SOUTH EL MONTE, Calif. - Curfews usually target gang members and delinquents - not a city mayor.

But council members in this Los Angeles suburb got fed up that Mayor Blanca Figueroa worked so late, often into the wee hours of the morning, that they ordered her out of City Hall at 11 p.m.

"I've been doing this for years," Figueroa fumed this week. "No one cared, no one knew. Why now?"

Until recently, Figueroa blissfully burned the midnight oil in the company of her four Siamese fighting fish - Lucy, Ricky, Fred and Ethel - which she keeps at the office. But after a rash of break-ins in the parking lot, members of the council said her hours posed a hazard to her safety and a liability for the city of 21,000 about 15 miles east of downtown Los Angeles.

Figueroa, mayor for five years of this largely Latino, blue-collar community, attends civic meetings and functions in the day and tackles constituents' e-mails and paperwork at night, after putting her hair up and slipping on booties.

Vice Mayor Hector Delgado said the mayor's nocturnal habit has long annoyed the other council members, largely because every evening she dominated the single desk they shared. They have since installed a second desk.

But the issue heated up eight months ago when a thief broke into cars in the parking lot and a surveillance tape showed the City Hall door was open. Although nothing happened to the mayor, Delgado said the council was concerned.

"We didn't think it would be safe for her here at night," Delgado said. "In the past, we let it go, but now the city attorney advised us this was a liability issue. It's not a personal attack against her."

Delgado said the council provided Figueroa with a laptop, a scanner, a fax, a copier and a cell phone so she could work from home, but she accepted only the laptop and cell phone - and continued working late at City Hall.

Delgado said he believes that City Hall is simply more comfortable than Figueroa's own home, which has leaky plumbing, mold, no working TV and is too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter.

Figueroa acknowledged that her house has water problems and mold; that's why she didn't want to risk installing the office equipment there. Delgado said the council doesn't plan to enforce the curfew, but wanted the ordinance to absolve the city of liability in case an accident occurs.

The mayor, who is single and has no children, said she won one concession from the council - she can stay until 1 a.m. on days of meetings.

"I literally feel I'm married to the city," Figueroa said. "It's 24/7." *