Press-Telegram blows it with ill-informed story on Downey councilman

Councilman Rick Rodriguez's backyard at the 7th hole of the Rio Hondo Golf Club. Facebook photo

Councilman Rick Rodriguez's backyard at the 7th hole of the Rio Hondo Golf Club. Facebook photo

Rick Rodriguez, District 3 councilmember, lives in Downey. His home is well known to golfers, as his backyard borders the Rio Hondo Golf Club’s 7th hole. 

In 2015, when the L.A. Times published its infamous feature story characterizing Downey as “the Latino Beverly Hills,” the first person quoted in the story was Rodriguez, who moved to Downey in 1989 with his wife, Lupe.

The owners of an international security firm, the Rodriguez’s have been successful professionally, and in 2010 they purchased a beautiful vacation home, located right on the shore of the Long Beach Peninsula. With their primary residence still in Downey, they often donate use of the beach house to local non-profits, who auction off weekends there to raise money.

Yes, Rick Rodriguez lives in Downey.

“I have personally, on numerous occasions, been to Rick and Lupe’s house in Downey, dropped Rick off at his house various times after many events, and can attest that he and his family live in Downey,” confirmed Councilman Alex Saab. 

Rick Rodriguez takes a selfie in the backyard of his Downey home, in this Facebook photo dated Jan. 6, 2016.

Rick Rodriguez takes a selfie in the backyard of his Downey home, in this Facebook photo dated Jan. 6, 2016.

Why is this even an issue? An anonymous complaint to the L.A. County district attorney alleges that Rodriguez lives in Long Beach – not Downey – which, if true, would disqualify him from holding public office in Downey. 

Included in the complaint were printouts of Lupe Rodriguez’s Facebook profile, in which she lists Long Beach as her home city. The complaint also notes that Rodriguez used a business address – not his home address – in election filings. The business address belongs to former mayor Mario Guerra, who assisted with Rodriguez’s 2016 city council campaign. 

That’s the extent of the evidence. 

After obtaining a copy of the complaint last week, The Downey Patriot confirmed that Rodriguez indeed still resides in Downey and chose not to publish a story.

The Long Beach Press-Telegram, however, proved to have less stringent editorial standards and on Sunday published an article titled “District Attorney reviewing complaint that Downey councilman lives in Long Beach.” 

The Press-Telegram article gave the allegations credibility. The reporter attempted to tie Downey to the recent corruption charges that have plagued cities throughout southeast L.A. County: “In recent years, Los Angeles County prosecutors have investigated several allegations of public officials living outside communities and some cases have resulted in convictions,” the article states. 

A big problem plaguing newspapers these days is that most people tend not to read entire news articles. We scan headlines, glance at photos, and skim over a couple sentences to get the gist of what’s going on. Nuance and critical thinking are lost as a result.

Guerra called the article “shameful, lazy reporting” and pinned the anonymous allegations on Frine Medrano, who lost to Rodriguez in last November’s election

“If anybody wants to know why good people don't want to get into politics, this baseless story is a good example,” Guerra posted on Facebook. “If the reporter would have bothered to make a simple call to the city clerk’s office, he would have known that they verify his address in several ways. By voting records, property taxes and verification. But you can see him there every day too.

“Rick Rodriguez is one of the most ethical people I know and has nothing to hide.”

For his part, Rodriguez was contrite in his comments following the story’s publication. 

“I am heartbroken that my name and the word 'investigate' are in the same sentence, but I am overjoyed and thankful for those who have posted such supportive comments,” he said. “Thank you from me and my family.” 

Newspapers play a critical role in keeping politicians honest, but misleading pieces of journalism such as the article published by the Press-Telegram instead does the public a disservice.