Whittier Mayoral Candidates Face the Fact Checker

Whittier Mayoral Candidates Face the Fact Checker

After three forums sponsored by a variety of Whittier nonprofits and civic organizations, Sustainable City News fact-checks statements made by City of Whittier mayoral candidates on several issues of interest to local voters. View these forums yourself for an in-depth look at where the candidates stand on these issues:

Watch the Chamber of Commerce Candidate Forum here.

Watch the Cleaner Greener Candidate Forum Part 1 and Part 2.

Watch the Housing & Homelessness Candidate Forum here.

Candidates I.L. Leon Savage and Joe Vinatieri on the need for more police officers:

At Chamber of Commerce forum at 7:43, Savage asserted, “Right now we live in a town where we are understaffed as far as our police department is concerned. We have over 80,000 people living here and we have only 128 policemen (sic) on our police department. My goal is to increase the police department this year by 480 policemen (sic). That will put us at a solid 600, the reason being that … it takes 52 police for every 10,000 persons.”

On the same subject, incumbent mayor Vinatieri said at 14:58 of the same forum video, “We need more police officers. There’s no question we need more police officers, and we need to make sure that we as a city are financially stable.” He did not say how many additional officers are needed.

Vinatieri at 61:59 says, “Everyone needs to understand this: 48% of our budget is the Whittier Police Department.” 

Beginning with the financial issue, page 53 of Whittier’s city budget for FY 2019-2020 shows total expenditures for the year of $67,319,745, of which $35,621,255 is allocated to police.

We rate Vinatieri’s budget claim true.

The population of Whittier was 85,331 and Santa Fe Springs was 16,223 at the 2010 census.

According to Governing.com, Washington, D.C. is the only U.S. city reporting to the FBI that it has more than 50 police officers per 10,000 population. According to Governing.com’s reporting of 2016 FBI data, the median police department size for cities with populations between 50,000 and 100,000 is 16.7 officers and 20.1 total personnel per 10,000 population. The median police department size for cities with populations between 100,000 and 200,000 (the population category for Whittier and Santa Fe Springs combined) are 14.3 officers and 19.4 total personnel per 10,000 population. 

The City of Whittier’s website states that the Whittier Police Department has 128 sworn police officers and 54 civilian staff, but the Department responded to SCN’s request for comment Thursday evening with updated information that, due to retirements, Whittier currently has only 121 officers. Of these, 86 are assigned to Whittier and 35 to Santa Fe Springs. When comparing the total number of officers to the population of both cities, the count is only slightly below the median. Comparing the allocation for each city, Whittier has only 10 officers per 10,000 population, only ⅔ of the median number of officers for a city of Whittier’s size. Santa Fe Springs has 21.5 officers per 10,000 population. The FBI does not publish police department statistics for cities smaller than 25,000.

We rate Savage’s and Vinatieri’s claims that Whittier’s police department is understaffed as well within the range of valid opinions. We rate Savage’s claim that 52 police officers are needed for every 10,000 residents as false. 

Candidates Joe Vinatieri, Louis Reyes, Rolando Cano, and I.L. Leon Savage on Homelessness:

Vinatieri claimed at the Housing and Homelessness forum at 39:27, “We need to get real about something and that is that in this census almost 70% of the people self-identified as either having mental issues and/or drug or alcohol addiction.”

Appendix D on page 40 of the city’s Homeless Census indicates that nearly 37% of respondents answered “yes” to City Net’s question on mental health, and about 32% stated they struggle with addiction to drugs, alcohol, or both. However, the study did not measure Vinatieri’s 70% number. It included separate questions that cannot be added together because the two groups overlap. By the same addition method Vinatieri used, it is possible to make the equally invalid calculation that 67.8% said they do not abuse drugs or alcohol and 63.3% say they do not have mental health issues, therefore 131% do not abuse substances or have mental health issues. 

At 4:45:00 of the meeting video, City Net’s representatives did explain why these numbers are likely to be undercounted. Therefore, while the actual numbers of homeless individuals with substance abuse issues may be higher than the numbers reported, the report provides no basis for the “nearly 70%” figure claimed by Vinatieri. Around 5:31:00-5:37:30 of the city council meeting video, Mayor Vinatieri questioned City Net’s representative on this exact calculation, and clarified the two numbers were independent, could not be added and likely had some overlap. After that conversation, Vinatieri concluded that approximately ⅓ of the people had either mental health or substance abuse issues. However, City Net stated that these numbers are likely under-reported and could be expected to increase as services began to be provided. He also discussed the reasons for discrepancy between the ⅓ counted by City Net and the 85% estimated by police. City Net explained that a small percentage of the homeless population generate most of the police interaction and that among these he would expect a higher proportion of addiction and mental health issues, compared to the population of homeless individuals who never have encounters with police.

We rate Vinatieri’s claim false. 

Reyes (Housing and Homelessness at 12:54) “One of the reasons why I chose to run is … we should treat people with human dignity and respect and get them into beds and give them showers. Whittier does not have any showers on a daily basis for people to maintain human dignity, and that’s an issue for me.”

According to Irene Muro of Whittier’s First Day, the Salvation Army used to offer a shower program at their shelter in Whittier, but discontinued it a few years ago when they changed their program to a shelter program for families. Since that happened, there hasn’t been a regular shower program available.

First Day intended to operate a mobile shower program throughout the community. Its biggest successes have been with churches. But at this time First Day only offers showers at Liberty Plaza in unincorporated Whittier two days a month, and weekly at another location in Hawaiian Gardens. Funding for operation at current sites is provided by L.A. County Supervisor Janice Hahn’s office. 

Homeless individuals from Whittier can use these programs if they can get transportation to the sites, and First Day and other agencies provide some transportation for this purpose. Running the mobile shower program requires funding and staffing, and First Day is currently trying to raise funding to expand its mobile shower operations.

We rate Reyes’ statement true.

At 49:25 of the Chamber of Commerce forum, Rolando Cano says, “We went to the Homeless Consortium. We went to other events throughout the city, and we were promised the plan. Recently in our last City Council meeting, we were informed that that plan was never implemented because we were hoping on a Hail Mary that this case Martin vs. Boise, so where are we? Back at square one.”

Whittier paid for a Homeless Plan for 2018-2021 to be developed and the City Council adopted it in July 2018. Pages 12-15 of the Homeless Plan lists the plans objectives with a method of measurement and a timeline for each. Twelve of these objectives state a timeline of 18 months or less, meaning if the plan were being followed, they would have been fully implemented by now. While we could find no specific mention of this issue on the agenda reports and video of the City Council’s discussion on January 28, a report on implementation of the Homeless Plan is part of the agenda for each Social Services Commission meeting. However, these reports are identical each month, containing no report at all on which objectives have been implemented or not implemented. The Minutes of the September Social Services Commission 3 meeting contain a brief summary of an oral report, but no information on which objectives of the Plan have been implemented and no indication of any action taken by the Commission on this information.

We rate Cano’s claim as unconfirmed.

At 35:43 and 45:01of the Chamber of Commerce forum, Savage repeated the claim he made two years ago that Whittier has 1897 child predators. This was fact-checked and found to be false two years ago. This year, Savage claims all 1897 have houses, that they each get a house, a car, and $3000 per month, and proposes to solve Whittier’s homelessness crisis by confiscating homes occupied by sex offenders and giving them to homeless families.

We still rate Savage’s claims false.

Candidate Joe Vinatieri on funding for low-income housing:

At 62:37 of the Chamber forum, incumbent mayor Vinatieri says, “You’re gonna hear me talk about Sacramento unfunded mandates. Sacramento was sitting on a $21.5 billion surplus last year. What’s that money? A lot of it is our former redevelopment money. Has the governor said hey we’ll help out the cities and counties? No. That money is staying there. Is that money helping us to do affordable housing? No.”  Vinatieri said something similar in the Housing and Homelessness forum at 56:07, where he mentions 300 new homes and rehabs in the last 10 years with redevelopment money. But in the next 10 years Whittier will need more than 3000, half of which are for low and very low income households.

California did have a $21.5 billion surplus in FY 2019-2020, and projects another $7 billion surplus in 2020-2021. But Gov. Newsom proposed that $1 billion of this be put into a fund to reward communities for meeting their state-mandated RHNA goals. This bill got stuck in the Assembly’s Budget committee. It is not yet decided whether a significant portion of the budget surplus will be used to help cities fund more housing.

We rate Vinatieri’s statement as a mixture.

Candidates Christine Singer-Luna and Rolando Cano on radiation and chemical pollution:

Singer-Luna (Cleaner Greener Part 1 at 50:18) “We should not have 5G towers here. That is incredibly dangerous radiation for this city. There have not been enough studies to prove otherwise. And there are studies to prove that 5G radiation is dangerous.”

According to New York Times science journalist William J. Broad, these highly alarming studies are based on the work of Dr. Bill Curry, and are in fact not credible for various reasons, principally that human skin keeps radio waves at these frequencies from penetrating the human body. The BBC’s Reality Check Team is more cautious, reporting that the World Health Organization has classified 5G radiation as “possibly carcinogenic,” putting it in the same category as talcum powder and eating pickled vegetables.

We rate Singer-Luna’s claim unconfirmed.

Cano spoke about toxic chemicals at 26:00 “Many of us remember Skateland that grew up in Whittier or visited, and it closed because of air pollutants seeping into Skateland from former Omega Chemical Corporation, and the site continues to affect a four-mile radius to this day.” 

According to the Whittier Daily News, the city reached an agreement with the EPA ten years ago to install a sewer line from wells beneath the property to remove contaminated water in exchange for release from further liability. Later, the EPA reached a $78 million settlement with a group of 66 companies to clean up the site and a 4.2 mile plume of groundwater contamination. The city has an option to buy or lease the property for a parking lot and recent City Council closed session agendas indicate the city is now actively negotiating with the property owner.

We rate Cano’s statement true.

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