Santa Ana’s top City Hall executive is following the police chief out the door, amidst police union-driven City Council political divide and multiple ethical complaints across the dais, as well as an upcoming, police union-backed recall election of one of its most vocal council critics.
Nearly two weeks after Police Chief David Valentin announced his retirement this year – citing “corrupt and compromised politicians” and “compromised staff” in his parting remarks to employees – City Council members accepted City Manager Kristine Ridge’s abrupt resignation in a Monday special meeting with a 6-1 vote.
The lone council “No” vote came from Councilmember Jessie Lopez, who’s currently facing a special recall election this November, driven by $463,698 in political spending by the city’s powerful and controversial police union.
The same organization that’s put political pressure on the two City Hall leaders who are now on their way out.
Both City Hall executives were opposed by the police union under its embattled former leader, Gerry Serrano, who launched a public legal battle accusing both of impropriety and abuse when he faced resistance in his quest for a public pension boost that City Hall deemed improper.
City Hall leaders, in response, called Serrano’s lawsuits an intimidation campaign – one that’s so far been unsuccessful in court, resulting only in hefty legal fees for the union.
It’s not the first time Santa Ana has seen executives pushed out of City Hall in the midst of police union political pressure.
Former Police Chief Carlos Rojas resigned in April 2017 — months after police union-backed council members voted to oust the former then-city manager, David Cavazos — in a vote by police union-backed council members that Rojas later claimed was part of a concerted effort by Serrano to push him out after whistleblowing on illegal city activity.
In 2020, the police union also successfully recalled a Republican council member, Cecilia Iglesias, after she voiced public opposition to $25 million in police salary increases over three years, in a working-class city facing a structural deficit and OC’s highest sales tax.
Currently, the City Council has three police union-backed members holding seats on the dais:
Councilmembers Phil Bacerra, David Penaloza, and Mayor Valerie Amezcua.
Amezcua, meanwhile, currently faces an ethics complaint from City Council member – and police union critic – Johnathan Ryan Hernandez, who has publicly alleged that Amezcua, in a one-on-one meeting, attempted to use the 2021 police killing of his cousin, Brandon Lopez, to turn Hernandez against Valentin politically.
Hernandez also alleged that Amezcua tried to violate state public meeting laws in currying council support for getting rid of the automatic contract renewal clause in Ridge’s employment agreement.
Amezcua denied wrongdoing in response to Hernandez’s claims at multiple public meetings in August, and has also denied, from the dais, being unduly influenced by the police union.
Hernandez, meanwhile, faces his own ethics complaint from the City Manager’s office, which city leaders have yet to make public. Hernandez made his own complaint against Amezcua public.
In a city news release announcing Ridge’s resignation, Amezcua said: “Ms. Ridge served this City very well, and we are particularly appreciative of her leadership to the City and community during her tenure as City Manager.”
“It has been a pleasure and a privilege to serve the great City of Santa Ana,” Ridge said in the city news release. “I wish nothing but continued success for the City and all its dedicated employees.”
Finding Ridge’s replacement will be “a top priority of the Council in the near future,” said Amezcua in the news release.
In their vote, council members on Monday also approved a severance and release agreement for Ridge, who made $551,125 in total pay and benefits in 2022, according to Transparent California.