of the City Address,” which he offered to pay for with the discretionary community contribution given to him from Republic.
The council meeting was so laborious to sit through that Jaime Soto, the newest council member one would expect would be most anxious to stay on his toes, appeared to have a tough time staying awake and throughout the meeting shut his eyes.
It was later speculated by a fellow council member that he may have been dozing when his name was called twice to vote, and twice he responded, “present,” until he somewhat sheepishly realized his mistake and said, “Oh, you want me to vote.”
But Soto came wide awake when it was his turn to talk. He provided soliloquies throughout the evening. In response to discussion about removing problem ficus trees, Soto spoke of “pinholes that are found in children’s lungs because of pollution, trees that scream when they are brought down,” and he even spoke of the Roman empire: “Nothing destroyed the Romans faster than when they brought their trees down and they were industrious like us.”
Soto, a L.A. Valley College professor who is clearly used to lecturing, may not be accustomed to some of the push back he received Monday night. In particular, fellow council members took offense with his characterization of the community of San Fernando. When discussion came up about making San Fernando a walking city, Soto maintained that it wasn’t likely as “I’m certainly for a walking city but we do have other issues to consider and a lot of Mexicanos love their cars and it’s not just one car, it’s multiple cars.”
Soto repeatedly describing San Fernando as a “working class Latino community,” and suggested that Republic was a “large corporation and should just pick up the trash..[even when people don’t pay their bills or improperly dispose of it ] said, “This is how it is … people live in multi family households, it’s an imperfect world..People come and go and there are a lot of improprieties.”
Soto’s comments and characterizations of the local community appeared to anger some of the council members who considered his remarks to be inappropriate, especially when he referenced if “yuppies came into town” or if the town was “gentrified,” it would kill the city’s culture.
Antonio Lopez and Sylvia Ballin quickly snapped back at what they viewed as Soto’s narrow portrayals of the community.
“We are not just Mexicanos in my household, and I take that in a very offensive way,” said Lopez. “We are a multicultural community and my family is multicultural and most of the people in the community are multicultural.”
Lopez said that the city needs to be open and look into the future with the current generation referred to as the “millennials.” “Our city is going to evolve, as we design for the millennials [and they like public transportation].”
Lopez pointed out that the city calls itself “visionary,” but he said, “it’s not. We have a lot to get there. We have to be open-minded and we have to do a lot to get there. As council members we make a decisions for all of the community and there is a lot of mixture.”
As the clock neared 10 p.m. Council member Ballin echoed Lopez.
“We are here to represent every member of our community and that includes our guests that come to visit us, to shop and to the courthouse and we need to embrace diversity and not to create discrimination. I don’t make decisions that way, I make business decisions for the community.”
Further clarifying her role, Ballin delivered a final message, “I am not part of a [council] majority and will not be part of a majority. I am an independent voice.”
And so the city rifts — and turns …