The Coast News Group
Not That You Asked

Vista councilman’s time has come and gone

If you’re being fried on a hot skillet, wouldn’t you want to jump out of the pan?
Not if you’re Frank Lopez, the city councilman from Vista. List him as another politician hanging in against the odds and against the better judgment of almost everyone but himself.
Battered from several directions, Lopez says his detractors will not deter him from fulfilling his commitment to fight for the best interests of the people of the city of Vista.
He’ll be taking at least one day off from that battle when he heads downtown on Nov. 14 to serve time — one day, that is — at the San Diego Central Jail for failing to pay workers’ compensation insurance for the staff at his family restaurant, Casa Linda, on South Santa Fe Avenue. He’s also been ordered to pay $12,000 in restitution to the state and perform 120 hours of community service.
The charge is a misdemeanor. Had it been a felony, Lopez would have had to step down from the council. I do not know what he’ll be doing for community service, but the image that comes to mind is him wearing a bright orange vest, carrying a pointed stick, spiking roadside litter along Highway 78 and emptying the catch into a big green plastic bag. Your city council at work.
All four of his council colleagues have asked him to resign. Since he won’t, they were moving this week to remove him as the council’s representative to the Regional Solid Waste Association and to the city Planning Commission, Crime and Substance Abuse Commission, Traffic Commission and the Vista Village Business Association.
His tenaciousness in clinging to office is also prompting a recall effort. Given the bona fide signatures of 6,750 registered voters on a petition within four or so months, there could be a special election to oust him.
There’s a ton of other stuff, such as a stack of liens for underpaid and unpaid federal personal income taxes, unpaid levies for Social Security and Medicare for his employees, and unmet obligations for their unemployment compensation insurance.
Detractors find a delicious irony in how Lopez convinced voters in 2006 to approve a half-cent increase in the sales tax in Vista and then how his restaurant failed to pay more than $6,000 in sales tax since that measure, Proposition L, took effect in April 2007.
Lopez also labors under explosive allegations that he wrote dozens of bad checks to Casa Linda employees and vendors while he and his wife, Mary, who will also be serving that day in jail, ran up huge gambling debts at area casinos, including more than $56,000 at one venue. Even with the district attorney’s declaration that Lopez had no intent to defraud anyone, and even though the councilman says he’s made good on all the checks, Lopez can’t seem to shake a public impression of him writing rubber checks as the croupier collects stacks of chips he laid on a felt-top table.
Is it all that necessary for the city to spend an estimated $300,000 on a recall election because Lopez adamantly clings to his seat even though he’s worn out the welcome of his council colleagues and a score of citizens as well?
The sad thing is that we are talking here about the first Latino council member in the history of the city of Vista, where Hispanics now outnumber whites. If Lopez does step down, though, a lot of talk says the City Council will still have a Latino, and a more suitable role model at that, in one John Aguilera, a financial adviser who chairs the Planning Commission, breeding ground for council. He’s got the support of outgoing Mayor Morris
Vance and the backing of the Republicans in a nine-way race for two council seats in November.
If Lopez stays on, it will only mean continued questions about whether he’s fit to manage public funds when he’s had a peck of trouble handling his own. His presence on the city council would also only deepen the divide with the other members of board, all of whom want him gone.