Sheriff backs down from closing Marina del Rey and Altadena sheriff’s stations, now says facilities will undergo ‘administrative consolidation’

By Kevin Uhrich and Christina Campodonico

After being scolded, then rebuked by everyone from outraged Westside residents, the Altadena Town Council (ATC), Pasadena Mayor Terry Tornek, and the sheriff’s civilian watchdog commission to all five Los Angeles County Supervisors — then scolded again — Sheriff Alex Villanueva apparently changed his mind.

Rather than close two sheriff’s stations, one in Altadena and one in Marina del Rey, Villanueva last week reportedly told Assemblyman Chris Holden, a former longtime Pasadena Councilman and onetime mayor, that the two stations would not be closed but “undergo administrative consolidation,” Pasadena Now reported, as a way to cut $400 million from his proposed $3.9 billion budget for the next fiscal year.

According to reporting from the Los Angeles Daily News, Villanueva said last Wednesday that while administrative staff working at the Marina del Rey and Altadena stations would merge with offices at the Crescenta Valley and South LA stations, respectively, deputies would continue to report to the Marina del Rey and Altadena stations to put on their gear and pick up their patrol cars.

“We don’t want them having to go to one location, then having to drive to another location, because the community is going to lose that time they take to drive back and forth,” Villanueva said. “The deputies are going to remain exactly where they’re at through this pandemic.”

Completely shuttering the two sheriff’s stations would have saved $12 million, Villanueva estimated.

Villanueva made the shocking announcement on May 4, drawing the ire of the Board of Supervisors, county CEO Sachi Hamai, who had asked that all department heads to cut their budgets by 10 to 20 percent, as well as the county Civilian Oversight Commission (COC), the ATC, Pasadena council members and Pasadena Mayor Tornek.

On May 12, the Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to halt Sheriff Villanueva’s plans to close both stations.

“Closing stations should be an absolute last resort,” said Supervisor Janice Hahn, who represents Marina del Rey, adding in a statement to the Los Angeles Daily News that, “I think we can find common ground and ways to address the economic reality of this pandemic without jeopardizing public safety and the crucial services our sheriff’s deputies provide our communities every day.”

“We need our station and deputies in the close proximity to our community,” said Lorinee Jackson, a resident of the unincorporated community of View Park quoted in Patch.com’s coverage of the Board of Supervisor’s meeting. “Knowing we can count on the Marina del Rey station to be there for us when we need help completes our community.”

During the Supervisors’ April teleconference, Hahn expressed dismay at the sheriff’s department’s lack of progress in cutting costs despite hiring an auditor, according to Patch.com’s reporting.

“I’m frustrated, sheriff, that you haven’t been able to figure this out,” said Hahn. “Your budget deficit is not going to be sustainable … especially given the big hit that we’re going to take because of the coronavirus.”

Supervisor Kathryn Barger, whose district includes Altadena, also expressed disappointment in Villanueva’s inability to balance his department’s budget.

“Instead of more sensible adjustments, he is responding by eliminating sheriff’s stations,” Barger said.

The Association of Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, a union representing rank-and-file deputies, told the LA Daily News that they were not warned about the potential station closures.

County CEO Sachi Hamai said steep reductions in overtime would cover most of the deficit. Hamai asked all county department heads to make budgets cuts of between 10 and 20 percent.

Tornek, a member of the City Council’s Public Safety Committee, said he would write a letter to the sheriff expressing his concerns.

“We want to go on the record that the station is important to law enforcement in this area and the cooperation between the sheriff, the sheriff’s deputies and the city PD is vital,” Tornek told the online news magazine Pasadena Now.

“We just want to reemphasize that we have a real stake in what happens at that station. So we’ll still send a letter to the supervisors and to the sheriff,” Tornek said.

Villanueva was subpoenaed by the sheriff’s Civilian Oversight Commission, but did not show up for the hearing to explain his decisions. This was not the first time Villanueva was asked to attend commission meetings. “After repeated requests for the sheriff to attend our commission meetings, no one from the department has shown up,” Commission Chair Patti Giggans, executive director of Peace over Violence, wrote in a prepared statement, Pasadena Now reported.

“The meetings, now conducted virtually twice a month due to the critical COVID-19 crisis, are very well attended by the public. We are in a pandemic which calls for more oversight, more collaboration, more input into policy, not less. The role of the Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission is a public mandate and one that every commissioner takes seriously,” Giggans said.

In a letter to the sheriff, members of the Altadena Town Council wrote “We feel that closing the station, and most certainly ending the critical collaboration, will jeopardize the public safety of our residents,” the ATC wrote in a letter to
the sheriff.

The ATC is an elected board that serves in an advisory capacity to Barger.

The ATC asked Villanueva to work with Barger and the Los Angeles County CEO “to look at alternative solutions to address your budget shortfall and ensure the Altadena Sheriff’s station remain open with its existing level of support,” according to Pasadena Now.

Speaking on behalf of the Marina del Rey Lessees Association, the organization’s President David Levine said the association “was both shocked and extremely disturbed” about Villanueva’s initial intention to the close the Marina del Rey Sheriff’s station on July 1, but applauded Supervisor Hahn’s efforts to keep the station open.

“I do believe the Marina del Rey sheriff’s station should remain open and fully staffed, and I look forward to our elected officials figuring out how to keep the sheriff’s station open,” said Levine.

This story is a collaboration between Times Media Group sister publications The Argonaut and Pasadena Weekly.

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