Residents react as City Councilman Huizar faces lawsuits, raids, committee removal

25
Eagle Rock City Hall in Los Angeles, on Friday, Nov. 16th, 2018. Eagle Rock is within the jurisdiction of Los Angeles City Council District 14 and is represented by Councilman José Huizar. Kathy Ou/The Occidental
Reading Time: 3 minutes

LA City Councilman José Huizar was removed from his committee positions Nov. 15 by City Council President Herb Wesson, according to a letter sent by Wesson to City Clerk Holly Wolcott. Huizar represents LA’s 14th district, which includes both Eagle Rock and Highland Park.

Prior to his removal, Huizar was a member of three committees: economic development; homelessness and poverty; and rules, elections and intergovernmental relations, according to Wesson’s letter. He also chaired the planning and land use management committee.

While Wesson’s office offered no explanation for Huizar’s removal from these committees, the committee changes came shortly after the FBI conducted raids of Huizar’s city hall office in Downtown LA and his field office and home, both located in Boyle Heights, Nov. 7.

The FBI’s Los Angeles field office declined to comment on the nature of the investigation or its targets but confirmed that multiple search warrants were executed by FBI agents Nov. 7 at multiple locations in LA.

Two former staffers of Huizar’s have recently filed retaliation lawsuits against him. Pauline Medina and Mayra Alvarez both claim their complaints about Huizar’s alleged affair with an unnamed aide led to retaliation against them, according to the Los Angeles Times. Medina’s lawsuit includes allegations that staffers were required to fundraise for Huizar’s high school, move his wife’s car so she could avoid getting a parking ticket and pick up dry cleaning. She also stated his alleged use of city funds to pay for events like golf tournaments made her uncomfortable.

In September, a discrimination, a harassment and retaliation complaint was anonymously filed against Huizar via Mayor Eric Garcetti’s new website — which allows current and former city employees to submit complaints relating to discrimination and harassment. This complaint prompted Wesson to authorize a personnel department investigation into the matter, according to LAist.com.

Vanessa Rodriguez, a spokeswoman for Wesson, said the city council will continue work on its current projects.

“We’re optimistic Angelenos will be best served by these changes as the Los Angeles City Council continues the people’s work without interruption,” Rodriguez said via email.

Huizar appeared to be absent from Tuesday’s city council meeting, according to MyNewsLA.com. Stephen Kaufman, an attorney for Huizar, said that Huizar would return to work the week of Nov. 18–25. Huizar attended his first council meeting since the raid Nov. 20.

“The Councilmember scaled back his activities this past week to assess the situation, and will be back at work next week [Nov. 18–25],” Kaufman said via email. “He respects Council President Wesson’s decision, and will use the time away from committee assignments to tend to personal matters.”

Huizar has represented the 14th district since his election in 2005, according to his official website. His fourth and final term (due to term limits) will end in 2020. Richelle Huizar, his wife, announced in September her campaign to run for the 14th district seat after her husband terms out, according to The Eastsider. She dropped out of the city council race Nov. 21, citing a need to focus on her family.

Walter Nicholls, an Eagle Rock resident, said he thinks the recent events surrounding Huizar weaken the councilman’s ability to effectively represent the 14th district. He also said that his frustration with Huizar extends beyond the recent scandals.

“They [the lawsuits and FBI raids] weaken his moral authority and his ability to serve as an effective voice,” Nicholls said via email. “Huizar has failed to assume leadership in addressing the housing crisis, gentrification, and the Trump administration’s assault on the rights of undocumented immigrants in Los Angeles. If anything, Huizar has been complicit with developers seeking to gentrify large swaths of LA and displace working-class Latinos.”

Josh Jacobs is a Glendale resident who lived in Eagle Rock until two years ago. He campaigned for Huizar’s opponent, Rudy Martinez, in 2011. Jacobs said he was not surprised by the recent allegations. In 2013, Huizar settled a sexual harassment suit filed by his former deputy chief of staff, according to LAist.com.

“The stories of affairs and taking advantage of women are nothing new,” Jacobs said via Facebook Messenger. “Nevertheless, everyone deserves their day in court and my hope is that Mr. Huizar is sued by the accusers and that this is brought to trial.”

Jacobs said he would like to see Huizar replaced by a local business owner, as he thinks the city council has implemented many policies that hurt small businesses. Jacobs also said that he thinks the city council as a whole needs reform, since individual council members lack the independence needed to effectively govern and the council often votes unanimously on bills.

“We need a fresh batch of candidates who are neither related to him nor have they worked for him before,” Jacobs said via Facebook Messenger. “We need people with real jobs, not career politicians.”