Santa Ana City Councilman Carlos Bustamante Tuesday night attended a full public council meeting for the first time since his July 2 arrest on multiple charges of sex crimes.
With the press deluge largely subsided and few residents looking on, Bustamante’s attendance prompted little reaction from the public and his council colleagues. The councilman — looking thinner since the arrest — made no comment while the council deliberated city business, despite casting critical votes on a controversial downtown property tax.
The only acknowledgment came from Councilwoman Michele Martinez, who thanked Bustamante for attending and tackling council business. “I really appreciate your attendance,” she said.
During the meeting’s closing council comments, Bustamante — a married father with three children — cautioned residents to be careful driving because school would be starting as summer vacations end. He also asked that the meeting be adjourned in memory of Neil Armstrong, mankind’s first moonwalker and “a true American hero,” who never “cashed in” on his fame, Bustamante said.
Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas charged Bustamante with a dozen felonies relating to his behavior over an eight-year period toward at least seven women who worked for him at Orange County Public Works. The charges against him include sexual assault, false imprisonment and stalking. Bustamante, who faces up to 26 years in prison, pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Bustamante’s absence at previous council meetings prevented the council from considering the special downtown property tax that funds Downtown Inc., the organization that promotes, secures and cleans the city’s downtown core. The council had consistently failed to achieve a quorum because three other council members have economic conflicts of interest.
However, Bustamante’s attendance this week did not save the tax from its sunset.
The Aug. 31 deadline to submit the tax for levying to the county auditor-controller’s office has passed. The city could still request the levy at a $15 late fee per parcel, which would be paid by the city, but the council didn’t approve such a request.
Ultimately, council members in a 4-0 vote decided to wait for City Attorney Sonia Carvalho to attempt to broker a possible compromise between the two sides of the bitter debate. Carvalho will present a solution, if one materializes, at an upcoming meeting and an ordinance that would repeal the current ordinance that allows the tax district to exist.
Downtown Inc. supporters say that the organization’s services are vital to transforming the area into a vibrant downtown. Property owners opposed to the tax say the organization aims to gentrify the downtown area and push out Latino merchants.
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that there was a failed council motion to formally request that the Orange County assessor-controller’s office levy the special downtown property tax. In fact, the motion that failed sought to postpone the official request to the assessor-controller.