El Monte Transit Village in more trouble

For many, a massive, billion-dollar development plan for the El Monte Transit Village was always a little bit far-fetched.

But ever since the president of the development company pegged to build the center was arrested on fraud allegations, the proposal has been lost on a growing number of people.

Just last week, city officials considered canning $2.5 million in federal dollars for a green building within the village, because the fraud investigation made it difficult for developers to meet certain conditions, according to reporter Rebecca Kimitch.

That’s in addition to $40 million in state grants that have already been lost as a result of Titan Development President John Leung’s June arrest.

El Monte police took Leung and another Titan executive into custody on suspicion of fraud, embezzlement, and theft. The pair were released and no charges have been filed against them, but the probe has been turned over to the District Attorney’s office.

The entire scandal is doing serious damage to the already shaky project.

Still, city officials are doing what they can to keep their dreams for a transit-oriented, destination spot — and the $2.5 million federal grants — alive.

“We can’t afford to lose what we have going,” Councilwoman Emily Ishigaki said.

El Monte race heats up

With the November elections coming up, you are going to be seeing a lot of coverage on this blog about who is running in your cities, how much they’ve raised and what their campaign platforms are.

Today, here’s a look at El Monte’s race, courtesy Rebecca Kimitch:

A dozen candidates are vying for five municipal posts up for election in November — mayor, treasurer, city clerk and two city council seats.

Council members Juventino “J” Gomez and Art Barrios, face four other candidates in their bids for reelection to their council seats.

They are:

Angel Ralph Nunez, a purchasing agent in the city’s finance department; planning commissioner Richard Garner; and 30-year-old information security specialist Kien Lam.
Garner, 60, worked for the city for 32 years in various posts, ending his career as environmental services manager.

Lam helps manage his family’s heating and air conditioning business, and works on information security for a biomedical company in Orange County.

The city council ballot will also include architect Norma Macias, who ran in 2007 and won 25 percent of the vote. Macias, 38, currently works overseeing infrastructure projects in South El Monte.

In the mayoral race, Ernie Gutierrez faces a challenger in Andre Quintero, a 34-year-old deputy city attorney for the city of Los Angeles and a Rio Hondo College board of trustees member.

The city’s treasurer and city clerk also faces challengers.

City clerk Lorene Gutierrez will face Bharat Patel, 42, a hotel owner and planning commissioner who has helped get city rules relaxed regarding how long guests can stay in local motels before they are considered residents.

City Treasurer Henry Velasco, who has held the post for 17 years, is being challenged by former El Monte Police Lt. Richard Thomas, 62.

Rio Hondo trustee to run for El Monte mayor

You’ll probably all be seeing a lot more of these kinds of posts with election season for local cities drawing close:

Rio Hondo College trustee Andre Quintero has announced he will not seek another four-year term this fall to the five-person governing board.

Instead, Quintero says, he will run for mayor of El Monte.


El Monte considers bankruptcy

Another blow to El Monte:

El Monte considers bankruptcy
By Rebecca Kimitch, Staff Writer
Posted: 06/29/2009 01:28:02 AM PDT

EL MONTE – The city council will consider Tuesday whether to initiate Chapter 9 bankruptcy proceedings for El Monte, according to the council’s agenda.

The council will consider a resolution that would authorize city staff “to commence all necessary preparations for the initiation of Chapter 9 Municipal Reorganization proceedings under 11 U.S.C. Section 901 et seq.”

The steps are necessary “to regain sustainable fiscal solvency” and “gain economic breathing space and to avoid magnifying additional legal liabilities,” according to the resolution.

El Monte has faced serious financial troubles since last year, when plunging sales tax revenues and rising employee benefit and retirement costs caused a budget deficit that hasn’t gone away since, despite layoffs and cutbacks.

Most recently, it faced a $12 million deficit for the fiscal year that starts Wednesday. To cut $10 million, the city manager laid off 100 employees and recommended other cutbacks, including the closure of one of the city’s four fire stations.

The council is expected to approve this staff-recommended budget Tuesday as well.

Despite these cutbacks, the city still faces a $2 million deficit. And a state takeaway of property tax and gas tax revenues – proposed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to address the state’s own budget crisis – would bump the deficit to $4 million, according to the resolution.

The resolution authorizes staff to prepare a “pendency plan” for Chapter 9 proceedings and retain special Chapter 9 legal counsel. It requires staff to report back to the city council with a plan of action within a week

El Monte developer arrested on felony counts

Talk about breaking news …

I just wrapped up this story running in tomorrow’s paper:

EL MONTE — Police arrested the developer of a proposed $1 billion transit-oriented project on suspicion of forgery and embezzlement, among other felony charges, authorities said Sunday.
El Monte police officers took John Leung, President and Chief Executive Officer of The Titan Group, into custody Friday evening. Leung is suspected of forgery, embezzlement, grand theft, burglary and fraud, Police Chief Tom Armstrong said.
Leung, 53, was being held at the Men’s Central Jail in Los Angeles on $1 million bond. Calls to Titan Group Sunday went unanswered.
The El Monte-based development company is in exclusive talks with the city to build the El Monte Transit Village — a 65-acre residential and commercial complex planned for Santa Anita Avenue off the 10 Freeway.
Armstrong said Sunday Leung’s case did not in any way involve the city.
“This investigation is ongoing and the victim is not the city of El Monte … but a private citizen,” he said. “That is where we are with it right now.”
Officials released few details Sunday about the case, but Armstrong said Leung is alleged to have stolen more than $1 million from the victim.
“If you look at the charges, basically they kind of tell you there was a forgery to obtain money that was not a property of Mr. Leung,” Armstrong said.
Armstrong would not comment on whether search warrants were served on Leung or the Titan Group.
He said the Police Department had been looking into the matter “for some time,” though he would not specify how long. Armstrong said the victim was referred to El Monte police by the FBI, but he said the bureau is not participating in the department’s case.
Officials with the FBI did not return calls seeking comment Sunday night.
“I do not feel (they are) involved in any way shape or form in our case,” Armstrong said.
Late Sunday, two El Monte police cars could be seen parked to the rear of the Titan Group offices, at 10501 Valley Blvd.
Doors to the building were locked, but the lights to several offices inside were on.
The arrest took some officials in City Hall by surprise.
“I am sincerely shocked,” Councilwoman Emily Ishigaki said. “To me John has been a real visionary. It’s just shocking.”
Ishigaki said it has yet to be seen how, or if, Leung’s arrest will affect the transit village project.
El Monte has been in exclusive talks with the Titan Group since 2007 on the transit village project.
Nearly $70 million in grants have already been awarded for renovations of the El Monte Transit Center, as well as the village portion of the project.
The City Council is expected to have a closed-session meeting about the matter on Tuesday, City Manager Jim Mussenden said.
“We’re looking at the managing partnership for the Titan Group to see exactly how they are going to move forward with this,” Mussenden said. “There are still other members of the management team.”
Ishigaki said city staff members had been working through the weekend to “keep things secured.”
“Obviously the city wants to protect its investment for the future development of the site,” Mussenden said. “If there’s an issue we are going to address it … I don’t want to sit here and say we are going to be working with another developer.”
Councilwoman Patricia Wallach declined to comment on the investigation Sunday. Mayor Ernie Gutierrez and council members Juventino “J” Gomez and Art Barrios did not return calls seeking comment.
Officials expect to send their case against Leung to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office this week.
Records show Leung is due in Rio Hondo Municipal Court in El Monte on Tuesday.
Armstrong said Leung’s bail was originally set at $20,000. But investigators sought a bail enhancement because Leung is considered a flight risk.
“I frankly am not sure if he is still a citizen of China or not, but certainly he travels frequently and my understanding is (the enhancement is) due to being a flight risk,” Armstrong said.

El Monte PIO position eliminated

El Monte city officials are eliminating 100 positions today, including that of Public Information Officer Matt Weintraub, reporter Rebecca Kimitch tells us.

The cuts, of course come in response to a massive $12 million budget deficit.

Kimitch, who attended a special meeting this morning about the layoffs, said Weintraub was sad about the news, but he plans to go on early retirement.

Meanwhile, others in City Hall will also be losing their jobs. Kimitch says staffing at all city parks will be cut to only one employee from three.

More to come in tomorrow’s paper.

‘We have a great Police Department’ El Monte Councilman says

Here’s what El Monte Council members are saying about the kicking cop issue, according to a story written by Tania Chatila.

El Monte City Councilwoman Emily Ishigaki said it was too early to comment on the investigation, but said Fierro was a “very talented officer.”

City Councilman Juventino “J” Gomez said he was worried about the bad press.

“We are always concerned when El Monte is in the headlines and it may not be favorable,” he said. “We have a great Police Department.”

Ishigaki said officers might be stressed from recent budget cuts that reduced their ranks.

State Sen. Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles, said stress is no excuse.

“If that were the case, we would allow every teacher, nurse, and firefighter in the state to suddenly abuse authority under the law,” said Romero, whose Senate district includes El Monte.

Force justified, Dammeier said

Dieter Dammeier, the attorney for the El Monte Police Union, among others, justifies kick.

Union attorney: El Monte officer’s force justified

The actions of an officer who kicked a man in the head following a high speed pursuit Wednesday were justified, according to the attorney representing the El Monte Police Officers Association.

Dieter Dammeier said Thursday the officer who approached Richard Rodriguez following the half-hour pursuit, was alone and fearful the suspect may have had a weapon.

“When you’re going to have to take a bad guy into custody physically, it is sometimes going to be aggressive and the cops are there to win,” Dammeier said.

The officer’s kick was what is called a “distraction blow,” Dammeier said, and is not designed to harm people.

“(The suspect) obviously hadn’t been searched yet,” Dammeier said. “The fear is this guy had weapons on him. Better safe than sorry.”

The name of the officer seen kicking Rodriguez once in the head on live video has not been released.

Dammeier said the union would file court orders if need be to ensure the officer’s name not be made public.

The El Monte Police Department has asked The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department to conduct an independent investigation into the incident. The officer who kicked the suspect has been re-assigned to desk duty.

Chavez won’t run; supports Cedillo

This just popped into my inbox:

Assemblymember Ed Chavez (ret.) announces he will not run for Congress and Endorses Gil Cedillo

El Monte, CA – Former Asseblymember Ed Chavez, who has represented parts of the San Gabriel Valley for over two decades in public office, has announced he will drop his bid for Congress and support Senator Gil Cedillo. In various offices over the years, Chavez has represented about 70% of the 32nd Congressional District. Most notably, Chavez served for six years in the California State Assembly and ten years on the La Puente City Council.

Chavez’s announcement makes him the third prominent elected official to announce they will not run for the 32nd Congressional District and instead back Gil Cedillo. Senator Gloria Romero and Senator Ron Calderon surprised many pundits in January when they both elected not to run for the vacated Congressional seat and threw their support behind Cedillo.

“After much consideration, I have decided not to run for Congress,” said Chavez. “Gil Cedillo understands the needs and priorities of this district and I think he is the clear frontrunner in the race for the 32nd District. We need Gil in Congress fighting for the San Gabriel Valley’s fair share and I am proud to be supporting him.”

Ed Chavez was born and raised in La Puente and still lives in the same home he grew up in. Chavez has spent most of his career as a teacher in the San Gabriel Valley. He was first elected to public office in 1987, earning a seat on the Board of Education for the Bassett Unified School District. In 1990, he ran for and won a seat on the La Puente City Council and he was subsequently re-elected to the Council in 1994 and 1999. From 2001 – 2007, Chavez represented the 57th district in the California State Assembly. Chavez currently serves as a member of the Upper San Gabriel Valley Municipal Water District Board.

California’s 32nd congressional seat was vacated after Congresswoman Hilda Solis was confirmed as the new Secretary of Labor. The Los Angeles County district encompasses a swath of the San Gabriel Valley from East Los Angeles to Covina. An election date for the special primary election to replace Congresswoman Solis has been set for May 19, 2009.

Registrar tells El Monte “no”

The parcel tax is off the table in El Monte, although not beause the council members had a change in heart: It’s because the Los Angeles County Registrar’s Office said that cities would no longer be allowed to submit consolidation requests for the May 19, 2009 ballot.

To read more, scroll down to page 90 of the staff report for tonight’s meeting.

The proposed parcel tax would have generated $2 million to pay for fire and paramedic services, according to the staff report:

The purpose of the parcel tax was to generate approximately $2 million in additional revenues to pay for fire and paramedic services contracted with the County of Los Angeles and to raise revenues sufficient to avert the planned closure of County Fire Station No. 167 located in the City of El Monte near the intersection of Bryant Road and Peck Road. County Fire Station No.167, whose operational costs are approximately $2 million per year, is home to the County’s only paramedic response unit in the City of El Monte. The closure of Station No. 167 will compel the relocation of the paramedic unit elsewhere within El Monte increased emergency response times for certain parts of the City.