Monterey Park trying to find itself, Trib and La Times reports


Pasadena Star-News reporter Melissa Pamer 
wrote this story on Feb. 15 ago about developer Jason Chung and his problems in the city.

MONTEREY PARK – A developer’s plans to build luxury condominiums targeted at wealthy Chinese immigrants met a roadblock this week.

Developer Jason Chung, who got initial city approval for the project last year, believes his 54-unit, six-story condo building will appeal to rich families emigrating from dense urban centers in China and Taiwan. He plans a high-end East-West fusion restaurant on the building’s ground floor.

“A lot of wealthy Chinese buy in San Marino, Rowland Heights and Diamond Bar, but they really want someplace convenient where they don’t have to drive a car,” Chung said. “They can walk to get their dim sum.”

And then this story ran today in the Los Angeles Times:

They used to call Monterey Park “the Chinese Beverly Hills,” a suburb east of downtown Los Angeles that for three decades has been synonymous with the explosion of Chinese immigration and trade in the San Gabriel Valley.

But in recent years, some of the luster once associated with Monterey Park has moved east to newer communities including City of Industry, Walnut and Diamond Bar. And that’s left city leaders debating the town’s future.

Enter developer Jason Chung. He is offering the city the chance to lure jet-setters from Shanghai, Taipei and Hong Kong to a six-story, steel-and-glass condominium tower. He said residents at the 54-unit luxury complex could enjoy concierge and maid service and would be minutes away from scores of authentic Chinese restaurants.

Budget problems? We ain’t got no stinkin’ budget problems…

For the past eight months, officials in Baldwin Park having been using dire budget constraints as reasoning behind a lot of things they CANT do: they cant up the police officers salaries, they cant pay their maintenance workers who threatened to go on strike last year more money, they cant move forward with a public safety tax on the next ballot because it would cost the city too much to facilitate it.

Now, many cities like Baldwin Park that do not bring in the same kind of sales tax revenues as other wealthier Valley Cities (i.e. West Covina, Glendora) truly do work on limited budgets. But what I cant understand is the comment Baldwin Parks Chief Executive Officer made to me earlier this week after the city conducted its mid-year budget review.

I asked him how the session went and how things were looking financially for Baldwin Park.
He replied, Good, good. Things are looking good for the year. He went on to say that things were looking good for next year too.

I guess it must be raining money in BP.

Public safety at the public’s expense

Amanda Baumfeld reports that Montebello Councilwoman Kathy Salazar is pushing to keep local control of cops and impose an additional 1/2 to 1 percent sales tax for public safety.

My question is this: Why is Salazar such an advocate for public safety? Is there any personal gain that she would get out of it, other than, say, a safer neighborhood? Here’s why she says these issues are important to her:

“This is what the city wants,” Salazar said. “It gives the power back to the people. It’s their city.”

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Salazar, who re-entered office in November, said she wants the sales tax measure on the ballot because during her campaign people said they would be willing to pay for public safety.

The difference between us and them

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Nothing says more about the glaring differences between news organizations and public relations firms then this e-mail sent to my editor from BLAZE, a Santa Monica PR firm.

This past weekend was a cause for celebration in the city of La Puente. Mayor Pro Tem Dan Holloway joined with 7-Eleven to welcome store owners, husband and wife team Satwinder Sidhu and Ronnie Sekhon, to their new Sunset Ave. store at the grand opening celebration on Saturday, Feb. 23.

Mayor Pro Tem Holloway presented Sidhu and Sekhon with a Certificate of Recognition to honor their contributions to the La Puente community before officiating a ribbon cutting ceremony to christen the new store. This is Sidhu and Sekhon’s second 7-Eleven in La Puente.

A 7-Eleven opening! So sorry I missed it.

Old timers

Councilmembers Gary Taylor and Margaret Clark have served on the Rosemead City Council for a combined 51 years. During that time, they have received health benefits, retirement packages, and have been eligible for car and phone allowances.

Taylor joined the council iin 1974, and Clark joined in 1991.

A records request shows that over the past 15 years, Rosemead has paid Clark and Taylor nearly $225,000 each — that is broken down to $15,000 a year in meeting stipends. That does not include the other perks.

Why do I bring this up now? Because a records request that I asked for months ago was finally ready, and I had the chance to review these yesterday.

This is just a taste of what I found when looking for all the expenses over a 15-year period. Councilmen John Tran and John Nunez did not join the council until 2005, so obviously their numbers are much lower. However, I did notice that the car allowance since they joined jumped from $250 a month to $500, and the cell phone allowance went from $80 a month to $150, including $300 a year for a new phone. Councilwoman Polly Low joined the counicl in 2007, so, again, her numbers will not reflect those of her colleagues.

How to get ahold of your councilmembers

South El Monte council members are given monthly cell phone allowances. For example, Hector Delgado was reimbursed $168 in cell phone charges in December 2006, and for $216 in January 2007. You would think, then, that the cell phone number would be on the council members’ business cards.

Well, I’m staring at Councilman Hector Delgado’s business card, and it’s not there. Is he the only one? I don’t know. Mayor Blanca Figueroa has her cell phone number, but I don’t have the other three council member’s cards? Do you?

Rosemead meeting pics

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This was my view at the Rosemead City Council meeting last night, where more than 200 people packed in the discuss the general plan. Residents flooded into the lobby, where many sat through the near four-hour discussion.

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This is the only guy last night who was escorted out of the meeting. He was heckling the council members and members of the audience.

Water story comments

Here are a few excerpts of emails I’ve received about the water district story that ran on Monday. I left the names out because when they sent them to me, it may have not been with the intention to print.

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As a former ten-year employee of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD) … I am shocked and outraged by Director Murrray’s agregious behavior; however, I am not surprised!

In fact, while on the West Basin Board, anticipating this potential for corruption, I tried to sponsor and have legislation intoduced that would have reformed this antiquated system by going to a flat rate of compensation and bring the water community into parity with other local governmental entities.

My proposal was vigorously opposed by the “Good ‘Ole Boys of Water” and my legislation ultimately died in policy committee. In fact, the Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA), the omnibus trade organization representing the water community in California, is on record as “vigorously “opposing the legislative proposal to reform the antiquated per-diem compensation system.

I hate to say it:”but I told you so!”. Maybe now, the Legislature will take note of this antiquated system, reform it with a flat rate rate of compensation, and bring the water community in-to-line with other local jurisdictions.

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Dear Editor:

All humans have the right to clean healthy water, people that live in California are humans, and therefore Californians have the right to clean healthy water. What gives the right to others in a seniority position throughout the San Gabriel Valley and Los Angeles County to take advantage of their privileges and steal nearly $1.6 million that were paid to directors for board meetings and travel expenses.

After having read this article on these two individuals, Willard Murray and Leon Garcia, that benefit from their job to the maximum, I am aggravated to know that they find devious ways to sum up their expenses and legally obtain more money than they should, simply for dining at prestigious restaurants, booking elegant expensive hotels, playing golf, and calling this a part of their job.

How is this possible, to let Willard Murray, director at the Water Replenishment District of Southern California attend meetings and take trips to Mexico City, and acquire close to $90,000, just for these work trips? If you ask me, this sounds more like an all expense paid vacation. Half of the population in California does not even make a yearly income of this amount.

I believe we should expose these crooks, and bring them to justice for the amounts of funds they are over spending, masquerading under a legal transaction. If we continue to permit people on these boards to abuse our funds this way, then I would not mind initiating a course of action that will bring them to justice.

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Dear Ms. McLain,

Water-boarding the ratepayers is bad, but investigative journalism is good — wonderful! — after its long absence from the Star News.

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Dear Jennifer,

This is what concerns us as taxpayers the most–are elected and appointed officials using our money for the people’s benefit or for their own? In many cases (and you should really look at the expenses incurred by councilmembers and mayors, they are just as bad) they are poor excuses for free travel, hotels and food, etc by the elected officials and not for the benefit of the public at all.

These jobs are volunteer jobs that should have no benefits (health, cell phones, car allowance vs. actual mileage reimbursement) and very little for conferences and travel. It is bilking the public left and right and should be stopped.

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Jennifer,

Thank you for the story. I wonder if there are any females on the water district boards. If not then maybe the Boards are good old boys club. Again thank you for your research covering this story.

5 1/2 hour Rosemead drama

Just as expected, Rosemead’s meeting was a long one. It adjourned at 12:30 a.m. And it was PACKED! At least 200 people were there, filling the council chambers and the lobby. It was a pretty racially divided crowd. One white man — who is not aware of political correctness — leaned in to tell me, “Have you noticed that all the Orientals are for high density?” Another white woman who walked into the meeting at 6:30 p.m. said this when she saw that most of the seats were filled by a group of Asian residents, “Looks like we’re outnumbered.”

Race wasn’t addressed head on during the meeting, but as one insider told me, “It’s the elephant in the room.”

So, what happened during this 5 1/2 hour meeting? Well, almost 35 people spoke both in favor and against the general plan; Councilman Gary Talyor asked Councilman John Nunez to write an apology letter to all female employees in City Hall – Nunez agreed, adding that he will address the letter to all men, as well; neither Nunez or Taylor will be censured; and a audience member spent about 10 minutes trying to get a picture of City Attorney Bonifacio Garcia sleeping – although it can’t be confirmed that he was sleeping because of the glare on his glasses, a source sitting close to Garcia told me.

I have a notepad full of comments — both good, bad and funny — but that entry will have to wait till tomorrow when I am awake. One of my favorites of the night came from Planning Commissioner Todd Kunioka, who used the definition of insanity to address one view on the general plan: “If we do the same thing and expect a different result, that’s insane.”

One thing that I found especially interesting was each council member gave their opinion about the draft general plan — basically a blueprint for future city develoment — before hearing any comments from the audience. They just launched right in to what they thought about the proposed general plan. After the first of nearly 35 spoke on the issue, Mayor John Tran said that he had already made up his mind.

More later today about the specifics of those ammendments.

Only one person was escorted out by one of the three sheriff’s deputies at the meeting.