Sheriff Alex Villanueva has snubbed the wishes of Malibu’s city manager and mayor, and appointed the man who finished last out of 10 candidates a year ago to be the new captain of the Malibu-Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station.
Lt. Chuck Becerra was the last-ranked choice of Malibu and four city governments along the 101 Freeway, which together hire the sheriff’s office as a joint municipal police force.
Despite a promise from Villanueva to the five cities last February, to consult with them before picking a permanent top cop for the region, Villanueva installed Becerra in the job Tuesday.
Frustration from elected city officials in Malibu, as well as Agoura Hills, Calabasas, Hidden Hills and Westlake Village, spilled over into public acrimony last February. Meeting under the banner of the Las Virgenes Council of Governments, the city leaders said they were angry that Villanueva was repeatedly hiring, demoting and changing supervisors at the local station.
At least five station commanders or high-ranking officers have been sacked at Malibu-Lost Hills since Villanueva took command of the sheriff’s office.
In late February, Malibu Mayor Karen Farrer said the five cities met with Villanueva, for the first time, that week.
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“We basically uniformly expressed our concerns over the numerous personnel changes and the abruptness of them and the appointments of new people at the station without input from the COG, which is a big change of how it’s been handled from the past.”
Malibu mayor Karen Farrer made those comments ion late February, when the five cities broached the topic of using their combined $25 million per year paid to the sheriff’s office to find another agency to handle police services in the five municipalities – or maybe create one.
News of the Becerra promotion was first reported by Cece Woods, a close political advisor to the sheriff and a Malibu political activist.
Woods last year was one of the organizers behind a campaign to recall several city council members, which fizzled for lack of signatures or any significant public support earlier this year.
Woods posted about the appointment Tuesday, the day before anyone at Malibu City Hall was notified. And no formal announcement was made by the sheriff’s office until a day and a half after Woods was given the inside scoop.
The cities have a contract with the sheriff to provide law enforcement services, for which Malibu pays more than $8 million, nearly one third of the city’s discretionary budget.
The contract is secret, but reportedly requires the sheriff to have the cities’ managers or elected officials interview candidates for the captaincy at Malibu-Lost Hills. Each city also gets a voice on whom is the lieutenant appointed to be the liaison to the particular city.
The Malibu-Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station has been in management turmoil since Villanueva took office, with a steady stream of promotions, demotions and transfers. Many senior or mid-level deputies familiar to Malibu residents have left.
Becerra made news Tuesday by posting an aggressively-toned communique to the cities, promising to bring in the National Guard is community safety is threatened.
Becerra Tuesday said he “respected” the peaceful protests, but did not offer support of the rights of people to protest police actions.
The sheriff is embroiled in a battle with the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, over the Civilian Oversight Board that was created to rein in abuses in the sheriff’s office. Villanueva may have made the Malibu-area appointment to challenge the supervisors’ freeze on hiring and promotions within what he has said is “his” department.
And today, the sheriff stepped on a decision by the Board of Supervisors to have a countrywide curfew start at 9 p.m. Despite being echoed by the City of Malibu, the curfew willl start at 10 p.m., said the sheriff.
Becerra was not available for comment Wednesday.
City officials would not speak for the record, they indicated now was not the time to object to the sheriff’s move – given the state of the United States in general and the Los Angeles region in particular