Los Alamitos Police Silent on City’s Potential “Sanctuary State” Opt-Out

Courtesy Flickr user Highway Patrol Pictures

Orange County’s chain migration of anti-Sanctuary State city council revolts returns this evening to where it all began in Los Alamitos. Following a 4-1 vote last month, council members are set for a second reading of an ordinance that will formally exempt Los Alamitos from the California Values Act (also known as SB 54). The law limits the ability of state and local law enforcement agencies to use their resources for federal immigration enforcement. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is suing California over SB 54 and other “Sanctuary State” related legislation.

In the past few weeks, a slew of city councils in OC, from San Juan Capistrano to Yorba Linda, have voted to support the Sessions’ lawsuit through resolutions and court filings–or in Huntington Beach’s case, a standalone suit. The anti-Sanctuary State revolt could have started earlier in February before the Sessions’ suit. That’s when Los Alamitos city manager Bret Plumlee sent a Valentine’s Day draft staff report over to councilman Warren Kusumoto for the anti-Sanctuary State ordinance to go before the Feb. 20 council meeting. “I do not have sufficient time to review it and provide feedback,” Kusumoto responded in an email obtained by the Weekly. “I’ll be ready to have it on our March agenda.”

Kusumoto prepared his agenda item before a Mar. 7 deadline and the SB 54 opt-out ordinance had its first successful reading at the rancorous Mar. 19 council meeting. Despite council chambers having been filed with a traveling show of Trump supporters and impassioned immigrant rights activists, the Los Alamitos Police Department hasn’t publicly weighed in on the debate despite being the agency set to be most directly impacted by an SB 54 opt-out. 

“As far as I’ve seen or read, nothing’s been presented regarding any concern by the police department,” says Joel Block, a retired attorney, Rossmoor resident and member of Los Alamitos Community United, a group formed in opposition to the ordinance effort. “Nothing was reported to council in terms of the police department initiating or even wanting such an ordinance.”

Since Jan. 2016, the department’s been headed by chief Eric Nuñez, a Latino. The Weekly asked Nuñez a series of questions about his force’s compliance with SB 54, its stance on this evening’s ordinance and how officers would respond to any changes. In Fullerton, police chief Dave Hendricks wrote in a memo before city council failed to pass a resolution supporting the Sessions’ suit that his department received about three to four Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainer requests a month, but that the local jail releases people within hours for various reasons. Unfortunately, chief Nuñez didn’t respond to our inquiries seeking similar information about the much smaller city he oversees public safety for.  

But on matters concerning SB 54, Nuñez has long sought the input of the California Police Chiefs Association (CPCA). According to emails obtained by the Weekly, he corresponded with Jonathan Feldman, the group’s legislative advocate, as far back as Jun. 19, 2017 on the subject. That’s when Feldman started the conversation with local chiefs, including Nuñez, about a pro-SB 54 press conference with State Senator Kevin de Leon and law enforcement officials like Los Angeles Police Department top cop Charlie Beck. Feldman assailed the gathering as a “publicity stunt.” Nuñez responded by asking Feldman if he had CPCA’s original opposition letter to the bill. 

Since then, SB 54 changed in key areas after CPCA’s lobbying efforts. So, too, did the organization’s public opposition to it. In a Mar. 16 email, Nuñez attached the Los Alamitos ordinance and asked Feldman to give it a read at his leisure. “Thank [sic] a million time [sic] for always being there for me and us Jonathan, you really are worth your weight in gold,” the chief wrote. A day before Los Alamitos city council considered its opt-opt ordinance, Feldman sent Nuñez the group’s Capitol Update from 2017. He encouraged the chief to forward it to the mayor and council.

“Cal Chiefs took the lead on crafting a set of balanced amendments that would ensure SB 54 ultimately would not prove disastrous for public safety,” the Capitol Update read. “If SB 54 was going to become law, amending the worst provisions of it became imperative.” The organization spent nine months trying to water down SB 54, and by its own account, succeeded. CPCA patted itself on the back for gaining sought after amendments from Governor Jerry Brown’s office.

Under the reformatted California Values Act, ICE maintained access to jails for purposes of interrogating witnesses. Another lobbying success came in the form of an expanded list of people law enforcement can communicate freely with immigration authorities about from serious felons to all crimes not protected by the TRUST Act. “Overall, these amendments represent the best we could have hoped for,” the update concluded. CPCA stopped short of supporting the legislation, opting instead for a neutral position. 

Feldman promised Nuñez a series of talking points from when CPCA opposed SB 54 and delivered them in the subsequent exchange that same day. He updated them with notes about how individual concerns got addressed in the final compromise before the proposed legislation became law. More interestingly, Feldman brought everything to the present in light of the Sessions’ suit by sharing his organization’s public stance. “This question regarding the constitutionality of the law is a matter for the courts to decide, so we will allow that process to take place while maintaining our commitment to equally protecting our communities under current law.”

The legislative advocate offered a translation. “Basically, we aren’t going to get involved in a legal dispute about the constitutionality of these laws, that’s not our issue,” Feldman wrote Nuñez. “Our issue is, and was, protecting the public–and the amendments we secured allow us to do that.” 

But this evening, Los Alamitos city council is set to take a stance by opting out. Los Alamitos Community United intends to mobilize a greater turnout to urge against any such action. “Instead of solving a perceived conflict between action by the Trump Administration and the state legislature in enacting SB 54, now the city council is creating a third ambiguity,” Block says. “Does a police officer now choose to follow the ordinance versus the state law mandate? It’s going to create more confusion for law enforcement, not less.” 

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