Challengers seek to reverse ruling that allows Huntington Beach to ignore state ‘sanctuary’ law

Two residents from Huntington Beach’s working class Oak View neighborhood want an Orange County Superior Court judge to reconsider a ruling that exempted the city from complying with state-mandated legal protections for undocumented immigrants exiting police custody.

Victor Valladares and Oscar Rodriguez, as well as other parties advocating for immigrants, filed a request Monday seeking an expedited hearing with Judge James Crandall on their request for a new trial.

Joining Valladares and Rodriguez in the challenge are the Rev. Samuel Pullen and Henry Josefsberg of Los Alamitos Community United, which is seeking to overturn their city’s decision to ignore Senate Bill 54, the state’s so-called sanctuary city law.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the Latham & Watkins law firm are representing the challengers. A meeting on the issue is scheduled for Friday in Superior Court.

The Los Alamitos group joined forces with the ACLU in April to sue that city over its ordinance exempting it from SB 54, which in many cases prohibits state and local police from notifying federal officials before they release immigrants from custody who may be eligible for deportation.

In September, Crandall sided with Huntington Beach City Atty. Michael Gates, who argued that the law is unconstitutional as it applies to charter cities, including his and Los Alamitos, which can adopt local laws that sometimes differ from the state’s general laws that govern noncharter cities.

The ruling made Huntington Beach the first city to successfully challenge the controversial state law. Gates has said the decision exempts each of California’s 121 charter cities.

But attorneys fighting Crandall’s ruling contend it adversely affects Oak View’s “safety, health and overall livelihood.”

Charter cities, the attorneys challenging the law contend, do not have “unfettered authority under Article X1, Section 5(b) of the California Constitution to disregard state laws that regulate police conduct.”

The SB 54 exemption in Huntington has made Valladares and Rodriguez’s “neighbors, and their loved ones … reluctant to interact with the Huntington Beach Police Department and are more afraid to access public services due to their fear that Huntington Beach and its law enforcement officials are participating in federal deportation programs,” according to court documents.

Gates, however, called the activists’ efforts for a new hearing a “Hail Mary pass,” adding that he expects Crandall to dismiss their request.

But Rodriguez said he believes the challengers have a shot.

“We’re doing this because immigration in our community is something very close and dear to what we do as activists and as a community,” he said.

Valladares and Rodriguez founded ComUNIDAD, a grassroots organization in the Oak View area, which is bounded by Warner and Talbert avenues and Gothard Street and Beach Boulevard.

“Our issue here for police should be about public safety, not immigration,” Valladares said, adding that Gates’ arguments in court felt like a “direct attack” on Oak View.

The activists say residents have remained fearful since April, when the City Council authorized Gates to sue over SB 54.

Huntington Beach Police Chief Robert Handy has said Oak View community members should rely on trust already built with police officers and ignore political and media rhetoric.

The state is also pushing back on the charter cities challenging SB 54. On Nov. 8, California Deputy Atty. Gen. Jonathan Eisenberg filed a notice of appeal of Crandall’s ruling, pushing the case to the state 4th District Court of Appeal for review.

State Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra said at the time that his office “will continue to defend the rule of law in our state and the California Values Act in court for the safety and well-being of all of our residents.”

Twitter: @vegapriscella