A family business

Reporter Amanda Baumfeld wrote a very telling piece this weekend about the effects an exclusive trash contract with Athens Services in Montebello could mean for local independent trash haulers.

Apparently, the refuse business goes way back for many Montebello Armenian families:

The 15-year agreement, worth $7.8 million annually, grants Athens exclusive rights to all trash hauling in the city. It phases out contracts with the 13 independent haulers who currently collect trash in commercial areas.

The issue has divided many in the city with trash haulers fighting for a shot at bidding on the same contract that was granted to Athens.

The division stings because Athens’ owners, the Arakelian family, sprang from the same roots.

“This has turned out to be Athens verses these independent haulers,” said Musid Minasian, an Armenian resident. “None of these guys have disrespect towards Athens. Athens is trying to put themselves in front of the Armenian community and they are trying to take someone’s roots away from them.”

The Arakelians did not comment for this story.


The Armenian community’s strong ties to the trash industry began in the early 20th century.

For example, Denise Hagopian, owner of Heavenly Choices, recalled how her grandfather immigrated to Los Angeles in 1906. He worked as a laborer and eventually became a farmer raising hogs and chickens.

“The first rubbish was picking up leftover food from a restaurant to feed to the cattle,” said Hagopian. “They would pick up all the leftovers, that’s how rubbish hauling started.”

Then packaged food began appearing in the early 1940s along with paper plates, plastic silverware and that created more rubbish, said Hagopian.

“Already having a route picking up rubbish, they picked up the next things,” Hagopian said. “It was just a natural progression of business.”

Petrosian, of Commercial Waste Services, says his family businesses started with raising hogs. As a fourth generation resident, he has formed many relationships in the city.

“Our social circle is in Montebello; that’s our community,” Petrosian said. “Me and the rest of the haulers, we all have relatives here and central ties in the city.”

Jack Topalian of Nasa Services said he believes Montebello’s entire economy will suffer if the traditional trash haulers no longer did business in town.

“Just the local business that we do,” Topalian said. “We do a lot with local auto shops, the fuel we purchase; there would definitely be a major trickle down effect that would happen.”

Despite the recent debate, many in the Armenian community remain hopeful that they will be able to stay close to their Montebello roots.

“It’s the most precious thing to the Armenians to maintain their culture,” Hagopian said. “But if you don’t have business in the city you have to move and you lose those bonds that are hundreds of years old. What a terrible thing to lose.”

Urteaga’s felony record uncovered


Amanda Baumfeld hits a homerun in her story about Montebello Councilman Robert Urteaga’s criminal record. Baumfeld said that she had the information several weeks ago. Earlier this week, http://www.stopathens.com/ posted info about Urteaga’s record.

Urteaga was accused in 1999 of five counts of check forgery and one count grand theft.

In a July 1999 plea agreement between Urteaga and prosecutors, the forgery counts were dropped by the district attorney, according to court documents.

Urteaga, 33, is the youngest Montebello councilman to be elected in the city’s history.

As a side note, any member of the public can find out whether anyone has a criminal record. But where to look and how much to pay sometimes discourage people, including reporters, from looking. Los Angeles County Superior Court charges $4.75 to run a criminal case index.

So I guess what I’m saying is that we don’t always run criminal reports on council members, unless we get tips. (hint, hint.)

 Montebello trash fight reveals councilman’s criminal record
By Amanda Baumfeld, Staff Writer
Article Launched: 10/15/2008 11:42:17 PM PDT

Urteaga court documents MONTEBELLO – A fight over a trash contract turned to mud slinging when a group opposed to the plan put materials from a City Councilman’s criminal record on the Internet.

In 1998, Councilman Robert Urteaga pleaded no contest to grand theft of personal property totaling $30,000, according to court documents.

“When I ran for office, I knew eventually someone would dig into my background and dig this up,” Urteaga said. “I just don’t think that this incident happening 10 years ago is a true reflection of who Robert Urteaga is.”

Details of the conviction have been on a Web site opposing the city’s proposed contract with Athens Services since Oct. 9.

Urteaga along with Councilwomen Kathy Salazar and Rosie Vasquez became a target for independent trash haulers after they voted in favor of a contract with Athens Services in July.

The exclusive 15-year contract, worth about $7.8 million annually, provides Montebello with $500,000 and 7.5 percent of gross receipts from commercial accounts. It phases out contracts with the 13 independent haulers who currently collect trash from commercial areas.

More recently the same council majority voted to postpone a decision on placing a proposed referendum on the ballot. The measure would put the Athens contract to a popular vote.

The criminal complaint filed by the District Attorney’s Office in February 1999 accused Urteaga of five counts of check forgery and one count grand theft.

In a July 1999 plea agreement between Urteaga and prosecutors, the forgery counts were dropped by the district attorney, according to court documents.

Urteaga said he accepted responsibility for his conviction, is remorseful and wants to move forward.

“Mine is a story of success, and I didn’t let this one incident destroy my life,” Urteaga said. “I am a big believer in second chances.”

Nonetheless, independent trash haulers are questioning Urteaga’s role on the City Council and his support of the Athens deal.

“He really has no ethics in politics or in business,” said Aron Patrosian, a trash hauler. “Politically it doesn’t look good; he swept it under the carpet and hoped no one would see it.”

The conviction dates back to Urteaga’s years as a UCLA student when he was 21, he said. Putting himself through school, he took up sports gambling as a means to make extra money, he added.

The councilman said he got in over his head and started losing, so he made bigger bets.

“I got into trouble with people you don’t want to get in trouble with. I took money that didn’t belong to me,” Urteaga said. “My mistake was I didn’t ask for help. I was too embarrassed.”

The money was taken from a friend he worked for at the time, Urteaga said. He performed 60 days of community service with Caltrans and paid off his debt. He was on probation through November 2002.

Urteaga’s older brother Armando, vice president of the East Whittier School District School Board, refers to the incident as a “bump in the road.”

“We do things when we are younger, and we don’t realize how it can impact the rest of our lives,” Armando said. “With Robert, he’s learned from his stupid silly mistakes, and he is trying to move forward.”

Still the conviction has some residents and the mayor asking whether can Urteaga can hold political office?

“It’s very disheartening,” Montebello Mayor Bill Molinari said. “There is no question that politically it’s very damaging to be involved with grand theft and forgery.”

Montebello has no laws that would prevent a felon from running for office, according to City Administrator Richard Torres.

“There is no disqualifying factor that prohibits Urteaga from holding office or participating in any duties as a council member,” said City Attorney Arnold Alvarez-Glasman.

A law signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in July targeted office holders with felony convictions. But grand theft was not covered in the proposal, authorities said.

“Certain felony convictions prevent those from holding office, but grand theft is not one of them,” said Dave Demerjian, head of the District Attorney’s Office Public Integrity Division. “Forgery would have prevented him from holding office, but the fact that he was not convicted and only charged (with forgery) would not disqualify him.”

Police Chief Dan Weast, who endorsed Urteaga’s campaign when he was president of the Montebello Police Officers’ Association, refused to comment on Urteaga’s conviction.

Vasquez and Salazar remain in support of Urteaga.

“If people want to dig into my personal record, I will accept what comes forward,” Urteaga said. “They are trying to pressure me to resign, and I am not going to let them. I am going to fight this.”

Serving two masters

Amanda Baumfeld reports that a Montebello school district staffer is being sued for also working for the San Bernardino City Unified School District.

Montebello district officials claimed that Director of Classified Personnel Jeff Josserand, who has worked with Montebello since May 2006, breached his contract when he became acting director for the San Bernardino City Unified School District in 2007.

In her own words


Here’s what Los Angeles County Board of Supervisor Gloria Molina, according to a press release, has to say about a judge’s decision that will allow taco trucks to continue to park and serve.

“I am very disappointed with Judge Aichroth’s ruling in this case and, frankly, I do not understand the basis for his decision–especially since he provided no explanation at all.

Other municipalities–from Montebello to Los Angeles to Beverly Hills–have similar or more stringent laws regulating catering trucks. It seems that only in East Los Angeles is regulation on this issue problematic.

I will continue to stand up for quality-of-life issues in East Los Angeles and elsewhere in the First Supervisorial District. As the residents I represent have continually made clear to me, catering truck regulation remains a top priority–and I will not be deterred by Judge Aichroth’s ruling.

Quality-of-life issues, ranging from graffiti abatement to code enforcement to catering truck regulation, are all important to the residents of East Los Angeles–and I will continue to fight for them.”

Tensions rise at Montebello meeting

This just in from reporter Amanda Baumfeld:



It seems as though the Montebello City Council is headed back to its old ways.

Mayor Bill Molinari
and Councilwoman Rosie Vasquez where at each others throats during Wednesday night’s meeting.

Vasquez ridiculed Molinari for not taking charge during a public comment portion of the meeting and for allowing the audience to make fun of her.

Bickering between the two continued all evening and heightened during a four hour heated discussion about Athens Service, a waste disposal company. The council on a 3-2 vote eventually granted Athens an exclusive right to all waste disposal in the city putting nearly 12 independent trash haulers out of business.

So, the city is basically allowing Athens to have a monopoly on waste disposal.

Molinari and Councilwoman Mary Anne Saucedo-Rodriguez both voted no saying they believe in the power of free enterprise and competition.

Vasquez also continuously yelled at the audience when they were cheering for one another and booing Athens employees. “I can not believe these are Montebello residents acting this way,” she said.

Officers would target “rundown areas”

Instead of building a police substation in south Montebello, it looks the city is going to hire more officers to target rundown parts of the city, reporter Amanda Baumfeld reports..

Program targets rundown areas
By Amanda Baumfeld, Staff Writer
Article Launched: 07/04/2008 11:52:17 PM PDT

MONTEBELLO – The city will soon start a program that places police officers in areas that have seen an increased number of calls for service.

The City Council unanimously approved moving forward with a program that targets rundown areas of the city at a June 25 meeting.

The program is expected to cost about $500,000 annually and requires hiring two police officers and two community service officers, according to City Administrator Richard Torres.

“The program visibly places officers in the neighborhood and they gain a better relationship with the community,” said Mayor Bill Molinari. “Officers will be in areas where there have been concerns.”

Police Chief Dan Weast is working out the details of the new program and is expected to present them at a July 23 council meeting.

Some of the projects the officers would be assigned to include community cleanups, addressing public drunks and transients, graffiti and drug enforcement, among others.

The program may be run similar to a former program NIPET, Neighborhood Improvement Project Enforcement Team, officials said.

About 15 years ago, NIPET worked with code enforcement officers and focused on cleaning up areas near Greenwood Avenue and Date Street by improving the appearance and quality of life there, city officials said.

Molinari believes older, rundown apartment buildings scattered throughout Montebello will be targeted by the officers. Many are located on Greenwood Avenue, Date Street and Hines Avenue.

“There tend to be some social and crime problems in those areas with landlords; not screening tenants and not maintaining property,” Molinari said. “Officers can go in to these little pockets and effectively address the concerns.”

The officers may have an office in a storefront or in Chet Holifield Park to maintain a community presence, said Torres.

The program was originally presented by Councilwoman Rosie Vasquez, who recommended building a police substation in south Montebello.

Vasquez said residents approached her about feeling unsafe in certain areas.

“My real concern was an intimidation factor that people were feeling,” Vasquez said. “NIPET was done before and it was proven to be effective.”


(626) 962-8811, Ext. 2108

Before the horse in Montebello

This just in from Amanda Baumfeld:

So, Montebello City Council Members Kathy Salazar, Rosie Vasquez and Robert Urteaga have all called a special meeting for tonight prior to the council meeting.

The meeting is closed session and the council is suppose to discuss the appointing of an additional assistant city administrator. The funny thing about the appointment is the new position is not even approved yet. It is on tonight’s council agenda.

How can they appoint someone when the position is not even approved yet?

When I first spoke to Salazar about the new position which will have an annual salary of $227,000 she said the person is meant to serve as a successor to current City Administrator Richard Torres.

She went on to say Torres can take his time, interview and find the right person. Just two weeks later the council is ready to appoint someone. I guess they decided to speed up the process.

Balloon popper

What are our local legislators doing? Well, Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, has a bill targeting copper thieves, and Altadena Sen. Jack Scott is targeting balloons. No, really.

Assembly committee grounds balloon ban
By Jim Sanders – jsanders@sacbee.com

California’s helium balloon bill was grounded Tuesday – but not popped.

The legislation to ban the sale and distribution of metallic balloons narrowly was rejected by the Assembly Business and Professions Committee.

Needing six votes to pass, Senate Bill 1499 fell one vote shy, 5-2, with three members opting not to record a vote.

Sen. Jack Scott, an Altadena Democrat who proposed the bill, requested reconsideration and the committee will vote again Thursday.

Scott’s bill targets the millions of foil helium balloons used to celebrate birthdays, parties, weddings, anniversaries, corporate gatherings and dozens of other events.

A ban is necessary because the high-flying party accessories, commonly called Mylar balloons, cause needless and costly power outages by getting loose and flying into power lines, Scott said. Read more.

Montebello preview

This just in from reporter Amanda Baumfeld:

The Montebello City Council is expected to approve a balanced 2008-09
budget at Wednesday’s council meeting.

Some additions they could be making for next year is:

-A new police center on Greenwood Avenue costing between $252,000 to

-A new assistant city administrator position for $227,000

-An infrastructure study for $186,000

The meeting begins at 6:30 at City Hall, 1600 Beverly Boulevard.

On a side note, the city might be feeling the high price of gas. They
have sent out a public hearing notice about possibly increasing fees
for riders on the Montebello Bus Lines. The hearing is set for July

Montebello hires John Edwards

This just in from reporter Amanda Baumfeld:

The city of Montebello recently hired John Edwards (no, not the former presidential candidate) as its economic development consultant for $50,000.

What’s interesting about that is Edwards was the campaign manager for council members Mary Anne Saudedo and Robert Urteaga.

Additionally, the city may be hiring a third city administrator in charge of economic development for $227,000 a year.