Mexican residents from historic Placentia barrios filled the City Council chambers last night to speak out against two new gang injunctions affecting them. For nearly two hours, everyone from homeowners to an Afghanistan War vet said they felt safe in their neighborhoods and didn't need, nor want, Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas' so-called safety zones.
More surprising, still? Unlike their callous counterparts in SanTana and Anaheim, the Placentia city council actually made eye-contact with speakers at the podium and took copious notes!
Residents with deep roots in the city aired suspicions about ulterior motives of the injunctions as tools for future gentrification. Activist groups Chicanos Unidos and the Los Angeles-based Youth Justice Coalition provided support. Other folks from Plas and La Jolla, the two neighborhoods under injunction, complained more about police harassment than gangs while pleading for alternative youth programs. But the comment of the night belonged to former resident Rudy Flores.
The 51-year-old man with relatives in Placentia admitted that at one time he was a wayward youth but got set on the right path and now owns a home. Flores took to the podium wondering, if these areas are so gang-plagued, why are downtown Mexican restaurants in the Plas safety-zone like the legendary El Farolito packed all weekend long with gabachos?
"What are those people doing there, my God?" he said, colorfully underscoring how safe they must feel. "I know why they're there, because they come to eat good, homemade, authentic Mexican food and they feel at home!" Even the stoic council couldn't contain their smiles and laughter after that!
But Mayor Chad Wanke and his colleagues remained mum at the dais about the gang injunctions, citing a court order preventing them from discussing the matter until the initial November 16 hearings before Judge Peter Wilson.
After public comments wrapped up, council recessed and city officials did speak about resident concerns, including their notion of Placentia as a safe place to live. "We're probably not the most violent community in Orange County," Police Chief Ward Smith told the Weekly, "But we do have our fair share of Part 1 crimes."
Chief Smith oversees a force of 47 sworn officers and the crime category he mentioned refers to things like burglaries, homicides and rapes.
Mayor Wanke stood in the lobby talking to residents when the Weekly approached him for comment. "Oh no, you guys aren't going to paint me as a Nazi or anti-Mexican?" Wanke said with a sigh. The mayor mentioned that his father grew up in East Los Angeles and that our previous stories about him were "unfair." Hearing Wanke out, he said he wasn't "particularly familiar" with gang injunctions and that the council didn't initiate the two new ones in Placentia.
"I've been in all those neighborhoods at night," Wanke says, including on a recent date. "Things used to be really bad, but I see a lot of cons about gang injunctions."
Follow Gabriel San Román on Twitter @gsanroman2