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  • Writer's pictureGabriel San Roman

Slingshot: Deeming Masks at School 'Child Abuse,' OC Parents Tee Up Protest

Updated: May 11, 2021

Deborah Pauly, a former Villa Park city councilwoman, power walked past Newport Elementary School one recent day in Newport Beach. She happened upon masked children playing during recess; the sight of school in session after a harrowing year didn't warm her heart a bit--far from it!

"Instead of breathing in the tremendous fresh air, filling their lungs with healthy, life-giving oxygen, they were inhaling their own expelled carbon dioxide," Pauly wrote on Facebook. "It was the saddest sight to see these beautiful children being psychologically and physically abused in this manner...for no reason."

Equating masks with child abuse is gaining traction in Orange County's far-right circles.

Former Costa Mesa city councilwoman (and failed 2020 mayoral candidate) Wendy Leece took the occasion of Pauly's pondering to promote a statewide "Let the Kids Breathe" sit out and Zoom out. Organized by Informed Parents of California, a local action is planned for May 17 at the Orange County Department of Education after keeping the kids home from school or away from logging on to Zoom for class instruction.

(Quick aside: when this latest embarrassment to OC makes the media rounds, remember where you read about it first!)

The flyer for the public rally cherry picks Education Code 49005.8 in order to equate wearing masks in a pandemic with a subsection advising educators to never restrain a student's behavior with a physical hold or a smothering object like a pillow over the face that would impair their ability to breathe!

Leece shared the original flyer in all its former glory, including the grammatically challenged "Let the Kids Breath" slogan! It also claimed a Stanford study found masks to be not only ineffective, but harmful. That earned the flyer a fact check notification by Facebook that still slaps itself to the newer, modified version that dropped any mention of Stanford. The same goes for Instagram where Huntington Beach Mayor Bro Tem Tito Ortiz posted it.

Even though the call out for actions is statewide, Informed Parents of California is uniquely OC in its roots.

Co-founded in 2018 by Stephanie Yates and Aileen Blachowski, two OC women, Informed Parents of California cut its teeth in a battle over the California Department of Education adoption of new sex ed guidelines. The group blasted the framework as nothing short of a radical agenda to sexualize children in the classroom.

Yates, a mother from Brea, followed up by asking a Brea Olinda Unified School District official why pedophilia was being taught to 9th graders (Fact check: it wasn't).

Now, the alternately dubbed "Great Mask Off" takes a page from the "sit-out" strategy of the sex ed fight right before school is poised to let out for the summer. It picks up where the Orange County Board of Education embarrassingly left off in July with symbolic guidelines for a maskless return to class.

"Next year, if they keep on with all this stuff that they're doing, they're going to see a lot of sit-outs," Yates warned on an Instagram video. "There's a lot of parents that do not want their kids with those masks on. They know that their kids need to breathe. It's their natural given right to breathe fresh air."

Great. Now, where were these warrior parents when a Rainbow garbage dump fouled the air in Huntington Beach over Oak View Elementary? Or anytime environmental racism makes Latino children more prone to asthma from pollutants?

- Gabriel San Román

This independent newsletter in OC depends on readers like YOU! To keep the Slingshot! flinging the truth Venmo: @Gabriel-SanRoman-2. PayPal: @gabrielsanroman2

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Tito soluble swears! / HB council video screenshot

Councilbro Chronicles

Editor's note: The Slingshot is happy to welcome "Councilbro Chronicles" as a new feature! Its focus is on one Mayor Bro Tem in Huntington Beach named Tito Ortiz and all his bumbling misdeeds. The contributor remains anonymous. Take it away, whoever you are!

Huntington Beach’s far-right Mayor Bro Tem Tito Ortiz, who lives in a cushy $4 million home, might be the last person expected to ask, “Big Brother, can you spare a dime?” But the former UFC champ did just that when he filed for partial unemployment benefits with Huntington Beach in February, citing the closure of city hall as a COVID-related reduction in hourly pay. Only, there are more than a few problems with this claim. For starters, Ortiz’s filing might be considered unemployment fraud. A section of California’s unemployment insurance code states that, “any payments, regardless of their designation, made by a city of this state to an elected official thereof as an incident to public office,” are not eligible wages. Ortiz isn’t the only city official in California who has filed this type of claim: Victorville city Councilwoman Blanca Gomez came under fire for the same reason in September 2020. Gomez received almost $5,000 of unemployment benefits, $1,400 of which was paid by Victorville. A judge ruled that Gomez committed unemployment fraud, but she appealed the decision. Though their positions are part-time, HB councilmembers are not hourly employees. And while they may meet remotely for the time being-- specifically because of Ortiz’s refusal to wear a mask-- their hours and responsibilities have not decreased during the pandemic. In fact, some of our local electeds are working harder than ever to help constituents navigate through it. Councilmembers have continued to earn their usual pay of around $1,500 per month. Admittedly, that’s not a lot of money for the work expected of them, and it should be noted this discourages lower-income candidates from running for office; but HB City Council has voted down pay increases on several occasions for the sake of the city’s budget. Frankly, a councilmember could make more working 30 hours per week at an Amazon warehouse (and by the way, Tito, they’re hiring). On his Form 700 Statement of Economic Interests, Ortiz reported an income of less than $500 from each of the three businesses he owns, listing their market value as $10-100K. dba:Tito Ortiz and Triple JJJ Enterprises received a PPP loan of $32,292 in June 2020. Punishment Athletics, an apparel store and gym, is his main business and the justification for his job title of ‘entrepreneur/businessman’ on the 2020 ballot. His online store has continued to operate throughout the pandemic, and offers sales on its social media accounts. According to Yelp, Punishment Athletics Training Center remains closed even as COVID-19 restrictions lift in Orange County, and all over the state-- though it is rumored the gym actually closed in 2017. Some boutique gyms (like La Barre Studios in San Jose) managed to survive the shutdown through virtual programming, outdoor classes, and community support, but Ortiz seems more interested in protesting public health regulations than imagining creative solutions to keep his main business afloat. Obviously, Ortiz’s net worth isn’t entirely based on income from his businesses. He owns two houses in Huntington Beach, two luxury cars, a boat, and we won’t see his stock portfolio unless he decides to run for congress. A quick search of the Orange County Clerk-Recorder’s website reveals that both of Ortiz’s HB properties are mortgaged. His original mortgage on his Huntington Harbour house was $2 million in 2008, and he refinanced with a $1.98 million loan in 2013. According to the terms of the mortgage, his monthly interest payment could range anywhere from $3,700 to $13,200 per month depending on current rates. Considering the high cost of his mortgage alone, it’s hard to imagine a city unemployment check could make much of a difference. Ortiz hasn’t responded to requests for comment, but did offer an explanation to one of his Instagram followers: “$150 a week is only paying for my kids’ food, and $1,400 a month from my part-time city job is only paying half of my mom’s rent. Let that sink in. I’ve paid 50% of the money I have made in the last 23 years in taxes to get $150 a week? Quick to judge without knowing the details. GTFOH.” Most ordinary people, when faced with financial hardship, would consider applying for an additional or better-compensated job with a steady income. Not Tito. Here’s a list, by no means comprehensive, of his current side-hustles:

  • Ortiz is on Cameo, a site where customers can purchase personalized videos from celebrities. He charges $175 per video. One 3-star reviewer commented, “wish he didn’t have to mention that he was paid to do it.”

  • He has some kind of influencer contract with Route 66 Meats and Rockwell Watches. It’s unclear whether they pay him in cash or goods, but I can’t imagine the videos of his gross cooking are a boost to Route 66’s business.

  • He signed onto Antonio Sabato Jr.’s new conservative movie studio, and has a bit-part in their first feature, as a character named “Ringo” in a Western called Trail Blazers.

  • Ortiz’s city council campaign paid Punishment Athletics Enterprises $1,700 for “office” charges and a little over $5,000 for “campaign paraphernalia/misc.” (By comparison, Councilmember Dan Kalmick reported spending around $270 for office-related expenses and a little over $2,000 for campaign paraphernalia).

  • He recently posted a video from a private jet telling his Instagram followers, “Going to work.” He flew to various locations in the Central Valley with campaign donor Jay Yadon, a real estate executive with ties to the cannabis industry, and a Catholic monk.

  • His girlfriend Amber Nichole Miller claims they have started a new company called Dick and Jane Tees, whose website reads, “Our goal is to put the "fun" in functional fashion. Our t-shirts are made for Americans who are fed up with being lied to!!” It’s not yet a registered business entity in California.

Despite all of Ortiz’s companies, assets, and odd jobs, his ex-wife Kristin had to start a GoFundMe campaign to help pay for their son’s out-of-state wrestling tournaments. When he went on to win the Arizona state wrestling championship, Ortiz posted about his son’s big victory on Facebook. But he never shared the fundraiser, which received only $1,000 of its $2,900 goal from 12 donors. Ortiz’s twin boys, who attend public school in Ocean View School District, use district-provided Chromebooks free of charge. The district distributed devices to 6,500 students this year, with plans to purchase enough to provide the technology to all 8,000 of their students; but many parents with the means to do so opt into “Bring Your Own Chromebook.” The firewall on OVSD’s devices has become a source of frustration for Amber, who complained on her Instagram story that she couldn’t view a sermon from controversial Calvary Chapel leader Joe Pedick on her stepson’s school computer. She and Ortiz have accepted this support from the district, and continue to enroll their children even as they constantly slander their sons’ teachers and spread lies about the district’s curriculum and policies. And that’s really the crux of the problem, isn’t it? I don’t think anyone truly objects to Ortiz receiving pandemic bailout money, utilizing our public school resources for his children, or even applying for unemployment if he needs temporary assistance. But to take advantage of social welfare programs while actively campaigning to end them is, at best, massively hypocritical, and, at worst, actively harmful to the folks who elected him.

Your Mouse Muckraker / Photo by Federico Medina

Mouse Muckraker

The mass vaccination site at the Disneyland Resort's Toy Story parking lot closed on April 30, after administering more than 220,000 jabs. Of course, the Mouse House, itself, reopened that same day and welcomed guests back to its parks with most attractions up-and-running. But Disney isn't completely out of the vaxx game yet. Starting Monday, cast members back on the job can get the Johnson & Johnson jab onsite at Disney's "backstage" pharmacy. The campaign runs through May 29. And for those wondering when the Disneyland Hotel will join the reopening fray, it won't be anytime soon. Instead, the site will be a larger vaccine point of distribution (POD) for all cast members and their family members, even those still furloughed like Disneyland Hotel workers themselves. The hotel POD is set to offer Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer depending on availability. The Mouse House is partnering with the Orange County Health Care Agency in the vaccination effort. Disney labor unions have been advocating for the jabs as a matter of workplace safety for their members. And that makes the Happiest Place on Earth safer for all.

Of the corporate "Big 3" in Anaheim, Disney's done more to get people vaccinated than the Ducks or the Angels. The Honda Center did host drive-through food distribution events at the onset of the pandemic and became a voting super center during the 2020 elections.

Arte Moreno? He comes in last place, just like his Los Angeles Angels in the American League West division!

By the Byline

For this month's "Off the Page" column with LibroMobile, I wanted to revisit one of my favorite places: the Heritage Museum of Orange County. The last time I ventured out to its majestic grounds, I covered the new "Siempre Santa Ana" mural in the spring of 2019 for OC Weekly.

A year later, the Weekly already died its undignified death and the Heritage Museum shuttered amid the coronavirus pandemic. But the grounds in Santa Ana finally reopened to guests last weekend after 13 months of closure.

For my column, I speak with Jamie Hiber, the museum's executive director, about how they weathered the challenges of the past year and what folks can look forward to, now.

Never been?

Visit during public hours today and tells folks that LibroMobile sent ya!

Lead photo: A masked child during the pandemic / Wiki Commons user Anytime-V

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