A City Divided
Three Greenfield City Council members face recalls in fallout from police merger.
Thursday, May 24, 2012
Stroll down Greenfield’s El Camino Real, and you might mistake the main drag for a quiet Mexican downtown. It’s not just the Spanish-language signage, but cultural cues – men leaning against walls with lowered hats shading their eyes, kids biking aimlessly on sidewalks or eating ice cream during school hours – that some people see as evidence of a major demographic change.
“I’m running for mayor because our town is looking like a Third-World city,” says Leonard Dart, who’s poised to take Mayor John Huerta’s seat if he is recalled June 5.
Dart’s concerns are a catalogue of code violations he and his supporters say former Police Chief Joe Grebmeier and the mayor have tacitly allowed by failing to penalize violators. They say cars parked on front lawns, cyclists on sidewalks, ads in storefront windows, backyard sheds used as dwellings are examples.
But in a city of 16,000, where an estimated 20 percent of the population comprises indigenous Mexicans from Oaxaca, accusations of racism and xenophobia are part of a politically charged debate over law enforcement.
Dart, who previously served as mayor in the ’70s and ’80s, says Grebmeier – who was placed on administrative leave in September and retired in April – should’ve been axed long ago, partly for being too gentle on new immigrants who disregarded city code.
“We seem to have a double standard here,” Dart says. “[Law enforcement] didn’t want to cite some of the farmworkers. They always said, ‘They didn’t know any better.’ Well, that’s a poor excuse; they have to learn the laws of the country.”
The City Council voted 3-2 to eliminate Grebmeier’s position entirely in March, merging with the Soledad Police Department for an estimated savings of about $160,000 a year. Part of Grebmeier’s legacy was leading outreach meetings with Oaxacans to inform them of U.S. laws, but opponents say education wasn’t enough.
A 2001 city proclamation making Greenfield a sanctuary from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement arguably encouraged further looseness with the law.
Huerta, who voted against the Soledad police merger, says a savings of at least $250,000 would have been more persuasive. He’s also critical of what he describes as an effort by the three-person majority to muscle the merger through too quickly.
Two members of that three-person voting bloc, Yolanda Teneyuque and John Martinez, also face recalls June 5. Four candidates are vying to fill those two council seats should they become vacant.
Former councilman Agapito Vazquez and Pastor James Kilgore are competing for Teneyuque’s seat, and Planning Commissioner Drew Tipton and former Councilwoman Yvette Gonzalez for Martinez’s. Kilgore and Tipton are in the anti-Grebmeier camp; Vazquez and Gonzalez are supporters of the ousted police chief.
For now, a full police merger is on hold, pending the outcomes of the June election and a November referendum seeking to undo the merger. And a city lawsuit against 16 referendum organizers might mean no referendum at all.
In a city without even one dedicated code enforcement official – and a per capita tax revenue of only $225 a year – the council found a rare opportunity to agree, unanimously placing a five-year, 1 percent sales tax hike on the June 5 ballot.
Measure X would generate $650,000 a year, to be spent under guidance of a council-appointed oversight committee prioritizing parks and police.