Judge comes close to dismissing conflict-of-interest charges against Nick Conway

By Steve Scauzillo, Staff Writer
Posted: 05/30/2013 03:36:13 PM PDT
Updated: 05/31/2013 09:08:56 AM PDT

LOS ANGELES – A judge Thursday came close to dismissing the criminal conflict-of-interest charges against former San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments Executive Director Nick Conway, but instead gave Conway’s attorney the opportunity to file an argument that may grant Conway a waiver from law.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Norm Shapiro, clearly troubled by the evidence before him, suggested that a waiver motion could be filed that recognizes inherent conflicts in Conway acting as the SGVCOG’s executive director while chasing contracts that boosted his management firm, Arroyo Associates.

Conway’s firm was hired by the COG to manage the joint powers agency of which 31 San Gabriel Valley cities are members.

“Although Mr. Conway’s conduct may have come under the 1090 government code, but the conflict was waived in this situation,” suggested Shapiro during a spirited, hour-long discussion of a motion to dismiss all charges filed by Conway’s attorney, Kenneth White.

While Shapiro did not rule on the motion, he said repeatedly that the case handed to him by Judge M.L. Villar de Longoria, who ruled there was enough evidence to suggest Conway was guilty and ordered a trial, was unique and perplexing.

“I can’t find a case that addresses anything like this,” Shapiro said, suggesting later that the case does not hinge on solid evidence but on “the interpretation of what happened.”

Conway, 61, a Pasadena resident, was charged with four felony counts of conflict of interest while running the SGVCOG last July. The 1090 clause of the California penal code says office holders or their employees “shall not be financially interested in any contract made by them in their official capacity” and that they shall not “be purchasers” of contracts.
Assistant District Attorney Dana Aratani argued that on four separate occasions while he headed the SGVCOG, Conway sought out and signed contracts that benefitted himself and his company. For example, one amendment to the 2010-2011 contract containing a flat rate payment of $422,000 a year added $105,000 “on top of the $422,000,” Aratani said.

Two other amendments were added after Conway sought out and signed additional grants, one adding $21,896 and another adding $21,573 to Arroyo Associates’ contract in the same fiscal year.

“Mr. Conway was going out and finding these additional contracts and signing them,” Aratani told the judge. “By signing these contracts, he got additional income. This is a very textbook example of a conflict-of-interest situation.”

Later in the hearing, Aratani brought up a 2006 investigation by the Los Angeles County District Attorney into Conway and the SGVCOG for alleged conflict of interest. Though it never led to charges being filed, Aratani said the investigation should have cautioned Conway to stay away from future conflict-of-interest situations.

While Shapiro acknowledged that Conway “was no babe in the woods,” he did not agree with Aratani that this case was clear cut. Instead, he leaned toward the defense argument that Conway was only doing what the SGVCOG board ordered him to do.

While this argument was rejected by Judge Villar de Longoria after the preliminary hearing, it gained more traction with Shapiro.

“It is clear that the judge was troubled by this case where it is so clear a man was told by the government to do something that was approved by counsel hired by the government and is now being charged with a crime for doing that,” White said in an interview after the hearing.

White argued that the SGVCOG’s chosen form of governance — to contract out its management to Conway and his company — was a way of saving money. But it also contained flaws. He said Foothill Transit, a San Gabriel Valley transit agency that contracts out with a private management firm, last week voted to sever that contract and manage its administrative personnel in-house. He said it was not a coincidence that Foothill Transit is moving away from a possible conflict of interest.

Even the SGVCOG, which fired Conway and Arroyo Associates on Oct. 31, has since hired its own employees, an indication that the system was flawed, not the man.

“Entities all over now are looking at this,” White said. “This structure has some inherent flaws. It is fundamentally unfair to make this man the scapegoat for those flaws that the government has chosen to save money.”

Aratani objected to the waiver petition being considered, saying the state’s 1090 law clearly applies in this case.

“The public has a right to know their executive officer of the San Gabriel Valley COG is doing things at the best interest of them, as opposed to growing his company,” he told the judge.

White will submit a written argument on the waiver option by June 17. Aratani will have until July 2 to respond, Shapiro said. He ordered both sides to appear in court July 12, so he could rule on the motion to dismiss the charges. He said that is unless a settlement between the two sides can be reached before then.

When asked about a settlement, White said he would not comment.

Ling-Ling Chang enters Assembly race; Will more follow?

Diamond Bar Councilwoman opens bid for Assembly seat

Posted:   05/24/2013 08:27:43 PM PDT
Updated:   05/24/2013 08:35:22 PM PDT


Councilwoman Ling Ling Chang, R-Diamond Bar, announces her candidacy for State Assembly, 55th Assembly District during a press conference at Pacific Palms Resort on Friday, May 24, 2013 in Industry, Calif. (Keith Birmingham Pasadena Star-News)

Senate republican Leader Bob Huff smiles as he talks about Councilwoman Ling Ling Chang, R-Diamond Bar, who announced her candidacy for State Assembly, 55th Assembly District during a press conference at Pacific Palms Resort on Friday, May 24, 2013 in Industry, Calif. (Keith Birmingham Pasadena Star-News)

Gallery: Diamond Bar Councilwoman Ling-Ling Chang Announces Candidacy

INDUSTRY — Diamond Bar Councilwoman Ling-Ling Chang threw her hat in the ring for the 55th Assembly District on Friday, becoming the first Republican to put in a bid for the seat.

In front of supporters and members of the media, Chang announced she was running for Curt Hagman’s State Assembly seat at the Pacific Palms Resort. The district spreads across three counties and includes portions of Brea, Chino Hills, Diamond Bar, Industry, La Habra, Placentia, Rowland Heights, Walnut, West Covina, and Yorba Linda.

Hagman, who was elected to the Assembly in 2008, will have termed out by the general election in November 2014.

Chang said she has been encouraged to run by friends and other elected officials. The 36-year-old Taipei native has garnered endorsements from Rep. Ed Royce, R-Rowland Heights, and State Sen. Bob Huff, R-Brea, as well as Los Angeles County Supervisors Don Knabe and Michael Antonovich.

“As a councilmember, Ling-Ling Chang provided the leadership to balance every budget while maintaining healthy reserves,” Royce said in a statement. As an assembly member, she will lead the fight to create new jobs by reducing the regulatory burden on California businesses.”

Chang promised to make jobs and economic development her top priority.

“Sacramento needs more leaders who will focus on creating jobs and removing obstacles to building a stronger economy in our state,” she said in a policy paper.

The candidate plans to create more jobs by providing tax incentives to small businesses that hire new workers. She would also reform the tax code to cut the time employers spend on tax forms.

Huff, who

moderated the press conference on Chang’s behalf, called her “the future of the Republican party.” He said the young Taiwanese immigrant reflected the changing face of the party as demographics shift in the Golden State and in particular, the east San Gabriel Valley, western San Bernardino County and northern Orange County communities. 

“When you find somebody that does a good job, then you should promote them,” Huff explained. “Ling-Ling has done very well, which is why I chose her as my District’s Woman of the Year in 2006. We need people of her caliber in Sacramento.”

The biggest hurdle Chang faces is the blowback from her decision to also run for re-election to the Diamond Bar City Council this November. She and her supporters said opponents will use that against her during the campaign.

When asked why she’s running for both spots at the same time, she said: “My heart has always been in Diamond Bar. I hope to serve at a higher capacity for Diamond Bar.” Earlier, she said she would still have a year to serve in her second term on the City Council before joining the Assembly, should she win.

Though she did not mention her opponents, five other Republicans are rumored to be interested in the seat: Walnut Valley Unified School District Trustee Phillip Chen, who has a fundraiser scheduled for next month; Hagman’s chief of staff, Mike Spence of West Covina; Diamond Bar Councilman Steve Tye and Placentia City Council members Scott Nelson and Jeremy Yamaguchi. None of them have declared officially.

Other challenges include money, said MeiMei Huff, who is leading fundraising for Chang’s campaign. Huff said the candidate will need $1 million, half for the June 3, 2014 primary and the other half for the general in November 2014. She said she’s talking to the Chinese community in Orange, Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties for campaign contributions. “The Chinese community, they don’t see county boundaries. It is based on relationships,” Huff said.

Chang was elected to the Diamond Bar City Council in 2009. During her time as mayor, from 2011-2012, the city opened a new city hall and library and she helped balance the city $21 million budget, while maintaining a $17 million reserve.

Former SGVCOG chief Nick Conway due back in court

Attorney for ex-COG chief Nick Conway files motion to have criminal charges dismissed

Trial of former COG chief scheduled to begin May 30 in Los Angeles County Criminal Court
Posted:   05/19/2013 02:36:35 PM PDT
Updated:   05/19/2013 02:38:06 PM PDT


The continuation of the preliminary hearing of Nick Conway, the former head of the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments at Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Courthouse in Los Angeles Thursday, February 14, 2013. (SGVN/Staff photo by Walt Mancini)

The trial of Nick Conway, the former executive director of the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments, is scheduled to begin May 30 in front of Judge Norm Shapiro in Los Angeles County Criminal Court.

Before the trial can proceed, however, the judge first will consider a motion filed by Conway’s attorney on Wednesday to dismiss the charges pending against his client.

In the motion, Conway’s attorney argues that Judge M.L. Villar de Longoria was mistaken when she held his client to answer to four criminal charges of conflict of interest at the conclusion of the preliminary hearing. The charges are related to four contracts Conway managed for the regional planning body while he was heading up his own for-profit company, Arroyo Associates, which managed the public agency.

At issue is whether Conway personally benefitted from the contracts, for which the COG approved amendments and extra costs amounting to at least $148,000, according to evidence presented at the preliminary hearing this winter.

“He sought out contracts that benefited him,” said Judge Villar de Longoria after she ruled there was enough evidence to proceed with a trial.

Conway’s attorney, Kenneth White, wrote in the motion that Conway had acted entirely according to the COG’s Strategic Plan laid out by the COG board of directors and approved by the COG’s attorneys. In an email to this newspaper, White wrote: “I’ve consistently


said that all contracts, and the negotiations thereof, were part of a strategy explicitly directed by the Board, were approved at every stage by the Board, and were approved by the COG’s general counsel.” 

Assistant District Attorney Dana Aratani said he just received the motion to dismiss charges and will be preparing a response within the next five or so days.

“Essentially, the evidence supports the charges that he was held to answer for,” Aratani said Wednesday. “There were others that knew of the conflict of interest or might have suspected the conflict.”

Government Code section 1090 prohibits public officials from having any financial interest in any contract made by them in their official capacity, according to the D.A.’s Office.

If convicted, Conway faces a maximum of seven years in state prison, according to the District Attorney’s Office.

Conway headed up the COG for 17 years until Oct. 31, when he was fired. All contracts with Arroyo Associates were terminated. Conway was granted $155,000 in severance pay.

The COG hired acting San Bernardino City Manager Andrea Travis-Miller as its new executive director.

Conway, 61, who had previously posted $100,000 bail, was released on his own recognizance in February.


Puente Hills Landfill Material Recovery Facility (MRF) wins key county vote


Communities of North Whittier, Avocado Heights, Gladstone, Pelesier Place lose the battle


Environment Writer

Los Angeles News Group



NORTH WHITTIER – By a close vote, a county panel Monday night approved an expansion of operating hours for the Puente Hills Material Recovery Facility to a 24-hour, six-day a week operation despite opposition from neighbors.

“We feel good. It was the appropriate thing to do,” said Chuck Boehmke, departmental engineer for solid waste for the Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts.

The tense, 3-2 vote by the Los Angeles County Regional Planning Commission removed a major hurdle for the waste agency. Boehmke said his first order of business Tuesday would be to submit a modification of the permit with the county’s Department of Health Services. The state’s Cal-Recycle would then most likely approve the change, he said.

“Their vote confirms our position to have a facility to serve the public,” he said.

But longtime landfill and MRF opponent, Marilyn Kamimura, felt defeated after the vote. “I couldn’t help but cry,” she said.

Of the 26 speakers at the meeting, 20 were listed in opposition and six were in favor of lifting peak hour restrictions to the facility.

“The facility will change from recycling a select source of clean material to processing 4,400 tons of raw garbage a day. The net effect on the local communities has yet to be seen,” testified Don Moss, a nearby resident.

Solid waste engineers from the Sanitation Districts, operators of the twin

Puente Hills Landfill and MRF located near the 605/60 freeways interchange, said the expanded hours are necessary to capture more trash from private haulers once the landfill closes on Oct. 31.

Starting Nov. 1, garbage trucks will no longer go up to the landfill but rather, to the MRF. Its capacity will increase from 150 tons per day to a maximum of 4,400 tons per day, according to Ray Tremblay of the Sanitation Districts.

The county said the low operating capacity at the 8-year-old MRF is due in part to competition with private landfills and MRFs, such as the one run by Athens Disposal on Valley Boulevard. If the use restrictions were removed, the Sanitation Districts facility would be able to acquire more solid waste contracts.

Residents of North Whittier, Avocado Heights, Gladstone and other small neighborhoods within about a mile of the MRF, said lifting the ban on trash trucks from 6 a.m. To 9 a.m. and from 4 p.m. To 7 p.m. will increase noise, dust, diesel emissions and traffic in and around their communities.

However, Tremblay said traffic will actually decrease. The total trucks going to the landfill and the MRF equals 7,000 trips a day at maximum usage. “We will bring that down to under 3,000 trips per day,” he told the panel.

Those in favor of the expanded hours mostly included those from the trash industry. Many said if they had to dump their loads elsewhere, they would probably pay higher tipping fees, because the county Sanitation Districts have kept landfill fees low.



Industry will subsidize cost of electric cars


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Industry subsidizing electric cars, adding 32 charging ports to Metrolink station

Car owners would get rebates of up to $125 per month, free parking and free charges
Posted:   05/08/2013 06:56:32 PM PDT
Updated:   05/09/2013 10:13:44 AM PDT

A man disconnects the plug from the charging station for his Chevrolet Volt at the Metrolink Station on Tuesday, March 7, 2013 in City of Industry, Calif. The man did not come in on a train. (Keith Birmingham Pasadena Star-News)

A Chevrolet Volt plugged in at a charging station at the Metrolink Station on Tuesday, March 7, 2013 in City of Industry, Calif. (Keith Birmingham Pasadena Star-News)

The four-county, clean-air plan whacks air emissions in hundreds of ways, from controls on factories and refineries, to newfangled formulas for paint to a greenhouse gas reduction scheme that involves cap-and-trade auctions.

Some call for a more direct approach. What if cities and the South Coast Air Quality Management District simply gave away cash to people who buy electric cars?

That’s exactly what the city of Industry and the SCAQMD are doing. These two unlikely bedfellows are launching a $13 million, two-year program to subsidize the lease of up to 60 new all-electric cars. Anyone leasing a Nissan Leaf, for example, would get between $100 and $125 per month rebate, lowering one’s monthly car payment to no more than $100 a month. Plus, they will throw in free charging and free parking.

“Free parking? And charges for free! It is the best deal. You can’t commute for less than that,” said Richard Mrlik, president of Intertie, an energy consulting firm based in San Francisco hired by Industry. The two governmental entities suddenly find themselves in the car business and they are dealing.

“The EV lease program is designed to stimulate electric transportation in the L.A. basin,” Mrlik added. “The objective of the program is to show commuters they can commute at a lower lifecycle cost using electric transportation, vis a vie internal combustion. ”

Just like any new car customer, future


electric car owners signing on the dotted line for this program need to read the fine print. 

Although applicants will be chosen on a first-come, first-served basis, Mrlik said, those who say they are carpooling will be moved to the top of the pile. Also, owners can only get the free charge at the Industry Metrolink station, 600 S. Brea Canyon Road, near Walnut. Third, they must leave the car for charging and hop the train to work.

“Yes. That’s the whole concept. You leave your car there, charging, and off you go (on the train),” he said. Intertie will be measuring how many pounds of emissions are kept from the air and also, pounds of greenhouse gases reduced per commuter miles driven.

In 2006, the state passed a law, known as AB32, that requires statewide greenhouse gases – which contribute to global climate change – to be reduced to 1990 levels by 2020, or about 30 percent. The goal is 80 percent reduction by 2050.

In the six-county region of Southern California Association of Governments, a 16 percent reduction in greenhouse gases, mostly carbon dioxide and methane, is required by 2035 despite the arrival of 4 million more people. SCAG Director Hasan Ikhrata called the Industry subsidy program “a win-win project that provides models for Southern California’s future,” and added: “The city of Industry has developed a multipronged approach that benefits drivers, the transit system and alternative energy. ”

Industry is adding another 32 charging stations to the parking lot, which already is equipped with 8,000 solar panels on 940 carports. Surplus energy is sold to Southern California Edison.

A survey attracted more than 28 customers – the initial target of the first phase – but Industry and its partners could accommodate 60 new electric cars, Mrlik said. He said it is a matter of running conduit to double the number of EV charging stations to 64, something that can be done in a week’s time. “We could expand it up to 500 vehicles at full deployment,” he said.

Applicants are being sought through the city and also through the upcoming website industryev.com, he said. The site is not yet operational but may be up by the end of the month, he said.

Early surveys show interest from Walnut, Diamond Bar and West Covina residents living about 10 miles from the station. Because the Leaf has a range of about 60-80 miles, “the issue of range anxiety isn’t really there,” Mrlik said.

Paul Neuhausen, president of EVA of North Los Angeles, an electric car club based in the San Fernando Valley, praised the idea, saying it will boost the number of electric cars on SoCal roads. The Nissan Leaf owner and traveling salesman used to spend $250 to $300 a month on gasoline but now pays about $40 a month to charge the car, so the economics benefit the car owner.

“The next step is not so much the vehicle, but the infrastructure,” Neuhausen said. “We need more chargers. My motto is ABC: Always Be Charging,” said the salesman from Winetka, who charges his car at Metrolink stations in Van Nuys and Chatsworth.

Foothill Transit, which is building a four-story parking structure addition to the Metrolink station in Industry, will add 18 electric vehicle charging spots out of 630 total spaces, said spokesperson Felicia Friesema. However, the transit agency which operates the blue-and-white buses is not participating in the subsidy program. Come September, its 497 line to Los Angeles will operate out of the new center. It carries passengers from Chino to Industry to Los Angeles, she said.

The new parking structure will be solar-ready but Industry will be providing the solar panels, she said. Two hundred spaces are reserved for Industry and the rest may be reserved for those carrying Foothill Transit passes.