Activists Score Victories at Santa Ana City Council Meeting

David P. Senner for Voice of OC

An activist on her way into a Santa Ana City Council meeting.

Santa Ana immigration activists had a strong showing at Tuesday’s City Council meeting – they helped beat back, at least for the time being, an effort to oust City Manager David Cavazos, and then convinced council members to strengthen their “sanctuary city” policy.

There was much talk leading up to the meeting — which was the first since new council members were sworn in — that a police union-backed block, consisting of Mayor Miguel Pulido and newly elected councilmen Jose Solorio and Juan Villegas, had enough votes to put Cavazos on administrative leave.

Ominously for Cavazos, Villegas had placed an evaluation of his performance on the meeting’s closed-session agenda. With councilmen David Benavides, Sal Tinajero, and Vincente Sarmiento all vocal supporters of Cavazos, Councilwoman Michele Martinez is widely considered to be the swing vote on his fate.

Martinez and Cavazos have a long-standing feud dating back to a couple years ago when he accused her of sexual harassment – allegations that a city-funded investigation later found had no merit. But she is also closely linked to activists who are staunchly opposed to the city falling back into the hands of Pulido and the police union.

Before Cavazos came to town in 2013, the city manager was former police Chief Paul Walters, who had a reputation for a relaxed attitude towards officer misconduct. Cavazos and current Chief Carlos Rojas have cracked down in recent years on poor officer behavior and left dozens of officer positions vacant, which has engendered the wrath of the police union.

The union poured more than $250,000 this election season into supporting Pulido, Solorio and Villegas, and opposing Sarmiento and former Councilman Roman Reyna, both of whom support Cavazos and Rojas.

Arguing that Sarmiento and Reyna turned a blind eye to an officer shortage amid skyrocketing crime, the union’s mailers criticized Sarmiento and Reyna for paying Cavazos an “outrageous” sum of $469,000 a year that could instead be spent on adding patrol officers and other services. Reyna ended up losing his re-election bid to Villegas.

Harsh Words During Public Comment

After word circulated that the police union-backed candidates would make a move on Cavazos, activists packed the council chambers to argue their case.

“It’s an assault on democracy. It’s a coup. It’s an attempt to have a police state right now,” said Carlos Perea, an activist with the pro-immigration group Resilience OC. He was one of several public commenters on the city manager item, all of whom urged the council not to proceed with an ouster.

Tinajero, Benavides and Sarmiento didn’t hesitate to join in with their own strong rhetoric.

“It does look like there is some need to go and comply with some requisite that was made before the elections. And so that just doesn’t look, and doesn’t appear, proper,” Sarmiento said.

Tinajero was the most forceful, arguing that Pulido, Villegas and Solorio were trying to pay back the police union for supporting their campaigns.

“We’re going into closed session right now to pay back a political debt,” said Tinajero, whose comments were cheered on by many of the activists in the audience.

He alleged that the police union’s president, Gerry Serrano, told people before the election that the union would spend heavily on the election and only back candidates who support firing the city manager and police chief.

“That, my friends, is corruption,” Tinajero said, adding that he himself was asked by Serrano to help oust the city manager.

“He thought I was gonna run for mayor. And you know the language he used, as we were walking out of our meeting? ‘So Sal, are we gonna throw a body out the window?’ This is who’s just taken over our city.”

Serrano didn’t return a message seeking a response to Tinajero’s comments. And none of the police union-backed council members – Villegas, Pulido, or Solorio – disputed that they were planning to oust the city manager at the police union’s request.

“I cannot speak to that,” Villegas said when Tinajero asked him to share his rationale for the evaluation. “I will not – I’m very private about those type of things. I’m not about all this drama that goes on up here. That’s not my style.”

Following the public comment and as council members were headed into closed session to discuss the issue, dozens of audience members chanted “No more corruption!” “No more deportation!” and “ICE out of Santa Ana” – referring to the federal immigration agency.

After deliberating for over an hour and a half, the council returned to start their open session meeting with a recognition of the Santa Ana High School football team.

As the council was giving the presentation, a reporter witnessed Pulido leave the dais and then speak with Serrano, the police union president, in a hallway.

Later in the meeting, City Attorney Sonia Carvalho announced there was no reportable action in closed session, meaning Cavazos is safe for the time being.

A Stronger Sanctuary City

The council also voted 7-0 to codify the city’s new “sanctuary city” resolution into law through an ordinance – a step that activists successfully pushed council members to take.

More than two dozen activists and residents spoke in support of the step, saying President-elect Donald J. Trump’s expansion of deportations will likely sweep up innocent working people trying to feed their families.

“The folks on Trump’s team consider day laborers, or low-wage immigrant workers looking for work – they consider them a criminal enterprise,” said Salvador Sarmiento, an advocate with the National Day Laborer Organizing Network.

“We might have a lot of disagreements, but I hope that we can agree that day laborers looking for work to feed their families, is not a criminal enterprise.”

One commenter spoke in support of the city’s contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to house federal immigration detainees in the city jail – Alex Vega, who said inmates are treated humanely there.

The chief concern among council members appeared to be a potential loss of federal funding to Santa Ana, if Trump follows through on his pledge to squeeze sanctuary cities.

But law professors from UCI Irvine and Western State College of Law who spoke at the meeting said the city’s funding is protected under the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

“The federal government cannot force this city to enforce the president-elect’s deportation policy,” said UC Irvine law professor Seth Davis.

But if the city’s funding does end up get affected, Villegas said he wants to take another look at the sanctuary city policy.

“If we have a severe impact to the city, I recommend we revisit this,” he said.

Activists also won changes that expand the ordinance, by removing what they viewed as a loophole that would allow the city to cooperate with criminal immigration enforcement.

And Martinez joined the activists’ calls for speeding up the end of the city’s contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to house federal immigration detainees in the city jail.

“This jail is not financially solvent, and we must do whatever we possibly can to get out of that business. And we shouldn’t wait 30, 60, 90 days,” Martinez said.

In a sign of her support for such a move, she directed staff to bring back an item at a future meeting to increase the city’s funding for a study on re-using the jail from $50,000 to $150,000.

Solorio also voiced strong support for the sanctuary city effort, even suggesting that the city fund attorneys to help immigrants in deportation proceedings.

“I want to thank the council and the community for standing behind this work. But I’m also here to tell you this isn’t enough,” he said of the sanctuary city ordinance. “I think we [have] got to oppose the Trump administration on many things, starting definitely with breaking up families.”

This post has been updated since it was originally published.

Nick Gerda covers county government and Santa Ana for Voice of OC. You can contact him at

  • That Guy
  • Greg Diamond

    Good for Michele Martinez. This must have been a hard vote for her, but she did the right thing. I’m no fan of Cavasos, but I’m even less of a fan of giving the City back to the Police Union.

    Solorio is truly a shiny-eyed wretch, showing that his warm handshake with Sen. Ted Cruz was a mistake but not an accident. No wonder that, with all that money spent on his behalf by government agents who want impunity from their abuse of Latinos, he still couldn’t clear 50%. I hope that someone is already starting a file on him to blow a hole in his upcoming Mayoral campaign. Then again, his being elected Mayor might be the shortest route to a prison sentence, so there’s that.

    Jesse, LFOT, Tom — read the story more closely and see what it says about the Tenth Amendment. The argument isn’t quite as definitive as the law professor says, but an “anti-commandeering” ruling on this is still the way to bet.

    • LFOldTimer

      I concur with your opinions on the police union and Solorio – but for reasons that go far beyond the cosmetic ones that you mentioned.

      The Feds have withheld Fed funds from state and municipal governments for refusing to comply with mandated Federal requirements pursuant to Federal law. The precedent is there if you care to research it.

      Many Federal grants to municipalities come with riders that require compliance with Federal mandates as a condition of acceptance of those funds (grants). I’ve been told by knowledgeable sources that non-compliance might not only jeopardize future grants – but past funds (grants) already transferred via claw-backs.

      And if you read the law professors statement more closely you would note that he or she did not specify which funds (grants) are protected under the 10th Amendment.

      Besides, FWIW, it’s just another legal opinion. Those are a dime a dozen.

  • Jesse James

    Okay…So, Santa Ana can’t be compelled by the Federal government to adhere to US immigration laws. That should be alright. Then, City of SANCTUARY FOR ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS, shouldn’t expect to receive Federal credit, grants or funding to repair their roadways, educate their illegal children, provide medical funding, or contribute to their low income housing programs, food stamps, and welfare (SSI, GENERAL RELIEF, MEDICAID, etc.). Let their corrupt civil officials get all their financial aid and support from the cartel. If the USA stops accreditation to the higher learning institutions. [Remember, the terrorist attacks. They got to learn how to fly, right here in the good ol’ USA.] And upon which they attempt to distribute their drugs outside of the communities, that permits their illegal ventures, the Federal government should ponce on them with the fullest extent of the military and law ‘abiding’ enforcement agencies, and prosecute and sentence their criminals as harshly as humanly possible. Pedophiles, rapist, gangsters, drug mongers, hit-and-run drivers, etc. I doubt if the city of sanctuary will be able to withstand the power and pressure, that can be dispensed by the collective ‘UNITED STATES OF AMERICA’. Santa Ana has essentially declared WAR on America and it’s legitimate citizens. They should be dealt with, by the exact same measures, as the USA would fight it’s enemies. If they don’t, their treasury will further develop, increase and spread, like a virus, across this entire nation. It’s been happening in Santa Ana for more than 20 years. They have deliberately exodused the entire African American population from Santa Ana, eliminating virtually all employment from non-hispanic workers, and monopolized the apartment/housing market…all in their mischievous effects to solidify and gain control of what they think belongs to them. Trump isn’t America’s problem. In time, American citizens will recognize the real enemy within…if they haven’t seen it coming already.

    • LFOldTimer

      You make way too much sense. But be careful.The California collectivists might eventually order your deportation to Idaho. 🙂

      It’s so bizarre that Trump has been labeled the evil one by the left for merely wanting to honor his sworn oath of office by defending the US Constitution and upholding the laws. And those aren’t egregious or unjust laws. By and large they’re the same immigration laws that every other nation on earth enforces to protect the sovereignty of their lands and the social/economic health of their citizens. How could any American with any sense of decency oppose protecting the sovereignty of the nation or the well-being his/her fellow citizens and legal immigrants?

      All of us welcome LEGAL immigrants who play by the rules and come to America in an orderly and honest way. Millions of them have filled out their paperwork, paid their fees and waited patiently in line for a decade or longer for that INS Notification of Approval that clears their arrival through a Port of Entry. We welcome LEGAL immigrants with open arms!

      The same people who applaud and protect illegal migrants would blow a gasket if someone cut in line in front of them at the grocery store!

      And this has nothing to do with race. It’s a dispute between nations. Illegal migrants hurt all citizens and legal immigrants (regardless of race) by stealing jobs and using scare taxpayer funded resources. And the illegal act of crossing the border inevitably results in subsequent crimes like labor law violations (stealing jobs), identity theft, welfare fraud – and creates new crime industries that targets the illegals who enter the country. Think about it….about 25% of the jail beds in California are occupied by illegal foreigners. And those are for felonious violations unrelated to immigration laws. That’s a major problem.

      So you’re 100% on point, Jesse. This is pure stinking thinking on part of the collectivists who are anti-civilization and pro-anarchistic behavior.

      If they don’t like the immigration laws they should work to change them – but not promote criminality or protect those who engage in such behavior.

  • LFOldTimer

    This is uncanny.

    Santa Ana has a terrible problem with a lack of affordable housing for its residents, a rising crime rate and a city full of abject poverty.

    And what does the City Council do?

    They open their doors to the importation of more poverty, crime and overcrowded living conditions. lol.

    This is as crazy as a Mel Brooks movie.

    • Tom

      I wonder how Santa Ana will fare after their federal funding is taken away for being a ‘sanctuary city’.

      The last laugh will be had by the taxpayers and not the taxtakers.