Addressing the Azusa stacked commission allegations

During the Vulcan Mining Proposal frenzy, a lot of allegations, claims, numbers, facts, questionable facts, mud, and dirt have been thrown around by a lot of numerous parties on all sides.

In an article over the weekend (there were actually two Vulcan mining stories this weekend, including this one about taxes ) City Managers in Azusa and Duarte squared off via letters regarding the release of public records by Duarte and any possible settlement deals between Duarte and Vulcan.

Duarte fired back saying the review process for the proposal has been inadequate, the environmental report on the project is insufficient, and that Duarte has been open and honest throughout.

And all those points have their merits.

But one claim by Duarte City Manager Darrell George struck me as misleading, if not wrong.

In arguing that Azusa’s staff has slanted the review process in favor of support for the mining proposal, George laid out a few “key points.”

One of those was that Azusa packed the Planning Commission prior to the vote. From George’s letter:

“Azusa replaced multiple anti-mining planning commissioners in the months leading up to the consideration of the mine expansion project.”

Some background: In the fall of last year, Azusa made the four seated planning commissioners all reapply for their jobs, as well as opened up the positions to applicants. Azusa made it known that part of the move was in an effort to secure a full commission that could assess and vote on the mining issue. (That didn’t work out as they planned as you can see here)

Three of those commissioners had to reapply despite their terms not being up. Commissioner Sandra Rentschler’s term had expired and would have had to reapply anyway.

Of the four commissioners, Christopher Dodson and Jess Alva were reappointed. Rentschler was found to have a conflict of interest by the Fair Political Practices Commission regarding the Vulcan issue as she lives in the Mountain Cove community of Azusa that rests near future mining if the new proposal is NOT approved and the old mining plan is used. She was not reappointed.

Jorge Rosales, who had previously been apart of an anti-mining group Save Van Tassel was also not reappointed.

In addition, one commission seat was vacant. Commissioners Debbie Kindred, Shawn Millner and Jack Lee were appointed as new commissioners.

In my experience and through interviews with nearly all these persons, the only anti-mining activist previously on the commission was Jorge Rosales.

In fact, it could be argued that Rentschler stands to gain from moving the mining away from Mountain Cove with the new proposal. What she would have voted, we may never know.

So claims of “multiple anti-mining” commissioners being removed is questionable, at best.

Secondly, the vote for the proposal from the commission ended 3 to 1 in favor, with commissioner Jack Lee abstaining after he purchased a home in Mountain Cove and suffered from the same conflict as Rentschler.

Alva, Dodson and Millner voted in favor while Kindred was the sole opposition.

If you are keeping score at home, that means of the two new commissioners chosen to replace the “anti-mining” folks, to help support this proposal, the vote was even, 1 to 1. If Azusa was trying to pack the vote with the new commissioners, they vetted them about as well as Obama’s administration looked over some of its nominees tax records.

When I asked Darrell George about this statement, which he issued as a written statement and read aloud at last week’s Duarte City Council meeting, he backed off, instead saying clarification from Azusa was needed.

“It would be nice to hear back and have a reply to that then, because that is the impression we were getting,” George said.

Azusa councilman honored for his work with sewer systems

It isn’t exactly Time’s Person of the Year, but for a guy who spends a lot of his time trying to figure out how to create more efficient sewer systems in Los Angeles, being the Trenchless Technologies Person of the Year is, as he put it to me, a pleasant surprise.

Azusa Councilman Keith Hanks, who doubles as a civil engineer for the Los Angeles Public Works department working on sewer systems, was recognized by Trenchless Technologies recently in a piece written for the business magazine.

The piece is a little inside baseball and if you are like me, a lot of it might as well be in French.

But it does offer a lot of background on Hanks, including his engineer filled family, how he climbed the ranks in his business, and the fact he has traveled the world in search of new technologies, as well as other items of interest.

Leftovers from City Hall: Hey failing schools, take the money!

For three years a student failed to make any progress.

Then, one day, a teacher made an offer.

The teacher would pay for a private tutor, but the student had to skip the lunch recess all year.

The foolish student said he was too busy during recess to study.

He knew best how to run his life, he said.

A similar scenario is playing out right now in the San Gabriel Valley.

Despite making the list of “persistently low-performing” schools this month, a pair of the area’s worst schools are turning down what could be millions of dollars.

Workman High in the Hacienda-La Puente Unified School district and Valleydale Elementary in Azusa Unified were named to the list.

Under his new education plan, President Barack Obama is willing to pay each state’s “persistently low performing” schools between $500,000 and $2 million.

In exchange, the schools must do one of four things: close, become a charter school, fire the principal and half the teachers, or fire the principal and make other acceptable changes to the school.

Valleydale has a dismal 636 Academic Performance Index (API) score. Schools in similar neighborhoods have an average score of 719.

The state has a goal of 800 for all schools.

Valleydale for three consecutive years has failed to show the modest improvement goals set by the state.

While schools across the state have been getting better, Valleydale has a lower score today than it did three years ago. I’m sure the staff there is working hard, but when is enough enough?

Azusa Unified Superintendent Cynthia Cervantes McGuire said she doesn’t have time to apply for a grant before the June deadline.

What?

Would Cervantes accept that logic from a student?

Why not hire a consultant for $50,000 and bang out that application.

As for Workman High, why not close it?

Due to declining enrollment, the school has only 1,085 students. La Puente High – which barely was left off the list of the state’s worst schools – is literally one mile away.

Why not take a couple million dollars, hire about 20 teachers and few administrators and make La Puente High a much better school? Spillover students can attend Los Altos or Wilson high schools.

By the way, I can’t even figure out why Workman made the list. It’s API rose from 578 in 2007 to 636 in 2009, which is still slightly below average for schools in similar neighborhoods. The dropout rate is bad, according the school’s state report, but data on just how bad was not available.

Superintendent Barbara Nakaoka said the school is already implementing a plan to improve scores and won’t apply for Obama’s grants.

Still, why not take the money? The district is going to have to eventually close a school anyway.

As for Valleydale, it’s time for parents to quit letting the bad performers make all the decisions.

Seriously, the staff is not going to fire itself.

Take the money. Unless parents pressure the board to change something, nothing is going to happen.

Questions too hard, according to U.S. Labor Secretary’s staff

A staff member for U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis told us on Friday that Solis wouldn’t talk to us because we ask hard questions.

Solis, who grew up in La Puente, was one of five people given awards at a fundraiser in Monterey Park on Friday night.

The money was to benefit East Los Angeles Women’s Center, a shelter that helps abused women or women who are suffering from HIV/AIDS.

Reporter Juliette Funes was kept away from Solis because our reporters, in the past, have asked questions that required too much research, according to Cindy Chen, Solis’ special assistant.

This has been a common experience with Solis. She usually won’t take questions about issues that deal with labor.

Solis was literally holding hands with a Spanish-language television reporter.



* A commenter asked what Funes planned to ask Solis:
Funes said she was only going to ask about the award.

DA declines to file against La Puente officials

From Staff Writer James Wagner

LA PUENTE – Prosecutors declined to file criminal charges against a La Puente planning commissioner and councilman whom the District Attorney’s Office investigated on allegations of conspiracy and money laundering, according to a memo released Wednesday.

The District Attorney’s Public Integrity Division said it has no credible witnesses to prove its case against Planning Commissioner Charles Klinakis and Councilman Dan Holloway.

The decision ends the 2-year investigation, the memo from Deputy District Attorney Jonlyn Callahan indicated.

Click here to read the memo.

Holloway, 62, and Klinakis, 57, a La Puente contractor, both denied any wrongdoing.

“I did absolutely nothing wrong,” said Holloway, who added that no one from the DA’s Office had ever spoken with him about its investigation.

“I’ve got no comment because I don’t know anything about it,” Klinakis said.

The District Attorney’s Office said it received a complaint in October 2007 alleging Klinakis made illegal contributions during that year’s La Puente City Council election.

Through their investigation, prosecutors claim they found that Klinakis and Holloway conspired with Rolando Valera, a Baldwin Park print shop owner, to conceal the identity of the person who paid for Holloway’s mailers.

Documents show that Klinakis wrote a check for $3,500 worth of campaign mailers Valera printed for Holloway, Callahan wrote in the memo.

Holloway reported the mailers as an in-kind donation from Valera’s Colourgraphix print shop with no mention of Klinakis, according to campaign finance forms.

Holloway said Wednesday the $3,500 donation was truly an “in-kind” contribution from Valera. Holloway said he received it because of his relationship with Klinakis, who frequently does business with the print shop.

Klinakis has previously denied wrongdoing and said the allegations were politically motivated. He is one of two finalists to fill a vacant La Puente City Council seat.

Valera’s wife, Lorraine, who answered the door at the print shop Wednesday afternoon, said her husband wasn’t around. She declined to comment.

According to Holloway, he, Klinakis and Valera met in August 2007 to discuss campaign mailers and how to pay for them. At the time, Holloway was running for City Council.

Valera then generated an invoice for the mailers.

On Oct. 19, 2007, Holloway paid Valera $1,035 for those mailers, prosecutors said. That day, Klinakis paid Valera $3,500 by check for the outstanding balance on Valera’s invoice, prosecutors said.

Valera’s Colourgraphix company produced the mailers.

Holloway booked the production as an in-kind contribution, according to prosecutors and campaign-finance forms.

Prosecutors said they believe a crime was committed, but they didn’t think they could build a strong enough case to convince a jury.

“A review of the evidence supports the conclusion that La Puente Planning Commissioner Klinakis, La Puente Mayor Pro Tem Holloway and Mr. Valera conspired to hide a $3,500 campaign donation from Mr. Klinakis to Mr. Holloway,” Callahan’s memo stated.

The memo also said prosecutors eventually realized that in order to make a criminal case, they would need cooperation from Holloway or Valera.

In order to compel either of them to testify against the others, prosecutors would likely have to offer immunity as a shield against self-incrimination, according to the memo. Jurors are often reluctant to convict a suspect based on such testimony, prosecutors concluded.

The La Puente City Council is scheduled to hold a meeting Friday to consider Klinakis and Vince House, who are finalists for a council seat vacated by former Mayor Louie Lujan.

Leftovers from City Hall: Parks and civic importance

If I could name a prototype for a perfect small park, it would be Jardin de Roca Park in Irwindale.

The four-acre plot has a skate park, basketball hoops, tennis courts, a nice trail, native plants, historical placards, picnic benches and a playground.

In the middle sits a nice open field.

Jardin de Roca, by the way, means “rock garden” in Spanish.

The last two weeks, I’ve had the chance to eat and walk there with my wife during lunch breaks.

It’s given us a peaceful place to relax and talk about our future.

And since it’s so close to the newspaper office, members of the the staff often go there after work to exercise.

Since most of us regularly get traffic tickets in Irwindale, I feel like we’ve helped pay to keep it beautiful.

***

USC last week put out an interesting study on local television news.

You can see it at http://www.learcenter.org/pdf/LALocalNews2010.pdf

The study found that local television news covered local government about 1 percent of the time – about 22 seconds per broadcast.

Business and the economy got 2 percent. Fires and water line breaks got about 4 percent. So did local civic issues.

Entertainment got 7 percent. Light features and offbeat stories got about 8 percent. Crime got 10 percent. Sports and weather got 12 percent. Seven percent was teasers.

About 25 percent of the news was local. And about 28 percent of the time was spent on commercials.

KCBS and KCAL did the best job at reporting things of “civic importance,” such as local government, crime of public officials, rewards, coverage of local catastrophes and citizen-related health issues. Those stories made up 17.2 and 15.8 percent of coverage.

The study reported that TV used 1.9 percent of its news hole to cover government in the LA media market.

For comparison purposes, the study also looked at the Los Angeles Times.

The Los Angeles Times used 3.3 percent for local government.

I didn’t have time to duplicate the methodology in the report, but I took a quick look at our papers.

On Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of last week, we published in our news section 33 local news stories and 26 non-local stories. That doesn’t count coverage of prep sports and local opinion pieces.

As far as “civic importance” goes, our percentages were a little higher than those covered in the study.

We dedicated about 3 percent to 5 percent of our news hole – usually about four or five stories – to local government. Most of those started on the front page. Civic affairs also came in about 4 percent each.

In Wednesday’s paper, for instance, we ran about 11 stories about government or civic issues.

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

Gonzales named Azusa Mayor Pro-Tem

Azusa Councilman Robert Gonzales was named Mayor Pro-Tem at Monday’s council meeting. Uriel Macias held the post for the last year.

Azusa’s Mayor Pro-Tem title is a rotation between council members and Gonzales has never held the distinction prior to this. He will serve as the Mayor Pro-Tem for one year, according to city documents.

Gonzales lost his a bid for the City Council in 2007, coming in third behind Macias and councilman Angel Carrillo.

He was appointed to the council that year to replace the seat vacated by Mayor Joe Rocha who went from his council position to Mayor in 2007.

Gonzales then had to run again for council in 2009 and won reelection.

I’m firing my dogs

I thought dogs were supposed to have psychic ability to predict earthquakes.
My lazy mutts were sawing logs when Tuesday morning’s 4.4 quake woke me up.
My wife was screaming, though.
One of our picture frames fell down and broke.
It looks like the earthquake was centered where Rosemead Boulevard goes over the Whittier Narrows Dam, according to coordinates on the USGS map.
We live in Whittier.
This whole place is pretty geologically active. Geologists say the Montebello and Puente hills are relatively new – I forget how old – and were caused by uplifting from earthquakes. In addition, there’s still oil in the ground underneath the Whittier Narrows. Oil is often found pooled up along fault lines. About six years ago, I wrote a story about all the oil there. I’ll dig it up later if I have time.
There’s also lots of oil in the hills. PXP pumps it out of the Montebello Hills. And Matrix Oil pumps it out of the Puente Hills north of Whittier.

Baldwin Park rejects $1 million claim

Here’s an update on the story from 2008 when then-Councilman Anthony Bejarano was arrested after he intervened when the police pulled over his friends. Bejarano, who said he had been drinking, told the driver of the car he didn’t have to answer the officers’ questions. Then he and the officers got into an argument. The officer claimed Bejarano and one of his friends were very drunk. Bejarano and his friend said the weren’t:

BALDWIN PARK – The city rejected a $1 million claim filed by a man who says police wrongly arrested him during an incident that also led to the arrest of a city councilman.

Jose Diaz, 33, of Monrovia claims officers erroneously arrested and humiliated him on Sept. 19, 2008, when police took Diaz and then-Councilman Anthony Bejarano into custody on suspicion they were drunk in public.

A third man, Collin Spencer of Baldwin Park, was arrested on suspicion of driving while intoxicated.

Bejarano lost a re-election bid in November.

Prosecutors declined to file charges on Bejarano and Spencer, but they filed on Diaz about three weeks after the arrest.

On March 25, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Douglas Sortino acquitted Diaz after several days of trial.

After the acquittal, Diaz filed a $1 million claim against the city. The City Council this month rejected the claim.

Diaz is now considering filing a lawsuit against the city, he said.

He believes he got caught up in a political battle between Bejarano and Councilman Ricardo Pacheco.

Bejarano also claimed the arrest was politically motivated.

Bejarano said Pacheco pushed for the Police Department and the District Attorney’s Office to go after him and Diaz.

Pacheco refused to say if he instructed police officers to pursue charges against Diaz with the DA’s Office.

“Mr. Jose Diaz, who I don’t know, wants to take taxpayer dollars,” Pacheco said. “This is just a fabrication of his imagination. I don’t think there’s any merit to his claim.”

Baldwin Park Police Chief Lili Hadsell said she never had been pressured regarding the Diaz case.

“We arrest people when they violate the law,” she said. “We’re not influenced by any political figures.”

Staff Writer Thomas Himes contributed to this story.

ben.baeder@sgvn.com

626-962-8811, ext. 2230