Recall efforts have been launched against Santa Ana Councilmembers Thai Phan and Jessie Lopez. The campaign is backed by the Santa Ana Police Officers Association, although it could well be joined by other stakeholders whom Lopez and Phan – as members of the council majority – have alienated by their advocacy of left-wing policies on public safety, housing and business.
Phan has already been served with recall papers while Lopez has so far avoided being served, according to sources. A process server was apparently waiting for her at the January 23 meeting of the OCTA Board of Directors – of which Lopez is a member – but Lopez was a no-show to the meeting.
There has been talk in political circles of a recall against Lopez for quite some time. Lopez was elected with 34% of the vote in November 2020 in Ward 3, a comparatively conservative district in north Santa Ana. Several observers feel the 30-year old’s left-wing politics are out of step with the majority of her constituents.
Pham was also elected in 2020, winning 40% of the vote to represent Ward 1 on the city council.
The recall notice against Lopez cited a number of reasons for seeking her removal, including her opposition to cracking down on illegal street racing, support for rent control, a tax on unoccupied rental properties, increasing fees on homebuilding, and supporting cutting the police department budget by $1 million and weakening the department’s gang enforcement efforts.
READ: Santa Ana Councilwoman Jessie Lopez’ “Vacancy Tax” Is A Bad Idea
It also cited Lopez refusal last year to leave the house where she was renting a room, as reported by the OC Independent. The owner had sold the home and gave Lopez two-months notice to move out. Lopez refused, and the exasperated homeowner appealed to the city for help in getting the councilmember to move out of his house, which she eventually did.
READ: Exasperated Landlord Sought City Help To Evict Councilmember Lopez For Unpaid Rent, Refusal To Move Out
Lopez subsequently moved into the home of Albert Castillo, who leads the left-wing advocacy group Chicanos Unidos.
The recall notice against Phan cites her support for rent control, increases fees on home builders and policies that discourage housing production, along with votes to reduce police department resources. It also claims Phan’s campaign has been funded by dark money “poured in by out-of-town developers who have threatened Santa Ana’s unique and historic neighborhoods through gentrification.”
There has been long-simmering antipathy between Lopez and Pham and the SAPOA stemming from the progressive council majority – which included now-Supervisor Vince Sarmiento – toward law enforcement. Pham and Lopez were elected in 2020, along with Councilman Johnathan Hernandez and Sarmiento, on the heels of the George Floyd riots and protests. The four considered themselves the vanguard of a newer, younger generation embodying more progressive ideas about criminal justice.
That low-intensity conflict broke into the open following the council’s 4-3 vote on December 20 to impose a “last, best and final offer” (LBFO) contract on the rank-and-file officers union. A key provision radically restructured how the union governed itself by abolishing the full-time presidency the union had since the 1980s, without the consent of union members.
READ: Santa Ana’s Progressive Majority Forces Police Union To Ditch Full-Time Union President Position
Lopez and Pham joined fellow progressive Councilmembers Johnathan Hernandez and Ben Vazquez in voting to impose the contract on the SAPOA.
Councilman Phil Bacerra criticize the proposal as “trying to dictate the organization of the bargaining unit.” and favored going back to the bargaining table.
The union has sought relief in the courts and through the state’s labor relations process.
SAPOA President Gerry Serrano assailed the vote.
“Is this legal? Put aside the fact they cut my salary by 30%, without a full-time President, this Association will cease to function as your effective representative,” he wrote to union members on December 21.
The Santa Ana Police Officers Association is one of hundreds of public employee unions in the state with full-time release presidents, something it has had had since 1986. Under “full-time release,” the union president works at the position full-time while retaining status as a full-time officer, with his or her salary is paid via union members donating back vacation days.
In a January 10 memo to SAPOA members, Serrano accused the city’s administrative leadership of an “anti-union attitude” that has poisoned what had heretofore been “excellent” relations between the city and the SAPOA.
In a message to police officers, City Manager Kristine Ridge termed the idea she is anti-union as “nonsensical.”
Phan attempted to play the gender card, implying the SAPOA was targeting her and Pham because they are women.
“It’s not a coincidence they went after two young women when there were four council members who voted on this,” Phan told the Voice of OC, although she has provided no evidence to substantiate the charge.
Mayor Valerie Amezcua, who is also a woman, is not being targeted for recall. It is unknown if Phan thinks that is due to Amezcua not being a young woman.
Lopez’s political supporters on the Left reacted angrily. Chispa, an anti-law enforcement group funded by San Francisco-based Tides Advocacy, assailed the recall attempt by personally attacking Serrano and claiming the police union is not really a union.
WHAT COMES NEXT
“Notices of intention” have been filed in both recalls. The next step in a recall is serving the targeted officials with the notice in person or via certified mail.
According to our sources, locating Phan for service was relatively simple since she has a job: a government and regulatory affairs attorney with the prominent law firm of Rutan & Tucker. Phan has apparently already been served.
Lopez has so far evaded process servers, according to sources knowledgeable about the recall effort.