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.

Walnut expands battle with Mt. SAC, adding stadium expansion and solar project to list

Walnut threatens to stop Mt. SAC Hilmer Lodge Stadium expansion, other college projects /March 12, 2015

WALNUT >> The City Council escalated the war with Mount San Antonio College Wednesday night, saying it will try to stop other projects, including a $62 million upgrade to Hilmer Lodge Stadium that comes with a play to host the U.S. Olympic track and field trials in 2020.

“The city of Walnut fully intends to enforce city zoning code regulations, city general plan guidelines and state land use law as it pertains to any proposed development at Mount San Antonio College,” the city posted on its website Thursday.

The widening gulf between the upper middle class suburb and the largest community college in California — located within the city limits — comes after a yearlong battle in which neighbors, and then the city, have demanded Mt. SAC not build a five-story parking garage adjacent to Walnut homes off Mountaineer Road.

While that battle continues, the city wants veto power over: the stadium project, set to break ground this summer; a 13,500-square-foot food court with seating for 290 people; a 10,000-square foot fire academy/training tower and a solar-power generation system to be built on land west of Grand Avenue or on top of the proposed parking structure in the northwest part of campus.

Walnut is poised to file a lawsuit against the college, saying its parking garage project should be subject to city codes and approval. Educational institutions and projects are exempt from municipal zoning but must gain approval from the Division of the State Architect (DSA). Mt. SAC has not sought city approval.

Another legal argument involves whether the parking structure is an “educational classroom” and therefore exempt. But recent court cases in Orange County have challenged community college projects for fast-food restaurants and dormitories, arguing they are commercial or residential, not educational, and must gain local approval.

Mt. SAC recently amended its application to the DSA to add a solar panel project which would be affixed to the top level, said Walnut City Attorney Mike Montgomery.

He claims the solar project is an attempt by Mt. SAC to avoid being subject to Walnut’s zoning codes by adding an energy element. Energy or water-saving projects by state institutions are excluded from local review, he said. In the last few months, Mt. SAC has said the college will also use the structure for firefighter training and for astronomy classes.

“All of a sudden it has a solar panel, before that fireman’s ropes and a telescope? It is not a classroom. It is a parking structure,” Montgomery said at the meeting attended by 30 Timberline residents.

The City Council threw every possible weapon against the college’s expansion plans during the heated meeting Wednesday night in which residents complained the city efforts were “too little, too late.”

One of those ideas would be an outright ban on large trucks on Mountaineer Road, where dump trucks would need to pass to build the $45 million, 2,200-space parking garage. The city has not yet received an excavation permit request from the college, said city staffers, but hinted if it did, it could turn it down.

The city will establish an ad-hoc committee to address Mt. SAC’s projects. The city is considering sending a mailer to all Walnut residents on the city’s position regarding the garage and future college projects. The makeup of the committee will be discussed on March 25, the next City Council meeting, said City Manager Rob Wishner.

Councilman Robert Pacheco intimated the community, or even individual council members, could use political strategies. He mentioned that three of the seven Mt. SAC trustees are up for re-election in November: Fred Chyr, Roseanne Bader and Manuel Baca.

“These folks are concerned about their re-election,” he said during the meeting. Pacheco added: “We are going to keep their feet to the fire.”

Frustrated Walnut residents, who agree with the city’s stance that the parking structure will hurt property values and could snarl traffic further, said they want more than talk.

“This snail’s pace isn’t going to work,” said Layla Abou-Taleb, a Timberline resident and a member of resident group opposing the parking garage. “What we need from you is action.”

The residents wanted Walnut to file its lawsuit. Council members and staff spoke vaguely about legal remedies but said they could not speak about them in a public session.

Montgomery told the Council that he recently learned that letters from the City Council objecting to the parking garage were never delivered to the Mt. SAC board. “They are absolutely arrogant. It is pretty clear litigation is going to result,” he said.

 

Who will manage the land in the backyard of the cities? (PS: the forest)

By Steve Scauzillo

Shortly after the 2009 Station Fire burned through 160,000 acres of the Angeles National Forest, Supervisor Jody Noiron was reassigned amid pointed criticism of her handling of the largest fire in L.A. County history from Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Burbank, and County Supervisor Mike Antonovich.

Earlier this month, Angeles Forest Supervisor Tom Contreras, the man who took her place, quietly resigned his post, leaving the most-visited national forest in the nation without a permanent supervisor for the second time in five years.

Unlike his predecessor, Contreras, known as a perfectionist and neat freak, was generally praised for his handling of the Powerhouse Fire near Santa Clarita and the Colby Fire above Glendora and Azusa during his watch. Both were contained quickly, limiting property damage.

Aside from effective wildfire management, Contreras will be known as the forest supervisor who ushered in a more tumultuous change: the dedication of 346,177 acres — about half of the Angeles National Forest — as a national monument by the president of the United States.

Contreras took great pride in the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument, according to a spokesperson for the U.S. Forest Service. But speculation remains that the monument status and the flood of management changes it brings from Washington and Northern California to the Angeles headquarters in Arcadia may not have included the veteran forester.

“He wanted to leave on a high note,” said Sherry Rollman, public affairs officer, who said Contreras took a position assisting the regional forester in Vallejo. He will retire this spring with 35 years in the USFS. He declined repeated requests for interviews.

Contreras came from the Mendocino National Forest in Northern California, first as interim and then he was named Angeles Forest Supervisor in August 2011. Rollman said he made up his mind to retire after President Barack Obama dedicated the monument in October during a visit to the San Gabriel Valley. His bio touts his coordination with the National Forest Foundation and the Los Angeles Conservation Corps in restoring trails and campgrounds closed by the devastating Station Fire in Big Tujunga-Sunland.

In addition, Mike McIntyre, district ranger of the Los Angeles River Ranger District, has retired. McIntyre worked closely with volunteer groups who provide the manpower for forest improvement projects. He worked as an archaeologist on the Angeles before becoming district ranger.

“The loss of Mike McIntyre is a loss of experience on this forest,” said Glen Owens, cabin owner and president of the Big Santa Anita Canyon Historical Society. “This is an urban forest. It is a unique challenge.”

In addition, the Forest Service will fill three new positions: a volunteer coordinator, a partnership coordinator and an interpretive and conservation ranger. These positions were added as a result of extra funding from the monument.

Shane Jeffries, who came over from the Deschutes National Forest in central Oregon, became interim monument manager in November but his assignment will expire next month. Daniel Lovato, deputy forest supervisor on the Angeles, is acting forest supervisor. John Thornton, district ranger for the San Gabriel River Ranger District, is acting deputy forest supervisor.

“Things are changing: slowly, but quickly at the same time,” Rollman said.

Challenges in management are twofold. The monument, created on Oct. 10, 2014, added new complexities to the forest, officially named in 1908 but set aside as a reserve in 1892. Also, the soon-to-be produced monument plan will emphasize reaching out to 15 million Southern Californians who live within a 90-minute drive of the monument. Of those, 48 percent are Latino, according to the Forest Service.

“The exciting part is to focus management on serving the diverse communities (of Southern California). That is the new challenge for the Angeles and all our public lands,” said Daniel Rossman, chairman of San Gabriel Mountains Forever.

 

West Covina says no to new homes on industrial properties

West Covina votes against plan for 132-homes on industrial properties

The back and forth over the proposed project at the former Blackard’s Towing and Pick’s Lumber properties near San Bernardino Road and Orange Avenue dragged the meeting past 1 a.m. The council at that time chose not to move forward with it in a 3-2 vote, with Councilmen Mike Spence and Steve Herfert dissenting. It will come back for a final denial on Feb. 3.

The council members opposed said they liked the idea of the development but that they did not think it was a right fit for the manufacturing zone it would have occupied. Those in favor called it a chance to remove eyesores from the community and replace them with much needed housing.

WC Homes LLC pitched the project as “starter homes” for working professionals and young families who could not afford the single-family houses prevalent throughout West Covina. The three-story condominiums were going to have three to four bedrooms and cost around $400,000.

The developers originally got green light from the West Covina council in 2013, but a judge reversed that decision this summer after saying the city did not do the appropriate noticing before granting the zone change.

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Out: West Covina City Manager Chris Chung

By Jason Henry

West Covina will pay City Manager Chris Chung $440,000 to retire early after the council decided they no longer wanted him to lead.

Chung, who was appointed by a previous council in December 2012, signed a separation agreement with the city this week that stipulates that he will receive 18 months of compensation — a combination his $195,000 salary and benefits — to leave before his contract expires in 2016. Chung will get $180,000 on Dec. 24, followed by $260,743.49 on Jan. 6.

In exchange, the city, which would have paid 12 months of severance if it had fired him, gets a waiver of his right to sue them, according to City Attorney Kimberly Barlow.

Chung, the city’s former redevelopment director, was seen by some as the last remnant of a council that residents largely voted against last year. The council this year also dismissed long-standing City Attorney Arnold Alvarez-Glasman. Chung’s dismissal was predicted last year by the outgoing City Council, which tried to change his contract during one of its last meetings to include 18  months of severance and language that made a non-renewal of his contract the same as firing him. The attempt to protect Chung drew outrage, and the matter was tabled.

Lloyd Johnson, an activist and a council candidate for 2015, said Chung needed to go so the city could move forward.

“The old regime is gone, and Chris was part of that,” Johnson said.

Chung did not return calls for comment, but he released a statement through the city.

“It has been an honor and privilege to serve the City of West Covina over the past 16 years and I wish to thank all the hard-working and talented city employees who have dedicated their lives to make West Covina the great city it is today and will further be in the future,” Chung stated. “West Covina will always be in my heart.”

The decision for him to retire early came after months of closed-door evaluations, according to Councilman Mike Spence.

“I think it’s important that all of us agreed it was a step in the right direction,” Spence said. “It’s something that needed to take place.”

Spence said he and his colleagues agreed that they wanted their city manager to reflect the current council, not the city’s past leadership.

Mayor Fred Sykes, who has long clashed with Chung, said he wished Chung the best and that the city intends to move forward in a “positive direction.”

“When you’re losing staff and the city seems to be having trouble, we simply thought that we had to bite the bullet and take a new direction,” he said. “The previous council really put us in a tough spot with mismanagement and so forth, now we have to work hard to get things back on track.”

Sykes referenced recent claims by two former department heads who blamed Chung for low morale in City Hall when asked about the dismissal. The state controller this year also launched a comprehensive audit of West Covina’s books, citing questionable financial reports.

Sykes said poor voter turnout and a lack of civic engagement in the city is to blame for any problems the city is having.

“We need people to be more directly involved and participating so that in the future things will hopefully go smoother and healthier,” he said.

The city is already looking for an interim city manager to lead while it searches for Chung’s replacement. Barlow said she expects to call a special meeting about the position “soon.”

 

New in Covina: Killer bees

German Shepherd mixes, Wolf and Luna, were stung by bees Sunday in Covina. Luna died from her injuries and Wolf is receiving treatment. (Courtesy Photo) 

Heather Umphenour and her family returned home Sunday night to find their two German Shepherd-mixed rescue dogs in the backyard covered with bee stings and surrounded by hundreds of dead bees. One dog, Luna, died from her injuries, while her brother, Wolf, is still receiving veterinary care.

Umphenour fears the next attack might happen to a person.

“My children are crying themselves to sleep and for this to happen to somebody’s child, it would be horrible,” Umphenour said. “I want people to be informed that they’re in the area and that you have to look out.”

Most wild honeybees in the San Gabriel Valley, hybrids of European and African strains, are commonly known as “killer bees,” according to the San Gabriel Valley Mosquito and Vector Control District. Killer bees aggressively protect their hive and swarm threats en masse.

Umphenour, who has four children, said she’s never seen a hive at their home near Gladstone High School in approximately seven years of living there. Umphenour and her husband rescued Wolf and Luna when they were 8-week old puppies roughly a year ago. The brother and sister often wrestled and rough housed in the fenced-in back yard.

The family spent most of the day Saturday clearing out the backyard and trimming the family’s lemon trees, but did not see any bees or signs of bees, Umphenour said. It’s unclear where the swarm originated from.

Umphenour said she’s already warned officials at the nearby school and informed the city’s public works department.

“The whole situation is just mind blowingly shocking,” she said. “I just hope it doesn’t happen to anyone else.”

Wolf, who remains at the Inland Valley Emergency Pet Clinic, was stung primarily on his face. His swollen eyes blocked his sight until Tuesday, according to the pet clinic’s Medical Director Jeff Patlogar.

“We kind of take it day by day. He’s a little bit more responsive today,” Patlogar said Tuesday afternoon. “The swelling is a bit better than it was yesterday, but he’s not out of the woods yet.”

A few bee stings are common each year, typically during the summer. Hundreds, if not thousands of stings, are rare, Patlogar said.

The severe reaction from the bee stings causes swelling, vomiting, weakness and seizures. Several hundred stingers have already been removed from Wolf’s tongue and many more are still coming out. The stings inside the mouth come from the dog biting at the bees, Patlogar said.

He’s expected to stay at least several more days.

A family friend set up a GoFundMe page at www.gofundme.com/umphenours to help cover the veterinary costs, which are expected run about $6,000.

“We’re trying to keep our dog alive, that’s where all of the money is going,” Umphenour said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jason HenryReach the author at jason.henry@sgvn.com or follow Jason on Twitter:@JasonMHenry.

Showdown in San Jose Hills: Mt. SAC vs. Walnut

In an unusual move, the City Council will reconvene its official meeting tonight (Wednesday, Nov. 12, 5 p.m. at Walnut City Hall, then 6-6:30  p.m. at Mt. SAC’s Founder’s Hall ) from Walnut City Hall to Mt. SAC’s Founder’s Hall across town. And the Council will do so during the Mt. SAC trustees board meeting.

After officially notifying the public of the venue change both in writing and orally, the city clerk will gather the City Council inside the lobby and call the roll around 6 p.m., officially reopening the city council meeting so that the five elected officials can march into the trustees’ board room.

The council wants to explain to the full board why the college should suspend plans for a five-story garage next to homes in the Timberline neighborhood.

“It is like a showdown between the city of Walnut and Mt. SAC,” said Layla Abou-Taleb, a Timberline resident and part of a group fighting the 2,200-space garage for fear it will bring more traffic, noise and air pollution to their neighborhood and the city in general.

The Walnut City Council is not on the Mt. SAC board agenda and therefore, not officially recognized, according to documents. Instead, like ordinary Walnut residents, each member must express his or her concerns about the parking garage during the Oral Communications portion of the meeting, explained City Manager Rob Wishner.

The holding of a city council meeting inside Mt. SAC is extremely unusual, Wishner said. “It is probably a first,” he said, adding he’d never seen such an action during his time as city manager.

The unusual arrangement came about because Mt. SAC has refused the City Council’s request to hold a joint Walnut-Mt. SAC board meeting on the parking garage. “We’ve requested a joint meeting with the Board of Trustees but to no avail,” Wishner said.

Instead, Mayor Nancy Tragarz and Councilman Bob Pacheco did have one meeting with Mt. SAC trustees Judy Chen Haggerty and Fred Chyr. The meeting included Wishner and Mt. SAC President Bill Scroggins. But the City Council wanted to meet with the trustees as a whole, according to a letter sent by the city to the college in late August, when the City Council passed a resolution opposing the structure.

“This is sort of a slap in the face of Mt. SAC,” said Abou-Taleb. “They’re saying if you won’t come and sit with us, we’ll come anyway.”

Mt. SAC board members have repeatedly declined to answer questions about Walnut’s opposition.

Opposition to the $45 million parking garage began publicly in April when Timberline residents protested the structure, which is to be built on the northwest edge of the 420-acre campus along Mountaineer Way. Mt. SAC officials said they agreed to build part of the garage underground to preserve views of nearby homes.

Later, residents and the City Council demanded the college build the structure on a part of the campus not adjacent to homes, such as the south side near the athletic fields. But Scroggins said the college wants to locate the garage near the new classroom buildings, bookstore and cafeteria, so students would use it.

The city is questioning the authority of the college to act without its approval, even though community colleges answer to the state, not local authorities. Wishner said the city has learned the college has not adopted an exemption to local zoning rules as required.

Residents and the city are also questioning whether the college notified voters of the project during the campaign for Measure RR, a $353-million bond measure approved by voters in 2008. Scroggins said the parking project was included in materials handed out to residents explaining Measure RR.

“We believe the bond documents did not clearly indicate a parking structure,” Wishner said.

Walnut’s city attorney has sent a letter to the college, citing a case in which a group from San Diego sued the school district for using bond funds to erect lights at a high school stadium. The Taxpayers for Accountable School Bond Spending initially lost in Superior Court, but the ruling was overturned in their favor by the Court of Appeals earlier this year.

Wishner said the San Diego case will be part of the information presented by the City Council to the Mt. SAC board tonight.

One year since closure, Puente Hills Landfill gets ready to become a park

A five-foot layer of dirt covers the top of the Puente Hills Landfill in Whittier a year after its closure on Wednesday October 29, 2014. The Sanitation Districts are working with LA County Parks and Recreation to make it into a regional park. (Photo by Keith Durflinger/San Gabriel Valley Tribune) 

More than a year later, the Puente Hills Landfill near Hacienda Heights is as quiet as the cemetery next door, signaling a significant if unnoticed twist in the management of household trash.

The activity — garbage trucks crammed with commingled waste and smaller trucks bursting with pure recyclables or yard waste — has shifted to material recovery facilities (MRFs) that are popping up all over Southern California, while some still goes to traditional landfills.

About half the 7,500 tons per day of household waste that filled the nation’s largest landfill in 2013 now enters the Puente Hills Material Recovery Facility located in the shadow of the 40-story high rubbish site towering above the Pomona Freeway. The other half gets buried in landfills — not in Los Angeles County — but in Orange and San Bernardino counties, said Chuck Boehmke, Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts Solid Waste Department head.

While not at the “zero waste” ideal urged by environmental groups, the county on Oct. 21 set a goal of diverting 80 percent of waste from unincorporated communities away from landfills by 2025 — equivalent to throwing out three pounds per person per day.

To get the county to its goal, help has arrived from private industry who see dollars in every trash truck load.

For example, Athens Services, based in Industry, expanded its MRF on Valley Boulevard in 2007 to accept more commingled waste. In fact, Athens opened a brand new $50 million facility in mid-October in the northeast San Fernando Valley — a state-of-the-art household waste-sorting plant, according to trade websites. Waste Management Inc., which has seen profits exceed expectation for six consecutive quarters, recently built a large recycling plant in Azusa at Gladstone and Irwindale avenues.

The connection between the closing of landfills and the opening of material recovery facilities is clear. It is out with the old and in with the new, explained Gary Clifford, executive vice president of Athens Services.

Athens has been busy usurping government’s role. Its Sun Valley plant can process more than 330,000 tons of mixed waste every year and will help the city of Los Angeles meet a goal of zero waste into landfills by 2025. The Industry plant can process between 1.5 million and 1.8 million tons of waste a year.

The waste company is expanding operations, with plans in the works to build another mixed-waste processing plant in Irwindale, Clifford said.

Since Puente Hills Landfill closed, Athens saw an increase at its facilities, he said. While landfills still play a role, many more are being run by private companies. Residual waste that can’t be sold to overseas markets as recyclables gets shipped to landfills operated by Athens in Rialto, Victorville and Redlands, he said.

Waste Management, which posted a $270 million profit in the third quarter on Oct. 29, dumps Los Angeles County trash at its El Sobrante Landfill in Corona, in Riverside County.

Nonrecyclable waste that once ended up in Puente Hills Landfill gets taken to landfills in Irvine and Brea, Boehmke said. The Sanitation Districts operate Scholl Canyon Landfill in Glendale which serves that city, as well as the communities of Pasadena, South Pasadena, San Marino, Sierra Madre, La Crescenta, Altadena and La Cañada-Flintridge; and a landfill in Calabasas that serves Los Angeles and parts of Ventura County, Boehmke said.

The Sanitation Districts have a contract with Orange County that continues through June 2016. Boehmke hopes OC will extend that contract. The two sides are in discussions but he would not elaborate on the progress.

Meanwhile, as private trash companies take larger portions of the trash pile, that may raise household trash rates in the future, Clifford said.

“Processing (of garbage) costs more money than source separating but the increase is nominal,” he said.

Athens was the first in the county to operate a mixed-waste plant. Its business model allows residents to throw all waste into one bin except for yard trimmings which are placed in a separate bin. The sorting of valuable recyclables is done by workers picking through garbage as it travels down a conveyor belt inside odor-controled buildings — not inside one’s kitchen.

While it may raise costs, material recovery facilities are more efficient and greener than pre-sorting, he said, because they divert more waste away from landfills which emit methane, a greenhouse gas. For example, since converting Bell Gardens to mixed-waste sorting, the city has increased its landfill diversion rates to more than 50 percent, he said.

Recyclables from various material-recovery plants are usually sent to the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles and sold to overseas manufacturers, Boehmke said. Even fabric, such as an old flannel shirt, gets separated from mixed-waste bins and re-used by garment makers, Clifford said.

“In the future, landfills will have less and less tonnage. There will be more alternatives to landfills,” Clifford said. His company is working on anaerobic digestion of “wet waste” that can turn turbines and make power, he said. Future technologies also include extracting methane from waste to power automobiles or electric power plants.

At Puente Hills, methane heats water that makes steam and turns turbines that generate 50 megawatts of power, enough to light 70,000 homes. Boehmke figures the methane will run out in about 15 years.

What will happen to the 630-acre former operating landfill that sits on 1,365 acres? Most will be turned into a park, Boehmke said.

The Sanitation Districts have placed 1 million cubic yards of dirt five-feet deep in the former landfill zone since last Nov. 1, he said. The final cover is 95 percent complete and should be finished by the end of November, Boehmke said. “Then we will be planting, seeding and putting in the final irrigation system so we don’t get erosion,” he said.

The county Department of Parks and Recreation is working on a master plan for a new regional park that will connect with 25 miles of trails. The Sanitation District will give the county department $814,000 for that effort which goes before the Board of Supervisors Nov. 12, said Norma E, Garcia, the department’s director of planning and development.

“To have 1,200 acres coming into the public domain for a park is really exciting,” Garcia said.

 

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.