Protesters decry Huntington Beach Mayor Pro Tem Tito Ortiz for not wearing a mask during food drive
Huntington Beach Mayor Pro Tem Tito Ortiz continues to be a lightning rod during the pandemic for refusing to wear a mask at public events.
The issue resurfaced Wednesday when Ortiz and other volunteers handed out food in the Oak View Community Center parking lot and were met by a small band of protesters.
“As a kid growing up, a couple of my buddies lived in this neighborhood and I lived downtown,” Ortiz said. “It felt like I fit in here, and I always gave to charity every Christmastime. … It was a good opportunity.”
Oak View community activist Victor Valladares attended the event and criticized Ortiz, the top vote-getter in the last City Council election, for his positions on disease transmission and other topics.
Speaking through a megaphone, Valladares demanded that Ortiz put on a mask. The councilman declined.
Valladares is the co-founder of Oak View ComUNIDAD, a grass-roots organization that helps residents of the predominantly Latino Oak View neighborhood.
Ortiz has refused to wear a mask at City Council meetings and other events throughout the pandemic.
“For a City Council member who just recently got elected and is now our mayor pro tem, he should set a model, a precedent of public safety for the residents that he’s representing now in Huntington Beach,” Valladares said. “The denial of COVID, and refusing to wear face masks?
“Even the police officers here have their masks on. Everybody out here has their mask but him. This is a representative, and he’s not even leading by example. Little kids see that he’s not wearing one, and he’s the mayor pro tem? It’s not good.”
Ortiz, a retired mixed martial arts fighter, said he is taking other precautions.
“I wash my hands over 10 times a day,” he said. “People want me to be six feet apart, and we’re sitting on the dais, and we’re six feet apart. I’m doing it.”
Ortiz said, in his view, his strategy is working so far.
“I haven’t worn a mask all year, and I have not been sick, and I’ve shaken over 15,000 hands as I ran for City Council,” Ortiz said. “I went to rally after rally after rally with no mask, and I have never been sick, my kids haven’t been sick, my girlfriend hasn’t been sick.”
Not showing symptoms of COVID-19 does not mean someone is not carrying the novel coronavirus that causes it. Carriers are often asymptomatic and experts say the virus can remain on a person’s skin for up to nine hours.
Guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends people ages 2 and older wear a mask in public settings and when around people who don’t live in their household.
During the food drive, volunteers handed out 50 turkeys, 50 hams and 600 prepackaged meals, said Van Vu, the vice president of Kiwanis Club of Huntington Beach, which staged the event with Party City and Walmart.
The event pivoted from the community center parking lot to the adjacent Oak View branch of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Huntington Valley. The parking lot is property of the Ocean View School District.
District Board President Patricia Singer and district Supt. Carol Hansen wrote a letter to the city of Huntington Beach on Wednesday urging those volunteering or attending the food drive to wear masks and follow social-distancing protocols.
“We are very concerned, because that is already a very vulnerable community,” said Gina Clayton-Tarvin, a member of the Ocean View school board. “It’s the hardest hit community in Huntington Beach, and now we have a person who’s coming into the community to, I guess, give out food and help during the holidays.
“But what he really needs to do to help the community is put a mask on and be responsible. … This person is a rabid pandemic denier, who called this a ‘plandemic’ sitting at the dais, and you’re going to come and lean into people’s cars and hand out turkeys and hams with no mask on? That’s concerning to me.”
Ortiz, who stood inside for most of the event handing out bags of food through a side door of the Boys & Girls Club, said he had every right to stage and attend the food drive.
“To say that they’re not supposed to be here, that’s not my say, either/or,” Ortiz said. “I’m just trying to give back for Christmas. That’s it. I’ve always given back. I’ve been to Iraq six times. … And for someone to interfere like this, they’re either jealous or they just want their 15 minutes of fame.”
In addition to criticizing Ortiz for not wearing a mask, Valladares accused the councilman of harboring anti-immigrant views.
Ortiz disputed the allegation.
Szabo writes for the Daily Pilot.
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