Leftovers from City Hall: El Monte in black?

Go back 150 years, and a group of vigilantes called the “Monte Boys” were out busting heads around the El Monte area.

Kind of like present-day El Monte Police Officer George Fierro, who also kicked a little head last year.

Throw in some accusations of fraud by a developer. Sprinkle in a huge deficit and a couple-hundred layoffs. And top it off with police responding to a fight involving the then-Mayor Ernesto Gutierrez and his girlfriend.

That’s “colorful” El Monte, to use a euphemism.

Then this story published last week:

– EL MONTE – The city has finally climbed out of the deep fiscal hole it was in last year and on Tuesday began to rebuild its long-defunct rainy day fund. –

What? El Monte has it’s act together?

My world view changed so quickly I felt physical pain inside my head.

I have always felt sorry for El Monte. It’s such a crazy town.

It has a weird city slogan: End of the Santa Fe Trail.

Shouldn’t that be the slogan for Santa Fe?

It’s got that big Statue of Liberty replica in front of City Hall.

It’s peppered with ancient trailer parks – many of which are on big lots created during the Great Depression to settle Okies.

The streets are crooked.

There’s a random airport.

The Boys and Girls Club feeds homeless people.

The cops are kind of cowboyish, but they do tons of nice things for impoverished children.

Nobody even knows what the heck “El Monte” means. While the first inclination is think El Monte means “the mountain” or the “the hill,” historians don’t agree.

Since there are no mountains in the city, one historian insists El Monte means “the island,” because the city is surrounded by the Rio Hondo and the San Gabriel rivers. I guess “monte” means island in some old Spanish dialect.

I, for one, hope the island is finally getting its act together.

But I worry.

After Titan Group president John Leung was arrested on suspicion of embezzlement in June, Titan dropped the 65-acre project and the city took it over.

Leung was never charged, and El Monte so far has lost a couple grants for the Transit Village, which is slated to become a residential/commercial village near the bus stop.

The city’s biggest revenue producer, Longo Toyota, is no doubt suffering from car recalls.

I have to say, though, I like this new Mayor Andre Quintero. He seems pretty smart. I like the new City Manager Rene Bobadilla, too. He wears nice suits, played baseball and seems like he understands the challenges facing the city.

Then there are the two Marias, Maria Rosario Valdez and Maria Valdez, who are always organizing community members to push for improvements to parks, streets and other things around town.

And the news staff here agree Police Chief Tom Armstrong is one of the most stand-up guys in the San Gabriel Valley. (Tom, please don’t make me look stupid and do something crazy).

What’s next, El Monte? I don’t see a clear path for the city. It’s such a zoning disaster.

Here’s where a 32-year-old journalist like me should impart a little sage advice, right?

But, when it comes to El Monte, my wisdom well is dry.

At least you all aren’t going broke anymore. And, during these times, that’s a good start.

– Ben Baeder is the deputy metro editor of the San Gabriel Valley Tribune