Believe it or not, campaigns for next year’s municipal elections have already begun, with a cadre of candidates looking to unseat three incumbents up for re-election on the Santa Clarita City Council.
The first candidate to announce his campaign was David Barlavi on June 17. An attorney and member of the Saugus Union School District Board since 2018, Barlavi has lived and worked in Santa Clarita since 2004. Running officially as “David Barlavi, Esq. for City Council 2022” and with a place to donate at makeamericafunagain.co, Barlavi’s idea is to run on a platform of bringing a new perspective to how Santa Clarita is traditionally governed.
“Our city council is very homogenous and single minded in their thinking. Which is fine, but sometimes that homogeny and thinking can lead to embarrassing mistakes for the city… so I thought I’d be able to bring a different perspective to how to run the city,” Barlavi said.
Barlavi said he believes that the council needs to set a better example with how they deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.
“They had several board meetings where they didn’t wear masks or have plastic dividers,” he said. “We’re out here trying to convince our community to be safe and protect each other while our community leaders are not doing that.”
Barlavi, a local Democrat and a prominent voice in the community, believes more needs to be done by the city to help secure federal and state funding for local businesses who have fallen on hard times due to the pandemic.
Scrolling through SCV Facebook pages and timelines, Barlavi’s name comes up either in a post or commenting on local happenings. In 2019, he was met with anger over raising a fist in solidarity with Black Lives Matter while reciting the Pledge of Allegiance during a board meeting. The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office, then under Jackie Lacey, chose to not file charges against those who allegedly sent Barlavi death threats over his actions.
On Facebook, Barlavi’s not afraid to share his opinions. He’s corrected the lies and misinformation of anti-vaccination and anti-mask proponents, and frequently slammed the cruelties of the Trump administration regarding the former president’s response to COVID-19 and placing refugees into internment camps at the southern border, among numerous issues. He’s been met with criticism from young local activists, at times drawing ire toward candidates he supports for including him in their campaign efforts.
Another act, causing some in the political sphere to withdraw support, involvement and interaction with Barlavi was the “Covid hug,” which he said was introduced in February 2020.
“We were at this meeting and standing in a circle talking about the coronavirus… and someone says it really sucks we can’t hug each other… and in my comedic mind I thought to myself…what if we did a hug that doesn’t involve touching each other ” he said in an April 2021 Facebook post addressing the controversy. “In my mind I thought if we’re not gonna face each other why don’t we shake our butts… but I would only ever do it with people who first said… it sucks we can’t hug.”
Barlavi saw the incident as something blown out of proportion.
“What these people are accusing me of doing… is that my intent was to assault them… the two people who’ve complained about it… were two of the candidates I was helping to run for office… in that time I thought we’d become friends… I didn’t feel I was suggesting the ‘Covid hug’ to a stranger,” he said in the same Facebook post.
Looking ahead, Barlavi hopes to reach out to voters from both sides of the political aisle.
“Half my funds come from local conservatives who’ve voted for Trump… they tell me they don’t necessarily agree with my politics but they like the way I think, the fact that I’m logical, I’m rational, I’m fair, I’m unbiased, that I don’t treat people based on preconceived notions… I take everything as it stands in that moment and I evaluate things as they should be in that moment instead of trying to paint things with a broad brush,” he said. “If I lose their vote because of who I am, then that’s the way it’s supposed to be… I believe in the truth, I believe in whatever’s on people’s minds they are more than welcome to say and I will conversely speak truth to that… if it’s not true, I will state how it’s not true.”
Someone Barlavi has sparred with – online and in public – is William S. Hart School Board member Joe Messina, who filed to run for city council on July 6. When reached for comment by The Proclaimer, Messina only said he wished all the other candidates luck with their campaigns.
A Saugus resident and the host of the nationally syndicated “The Real Side” radio show, Messina’s also a prominent fixture in SCV political circles on the right. In an interview with The Signal, Messina said he’s worried by other candidates running for a council seat – without naming names – and suggested they would look “at some of the things that brought down beautiful cities like Seattle and Portland and places like that.”
As a voice in the community, Messina has had a long history of inflammatory rhetoric. His Twitter account, which has close to 6,500 followers, regularly shares segments to stories originating from Breitbart, Deadline, PJ Media, Newsmax, Fox News and more. Topics range from actions by Democratic lawmakers, trans rights, critical race theory and COVID-19 vaccines.
Vimeo stepped in last year and suspended his account for making “videos that make false or misleading claims about vaccination safety or claims that mass tragedies are hoaxes” according to the platform. In November 2018, Facebook deleted “The Read Side’s” Facebook page following a press release announcing their intent to ban “coordinated inauthentic behavior.” Opposition to Messina’s school board participation spread to Twitter, namely through “ParentsAgainstJoeMessina.” Described as “parents who are fed up with the racism and misogyny of Hart School Board member Joe Messina” in the bio, several of the account’s tweets either retweet prominent local Democrats, screenshot Messina’s tweets or criticize Rep. Mike Garcia (R-Santa Clarita).
“Joe Messina is not running for Hart School Board in 2022, and now he is running for city council,” a July 21 tweet reads. “The last thing we need is this white supremacist running Santa Clarita.”
The account takes note of what Messina tweets and likes, including his liking of tweets from The Daily Caller that slammed National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Anthony Fauci; his claim that nobody knows about death of the Trump supporter who took part in the attack on the Capitol Building, Ashli Babbit, because “she doesn’t fit the left’s agenda”; and his insisting that former president Donald Trump will beat Democrats electorally “for a third time! I’m good with that!”
Messina’s name also came up in the fallout of former Rep. Katie Hill’s (D-Santa Clarita) resignation in 2019. Michael Finnegan and Matt Pearce of the Los Angeles Times reported then that Messina “received an anonymous email with a Zip file packed with private text messages and nude photos of Hill. He got more by ordinary mail. He decided to write about it on his blog, but said he first notified the National Republican Congressional Committee to check whether anyone there knew about the material.”
Two years later at the end of a revenge porn lawsuit directed at Messina, managing editor of the conservative website Red State Jennifer Van Laar and the tabloid newspaper the Daily Mail, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Yolanda Orozco ordered Hill to pay $30,000 to Messina, who Hill initially accused “of being part of a conspiracy to distribute the pictures, but dropped her claim against him earlier this year,” according to the Associated Press. He later tweeted on Aug. 2, “Grateful to the team at Dhillon Law, great job, Hill just wanted to financially wreck us…”
During the deciding meeting over the fate of William S. Hart High School’s “Indians” mascot, Barlavi argued that if any one student felt hurt by the mascot that it needed to be changed. In what he said was “not a personal attack,” Messina responded that he only wished Barlavi “felt the same way about Christian kids and conservative kids.” Barlavi noted his wife was a Christian, then asked “how [Messina’s] shoe tasted,” which he later clarified to The Proclaimer on Facebook.
With the upcoming elections, a variety of political issues at the national level have sunk to the local level in Santa Clarita politics. The Hart District, for example, found opposition from some parents to the state mandate for students to wear masks while indoors at school. Various Santa Clarita school board members, like Barlavi and Messina, have debated the governor’s recent mandate that all teachers be vaccinated or undergo weekly COVID-19 testing.
Barlavi has stated he would like to see universal vaccine mandates for everyone, not just teachers, as well as hoping individuals might be more open and willing to trust health professionals.
“I would personally drive them to get their vaccine…I’ve taken over a dozen individuals,” said Barlavi “There’s a lot of conspiracy hoax on social media that we’ve (the city council) got to countermand to our city and be a moral compass which is something I’ve found our city council to be lacking,” he adds. Messina, on the other hand, believes the governor to be overreaching with his mandates. In an interview with Los Angeles Daily News, Messina said he “would never mandate another human having to take something that they don’t want to put in their body… there are other ways to deal with this.”
While the candidates’ commitment to run differs – with Messina exploring his options for now – the state of the race may be determined by outside forces.
Diane Trautman, a longtime community activist with groups like the Sierra Club, and a former Santa Clarita City Council and former CA-25 congressional candidate, said a major issue that will affect the outcome of next year’s election are the 2020 results from the U.S. Census Bureau.
“The city was faced with a potential lawsuit before things had shut down, they (the council) had agreed they would move to districting the city,” said Trautman.
Trautman’s referring to a California Voting Rights lawsuit brought by attorney Scott Raferty last year alleging that the council’s current at-large elections diluted the votes of Santa Clarita’s Latino population, which comprises one-third of the city’s residents. Following this suit, the council agreed to move forward with districting, announcing the switch to district-based elections by the end of June, in time for the November 2020 city council election. This switch, however, was delayed due to the pandemic.
“With Covid, the governor [Gavin Newsom] issued two executive orders that affected the timing and made it more difficult to get broad input from the community with in person meetings and courts being shut down,” Trautman added.
Despite Santa Clarita City Councilmember Cameron Smyth once suggesting the “biggest holdup about moving forward really is the lack of census data,” Trautman believes the delay is because the efforts would require the city to conduct outreach to a more broader base of the community.
“Previously, at-large elections have allowed candidates to maintain a base of supporters they could count on that require little campaigning, but if we move to in-district they would need to do some actual campaigning,” she said. “When you draw districts, you give people who are not totally aligned with the status quo… an opportunity to have a voice… it opens up uncertainty… they (the council) would prefer not to face.”
If districting manages to occur before the 2022 election then candidates might find themselves having to campaign in areas of SCV that may have been previously overlooked by former candidates to attain the necessary support. As the city grows in size, Trautman reminds candidates on the campaign trail to not overlook the long-term social and economic interests of their constituents.
Trautman said she wants to see candidates run who seek out knowledge to inform themselves about the city and city planning, where the city council can have final say on matters.
“I want people who can think outside the box and are willing to take charge of things and see it through,” said Trautman. “I want people who can think independently willing to look at a problem differently and to seek out the guidance of people who know more than they do in order to develop a plan that is effective for dealing with the problems that every city deals with… homelessness, totally unaffordable housing… we have some really big problems and we can’t keep kicking the can down the road and trying old methods to solve these problems.”
Trautman shared her thoughts on the current slate of candidates too. She said she interviewed candidate Selina Thomas in the past but was unfamiliar with her platform, yet considered psychiatrist Dr. Aakash Ahuja “a valid candidate,” having spoken with him during his run last year and anticipates hearing more from him in his second run. As for Messina and Barlavi…
“I think Joe is very much in line with what has transpired in this community to date, I don’t really anticipate anything new or hopeful from him,” she said. “And I don’t know what David Barlavi’s platform is, so I’ll just have to wait and see.”
“To sum it up, I want to see creative people who are willing to stretch beyond their known worlds to find real innovative solutions,” said Trautman.
This story continues a series by The Proclaimer to cover all of the current and future candidates running for the Santa Clarita City Council election, including the incumbents running for re-election.
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