Four more Orange County cities adopted resolutions condemning racism this week, amid a spike in hate crimes and incidents locally and nationally during the Coronavirus pandemic. 

Yet, in Anaheim, such anti-racism talks have become a vessel for ongoing political tension beyond these issues — all while questions remain over just what exactly local leaders plan on doing about hate in their cities.

On Tuesday, Anaheim City Council members unanimously adopted a resolution reaffirming a resolution they already passed last year denouncing racism. 

But not before council members hurled critiques at each other over their roles in recent, related controversies in the city and their commitment to actually addressing these problems.

Tuesday’s vote came at the request of Councilman Jordan Brandman. 

During the discussion, Brandman talked about his own experience with prejudice and mentioned recent remarks by a city commissioner, Larry Larsen, who at one meeting used the Coronavirus’ “China virus” nickname and reportedly blamed China for the pandemic’s financial havoc upon the city.

Larsen, who sits on Anaheim’s Sister City Commission, is an appointee of Councilman Jose Moreno — a fact that Moreno’s foes in the council majority pointed out repeatedly before the vote, while calling for Larsen’s resignation. 

Council members didn’t identify Larsen by name, but left enough clues for people to figure it out.

The Anaheim Independent (formerly known as Anaheim Blog), which is frequently critical of Moreno and council majority opponents, recently quoted Larsen as saying at one Sister City Commission meeting: 

“It’s called the China virus. The City of Anaheim is in the tank. And we’re going to invite them into our house? I am stunned that anybody in Anaheim would even consider such a thing.”

At that commission meeting, the possibility had come up about a sister-city relationship with the Chinese city of Pudong. 

Councilman Trevor O’Neil, who frequently finds himself at odds with Moreno on a number of city issues, directly called Moreno out Tuesday night:

“There were some extremely incendiary and ignorant remarks made about an entire people being responsible for the pandemic by Councilmember Moreno’s appointee. I will certainly support you in asking for his resignation. It was entirely inappropriate, particularly in that forum, where the group’s mission is forging positive relationships primarily in Asian countries.”

Anaheim District 3 Councilman Jose Moreno at a March 5, 2019 City Council meeting. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

Moreno acknowledged the controversy at the meeting and said he would have a “conversation” with Larsen.

“I consider him a friend and that’s what we do. The spirit of the resolution was to condemn hate and not to sow further division,” Moreno said.

He continued: “A year ago, I condemned the language and the actions of the President of the United States around this language and Mr. Mayor (Harry Sidhu), you actually silenced me and said the President was an extremely great leader.”

Sidhu is considered a leader of the council majority faction by many residents who follow the City Council.

“(Larsen) was parroting the words of our President,” said Moreno, who went on to question what the city has done since its original resolution to take concrete action against racism. 

“Have there been any programs or initiatives that follow this initiative to make sure we’re promoting these ethics and values?” Moreno asked City Manager Jim Vanderpool before the vote. 

Vanderpool responded: 

“I wasn’t here when this resolution was adopted by the city council. My observation has been that this pandemic has destroyed so many things the city holds dear and promotes and celebrates, and without a doubt … this will be something that is a priority for staff in the coming year.”

Residents, community members and city staff gathered on March 19 to address the recent uptick in Asian hate crimes. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

Seal Beach

Seal Beach City Council members unanimously adopted a resolution denouncing hate towards the Asian American and Pacific Islander community without discussion on Monday.

The resolution points to a recent threatening letter received by an Asian-American resident and calls on law enforcement to address hate crimes, but does not mention any concrete measures the city is taking. 

The city’s police department is working on creating a portal on their website where community members can report hate crimes, which they hope will go live in the next couple of weeks. 

Seal Beach Police Lt. Nick Nicholas said the goal is to make the portal available in multiple languages.

“We know across all of Orange County that hate crimes are underreported so we wanted to create as many opportunities for victims to report hate crimes to the police department,” Nicholas said in a phone interview.

Irvine 

In a 4-1 vote, Irvine City Council members adopted a resolution reaffirming the city’s earlier statement against hate, which also requires the Irvine Police Department to produce a monthly report on hate crimes and incidents in the city. 

“The incidents in OC have increased tenfold throughout the year and it’s important we bring residents together,” said Councilwoman Tammy Kim, who proposed the item, calling for a “radically inclusive environment.” 

Irvine also recently launched an online multi-language hate crime and incident reporting portal, offering multiple reporting languages.

Councilman Larry Agran voted against the resolution, saying he felt it was not inclusive enough and the council’s failure to include other oppressed communities in the statement fell short.

Kim said she didn’t want to make any changes and the resolution was designed to focus on communities of color working together.

“This was written in collaboration with community members, I’m not in a position to change this right now. The framework was intentional, highlighting marginalized communities and communities of color who suffer from oppression,” Kim said.”  

During public comment, residents were largely supportive of the plan. 

Multiple residents raised concerns about the police department functioning as the main authority responding to the issue, but the council didn’t suggest any changes to the resolution.  

Buena Park 

Buena Park City Councilmembers unanimously adopted a resolution denouncing hate Tuesday, following disagreements last month over language used in the original proposed resolution. 

At the March 23 meeting, council members Art Brown and Beth Swift both opposed the resolution’s mentioning of historic anti-Asian racism, arguing it was not relevant to the issues Asian-Americans currently face. 

City staff drafted a new resolution after that meeting removing mentions of systemic racism, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II. 

The revised resolution also denounced racism, xenophobia and intolerance toward all ethnicities, while the original focused on the Asian-American community. 

At Tuesday’s meeting, the council unanimously adopted the original resolution denouncing anti Asian hate, and also added the city’s seven core values after Swift urged her colleagues to make the language more positive. 

“I can see the handwriting on the wall. The original is going to win, but we need to at least include our core values,” Swift said.

“That’s what we’re supposed to stand for.”

Brandon Pho is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member at Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at bpho@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @photherecord.

Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at helattar@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.

Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at nbiesiada@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @NBiesiada.
Anthony Robledo is a reporting intern for Voice of OC. He can be reached at arobledo@voiceofoc.orgoron Twitter @AnthonyARobledo

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