Operator of Orange County malls Fashion Island – Irvine Spectrum – Tustin and Irvine Market Place says it shares license plate data with local police, but not ICE

A major Orange County land developer that owns three shopping centers equipped with cameras that read license plates said Wednesday it does not share information about vehicles captured in the recordings with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Irvine Co. said the data collected by a contractor are “only shared with local police departments as part of their efforts to keep the local community safe.”

Those shopping centers include Fashion Island in Newport Beach, the Irvine Spectrum Center in Irvine and the Market Place on the border of Tustin and Irvine.

Both the Irvine and Newport Beach police departments said Wednesday that their respective agencies don’t share that data with ICE. Tustin police did not immediately respond to a call for comment.

The statements came after a report published Tuesday by the Electronic Frontier Foundation raised privacy concerns about how the data are used.

According to Irvine Co., the readers record license plate numbers as well as the location, date and time the information is collected. Encrypted information is then sent to a searchable database operated by Vigilant Solutions, a Livermore, Calif., business that collects information from license plate readers for law enforcement and private entities.

In Irvine, the technology would notify police when there’s a hit on cars that have been reported stolen or are associated with a wanted suspect, Irvine police spokeswoman Kim Mohr said.

“It’s like having extra patrol officers, in a way, because it’s the eyes out there,” Mohr said, adding that police cars are also outfitted with the technology.

In Newport Beach, investigators can search the Irvine Co. database as part of active criminal investigations or patrol operations, but they haven’t actually ever used the tool in that way, Newport Beach police spokeswoman Jennifer Manzella said.

“It’s not a database that we can just peruse at will,” Manzella said. “We have to be able to document who is querying it and why it’s being queried.”

Though Irvine Co. says it does not sell its information or share it with ICE, immigration authorities do have access to data collected from license plate readers elsewhere by commercial third parties and sold to Vigilant Solutions, according to the Northern California firm. In some cases, Vigilant Solutions owns the cameras the third parties use.

Vigilant spokeswoman Mary Alice Johnson declined to identify those third parties but said some include repossession companies whose trucks are outfitted with license plate readers. None of the third parties are law enforcement agencies, she said.

ICE is among at least 1,000 law enforcement agencies across the country that pay for access to the database — and it’s up to those agencies to set policies on how to use the information, Johnson said.

In a statement, ICE said that it uses information as a tool in criminal and civil immigration enforcement investigations and must comply with its own privacy rules.

“ICE is not seeking to build a license plate reader database, and will not collect nor contribute any data to a national public or private database,” the agency said. Its rules, ICE said, “are the most stringent requirements known to have been applied for the use of this technology.”

The American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Northern California is suing for records about ICE’s use of the technology, including contracts with the private companies operating the databases, training material, privacy policies and other documents.

“Aggregation of this information into databases containing billions of license plate scans stretching back months and even years threatens core civil rights and liberties protected by the Constitution,” the ACLU of Northern California said on its website.

Times staff writer Cindy Carcamo contributed to this report.


Customers sue embattled Compton water district over discolored water

Frustrated by discolored drinking water pouring from their taps, four Compton residents filed a class-action lawsuit late Monday against their water provider, Sativa Los Angeles County Water District.

The lawsuit, filed at Los Angeles County Superior Court, accuses Sativa of failing to provide quality drinking water, misappropriating taxpayer dollars and causing a financial burden on its low-income customers in Compton and Willowbrook. It comes days before a crucial decision by county oversight officials on whether to dissolve the small public water district.

“Sativa mismanaged public funds by failing to use them for the intended purpose of maintaining and improving the water district’s infrastructure for the delivery of potable water,” the lawsuit alleges.

The claims in the suit echo some raised by oversight authorities about Sativa in recent years.

The district has been accused of financial instability, nepotism, poor maintenance and mismanagement. It has fended off two previous dissolution attempts by L.A. County’s Local Agency Formation Commission — the state-appointed body charged with monitoring special districts.

The commission meets Wednesday to consider initiating its third attempt to dissolve the district.

That decision will come amid mounting complaints by residents of discolored water that smells of chlorine or rust. Residents said the water stains white clothes and forces them to purchase bottled water with which to drink, cook and bathe, according to the lawsuit.

The plaintiffs include four mothers who said they are affected by water problems dating as far back as five years.

“It’s a wake-up call for everybody, even for those who [oversee] the district,” said Martha Barajas, one of the plaintiffs. “Maybe people will listen to us now.

“We’ve given Sativa plenty of time to fix the problems,” she added.

The 1,600 households served by Sativa pay a flat rate of $65 a month, adding up to nearly $1.3 million in annual revenue.

Sativa says it lacks the estimated $10 million to $15 million needed to upgrade the 70-year-old pipes it blames for depositing manganese in drinking water, which can make faucets run brown.

The lawsuit states Sativa “miserably failed again and again” to meet state clean drinking waters standards. It points to a compliance order from the State Water Resources Control Board last month that said Sativa violated the state’s health and safety code when it neglected to maintain the minimum water pressure, delivered “muddy water” and did not engage in proper flushing.

The order said water tested from Sativa wells, faucets and hoses contained higher-than-normal levels of manganese and was sometimes cloudier than standards allow. The state water board noted that from March 2017 to May 2018, Sativa received at least 97 complaints of brown water from customers.

In addition to dirty drinking water, Sativa has come under fire after The Times reported allegations that the district had hired paid supporters to attend a forum to address the problem. Sativa’s board and its administrative manager, Maria Rachelle Garza, strongly denied any involvement. Days later, Garza was placed on leave.

The defendants in the lawsuit are Sativa and its five board members: Luis Landeros, Christina Casillas, Juan Aguilar, Roxsana Zepeda and Lucia Castrellon. They could not immediately be reached for comment.

Landeros previously told The Times that the district is working to fix the problem but needs financial help from the state and county.