Public decries ‘fentanyl death dealers’

Legislator supports tougher punishment



COMMUNITY FRIGHTENED—Assemblymember Jacqui Irwin meets with members of the public at Simi Valley Civic Center to discuss the role legislation plays in dealing with the opioid crisis. MICHELE WILLER-ALLRED/Acorn Newspapers

COMMUNITY FRIGHTENED—Assemblymember Jacqui Irwin meets with members of the public at Simi Valley Civic Center to discuss the role legislation plays in dealing with the opioid crisis. MICHELE WILLER-ALLRED/Acorn Newspapers

In front of a sometimes raucous but otherwise respectful group earlier this month in Simi Valley, Assemblymember Jacqui Irwin defended her record on fentanyl and addressed other issues brought up by residents.

About 40 people attended the May 13 “Sidewalk Session,” which was hosted by Irwin at the Simi Valley Civic Center Plaza food court on Tapo Street. Irwin represents Assembly District 42, which includes Simi, Thousand Oaks, Camarillo, Moorpark, Westlake Village, Calabasas, Hidden Hills, Agoura Hills, Malibu, Topanga and Pacific Palisades.

Attendees signed up to individually speak with Irwin. Some allowed their conservations to be public; others kept them private.

A few held up signs. One said “Jail Fentanyl Death Dealers,” another declared “Yes to Mental Health Treatment!” Two police officers stood nearby to make sure things stayed civil.

Simi Vally Police Chief Steve Shorts was there, too.

Irwin said she supports strong penalties for people who deal fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid causing overdose deaths to skyrocket in Ventura County and across the nation.

TALKING IT OUT—Assemblymember Jacqui Irwin, left, speaks with resident Jenniffer Jones during a public Sidewalk Session meeting May 13 in Simi Valley about the rise of fentanyl use in the community. Photos by MICHELE WILLER-ALLRED/Acorn Newspapers

TALKING IT OUT—Assemblymember Jacqui Irwin, left, speaks with resident Jenniffer Jones during a public Sidewalk Session meeting May 13 in Simi Valley about the rise of fentanyl use in the community. Photos by MICHELE WILLER-ALLRED/Acorn Newspapers

“Fentanyl is an incredibly troubling issue going on right now in our communities,” she said. “You can look at my record, and I have voted for and carried bills for increased penalties.”

Some people who sat down with Irwin asked her why California Assembly members rejected an effort to fast-track three bipartisan fentanyl-related bills that would crack down on dealers.

“That is an incorrect narrative,” she said, explaining that it was a small group of legislators serving on the California Assembly Public Safety Committee who voted down those bills.

“There are fentanyl bills by Democrats that we want to get out and we’d like to vote on,” she said. “The narrative that all of the Assembly is opposed to fixing this is completely wrong.”

Some members of the Public Safety Committee want to classify the fentanyl problem as a public safety emergency so harsher punishments can be doled out to deter drug dealers. Others, however, want to treat the crisis as a public health issue and not levy tougher penalties.

ADVOCATE—Some attendees of the Sidewalk Session carried signs.

ADVOCATE—Some attendees of the Sidewalk Session carried signs.

“That is not my stance,” said Irwin, adding that her record shows she has consistently voted for bills that mete out tougher punishments for criminals.

Irwin said that last year she introduced Assembly Bill 1613 to aggressively prosecute organized retail thieves who cross multiple county jurisdictional lines to commit their crimes.

That bill didn’t make it out of the Public Safety Committee because some legislators said it gave too much latitude to prosecutors and was written so broadly that it could implicate people not connected with organized retail schemes.

Irwin also made it clear that she didn’t vote in favor of Proposition 47, which California voters passed in November 2014. That law changed certain low-level crimes from possible felonies to misdemeanors and was meant to ease prison overcrowding.

But critics say the law has merely emboldened offenders, who are now less likely to face prison time for crimes like shoplifting, grand theft and receiving stolen property when the amount involved doesn’t exceed $950.

Irwin said she has been working on several mental health bills, as well as legislation aimed at creating uniform standards for the labeling of packaged foods. She also said that she authored a successful bill that is helping veterans find housing.

One disabled resident on a fixed income asked why Irwin voted for the gas tax numerous times.

“No, the gas tax was voted on (by residents) six years ago. I did vote for that tax, and there was broad support,” Irwin said.

“It brought millions of dollars into Ventura County for transportation,” she said, adding that voters later rejected a repeal of the tax.

As chair of the Committee on Revenue and Taxation, Irwin said, she has rejected taxes on corporations and the wealthy.

“I still think the economy is in a very fragile situation right now and we need to protect core services,” she said. “We still need to make sure that we’re ready for the next recession.”

“In the end, we’ll have a balanced budget,” she told one resident.

Resident Jennifer Jones thanked Irwin for her responses to questions about fentanyl, a topic of concern for Jones who is the mom of a teenager in high school.

“I’m glad to see that you’re on top of it, and I hope that the three bills that are stalled can be worked on so that we can actually address the issues,” Jones said.

“We would like any suggestions on what we can do as legislators,” Irwin responded, saying public awareness is critical. “This is not a partisan issue. This is an epidemic.”

Holding a protest sign was resident Delilah Orloff, who said Irwin took too long to meet with constituents. According to Orloff, Irwin should be meeting with residents once a month to address concerns.

Irwin told the Acorn that there are misconceptions among her constituents, but she said if they look at her record, there is not much they’re really going to oppose.

“I just hope my constituents know that here in Simi Valley, we may not agree on everything, but (my office) is always available to answer all questions,” she said.

Irwin has scheduled more Sidewalk Sessions: June 24 in Malibu, July 22 in Agoura Hills, Sept. 17 in Calabasas, Oct. 21 in Thousand Oaks and Dec. 2 in Moorpark. For information, go to a42.asmdc.org/events.