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 theĀ 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.

Months after El Monte Union bond mismanagement accusations, many are still not speaking out

It’s been about three months since I returned to the good old San Gabriel Valley Tribune and since that time I’ve been following this very intriguing and very secretive agreement that keeps anyone in the El Monte Union High School District from talking about what really happened between the district and its former bond management company APM.

I’ve attended one Board of Trustees meeting, flipped through a couple of months worth of minutes and spoken to community members and have found very little evidence that the public is pursuing the whole issue.

A little background:

- After an internal audit, district officials in August cut ties with APM, which it accused of misusing money from the district’s $148 million Bond Measure D, passed by voters in 2008.
- In October, Superintendent Nick Salerno retracted those statements, citing a new settlement agreement with APM.
- Terms of the settlement kept APM and EMUHSD from elaborating on issues between the two entities. Further, EMUHSD paid APM $150,000 in back invoices and APM’s contract was not re-instated.
- EMUHSD since hired Industry-based Del Terra, which works with several surrounding school districts.

Now as I continue to follow up on the issue, even bond oversight members, who are charged with the task of ensuring taxpayer money is properly spent, are uninformed of what exactly happened in those few months.

Mike Felix, a former district employee and member of the district’s Citizens Oversight Committee, is one of few speaking up about the issue, although he knows very little about what went on.

“I really wasn’t comfortable with this whole thing. It’s shrouded in mystery,” he said, adding that he has asked district officials what exactly the accusations were, how much money was involved and which employees were placed on leave as the district continues to investigate their possible involvement in the whole alleged scheme.

When it comes to others in the community, he said they don’t want to get involved.

“I think a lot of people are apathetic and a lot of people who work here or are associated here are afraid to rock the boat. I also think there’s that group of people who hope that it will just go away. I’m none of the above. I want to know what’s going on. Sometimes I feel like I’m the black sheep.”

Board member Carlos Salcedo said that the settlement agreement keeps him and other district officials from elaborating.

“We agreed to that. It was mutual and there’s certainly things that we can’t share,” he said about the agreement.

A new year means a new round of weekend recap

Another long weekend has passed us by and in its wake we are left with a new year, the knowledge that we are back to those grueling five day schedules, and that you probably spent most of the weekend hungover and therefore didn’t want to stare at a computer screen reading stores.

With that knowledge, I offer you a recap of what you missed.

While war rages for U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan and plagues them after their return home, the men and women who served feel the rest of the country has lost interest.

On a recent Saturday night, while cruising the city in his patrol car, El Monte police Lt. Chuck Carlson said he hasn’t noticed an increase in crime or gang activity because of the decrease in proactive policing. Nor has the recession – which is largely to blame for El Monte’s city budget woes – sparked an increase in crime, as hard economic times often do.

While it’s not uncommon for a Little League team or a service club to partner with a restaurant to raise money, politicians in Azusa are pioneering a new use for the practice.

Email: daniel.tedford@sgvn.com | Twitter: @dgtedford @sgvtribune | Facebook: SGVTribune

Covina = Rounders?

Police, in an undercover venture, arrested eight people in Covina Tuesday night for illegal poker games.

This doesn’t appear to just be some friendly mates deciding to sit down for a game of hold ‘em at $10 a piece. It was in a bar, The Well, and there were multiple tables.

I wonder how long the police “played along” before locking their opponents up?

Scene*
Dealer: “That ends the betting. Show ‘em what you got.”
Cop: “I have three kings. Read ‘em and weep.”
Opposing player: “Check that. I have a flush.”
Cop: (Drops badge on the table over the poker chips) “Can you beat that?”

*The depicted scene is a fictional scenario and does not represent any actual events or persons. Please don’t give me any parking tickets.

Anyway, this isn’t the first time The Well bar in Covina has made it into the news. It was also reported to be one of the Covina bars that Andrew Gallo, the man suspected of murder in the car crash death of Angels pitcher Nick Adenhart, Diamond Bar resident Courtney Stewart, and Henry Pearson, was drinking at prior to the Fullerton crash..

Email: daniel.tedford@sgvn.com | Twitter: @dgtedford @sgvtribune | Facebook: SGVTribune

Two-year degree can get $79,000 salary in El Monte

El Monte is hiring. And apparently a higher education doesn’t mean a higher salary.

The city is hiring a city council liaison, who will largely do public relations for the city. The post requires an AA Degree or 60 units from an accredited college and pays a monthly salary of $5,437 to $6,609, meaning $65,244 to $79,308 a year.

There is one caveat – applicants will be required to obtain a bachelor’s degree “within a reasonable amount of time.”

For those who are not interested going that extra step, the city is also hiring a volunteer coordinator who only needs the AA degree for a monthly salary of $3,888 to $4,666, or $46,656 to $55,992 a year.

Meanwhile, a masters degree is needed for the post of program specialist II, who will coordinate senior services in the city. The salary for that post is a mere $4,336 to $5,271 a month, or up to $63,252 a year. That’s less than the lowest end of the city council liaison.

In case you’re interested in employment, you can find more details at:

http://www.ci.el-monte.ca.us/citygov/humanres/hrmain.html

Union-backed candidates lead in El Monte

Again from reporter Rebecca Kimitch, but this time early El Monte elections:

EL MONTE — In early voting results Tuesday night, three incumbents appeared to be headed for defeat in the races of El Monte mayor and two open City Council seats.

Voters instead favored union-backed candidates Andre Quintero, 34, for mayor and Norma Macias, 38, for City Council.

Quintero had a significant lead over incumbent mayor Mayor Ernie Gutierrez.

“If these results hold, the community is definitely looking for new leadership,” Quintero said.

Quintero is a deputy city attorney in Los Angeles and a former Rio Hondo Community College District trustee.

In the City Council race, Macias, an architect who oversees infrastructure projects in South El Monte, and Kien Lam, 30, an information security specialist for a biomedical company, held the number one and two spots.

They were followed by Planning Commissioner Richard Garner, 60, a 32-year city employee; incumbents Juventino “J” Gomez and Art Barrios; and finally Angel Ralph Nunez, 57, a 20-year city employee.

Mussenden arrest fallout continues

With a prostitution arrest looming over his head, I guess Jim Mussenden, or at least some of the people around him, don’t think its the best idea he remain a Boy Scout commissioner.

Mussenden was commissioner of the Trails of the Valley District of the San Gabriel Valley Council of the Boy Scouts of America. Officials said Monday he stepped down, “effective immediately.”

This news comes just days after Mussenden resigned as the El Monte city manager following his Thursday night arrest during a prostitution sting operation in Pomona.

I wonder what he’ll be doing about his positions with the Boys and Girls Clubs and El Monte Kiwanis.

So long, Mussenden

El Monte City Manager Jim Mussenden tendered his letter of resignation Saturday following his arrest during a prostitution sting in Pomona last week.

His decision to step down was announced following an emergency closed-session meeting of the City Council this morning. The council was slated to consider his discipline/dismissal.

Mussenden, 59, was arrested Thursday night on suspicion of soliciting to engage in prostituting during a six-hour undercover sting operation by Pomona Police Department’s Vice Unit.

He was one of 30 people picked up in the bust, and was cited and released following the arrest.

Mussenden was not present during Saturday’s meeting. He’s declined to comment and we’ve yet to hear from his attorney, Ira Seltzer.

His resignation was dated effective the day of his arrest.

Here are some parting words from the council:

“It was better that he did (resign),” said Councilman Juventino “J” Gomez. “I could not tolerate that from our city manager, any city manager. He’s performed very well … worked diligently. But the city has to come first.”

“I think it was the best thing he did for himself,” said Councilwoman Emily Ishigaki of the resignation. “Jim’s already apologized to us. He’s very remorseful.”

Deputy City Manager for Community Development Rene Bobadilla has been appointed interim city manager, effective immediately. He’ll be on the job for 90 days.

A permanent replacement will be selected by the council after the Nov. 3 election, officials said.

El Monte city manager could be axed over arrest

Jim Mussenden’s Thursday night arrest for allegedly trying to pick up a prostitute doesn’t seem to be sitting well with those in City Hall and the El Monte Police Department.

The City Council is holding a special meeting Saturday at 12:30 at City Hall to discuss:

PERFORMANCE EVALUATION AND CONSIDERATION OF EMPLOYEE DISCIPLINE/DISMISSAL/RELEASE
Consideration in closed session of performance evaluation of City Manager James W. Mussenden and consideration of employee discipline/dismissal/release

Afterward, they’ll be discussing:

CONSIDERATION OF APPOINTMENT OF CITY MANAGER

Looks like officials are wasting no time separating themselves from this. Even El Monte Police Chief Tom Armstrong had something to say about the whole matter:

“It is my expectation that it will be dealt with swiftly and immediately. I don’t speak on behalf of the City Council, but I fully expect them to take action as swiftly as possible. I don’t think they will find this tolerable,” Armstrong said.

El Monte city manager busted in hooker ring

El Monte’s top executive is in some serious legal trouble this morning after getting busted in a prostitution ring in Pomona last night.

Jim Mussenden
, 59, is one of 30 people who were arrested by Pomona Police Department’s Vice Unit during an undercover sting operation. He was arrested on suspicion of soliciting to engage in prostitution.

Reporter Rebecca Kimitch called Mussenden this morning to give him a chance to comment on the arrest. He declined.

She’s making her rounds calling the rest of the council now.

This on the heels of a sexual harassment lawsuit that’s been filed against the El Monte Police Department by a female police officer who claims she was harassed by her sergeant. We got wind of that this morning.

Looks like its going to be a tough next couple of days for El Monte.