$15 million in new taxpayer dollars to improve public safety at stake in the City of Victorville as one city councilmember is removed and another is facing criminal allegations

Gail Fry

Contributor

   Documents published on the City of Victorville’s website reviewed by The San Bernardino American News, report the voters’ approval of the city’s Measure P during the November 3, 2020, election will take effect on April 1, and is anticipated to add $15 million annually to expand essential services and increase safety for Victorville’s growing population raised through a general one-cent increase in sales taxes collected on the sale or use of physical personal property sold at retail stores purchased within the City of Victorville.  

   For instance, purchase of T-shirts, gas, soda, candy, all products sold at retail stores will be taxed an additional one cent and will be used to increase public safety.  More information on this measure and its intent can be found at:  https://www.victorvilleca.gov/government/measure-p-1126#:~:text=Measure%20P%20is%20a%20general,7.75%20percent%20to%208.75%20percent.  

   Viewed as political maneuvers taken by the majority of the city council, on March 2, the Victorville City Council removed City Councilmember Rita Ramirez (Ramirez), a Democrat, after finding she had not resided within the City of Victorville for over six months and on August 17, 2020, the City of Victorville took action against Councilmember Blanca Gomez (Gomez), also a Democrat, reporting her for suspected fraud to the California Employment Development Department as to an unemployment claim.

   In reviewing California Attorney General Opinions and Laws regarding the eligibility of an individual to run for an elected position on a city council, it is the persons’ “domicile” that is required to be within the city’s jurisdiction that qualifies that person to hold an elected office for that city.  

   California Elections Code Section 349(b) provides that a person can only have one domicile and it is the residence where they live, where they intend to remain, and if absent where they intend to return.  California Elections Code Section 2021 provides if a person temporarily goes to another precinct in California, with the intention to return, he or she does not lose his or her domicile.  California Elections Code Section 2031 provides that the claiming of a homeowner’s exemption on a property is not proof of a domicile if the person’s driver’s license reflects a different address.  

   California Government Code Section 34882 requires a candidate to reside in and be registered to vote within the city’s jurisdiction.  California Attorney General Opinion 88-791 cites a person’s address shown on their voter registration, address on their driver’s license, their mailing address, and utility bills can provide proof of domicile.         

   Rita Ramirez, a diabetic, shared from early January 2019, and continuing today, she suffered a series of serious health issues, which lead to the amputation of her left foot, unhealed wounds on her right foot as well as a mild heart attack.  Therefore, over the past two years, she has been in the hospital multiple times, stayed at physical rehabilitation centers for extended periods of time, and is now in a wheelchair. 

    When the COVID pandemic was declared in March of 2020, Ramirez had just had her left leg amputated.  At the advice of her doctors, in light of her surgery, healing of the open wound, and confinement to a wheelchair, Ramirez isolated herself in a house she owns in 29-Palms, a house that also accommodated her use of a wheelchair. 

   Ramirez explained the home was renting within the City of Victorville was shared by a roommate and would not accommodate her wheelchair.     

   Ramirez told The San Bernardino American News that during March 2020, she contacted Mayor Gloria Garcia informing her that she was under doctor’s orders to stay isolated while rehabilitating and as a result would be remaining at her 29 Palms house.  By July of 2020, Ramirez voiced left leg had healed.

   After that Ramirez explained she began to have similar problems with her right foot, and by December 2020, the doctors were considering whether to amputate her right foot also.  Instead of amputation, Ramirez’ doctor was able to perform two surgeries saving her right foot, which is continuing to heal.  Following the surgeries, Ramirez suffered a mild heart attack.  

   Still in the hospital, on January 7, 2021, Ramirez contacted the city manager, the city clerk and texted the mayor to let them know that she was in the hospital and as a result unable to participate in the city council meetings.  Ramirez explained that  no one was allowed into the hospital, a requirement to set up the zoom meeting, and the hospital had poor internet reception.    

   By February 2021, Ramirez was released from the hospital and returned to the 29 Palms house to rehabilitate.  Mid-February 2021, Ramirez informed the city manager of her weakened physical condition, and inability to participate in the city council meeting. 

   The following meeting, Ramirez discovered her peers on the city council, Leslie Irving, Elizabeth Becerra, and Debra Jones, voted in favor of her removal from the city council based on her non-attendance at the meetings for 60-days. The majority of the council found her absence unexcused despite the fact that she was in the hospital.    

   Ramirez explained how she officially rented a house in the City of Victorville as her legal domicile until the end of February 2021. Prior to her health problems, Ramirez advised she had made several offers to purchase a home in Victorville, however, due to her health status was unable to finalize the purchase of a home in City of Victorville.    

   After her foot heals, Ramirez intends to move back to Victorville and run for re-election.  Ramirez explained that she made promises to her constituents she intends to keep such as revitalizing the downtown, attracting jobs, establishing a university, and providing opportunities for the youth.  “I lost my foot, but I did not lose my mind,” Ramirez declared adding “I am not willing to give up my life because I am now disabled.” 

   On March 30, local businessman and Victor Valley Community College District Trustee Joseph Brady (Brady), a Republican, published an opinion in the Daily Press urging the city to appoint former Planning Commissioner/former Mayor Ryan McEachron (McEachron), a Republican, to replace Ramirez.

   Brady cited the time wasted in holding a special election, while the City of Victorville has urgent issues to be addressed, the estimated cost to the taxpayers of a special election, which he estimates to be $850,000 and a four-member City Council that can lead to tie votes and inability to govern. 

   On the city council for ten years, McEachron lost his long reign of power when Gomez defeated him in the November 2016 election.  

   Since Gomez’ surprising defeat of McEachron, she has been the subject of a series of critical actions from her fellow city councilmembers, for instance, a censure in March 2017, for attending  a Rialto City Council Meeting where sanctuary cities were discussed; a failed recall effort;  a rebuke for her behavior at a council meeting; removal from a council meeting for reading a statement; as well as formal council disapproval over allegations she harassed city employees and violated city and state codes.  

   On December 21, 2020, Gomez filed a federal lawsuit alleging civil rights violations, defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress and false arrest against the City of Victorville, its city manager, several councilmembers, the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department and numerous other individuals.  The lawsuit is pending.  

   The latest of action taken by Victorville City Council directed toward Councilmember Gomez involves the appeal of Gomez’s award of benefits for 2020 as a “gig-worker” under California’s Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program (PUA).

   An official council memorandum dated August 5, 2020, claimed Gomez, “has never been an employee of the City of Victorville.”

   Gomez claims she is a “gig-worker” as she works multiple jobs and applied for benefits under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), a program designed to assist those impacted by the pandemic that do not normally qualify for unemployment.  Gomez told The San Bernardino American News that she based her claim on the income she lost from her other jobs due to the pandemic, and did not claim any lost income from her job as a city council member at the City of Victorville.

   A gig worker is an independent contractor or a person who is hired for contractual work that is usually for projects or for short-time periods.

   In a decision mailed March 2, 2021, the Employment Development Department’s (EDD) Administrative Law Judge Stephen H. Tyler (Tyler) explained “The issue in this case is whether remuneration payable to an individual constitutes wages for personal services payable to an employee.” 

   Tyler pointed to California Unemployment Insurance Code Section 1279(2)(c) which states, “For the purpose of this section “wages” includes any and all compensation for personal services whether performed as an employee or as an independent contractor (sic) but does not include any payments, regardless of their designation, made by a city of this state to an elected official thereof as an incident to public office …”   

   “The claimant’s application indicated that she has ceased working, which is not the case,” Tyler found adding, “Benefits were received as a result of this misrepresentation.”  Tyler noted no unemployment or disability taxes were withheld from her wages, therefore, Gomez is “ineligible for benefits.” 

   Tyler concluded the City of Victorville could “consider investigating the claim (sic) as being fraudulent” reversing a prior EDD decision in Gomez’s favor noting Gomez’ earnings are not considered wages under the law because she is an elected official, thereby, Gomez was “disqualified for benefits.”

   According to documents obtained

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