The former assistant general manager of the El Pueblo Historical Project is suing the city, alleging she was wrongfully fired in 2020 in retaliation for expressing concerns about violence caused by homeless residents of a nearby temporary shelter touted by Mayor Eric Garcetti.
Lisa Sarno’s Los Angeles Superior Court whistleblower suit was filed Wednesday and seeks unspecified damages. A representative for the City Attorney’s Office could not be immediately reached.
“Ms. Sarno had been extremely vocal about ongoing unlawful activities occurring at El Pueblo,” the suit states. “However, the city of LA did not see Ms. Sarno’s reports of unlawful conduct as fitting the city’s stance on homelessness policy.”
Sarno was hired by the city in 1998 and in her job with the El Pueblo Historical Project, she was responsible for its budget, personnel, management and security, the suit states. El Pueblo hosts 2 million visitors around the world annually and is the site of Olvera Street, museums, rotating art galleries and film production, according to the suit.
The city’s first homeless bridge shelter was constructed close to El Pueblo in 2018, suit states.
“Unfortunately, the increase in homelessness contributed to an increase in violence committed by certain members of the homeless population near El Pueblo,” the suit states.
Sarno reported the increase in violence to council member representatives and several individuals within the mayor’s office, including former Deputy Mayor Barbara Romero and Garcetti’s chief of staff, Ana Guerrero, the suit states.
“Ms. Sarno was vocal about the increasing violence, hoping that the top leaders of the mayor’s staff would acknowledge what was happening at El Pueblo and address it with action,” the suit states.
However, Sarno felt that there was a “concerted effort to keep the data of unlawful activity quiet in order to protect the mayor’s bridge housing program,” according to the suit.
In June 2019, Sarno emailed Garcetti’s office and council district representatives about a homeless woman who entered the Italian American Museum of Los Angeles and assaulted its executive director, Marianna Gatto, the suit states. A year later, she also notified city officials about an assault on a 14-year-old girl and city staff by six transients during a city of Los Angeles birthday observation, the suit states.
“It was her good-faith belief that the persons she spoke with about the increase in violence had the authority to investigate or to put a stop to the violence,” the suit states.
In January 2020, a representative from Garcetti’s office demanded that Sarno not provide security reports to David Louie, president of the El Pueblo Board of Commissioners, because the official was concerned that the number of incidents would reflect poorly on the mayor’s homeless bridge shelter project, the suit states.
The next month, Sarno’s new general manager, Arturo Chavez, told the plaintiff she was being fired because the department was “heading in a different direction,” the suit states.
At the time of her termination Sarno had not accrued the time necessary to be eligible for retirement and health insurance, the suit states.