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El Monte officials don't rehire lifeguards but order review

City leaders get an earful in support of El Monte lifeguards who were fired over a parody of the viral hit 'Gangnam Style,' then order an independent review.

September 20, 2012|By Anh Do, Los Angeles Times
  • From left, former El Monte lifeguards Alexander Huerta, Lucia Lam, Yvonne Tam and Jacob Lopez gather before Tuesday's City Council meeting.
From left, former El Monte lifeguards Alexander Huerta, Lucia Lam, Yvonne… (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles…)

At the end of the night, the El Monte lifeguards who were fired for making a video spoof of a South Korean pop phenomenon did not win their jobs back. But they did make a splash that continues to be felt in the San Gabriel Valley city.

"The city is the laughingstock of the nation," observed political consultant Xavier Hermosillo during a lengthy council meeting Tuesday that ended with city officials ordering a review of the mass firing.

He suggested the city "do the right thing" and hire back the guards.

Angela Rodriguez, who owns a printing firm in town, offered a similar sentiment.

"I have lived in El Monte my whole life, and for the first time ever, I'm ashamed of my city," she said.

Jane Myring, a 70-year-old El Monte native, said the punishment the lifeguards received didn't fit the crime.

"We do dumb things, and we don't think about it.... I'm concerned for their professional life," she said, adding that she hated to see their chances for future employment jeopardized by the city's decision to fire them.

Several speakers suggested the city had missed a golden opportunity for a town of 115,000 residents and should have capitalized on the attention the video has drawn. The video has been watched more than 1.5 million times on YouTube.

But Mayor Andre Quintero said the video spoof of "Gangnam Style" by Korean musician Psy had been hurtful to the city. "Our brand as a city has taken a big hit," he said.

The guard-made video — "Lifeguard Style" — quickly went viral after the lifeguards and their supervisor were fired for unauthorized filming on city premises and appearing in the video in the city's fire-engine-red swimsuits.

More than 12,000 people enlisted in the Facebook effort to win back the lifeguards' jobs, and even Psy attempted to come to their rescue, saying it appeared the firings were unfair.

But council members refused to give in and asked that an independent review of the city's social media policy also be prepared. No timeline was given.

In the meantime, the city is training cashiers at the aquatics center to take over lifeguarding duties, Gabriel Gonzalez, the former pool manager, said during the council meeting. City officials did not respond to Gonzalez's assertion.

anh.do@latimes.com

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