#LovingSalinas…Squid woke up on Monday to Squid’s favorite weather: Cloudy with a chance of more clouds and a light spritz of rain falling as Squid put on cashmere tentacle warmers and headed out to run errands. Of course, this weekend’s weather was great in other ways: hot and sunny and perfect for great stuff like taking in the races at Weathertech Raceway Laguna Seca, joining 50,000 of Squid’s closest friends at the El Grito festival that ran numerous blocks along Alisal Street in Salinas or watching an elected official take to Facebook and behave like a jackass toward another elected official from an entirely different government body.
Squid is referring to John “Tony” Villegas, representing District 6 on Salinas City Council, who took issue with the trustees of the Salinas Union High School District passing a resolution asking the city of Salinas and the Salinas Police Department to terminate its contract with Live PD, the live-action show the embeds camera crews with Salinas officers as they patrol the streets. Fans of the show, which just entered the second year of a two-year contract with the Salinas PD, say it helps humanize the badge and lends transparency toward the mythical world of policing. Detractors, meanwhile, say it portrays Salinas as crime-ridden and shows already downtrodden people at their worst.
The SUHSD board took its unusual vote on Sept. 11, led by Trustee Anthony Rocha, who said the resolution was about promoting community, and “ending the exploitation” of the community.
“Live PD is not for Salinas and we need to get rid of it now,” Rocha said.
Enter Villegas, who on the evening of Sept. 11 took to Facebook and said he planned on bringing back the Live PD issue to the council and extend the city’s agreement with the show for another 10 years.
“It’s a great program, we are being very transparent with what the officers do and I’m happy we have this one,” he wrote. It's all well and good to disagree, but Villegas also took a swing at the school district, writing, “Not one of those board members has a son or daughter in the schools they serve.”
Not true, pointed out Rocha, who took office long before he was old enough to drink and started serving on various government commissions at the age of 15. One SUHSD trustee had a daughter graduate from a district school just last year. Rocha took a swing at Villegas as well, telling him he should spend some time returning constituent calls and emails because residents of the Creekbridge area were feeling ignored by their elected councilmember.
It was all downhill from there. Villegas told Rocha he should focus on student achievement and graduation rates and suggested that former SUHSD Trustee Kathryn Ramirez, now on the Salinas City Elementary School District board, was writing Rocha’s posts—and referred to her as “KRazy” when he lobbed the accusation. Rocha came back by reminding him that Ramirez “wiped the floor with him” in a school board race, Villegas began referring to Rocha as “cockroacha” and told him to crawl back under the board he crawled out from.
Cockroacha. Get it? It’s a melding of cockroach and Rocha! Cockroacha! Clever, no?
No. No it’s not.
Calling a woman-elected crazy is straight out of the Trump playbook, and calling a Latino elected a “cockroacha,” whether or not it’s a play on his last name, is just juvenile—and some, including Rocha, have called it racist.
The Salinas Californian leaped into the fray on Friday, posting an article in which Villegas said he was merely “branding” Rocha and Ramirez, with no sexism or racism intended.
Rocha took down some of his comments over the weekend, realizing there was no point in engaging in the manner in which he had engaged. But Villegas kept up the battle. On Sept. 15, he posted a Facebook event titled “Pity Party for Anthony ‘CockRocha,’” along with the following narrative: “‘CockRocha’ thinks me branding him with this name was racist vs. a play on his name. He is currently having a ‘Pity Party’ and would like anyone that feels the need to give him some pity to join him on his page. Of course he calls me a racist, homophobe, sexist because that’s what he wants people to believe.
“I want our community to see how anti-cop people like ‘CockRocha’ and KRazy truly are,” he wrote.
Rocha put out a statement thanking people who supported him and the board’s resolution on Live PD, and suggesting that someone might want to run against Villegas, whose term ends in 2020. Villegas initially didn’t return a call requesting comment from one of Squid's colleagues, but later sent a text message saying he didn't think the colleague could be impartial on anything having to do with him. And then he sent a lengthy text message saying that his use of "CockRocha" was a play on Rocha's name.
"If he had a name that rhymed with something else, I would have used it," Villegas writes. "He took a policy decision and made it into a political one, by introducing a resolution with no teeth. Well in politics, there are no rules nowadays.
"The real racism," Villegas adds, "is that CockRocha equates cockroaches to Hispanics and that is disgusting. I branded him that along with the fact he's anti-cop and anti-SRO" or school-resource officer.
The days-long fiasco created something of a headache for Salinas City Attorney Chris Callihan, who spent Monday morning poring over the City Council’s “Rules of Decorum,” which the council passed in 2015 as a means of dishing up consequences to councilmembers (cough, Jose Castañeda, cough) who opt not to play by the rules.
What those consequences entail: a member who violates them might get a gentle spanking, a la, they might not be allowed to represent the city in ceremonial events or be appointed to various boards or subcommittees.
Callihan determined because Villegas was operating on his private Facebook page when he made the questionable posts, the rules of decorum didn’t apply.
“It’s not a violation,” Callihan says.
Meanwhile, Salinas Mayor Joe Gunter says he has no control over what people do on their own time, but he also had been inundated over the weekend by people commenting over the situation. He said he spoke to Villegas on Monday morning and said, “Look, you two have to start acting like adults because it’s affecting the community.
“Is this all over Live PD, or is it two people who don’t like each other?” Gunter wonders. “This is not normal behavior for adults.”
Maybe it’s not normal behavior for adults, Squid thinks, but it’s sadly normal behavior for Salinas politicians.