Downey Mayor orders City Manager to take belongings from the homeless
In recent comments at City Council, Downey Mayor Claudia Frometa has mentioned being concerned about "transient activity in the evening hours" at the City's Apollo Park and asked the "Police Department to continue to monitor [the activity]." What Mayor Frometa failed to publicly disclose is that she has been doing much of the monitoring of the homeless herself.
Political Life has obtained emails in which Mayor Frometa details nightly rounds of anti-homeless vigilante surveillance. Her correspondence with City Manager Gilbert Livas indicates precise details on her sightings and provides orders for Livas to deprive the local unhoused population of their personal property.
Frometa's email to Livas
At 8:57 PM on March 1st, 2021, Frometa wrote to Livas letting him know that in doing her “usual nightly drives throughout Downey,” she stopped at Apollo Park, at the “shelter across from Jack in the Box,” stating, “it appears a man and a woman are living there.” She surmises on their housing status, saying “that shelter continues to be occupied by transients.”
She included three pictures, presented below, which show two plastic crates underneath a cement bench (one does not seem to properly seal), plastic water jugs, bags filled with items, a bicycle placed on a nearby bench, and a person sitting at the bench, facing the Jack in the Box. It is unclear if the person agreed to be on camera.
The Mayor ends her email by saying “We need to remove all of those belongings that appear to be there permanently. We have been tracking these same belongings since last Sept.”
The City Manager replied "Got it. Thanks"
The email is evidence that Mayor Frometa willfully exited her vehicle, approached the unhoused people, and proceeded to take photos of them and their belongings, with the intent of using these images to order Downey staff to identify and remove these belongings from their owners.
Violations under the 14th Amendment
It is notable that the Mayor describes the items as “belongings,” which suggests she knows and acknowledges someone's ownership status over the items. That is, Frometa's commands to Livas violate the 14th Amendment, which protects U.S. persons from being deprived of life, liberty, or property.
In gross violation of recent Court rulings, including Lavan v. City of Los Angeles, Mayor Frometa did not advocate for avenues of recovery for the property, but rather for the reckless and audacious looting from unhoused people at the City's public parks.
The Supreme Court has ruled the Due Process clause makes most of the Bill of Rights as applicable to cities like Downey as it is to the federal government. Not only do Mayor Frometa’s actions not recognize substantive and procedural requirements that California laws must satisfy, her actions blatantly violate them. The Equal Protection Clause requires cities such as Downey to provide equal protection under the law to all persons in the United States, including all non-citizens, and including the homeless/poor, within its jurisdiction. This clause has been the basis for many Court decisions rejecting irrational or unnecessary discrimination against people belonging to various groups, applicable to the unhoused or undocumented. Frometa’s orders to the City Manager thus constitute grossly illegal practices against the people of Downey.
The aftermath of Frometa's email
On the day following her attack on the unhoused, March 2nd, 2021, Frometa posted on Facebook, thanking teachers at Gallatin Elementary for inviting her to read to the children. The school is located within Frometa's District, in the North Downey area, which is the wealthiest District and provides the anchor for the claim that Downey could be regarded as a “Mexican Beverly Hills."
Political Life notes that past graduates of Downey Unified School District (DUSD), such as Nathan York, have told our reporters that the City Council’s policies result in the DUSD students and graduates being forced into housing instability and homelessness.
Indeed, Frometa has been vocal in her opposition to policies to meet tenant demands in Downey. She was accused in 2020 by Andrea Vera, a DUSD alumna and Cal State Fullerton student, of not taking tenants seriously, which resulted in the death of Vera's father.
Once Political Life obtained Frometa's email in the second week of April, 2021, we surveyed Apollo Park at the same time as Frometa had done on March 1st, for several days. We were unable to find any unhoused individuals at the park during these late hours, although we did see multiple police cars circling the park with high-beams.
We note that at a forum Frometa hosted with L.A. County Supervisor Janice Hahn on April 15th, 2021, Hahn voiced concern regarding the unhoused, saying "I don't feel feel any us feels good about going to sleep at night knowing there are, you know, somewhere to the tune of 60,000 people who don't have a roof over their heads." Hahn continued, "We are all in this, helping humanity get back on their feet."
Frometa followed Hahn, saying "We are here in this together, and Supervisor Hahn you said something—a key word, that it's about our humanity," but it remains unclear how Frometa reconciles her private demand for stealing from the unhoused with her public call for solidarity with "humanity."
Downey Mayor Claudia Frometa can be reached at email@example.com
Downey City Manager Gilbert Livas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Supervisor Janice Hahn can be reached at FourthDistrict@bos.lacounty.gov