Opinion: Villanueva’s anti-Luna double-deck bus tour is nothing more than a publicity crawl

If you’re still on the already rickety fence about how to handle the dicey question of who should win the race for LA County Sheriff this November—your choice is either incumbent Alex Villanueva, or the hometown former Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna—perhaps a lively pub crawl will help determine who will earn your vote. And by “pub crawl,” I mean publicity crawl.

Villanueva and a busload of supporters and staffers plan to tour Long Beach on Saturday, metaphorically sifting through the ruins of the May 31, 2020, fiery and violent unrest in Downtown sparked by the murder of George Floyd, when local police did seem quite caught off guard.

What’s happening today is not just a regular bus taking guests around town, but as befits a pub crawl, it’s the Villanueva campaign’s double-decker bus of the sort that typically ferries revelers from public house to public house for a booze blast. Come on! It’ll be fun!

The tour will feature chats with business owners who were, and perhaps remain, angry with Luna’s response to the mad crowd as the May protests flashed from peaceful to violent while Luna kept his officers at bay as looters and arsonists ran amok in the city. Scheduled stops and chats with business owners include Men’s Suit Outlet, 655 Pine Ave., at 10:15 a.m.; Beach Jewelry Center; 121 Pine Ave., at 11 a.m.; and Cambodia Town, 605 E. Anaheim St., time pending.

Even as the unrest continued in the days and weeks ahead, Villanueva seized the opportunity to play hero as he conducted a hold-my-beer publicity stunt in North Long Beach, posing with some Long Beach officers decked in riot gear, basically showing Long Beach that the cavalry has arrived to take over from the Luna-led F-Troop of Long Beach.

In his defense, Luna has said that his charges were outnumbered as things turned ugly, and he didn’t want things to turn ever more explosive. He said that, though he felt he had more than sufficient officers to handle the protest, he was nevertheless unprepared for the unrest as things turned ugly.

Still, he was prepared enough to barricade police headquarters, but no other buildings, one of which, the Men’s Suit Outlet was destroyed by fire while other businesses were vandalized, looted and otherwise terrorized.

Obviously, Villanueva sees Luna’s failure as a ripe source of attack in the race, while Luna has a sweeping slate of Villanueva’s weaknesses to exploit, and it’s a list that’s growing by the day and just waiting for Luna, who has no discernible oratorical skills or Villanueva’s killer instinct, to plunder.

Just this week, the Sheriff’s Department’s Public Corruption Unit served a search warrant on LA County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl citing, rather vaguely and generically, an “ongoing public corruption investigation.” They also issued a warrant at the home of Patricia Giggins, an LA County Civilian Oversight commissioner. Both women have been outspoken critics of Villanueva and have called for his resignation.

That’s typical of how the sheriff deals with his critics, while those he favors receive special attention, as reported Friday in the Los Angeles Times in an article that noted that at least 50 contributors to Villanueva’s campaigns—either his first or current one, or both—have received concealed-carry permits to carry guns in public. And, while it’s hardly unusual for Villanueva to issue some permits—they’ve been easier to get than a dog license since he’s been sheriff, to the point where 2,800 people had them as of May, up from just two years ago, when only 155 people in the county had a permit, according to the Times—the difference is the contributors frequently had the process expedited, getting permits in a month as opposed to the average wait time of six to eight months—and sometimes with the assistance of two deputies who worked directly for Villanueva.

There is, of course, much, much more, including Villanueva’s fairly explicit acceptance of the formation of gangs among his officers who have taken a large and outsize role in the functioning of the department, as well as his loosing of the department’s Orwellian-named Civil Rights and Public Integrity Unit against critics of the Sheriff’s Department.

In short, you can’t say enough bad things about Villanueva, chiefly because it’s hard to keep track of them all, but they add up to someone you don’t want to continue running the largest sheriff’s unit in the country, with a force of 11,000 dubiously competent deputies.

Which leaves Luna, a man not without faults of his own. Like so many elections of late, it’s come to a choice of least intolerable, very much like the 2020 presidential election between Trump and Anyone Else. When you can’t go with perfection, you’re left going toward the least disastrous.

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Tim Grobaty is a columnist and opinions editor for the Long Beach Post. He began his newspaper career at the Press-Telegram in 1976 as a copy boy and moved on to feature writer, music critic, TV critic, copy editor and daily columnist. He’s the author of several books, including I’m Dyin’ Here, and he lives in Long Beach.
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