City of San Fernando Councilmember Jaime Soto accused City Attorney Rick Olivarez of “malicious political targeting” and “chicanery” during the council meeting on Monday, Sept. 17, and called for his immediate removal.
Taking time during public comment, Soto stepped down from the dais and addressed his fellow council members, saying the city attorney has engaged in such activities “only in the name of trying to remove me and getting me to renounce my position and my seat on the council.”
“I have not done so, and I will not do that. I will stay with people. I swore an oath to stay with the people and serve this council and serve the city of San Fernando, and do it in a transparent fashion,” Soto said.
This is not the first time Soto has taken time from public comment to push his agenda.
In a previous meeting he similarly accused the council of sabotage against him. This time his attack was against the city attorney and his office, saying that Olivarez has cost the city more than $100,000 by settling “frivolous” lawsuits.
Assistant Attorney Richard Padilla was allowed to respond to the accusations, saying “This has become kind of a reoccurring theme for Mr. Soto. I would observe, first of all, that the only person who seems obsessed with terminating our firms contract is Mr. Soto. He is the only one who has requested these items be on the agenda.”
Padilla continued saying that the only instances that the city attorney’s office has been involved in spending the mentioned monies have been a result of Soto’s actions.
Once, when the council directed the city attorney to seek an injunction against Soto for violating the Brown Act by recording closed session meetings. And a second time to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit against Soto by his former commissioner Yolanda Haro, which was actually settled by outside counsel recommended by the city’s insurance agency.
Members of the public also responded to Soto’s grandstanding.
“There are rules and regulations. You are trained, you know when the line is crossed,” said Jessie Avila. “Perhaps what we ought to do is make them responsible for any of these legal enforcements [and] lawsuits. Maybe they should come out of their own pocket and not our funds, not the ones we have to pay [by] those of us who actually do live in San Fernando.”
Michael Remenih said it is “ironic” that Soto is blaming the city attorney for the sexual harassment settlement.
“He is complaining that we did not fight this thing til the bitter end, costing the city hundreds of thousands of dollars, when a group — I don’t know, it was three, four, five lawyers — determined it was in the city’s best to settle this out of court,” he said while Soto pulled out his cellphone and appeared to start recording Remenih.
“It’s just ironic that he is trying to switch the blame to the very people who are protecting the city and are trying to save my tax dollars.”
No action was taken at this part of the meeting. They moved discussion to close session.
Council Moves Cannabis Regulation
It’s been a year since the council passed Ordinance 1669, which banned the industry in the city until they could figure out how to regulate it. Since then, the city has hired a consulting firm, held four town hall meetings, and collected surveys in regards to the issue, yet, because they received a rather obscure public response (only 180 surveys were received in a city of 25,000 people), they have been left with imposing their own individual preferences on how they want the industry to operate.
At the meeting, Councilmember Robert Gonzales advocated for laboratory testing facilities, saying they can provide “good paying jobs.” Councilmember Joel Fajardo mentioned giving preference for permit applicants that allow their workers to unionize, hoping a union will deter any foul play. Soto questioned the city’s capacity to ensure public safety.
Vice Mayor Antonio Lopez said he was in favor of cannabis microbusinesses — those with multiple operations like cultivation, testing, and distribution in one facility — as long as they don’t have a retail component. Mayor Sylvia Ballin said she does not want microbusinesses at all.
The only thing all five council members have agreed on is that they don’t want any storefront dispensaries, despite more than half of survey respondents being in favor of them.
Yet again, the validity of those surveys have been questioned by the council since only a small number of the respondents were actual residents of the city.
The cannabis conversation continued for more than two hours, ending with the council providing further direction to city staff to include in the ordinance draft a ban on all marijuana deliveries within the city, unless state law requires delivery for medicinal purposes.
The city is expecting to have a draft of the city ordinance by the end of the year.
In other action, the council approved dividing a15,800 square foot property located at the corner of Seventh Street and Macneil Street into three single-familiy housing parcels. It also adopted an ordinance allowing alcohol in city park facilities, and hired Kosmont Companies to provide real estate advisory services.
The 15,800 square foot property currently is occupied by a single-family house owned by Jose J. Martinez, who, per city policy, applied for city approval to divide it into three smaller lots to build three single-family homes.
Although neighbors of that property expressed concern that the subdivision will cause the neighborhood to be denser, causing more traffic and furthering limiting parking, the council decided to grant the request considering the benefits the project will bring, such as building a sidewalk and parkway public right of way, which would allow for curbside parking essentially adding more parking spaces.
Lopez had noted that the division will also generate new tax revenue.
“It’s creating a new tax base, instead of one property it’s creating three new properties with a huge tax base, and I think that’s being very responsible on the city council level,” Lopez said when the project was first presented to the council Sept. 4. “We ask how in the future we bring revenues to the community: This is one of the ways we do that.”
No council member objected, and the ordinance allowing the project to move forward passed.
In regards to the hiring of Kosmont Companies, the city council unanimously agreed to hire the agency at a cost of $30,000 to provide real estate advice and negotiation support.
Currently the city is considering acquiring 13441 Foothill Blvd in Sylmar, a property right on the outskirts of the city along the 210 freeway, and the possible leasing or selling of city owned property on next to the Jack In The Box restaurant on San Fernando Mission Boulevard, which is currently being used as a public parking lot. Information on the possible plans on those properties are not available to the public, as they are being discussed in closed session by the city council.
The council also amended a city ordinance, allowing the serving and consumption of alcoholic beverages in city recreational facilities.
Fajardo first suggested this change in city policy back in May so that people who rent out city facilities like the multipurpose room at Las Palmas Park and the Tea Room at Rudy Ortega Sr. Park for quinceañeras and other private events will have a more enjoyable and festive time. The rest of the council went along after Fajardo argued that other cities and even the county allow alcohol in their facilities.
In order to receive a permit from the city of San Fernando for alcohol consumption in its facilities, the city has strict requirements including obtaining an alcohol license from the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, possible by hiring a caterer or vendor that has this license.
The city also requires hiring of security guards from a security company approved by the San Fernando Police Department, special event insurance, and a security deposit.