City council members have had it with their fellow council member Jaime Soto. That was clear at Monday’s meeting when the four council members in unison,at the end of the meeting during council comments, voiced their opposition to his “grandstanding” and the “spreading of misinformation.”
They asked the city attorney for legal guidance to demand that Soto stop using the city seal and the names of council members on a self published newsletter that Soto has produced and distributed to local residents.
The bottom of the newsletter titled “Inside The City Of San Fernando” indicates the newsletter was paid for with Soto’s campaign funds.
“The newsletter layout implies that it is approved and sanctioned by the City and the City Council. The City seal is used as his photo background, and all Council members are listed on the front page. I want to be clear that the newsletter,and its content, is not approved by City Council. Although it appears that it is, given the reference to City business and the City logo,” said City council member Sylvia Ballin.
Ballin responded to each of the claims made in Soto’s newsletter, methodically taking it apart point by point. She read a lengthy prepared statement addressing the city’s sewer system, ficus trees, the JC Penney project and city workers.
Mayor Joel Fajardo, Council members Antonio Lopez and Robert Gonzales supported her comments., and took strong issue with Soto’s newsletter. “I don’t want my name used on your propaganda,” Councilman Robert Gonzales said.
In an article referencing the project to restructure the parking lot area for the recently constructed Chipotle and Yogurt Land, Soto’s newsletter contained clip art of men shaking hands with one hand and exchanging money with the other hand.
“Images of what look like a payout on your newsletter are personally offensive as they attack the integrity, reputation and professionalism of myself and my colleagues and City staff that have been working tirelessly for the betterment of the community,” Ballin said.
“Councilmember Soto’s misstatements, and innuendo’s with clip art, are putting the City in harm’s way. I would also like to state for the record that several residents, business owners, and City workers find your newsletter offensive and have indicated they will take legal action. You could be personally sued and you put the city at risk.”
Since his election last March, Soto’s penchant for self promotion and his use of sweeping and accusatory comments have caused his fellow council members to bristle. But, up until now, they tolerated him and considered him “a newbie with an ego”
At times they were even somewhat amused that Soto in campaign material referred to himself as the city’s “savior.” Now they are taking issue with his claim of being the “only independent council member without special interest.”
Soto has longtime ties to the Montanez family and former recalled council member Maribel De La Torre, as well as the muscle he received during his campaign from his sister, Mimi Soto, a former SEIU representative for the city, who also had a reputation steeped in controversy. Cindy Montanez after two failed attempts for L.A. City council has returned to the City of San Fernando and has become an active supporter of Soto.
When Soto first took office, Mayor Joel Fajardo would tell the other members of the council that he was “mentoring” Soto, urging him to dial his bravado down.
Fajardo told the San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol that he would meet with Soto and believed he was “getting better and showing progress.” Soto was encouraged to read his agenda packet prior to the council meetings instead of using public council time to ask a string of basic questions.
Early on, Fajardo said he felt it was his responsibility to take Soto under his wing. “What was I supposed to do? Cast him into darkness? I saw it as my job as Mayor to work with him.”
But the recent newsletter that questioned the accountability and integrity of the council and city staff was the tipping point for them on Monday. Adding to the problems, city staff have complained that they have felt “harassed,” by Soto and his demands have disrupted their ability to get their day to day work done.
“He has done all he can to incite and divide this community,” said Ballin, who laid out the chain of events that brought the town to near bankruptcy.
“Council’s (prior to Soto being elected) difficult decisions to furlough, cut staffing, and implement every cost saving measure possible, including asking our resident to vote for a ½ cent sales tax increase,” Ballin said. “As an example of a poor decision made by past City Councilmembers, at one time the City had an $11 million reserve; instead of spending those millions on street, sewer, and infrastructure repair, our $11 million reserves (plus more) was spent on a $13.7 million swimming pool that was clearly was not sustainable.” The Regional pool, a vanity project of De La Torre, in the end had to be turned over to the County of Los Angeles because it’s operation was literally bleeding the small town dry.
Mayor Fajardo said that Soto has listed problems but not solutions. “It’s easy to point out problems but I have yet to hear solutions …are you proposing to cut programs or have pay freezes?” Fajardo said he agreed with Ballin and called Soto’s newsletter “extremely problematic” and falsely gives the public the impression that the council hasn’t taken action on the sewer system. “It indicates a failure of very capable city employees and it implicates the failure of this council. “ and I suggest that you fact check.”
“This newsletter is quite accurate,” maintained Soto. “We haven’t had a council member in a long time that is independently run. I’m on the side of the community. This community is by my side and community and I won’t be intimidated by empty threats, but I will continue to trailblaze and will continue to be truthful and be honest and telling the truth with everyone I meet. I will continue to be truthful and come from a place of honesty and integrity and with everyone I meet in telling the truth.”
“That’s entertainment,” Ballin responded. To that, Soto referenced his college students and council members Lopez and Fajardo quickly replied, “We are not your college students.”
City Attorney Rick Olivarez told the San Fernando Valley Sun / El Sol that he would be looking into the council’s concerns.