We asked Fuentes about community concerns
By Eddie Rivera, News Editor
He was called “the worst legislator in California” by the LA Weekly in 2010. The California League of Conservation Voters gave the San Fernando Valley democrat only a 50% rating in his last year in the assembly. There also were rumors a few years back that it was Felipe Fuentes who threw former LA City councilman Richard Alarcon “under the bus” with regard to Alarcon’s 2015 convictions that earned him fines, probation, and house arrest for lying about living in his district, also the 7th.
In 2014, Fuentes was named one of several state legislators who received unreported gifts from the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, for which the association was fined more than $5,500.
Fuentes won election to the newly redrawn 7th council district shortly after Sunland-Tujunga was removed from the 2nd district and placed in the 7th district. Sunland-Tujunga, La Tuna Canyon, Lake View Terrace, and Shadow Hills suddenly found themselves in the 7th district in July of 2012. And the relationship has never been good.
Fuentes enjoys a hero’s reputation in his home neighborhood of Pacoima, but his name draws a venomous response when mentioned nearly anywhere in Sunland-Tujunga, especially on its network of social media sites, where one is hard-pressed to find a single favorable opinion of him.
Much of the criticism centers on his seeming lack of interest in the area, and on his minimal presence locally. He has rarely attended a Sunland-Tujunga Neighborhood Council (STNC) meeting, for example. According to STNC president Mark Seigel, Fuentes attended no STNC meetings in 2015.
Fuentes’s loyalties also come into question, as a local developer and campaign contributor hopes to build 225 luxury homes in adjacent Big Tujunga Canyon in defiance of a 2007 General Plan Amendment by the City of Los Angeles. This amendment limited the amount of any construction in the area. Fuentes has yet to finalize any actual opposition to the development, which drew hundreds of residents to local meetings in the summer and fall of 2015.
“Yes, he loves to tell you what he wants you to believe, whether it’s really true or not,” wrote Seigel in a response to a recent Facebook thread. “Double check all ‘facts’ he provides,” Seigel added.
Resident Shirley Parks posted online, “He is corrupt and evil and self-serving. How he ever got elected to office is beyond my understanding,” she continued. “All I can think is that he lied and lied and lied.”
STNC board member Gail Carlson said, “My volunteer work as the chair of [the STNC] Beautification Committee has been never acknowledged by Felipe.” She added, “Only one cleanup did he come to, the first of seven.
“I want to say I love him so much because he does so much for our community,” she continued, sarcastically, “by recent decisions, like with the use of the STNC meeting building, which he owns.”
The “STNC meeting building,” better known as North Valley City Hall”? We’ll get to that.
Riverwood Ranch resident Elaine Brown said, “If you ask him what kind of day it is you will not be able to rely on his answer.” She added, “And what is worse, he probably does not know what kind of a day it is.”
The Foothill Record searched the range of local social-media sites for praise for Fuentes, but most praise, when found, was placed by his office.
Interestingly, State Assemblywoman Patty Lopez (D-39th District), who endured a small avalanche of criticism following her unexpected victory over Raul Bocanegra last year, has become a favorite of the local community, largely based on her numerous appearances at local meetings and events, both large and small.
So, during the week of December 10, The Foothill Record requested an interview with Fuentes, for a year-end roundup story. We contacted his communications deputy, Cheryl Getuiza, to make the necessary arrangements. She wrote back, “As the Council winds down closer to the Winter break, it’s harder to find time in the Councilmember’s schedule. Would you please send a list of questions and I will have him answer them?”
We did just that. These are the questions and points we posed:
- As you are aware, many in the community are upset that the STNC was “removed” from North Valley City Hall. Can you explain your intent in that issue, directly to the community?
- What is your official position on the development of new homes in Big Tujunga Canyon? Will you be supporting a change in the City Charter to set aside the minimum development ruling and allow 225 new homes to be built in Big Tujunga Canyon, especially given the current drought?
- Will you be submitting a local street to LA mayor Eric Garcetti’s Great Streets Initiative?
- Will you have a larger presence in the Sunland-Tujunga community in the coming year?
- Some are concerned that you are rarely in the area, and that your staff rarely responds to communications.
- All sides of the homeless issue are of great concern to the Sunland-Tujunga community. Could you detail your plans in developing a working solution to the problem?
- A number of agencies have jurisdiction in the Tujunga wash. With the expected onset of El Niño, will you be meeting with all of these agencies to develop a plan for safety and/or cleanup there?
- What is your current position on the planned high speed rail, which may or may not affect the local community?
- What do you see as your strongest achievement in Sunland-Tujunga?
- Are there any specific plans or initiatives that you are pushing for the local area?
- What is your reelection message for Sunland-Tujunga?
A few days after our request, we received a response from the councilmember’s office. Few of the questions were answered directly, and many were combined, but not fully answered.
The first four questions were bundled together: “As the councilman is aware, many in the community are upset that the STNC was ‘removed’ from North Valley City Hall. Can he explain his intent in that issue, directly to the community? Will the councilmember have a larger presence in the ST community in the coming year? Some are concerned that he is rarely in the area, and that his staff rarely responds to communications. All sides of the homeless issue are of great concern to the ST community. Could he detail his plans in developing a working solution to the problem?”
Fuentes responded, “I’ve heard from and met with various community members who’ve discussed their concerns. That’s why I provided space at the North Valley Neighborhood City Hall to LA Family Housing, LA Homeless Services and Los Angeles Conservation Corps. Because of their expertise and knowledge, they will be able to bring the necessary tools to begin addressing homelessness in the San Fernando Valley. By partnering with these service providers, we are responding to the growing need for services for chronically homeless individuals.”
Fuentes did not respond to our question about his presence in the local community, and he did not respond to our question about his local field staff.
Asked whether he would be submitting any local streets to the mayor’s Great Streets Initiative, he responded, “Van Nuys Boulevard in Pacoima was selected.”
When asked about collaborating and coordinating cleanup and safety efforts in the Tujunga wash, prior to the onset of El Niño, Fuentes responded, “Collaborating to ensure all of our community members are safe remains a top priority. I will continue working with LA Sanitation, LAPD, LADWP and other agencies who have jurisdiction in the Wash, to monitor, serve and enforce cleanups while balancing the legal obligations placed upon the City on the removal of the homeless and their property.”
In response to a query about his position on the proposed high speed rail through California, Fuentes attached a letter to Dan Richard, chairman of the California High-Speed Rail Authority, from himself and from LA County supervisors Michael Antonovich and Sheila Kuehl. In the letter the three asked that the so-called E-2 rail route through the communities of Shadow Hills and Lake View Terrace be removed from consideration, as it would “create severe impacts to homes and the quality of life in these communities.”
Fuentes did not include or answer questions regarding his achievements in Sunland-Tujunga or his plans for reelection. He is up for reelection in March of 2017.