SBCCOG Takes a Bite Out of Torrance Budget

Tomorrow evening the City Council will determine whether to approve a $132,025 payment to the South Bay Cities Council of Governments (SBCCOG). The payment is to cover membership dues for the next three fiscal years. The breakout by year is $41,464 for 2017-18, $43,959 for 2018-19, and $46,603 for 2019-20.

The SBCCOG Board of Directors approved a 6% annual dues increase on June 22, 2017. The increased dues payments owed by the City of Torrance are reflective of that increase. The stated purpose of the dues increase is in order to grow the SBCCOG’s reserves.

The SBCCOG is a joint powers authority established in 1994 that comprises 16 local cities. The mission and vision of the SBCCOG is to improve the quality of life and maximize the productivity of the South Bay region through local government collaboration.

According to the staff report, the City of Torrance has been an active member of the SBCCOG and has taken a leadership role on regional issues such as improving transportation and infrastructure, sustainability, green environmental initiatives, homelessness and livable communities, legislative issues, as well as strengthening economic development.

The staff report did not list any specific initiatives or achievements that the City of Torrance was able to accomplish due to their involvement with the SBCCOG.

Kim Fuentes is the #2 ranking staff member of the SBCCOG currently serving as its Deputy Executive Director. Fuentes is a familiar face at City Hall due to a longstanding contract she holds with the City of Torrance providing Rideshare Consultant services. That contract pays her $65,000 a year for her part-time assistance. Torrance City Councilman Kurt Weideman also currently serves as Chair of the SBCCOG.

Should the City of Torrance not approve the membership dues payment, it would likely put Torrance’s membership in the organization at risk.

Omar Navarro Resigns from Torrance Traffic Commission after Heated Clash with Defend Movement

Congressional candidate Omar Navarro has resigned from his position as a Traffic Commissioner after a heated clash with members of the Defend Movement that had reached a fever pitch. Navarro announced his decision via an official statement released on his Facebook page that read, in part, as follows:

“Recently, I was made aware of a partisan political effort to oust me from the Torrance Traffic Commission ... As a resident of Torrance for over 14 years and graduate of West Torrance High School, it has been a great privilege and honor to serve our community. Traffic is something that effects us all equally, no matter our politics or socio-economic status. While I remain focused on defeating corrupt career politician Maxine Waters, I will not let radical political activists disrupt the important work of the Torrance Traffic Commission. As such, I am resigning from the commission, effective immediately. 

Navarro’s resignation came shortly after the Torrance City Council, by a 5 to 2 vote, took the initial step to remove him from office. Based on that vote, the Council was slated to officially determine his fate at an upcoming meeting.

Mayor Furey had embraced Navarro’s critics and publicly denounced him at a recent meeting. Furey followed that action by announcing on Facebook last Friday that he had sent an official letter to all LA County mayors apologizing for any disruptive behavior caused by Navarro or other activists identifying themselves as residents of Torrance.

Emboldened by that support from Furey, Silvia Merlos and several other members of the Defend Movement, appeared before the City Council last Tuesday night demanding that Navarro be removed from his commissioner role. Merlos backed off a prior claim that Navarro had peppered sprayed a child, but did continue to insist Navarro was complicit in the act and that Navarro’s conduct warranted removal from his official role representing Torrance. The incident in question, caught on video, shows Navarro riding in the back of a vehicle as a passenger released a canister of pepper spray into a threatening crowd of activists that had followed the group to their car.

Navarro appeared at the Council meeting on Tuesday to confront the accusations. During his comments, he blasted the Mayor for siding with a group that had made degrading accusations against himself and his wife that amounted to slander. Navarro also called Mayor Furey a pawn of Maxine Waters and claimed that he would give $1000 to anyone that would challenge the mayor in his next election.

Navarro’s official resignation statement also included a lengthy campaign video that chronicled many of his recent encounters and that attempted to refute many of the accusations hurled against him and other conservative activists.    

The Defend Movement posted the news to their Facebook page hailing it a victory for their cause. One commentator posted: 

After all the barking this buffoon did here in Cudahy…it only took 2 visits from DEFEND MOVEMENT to put enough pressure on his weak ass to RESIGN as traffic commissioner before getting FIRED by council vote. Classic Republican MO. Anyone else want to mess with Cudahy??? Try it. See what happens.  

Merlos was more diplomatic adding that:

Omar Navarro’s resignation before this matter was fully investigated and evaluated by the Torrance city council demonstrates that he is aware that his actions toward our communities are hurtful and fueled by racist ideologies. What we are most grateful for in all of this is not Omar’s resignation, but rather the fact that the mayor of Torrance and the rest of the city council listened to our concerns, took responsibility for the actions of their residents and their traffic commissioner, and took measures to further investigate the matter.

The issue exposed some tension among the Council as Republican Councilmembers Ashcraft and Herring dissented to the vote taking action against Navarro while Griffiths voted in favor but added that his vote was not necessarily a reflection of how he would vote once they were able to obtain more evidence. 

The Mayor also sharply interrupted Herring while Herring was briefly explaining his dissenting opinion. Herring was clearly miffed by the exchange explaining his feelings shortly thereafter by stating, “Your honorable mayor and I say honorable mayor because I will always respect the office of the mayor…I felt like I was rudely disrespected a few minutes ago.”

Herring then quickly exited the room after the meeting was adjourned not speaking to any of his colleagues.

Mayor Furey Sides with Defend Movement; Denounces City Commissioner Omar Navarro and Conservative Activist Arthur Schaper

At the last Council meeting Mayor Furey took sides with the Defend Movement and publicly denounced Omar Navarro and Arthur Schaper apologizing on their behalf and exclaiming that they have no validity in the City of Torrance. The poignant criticism aimed at Navarro is especially noteworthy as Navarro currently serves the City as a Traffic Commissioner after his appointment to that role by the City Council earlier this year. Navarro is also a candidate for congress mounting a campaign to usurp Maxine Waters. Arthur Schaper is well known locally for his conservative activism. Schaper also currently serves as President of the Beach Cities Republican club.

Silvia Merlos (pictured right)

The mayor’s comments followed a speech by Silvia Merlos who identified herself as an organizer of a group dedicated to defending the rights of all targeted communities from discrimination and bigotry called the Defend Movement. In her speech, Merlos accused Navarro of pepper spraying a young child after a skirmish in another City. Navarro, who did not attend the council meeting, says he never pepper sprayed anyone and that the accusation is totally false and amounts to slander.

Mayor Furey aligned himself with Merlos and the Defend Movement, even taking the time to greet members of the group and pose for photographs after the meeting. The Mayor apologized to Merlos on behalf of Schaper and Navarro and publicly denounced the pair stating that:

“I apologize for Mr. Schaper and Mr. Navarro coming to your community and causing any disturbance. They have no validity with this City. They are not our agents. I’ve apologized to countless mayors in the County of Los Angeles and as far North as Oregon because of the behavior of these people using the name of our City. That’s not what our City is about. So I apologize for what they have done. I am on the same side as you.”

Mayor Furey Greets Members of the Defend Movement

At the conclusion of the meeting, Mayor Furey followed up his earlier comments by stating, “Anybody who is listening, although somebody may live in Torrance and may be expressing their 1st Amendment rights … it does not mean they have any authority from the City of Torrance to say the things they say or act the way they act … I’m very embarrassed by the acts of a few people.”

The Defend Movement has clashed with Schaper in other cities due to their opposing viewpoints and activism on issues such as SB 54. That same battle played out again on Tuesday in front of Torrance City Hall resulting in police arriving on scene to diffuse the conflict.

Members of the Defend Movement Posing in front of Torrance City Hall

Despite Mayor Furey’s coziness with Merlos and the Defend Movement, his position on SB 54 surprisingly aligns with Navarro and Schaper as Furey penned a letter on behalf of Torrance opposing the Senate Bill. That letter made Torrance one of only four California cities to take such a stance.

The apparent agreement on SB 54 did not stop Schaper and Mayor Furey from engaging in a combative exchange at the outset of the Council meeting. Schaper, draped in his signature Trump flag, voiced support for the City’s opposition to SB 54, but also lamented that the matter was decided behind closed doors and not brought forward for a vote by the Council.

Arthur Schaper

Upon being interrupted twice by Mayor Furey during his speech, Schaper complained that the mayor was being rude for taking time from the 3 minutes he was allowed to speak. Furey quickly retorted that he was rude. Things escalated from there with Schaper at one point telling the mayor to be quiet and Furey interrupting several times thereafter asking if Schaper was going to ramp it down.

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