Retaliation at the West Covina Chamber?



Two top executives on the West Covina Chamber of Commerce were fired last week, but at least one of them who got the pink slip is hoping the15 member board changes its mind on Thursday.

Apparently, a couple of weeks ago there was an incident involving board member Luis Chacon. Executive Director Gary Lawson, left, decided it was best that he and two other chamber staffers file a restraining order against Chacon, who allegedly acted unprofessionally and emotionally toward several staff members when Chacon’s estranged wife was speaking with the staffers. 

Just a day or so later, the board held a special meeting to discuss the restraining order. And what they came out of the meeting with was a decision to fire marketing director Monica Cabrera and Lawson, who has served as executive director for 3 1/2 years.

Board members are so far keeping quiet about the “transistion” over at West Covina Chamber of Commerce. Calls to three board members have gone unanswered, and board member Audrey Lynberg had no comment.

At 11:45 a.m. on Thursday, there will be a board meeting to discuss the firings. But Lawson remains “optimistically confident that the team will continue to work together.” This story will appear in tomorrow’s paper.

FYI: The Chamber has a nearly $500,000 budget. It received $75,000 last year from the city, and that number is expected to be cut in half next year as a result of the economy. Lawson makes $65,000 a year.

Bragging is in order

I know it is Monday and a little past due (not to mention this will be two posts in a row from me without a word of city politics/issues) but I had to take a minute to gloat.

55-54. SunDevils win. SunDevils win. SunDevils win.

Did I not say in a previous post that some late game heroics might be in store? And look at what happened!

The SunDevils now move on to face Sonora High School tomorrow night.

I bet my old English teacher Pat Schlosser, now AVHS principal, is feeling pretty good right now about his sports program. I know I am.

Back from court

It only took three weeks, but I am finally through serving my civic duty as a juror on a case that made me think: 1.) What a waste of tax-payers money, and 2.) It’s great we live in a country where everyone has the right to a fair trial.

In case you were wondering, it was a forgery and burglary case. The defandant, who we found guilty, stole a check from his relative. The amount: $240.

I know that I missed some stories while I was out and will be playing catch up for the next few days. Please let me know of any news tips in and around Covina, West Covina, Irwindale and the rest of the SGV.

Baldwin Park’s numbers game

Business owner Greg Tuttle is at it again.

He spent the last two Baldwin Park City Council meetings accusing developer Robert Bisno of owning the city $286,526.01 in back payments.

“I guess maybe the council needs a little help on reading statements of financials for the city. Bisno left the city with $286,526.01 (in debt) … Did the city know about this? Oh yes they did, way back in May.”

Tuttle claims he has city documents proving that when Bisno pulled out of a proposed downtown redevelopment project last year, he failed to pay the city more than $200,000 in costs related to the project.

City officials were quick to contend the allegations Wednesday night, stating that Bisno actually owes money to a third-party consultant, not the city.

According to City Attorney Joseph Pannone, when the city signed the agreement with Bisno for the plan, it was clear that if money wasn’t received from Bisno, the city did not have to pay consultants involved in the project’s planning.

“The consultants would get paid only when the city gets paid,” Baldwin Park’s Chief Executive Officer Vijay Singhal said. “They have a claim against Bisno, not against the city.”

Singhal went on to say that, “as of today, we have not paid any taxpayer money or any city money in this project. We actually are holding deposits somewhere in the range of $8,000 or $9,000 to cover ay expenses that may come up.”

Harsh criticism for state budget deal

It seems everyone’s got an opinion on the state budget these days — our local pols included.

Here are some quotes from conversations I had last week with mayors in three local cities:

“I’m pleased that it has passed, which will help free up some of the cash flow that has been held back by the state controller. However, I’m not happy about the tax increases and the fact that taxes are being raised in the middle of one of the worst recessions we have had in decades.”
— Joe Vinatieri, Whittier mayor

“I think there are going to be serious repercussions. Without a doubt, solving the budget by increasing taxes is not the way to go and I’m very disappointed.
— Frank Venti, Monterey Park mayor

“I’m cautiously optimistic about the future. I know California still has a tremendous deficit. We have a lot of problems pending. We have the clouds of recession hanging over us. Passing the budget is the necessary first step on the path to a brighter future, economically speaking. But we still have a lot of work ahead of us.”
— Louie Lujan, La Puente mayor

Lujan went on to question the two-thirds majority needed to pass California’s budget. Ever since the drawn-out process to get the state’s budget approved began, lawmakers have been mulling the requirement, and whether its time for voters to dump it.

In fact the Associated Press had this story today about the issue:

“We have to do something,” said Assemblyman Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael. “I think anybody who’s watched this slow-motion train wreck over the last three months ought to agree that this system no longer works, if it ever did.”

California is one of only a handful of states that require more than a simple majority to pass budget bills. Rhode Island, like California, requires a two-thirds vote. Arkansas requires three-fourths votes to pass most appropriation bills and simple majorities to approve a separate bill that sets the state’s spending priorities.

Lujan said he didn’t know what the solution was, but “something less than two-thirds has to seriously be considered.”

He also said he found it out odd that among Republican Sen. Abel Maldonado’s demands in exchange for his “yes” vote, Maldonado asked for ballot measures that would create an open primary system.

“Maldonado’s proposal in changing the California elections code has nothing to do with budgetary process,” Lujan said. “It surprises me … it’s an odd forum to discuss (that).”

On the Los Angeles County supervisor front, Michael Antonovich released this statement last week about his thoughts on the state budget:

“What was missing was a comprehensive package of structural reforms including eliminating or consolidating overlapping departments and high-paying political commissions … Imposing one of the highest tax rates in the nation is a tax-and-spend orgy that further drives businesses, individuals and jobs out of state.”

Ed Butts driven for funds


It seems negotiations between La Puente’s largest sales tax generator and city officials have really gone south.

I have this story running in today’s paper about Ed Butts Ford owner Tom Iannone’s frustrations with the city, and his unsuccessful bids over more than six years to get assistance from the city to keep his Hacienda Boulevard dealership afloat.

The company has been getting by and has avoided massive layoffs by dipping into its reserve funds. But as the economy continues to tank, they need help. They’ve been asking the city to approve some sort of earn-out program, where the city would loan some of Ed Butts’ sales tax revenue back to the dealership.

Ed Butts brings in about $300,000 annually to city coffers.

City officials, however, contend they just can’t take the risk given the economy and the fact the Ed Butts Ford can’t guarantee the city they will stick around.

“If every city felt that way about their businesses, their largest sales tax providers, they’d be folding right now,” said Michael Hastings, a consultant to Iannone.

Ed Butts Ford is one of the few area Ford dealerships that haven’t shuttered or moved amid a slumping automotive sales market. But that’s not to say Ford Motor Co. hasn’t tried – Tom Iannone said that on several occasions Ford has offered him “millions” of dollars to leave La Puente. He wouldn’t specify how much exactly.

Iannone said he’s shown proof of those offers to city officials before, in hopes they would take his commitment to the community seriously.

Councilman John Solis said he had never seen the offer, but was blunt about saying that
“Ed Butts is very dumb if Ford is offering them that kind of money to go near a freeway and they’re not taking it. Their sales are down 30 percent.”

Solis also blamed Ed Butts for being slow to come to the table on several occasions when negotiations were near finalization.

Iannnone said the city has “all the public’s money tied up,” and accused the city of turning its back on much of the business community in La Puente.

“They’ve closed their doors and walked away from the business owners,” he said. “Not just me, a lot of us.”

Stimulus plans, David Dreier and “Phelan High”


I covered Congressman David Dreier speaking at an Arcadia Chamber of Commerce event on Friday, just days after President Barack Obama signed a $838 billion stimulus plan and announced another $75 billion proposal to aid the slumping housing market.

Dreier had some interesting things to say about both plans, including his hopes that the housing bill would force homeowners to take on more accountability when they take out loans.

“We need to make sure people out there misstating their income levels to qualify, that needs to end,” the San Dimas Republican said.

Dreier’s harshest comments, however, were about the stimulus bill which he feared would not do much to boost the employment market or get the nation out of this recession. His biggest concerns: the $1.3 trillion in debt the nation will likely accrue after all is said in done, and fear of too much government control.

“Massively increasing government’s the reach of government is not a good idea,” he said.

Dreier said he didn’t know if the stimulus package would actually create jobs, and he didn’t know what if any impact it would have here locally in the San Gabriel Valley.

Apparently, nobody really knows just yet. It’s an 1,110-page document and local pols are still analyzing it.

On a side note, Dreier told a funny story about Phelan, California, an unincorporated community in San Bernardino County. Apparently, there was some debate there about what to name the local high school … they didn’t want to go with “Phelan High.”

Monterey Park council candidate puts it in a song

22235-crutchman.jpgWe’ve already seen some interesting campaign tactics and flyers out of Monterey Park City Council hopeful John “JB” Abajian.

They’ve included “Crutchman,” Abajian’s superhero alter ego who will “capture and punish” with his “paralyzing cruth-rays.”






And they’ve also included this campaign flyer that features Abajian with horns, in commemoration with the Year of the Ox.

Now, we’ve got something else: Abajian’s very own campaign theme song, “SOS” or “Stamp Out Shenanigans.” Go ahead, take a listen. 

Meanwhile, reporter Amanda Baumfeld has this story about the council race. No surprise, one the biggest issues, she reports, is a controversial Athens Service trash hauling contract approved in 2002, which is currently under a city audit.

Abajian is going up against five other candidates hoping to win two seats: incumbents David Lau and Sharon Martinez, former Councilwoman Betty Tom Chu and residents Joe Ray Avila and Luis Estrada.

Program continues its attack on fat in Baldwin Park


The Healthy Teens on the Move Advocacy Committee, also known has HEAC, has been doing a lot over the last few years to fight youth obesity in Baldwin Park.

The group, made up of area teens interested in living and promoting healthy life-styles, has been especially active in the last year, going before the Baldwin Park City Council pitching ideas and getting programs off the ground.

Their latest endeavor? Logos at several Baldwin Park markets that flag healthy food options, which comply with the state’s standards for snacks and drinks in schools.

The “Healthy Selection” logos are currently being used at markets like La Blanquita, Mercado del Pueblo, El Mambi, J & J Liquor, Jay’s Liquor, Vallarta, Smart & Final and 7-Eleven. They were designed by Baldwin Park high school students.

A recent study found Baldwin Park has the highest rates of youth obesity in suburban Los Angeles County.



Local TV station tunes out

After more than 20 years of serving Hacienda Heights, Industry, Valinda, La Puente, Bassett, Avocado Heights and north and south Whittier, KCAT Channel 3 is signing off.

The television station’s board of directors voted about two weeks ago to shut the operation down.

As the local television access station in the area, KCAT covered a variety of events in the San Gabriel Valley including the Hacienda Heights 4th of July Parade, Concerts in the Park and the Industry Pro Rodeo.

We sent out a photographer Saturday night to shoot the last taping of Marty’s Corner, one of many community-based programs taped at the station’s Hacienda Heights location.

I haven’t gotten the full scoop as to why the station is shutting its doors yet, but I suspect a slipping economy and little money for public broadcasting likely has something to do with it.

Look for a full story in next weekend’s paper. In the meantime, here’s some video from the show. One of the Tribune’s reporters, Michelle Mills in the clip too: