Lopez Recall Is Not Justified
February 2, 2003
Editorial, LA Times
In six years on the Santa Ana school board, Nativo V. Lopez has given the public
ample reason to wonder whether he's the man for the job. That's a question the
voters should answer in two years, when Lopez's current term expires.
We wouldn't endorse him for re-election, but the recall campaign is another
matter. We recommend a "no" vote in Tuesday's recall election.
Lopez's critics have no solid evidence that he committed misdeeds serious enough
be pulled from office midterm. They are fuzzy on why they want Lopez out now.
He supports bilingual education. His outspoken Latino activism makes him a
divisive and sometimes abrasive voice on the board. True and true. But these
come as no surprise. Lopez always has been an unquestioning defender of
bilingual education and a strident fighter for Latino empowerment. Voters knew
it when they reelected him two years ago. Presumably they liked his message. So
why the sudden political attack?
This campaign seems timed to the school board's decision to put an elementary
school on nine vacant acres in Floral Park. Residents of the picturesque and
well-off neighborhood oppose the school, arguing that schools should be built
where they're needed -- in poorer, denser areas of the city. Those words smack
of a different message: Keep the school buses and poor immigrant kids out of our
Santa Ana, one of the state's most crowded districts with almost no empty land,
needs to build schools wherever it can. Its most recent option for a school
site, a spot on the old Tustin Marine base, proved too polluted to use.
The recall campaign rightly criticizes Lopez for the board's slowness in
building new campuses, but it also wants to fault him for the board's recent
steps to fix the problem.
Lopez must accept some of the blame for the strong opposition. He has badgered
contractors for campaign contributions, then joined board members giving big
contracts to those contributors, a process that slowed school construction and
led the district to miss a round of state funding. And his vociferous support
for bilingual education works against the progress of many of Santa Ana's
The most serious controversies involving Lopez are those outside his schools
role. He was an officer of Citizens in Action, a community group that paid the
federal government nearly $640,000 to settle a legal dispute over how it used
money for English classes for immigrants. The state Department of Education is
suing Lopez and another organization he leads, Hermandad Mexicana Nacional of
Santa Ana, for allegedly diverting adult education funds.
But a recall should be reserved for serious, proven malfeasance in office, such
as lawbreaking, deliberate misuse of district funds or blatant negligence that
drives a public agency into crisis. None of these have been proven against
Lopez. And for all its troubles, the Santa Ana school district has made
progress. It's moving to build campuses more quickly, has created more of its
successful fundamental schools and
brought the prestigious Orange County High School of the Arts to town. The
district's recent innovations include a dual-language immersion school in
science and the arts, and an extra year of specialized help for students who
flounder in kindergarten.
Voters might ultimately decide there are better leaders for the district. But
this tainted recall effort, backed by at least $100,000 from outside the
district, isn't the way to make that decision.