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Hack lawyer needs to go back to law school (Rebuttal)

Carlos Aranibar

Vijay Patel, former Building Appeals Commissioner and current mouthpiece for the conservative power brokers in Downey like Mario Guerra, believes there to be a conflict of interest when an elected official presents legislation that benefits nearly half of the residents of their city.

In this case, we are talking about the over 50,000 renters in Downey. Because Councilmember Alvarez is a renter, while not actually listed on any tenant agreements, she is in violation of the law…according to Patel. Hmmm, interesting.

On its face, this argument, that an elected official cannot put forth legislation that they may incidentally benefit from, is ridiculous.

By Mr. Patel’s logic, the only people that can promote rent control would be the homeless and homeowners. Read that again: if a legislator wants to help renters, only a homeless person or a homeowner can avoid a conflict of interest by pushing for rent control, by Mr. Patel’s logic.

In case you’re wondering, the path from homelessness to elected official is difficult. In fact, you might even say it’s almost impossible. Except when you consider one shining example: Catherine Alvarez spent a year of her life living out of her car with her kids on the streets of Downey.

As with so many things in life, our stations change, careers flourish and pivot, and our housing situation is no exception. Unless you live in a place where home prices are far beyond the reach of most.

It is almost impossible to purchase a home in Los Angeles; the National Association of Realtors reported in 2020 that only 12% of homes on the market are within reach of families that earn the median income of this area. 

The constituents, claims Patel, are concerned. Were they concerned about her housing arrangement when they elected her less than 150 days ago? Did she somehow deceive the voters about her housing arrangement, and lead them to believe she was something other than a renter? Quite the opposite is true.

So when Patel cites ‘constituents”, he really means those moneyed interests of not just District 3, but all landowners with a financial stake in bilking working families of their hard earned income, usually as essential workers in the service of the capitalist elite.

Much like Ric Rodriguez’s work with his security firm RMI, which enjoyed a city contract during his short tenure on Downey City Council. 

To see the contract approved by the City Council, do a web search for: “RMI Security city contract Downey CA 2016” The first link should lead you to a Laserfiche for June 28, 2016.  

On the topic of conflict of interest, we can look at the $100,000 city contract with RMI. The contract signed in 2016, the year Rodriguez ran and won his seat for District 3, was set to expire at the end of fiscal year 2016/2017.

During that campaign, The Downey Patriot hosted a candidate debate at the Downey Theatre. I was in attendance that evening. I clearly remember Mr. Rodriguez being asked about a possible conflict of interest with RMI’s business with the City and his candidacy.

His response? Paraphrasing: “It’s not a very large contract for me, so it’s not a big deal. Also, I don’t think the City wants to end the contract if I win, I think they want to keep the contract. So I will not be terminating that contract” 

Rodriquez went on to win his seat on Council. Like all other elected officials, he appointed his friends and colleagues to the various commissions and boards. That includes none other than Vijay Patel to the Board of Building Appeals.

Maybe Mr. Patel wasn’t yet a lawyer in 2016. Maybe he was not able to identify conflicts of interest within the public sector at the time that his friend chose to seek a seat on Council.

In fact, Mr. Patel was admitted into the CA Bar Association in 2012. And yet, this blatant conflict of interest seemed to slip by unseen by Mr. Patel. 

Getting back to the hatchet job by Mr. Patel, we see where he complains about what he describes as “[p]eople across the country sic demanding free housing, free healthcare, universal basic income, free rent.” What does that have to do with the topic of rent control? By definition, rent is a financial transaction.

The Downey Tenants Union and its supporters are not asking for free housing or even subsidized housing. They are seeking government intervention to prevent eviction without cause. They are seeking redress for infractions of lease agreements for clean, inhabitable living spaces.

Lastly, they are seeking protections from predatory practices through raising rent prices frequently and at rates that outpace wage growth.