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.

Would you take $484,000 in unused leave time given the opportunity?

Glendora Mayor Ken Herman made an interesting appeal to the audience at Tuesday’s council meeting in defending City Manager Chris Jeffers’ 2007 cash out of $484,000 of unused leave time when he left the same post in Monterey Park.

Herman was critical of the tone of the debate (and, I assume, the reporting of said actions) that Jeffers had done something wrong (he said something about extorting, which has never been said in this paper). In addition, Herman has often defended Jeffers actions by saying he benefited from policy not created by him.

At the same time, he often doesn’t talk about the fact that Jeffers negotiated and helped write his contract that allowed him to acrrue vacation time at a rate of one day off every week during his final year of employment, according to documents and officials.

In Jeffers defense, Herman said Tuesday that “there is nobody in this room that wouldn’t have done the same thing. He took what was rightfully his.”

It isn’t an uncommon argument to make when someone is either defending an action taken by themselves or someone else. Appeal to people’s emotions and have them reevaluate themselves. If I would have done it, one might think, I shouldn’t judge someone who did.

I don’t think the objection by most people is that Jeffers did something illegal (some might, and there have been allusions to Bell. I will leave that to others to justify those positions), but I think the major complaint comes in the form of distrust in those stewards of the community whom we have bestowed the responsibility of leading our cities and overseeing our bank accounts.

Did Jeffers earn (by not taking it) many days of vacation over his years of employment and merely followed city policy in cashing out those left over days? Yes. Should he be exonerated because he was, in a sense, just following the rules?

The problem is, I suspect, from the community is that when there is a public in place that clearly abuses public funds, they expect those at the top to correct it, not take advantage of it. Jeffers, as the city manager, and the council members above him, are – in the eyes of the public – there to make sure such policies don’t exist, and if they do, find them and correct them. Jeffers didn’t do that in Monterey Park (while, some argue, he did correct that policy in Glendora) and that is where the distrust is found.

With that said, I think Herman has a point. We live in a society where money is good, making a living is great, and being rich is admired. Everyone hopes to make more money.

If you had the opportunity to cash your vacation time at work and you accrued a month or more of that time a year, would you have done the same?

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

A city manager’s worth: Glendora considers new contract for Chris Jeffers amid criticism

Posted this online earlier:

GLENDORA – On the eve of consideration of a new long-term contract with their city manager, a new survey of employees calls into question the leadership abilities of Glendora’s top administrator.

The City Council will consider a new four-and-a-half-year contract tonight for City Manager Chris Jeffers. The city manager, who makes about $202,000 in base annual salary, has worked for the city since 2007.

Also on tonight’s agenda is a survey of city employees that showed an overall satisfaction rate of 73.2 percent, but many of the comments submitted by workers were critical of Jeffers.

“He has been publicly outed on more than once occasion and yet he continues to have a job,” wrote one commenter. “Will all employees be forgiven for lying should they too be found out?”

More than 40 comments were critical of Jeffers directly or cited problems with the city’s leadership. There were 313 comments total on six questions. The survey was compiled through responses from 136 employees out of 206 that were asked to respond.

Jeffers could not be reached for comment.

“We are pleased that employees are satisfied with their jobs and believe they are an important part of our service delivery,” said Mayor Ken Herman in a written statement. “In these tough financial times and with the city’s recent pension reform and benefit reductions, we expected that we would receive some sharp complaints. Overall
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the results show the satisfaction to be on par with what other agencies that perform these obtain.”

City administrators and general employees have been battling in recent months after contentious negotiations with the general employees association.

The city was asking the association to take less benefits, while also shifting policy to have employees pay a full portion of their CalPERS pension benefit.

In the end, an impasse was declared and the council imposed new contract conditions on employees.

During the process, an attorney representing the association was critical of Jeffers and said he was dishonest. The attorney, Wendell Phillips, wasn’t surprised at the critical comments for Jeffers.

“I think (employees) love the city and I think they love the residents, but I think they are totally frustrated with the lack of leadership from the city manager,” Phillips said. “Here is a guy who regularly lies to his bosses and their response to him was to give him a multi-year deal with a $200,000 buy out. That is insanity.”

Jeffers has been strongly supported by members of the council, as well as those seeking election. Councilwoman Karen Davis defended the long-term contract as one that creates stability by keeping Jeffers in house for years to come.

In previous discussions, all seven candidates running for council in March said they support Jeffers as the city’s top executive.

Jeffers contract, as well as the employee survey, are on the agenda for tonight’s meeting at 7 p.m. at Glendora City Hall, 116 E. Foothill Blvd., Glendora.

Glendora candidates meet with Tribune editors

Remember that story the Chicago Tribune did about their editorial meeting with the candidates for Mayor where all the candidates ganged up on Rahm Emanuel and it was a pretty testy meeting?

Well, we had our Glendora candidates editorial board meeting (which I sat in on, but I am not part of the editorial board) and it was … not like that meeting at all. In fact, everyone was really nice to each other and Doug Tessitor kind of encapsulated the tone of the meeting in his comments.

“The exciting thing about this whole discussion … this is the first time one of these meetings that I have been excited about the people running for local government,” Tessitor said of his fellow competitors.

Most of Monday’s discussion with the board centered around pension reform, local development and leadership styles, not unlike the recent candidates forum.

All the candidates agreed on the idea that employees need to pay a full share of the CALPERS pension benefit. Currently, three employee groups pay a full share of the employee portion of the pension benefit with police union negotiations upcoming.

Any differences on the subject came in how the change should be implemented as most candidates favored a tiered system while a few said a full-switch was needed.

I will have more on those topics and more in a story this weekend.

Various candidates will be meeting with our editorial board for the next month, who will in turn endorse candidates for the March 8 election. I will have something on Azusa later this week.

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

New contract for Glendora’s chief cuts benefits

Went over the new contract for Glendora Police Chief Rob Castro who was approved by the council Tuesday.

Highlights include:

- No administrative leave time
- Base salary of roughly $180,000 a year
- Vacation capped at 200 hours, will accrue at the rate of 176 hours
- If he is terminated, will receive 6 months severance.
- Will pay full share of the employee portion of CALPERS.

Background: Former chief Montoya cashed out $80,000 in unused leave time when he retired in 2009. He credited the ability to use administrative leave in place of vacation in order to save it.

Full story in tomorrow’s paper.

Details hard to come by regarding Glendora retail development

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I tried to get the lowdown on the new Glendora Plaza development being built near the corner of Route 66 and Grand Avenue.

I called the project’s developer Georges Attar, and I got some basics. It is a 19,000 square foot development with a restaurant pad. He purchased the property a couple years back, but development was slowed by the economy.

I asked him about any concerns getting tenants in the building – after all, the Fresh and Easy anchored center just a couple blocks south remains mostly vacant – but he shook it off.

“It is a totally different location,” Attar said.

For any more details, he referred me to his partner Elie Attar.

I called Wednesday and left a message. I called today and spoke to a Frank. He said Elie was out and I should call back. I asked if he would be in today, and Frank’s response was a quick “I don’t know.” In the middle of asking when would be a better time to call back, Frank hung up.

I called back to ask when the best time to call back would be, but just after introducing myself again, Frank clamored, “He is not here right now,” before hanging up.

I thought about calling back a third time, but realized I would just look foolish when he hung up on me again. The lack of control in a phone call is infuriating at times.

Maybe we will get the details in the future, but for now it looks like a dead end.

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

Notes on the Glendora candidates forum

Last night was the Glendora council candidates forum where the seven contenders sparred (not really, more like, politely conveyed their views) over various city issues.

First and foremost, I must say that Ken Herman was a gracious moderator. Despite the questionable choice to choose a once candidate, incumbent Mayor to be the moderator that adds the opportunity for someone to cry foul over the forum’s fairness, it wasn’t an issue.

Herman read the questions, kept everyone within their allotted time, and commended the candidates as a group. He never singled out a candidate, interjected or gave his opinion.

Now for the highlights.

- In a forum where many of the candidates talked about leadership styles, the need to communicate better with residents and listen, incumbent councilman Doug Tessitor showed his experience.

For my two-cents, he had the money quote of the night – right or wrong. “Any decision you make has two sides. No matter what decision you make, it makes someone mad and someone happy. The person who is happy thinks you listened. The person who is mad thinks you didn’t listen.”

- Jason Nagy pulled a John Boehner, choking up during one bit.

OK, I feel genuinely bad for that joke. Nagy was clearly passionate last night and often spoke about his run being from his heart. No ill will intended.

- Cynthia Carrasco told me she is training for a bicycle marathon. So don’t be surprised if you see some bicyclists with some “Vote for Cynthia” jerseys.

- John Fields, while responding to a question about lawsuits from residents, said he felt some lawsuits were based on personal vendettas. He went onto say that some public records requests are also based on vendettas and he wondered if there was a way to filter such requests.

Short answer: No. Public records are just that. Public. Anyone person has a right to view them, vendetta or not.

- On the flip side, Fields promised to bring some flair and excitement to the council in the form of entertainment. This is actually a pretty good idea. Get people wondering what you might do if elected and maybe you get the curiosity vote. I can dig it.

- When asked the fully loaded question of what new state taxes the council candidates would support, the candidates had this shocking reply: None.

Who would have guessed? I am glad we got that question out of the way because otherwise who knows what could have happened.

- As a footnote, two candidates – Fields and Erica Landmann-Johnsey – graduated from Cal Poly Pomona representing the green and gold. Go Broncos! (If you haven’t figured it out, I am an alum)

- Landmann-Johnsey defended herself well with the forum’s most personal question regarding lawsuits against the city. Landmann-Johnsey was part of a group, Friends of Glendora, who filed a lawsuit against the city. In response, she said “”Lawsuits are sometimes necessary for people … who feel they are not being represented.”

- To the same question, Joe Santoro said “You’re really in jeopardy when someone wants to sue you.”

- Meg Whitman should have taken some lessons from Judy Nelson. Nelson, a business owner in Glendora, said she had not voted or paid attention to city politics for many years as she focused on her life. She owned it.

“I learned that is the wrong way to go,” she said.

Friendly reminder: Candidates Forum. Tonight. Glendora.

The seven candidates vying for a seat on the Glendora council will meet for a forum tonight.

All seven candidates have been confirmed to attend the event at 7 tonight at the Citrus Valley Association of Realtors Community Room, 504 E. Route 66, Glendora.

Incumbent Mayor Ken Herman – who is not seeking re-election – will moderate the forum.

The candidates will introduce themselves to the public at the event. Pre-determined questions will be asked of the candidates, who will be given a short time to speak on each issue.

The city election is scheduled for March 8. There are three open seats in Glendora with only one incumbent seeking re-election.

Is having Mayor Ken Herman be the moderator for the Glendora council forum a conflict of interest?

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Was just informed today by those running the Glendora candidates forum next week that incumbent Mayor Ken Herman – who announced he would not seek reelection this spring – will moderate the Glendora council forum.

This raises a number of alarming questions that don’t seem to do any favors for the public.

I have no problem with Herman as a person and he has always been willing to talk about any issue regarding the city when I call. He has never hidden from an issue when I asked and even when the topics haven’t been positive for the city, he remained professional.

But having an incumbent councilman moderator a candidate forum may allow for some to question the political fairness, objectivity and neutrality of the role.

There are some serious questions that can be posed regarding actions of the current council and their impact on the city: i.e. Monrovia Nursery, City Manager Chris Jeffers, administrative contracts/benefits, union negotiations, and more.

Will Herman be willing to bring up issues that may be critical of some of his own decisions?

The conflict isn’t as clear since the majority of the candidates are newcomers with only one incumbent seeking reelection. But the one incumbent happens to be the only other councilman with a tenure close to as long as Herman’s. In fact, Doug Tessitor was part of the group that helped recall the majority of the council back in 2002, with Tessitor functioning as the spokesperson for the group that featured Herman, former councilmen Gary Clifford and Cliff Hamlow. Tessitor won election to the council the next year.

These guys are buddies. I can’t imagine none of the other candidates objecting because of that clear conflict.

Speaking off that, one of the candidates, Erica Landmann-Johnsey is well known by the council, and those who regularly attend council meetings, as being part of a group of citizens that regularly speak at meetings and often chastise the council.

In fact, Herman and Johnsey have had public disagreements that resulted in the two verbally sparring across the council chambers during a meeting. Now Herman will be moderating the first candidate forum for this election where Johnsey is running for his (and/or Terry Kent’s) open seat.

Herman has never been one to hold his tongue. At a council meeting, if a speaker is aggressive, insulting or highly critical, he won’t shy away from rebuttal, as he has demonstrated in the past.

If Johnsey, or another candidate, opines with a critical opinion of the current council – or even Herman – will Herman reserve his comments or will we have an additional debater in our moderator?

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