Sergio Sanchez rails against Salinas police chief, the Farm Bureau, and Sally Reed.
Thursday, September 4, 2003
On Aug. 26, following two bloody weekends in Salinas, City Councilman Sergio Sanchez said in front of TV cameras that Police Chief Dan Ortega should either come up with a new strategy for fighting gangs, or retire.
"When you don''t do a job you get replaced," Sanchez told the Weekly in a later interview. "He''s a nice man, a nice guy, all I''m saying is we need a different kind of leadership."
A week earlier, at a County Supervisor''s meeting, Sanchez called Farm Bureau members "leeches" because they have refused to support Measure Q, a half-cent sales tax that, if passed by voters in December, will bail out the cash-poor Natividad Medical Center.
"And parasites," Sanchez adds. "I called them leeches and parasites."
He qualifies his words: "There are those who take advantage of society, who take advantage of workers, who take advantage of the system. If everyone provided health insurance for their workers, we would not be talking Measure Q."
And in late January, after County CAO Sally Reed recommended closing clinics and cutting jobs in an effort to stop the county-owned hospital''s financial hemorrhaging, Sanchez let loose on Reed. "People like you, we say they don''t have a heart," he told Reed. "They have a tumor."
Sanchez, who was elected in November to represent East Salinas'' District 1, doesn''t mince his words. Some find it refreshing; establishment types find it threatening. He says he''s doing what the people elected him to do: Lead, and hopefully better his community.
"Whenever I say something like that, I say it for the purpose of getting people''s attention and making sure they understand," Sanchez says. "I have a vision, and I have hope. That means I make some people uncomfortable."
Sanchez''s criticisms of Ortega followed a two-week spate of violence in the city. Between Aug. 15 and Aug. 25, 13 shootings injured eight young men and killed two. Gang members jumped another 23-year-old Latino near the bathrooms at Closter Park in East Salinas. Police say most, if not all of the violent attacks, were gang-related.
The day after Sanchez talked to KSBW-TV, The Californian ran with the story--before talking to Sanchez. The paper proclaimed, "City councilman calls on Chief Ortega to step down."
The public outrage began. One letter to The Californian challenged Sanchez to "take charge of the city that you are supposed to be representing." In another letter, Salinas Police Officers Association vice president Kyle Kimm called Sanchez''s words "ludicrous."
"I can tell you first-hand that the men and women of the Salinas Police Department are among the hardest working and dedicated police officers you will ever meet," Kimm wrote.
Ortega is on vacation in Hawaii and could not be reached for comment. Deputy Chief Cassie McSorley says Ortega is always open to constructive criticism, and notes that it will take more than a strong police presence to stop Salinas'' gang wars. "If you look at what we''ve done in terms of the numbers of weapons seized and the numbers of arrests, you would be hard pressed to say we''re lacking in our duties," she says. "If the councilman has some specific suggestions, bring it forwards."
Additionally, the police department lost four sworn officer positions because of budget cuts. "We''re not in a position to be expanding services," she says. "But meeting with community groups, things that don''t involve big expenditures, we can do that right now."
Sanchez says he won''t accept excuses. His day job is organizing director with SEIU Local 817, and he suggests a similar grassroots approach to fighting gang violence, through block captains, neighborhood groups and two-way radios between city residents and the police. He says the police department should work closely with city officials, and both groups should solicit money from the city''s big businesses to fund additional cops, after-school activities, and to "take back the community."
But, he says, the buck stops with Ortega. "As an elected official, I''m responsible for what happens in my district. But I can''t arrest people. I don''t have that authority."
Farm Bureau Director Bob Perkins, after being on the receiving end of Sanchez''s choice criticisms, calls the councilmember''s words "intemperate remarks, and not well thought out."
"After he got through calling us leeches, I kinda smiled and nodded, and he smiled and nodded back," Perkins says. "But that sort of comment doesn''t get us any closer to a solution on any problem."
Sally Reed could not be reached for comment.
Sanchez says he''s been an outspoken advocate for the "silent voice"--women, Latinos, and poor ag and hospitality workers who live in East Salinas--as long as he''s lived in the city. He says he''s just a guy who wants to change the city. That means a living wage, affordable housing, programs for kids and less street violence.
Some expected Sanchez to temper his tongue after he was elected to the City Council last year. Sanchez says he won''t. "It will be a very cold day on this earth before I become a rubber stamper."
He says that when he''s wrong, he''ll admit it. "My intent is not to hurt people, it''s to get them to wake up and think about what''s going on, and persuade them to change their hearts. And they say, ''Okay, you''re still a bastard, but okay.'' And I can live with that."