About Steve Scauzillo

I love journalism. I've been working in journalism for 32 years. I love communicating and now, that includes writing about environment, transportation and the foothill/Puente Hills communities of Hacienda Heights, Rowland Heights, Walnut and Diamond Bar. I write a couple of columns, one on fridays in Opinion and the other, The Green Way, in the main news section. Send me ideas for stories. Or comments. I was opinion page editor for 12 years so I enjoy a good opinion now and then.

Can cities/county get involved with East Fork/Angeles National Forest improvement plan?

ANGELES NATIONAL FOREST >> Every weekend, thousands of visitors play in a 2.5-mile stretch of the East Fork of the San Gabriel River at Cattle Canyon.

There, they bathe in pools created by self-made rock dams. While frolicking in the water, they inadvertently squash the babies of a protected fish species. And they strew plastic bags, fast-food wrappers and used diapers into and along the banks of the river.

The heavy recreational use has resulted in an F rating for water quality from the Los Angeles-Area Regional Water Quality Control Board, the only spot in the San Gabriel River to violate the agency’s standard for excess trash.

For more than 10 years, the Sierra Club, San Gabriel Mountains Forever and other groups have dreamed of improvements to the eyesore, only to be stymied by an overwhelmed and underfunded U.S. Forest Service.


Momentum changed in October 2014, when President Barack Obama dedicated 342,175 acres of the forest as the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument, including the East Fork confluence at Cattle Canyon, about 14 miles north of Azusa.

Two years later, the Forest Service produced an ambitious plan that includes new trails, river crossings, access steps, picnic tables, bathrooms and nearly 300 more parking spaces.

The San Gabriel River Confluence With Cattle Canyon Improvements Project was released Oct. 28 and is accepting comments through Dec. 1 from the public, cities, government agencies and nonprofits. The goal, expressed by Obama at the dedication ceremony in San Dimas, is reiterated by the Forest Service in the plan: “to provide balanced, environmentally sustainable recreation opportunities to meet the needs of a growing urban and culturally diverse population.”


Cleaning up Cattle Canyon and the East Fork would be a major milestone for the monument, part of the Angeles National Forest that gets 3.5 million visitors a year. But the project, estimated to cost $10 million to $15 million, is in search of funding, said Belinda Faustinos, retired executive officer of the Rivers and Mountains Conservancy who is a consultant to SGM Forever, a group of business, clergy, government and environmental leaders advocating for monument and forest improvements.

“We don’t have a complete funding source,” said Rob Romanek, project manager with the Watershed Conservation Authority, but the agency has secured about $500,000 from the Forest Service for design work, he said. Faustinos said her group would work on applying for funding from ballot Measures A and M, tax measures approved by voters on Nov. 8 for parks and transportation, respectively, in Los Angeles County.

The plan includes: a 2.5-mile East Fork Scenic Trail; six new access points leading down to the river (five staircases, one ramp); additional picnic areas at Coyote Flats and Heaton Flats adjacent to the river; 270 new parking spaces and three shuttle stops; more signs explaining how to keep a natural area clean and more trash bins, Romanek said.

By adding picnic areas, people can eat while still viewing the river. “Now, people prepare meals right next to the water and their Styrofoam plates blow directly in the water,” he said.

More trails would give people more to do than just sit in the river. Also, more trash receptacles would encourage proper disposal of waste, he said.

“(The East Fork Scenic Trail) provides an opportunity to people with mobility challenges or to push a stroller or a walker along the river, still be able to enjoy it without going down into the river,” Faustinos said.


The biggest issue is finding a balance between recreational use and environmental restoration and protection, Faustinos said.

Getting folks to stop creating rock-dam pools that take the oxygen out of the water and kill the Santa Ana sucker fish is an objective, but keeping people out of the East Fork is not.

“We want to encourage use but also good stewardship,” Faustinos said.

To comment on the plan send an email to: commentspacificsouthwest-angeles@fs.fed.us Written comments can be sent to: Cattle Canyon Improvements Project, 110 N. Wabash Ave., Glendora, CA 91741.

Romanek says the earliest the Forest Service will finish approval and the federal Record of Decision on the plan and its environmental impact statement is February 2018.

Protesters march into Mt. SAC to confront president on solar

By Steve Scauzillo, San Gabriel Valley Tribune

WALNUT >> About 35 residents protested a hillside solar farm proposed by Mount San Antonio College by marching onto campus Monday and demanding the college president’s resignation.

“We have brought the community to you because you have failed to come to the community,” said Layla Abou-Taleb, leader of United Walnut Taxpayers during an extraordinary confrontation with President William Scroggins just outside his office. “It is time for you to step down.”

The crowd stayed for about 20 minutes, shouting “Scroggins must go!” and demanding the college reverse its position on building the solar project, which the residents say will lower property values, cause glare and destroy a natural hillside habitat.

The college wants to level a hillside across the street from campus on the southwest corner of Amar Road and Grand Avenue to construct a massive photovoltaic array that would be one of the largest solar power systems in a Los Angeles County community. Mt. SAC plans on spending between $7 million and $9 million on the 11-acre project that would produce 2.2 megawatts of electricity and supply about one-third of the college’s electrical power, while cutting $480,000 from its annual electric bill.

After distributing 50 letters to residents of Snow Creek on Stonybrook Drive, Regal Canyon Drive and Buckskin Drive on Friday, saying grading of the natural hills would begin Monday, the college reversed itself and indicated it had placed the project on hold. Since the city of Walnut and UWT had taken the college to court over this project and a proposed five-story parking structure (which the court placed on hold last year), the college said it wanted to wait until after the results of a court-ordered mediation session scheduled to begin Nov. 17.

“The work on the solar project is on hold pending the mediation,” Scroggins told the angry crowd that gathered inside the plaza at Founders Hall, the administration building. When told some earth-moving equipment would be moved onto the east side of campus by next week, residents and members of UWT called it a trick and said they wanted zero work done until the judge decides the case.

During the tense confrontation, Scroggins was asked by a member of the group if he would be willing to reconsider the location of the solar farm, something residents say should be put atop campus buildings and on carport structures. After first saying it was not up to him but to the college board of trustees, he said: “No direction has been given by the board or by me,” promising that the college is going into mediation with an open mind.

However, the college rejected any alternative, saying “the west parcel,” land owned by the college since 1946, was best for the project. Photovoltaic arrays on rooftops or on carport structures, such as done by high schools, City of Industry and Metrolink, would cost more and would not produce enough electrical energy, explained Jill Dolan, director of public relations.

She said the project is not using bond money from one of the college’s two recent improvement bonds. Instead, the college received funding from Proposition 39, a green-energy measure passed by voters in 2012. The college wants to fulfill the governor’s call to reduce fossil-fuel consumption and greenhouse gases that cause global warming.

“We are committed to reducing our carbon footprint,” Dolan said. “This project is right in line with that. So, there are no conditions under which we will stop the solar project.”

Before the march, about 50 protesters stood beneath the site on Grand Avenue waving placards and shouting slogans. They were joined by City Manager Rob Wishner, as well as council members Mary Su, Eric Ching and Andrew Rodriguez.

Wishner said a city stop-work order, along with assurances from the captain of the Walnut Sheriff’s Station of enforcement, had an effect. The city contends the college must pull permits for the project, but the college says it is exempt.

“I am hopeful we can put this dispute to bed,” he said.

Wishner said he understands the residents’ concerns about Mt. SAC’s growth adding to noise, traffic and environmental degradation in the small city. “Now with about 60,000 students, it is beginning to have a quality of life impact on the community,” he said.

He chastised the college for not doing a better job working with residents and City Hall. What had been usually a positive relationship has degraded these last two years, officials and residents said.

Abou-Taleb put the blame on the president, there for the past six years. “Scroggins always wants to have it his way,” she said.

Grading was supposed to have started Monday and be done in phases: clearing the site would have lasted until Nov. 15; major grading until June 2017; paving and landscaping until September 2017, and solar panel installation completed by late November 2017, according to Mt. SAC. Work would be done between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

San Gabriel Valley cities still divided over 710 Freeway tunnel; Pasadena stepping up fight against it; two new meetings planned

Sept. 16, 2016

By Steve Scauzillo

PASADENA >> In an effort to fortify opposition to a 710 Freeway extension, Pasadena City Councilman Steve Madison hosted a forum Thursday night that laid out alternatives to building the 4.9-mile tunnel Caltrans has proposed to construct between the end of the freeway and the 210/134 Freeway interchange.

Madison’s meeting also hinted at a stronger role to play for Pasadena City Hall, as well as west San Gabriel Valley residents.

One of the 200 attendees asked how Pasadenans can kill the tunnel project, which urban planning experts said won’t ease local traffic between El Sereno, Alhambra, South Pasadena and Pasadena — roughly where the tunnel would go — and would waste money that could be spent on more practical solutions, such as a north-south boulevard, more bike lanes and widening other nearby north-south streets.

Madison hinted that the silence from major political players in the state may have to be broken. He said Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and Gov. Jerry Brown “wield power” over the 710 Freeway fight.

“There will come a time when we make a strong demand to them to put a stake through the heart of the tunnel,” Madison said.

He later suggested the city take this kind of forum on the road, visiting neighboring cities, to drive home the point that the tunnel plan should be defeated.

“Tunnel projects around the world don’t have good records in terms of budgets and integrity,” he said, referring to cost overruns of a freeway tunnel project in Seattle and in Boston, where the so-called Big Dig ran four times the original cost estimate.

Caltrans estimates the dual-bore tunnel would cost $5.6 billion.

The 710 Coalition — a five-member group formed in 1982 that includes the cities of Alhambra, Monterey Park, Rosemead, San Gabriel and San Marino — sent a response to the forum, calling it “one-sided.”

“Completion of the 710 is not about one city,” the coalition said in its response. “It’s about the entire Los Angeles region.”

The coalition supports the tunnel and says it will reduce congestion and air pollution in local neighborhoods.

At the forum Thursday, Paul Moore, a principal with Nelson/Nygaard Consulting Associates and a traffic engineer by trade, went point by point through the draft Environmental Impact Report on a possible 710 Freeway project that studies the different options before Caltrans.

The four-lane tunnel that would extend from the 710 Freeway terminus at Valley Boulevard on the border of Alhambra and Los Angeles to the interchange in Pasadena where the 210 and 134 freeways meet is one option.

Others include building a bus rapid-transit line, a light-rail line and surface-street management. The report also considers whether Caltrans should build the tunnel at all.

Moore pointed out the EIR says a tunnel would add more vehicle miles traveled, more air pollution and only ease traffic on some streets, while shifting more traffic onto other arterials. In most cases, a 40-minute commute would improve at most by 30 seconds to one minute, he said.

Moore said he believed Garcetti has yet to weigh in on the 710 project because he doesn’t want to give those opposed to an extension a reason to vote against Measure M, the half-cent sales tax initiative on the Nov. 8 ballot that would add $120 billion for 38 transportation projects over the next 40 to 50 years.

The L.A. County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Metro, has omitted the extension project from its ballot measure and has postponed any vote on the north 710 EIR until mid-2017.

Metro took an unprecedented step of including language in the measure saying, “No net revenues generated from the sales tax shall be expended on the State Route 710 North Gap Closure Project.”

The language was enough to reassure Madison, who said he is voting “yes” on Measure M.

The Pasadena City Council Legislative Policy Committee voted in support on Aug. 16, according to William Boyer, a city spokesman. A recommendation to support goes before the City Council on Sept. 26.

Madison liked some of the projects, but said he wished the measure included funding for extension of the Metro Gold Line from Pasadena to Burbank Airport.

Caltrans and Metro announced two upcoming meetings on the costs and benefits of the tunnel project, a separate analysis done in tandem with the EIR. The meetings will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday at the Pasadena Convention Center, 300 E. Green St., and Sept. 26 at Centro Maravilla Service Center, 4716 E. Cesar Chavez Ave., Los Angeles.

La Puente’s Solis wins council seat by 6 votes

By Steve Scauzillo, San Gabriel Valley Tribune

LA PUENTE >> It’s official.

John Solis will be installed as the newest member of the City Council on Tuesday.

In the seesaw battle for the third city council seat, Solis edged out incumbent Councilman Charles Klinakis by six votes.

Solis, who was trailing by 25 votes after the first count on election night, April 12, pulled ahead after more than 300 provisional ballots were counted the following week. A turn-around put him up by eight votes. By Friday, after nine more provisional ballots were tallied, his lead slipped. But Solis held on.

The question of a recount — rumored to be possible, even probable over the weekend — was answered on Monday. Klinakis decided not to challenge the results.

“After reviewing all the options, I feel it is best for the city and myself to put closure to this election and move forward,” Klinakis said on Monday.

The one-term councilman said he had been thinking about asking for a recount but decided the stability of the city comes first. “Sometimes you just have to move on,” he said.

Solis, 51, who is not new to the City Council, having served from 2000-2012, said on Monday he received a call from Klinakis saying he would not challenge the results.

“I want to thank everybody for wanting me to come back and for believing in me,” Solis said on Monday, crediting his late surge to his walking the district until 4 a.m. the day and night before Election Day.

At Tuesday’s 7 p.m. City Council meeting, Solis will take the oath of office after a four-year absence. Easily re-elected were: Mayor Dan Holloway, 1,194 votes and Councilwoman Violeta Lewis, 1,146 votes. The City Council will select a new mayor and vice mayor as well.

Klinakis said he was disappointed by the number of negative mailers attacking him. But he said he accomplished what he set out to do during the past four years.

He was proud of the way the City Council stabilized a city that was marked by a revolving door of administrators. He said his management skills helped install a new city manager, David Carmany, who has been on the job for 2 1/2 years.

He said he would devote more time to his construction business, and also take more vacations. In the four years he has served on the City Council, he has not been back to his cabin in Alaska. “My wife said my first chore will be to shoot up to Alaska and catch her some halibut,” he said Monday.

“Four years later, I leave the city 1,000 percent better off then when I got here,” Klinakis said. “We have staff, procedures in place to help the city move forward.”

Walnut council race includes three PACs and lots of cash

Walnut council race includes three PACs and lots of cash

 WALNUT >> The upcoming election of three city council members is being influenced by three political action committees formed exclusively to support or oppose candidates running in Tuesday’s election, according to the latest campaign filings.

The use of independent expenditure committees are viewed as a spillover from the ongoing presidential campaigns where such committees are spending money on political mailers and advertising without coordinating activities with the candidates. The organizers of these PACs are empowered by the U.S. Supreme Court decision of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission that honored political contributions as free speech and allowed unlimited election spending.

According to a document filed March 31 with the Walnut City Clerk’s Office, the Truth & Dignity Municipal Leadership PAC spent $1,313.12 on a political mailer in support of challenger Betty Tang. This is the first time this PAC has existed in Walnut.

Most likely, the committee is a reaction to two other committees formed this year to oppose Tang: Citizens to Protect Walnut Committee and Citizens for Family Values to Oppose Betty Tang for Walnut City Council 2016.

The “family values” PAC added $4,449 in contributions from Feb. 28 through March 26, according to the recent filing with the City Clerk. The PAC has raised a total of $5,048 this year, with expenditures mostly on political mailers: including $2,236.81 for an English mail piece and a mail piece in Chinese. The mailers were produced by the Chinese American Advertising & Direct Mail LLC in Monterey Park and funneled through the U.S. Post Office on Lemon Avenue in Walnut, the document showed

Dana Hopkins, treasurer, who is listed as a certified public accountant from Riverside on the campaign document, did not return a phone call on Tuesday. Hopkins also is listed as the treasurer for Citizens to Protect Walnut, which has spent $820 in 2015, according to a document filed on Feb. 1, 2016.

Contributors and their donation amounts to the “family values” PAC include: Patricia Anis of Diamond Bar, an administrative assistant for the California 48th District Agricultural Association ($750); Martin Arano of San Dimas, a handyman ($750); Gang Chen of Chino Hills, self-employed as Eden Electric ($750); Yan Lin of El Monte, a pharmacist with Walgreens ($750); Jaime R. Rodriguez of La Puente, a human resources manager with Hitchcock Automotive Resources ($749); Walnut City Council member Mary Su (from her City Council 2014 fund, $700).

Since Walnut limits campaign contributions to $1,000 per individual, many will use PACs to get around that limit since PACs are an independent expenditure, said politics watcher and open government advocate Gil Aguirre.

“How can you have influence and bypass many of the political campaign limits out there? This seems to be the technique chosen,” he said.

The candidates and their most recent financial filings (through March 31) are as follows:

• Eric Ching, 49, incumbent, raised $34,972.60 (including a loan of $7,171.60) and spent $10,231.94.

• Bella Cristobal, 66, challenger, raised $28,169.60 (including a $5,000 loan from herself) and spent $22,917.55. Cristobal returned a $1,000 donation from David Hall, Mount San Antonio College trustee.

• Dino Pollalis, 53, challenger, raised $12,100 all in loans from himself; spent $10,918.56.

• Andrew Rodriguez, 23, challenger, raised $9,822 (including a $6,080 loan from himself) and spent $9,160. Rodriguez returned a $500 donation from Jay Chen, Mt. SAC trustee.

• Betty Tang, 49, challenger, started with $61,680.32 of cash on hand; raised $11,986 and spent $41,798.

• Nancy Tragarz, 53, incumbent, raised $7,128.77 and spent $4,370.70.

Voters will elect three council members in Walnut, as issues swirl around city

WALNUT >> On April 12, residents of this upper middle class bedroom community surrounded by the San Jose Hills will go the polls to vote for three members of the City Council and whether to impose council member term limits.

Since the last election, several issues have arisen, leading many to say this year’s voter turnout could be a record.

A group called United Walnut Taxpayers formed in opposition to plans at neighboring Mount San Antonio College for a five-story parking garage on the edge of the Timberline neighborhood and an 11-acre solar farm on a prominent city hillside.

The group has filed a lawsuit and so has the city. Though the issues aren’t decided, the effect has been a near total collapse of relations between City Hall and the college, which is entirely in Walnut, spread over 411 acres and with an overall student population of close to 60,000.

A Feb. 19 candidates forum sponsored by United Walnut Taxpayers and the Chinese American Association of Walnut drew 200 people. A second forum is scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Walnut Senior Center. “We’ve raised the level of participation in this city,” said Layla Abou-Taleb, founder of UWT.

Second, 16-year Councilman Tony Cartagena is not running, meaning at least one new member will be joining the five-person City Council.

These are just some of the factors raising the stakes for the election in April.

The six candidates in alphabetical order are: Eric Ching, incumbent; Bella Cristobal, challenger; Dino Pollalis, challenger; Andrew Rodriguez, challenger; Betty Tang, challenger; and Nancy Tragarz, incumbent.


In 2012, Ching won his seat by 32 votes. Victory was declared only after provisional ballots were counted. Ching called the experience “a roller coaster ride.”

He ran on removing the red-light cameras from the city, something the City Council agreed to do in May 2014.

This year, he pushed for ballot Measure A that allows for a person to serve a maximum of three, four-year terms or 12 years, consecutive or not. The measure needs a majority of “yes” votes. It would not be retroactive.

Of 31 San Gabriel Valley cities surveyed by Walnut staff, 22 or 71 percent have no term limits. Nine cities or 29 percent have term limits. Those with term limits are: Arcadia, Azusa, Baldwin Park, La Puente, Montebello, Monterey Park, San Marino, Sierra Madre and Temple City.

On Mt. SAC, Ching, 49, said his concern extends to 60 different projects that could add traffic and congestion to Walnut streets. He also supported the recent decision to hire a new city attorney.

He’s received $30,764 in campaign contributions as of the Feb. 27 filing. He added $10,000 in 10, $1,000 contributions, according to an addendum filed March 16.


The retired financial analyst worked for Los Angeles County for 32 years and is a 30-year Walnut resident. Cristobal is on the city’s Parks and Recreation Commission.

She is one of two candidates endorsed by incumbent council members Cartagena, Mary Su and Robert Pacheco. The other is Dino Pollalis. The three incumbents who often vote together on a frequently divided council did not endorse the two incumbents running for re-election.

Cristobal, 66, also received endorsements from Republican leaders: Rep. Ed Royce and Assemblywoman Ling Ling Chang.

She is opposed to Measure A, the term limits measure.

She mentioned two issues specifically: Improving public safety by increasing volunteer patrols and adding amenities. “I want to move on with our project of the aquatic park,” she said.

She received $18,974 in contributions as of the Feb. 27 filing. She received $250 each from Robert and Gayle Pacheco and Mary Su. She received $1,000 from Mt. SAC board trustee David Hall.


In 2014, Pollalis, 53, ran an unsuccessful write-in campaign in which he picked up 196 votes for 2.8 percent.

This time, the retired electrical engineer is on the ballot. He says he’d like to see more emphasis on public safety. He is a volunteer at the Walnut Sheriff’s Station.

The 17-year resident of Walnut said he moved to the city to enjoy the semi-rural atmosphere. “Walnut is truly unique. Walnut is the place due to its open spaces and great family environment,” he said. He also serves on the city’s Mt. SAC task force.

He has not accepted any campaign contributions. He has funded his campaign with $5,100 of his own money as of the Feb. 27 filing.


Rodriguez, 23, is a product of Walnut Valley schools and earned a degree from Rutgers University. He works as a youth counselor at a nonprofit helping students qualify for college.

He is in favor of reducing the number of students at Mt. SAC in Walnut by adding satellite classes in other parts of the district. “I am against the parking structure and I would prefer the college decide to move it somewhere else,” he said. He lives in Timberline, adjacent to the proposed parking structure site.

Rodriguez also said he’d work to improve the look of Valley Boulevard and re-zone some parcels as commercial.

He’s been endorsed by Mt. SAC trustee Jay Chen (who contributed $500 to his campaign), and Walnut Valley school board member Cindy Ruiz.

As of the Feb. 27 filing with the city clerk, he’s raised $4,872.


Tang, 49, is on pace to raise the most money in the campaign. So far, she’s raised $70,000, she said. <URL destination=”http://www.sgvtribune.com/government-and-politics/20140404/walnut-city-council-race-expensive-negative”>She spent close to $100,000 in 2014 and lost, coming in third behind Su and Pacheco.

The co-founder of CCI Corp., a custom automobile manufacturer and exporter, Tang has once again taken on the incumbents, saying in a mailer “the City Council members have become distracted by personality conflicts and petty arguments. Videos of their embarrassing behavior have made the Walnut Council the laughing stock of the San Gabriel Valley.”

The comments are partly directed at Tragarz, who as mayor in 2014 and 2015 spent hours at each meeting criticizing City Attorney Mike Montgomery’s legal advice, credentials, lack of malpractice insurance and his invoices. Also, a July meeting over who should be appointed the ceremonial position of mayor caused more fighting among the council. Ching, mayor pro-tem, was passed over for mayor by Pacheco, Su and Cartagena who voted for Pacheco. The meeting ended with jeers from the audience.

Tang, a 20-year resident who is serving as the president of the Chinese American Parent Association, said: “I think Walnut needs an independent voice to protect Walnut residents.”

She, as well as Pollalis and Tragarz, mentioned stemming a recent 40 percent spike in burglary crimes in the city.

She’s endorsed by Democrats Rep. Judy Chu and State Treasurer John Chiang, as well as Republicans, including Sen. Bob Huff and Assemblywoman Ling Ling Chang. She has numerous endorsements from members of the Diamond Bar and La Puente city councils but not from members of the current Walnut City Council.


As a 43-year resident of Walnut whose involvement spans schools, regional boards such as Foothill Transit and the San Gabriel Valley Council of Government and community groups, she is the candidate most vested in Walnut and its government.

Tragarz, 53, an attorney,  recently took on the city attorney in some of the fiercest meetings in this small, normally quiet city government. As mayor, she spoke for hours about Mike Montgomery until just recently convincing the rest of the council to put the city attorney spot up for bid.

Barbara Leibold, of the law firm Leibold McClendon & Mann in Irvine, became the new city attorney and began serving this month.

“The Council can see I was right about all those things,” Tragarz said last week.

Montgomery said he and the city agreed to part ways. He had served 36 years. “One of the council members had been attacking me on my billing. So I got tired of that,” he said. He has recently taken a job as city attorney of Maywood, he said.

Tragarz attributed a spike in burglaries on the early release of prisoners as prompted by a federal judge, and on Proposition 47, which downgraded some nonviolent drug felonies to misdemeanors. Law enforcement officials said the new law added criminals to the streets and drove crime up.

She and Ching are running on their record. She said the city is still one of the safest in California. Tragarz is endorsed by Royce, Huff, Ling Ling Chang, Councilman Ching as well as Helen Hall, Walnut Valley USD board member.

As of the Feb. 27 filing, she’s raised $5,387.

Six Walnut candidates talk about city issues at LWV candidates forum

By Steve Scauzillo

WALNUT >> Traffic, crime, conflicts of interest, development and Mount San Antonio College were some of the major issues discussed Tuesday by six candidates running for City Council.

The crowded field matched the wide range of problems facing this city of 30,000 mostly upper middle class residents, striving to maintain its semi-rural character of spacious, tract homes surrounded by 26 miles of horse/jogging trails yet pinned in by college expansion and development in City of Industry.

Running for three seats in the April 12 municipal election, in alphabetical order, are: Eric Ching, 49, incumbent; Bella Cristobal, 66, challenger; Dino Pollalis, 53, challenger; Andrew Rodriguez, 23, challenger; Betty Tang, 49, challenger; and Nancy Tragarz, 53, incumbent. All six participated in the candidates forum put on by the East San Gabriel Valley League of Women Voters.

A group called United Walnut Taxpayers formed in opposition to Mt. SAC’s proposed five-story parking garage on the edge of the Timberline neighborhood and an 11-acre solar farm on a prominent Walnut hillside. The group has filed a lawsuit and so has the city.

Cristobal and Rodriguez defended accepting contributions from members of the Mt. SAC Board of Trustees and was asked by the moderator whether that was a conflict of interest.

“I don’t think it is a conflict of interest. It is not from the school, it is a personal fund,” Cristobal said. Records show she received $1,000 from Mt. SAC Trustee David Hall. Hall and six other trustees, one who no longer serves on the board, were sued and named as respondents by the city of Walnut. The city is asking the trustees, the college and its president to run its parking garage and its solar farm project through the city’s zoning laws and conditional use permit process but the college says it is exempt. The garage was placed on hold by a judge.

Rodriguez received $500 from Jay Chen, who became a Mt. SAC trustee after winning a seat in November. Chen is not listed on the lawsuit filed in March 2015. He said he’s been friends with Chen and helped him on his campaign. “He knows I do not support the parking structure, nor the solar farm at their current locations,” said Rodriguez.

Pollalis said he avoids conflicts by not accepting any campaign donations. His campaign is self-funded. “So there is no question as to where my loyalties lie: With Walnut and its residents,” he told the crowd of about 85 people. “Sometimes you just have to follow the money.”

Tragarz, a two-term council member, had the strongest reaction to the question: “I think that is definitely a conflict of interest,” she said, adding she has not accepted contributions from any Mt. SAC board members.

Tang said accepting money from Mt. SAC would be a conflict. However, she is raising up to 10 times the amount of her competitors. In her December filing, she raised $64,970 in 2015. Almost all of the contributions are from outside of Walnut, from contributors in Irvine, San Marino, Arcadia, Alhambra, Monterey Park, Rowland Heights, El Monte and Trabuco Canyon, to name a few locations. In her Feb. 27 filing, she lists $5,873 contributions from Jan. 1 to Feb. 27, 2016, for a total of $70,843 so far. No Mt. SAC trustees are listed as contributors.

The issue of development centered on Mt. SAC for the first hour, with all the candidates agreeing that the parking garage and solar farm were not acceptable.

However, development of the Brookside Equestrian Facility within Walnut on the corner of Lemon Avenue and La Puente Road arose as an issue Tuesday night. A developer first proposed 50 homes but through negotiations with the city staff, the number of single-family homes has been reduced to 28, said Tom Weiner, community development director.

At issue is preservation of a historic home as well as Lemon Creek which runs through the property.

Tang said a developer can do anything he wants on private land as long as he follows zoning laws. Candidates Ching and Cristobal jumped on her remark, saying that’s not true. “Even though it is private property, they cannot do what they want,” said Cristobal.

Said Pollalis: “We need to make sure the creek, the hiking trails are preserved for the residents to use.”

Walnut should remain low density, said Rodriguez. Tang said her campaign is focused on green space and parks. Ching noted he’s keeping an eye on City of Industry developments, saying he’s worked with them and members of Congress and the Assembly to work out traffic and development issues surrounding Walnut.

All the candidates said they would increase voluntary patrols and publicize Neighborhood Watch as a way to push back against residential burglaries. Pollalis said he’d ask for more patrols during Chinese lunar new year, when red envelopes of cash given as gifts are lures for thieves. More uniformed patrols are needed, Tang said.

Also on the ballot, Measure A, would impose term limits. An elected official would be limited to serve three four-year terms. Cristobal was the only candidate opposed to the measure.

Walnut will fight Mt. SAC’s plans to grade hillside for solar project

Mt SAC solar panels project rendering

Mount San Antonio College will start grading a hillside in Walnut next month for an 11-acre solar-generating project over the objections of the Walnut City Council, according to college officials.

College President William Scroggins said Monday he expects grading to start at the end of November or early December, apparently rebuffing repeated attempts from Walnut City Manager Rob Wishner and his staff as late as Monday afternoon to require a Conditional Use Permit.

The college answered the city, saying it is exempt from the city’s zoning and permit ordinances.

“We are not going to request a CUP,” said Scroggins, president and CEO of Mt. SAC, the largest community college in the state, located entirely in Walnut just west of Cal Poly Pomona.

The city of Walnut and the community college have been locked in a battle over several developments at the college and whether the city should have a say. A neighborhood group sued and won an injunction against a college parking garage. The city also sued, saying any project that is not a classroom must go through the Planning Commission for approval.

“The city will do everything in its power to make certain grading does not begin next month and does not happen until they go through our process,” Wishner said Tuesday.

A clause in the government code gives the college the freedom to build energy projects without a city permit, Scroggins said. The city’s zoning laws say any public utility or other energy uses in a residential zone requires a CUP.

The city considers such an exemption for “site specific” projects such as solar panels on one home or one building. Since Mt. SAC is building a 2.2-megawatt solar-generating facility with hundreds of panels on a 24-acre, college-owned parcel across the street at Temple Avenue/Amar Road and Grand Avenue, as well as an underground conduit to supply power to college buildings, this project should not be exempt from city zoning laws, said Michael Montgomery, Walnut’s city attorney.

On Monday, the city asked the California Energy Commission if a college building a large solar photovoltaic project is exempt from local zoning laws. “Proposition 39 does not exempt any Local Educational Agencies from complying with local laws,” wrote Simon Fllippov of the CEC’s Prop. 39 Hotline, in an email to city staff.

“We don’t feel that section (of state law) precludes Mt. SAC from having to attain local approvals,” said Tom Weiner, Walnut’s director of community development.

In a meeting last week, the City Council struggled with how to stop the project or convince the college to build it within the campus, not near homes. The City Council asked staff to bring experts on the California Environmental Quality Act to its next meeting on Oct. 28. One of the issues involves taking dirt from the college’s Hilmer Lodge Stadium to the solar site and contouring the steep hillside to accommodate ground-level solar panels.

Weiner estimated dump trucks carrying dirt would be crossing the city’s major intersection and traveling through Walnut streets five or six days a week for several months. “It would be an impact,” he told the City Council.

The solar project will cost approximately $7 million and will eventually shave the college’s electric power bill by about $400,000 a year, Scroggins said.

Hacienda Heights, La Puente candidates running for HLPUSD school board

By Steve Scauzillo

date: Sept. 1, 2015

In the San Gabriel Valley’s largest school district, issues of budgets, aging school facilities and special programs such as the Chinese-language Confucius Classroom have surfaced in the past.

Today, the Hacienda La Puente Unified School District seems to have moved forward, as surplus properties and funding more science and computer programs have come into play as election day rolls around Nov. 3.

Six candidates are vying for two of the five school board seats. With incumbent Jay Chen leaving the board, the only board member on the ballot is Gino Kwok, and he is accompanied by five challengers. The candidates are:


Chin, 73, is a psychiatrist who practices in Whittier. He has lived in Hacienda Heights for 43 years, having sent his two sons through HLPUSD schools.

He would like to focus on improving mental health services in the schools and increasing safety on the campuses.

“I want to make sure students are safe and secure from any violence going on in today’s world and help those with anger issues so they do not resort to vengeance,” Chin said.

If elected, he would work on establishing ROTC programs in the high schools so students can learn discipline and acquire leadership skills.

On campaigning, Chin said he would not spend much money.


De La Torre, 46, has lived in Hacienda Heights 15 years. Currently a social studies teacher at Los Angeles Unified School District, he has also been an academic counselor and an intervention counselor.

“I believe the board would benefit from someone with my experience,” he said.

He would like to bring down class sizes at Los Altos High School by hiring more teachers. He wants to acquaint students with technology by providing laptop computers to every student.

He has two children, ages 11 and 13.


Guido, 53, lives in La Puente and has worked as a school bus driver for the Montebello Unified School District for the past 31 years.

The main issues he sees in the district are student safety and providing more services for the homeless and for disadvantaged students, he said in an email.

“There must be greater community involvement,” he said.

He served on various committees with the Montebello school district.

He is working toward a bachelor’s degree in human resources from the University of La Verne.


Hornell is in his first year as a full-time German language professor at Fullerton College. Before that he taught Mandarin at West Covina Unified School District.

Hornell said he was encouraged to run by Norman Hsu, 80, a leader in the Asian community. He called Hsu “an inspiration.”

He wants to enhance the district’s STEM program (science, technology, engineering and math) and stop the flow of HLP students to Walnut and Fullerton school districts.

“A lot of people tell me we sent our kids to another district because they have better programs there,” he said.


Kwok, of Hacienda Heights,  won a seat on the board in 2011 and is seeking his second, four-year term. He is a trial lawyer and also teaches law.

Kwok, 52, said he is running on his record, which includes implementing improvements to campus buildings and athletic fields, as well as new surveillance cameras and fire alarms.

He’s proud he and fellow board members established computer programming classes at the high school level but wants to see the curriculum expanded to middle schools.

He’s visited every school site and has attended 250 events during his tenure, he said.

“The biggest accomplishment I can ever have is uniting our community for all of our children,” he said. Kwok also donated 1,000 musical instruments to the district and helped start dual-immersion language programs that incorporate music instruction.


Medrano, 26, grew up in Hacienda Heights and graduated from Los Altos High School. He is an aide to Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, D-Bell Gardens.

“I know the community and I think I can do a real good job,” he said, adding: “We do need to do more for students who need the most.”

Medrano said he would focus on more support for arts funding and reducing class size.

When asked if his age was a detriment, he said: “It is an asset. It is a positive for me.”

He hopes to spend about $30,000 on the campaign.

Rowland Heights residents fight cell phone tower at Mobil Station

ROWLAND HEIGHTS >> A group of residents is protesting the construction of a 50-foot cell phone tower proposed for the back of a gas station, saying the structure would depress property values.

Neighbor Michelle Nicolaus, who resides about 400 feet from the proposed structure to be built in the rear of a Mobil station on the northeast corner of Fullerton Road and Mescal Street, has led an effort to deny Verizon a permit to build the repeater tower.

Nicolaus has gathered 150 signatures on a petition asking Verizon to locate it somewhere else, she said.

“It will be an eyesore,” she said. “You walk out my front door and I’ll be staring at a cell tower. It will be so close to the homes it will drop our property values,”

A July 21 meeting of the Los Angeles County Department of Regional Planning’s hearing officer in downtown Los Angeles was continued to 9 a.m., Aug. 18 at the request of Nicolaus and Kindgon Chew, past president of the Rowland Heights Community Coordinating Council.

The RHCCC has not taken an official position on the cell tower. Nicolaus will bring up the issue Monday at the group’s community meeting. She’s hoping to bring about 30 or 40 neighbors to the Aug. 18 public meeting, which takes place in a hearing room in the Hall of Records, 320 W. Temple St., Los Angeles.

Verizon is asking for a Conditional Use Permit to build a tower that would include 12 panel antennas, one microwave dish, two fiber demarcation boxes as well as equipment cabinets and a generator. The property is surrounded by homes on the north, east and west and a small strip mall to the south.

Planning documents say there were two communications received before the July 21 meeting: one in support and one against. The county mailed 114 notices of the public hearing to property owners living within a 500-mile radius, county records show.

Documents show residents are concerned about the installation generating graffiti but that would be remedied by additional landscaping.

Nicolaus said she spoke to a subcontractor and asked if the communications tower can be added to an existing one across the street, which was built to resemble a pine tree. She said the answer was no, because additional antennas sticking out of the structure would foil the design and violate the CUP. Nicolaus has asked the communications company to build the tower in a nearby park instead, but was told the leasing of the land would be triple the amount.

“This is something that is not favorable to our neighborhood,” she said