Los Angeles City Council candidate Kevin de León dropped plans on Monday for an upcoming campaign event after activists complained that it had been scheduled at the family home of a man accused of torching a homeless encampment.
Jonathan Underland, spokesman for De León, said his boss is searching for a new location in Eagle Rock for the upcoming meet-and-greet, following criticism from homeless advocates and other community activists about the venue.
De León, a former state senator running to replace Councilman Jose Huizar, had invited voters to attend a Sunday afternoon event at the home of Michael Nogueira, president of the Eagle Rock Chamber of Commerce.
Nogueira, a De León supporter, is the father of Daniel Nogueira, who was arrested last summer on suspicion of attempted homicide. At the time, police accused Nogueira’s son and another man of setting a fire at a homeless encampment that grew into a brush fire threatening scores of homes.
Charges in the case have not been filed.
Underland said De León had not been aware that the younger Nogueira lives at his father’s residence. Keeping the meet-and-greet at Nogueira’s Eagle Rock home, he said, would have prevented residents from having a productive discussion with De León.
“When longtime community leaders like Michael are generous enough to open up their home to the neighborhood, and we get a sense there might be attacks on his family, we do what we can to defuse the situation,” Underland said. “In this case, we believe the best option is to simply move the meet-and-greet to another venue.”
Underland said it would be irresponsible to comment during an ongoing investigation, adding that his boss is pursuing solutions to homelessness that “keep people safe.” Although Sunday’s meet-and-greet will be moved to another location, Nogueira will remain as an event host, he added.
De León is one of five candidates running in the March 3 election to represent an Eastside district that includes downtown, Boyle Heights and El Sereno.
Nogueira, in an interview, said his son was not involved in planning the De León event, which was not intended as a campaign fundraiser, and would have been open to the public. The businessman also said more than five months have passed without charges being filed against his son.
Activists angry about the Nogueira event posted the phone number for De León’s campaign office on social media Monday, urging their allies to complain.
Jane Nguyen, co-founder of the homeless advocacy group Ktown for All, said her organization has not taken a position on the De León event. But she said she personally thought the candidate’s decision to hold an event at Nogueira’s home showed he is “tone deaf to the increasing violence that unhoused Angelenos are facing.”
“I’m not saying that the son’s crime should be transferred to the father,” she said. “But I just think it’s very poor optics on Kevin De Leon’s part.”
Eagle Rock resident Felicia Garcia, who supports rival candidate Cyndi Otteson, said she too thought De León should not have scheduled an event with Nogueira. Garcia, a co-founder of the pro-transit group Equitable Eagle Rock, said she was troubled not just by the allegations against Nogueira’s son, but Nogueira’s opposition to plans for a dedicated bus lane on Colorado Boulevard.
Nogueira, who owns an event rental business in Eagle Rock, said he thinks the bus lane should run along the 134 Freeway, not through the heart of Eagle Rock’s business district. And he compared his son’s situation to that of Richard Jewell, the security guard named in media as a potential suspect in the 1996 bombing at the Atlanta Olympics, who was later cleared.
“The old saying is that you’re innocent until proven guilty,” Nogueira said. “But it’s really the other way around.”
Daniel Nogueira and a second suspect were arrested Aug. 31. Fire Department officials said last year that they had zeroed in on the two men after analyzing burn patterns, witness statements and surveillance videos.
Prosecutors later referred the case back to detectives for further investigation. “A case has not been presented again to our office regarding this matter,” said Greg Risling, spokesman for Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey.
An attorney for Daniel Nogueira had no comment on his client’s case.
Times staff writer James Queally contributed to this report