Controversy, it seems, is never far from San Fernando City Hall.
The June 5 council meeting included parents asking the council to “do something about affordable housing,” Councilmember Joel Fajardo defending himself against having a possible conflict of interest, and Councilmember Jaime Soto accusing assistant city attorney Olivarez Madruga of “colluding” with special interests while at the same time being warned himself about violating the Brown Act.
During public commentary, Spanish-speaking parents whose children attend San Fernando Elementary School urged the council to do something about high rents and the lack of available housing, alluding to the legalization of converted garages and accessory dwelling units (ADUs), also known as “granny flats.”
One parent, Marina Diaz, said she was concerned about the “people and children on the street that have an impact in the schools.” She said children cannot learn at school if they are worried about living on the street.
“What we want above all else is for there to be housing, because there is none. We want garages to be rented to people, with dignity,” she said.
Another parent, Raul Gomez, said he was concerned about people who cannot afford high rents, and inquired how he can receive a permit to convert his garage. He said he had previously inquired at City Hall and was turned away, but now he has heard that ten permits have been issued.
“So as a homeowner, I am here to find out how can I go about to get a permit to fix my garage. What do I need to get the permit or what did these ten people do to obtain that permit?” he asked.
The council had three items on its agenda regarding ADUs, including an “urgent” ordinance that was to be voted on.
The ordinance, U-1666, would have imposed restrictions on second dwelling units and converted garages, which became legal in California on Jan. 1. The city ordinance would limit ADUs to be no more than 640 square feet, and would require covered parking on the property for both the main home and second dwelling.
“Why the rush? Do you plan on building something on your home? Are you going to convert your garage? Why such a rush?” asked San Fernando resident Brenda Perez .
Former Assemblymember Patty Lopez, a San Fernando resident, told the council to represent the city’s families, not just businesses and special interests.
“Listen to the residents not businesses,” Lopez said. “Your job is to represent all, not only the people that has money. I’m happy that you are going to approve housing for families, but our families are first, not your compadre o comadre. Our families come first.”
The council decided to delay the vote until the entire council was present (Councilmember Robert Gonzales was absent this meeting). So the current state regulations stand, allowing the units to be up to 1,200 square feet and does not require parking to be added if an additional unit is built or a garage is converted.
Resident Adriana Gomez asked why the council did not come up with restrictions before the state law took effect. She questioned Fajardo — who wanted to pass the ordinance that night — how he can sit on the committee to regulate the secondary units, when he has submitted an application to build one on his property.
“My question is, are the recommendations for the ad-hoc committee for your benefit or the community’s?” she asked.
To defend himself, Fajardo started pointing fingers. He blamed previous city manager, Brian Saeki, for being unorganized and not notifying the city council of the state law. He then pointed out that as an Assemblymember, Lopez “voted to support this measure not once but twice.”
“Then to have all these head shakes and huff and puff, and nods,” Fajardo continued before Mayor Sylvia Ballin cut him off and advised him it is not wise for council members to point out people in the audience.
Councilmember Antonio Lopez contributed little to the ruckus, but did express frustration with his colleagues.
“I don’t understand the complexity of this item. And we just spinning around, around, and around I don’t know how many more layman’s terms can you put it up here,” he said.
The back and forth seemed to have ended, with the council going through the reminder items of the agenda without conflict, until the last item, number 10, was addressed: discussion regarding female veteran housing and additional apartments land use in San Fernando.
Soto complained of being “strongarmed” by City of San Fernando attorneys not to bring up the issue then went on to say the city could face a potential lawsuit from a letter dated March 24, 2016. Attorney Richard Padilla broke in, saying Soto was disclosing topics “that are confidential topics of closed session that put the city at legal peril.” He said Soto was violating the Brown Act in doing so.
Soto remained defiant, saying he wanted it put on record that Madruga “failed” to provide information to the council about the litigation matter “and a very big lack of transparency that only looks and implies at Madruga is colluding with somebody…and the public needs to know that.”
Ballin eventually stepped in again, saying Soto had been advised on record, he was on the record and “we just have to move forward.”
The actual subject of veteran housing was not discussed publicly, nor were Soto’s accusations addressed.