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.

Azusa, Irwindale city manager spill few secrets over trash fight

As you might already know, Azusa and Irwindale have been locked in an epic battle over trash-recycling facilities. Titans of trash Waste Management and Athens Services each want a material-recycling facility – Athens in Irwindale and Waste Management in Azusa. As is apt to happen whenever you add garbage to the mix, things have gotten messy.

Irwindale has been holding up Azusa’s project with legal maneuvers. Azusa responded by making tons of public records requests from Irwindale.

Things have been pretty quiet though lately. The last big article we had about the situation was written in August by reporter-turned-online editor Daniel Tedford.

Yesterday, I was getting a little nervous that I might miss some important development if I’m not paying attention, so I called both city halls for an update.

John Davidson, Irwindale city manager, wasn’t giving out any specifics, but he seemed to suggest that the cities aren’t getting any closer to cooperating. His suggestion to me was to keep an eye on Irwindale’s close session agendas.

James Makshanoff, Azusa city manager, didn’t have much to report, either. He also said Azusa and Duarte aren’t really getting anywhere in their dispute over the Vulcan rock mining proposal.

Neither James nor John were in charge of their respective cities when all this mess started. John was running South Pasadena. James was Azusa’s assistant city manager. I wonder how they feel about being thrust into this battle. It might make an interesting topic for a future article.

P.S. James, who is normally a pretty stoic character, actually seemed really excited that Azusa is going to swear in Capt. Sam Gonzalez as its new police chief on Tuesday.

“We’re ready to rock and roll!” he said. Unbridled enthusiasm? Almost …

Rooster sauce gets a cookbook

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Huy Fong Foods Inc., which is moving to a new location in Irwindale not far from the Tribune offices, is famous for its “Rooster Sauce” the common name for the company’s Sriracha Hot Chile Sauce.

Well, if you are a fan, there is now a cookbook centered around using the ingredient in various recipes. If you love rooster sauce, but haven’t been brave enough to try it in your every day cooking, this is your chance.

Personally I am a Tabasco sauce kind of guy. As for most of my friends, they love them some Tapatio Hot Sauce, but Sriracha has some major fans in the newsroom.

Email: | Twitter: @dgtedford @sgvtribune | Facebook: SGVTribune

Baldwin Park mayor vows to stop Irwindale “pollution factory”

Irwindale is drafting a new Environmental Impact Report for a material recovery facility planned for a site on the city’s border, but Baldwin Park officials are adamantly opposed to the project, they said.

“We’re going to do whatever we can both at our level, the state level and the federal level to prevent this pollution factory from being built adjacent to to Baldwin Park,” Baldwin Park Mayor Manuel Lozano said. “Irwindale has plenty of spaces in their area and they should consider that.”

A draft EIR for the project was completed in 2009, but a consultant hired by Baldwin Park to review the document said the report was inadequate and should be rewritten and redistributed.

“We’re in the process of drafting and recirculating the EIR, addressing the concerns of the stakeholders in the area,” said Irwindale Interim City Manager Sol Benudiz. “We want to make sure it’s as comprehensive as humanly possible.”

Trash hauler Athens Services would use the 17-acre site at Live Oak Avenue and Arrow Highway in Irwindale to sort recyclables from garbage before sending the remaining trash to a landfill.

Baldwin Park officials are concerned about the environmental implications, including air quality issues, that the facility may present for its residents.

Bernudiz was unsure about when the EIR would be completed, he said.

(Via reporter Maritza Velazquez)

Irwindale reports own election results

From reporter Rebecca Kimitch about the Irwindale City Council race:
(As a side note, Irwindale was the only San Gabriel Valley area city that did not turn over its election to the county)

In Irwindale, the city’s voters put Council members H. Manuel Ortiz and David “Chico” Fuentes ahead for two open seats on the council, with all but a handful of ballots counted, according to unofficial results.

Ortiz and Fuentes were followed by Raul Anthony Hernandez, Darlene Osmonson, and Patricia “Patsy”Gonzales.

“All the hard work paid off,” Ortiz said.

The winners will be responsible for selecting a new city manager and police chief. City Manager Robert Griego and Police Chief Sol Benudiz both announced they will retire at the end of the year.

They will also face challenges regarding city finances.

“The economy has hit our city, so we just to continue working hard to bring our city back to the way it was. Residents will see changes coming,” Ortiz said.

The two measures on the ballot – Measure T, a transient occupancy tax and Measure U, a utility users tax – are also headed to victory.

Another one bites the dust


Looks like Irwindale is losing two city executives to retirement.

Along with City Manager Robert Griego, Police Chief Sol Benudiz is also retiring.

Benudiz’s last day is Dec. 31, after which he will continue on as an interim chief until the city can find his permanent replacement.

It will be three years in September since Benudiz took the role of heading up the department.

He said his decision to leave has nothing to do with officials’ recent interest in the Sheriff’s Department for law enforcement services.

“This entire experience has been very, very good,” Benudiz said. “I’m very happy that I came here.”

Benudiz said he does not have another job lined up, but is looking forward to opportunities in government or in the private sector in the future.

“I have relatively young children and I’m relatively young and I don’t own an RV,” he said. “The traditional retirement model of jumping in an RV and traveling doesn’t really apply.”


Irwindale city manager on the outs

Almost a year ago to the day, Irwindale City Manager Robert Griego confirmed he could be leaving his job to take a city administrator position in Woodburn, Ore.

But Griego never left.

Now, city officials say he’s retiring. And the City Council is hosting a closed session meeting Monday at Irwindale City Hall, to discuss “public employee appointment … Title: City Manager.”

Council members are being pretty tight-lipped about the whole thing, saying they are not at liberty to discuss the matter because it is a closed session item.

But Mayor Larry Burrola did say this was not something he anticipated. He said he would be able to comment more freely after Monday’s meeting.

“We are going to have to discuss some issues … Obviously (Griego) wants to retire and he’s at that age to retire. We’re not in the position to fire him.”

Burrola would not elaborate further.

Irwindale Chamber heading to Egypt

The Irwindale Chamber of Commerce is going to take a trip to Egypt, and what’s you to join it. I called the Chamber to get more info, but the office is closed today.

I’m not sure what the details are…like cost and why and who this is open to and whether any tax dollars are involved, but here is the press release:

– The Irwindale Chamber of Commerce invites you to travel with the chamber to Egypt, departing March 5-13, 2010. Cruise the Nile on traditional feluccas, discover unforgettable attractions like the Pyramids and bustling Cairo, the chaotic bazaars and the fascinating Nile-side towns.

Indus Travels will host a pre-tour presentation on Wednesday, June 17, from 5:30 – 7:30 PM at the Irwindale Community Center, located at 16102 Arrow Hwy, Irwindale. For more information please contact the Irwindale Chamber of Commerce at (626) 960-6606.

Irwindale Police Union: Their side

Irwindale Police Officer and Union President John Fraijo could not be reached by press time when the story about the budget deficit in Irwindale ran over the weekend.

Police officers refused to forgo their 4 percent salary increase, as outlined in their contract that expires next year. the city asked all employees to forgo their cost of living adjustment this year in light of a projected deficit.

When I spoke to Fraijo today, here is what he had to say about the recent article, reaction and negotiations with the city and the 34-member police union:

“Unfortunately, the article has unfairly damaged the reputation of our members. The article makes it sound like we are the reason the city is in a deficit, when in fact our cost of living adjustment, the 4 percent, is only equally to $160,000, and the city’s proposed budget has a $1.6 million deficit built in it.

Our 4 percent is equal to $160,000, and the city’s proposed budget is $1.6 million — which is 10 percent.

We are not demanding a raise, we are only going forward with terms of 2 year contract that the city mutually agreed to only a year ago. The 4 percent cost of living adjustment was a concession on our part even after the last salary survey completed showed our salary ranking was eight of the ten local surveyed cities. Our members are not being greedy; we sat down with department administrators and city officials approximately three months ago, when they said the city’s projected deficit continued to rise to over $1 million because of mismanagement.

We sat down about three months ago when city’s deficit was projected to rise. At the time, they asked us to work with them, change the schedule, and agree to a change in our contract that would lower the amount of officers assigned to a shift.

This was not an agreement to cut back on overtime, and instead of the city acknowledging our contributions toward lower costs, they publicly stated that they could have imposed the changes even if we didn’t agree to it.

Although the city manager pointed out the cost of services are rising in the article, he also publicly, in front of council, advised the council against the change to Sheriff’s. I can assure you that my members are completely committed toward providing a quality service to both residents and members of our business community.

Obviously, the budget deficit was not created by one department in particular.”

Irwindale police demand raise, council members hold on to health benefits

It looks like Irwindale city employees with be foregoing their 4 percent cost of living increases as part of a proposed 2009-10 budget proposal. Well, not all of the employees – the police officers are still demanding their raise.

In response, the City Council on Wednesday with a 3-2 vote called for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department to prepare an estimate of the proposed cost savings if the city of Irwindale got rid of its police department and instead contracted with the sheriff’s department.

Another budget cut that finance administrators recommended were that planning commissioners and city council members ditch their health benefits, which would result in a cost savings of more than $200,000. Council members expressed hesitation on that one, and will decide at a future meeting whether they want to sacrifice their health benefits to save the city money.