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.

SGV cities getting ready for Gold Line to Azusa

The laying of the final Gold Line track re-introduces the first passenger-service rail line into the foothill communities since the Pacific Electric trolley disappeared more than 60 years ago.

While the $1 billion, 11.5-mile extension from east Pasadena to the edge of Glendora won’t be completed for another 11 months, and will not carry its first passenger until March 2016, the driving of the last spike connecting 28 miles of double track has historical and practical implications for the region.

“This project brings all of those cities together. There are no political boundaries for this project,” said Habib Balian, CEO of the Foothill Gold Line Construction Authority.

For the last 4 1/2 years, workers have laid track from the existing Sierra Madre Villa Station in east Pasadena to the Azusa Pacific University/Citrus College Station at Citrus Avenue and Foothill Boulevard located on the border of Azusa and Glendora. The celebration “last spike” ceremony will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday at the future Downtown Azusa Gold Line Station, 795 N. Dalton Ave., Azusa.

The project will mark the first extension of the Gold Line in the San Gabriel Valley since it began running to Union Station/Los Angeles in 2003. It is a project that fought for its existence every inch of the way, breaking from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to form its own entity and fighting for funding from Metro in L.A. to Sacramento and Washington.

It stood up to criticism from then-L.A. Mayor and Metro board president Antonio Villaraigosa as a low-density, low-volume passenger train that takes a back seat to his Purple Line subway extension under Wilshire Boulevard by rallying support from San Gabriel Valley bedroom cities, local businesses and members of congress.

In the past several years, the Gold Line has seen some successes. It added an $898-million extension from Union Station to East Los Angeles five years ago. And by fall next year, work will have been completed on the foothill extension funded by taxpayers through 2008’s Measure R.

A third extension, from the APU/Citrus College Station to Montclair, will be shovel-ready by 2017 but is not currently funded.

Overall, the line surpassed low passenger estimates of about 20,000 daily boardings to serve 44,149 passenger boardings on an average weekday, according to Rick Jager, a Metro spokesman.

Balian estimates the foothill extension will take 14,000 daily boardings at the start. It will see an increase when the Regional Connector, that will create a single train ride from Santa Monica to Azusa/Glendora, is completed in the next three or four years.

“It is pretty exciting to see a project going on for so long get to this stage,” Balian said Thursday during a high-rail tour of the new track. “This is one of the biggest moments you can have for a project.”

As the clouds created shadows that danced off the red-clay San Gabriel Mountains, the parallel northbound and southbound tracks stretched eastward and seemed to meet, though only a trick of the eye. From the iconic bridge over the eastbound 210 Freeway to a pedestrian plaza in Arcadia and the art deco bridge traversing Santa Anita Avenue, the train is carving a niche into the San Gabriel Valley hard scape.

After gliding over the San Gabriel River, the tracks pass a row of giant beer tanks belonging to MillerCoors in Irwindale, the industrial buildings of Northrop Grumman, and then the Target building in downtown Azusa.

Monrovia is betting that $25 million in Metro and state funding for a transit plaza, a promenade for live music and food trucks, and a new park with an amphitheater will connect the south part of town and Gold Line station to its vibrant north Myrtle Avenue location.

Duarte, not to be outdone, has plans for a hotel and a movie theater, said Mayor Liz Reilly, both amenities Monrovia has had for years. “We will be closer to the Gold Line station than they (Monrovia) are,” she said.

The Duarte station lies across the street from its largest employer, City of Hope, a nationally known research and cancer treatment hospital that employs 4,300 people, many of whom she hopes will take the train to and from work.

But as the mountains sat down at the mouth of San Gabriel Canyon, the tracks reached APU/Citrus College station at the doorstep of the 1,250-home Rosedale planned development. It may be the first suburban housing project built train-station ready with a plaza to be built within walking distance.

Rosedale resident Ed Chen, 31, said he will ride the train to Old Pasadena for dinner and shopping, or to downtown Los Angeles, home of the hip Arts District near the Gold Line’s Little Tokyo Station.

A ride from the eastern-most station at APU/Citrus to Union Station will take about 46 minutes, said Chris Burner, Foothill Gold Line Construction Authority’s chief project officer.

Most of all, it will remove single-occupancy drivers from the increasingly congested 210 Freeway, Balian said.

Chen said the option to ride a train instead of drive his car was a selling point. It is also part of Rosedale Partners marketing campaign as seen on billboards, banners and inside Gold Line train cars. The last homes will be built by 2018.

“In Rosedale in Azusa, you have the best of both worlds,” Chen said. “You have the space, the quality of homes, the proximity to a university and the convenience of light rail. Plus, you don’t lose the whole San Gabriel Valley suburban aspect.”

Where should Gold Line run? Wash Blvd? 60 Fwy?

PICO RIVERA >> The battle over which communities will see light-rail through their cities as part of the Gold Line Eastside Extension officially began Saturday, with the first of four public hearings sanctioned by the Federal Trade Administration and the county Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

About 75 people listened to Laura Cornejo, project manager for MTA (Metro), explain the impacts of building the line along the south side of the 60  Freeway to Whittier Narrows Recreation Area, or running it south down Garfield Avenue in Montebello and east along Washington Boulevard through Pico Rivera and terminating west of Lambert Road in Whittier at Five Points.

About 15 people spoke about the eastward expansion from the Gold Line station on the edge of East Los Angeles at Atlantic and Pomona boulevards. Of those, six preferred the Washington Boulevard route, three preferred the 60 Freeway route and the rest did not specify a choice in their comments.

The presentation of the long-awaited, $15 million environmental impact statement/report to the public for the first time gave both sides an official chance to persuade Metro which route to pick. The public meeting, which lasted 90 minutes, marked the first public shots fired in a battle involving cities favoring the Washington Boulevard route or the 60  Freeway route.

The debate promises to intensify during the next six weeks, as the FAA and Metro hold three more public hearings starting Monday in Montebello. The official hearings will culminate in a staff position on where to put the train tracks and a vote by the Metro board on Nov. 13, Cornejo said.

An extension of the U-shaped Gold Line that runs from East L.A. to downtown L.A. to Pasadena and soon out to Azusa, will serve 720,580 residents or about 7  percent of the population of Los Angeles County, Metro said. The train extension would not be built until 2035, she said, unless speeded up by Metro.

While many residents would conceivably have access to downtown, South LA and the Westside without leaving their seat, Cornejo said, some who live along Washington Boulevard didn’t want the train because it would shrink the car corridor to make way for aerial tracks and/or at-grade tracks and overhead electrical wires.

“It will bring more people, more congestion and a potential for more crime to our area,” said Roberta Torres of Pico Rivera.

Pico Rivera resident Judy Rankin testified against the train entirely. “You want to put a train down Washington Boulevard? There is no room for it. Besides, this is a car state. People are not going to get out of their cars,” she said.

The EIR/EIS estimates the Washington Boulevard route would serve 19,900 daily boardings each weekday at cost of $1.4  billion to $1.7  billion to build, more riders and more money than the 60  Freeway at 16,700 daily weekday boardings for a cost of $1.3  billion. Either line would be used by people of lower socioeconomic levels who can’t afford a car, the report stated.

The Washington line would be 9.5  miles with six stations and the 60 Freeway route would go 6.9 miles with four stations.

“We have a lot of people who need to get to jobs or the VA or need access to other countywide facilities,” said Ted Knoll, executive director of First Day, a homeless outreach center in Whittier. “Please don’t disenfranchise these marginalized individuals.”

Joseph Gonzales, mayor pro-tem of South El Monte and chairman of the SR-60 Coalition, which includes six cities: Montebello, Monterey Park, El Monte, South El Monte, Rosemead and Industry, said the 60 route would not be just for commuters because the group has planned transit-oriented development around each of the four stations.

He also said the aerial tracks above Garfield Avenue planned for the Washington Boulevard line “would destroy Montebello.” The report says the Washington route would take out 58 businesses and nine homes, while the 60 Freeway route would not displace any residents and requires demolishing only eight businesses.

Henry Madrid, consultant for the SR-60 Coalition, warned Metro that if it chose the Washington route it would surely face lawsuits from the city of Montebello.

No city or elected officials from Whittier, Montebello or Pico Rivera spoke at Saturday’s public hearing. Pico Rivera Mayor Brent Tercero said his city is officially neutral on the debate over the train’s route.

“I came here mostly to listen,” he said during an interview after the meeting. “Personally, I think the Washington Boulevard alignment will connect communities, but there are a lot of impacts we will have to face.”

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Molina objects to Edmiston’s settlement; oil drilling OK’d?

Two of the most powerful preservation groups in the state settled their lawsuits with Whittier, potentially opening up a 1,280-acre nature preserve bought with taxpayer dollars to oil drilling for the next 25 years, the city reported Thursday.

The Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority agreed to accept $650,000 in attorneys fees as well as a portion of the city’s oil revenues, up to $11.25 million a year or about $280 million for the life of the project. The city could realize $150 million a year for 10 years or $1.5 billion, making the MRCA share about 7 percent to 11 percent.

The parent agency, the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, also dropped its lawsuit but did not receive a cash settlement, said Whittier City Manager Jeff Collier. The SMMC was represented by state Attorney General Kamala Harris.

However, Whittier failed to come to terms with the other plaintiff, Los Angeles County, which controls lands purchased with monies raised by the 1992 county measure Proposition A. The city used $9.3 million in Prop. A monies it received from the Santa Monica-based MRCA to buy a portion of the Whittier Hills, vowing to preserve it as open space in perpetuity. In 2011, the city approved an oil and gas exploration project on a 7-acre piece of land in the preserve located near the Friendly Hills neighborhood.

In June, a judge ruled the city and its partners, Matrix Oil and Clayton Williams Energy, Inc., violated the public trust by drilling on land that was supposed to be for open space and wildlife habitat. He ordered all equipment off the preserve and said the county must sign off on the project if it were to proceed.

Joseph Edmiston, executive director of both the SMMC and the MRCA, said in an interview Thursday that his small group could no longer fight Big Oil and decided taking the deal would help all the parks under his care.

Even though MRCA won the case in Superior Court, Edmiston, the guru of environmental protection and parks development in the county for several decades, said he feared losing in an appeal. He said recent MRCA and SMMC losses in appellate courts involving cases in Malibu cost the agencies hundreds of thousands in attorneys fees.

“Our record from the court of appeal has not been good,” he said.

Also, Edmiston said the $11.25 million a year nearly doubles the MRCA’s maintenance budget for the 69,000 acres of land and 114 recreational facilities it manages throughout the county. He said the oil money will help keep the toilets clean and the parks supervised for visitors who use MRCA-managed parks throughout the county.

L.A. County Supervisor Gloria Molina, who has fought the Whittier oil project, said she was shocked to learn Edmiston and his board had agreed to the settlement.

“I feel betrayed by a leader we have entrusted for decades to preserve and conserve open space,” Molina said. “I’m troubled by the rationalization he created for himself. It is the same kind of rationalization Judas used.”

Molina said the county Board of Supervisors will be looking at the settlement and then decide what to do next.

“We have a judge who ruled this was clearly a violation of the public trust. We basically won. Why would I settle with somebody? Greed is really present here,” she said, adding: “This is not over.”

Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, whose district includes the Santa Monica Mountains, said through an aide he would not comment on the MRCA settlement with Whittier.

Local residents opposed to the project were disappointed with the settlement.

“The Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy is no longer a conservancy. It is an acquisition corporation that buys lands for oil companies,” said Roy McKee, president of Whittier Hills Oil Watch.

“The Pacific Palisades is rich in oil, maybe that’s the next place Mr. Edmiston sells,” McKee said. “The MRCA and SMMC exhibited that they can be bought.”

Edmiston said he was pleased the settlement prohibits the use of fracking. He said he wished the county had participated in the settlement, even as he characterized it as far from perfect.

“In a perfect world, we wouldn’t have to go to this kind of funding mechanism,” he said. “We need to look at this kind of alternative funding, or we will not have the parks we have.”

Collier said the city will return to Judge James Chalfant’s courtroom in downtown Los Angeles on Sept. 6, at which point he’s expected to dismiss the two lawsuits. The county’s complaint is another matter.

“We will have to wait and see about the county,” Collier said.

Cities, water agencies raise concerns about National Recreation Area proposal

Water agencies, cities raise concerns about Park Service proposal

More than 100 people attend meeting in San Dimas
SAN DIMAS – Powerful water interests and conservative members of cities in Los Angeles County raised numerous concerns Tuesday about proposed legislation that would grant the National Park Service power to manage portions of the foothills, Puente Hills, and San Gabriel and Rio Hondo rivers.

While plans to establish a National Recreation Area as a way to funnel more resources for recreation along the rivers and in the Angeles National Forest have been around for 10 years, this marked the first time these groups have publicly listed deep-seated concerns that stopped short of objections.

If the federal government were to block off portions of the river, either as a recreation area or as a scenic river designation, it would curtail water supplies to 1.6 million residents in the eastern part of the county, said Tony Zampiello, the executive officer of the Main San Gabriel Basin Watermaster, the court-appointed overseer of groundwater pumping and recharge. Zampiello also spoke on behalf of the San Gabriel Valley Water Association.

He said the association has retained an attorney to protect members’ water rights and said new recreation projects along the rivers could require water agencies to make up the loss of recharge water with expensive, imported water from Northern California that would cost $30 million a year.

“We have no objection to the designation as long as it doesn’t impact water flows, water rights and water quality,” Zampiello said during a presentation at San Dimas City Hall. He and others spoke at a three-hour informational meeting hosted by the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments.

More than 100 people attended the meeting. An overflow crowd stood in the back even after extra chairs were added to accommodate more people.

Since April, the NRA proposal has been losing steam. That’s when the U.S. Department of Interior and National Park Service released its recommendation to Congress for a scaled-down version of a long-proposed National Recreation Area overlaying local wild areas. It would include the San Gabriel Mountain foothills, the river areas south to Pico Rivera and the western Puente Hills but excludes the Angeles National Forest.

The recommendation, contained in the final San Gabriel Watershed and Mountains Special Resource Study, advocates an NRA of only about 50,000 acres, one-tenth the size of the 581,500-acre NRA proposed in “Alternative D” that encompassed nearly the entire Angeles National Forest in addition to the rivers and Puente Hills.

The larger plan is supported by a majority of residents who attended meetings from 2009 to 2012, 23 Southern California members of Congress, the county Board of Supervisors and the San Gabriel Mountains Forever group, a nonprofit coalition of residents, environmental groups and faith-based groups.

At the end of Tuesday’s workshop, San Dimas Councilman Denis Bertone, a longtime regional environmental voice, said the water agencies’ concerns need to be addressed.

“The Wilderness Society, the San Gabriel Mountains Forever group have some work to do with the water agencies,” Bertone said.

Glendora Councilwoman Judy Nelson addressed the group, saying she was concerned the NPS would mute the voices of local cities. Nelson said the NPS plan for governance of a recreation area “is not helpful to our ability to maintain local control.”

Nelson, and the city of Glendora, called for a governance body to be made up of “at least 50 percent of local government entities that lie within the designated boundaries of the San Gabriel NRA.”

She also called on Rep. Judy Chu, D-Pasadena, to allow local government to help draft the legislation. The proposal “could have more negative unintended consequences to our water rights, our businesses and to our recreation users,” Nelson testified.

Chu’s aide Brian Urias told the audience the congresswoman hopes to have a bill in late fall. “Nothing has been drafted yet. You could say the congresswoman is on a listening tour,” Urias said.

Rosemead Councilwoman Margaret Clark also expressed concerns about water shortages. She and Nelson agreed that Chu should not combine the issues of a NRA and a scenic river designation into one bill, but preferred separate pieces of legislation.

Others in attendance expressed concerns over the federal government taking property and requiring additional regulations for cities and businesses.

Belinda Faustinos, who spoke for the Trust for Public Land, said an NRA is not the same thing as a national park. With no federal land, the Park Service would not have any power over land-use decisions, nor would it add a single new regulatory requirement.

She said the proposal would bring in rangers, planners and other experts from the NPS to augment recreational sites, such as Pio Pico State Historic Park in Whittier, which is closed 90 percent of the time. “If the park service were to staff this, imagine the possibilities,” she said.

One thing all sides agreed on was removing any reference to the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. A linkage to the Santa Monica Mountains was soundly rejected by most who attended the meeting and by Chu, whose aide said Chu’s legislation would create an independent NRA.

Bertone, part of the SGVCOG’s new ad hoc committee on the recreation area, said the committee will develop a report with recommendations to the governing board. Its first meeting is slated for 6:30 p.m. Aug. 12 at El Monte Community Center, 3130 Tyler Ave.

Hacienda Heights/La Puente school board called ‘racist,’ self-serving in public report

Report gauges the district strengths, weaknesses in an effort to recruit a new superintendent
By Steve Scauzillo, Staff Writer
@stevscaz on Twitter

In a raw, highly critical report, parents, staff and teachers lashed out at the Hacienda La Puente Unified School District school board, some calling them “racist,” disrespectful to the community, and at times basing their decisions on personal agendas, favoritism and friendships instead of what is best for students.

The report, released over the objections of one board member Thursday night at a special school board meeting, is part of a process taken by the board to help it choose a successor to former superintendent Barbara Nakaoka, who retired after 42 years with the district on June 30.

The report, tabulated from 17 hours of meetings of anonymous comments from 199 people, said the next superintendent would have to try to tame an often divided, politically charged board that has “hidden agendas” by standing up to the board and saying “no” when he or she is right.

Filling the shoes of Nakaoka, 65, who did not attend the meeting, is a tough task. The report said some wanted the next superintendent to be a lot like her. A majority of one group suggested the board choose “a Nakaoka clone,” or someone with a breadth of experience in the classroom and as an administrator but who is “visible,” “friendly” and will “put her foot down” when needed.

The participants were described as passionate, involved in the district, and even “angry” at times, said the consultant.

“When you do this, it won’t make anybody happy,” said Frank Cosca, president of The Cosca Group, which conducted the meetings and produced the initial report for the board. Cosca’s agency was paid $26,000 to gauge what the community and the board wants in a new superintendent, and to recruit candidates.
The report listed many district positives, leading with a fiscally sound management approach that produced zero furlough days, a diverse district and staff, dedicated teachers and high academic achievement. HLPUSD’s average API score is 814 (out of 1,000), considered excellent. The board’s priority goal is to stem the flow of students from the district and address declining enrollment. Sometimes, parents send their children to Troy High School in Fullerton, a magnet school that recruits the cream of the crop from the eastern San Gabriel Valley. The board wanted a superintendent who “understands the role of the board and is not afraid to speak up and give the board advice.”

The board addressed a key issue that has plagued the two-cities district for decades: the divide between schools in La Puente and in Hacienda Heights. Commenters in Groups 7 and 10 wrote the board favors Hacienda Heights over La Puente and doesn’t provide equal programs at all high schools, according to the report. A majority of commenters in Group 7 wrote the board shows “racial favoritism/bias” when deciding on school staffing and projects.

After Board President Jay Chen insisted names be redacted, to which Cosca reluctantly and only partially agreed, the report mentions criticism of Los Altos High School leadership but specific names were removed. However, one group in the report, talking about racial bias, said Chen promoted college preparatory workshops and advertised to schools that excluded La Puente High and Workman High, something Chen said was not true.

“I held the last two college workshops in La Puente,” he said Friday. Chen said while a workshop in 2010 was held at Wilson High School, he held workshops in 2011 and 2012 at La Puente High, and one in 2009 at Workman High.

During the meeting, he called the issue a “perception problem,” but later made it a priority of the new superintendent to create a “one district sense of unity rather than a north-south divide.”

A small group in the audience reacted when Chen made his comments. One of them, Gilda L. Ochoa, a professor of sociology and Chicano/Latino studies at Pomona College who lives in La Puente, said many in the Latino community are deeply concerned about the divide. She said it starts at the top — three of the five board members are from Hacienda Heights.

“I am concerned on a number of levels on the issue of inequality. The school district is very unequal,” Ochoa said after the meeting. “There is more attention to Hacienda Heights than La Puente. They say it is a perception. It is not perception, it is reality.”

Recruitment letters will go out after being approved by the president and vice president of the board. Those candidates from within the district will no longer be treated differently as originally proposed by the board. The board ruled they, too, must submit resumes, as outside candidates.

Another change to the process came after Cosca raised concerns that board members and staff were calling him in an effort to influence the process. The board agreed not to call Cosca with concerns unless a member had a question. “No board member should be contacting you guys; no staff members should be contacting you guys and influencing the process,” said board member Anthony Duarte.

Chen said Costa and him had phone conversations about redacting the report to protect employees. Chen was disappointed in the report, calling it a regurgitation of comments without much analysis. “This isn’t about people airing grievances about employees. This is about finding a superintendent,” he said.

Can cities better prepare for effects of climate change?

 

Insurance commissioner urges companies to adjust to extreme weather

A home at the end of El Nido in La Verne, Friday, June 28, 2013, sits just south of the Angeles National Forest. Insurance companies are worried about global warming and may increase their rates for those living in high risk areas. (SGVN/Staff Photo by Sarah Reingewirtz)
HEAT WAVE

  PASADENA – Rather than adjust to the extreme effects of climate change, many insurance companies are simply not insuring properties in low-lying coastal zones due to the threat of flooding and are canceling policies of homeowners living near hillsides that may catch fire, said insurance and government experts Friday.

California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones, speaking at a forum examining insurance and climate change at the Pasadena Central Library’s Wright Auditorium, urged insurance companies not to cancel policies but instead to plan for the inevitable changes to the planet and increasing damage claims as a result of climate change.

“This is the biggest and most fundamental problem we face as a people,” Jones told an audience of about 100 people. “And there is room for the insurance industry to take a leadership role as well.”

Out of 184 survey responses from insurance companies sent to the commissioner’s office, only 23 had a comprehensive climate change strategy. “That is way too low,” he said.

At stake is how insurance companies respond to huge payouts from increasingly frequent and more extreme weather events such as hurricanes, floods, tornadoes and wildfires, Jones said.

For example, when climatologist models predict more frequent and intense wildfires in Southern California due to longer periods of drought, drier conditions and extended fire seasons, some insurance companies are “pulling back” because they can’t manage the risk. “That is a real problem. If a homeowner cannot get insurance, that creates real problems and risks for them,” Jones said.

Recent statistics illustrate the problem insurance companies face.

Since the mid-1970s, the average length of the fire season in California and the western United States has increased by 78 days, said panelist Fire Chief Ken Pimlott of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. “Twelve of the 20 most damaging wildfires in California occurred in the last 10 years,” he added.

Jones said the budget for CalFire increased from about $400 million a year when he was a state legislator to $1 billion a year today. So far this year, CalFire responded to more than 2,000 wildfires that burned 50,000 acres. Last year at this time, the number was 1,100 wildfires and less than half as much acreage.

Pimlott said there will never be enough engines and firefighters to put out all the wildfires in the state — not now and not in the next few decades when global warming is expected to get much worse. “We have to learn to be resilient and live with fire,” he said. He urged cooperation from cities and citizens to better prepare homes for eventual wildfires.

Also, cities must consider global warming in land use decisions, especially when weighing new developments in flood plains or near wildlands, he said. Insurance companies should help shape land-use decisions to reduce climate change’s effects and reward owners of green buildings by offering them lowered premiums.

Fireman’s Fund Insurance Co., a division of Allianz, a Munich-based conglomerate, does offer incentives to policy holders who practice conservation, but Jones said it is only one of a handful.

Steve Bushnell, senior director of Fireman’s Fund, said planning for risk is much tougher when the climate varies from historical patterns. But that’s no excuse for not planning for more extreme weather events and how to shape insurance policies.

“We are right in the cross-hairs of climate change,” he said.

In 2011, worldwide losses from natural disasters reached a record high $400 billion, That spring, insurance companies in the U.S. experienced $21.3 billion in insurance losses, the fourth highest in U.S. history, after 9/11, Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and Hurricane Andrew in August 1992.

“Parts of the world, including parts of Florida, are becoming uninsurable,” said Andrew Logan, director of oil and gas programs at Ceres, a “green” investment group that advocates for a sustainable economy. “If we don’t get our act together fairly soon, the future will be worse and the damage from climate change will grow,” he told the audience.

Besides insurance claims, climate change will hurt the broader economy. Logan said Hurricane Sandy along the New York and New Jersey coastline caused $60 billion in damage. “These physical impacts (from climate change) are a threat to large swaths of the economy,” Logan said.

State Sen. Carol Liu, D-Pasadena, who organized the event, said it is part of her effort to begin a dialogue on climate change in her district and in the state.

“It is a conversation. It is an awareness,” Liu said. “You can’t stop it but we can do something.”

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


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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

twitter.com/stevscaz

 

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.