Politics, government and public life for Southern California

Tension mounts in San Gabriel in fight over councilman-elect's residence

Chin Ho Liao

Alice Walton/KPCC

Chin-Ho Liao, left, appeared with U.S. Rep. Judy Chu, community college trustee Mike Eng at a news conference Friday calling for Liao to be seated on the San Gabriel City Council.

Several prominent Southern California politicians gathered Friday for an emotional — and at times tense — news conference to call on San Gabriel city leaders who have blocked the swearing-in of a new councilman following questions of his eligibility. 

Congresswoman Judy Chu, State Sen. Ed Hernandez, State Assemblyman Ed Chau and Community College Trustee Mike Eng urged the San Gabriel City Council to let Chin-Ho Liao begin his term of office. Liao was elected to the city council March 5. However, two weeks later, a resident filed a complaint alleging Liao lives outside the city limits and therefore is not eligible to serve. 

The San Gabriel City Council held a recent hearing on the residency issue, but Liao's supporters say an independent third party should have been brought in because the council is made up of two candidates Liao challenged for the open seat and two incumbents who supported candidates other than Liao. The results of that hearing will be announced on Monday. 

"Instead of holding this kangaroo court, the San Gabriel City Council needs to fulfill its administerial obligation to seat Chin-Ho Liao immediately," Chu said. 

Liao attended the event, though he did not speak to the crowd or reporters on the advice of his attorneys. Last month, in a statement from the Asian Pacific American Legal Center, Liao said, "I have been living in San Gabriel and intend to remain in San Gabriel, regardless of whether I am ultimately seated on the city council." 

A majority of San Gabriel residents are Asian-American, though they are underrepresented in city government. If Liao is seated, he will be one of two Asian-American city council members. Only two other Asian-Americans have ever won elective office in San Gabriel.

Two of the San Gabriel council members who have questioned Liao's eligibility are Latino. Hernandez, however, told the crowd at Mission 261 Restaurant that the issue is not racial.

But a dispute erupted Thursday when three members of the Gabrielino Band of Mission Indians entered the event. A loud argument ensued when the two women and a man were told by organizers to leave. 

"This is our land," Virginia Salas shouted at the speakers.  "All you people are turncoats." The crowd attempted to drown her out by chanting, "Seat Chin-Ho now."

After the event, Salas told KPCC, "It's about the money. The politicians are all for the money."

Liao has already won a Superior Court judge's order requiring the City Council to install him in office by May 14, or prove to the court why he may not serve. 

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