Huntington Beach Mayor Pro Tem Tito Ortiz filed for unemployment against city
Huntington Beach Mayor Pro Tem Tito Ortiz filed for unemployment against the city in February, public records show, despite not having his hours cut during the pandemic.
Ortiz’s filing with the California Employment Development Department, under his given name of Jacob C. Ortiz, was made Feb. 22. He listed Dec. 7, 2020, the day he was sworn in after winning the City Council race, as his first day of work. Ortiz listed Feb. 9 as his last day of work and wrote “still working part-time or on-call — related to the coronavirus (COVID-19)” as his reason for separation.
“That’s a shocker to us,” Huntington Beach Mayor Kim Carr said Tuesday. “I mean, that doesn’t make any sense. I’m hoping that Mr. Ortiz would give an explanation ... A lot of us have a lot of questions.”
Attempts to reach Ortiz were unsuccessful, and he did not address the issue during Monday night’s City Council meeting.
Ortiz, a former mixed martial arts fighter who is a lifelong Huntington Beach resident, owns two businesses in Surf City. They include Punishment Athletics clothing store and Punishment Training Center gym, which he opened in 2011.
Ortiz could file a claim with the EDD if those businesses were affected by the pandemic. Gyms in Orange County were closed for much of the pandemic, and began reopening in March at 10% capacity as part of the red tier. Records show that Ortiz and Triple JJJ Enterprises received PPP funding of $32,292 in June 2020, via the CARES Act.
But Ortiz filed February’s unemployment claim against the city, and City Council members’ salaries and benefits have not been adjusted or reduced, City Manager Oliver Chi said.
“He’s claiming that he’s working part time because of COVID, and that’s not accurate,” Chi said.
City Council members make about $1,512 a month, including a stipend and expense allowance.
Chi said Tuesday he does not know the status of Ortiz’s claim with the EDD. If the EDD determined that Ortiz was eligible, it would look to the city for money to pay the claim, and Chi said the city would appeal that decision.
“Typically you can only get unemployment if you’re underemployed or you lost your job, and neither of those situations applies to the city,” Chi said. “We would dispute that there’s any unemployment that the city is on the hook to pay.”
An unnamed representative of the EDD denied comment on Ortiz’s specific case when reached Monday via email, citing confidentiality laws.
Ortiz has a multimillion-dollar house in Huntington Harbour and owns a Porsche and Rolls-Royce as well as a boat.
A special meeting was held Feb. 1 on whether to strip Ortiz of his mayor pro tem title. That came after he was denied entry to a strategic planning meeting at the Central Library because he showed up without a mask. Then, Ortiz made a video on his Instagram stories slamming popular local restaurant TK Burgers because it failed to serve him since he wasn’t wearing a mask. He later apologized.
In the end, the City Council tabled the motion to strip his title indefinitely, giving Ortiz a second chance. If anything, his responsibilities have increased since then, Carr said, as she appointed him to two different subcommittees. He also has yet to miss a council meeting.
A couple of people who called into the virtual City Council meeting during public comment Monday night addressed Ortiz’s unemployment claim. One of them was Lisa Marquise, who has said that Ortiz had blocked her on his Instagram page and also blocked emails she sent him.
Marquise implored City Council members to remove Ortiz as mayor pro tem and censure him.
“[You’re] freeloading off citizens during this pandemic when people are struggling, all while silencing people and refusing to do your job,” Marquise said, addressing Ortiz.
Szabo writes for Times Community News.
Start your day right
Sign up for Essential California for news, features and recommendations from the L.A. Times and beyond in your inbox six days a week.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.