By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Months later, in November 2011, Mario Hernandez, then mayor and Esqueda's ally on the council, confessed to the audience at a council meeting that not only was he filing for bankruptcy — but he was having an affair with De La Torre, the councilwoman sitting directly to his left on the dais.
The crisis in City Hall has spilled over to the police department, where five police chiefs have cycled in and out of the position a total of eight times in the last year and half. When an acting chief has been fired, placed on leave or quit, it is usually after locking horns with a member of the council.
The department's latest casualty, in fact, was the chief at the time Hernandez filed his police report — who refused to allow Hernandez to retract the report when he had second thoughts the next day.
City government has virtually ground to a halt. Residents have mounted a campaign to recall their elected officials, while city staffers say the embattled council members have skipped crucial meetings, leaving them without direction to address the worsening budget crisis. The meetings that officials do attend quickly devolve into drawn-out sessions of public shaming.
But at least one entity in San Fernando seems to be enjoying the drama: the San Fernando Valley Sun, the local newspaper whose editorial focus is trained like a klieg light on the scandals that continue to emerge from the police department and the council's ruling troika.
"Staked out in 1874 and left to bake forever in the California sun." So begins the chapter on San Fernando in The San Fernando Valley: Past and Present. The birthplace of the Valley was founded just before the real estate boom of the 1880s, and has been violently battered by cycles of boom and bust ever since.
The last few years have been exceptionally rough for the city of 24,000, which is 92 percent Latino. Paint peels on the signs for auto body repair, check-cashing outlets and quinceañera dress shops. And those are the lucky ones that are still open — they're outnumbered by storefronts empty except for their "For Lease" signs.
Rydell Motors, the largest dealership in town, shut down last year; the city's loss in tax revenue was estimated at $1 million a year. In July, JCPenney, whose historic building has anchored downtown San Fernando's shopping district since 1953, was shuttered by corporate ownership — a $56,000 blow to the city's tax base.
But if recent years have been hard, the boom around the turn of this century was a good one for San Fernando — and much of that had to do with Sev and Martha Aszkenazy.
Severyn Aszkenazy was an unlikely name for a young Latino kid growing up in Pacoima, San Fernando's poorer neighbor. He was named after his Jewish biological father (with a minor spelling variation). But he didn't know the man as a child; he was baptized Catholic and raised by his mother.
Before he became the most powerful man in San Fernando, Aszkenazy went to San Fernando High School and had a paper route delivering the San Fernando Valley Sun. In high school he met the woman who would become his wife, Martha. Back then, as now, the pair was a team — Martha recalls taking over his route on days he couldn't do it.
It was Martha who, years later, took the initiative to reach out to her husband's father, Severyn Ashkenazy, a Holocaust survivor–turned–prominent Westside hotelier. Father and son met for the first time at the tony Mondrian Hotel, one of Ashkenazy's properties. There, father immediately embraced the son he never knew. Soon after that first meeting, both Sev and Martha went to work for him.
In addition to some 30 buildings in San Fernando, the couple ultimately came to own two businesses in town: Aszkenazy Development and Pueblo Construction. Through them, they would invest heavily in projects in their hometown, even after decamping to Los Feliz.
Library Plaza was one of several Aszkenazy projects rubberstamped by the City Council during the golden years. The plaza was restored in 2000 — a $3 million venture financed via a joint public-private partnership. The city's now-defunct redevelopment agency put up $800,000 in loans to kickstart the project; Aszkenazy bankrolled the rest.
The circle of businesses clustered around a courtyard is the closest thing San Fernando has to a town square. Sitting in the plaza, San Fernando City Councilwoman Sylvia Ballin gives the lay of the land.
"That used to be Mario's UPS store," Ballin says, motioning to the empty storefront behind her, out of which Mario Hernandez once ran his business.
Gesturing to her right, she says, "My husband owns this barbershop. And sitting right behind you," she says, glancing at a tall, tanned, middle-aged man in a white shirt and slacks, "is Sev Aszkenazy, and that's his brother-in-law Frank, who owns the coffee shop there."
Also in the plaza is a news rack filled with copies of another Aszkenazy property: the San Fernando Valley Sun. The weekly tabloid, which the couple purchased in 2001, has played a key role in exposing city officials' liaisons to the outside world. In the last year and a half, its small staff has dutifully cataloged every tawdry detail (sex in the police cruiser!), accusation (three council members colluding in secret!) and rumor (the mayor doesn't know how to read!).
It would be funny if it wasn't such an outrage. In defense of the current councilmembers, San Fernando city government ineptitude is hardly a new phenomenon. For decades, city leaders have either been nasty or dumb as lampposts. This trio seems to be both nasty and dumb, which is why it's newsworthy.
I grew up in this town in the pre-Ashkenazy days when it may as well have been an outpost in the old West. Many young people left after finishing high school/college to move to communities where it wasn't so difficult to see a movie and have a craft beer on a Friday night, neighborhoods with a bookstore or a restaurant with vegan menu options. I'm sure that sounds like snobbery, but I'd rather be a snob than be stir-crazy from isolation. The town's chief characteristic is a strange combination of provincialism, nimbyism, and insularity from the rest of Los Angeles. There have been some upgrades in the last decade, chiefly Library Square, and I'm happy to hear that the Sun now does more than publish legal notices and grip-and-grin photos of Chamber of Commerce execs. Perhaps this recall election and JC Penney finally giving up the ghost are golden opportunities to shake off the cobwebs and tumbleweeds collecting around the rest of the city.
why did thishappen between two elected officials? it's nature and nurture (underdeveloped frontal lobes and high school memories lost).
At Brian Arra. I don't think you have actually seen her in person have you? Cause she is not hot at all. Don't go by the picture on this magazine or the google images. This article made DeLa Torre and Barajas look hot!! But if you look at them in person one of them looks like the chilindrina and the other like... Well.... De La Torre
The owners of the San Fernando Valley Sun Newspaper, Sev and Martha Aszkenazy are in foreclosure and jeapordizing San Fernando's livelihood.
TWO MAJOR PROPERTIES ARE IN FORECLOSURE AND SET FOR AUCTION SALE ON OCTOBER 31ST AT 9AM IN POMONA!
Check it out for yourself.
Look at properties that are in foreclosure and up for sale!
#F12-00066 120 N. Maclay Ave
#F12-00091 1030 Pico Street
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