Los Alamitos’ Anti-Sanctuary City Fight Fizzles Out

BRANDON PHO, Voice of OC

Los Alamitos City Council members held a virtual meeting through video chat Monday.

A years-long and high-profile effort by Los Alamitos officials to defy California’s sanctuary city law died Monday night with little discussion.

City Council members through a virtual meeting unanimously repealed an ordinance passed in April 2018, which claimed to exempt the city from the California Values Act, a state law passed in 2017 prohibiting local law enforcement from regularly cooperating with federal immigration authorities. 

Los Alamitos’ anti-sanctuary city ordinance effectively endorsed local police officers ignoring state law.

The council’s move comes after Huntington Beach in January this year lost its legal battle against the state, challenging the applicability of the sanctuary city law to charter cities like itself and Los Alamitos.

At the same time, Los Alamitos was racking up its own legal expenses in a court battle with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) over its anti-sanctuary city ordinance, and the city has since settled the lawsuit with Los Alamitos Community United, the group that the ACLU had sued the city on behalf of.

Both cities’ efforts had inspired a wave of other cities like Santa Ana, Westminster, and Fullerton, among others, to join in on the debate and approve resolutions that year either in opposition to or in support of the state law. 

Absent Monday were two key supporters of the ordinance when it was first brought forward in 2018: former council member Warren Kusumoto and former mayor Troy Edgar, who was since appointed as the chief financial officer for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) by President Donald Trump.

Back in March that year, when Los Alamitos’ ordinance was first brought up, Kusumoto said the state law was forcing local officials to choose between complying with the state and the federal government.

“I feel that Sacramento, the elected leaders up there, are bullying us into violation of the oath of office that we took,” Kusumoto said during the March 19 meeting that year.

The only comments made before the vote Monday were by Councilwoman Shelley Hasselbrink, who — when it was her turn to vote “Yes” on repealing the ordinance — said “with the threat of being sued into bankruptcy, I reluctantly say ‘Yes.’”

The repeal was welcomed by religious leaders and community members, who in dozens of written public comments largely opposed the ordinance Monday.

“In all times — and even more so in these days when we are doing our best to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic — public trust and solidarity among community members is essential to the common good,” said Greg Walgenbach, a director at the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange, in written public comments Monday. “Where that trust is lacking or seeds of division sown, there can be no peace and flourishing in the city.”

Monica Glicken, a resident of the neighboring unincorporated area of Rossmoor, called the move “such an important action to take, especially now when our community is at its most stressed and vulnerable.” 

“Thank you for taking this action and showing our immigrant community members, as well as their friends and family that Los Alamitos is a city that cares about all of its people,” she added, “and is here to help, not divide.”

Brandon Pho is a Voice of OC reporting fellow. Contact him at [email protected] or on Twitter @photherecord.