IMPERIAL COUNTY — Imperial County employees are no longer required to live within the county.
That’s according to a new ordinance that was preliminarily passed at the July 28 county Board of Supervisors meeting.
The ordinance rescinds a previously unenforced ordinance that required county employees to live in the United States.
County Counsel Adam Crook said the old ordinance could open the county to litigation as it could be seen as discrimination based on the California Fair Employment and Housing Act and Title 7 of the U.S. Civil Rights Act. A different ordinance that may require county employees to live within a “reasonable distance” is still being looked at and will be brought to the board at a later date, Crook said.
The new ordinance is not without its opponents, as former county employee and twice-defeated Imperial County Board of Supervisors’ candidate Claudia Camarena called it an “appalling decision” to apply federal and state discrimination rights to residents of another country.
She made the statement during the county board meeting July 28, but Camarena has previously spoken out about what she’s sees as an unfair practice of Mexicali residents assuming high-level positions within the county. She spoke about the situation during public comment at the last board meeting and has sought county public employment records related to the issue.
Allowing a pool of more than 1 million people in Mexicali to compete for county jobs against Imperial Valley residents isn’t fair and will hurt the county, Camarena said during the meeting July 28. She said Mexicali residents don’t pay property tax to the county.
“There is an impact to our county financially, and there is impact to the residents,” Camarena said. “Every job is necessary in this county for our residents.”
County Supervisor Ray Castillo countered that some Imperial Valley businesses would not be able to stay afloat without the customers who cross the border to shop.
“To require employees to live in Imperial County could be a source of discrimination,” he said. “I think we need to move forward with this. … That law is outdated, and I personally feel we need to do away with it.”
The new ordinance passed 4-1 and will go back to the board for a second reading at a later meeting. If given final approval then, the ordinance will become effective 30 days after the final approval.
Supervisor Ryan Kelley was the sole opposition to the ordinance.
After the meeting, Kelley said he voted against the ordinance because there was no alternative presented to the board, and because he feels if someone is an employee of Imperial County, they should live in the county.
County Makes $500,000 Available
Half a million dollars from the county will now be available to Imperial Valley businesses facing hardship from COVID-19.
The money will come from the Imperial County Public Benefit Fund after the Board of Supervisors approved moving forward with a second round of COVID relief funds.
The new application period will likely start at the end of the first week in August, County Executive Officer Tony Rouhotas Jr. said during the July 28 meeting. That will give county staff time to get the word out to businesses and translate the application to Spanish.
While the initial proposal was to allow the county to loan $250,000, Supervisor Jesus Escobar said that amount is too small and proposed the $500,000 total, half of which comes from the Public Benefit Fund and half from the Agriculture Benefit Fund.
“There is light at the end of the tunnel, but that tunnel is looking very long,” he said. “I would prefer to move forward with additional funding.”
The first round of funding provided $100,000 to Brawley businesses, $102,000 to Calexico businesses, $10,000 to a Holtville business, $153,000 to El Centro businesses, $10,000 to an Ocotillo group, $80,000 to Imperial businesses and $10,000 to a Westmorland church.
As of the July 28 meeting, 22 applicants were awaiting a second round of funding, Rouhotas said.
The second round of funding was approved with a 5-0 vote by the board.
First “Skimmers” Found in County
Although its been a widespread problem around the country, no credit-card “skimmers” had been found in any Imperial County gasoline pumps until recently.
Carlos Ortiz, agricultural commissioner and sealer of weights and measures, the latter of which oversees regulations pertaining to gas pumps in the county, said his staff discovered six skimmers, all at one location in the county.
Ortiz made the announcement during department reports at the county board meeting July 28. He later revealed in an email that the skimmers were found at a business in El Centro, but he did not say which service station.
He told the county board his office removed the skimmers and proceeded to give a brief presentation of the theft devices.
Card skimmers allow criminals to potentially steal money, personal information, and identities by using information gained when people swipe their debit cards, he said.
People can protect themselves against skimmer fraud by paying inside instead of at the pump, looking at the security seal at the pump to make sure there is no sign of tampering, using a credit card or cash instead of a debit card and choosing a pump closest to the cashier, he said. Consumers should also keep receipts and watch their accounts for suspicious charges.