Leftovers column: Toil and trouble brew in Montebello

I covered Montebello about five years back. I was 27 years old, and it was baptism by fire.

Montebello, hands down, had the most cut-throat politics of any city covered by the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, Whittier Daily News and Pasadena Star-News.

People there truly hated each other.

I went from holding friendly interviews with city officials in Santa Fe Springs and Whittier – the other cities I covered – to getting off-the-record 11 p.m. cell phone calls from people in Montebello about drugs and conflicts of interest.

I eventually moved to other beats, but I never forgot about Montebello.

After taking a couple years off from the paper, I came back last year.

Montebello politics were still off-the-charts crazy.

In November, the city once again toppled its majority and elected a new council with a new agenda. This time the issue driving the election was the exclusive trash hauling contract the City Council granted to Athens Services in July 2008. Montebello is a city full of trash haulers, and the council’s fateful decision stirred up a big, outlandish hornets’ nest of a campaign.

It culminated with the election of incumbent Bill Molinari and newcomers Frank Gomez and Art Barajas.

Now there’s another recall campaign against Molinari’s last two opponents, Robert Urteaga and Kathy Salazar, scheduled for February.

And, like always, the city’s staff is turning over faster than than a rotisserie chicken at the Montebello Armenian Festival.

The new council this week fired City Administrator Nick Pacheco, who was appointed just last month. They also put Police Chief Dan Weast on leave.

Pacheco was replaced by former Interim City Administrator Randy Narramore, who a few years back replaced former City Administrator Richard Torres. Torres was reappointed, but he retired and was eventually replaced by Pacheco. You still with me?

And I haven’t even mentioned the lawsuits.

Weast is being sued by 13 of his officers. Salazar recently sued the Police Department and former Chief Garry-Couso Vasquez. I think some other people are suing other people, but I lost count.

I’ve never heard of a city where so many people sue each other. I’m thinking of quitting, testing for the bar and opening a law office in Montebello.

Anyway, Montebello’s voters deserve better. There is no way that much turmoil is good for a city. Montebello has a lot going for it, such as its proximity to LA, the tax-generating Montebello Mall, some nice parks and opportunity for homes or a wilderness park, or both, in city’s north hills.

Normally, a column like this should end with a speech urging Montebelloans to rise up. But, in Montebello, such urging is not necessary.

So Montebelloans, chill out. Your city is starting to become a punch line.


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