How much does patriotism…er…fireworks cost?

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Working on a story about how the economy has affected cities’ ability to produce fireworks and Fourth of July celebration events.

In the process, I spoke with the president of fireworks company Pyro Spectacular, Jim Souza.

Jim said the average fireworks show starts at about $25,000 and goes up from there. At a place like the Rose Bowl’s Americafest in Pasadena, the cost can be as much as $200,000, Souza said.

(Souza said the Rose Bowl show is his favorite show to produce and his favorite firework is the Golden Eagle, which he described as being like a weeping willow that stretches nearly to the ground and lasts for about 12 seconds)

Pyro Spectacular does the fireworks for shows in Monterey Park, Whittier, Irwindale, Pomona, South Pasadena, Monrovia, and San Marino, among others, Souza said.

The average show has a 24 foot rent-a-truck full of a ton of hardware, several hundred pounds of fireworks, has mortars, launching equipment, and a crew of 8 to 12 people that work on one show all day.

Each show lasts about 20 minutes, with the exception of the larger shows, he said.

As for some cities, Pico Rivera is spending $25,000 on fireworks and Monterey Park is spending about $35,000 for weekend events.

More to come in tomorrow’s story.

Pico Rivera officials safe from parking tickets?

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Parking tickets.

We all get them, except that is if you’re one of the 15 to 20 Pico Rivera officials and their family members who were exempt from parking violations.

A public safety employee — who requested anonymity citing job safety — told reporter Bethania Palma Markus that six city parking enforcement officers were told in March not to ticket vehicles belonging to certain elected officials and an administrator.

How would they be able to tell?

Apparently, the hand-held devices they use to issue citations were programmed so that the license plate numbers of vehicles belonging to those people would show up as “exempted vehicles,’” according to the unnamed employee.

City officials said the policy was a way to keep the City Council and the city manager from being ticketed while out on city business.

But the employee said they were told not to ticket certain relatives of the council and city manager as well.

“Why should we penalize our City Council when they are doing (city) business?” City Manager Chuck Fuentes asked at a council meeting last week. “I think it is very legitimate.”

Former PR mayor: Conviction had nothing to do with resignation

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Former Pico Rivera Mayor Gracie Gallegos was praised last month for her service to the city, and her decision to resign her post in order to spend more time with her family.

Now, some can’t help but wonder if a 2007 felony fraud conviction had anything to do with it.

Bethania Palma reported that Gallegos was accused of cashing a check for $3,173 from the car insurance company where she worked as part of a fraudulent claim in 2007. Yet in March, she was elected to the City Council despite the allegations.

By August of that sane year, she had been convicted.

It appears the conviction was not necessarily a secret at City Hall — City Manager Chuck Fuentes said Friday Gallegos told him of her legal woes before the August conviction, but he did not disclose the information to other councilmembers because of “confidentiality laws.”

Fuentes helped Gallegos on her campaign.

Gallegos says her decision to resign had nothing to do with the felony conviction.

And then she declined to comment further, according to Palma saying she is now “a private citizen” and not obligated to respond to press inquiries.

Read the full story here.

Beilke calls DA complaints “preposterous”

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City Councilman Ron Beilke is finally speaking out about complaints filed against him with the District Attorney’s alleging election code violations and conflict of interest.

The former mayor called the complaints that led to search warrants being served at his home and restaurant two weeks ago “preposterous,” according to Whittier Daily-News reporter Bethania Palma

“The allegation is that he collected absentee ballots,” said Dave Demerjian, head of the District Attorney’s Public Integrity Unit, of the 2009 election code complaint. It is illegal to collect absentee ballots because the collector could influence votes.

Beilke said, “There’s no possible way I handled ballots,” Beilke said. “If you have a quantity of ballots what do you do with them? Aren’t there checks and balances for turning them in where someone says, ‘you can’t do that?’ That would entail a conspiracy and I would not be the only one being investigated.”

Palma wrote a lengthy piece on the investigation in today’s paper, in which she also looks at Beilke’s controversial time on the Council. He is up for re-election in November, and is planning to run. Do you think the DA investigation will jeopardize his chances of being re-elected to the council?

Today’s shorts: Emergency rides, top seats and porn

West Covina passes “insurance” for ambulance rides.

Solis named labor leader. Let the games begin for those, like Board of Equalization Chairwoman Judy Chu and Sen. Gil Cedillo, who want Solis’ former Congressional seat.

OctoMom offered $1 million to appear in a porn video.

The infamous tagged up bridge in Pico Rivera that goes over the 605 freeway was cleaned of its graffiti. We’ll see how long that lasts.

Education or scare-tactic?

You know it’s election time when those mailers start showing up in your mailbox.

And in Pico Rivera, not everyone is happy about a particular mailer backing Measure P — a 1-percent sales-tax increase initiative the voters will be asked to approve come Nov. 4.

Whittier Daily News reporter Airan Scruby has a story running in tomorrow’s paper about the issue.

Here’s a brief look at the story:

According to Public Information Officer Bob Spencer, the City Council allotted $35,000 for an “educational outreach program,” and so far about $30,000 has been spent, mostly on glossy mailers sent to voters.
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The mailings assert that money to fight crime may dry up, recreational programs will disappear and staff will be fired if the tax measure fails, leaving a $4.8 million budget gap.
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Mailers have also announced the support of four of five council members, Sheriff Lee Baca and the El Rancho Unified School District.

Opponents to Measure P, including Councilman David Armenta, say the campaign by the city to educate is really about fear mongering.

“It’s not an information program,” Armenta said. “It’s a scare tactic campaign.”
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No formal complaints have been filed with the Fair Political Practices Commission, organization spokesman Roman Porter said.

According to Porter, materials put out by the city could seem to lean in favor of the tax, but would not necessarily violate the law.

Have any of you guys seen these mailers? What do you guys think: is this educational or propaganda?

Full circle is sometimes half

Our job as reporters is to report the news.

I think that we do a fine job covering breaking news, whether that is when an investigation is launched or when the day a murder occurs. But following the story after that, well, that is when reporters sometimes fall short. And we certainly have our reasons: other stories break, investigations get held up, and news tips dry up.

This is a theme that has come up several times this week, including this comment by Pico Rivera Mayor Ron Beilke.

Dear Jennifer,

The Whittier Daily News did a great job covering the incident with my son and my two employees with front page stories and courtroom pictures. I did appreciate that the paper mentioned that no charges were filed against my son in the case, especially given Sheriffs discovered that he made two 911 phone calls reporting the person with the gun who was later convicted of the crime.

However, when charges were dropped against my two employees, I couldn’t help but notice that that information didn’t warrant a front page headline proclaiming that the mayor’s employees were cleared of all charges. In fact, no mention of that little fact was even made in this blog that I am responding to here. Of course, I knew all along that charges would be dropped once authorities had time to examine the evidence of the case.

It is unfortunate that stories are so obvioulsy slanted to sell papers and to create sensational headlines. I would hope that when you do report on incidents you at least give as much ink to clearing the names of individuals as you do when smearing them.

While the story did not make front page news, it was in the paper: 

Charges dropped against Pico Rivera mayor’s employees

San Gabriel Valley Tribune (West Covina, CA) – July 15, 2008
Author/Byline: Sandra T. Molina
Section: Breaking
 
WHITTIER – Sonny Anthony Costello was sent to the early disposition program Monday by a Whittier Superior Court judge, in the case where a reserve deputy’s 45-caliber gun and vehicle was stolen.

The program allows for parole and probation officers to compile data and then make a recommendation to the district attorney’s office, said Olivia Rosales, deputy district attorney in charge of the Whittier D.A.’s office.

“If the judge, our office and the defense attorney agree on the recommendation, then it’s accepted and (Costello) serves his sentence,” she said. “If not, then he will return to the Whittier court for a preliminary hearing.”

The edp hearing is scheduled for July 23 at the Downey Superior Court.

Costello is still in the custody of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

Two of the other four defendants in the case, Arlene, Cano, 19, and Lorraine Ochoa, 21 pled guilty to possession of stolen property and were sentenced to three years probation and work detail for Caltrans, Rosales said.

Charges were dropped against the final two defendants – Miguel Perez, 19, and Ivan De Jesus Marquez, 24. “There was not sufficient evidence against them,” Rosales said.

Perez and Marquez worked for Pico Rivera Mayor Ron Beilke at the time of their arrest last month. “Justice was served,” Beilke said Tuesday. “They went through the process and have been cleared.”

As far as it not being on the blog, that is an oversight on my part. Like many readers, stories slip past me, and the more news tips, comments and calls we get, the better the blog and paper will be.

Measure P stirs up debate

Can u guess which side of the vote most city officials are on?

Sales tax ballot battle gears up
Groups organize over Measure P in Pico Rivera
By Airan Scruby, Staff Writer
Article Launched: 09/13/2008 09:55:17 PM PDT

PICO RIVERA – As November’s political races head into the home stretch, this city is gearing up for its own fight.

Pico Rivera voters will decide Nov. 4 whether to approve Measure P, which would raise the sales tax in the city to 9.25 percent from 8.25 percent. If approved, the tax is expected to bring the city about $6 million.

City employees and City Council members have come out in support of the tax hike, saying that without it, Pico Rivera will have to cut about $4.8 million to balance its budget. That would shut down recreational programs, close the swimming pool at Smith Park, deprive many city employees of their jobs and more, they say.

“We have a grass-roots group of residents,” Mayor Ron Beilke said Friday. “We’re going door to door.”

Beilke chairs a new group set up by residents in favor of the tax. He said he and others have opened an office on Telegraph Road, are walking neighborhoods and organizing to tell residents about what they say are the benefits of Measure P.

City Recreation Supervisor Lupe Aguilar said she and other members of the Pico Rivera Municipal Professional Confidential Employee Association support the measure.

Although city employees cannot advocate the tax while they are working or using city resources, they can support it in their off-time.

“We are currently trying to rally our local churches, the youth organization, we’re trying to get different storefronts, and family and friends of course,” Aguilar said.
She said she believes losing money and cutting programs would be difficult for Pico Rivera to recover from, even if cash becomes available in the future.

“Once a city goes backward, it’s very difficult to get the city back on its feet,” Aguilar said.

The Service Employees International Union, a city employee’s union, also supports the tax.

Beilke said even the Pico Rivera Chamber of Commerce has given its support to the measure. Beilke said the group voted 11-2 in favor of supporting the tax.

Chamber Executive Director Roger Hartter said the board did vote in support on Aug. 29 but that no further statement would be given until a press release was issued.

Not everyone supports the measure, however. Councilman David Armenta said he is against raising the tax and that it could make some businesses leave the city.

Although the tax would add just one penny on the dollar, that can mean a difference of hundreds of dollars on large purchases like cars and appliances.

“That one percent is their competitive edge,” Armenta said.

The tax made the ballot despite Armenta’s disapproval. It took a required unanimous vote from council to place it before voters. That vote came when Armenta missed a meeting while on a fishing trip. The council voted 4-0 in favor of sending the tax to a vote.

According to Armenta, no effort has yet been organized against the tax, but he will continue to speak out against it and expects that a group of business owners and a group of residents who oppose it will soon form.