Earthquake damage

I was out covering earthquake damage today in Diamond Bar. One of the locations I hit up was the bookstore at Mount San Antonio College. There, ceiling tiles crumbled to the floor, shot glasses shattered and books fell to the ground.

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Your money

Where is your money going? Well, today, the County Board of Supervisors approved more than $3 million in four settlements.

$850,000 settlement, plus assumption of $56,294 Medi-Cal lien, proposed for medical negligence lawsuit arising from injuries sustained by patient at Dollarhide Health Center in Compton. (Item 58) APPROVED

$850,000 settlement proposed for wrongful death lawsuit concerning allegation of excessive force by sheriff’s deputies during a vehicle pursuit and attempted apprehension. (Item 59) APPROVED

$762,500 settlement, plus assumption of $226,237 Medi-Cal lien, recommended for medical negligence lawsuit arising from treatment received by LAC+USC Medical Center patient. (Item 60) APPROVED

$595,000 settlement proposed for wrongful death lawsuit arising from medical treatment provided at the Los Angeles County Jail and LAC+USC Medical Center. (Item 61) APPROVED

(Dead) Duck hunt

I just got back from a little field trip with photographer Raul Roa. We were on the search for dead ducks at the San Gabriel River in El Monte and Industry. After walking up and down the river, we found plenty of things: transients, a rodeo spot that has horses and bulls, and a red bishop bird. But no dead ducks.

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Leftovers Column: When city managers get political

Leftovers Column: Fuentes hit for political approach
By Tania Chatila and Jennifer McLain, Staff Writers
Article Launched: 07/27/2008 09:29:44 PM PDT

It seems Pico Rivera’s city manager may have committed the cardinal sin in his profession: playing politics.

Of course, that depends on who you ask.

Charles “Chuck” Fuentes says he’s just one of the few city managers who actually admit to politicking.

“Am I more political? I’m the first one to say yes, and that’s a plus,” Fuentes said in an article that ran a week ago in the Whittier Daily News. “Every city manager does what he or she has to do to take care of his majority.”

But if you bring the issue up before ethicists at the state and national levels, they say Fuentes – who worked on President Jimmy Carter’s re-election campaign and

eventually became chief of staff for Rep. Grace Napolitano, D-Santa Fe Springs – has got it all wrong.

After all, the job of a city manager is to work for all council members, not just the majority, experts said.

And if Fuentes were to read the code of ethics that the members of the International City Manager’s Association follow, he would see that endorsing candidates – whether on the local or national level – is a big no-no, said Bill Garrett, executive director of the California City Management Foundation.

“The code of ethics says that you don’t play favorites, and don’t involve yourself in the political game,” Garrett said.

By working for all members of the council, the city manager is completing the obligation to serve the interest of the com-

munity, said Martha Perego, ICMA’s ethics director.

“When you have city managers that are more concerned about protecting their jobs and counting votes, then you need to think: Are they serving the long-term interest of the community?” Perego said.

Fuentes is not a member of the ICMA, Perego said.

Nearly 100 years ago, the council-city manager system was formed as a way to keep City Hall staff – the brains behind the requests and wills of council members – from being politicized, according to Garrett.

“It has been set to try to make sure that the manager responds from a professional standpoint, not from a political one,” he said.

That hasn’t always been the case.

South Gate’s former elected city treasurer Albert Robles was convicted of soliciting more than $1.8 million in bribes from bidders on municipal contracts.

According to the Los Angeles Times, three of Robles’ supporters formed a new majority on the City Council in 2001.

With their votes, Robles influenced ranks of city department managers, firing those who refused to do his bidding and promoting those who would, even though his official title granted him no such authority, according to the Times article.

“South Gate is a good example of what can happen when a City Council hires someone purely from a political background, and then tells them, `We want you to run this thing the way we want you to run it.”‘

Of course, some argue politics is inevitable when you are working for, well, politicians.

“Every city manager has to deal with the reality that there is a political component to the job,” said Rosemead City Manager Oliver Chi. “But we must continue to strive in all ways to remain apolitical in our efforts to serve every single council member.”

(626) 962-8811, Ext. 2477, 2109

Recall gets recalled?

Word has it Baldwin Park officials have rejected the recall effort against three City Council members. Chief Executive Officer Vijay Singhal tells me the recall papers did not qualify because they were not in accordance with the election code.

Mayor Manuel Lozano confirmed this information, but more specifics will have to come from Deputy City Clerk Laura Nieto on Monday.

Local businessman and Pomona resident Greg Tuttle served recall intention notices on Council members Anthony Bejarano, Marlen Garcia and Monica Garcia at the June 18 council meeting. He filed official recall paperwork with the City Clerk’s office the following Monday.

Experts often warn about the difficulty of getting recall efforts off the ground —- the amoung of money it takes and the importance of having a good lawyer who knows the system and can help file paperwork properly.

Tuttle told me a month ago that he had retained a lawyer for the recall effort … guess something must have been lacking.

Money now or money later?

So the La Puente City Council was expected to make a decision Thursday night on whether to go with the Charles Co. or Lowe’s Enterprises for redevelopment of the former La Puente Lanes bowling alley site.

Looks like the interviews and meeting ran a little along — past midnight I’m told — so the council postponed making a decision until Monday. Mayor Louie Lujan called a special meeting for 6 p.m. in City Hall to resolve the issue. View the agenda here.

In the meantime, Lujan said the decision will basically come down to a “short-term economic solution, meaning big box that will bring in instant cash,” or a mixed-used long-term solution that will likely decrease the chances of the big box stores shutting down and the project turning into another swap meet.

What would you do considering the economic crunch? Chose cash flow now or plan for the future?

A tale of two amendments

Here are some snippets of a story running in tomorrow’s paper:

BALDWIN PARK — The City Council needs a pair of proposals to pass if it hopes to revitalize 125 acres of downtown real estate, officials said.
The proposals would extend Baldwin Park’s eminent domain authority for another 12 years in both the Central Business District and the Sierra Vista redevelopment project areas. One amendment would allow the city to extend its authority to residential property not previously included.
A proposal by the Bisno Development Co. seeking to redevelop 125 downtown acres includes property in portions of both zones.
Negotiations between the city and the developer remain ongoing. If the extensions do not pass, the project — in its entirety — would not be feasible, City Attorney Joseph Pannone said.
Pannone said the proposed amendments will go before the project area committees for each redevelopment area and the Planning Commission next month for review.
While the City Council will have final say over whether the amendments are passed, if the project area committees vote against the recommendations, the amendments will required a 4/5 vote by the council for approval, Pannone said.

I’ll likely be following the downtown project and related issues next week, because in addition to the amendments, the city is also apparently seeking a resolution of necessity — something it needs to pass before Dec. 1 in order to continue with eminent domain proceedings despite Prop. 99.

Sewer fee hikes axed

That’s right, at a time when fiscally-strapped cities in the San Gabriel Valley — and across the state — are implementing extra assessment fees and sales tax increases to make up for budget shortfalls, La Puente is giving their residents a break.

Here are snippets of a story of a story I wrote for Sunday’s paper:

At a special meeting Thursday night, the City Council failed to garner the minimum four votes it needed to pass a proposed three-year sewer assessment fee increase to help pay for the city’s aging sewer infrastructure.
Councilman Dan Holloway — who along with Councilwoman Lola Storing made up the dissenting votes — said he would not support such an increase because of the current economic condition. But he warned that the fee structure could change in the future.
Officials had been considering a three-year incremental sewer charge increase that could have tacked on as much as $21 to residents’ current annual sewer fees.
A rate study by Walnut Creek-based Hilton, Farnkopf and Hobson outlined rate increases through the 2010-11 fiscal year, including a proposed rate of $105 for a single-family residence for 2008-09, $125 for 2009-10, and $140 for 2010-11.
The current rate is $84 for that residential category.
But the proposed hikes were met with heavy opposition.
Despite the proposal’s failure, city officials say sewer upgrades will continue as planned and without delays, considering the city has already taken out a $10 million bond for the project.

A lot of people spoke against the fee hike during the meeting, including one very special guest: former La Puente Mayor Louis Perez.

Perez supported a fee hike before failing to get re-elected back into office last year. On Thursday, his comments took a 180.

“The people of La Puente, they don’t mind shelling out some money to pay for their sewer, but this is a big project, a long project,” he said. “They want things to basically stay where they are at. The same level where they can afford it.”

While residents may have dodged the fees this year, officials made it pretty clear Friday that the council will likely have to consider this again in the future. Hopefully, residents won’t get stuck with a more expensive fee plan later.

Employee wages on the chopping block

I would hate to be working for the state right now…


For Immediate Release Contact: Don Lyster

July 25, 2008 (202) 225-9971, cell

Solis, California Congressional Members Urge Governor to

Drop Plan to Cut State Workers’ Wages

Washington, D.C. — Congresswoman Hilda L. Solis (CA-32), joined by 26 other members of the California Congressional delegation, including Congressman George Miller, Chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, sent the below letter today to Governor Schwarzenegger expressing strong opposition to his plan to lower state workers’ wages to the federal minimum wage during budget negotiations.


July 25, 2008

Dear Governor Schwarzenegger:

As Members of the Congress representing California, we write to express our strong opposition to your proposed plan to cut the wages of 200,000 state workers to the federal minimum wage of $6.55 per hour as a temporary budget savings. The earnings of hardworking state employees should not be leveraged for political gain in the current budget stalemate.

In May 2007, Congress passed the first increase in the federal minimum wage in ten years. On July 24, 2008, the second phase of the increased federal minimum wage began, raising the federal minimum wage to $6.55. While the increases to the federal minimum wage are an improvement for hourly workers, they do not make up for the recent and rapid increases in food, energy and healthcare costs, which have risen even higher in California. In addition, our state has been disproportionately impacted by the nationwide foreclosure crisis and statewide unemployment just reached 6.9 percent. Working families in California who are employed by the state simply cannot afford to have their salary reduced to the federal minimum wage during these incredibly hard economic times, even with the promise of back pay once the budget negotiations are completed.

We have always been incredibly proud to represent California because our state sets the standard for fair wages in the United States. The $8 per hour minimum wage in California, as well as municipal living wage laws, set a benchmark for the rest of the country. By reducing state workers pay to $6.55 per hour, you would not only hurt the 200,000 workers who serve California, but you would also hurt the reputation of California as one of the best states to live and work in the United States.

As Members of the California Congressional delegation, we understand that our state is facing significant budget challenges. However, the California state controller has already stated that cutting workers’ salaries will “do nothing meaningful to improve our cash position or help us make our priority payments.” We strongly urge you to reconsider your plan to cut 200,000 state workers wages to the federal minimum wage.