Bye Blanca: South El Monte’s long-time mayor officially off City Council

I know she was eccentric, but it’s still kind of sad to see that Blanca Figueroa will no longer serve on the South El Monte City Council.

I am having trouble finding out when she was first elected, but I know she’s been on the council a long time, most of it as the city’s popularly elected mayor.

Blanca was a talker, that’s for sure. A phone conversation with her always took at least 30 minutes. I have to say, though, all 30 minutes were pretty fun. She talked in a stream-of-consciousness that assumed the listener knew all the inside stuff about the city. So every few minutes, I would stop her and have her explain something. It led to a lot of good stories.

Most recently, she made the national news for working all night at City Hall. The city passed a law outlawing working at City Hall at night, but the sheriff’s captain said he wouldn’t enforce it.

One of our reporters, I think it was Jennifer McLain, did a video interview with Blanca at a City Hall office. It was so funny. Blanca had a little stockings on, and a drawer full of snacks. She just gabbed in the kind, funny way she always did. I’ll re-post it when I find it.

I’m not super familiar with Blanca’s political career, but I think she was a fairly dedicated public servant. She served on lots of local governing boards and showed up at all the meetings. The other council members always kind of seemed jealous of her. I think they wondered how she remained so popular. Personally, I’ll miss talking with Blanca. She is a sweetheart.

Here’s a story about her replacement being chosen:

SOUTH EL MONTE – The City Council on Tuesday unanimously selected Willhans Ili as their newest colleague on the council. He was immediately sworn in.

Ili 34, was chosen from among eight candidates for the post, including former mayor Blanca Figueroa. He will fill the seat left vacant when Luis Aguinaga left the position to become mayor, after running unopposed for that post in November.

Ili said he was inspired to seek the seat in the wake of the death of his childhood friend and El Monte educator Agustin Roberto “Bobby” Salcedo.

“He was 33 and he did so much for the community. I’m 34 … I had to ask myself how I could help my community,” Ili said. “It is sad that it took the death of a friend to motivate me.”

Ili, who is finishing his master’s degree in education at Point Loma Nazarene University, said his priorities would be to keep the city’s budget balanced, build more affordable housing, and increase college graduation rates among South El Monte youths.

Before making its decision, the Council interviewed five of the candidates for approximately 15 minutes each.

In addition to Ili, Manuel Acosta, Dorris Hennings, Nancy Muniz and Robert Yrigoyen Jr. all answered questions about their ideas on the city’s budget and future.

Council members all praised the candidates for their responses and interest in the vacant seat.

Though they were invited, Figueroa and candidates Jesus Castillo and Michael Pugrad Jr. did not
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attend the meeting or interview for the vacant seat.

Figueroa ran unsuccessfully for council, instead of mayor, in November. As the third-place vote-getter in the council race for two seats, she had hoped the council would select her for Aguinaga’s seat.

The council decided to select a replacement rather hold a special election for the seat, which would have cost approximately $30,000 to $50,000.

As a member of the council, Ili will be paid $771 a month.

rebecca.kimitch@sgvn.com

626-962-8811, ext. 2105

Rosemead chickens to fly the coop?

From Staff Writer, Rebecca Kimitch:

The City Council will decide today (Tuesday) when and how to kick a controversial poultry slaughterhouse out of town.
Council members could decide to follow the Planning Commission’s recommendation to send Chinese American Live Poultry packing by the end of the year, or it could give the business three years to move, as suggested by city staff.
Animal slaughter has been banned in the city since 2001.
However, since CAL Poultry first opened in 1991, when slaughterhouses were allowed, the facilities were grandfathered in and allowed to stay. Today’s ordinance would strip that away while deciding when to close CAL Poultry.
CAL Poultry offers customers freshly killed chickens and ducks, slaughtered on site — a preferred option for many Asian American and Latino residents, according to CAL Poultry’s owners.
But the slaughterhouse has been cited multiple times for violations to air quality, water quality and health codes. And neighbors have complained of odors coming from the facilities and escaped chickens wandering the neighborhood.
City officials have debated in recent years whether to shut the business down or allow it to remodel its facilities to better mask odors.
Owner Dana Phu has said the business would mount a legal challenge against any forced closure.

- Blogger’s note: There’s another place like this on Telegraph Road in unincorporated South Whittier. I think it’s called Sing Lee Poultry and Seafood.

Leftovers from City Hall: The San Gabriel Valley gets a pot hub

LA PUENTE – I guess the San Gabriel Valley officially has a new marijuana capital – La Puente.

While officials at Los Angeles City Hall, the sheriff’s office, and the District Attorney’s office were all trying find ways to get rid of marijuana clinics, La Puente two weeks ago decided to allow six dispensaries.

By our count, that’s the most in the San Gabriel Valley.

It struck me as a curious move, especially for a city with only 40,000 residents that has spent the last five years unsuccessfully trying to attract developers.

When they passed the law, council members argued that their hands were tied because six clinics had already applied to set up shop.

That’s not a good excuse.

The city in August 2008 had the chance to temporarily ban the clinics, which would have given La Puente time to craft a law to regulate them.

Councilman Dan Holloway motioned to vote on the matter, but nobody seconded him. So the measure died. The city attorney at the time, Jamie Casso, warned that dispensaries would open.

Here’s another fun fact: The pot lobby, if it can be called that, has done a little work in La Puente.

A Political Action Committee run Mayor Louie Lujan’s brother Philip – called “Coalition for a Safe and Clean Environment,” – in 2006 donated $4,025 in mailers and money to Holloway, Louie Lujan and Councilwoman Nadia Mendoza.

Philip founded the Southern California Chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). And treasurer Liz McDuffie teaches classes about how to use pot. Neither one would say what the PAC did for the environment, and the coalition’s MySpace page was full of references to marijuana culture. We wrote a story on the PAC last year. I don’t think it’s still active.

Last week I posted some of the information about the PAC on our Leftovers blog on the Tribune’s Web site, a post that drew more comments than anything I’ve ever put up there.

Personally, I’m not very anti-marijuana. I’ve never smoked it, but I do not think it’s a big deal.

I know for sure I would not want to live in a city that was going to become a hub for marijuana dispensaries.

I wonder if the city can gradually ratchet down the number of dispensaries.

I doubt it will happen. I feel like some sort of intrigue is at play. La Puente’s City Council has historically been a little more cloak-and-dagger than most of our cities.

Meanwhile, the Internet is buzzing with reviews of La Puente’s marijuana dispensaries. Reviewers say Trinity Wellness on Amar Road has good product, but they complained the prices were a little high. The company’s Web site said first-time customers get a free glass pipe. And it offers discounts on rainy days. Another one on Hacienda Road is remodeling, but will still deliver Cali Mist or Purple Urcle to users’ homes, according it’s Web site.

An online review for the clinic is titled: “Just what LP needed!”

- Ben Baeder is the Deputy Metro Editor of the San Gabriel Valley Tribune

Leftovers from City Hall: As cities turn 50, the Valley lacks an identity

Sorry this is posted so late. Busy week.

– This year marks something special for the San Gabriel Valley. The last of the Valley’s post-World War II cities are turning 50.

Temple City and San Dimas will reach the half-century mark this year. And Duarte, Bradbury, Baldwin Park, Industry, La Puente, Walnut and South El Monte all reached the milestone within the last five years.

People here love to brag that their cities are “small-town America” where everybody knows everybody and nobody moves away. But the statistics don’t bear that out.

Is there any place in the United States where whites flew away faster?

Take Temple City: In 1970 the city was 98 percent white. In 2000, it was 38 percent, and I bet it will be a lot less when the 2010 figures are published. Temple City may still be Mayberry, but it’s a Mayberry where two-thirds of the families moved there within the last 30 years.

Right now the Valley is so much in flux, I’m not sure what the Valley wants to be, or if there is even a common theme running through it.

Cities in the San Gabriel foothills seem like they want to stay the same – affluent and mostly white.

Diamond Bar and Walnut want to be quiet suburbs for educated immigrant families.

The Puente Valley is a wild card. During the 2000s, La Puente was always talking about projects and revitalizing downtown. Literally nothing has happened in the last five years besides a new community center.

Voters in Rowland Heights and Hacienda Heights both flirted with cityhood but decided against it. Both have thriving Asian-American communities and seem to be doing well.

Meanwhile there seems to be little sense of community in the three Valindas.

Industry is Industry, a big powerful alligator-shaped city with a fat wallet and its own agenda, which currently includes an NFL stadium.

Baldwin Park wanted to add more people and nicer homes and condominiums. But that died when the economy dived.

Azusa seems like it’s on a roll. It got the new Target, and the effort to revitalize downtown hasn’t completely been killed by the down economy. The Rosedale home development will eventually start again.

West Covina and Covina seem content to remain suburbs, although Covina recently has talked about an effort to liven up downtown.

El Monte’s going for a transit village by the bus station.

And the whole west side seems like it will continue to be a magnet for Chinese and Vietnamese families seeking opportunity in the United States.

I lived in West Covina until just before my eighth birthday.

But, like almost all my family friends, we moved.

I talked to a colleague who also grew up here to find out what changed, and why he and I probably wouldn’t move back here.

He said it a general shabbiness and lack of care in many of the neighborhoods. In addition, houses in the Valley’s best areas are too expensive for middle-class people like us.

But crime is dropping in almost every neighborhood, and new faces are coming to the political scene. If some of those new faces put their egos aside and learn from their elders, I predict an interesting successful next 50 years. If not, I don’t have a lot of hope.

- Ben Baeder is the Deputy Metro Editor of the San Gabriel Valley Tribune.

Azusa council playing with fire?

Azusa is poised to give City Manager Fran Delach a 5 percent raise and a 5 percent bonus, saying the city recently met its goals, such as bringing a Target to the city.
I think most would agree that Delach is doing a good job in Azusa, which is plugging along with development plans.
But giving pay raises during bad times sometimes spells trouble for City Councils.
Case in point: Pico Rivera.
After the Pico Rivera City Council gave then-City Manager Dennis Courtemarche a $40,000 raise in 2004, outraged voters elected a new council majority. The new council fired Courtemarche in 2005.
The 2004 raise brought Courtemarche’s salary to $200,000.
Delach’s raise would bring his salary to about $212,000, according city documents.
Azusa has about 45,000 residents. Pico Rivera has about 65,000.

Here’s an early version of the story

AZUSA – City Manager Fran Delach is set to get a raise and bonus at tonight’s City Council meeting, according to city documents.

In a report prepared for tonight’s meeting, a 5-percent raise and a 5-percent bonus are both recommended for approval for Delach who has been working for the city since June 2005.

The raise was at the direction of the council following positive evaluation’s for Delach, according to documents.

The raise will bump Delach’s salary to $212,483, plus the one time 5-percent bonus that should amount to about $10,000, according to city documents.

The report credits Delach for meeting city goals, including his work to bring a Target – now in construction – to Azusa and helping maintain a balanced budget without cutting staff, according to documents.

The raise and new contract with Delach will be retroactive to June 2009.

El Monte students need more awareness of college

Apparently students in El Monte do not have enough awareness of college. The city council will discuss at their meeting tomorrow a resolution declaring February College Awareness Month.

The sign of the times was placed on the agenda at the request of Mayor Andre Quintero.

Here is the resolution:

DRAFT RESOLUTION
COLLEGE AWARENESS MONTH
WHEREAS, a college education will increase a student’s ability to understand developments in
society, to think critically, to express thoughts clearly in speech and in writing, and to make wise
decisions. These skills are useful throughout a lifetime; and
WHEREAS, a college education can help increase a student’s understanding of the community,
the nation, and the world as he or she explores interests, discovers new areas of knowledge,
considers lifelong goals, and becomes a responsible citizen; and
WHEREAS, the world is changing rapidly. Many jobs rely on new technology and require more
brain power than ever. There is fierce competition for jobs that only a few years ago seemed
plentiful. In a student’s working life, more and more jobs will require education beyond high
school. With a college education, students will have more jobs from which to choose; and
WHEREAS, a person who attends college generally earns more than a person who does not.
When comparing salaries over a lifetime, the earning gap is significant; and
WHEREAS, the City of El Monte has proclaimed the month of February 2010 as College
Awareness Month and encourages all educational communities to commemorate this occasion
with appropriate instructional activities; now, therefore, be it
RESOLVED, that the City of El Monte proclaims the month of February 2010 as College
Awareness Month and encourages all educational communities to commemorate this occasion
with appropriate instructional activities.
Adopted this 19th day of January 2010, by the El Monte City Council

La Puente adopts marijuana law

The city is allowing only six marijuana dispensaries, according to a law passed Tuesday night.
The council unanimously passed the ordinance, which also calls for security at dispensaries.

The law is similar to those passed in other cities, but there is an interesting aside to this one.

Mayor Louie Lujan and council members Nadia Mendoza and Dan Holloway in 2006 took about $4,000 in contributions and mailers from the political action committee “Coalition for a Safe and Clean Environment,” which is mostly composed of people dedicated to the legalization of marijuana. The friends on the PAC’s myspace page was full of marijuana-related organizations.
And Lujan’s little brother, Philip, was among the leaders of the PAC. Lujan has repeatedly said the PAC’s donation had nothing to do with his votes on marijuana issues.
I don’t suppose it’s any different than a council member voting on a development after taking money from a developer, which happens all the time.

Leftovers: Leftovers goes budget crisis

Since there wasn’t much going on in local politics over the holidays, here’s a eight-point plan for LA County to help fix California. Some of it’s quantifiable, and I realize some the money is from federal programs.

1. Reduce firefighter pay until there are about 10 qualified applicants for each job. Right now, hundreds apply for each position.

LA’s city and county fire departments, which make up two thirds of the county’s firefighters, cost a combined $1.5 billion.

A 10 percent reduction would reduce average annual firefighter pay from about $117,000 to $105,000.

Savings: Probably about $225 million if all departments are included

2. No reduced or free school lunches for school kids with fancy videogame systems. Why should the rest of us pay for food when kids go home to beat up hookers in the virtual world created by a $400 system?

About 59 percent of LA county’s million students get reduced lunches at $2.68 per lunch.

Savings: Probably about $180 million per year.

3. Unless a math or reading curriculum turns out to be a flop, force school districts to keep math and language arts texts for at least 20 years. They can replace aging books, but they would not be able to overhaul entire sets of books every three years, like the way it is now.

Although there’s no place to find the figure, it’s possible that schools have been paying $33 million a year for math and language books.

Savings: $25 million a year

4. Make laws more accessible by creating a panel of eighth-graders that must read and pass a quiz on any new law passed by the Legislature. Same thing with city and state budgets.

Savings: Who knows? The sky’s the limit if we actually understand how the government works.

5. For any new law passed, an old one must die.

Savings: Can’t tell

6. Increase pay for local politicians. During the housing boom, builders bought politicians. Those politicians in turn allowed developers to stuff houses into every nook and cranny. I don’t want them always scrambling for money, and politicians put in a lot of time.

How about $40,000 a year for City Council members, $5,000 of which pays for governance conferences.

Savings: Probably a wash since many politicians already spend plenty of extra money.

7. Keep water under local control, but get rid of the “middle-man” districts that stand between the Metropolitan Water District and local areas. And make the local districts a little bigger.

Savings: Hard to say, but it would probably be plenty.

8. Raise tuition to $2,000 for junior college, and then give back $2,200 to students who actually finish all their classes. Right now, it’s about $500.

Only a quarter of students who are in junior college transfer or achieve an associate’s degree within six years, according to a study reported in the Washington Post. Junior colleges every August and January have to hire thousands of teachers. My JC physics class started with 42 students and ended with eight.

Savings: The community college budget is $6 billion, so I would say $500 million is a safe estimate for schools in our county.

Total estimated savings: $930 million

You’re welcome, California.