New in Covina: Killer bees

German Shepherd mixes, Wolf and Luna, were stung by bees Sunday in Covina. Luna died from her injuries and Wolf is receiving treatment. (Courtesy Photo) 

Heather Umphenour and her family returned home Sunday night to find their two German Shepherd-mixed rescue dogs in the backyard covered with bee stings and surrounded by hundreds of dead bees. One dog, Luna, died from her injuries, while her brother, Wolf, is still receiving veterinary care.

Umphenour fears the next attack might happen to a person.

“My children are crying themselves to sleep and for this to happen to somebody’s child, it would be horrible,” Umphenour said. “I want people to be informed that they’re in the area and that you have to look out.”

Most wild honeybees in the San Gabriel Valley, hybrids of European and African strains, are commonly known as “killer bees,” according to the San Gabriel Valley Mosquito and Vector Control District. Killer bees aggressively protect their hive and swarm threats en masse.

Umphenour, who has four children, said she’s never seen a hive at their home near Gladstone High School in approximately seven years of living there. Umphenour and her husband rescued Wolf and Luna when they were 8-week old puppies roughly a year ago. The brother and sister often wrestled and rough housed in the fenced-in back yard.

The family spent most of the day Saturday clearing out the backyard and trimming the family’s lemon trees, but did not see any bees or signs of bees, Umphenour said. It’s unclear where the swarm originated from.

Umphenour said she’s already warned officials at the nearby school and informed the city’s public works department.

“The whole situation is just mind blowingly shocking,” she said. “I just hope it doesn’t happen to anyone else.”

Wolf, who remains at the Inland Valley Emergency Pet Clinic, was stung primarily on his face. His swollen eyes blocked his sight until Tuesday, according to the pet clinic’s Medical Director Jeff Patlogar.

“We kind of take it day by day. He’s a little bit more responsive today,” Patlogar said Tuesday afternoon. “The swelling is a bit better than it was yesterday, but he’s not out of the woods yet.”

A few bee stings are common each year, typically during the summer. Hundreds, if not thousands of stings, are rare, Patlogar said.

The severe reaction from the bee stings causes swelling, vomiting, weakness and seizures. Several hundred stingers have already been removed from Wolf’s tongue and many more are still coming out. The stings inside the mouth come from the dog biting at the bees, Patlogar said.

He’s expected to stay at least several more days.

A family friend set up a GoFundMe page at www.gofundme.com/umphenours to help cover the veterinary costs, which are expected run about $6,000.

“We’re trying to keep our dog alive, that’s where all of the money is going,” Umphenour said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jason HenryReach the author at jason.henry@sgvn.com or follow Jason on Twitter:@JasonMHenry.

Showdown in San Jose Hills: Mt. SAC vs. Walnut

In an unusual move, the City Council will reconvene its official meeting tonight (Wednesday, Nov. 12, 5 p.m. at Walnut City Hall, then 6-6:30  p.m. at Mt. SAC’s Founder’s Hall ) from Walnut City Hall to Mt. SAC’s Founder’s Hall across town. And the Council will do so during the Mt. SAC trustees board meeting.

After officially notifying the public of the venue change both in writing and orally, the city clerk will gather the City Council inside the lobby and call the roll around 6 p.m., officially reopening the city council meeting so that the five elected officials can march into the trustees’ board room.

The council wants to explain to the full board why the college should suspend plans for a five-story garage next to homes in the Timberline neighborhood.

“It is like a showdown between the city of Walnut and Mt. SAC,” said Layla Abou-Taleb, a Timberline resident and part of a group fighting the 2,200-space garage for fear it will bring more traffic, noise and air pollution to their neighborhood and the city in general.

The Walnut City Council is not on the Mt. SAC board agenda and therefore, not officially recognized, according to documents. Instead, like ordinary Walnut residents, each member must express his or her concerns about the parking garage during the Oral Communications portion of the meeting, explained City Manager Rob Wishner.

The holding of a city council meeting inside Mt. SAC is extremely unusual, Wishner said. “It is probably a first,” he said, adding he’d never seen such an action during his time as city manager.

The unusual arrangement came about because Mt. SAC has refused the City Council’s request to hold a joint Walnut-Mt. SAC board meeting on the parking garage. “We’ve requested a joint meeting with the Board of Trustees but to no avail,” Wishner said.

Instead, Mayor Nancy Tragarz and Councilman Bob Pacheco did have one meeting with Mt. SAC trustees Judy Chen Haggerty and Fred Chyr. The meeting included Wishner and Mt. SAC President Bill Scroggins. But the City Council wanted to meet with the trustees as a whole, according to a letter sent by the city to the college in late August, when the City Council passed a resolution opposing the structure.

“This is sort of a slap in the face of Mt. SAC,” said Abou-Taleb. “They’re saying if you won’t come and sit with us, we’ll come anyway.”

Mt. SAC board members have repeatedly declined to answer questions about Walnut’s opposition.

Opposition to the $45 million parking garage began publicly in April when Timberline residents protested the structure, which is to be built on the northwest edge of the 420-acre campus along Mountaineer Way. Mt. SAC officials said they agreed to build part of the garage underground to preserve views of nearby homes.

Later, residents and the City Council demanded the college build the structure on a part of the campus not adjacent to homes, such as the south side near the athletic fields. But Scroggins said the college wants to locate the garage near the new classroom buildings, bookstore and cafeteria, so students would use it.

The city is questioning the authority of the college to act without its approval, even though community colleges answer to the state, not local authorities. Wishner said the city has learned the college has not adopted an exemption to local zoning rules as required.

Residents and the city are also questioning whether the college notified voters of the project during the campaign for Measure RR, a $353-million bond measure approved by voters in 2008. Scroggins said the parking project was included in materials handed out to residents explaining Measure RR.

“We believe the bond documents did not clearly indicate a parking structure,” Wishner said.

Walnut’s city attorney has sent a letter to the college, citing a case in which a group from San Diego sued the school district for using bond funds to erect lights at a high school stadium. The Taxpayers for Accountable School Bond Spending initially lost in Superior Court, but the ruling was overturned in their favor by the Court of Appeals earlier this year.

Wishner said the San Diego case will be part of the information presented by the City Council to the Mt. SAC board tonight.

One year since closure, Puente Hills Landfill gets ready to become a park

A five-foot layer of dirt covers the top of the Puente Hills Landfill in Whittier a year after its closure on Wednesday October 29, 2014. The Sanitation Districts are working with LA County Parks and Recreation to make it into a regional park. (Photo by Keith Durflinger/San Gabriel Valley Tribune) 

More than a year later, the Puente Hills Landfill near Hacienda Heights is as quiet as the cemetery next door, signaling a significant if unnoticed twist in the management of household trash.

The activity — garbage trucks crammed with commingled waste and smaller trucks bursting with pure recyclables or yard waste — has shifted to material recovery facilities (MRFs) that are popping up all over Southern California, while some still goes to traditional landfills.

About half the 7,500 tons per day of household waste that filled the nation’s largest landfill in 2013 now enters the Puente Hills Material Recovery Facility located in the shadow of the 40-story high rubbish site towering above the Pomona Freeway. The other half gets buried in landfills — not in Los Angeles County — but in Orange and San Bernardino counties, said Chuck Boehmke, Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts Solid Waste Department head.

While not at the “zero waste” ideal urged by environmental groups, the county on Oct. 21 set a goal of diverting 80 percent of waste from unincorporated communities away from landfills by 2025 — equivalent to throwing out three pounds per person per day.

To get the county to its goal, help has arrived from private industry who see dollars in every trash truck load.

For example, Athens Services, based in Industry, expanded its MRF on Valley Boulevard in 2007 to accept more commingled waste. In fact, Athens opened a brand new $50 million facility in mid-October in the northeast San Fernando Valley — a state-of-the-art household waste-sorting plant, according to trade websites. Waste Management Inc., which has seen profits exceed expectation for six consecutive quarters, recently built a large recycling plant in Azusa at Gladstone and Irwindale avenues.

The connection between the closing of landfills and the opening of material recovery facilities is clear. It is out with the old and in with the new, explained Gary Clifford, executive vice president of Athens Services.

Athens has been busy usurping government’s role. Its Sun Valley plant can process more than 330,000 tons of mixed waste every year and will help the city of Los Angeles meet a goal of zero waste into landfills by 2025. The Industry plant can process between 1.5 million and 1.8 million tons of waste a year.

The waste company is expanding operations, with plans in the works to build another mixed-waste processing plant in Irwindale, Clifford said.

Since Puente Hills Landfill closed, Athens saw an increase at its facilities, he said. While landfills still play a role, many more are being run by private companies. Residual waste that can’t be sold to overseas markets as recyclables gets shipped to landfills operated by Athens in Rialto, Victorville and Redlands, he said.

Waste Management, which posted a $270 million profit in the third quarter on Oct. 29, dumps Los Angeles County trash at its El Sobrante Landfill in Corona, in Riverside County.

Nonrecyclable waste that once ended up in Puente Hills Landfill gets taken to landfills in Irvine and Brea, Boehmke said. The Sanitation Districts operate Scholl Canyon Landfill in Glendale which serves that city, as well as the communities of Pasadena, South Pasadena, San Marino, Sierra Madre, La Crescenta, Altadena and La Cañada-Flintridge; and a landfill in Calabasas that serves Los Angeles and parts of Ventura County, Boehmke said.

The Sanitation Districts have a contract with Orange County that continues through June 2016. Boehmke hopes OC will extend that contract. The two sides are in discussions but he would not elaborate on the progress.

Meanwhile, as private trash companies take larger portions of the trash pile, that may raise household trash rates in the future, Clifford said.

“Processing (of garbage) costs more money than source separating but the increase is nominal,” he said.

Athens was the first in the county to operate a mixed-waste plant. Its business model allows residents to throw all waste into one bin except for yard trimmings which are placed in a separate bin. The sorting of valuable recyclables is done by workers picking through garbage as it travels down a conveyor belt inside odor-controled buildings — not inside one’s kitchen.

While it may raise costs, material recovery facilities are more efficient and greener than pre-sorting, he said, because they divert more waste away from landfills which emit methane, a greenhouse gas. For example, since converting Bell Gardens to mixed-waste sorting, the city has increased its landfill diversion rates to more than 50 percent, he said.

Recyclables from various material-recovery plants are usually sent to the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles and sold to overseas manufacturers, Boehmke said. Even fabric, such as an old flannel shirt, gets separated from mixed-waste bins and re-used by garment makers, Clifford said.

“In the future, landfills will have less and less tonnage. There will be more alternatives to landfills,” Clifford said. His company is working on anaerobic digestion of “wet waste” that can turn turbines and make power, he said. Future technologies also include extracting methane from waste to power automobiles or electric power plants.

At Puente Hills, methane heats water that makes steam and turns turbines that generate 50 megawatts of power, enough to light 70,000 homes. Boehmke figures the methane will run out in about 15 years.

What will happen to the 630-acre former operating landfill that sits on 1,365 acres? Most will be turned into a park, Boehmke said.

The Sanitation Districts have placed 1 million cubic yards of dirt five-feet deep in the former landfill zone since last Nov. 1, he said. The final cover is 95 percent complete and should be finished by the end of November, Boehmke said. “Then we will be planting, seeding and putting in the final irrigation system so we don’t get erosion,” he said.

The county Department of Parks and Recreation is working on a master plan for a new regional park that will connect with 25 miles of trails. The Sanitation District will give the county department $814,000 for that effort which goes before the Board of Supervisors Nov. 12, said Norma E, Garcia, the department’s director of planning and development.

“To have 1,200 acres coming into the public domain for a park is really exciting,” Garcia said.

 

SGV cities getting ready for Gold Line to Azusa

The laying of the final Gold Line track re-introduces the first passenger-service rail line into the foothill communities since the Pacific Electric trolley disappeared more than 60 years ago.

While the $1 billion, 11.5-mile extension from east Pasadena to the edge of Glendora won’t be completed for another 11 months, and will not carry its first passenger until March 2016, the driving of the last spike connecting 28 miles of double track has historical and practical implications for the region.

“This project brings all of those cities together. There are no political boundaries for this project,” said Habib Balian, CEO of the Foothill Gold Line Construction Authority.

For the last 4 1/2 years, workers have laid track from the existing Sierra Madre Villa Station in east Pasadena to the Azusa Pacific University/Citrus College Station at Citrus Avenue and Foothill Boulevard located on the border of Azusa and Glendora. The celebration “last spike” ceremony will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday at the future Downtown Azusa Gold Line Station, 795 N. Dalton Ave., Azusa.

The project will mark the first extension of the Gold Line in the San Gabriel Valley since it began running to Union Station/Los Angeles in 2003. It is a project that fought for its existence every inch of the way, breaking from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to form its own entity and fighting for funding from Metro in L.A. to Sacramento and Washington.

It stood up to criticism from then-L.A. Mayor and Metro board president Antonio Villaraigosa as a low-density, low-volume passenger train that takes a back seat to his Purple Line subway extension under Wilshire Boulevard by rallying support from San Gabriel Valley bedroom cities, local businesses and members of congress.

In the past several years, the Gold Line has seen some successes. It added an $898-million extension from Union Station to East Los Angeles five years ago. And by fall next year, work will have been completed on the foothill extension funded by taxpayers through 2008’s Measure R.

A third extension, from the APU/Citrus College Station to Montclair, will be shovel-ready by 2017 but is not currently funded.

Overall, the line surpassed low passenger estimates of about 20,000 daily boardings to serve 44,149 passenger boardings on an average weekday, according to Rick Jager, a Metro spokesman.

Balian estimates the foothill extension will take 14,000 daily boardings at the start. It will see an increase when the Regional Connector, that will create a single train ride from Santa Monica to Azusa/Glendora, is completed in the next three or four years.

“It is pretty exciting to see a project going on for so long get to this stage,” Balian said Thursday during a high-rail tour of the new track. “This is one of the biggest moments you can have for a project.”

As the clouds created shadows that danced off the red-clay San Gabriel Mountains, the parallel northbound and southbound tracks stretched eastward and seemed to meet, though only a trick of the eye. From the iconic bridge over the eastbound 210 Freeway to a pedestrian plaza in Arcadia and the art deco bridge traversing Santa Anita Avenue, the train is carving a niche into the San Gabriel Valley hard scape.

After gliding over the San Gabriel River, the tracks pass a row of giant beer tanks belonging to MillerCoors in Irwindale, the industrial buildings of Northrop Grumman, and then the Target building in downtown Azusa.

Monrovia is betting that $25 million in Metro and state funding for a transit plaza, a promenade for live music and food trucks, and a new park with an amphitheater will connect the south part of town and Gold Line station to its vibrant north Myrtle Avenue location.

Duarte, not to be outdone, has plans for a hotel and a movie theater, said Mayor Liz Reilly, both amenities Monrovia has had for years. “We will be closer to the Gold Line station than they (Monrovia) are,” she said.

The Duarte station lies across the street from its largest employer, City of Hope, a nationally known research and cancer treatment hospital that employs 4,300 people, many of whom she hopes will take the train to and from work.

But as the mountains sat down at the mouth of San Gabriel Canyon, the tracks reached APU/Citrus College station at the doorstep of the 1,250-home Rosedale planned development. It may be the first suburban housing project built train-station ready with a plaza to be built within walking distance.

Rosedale resident Ed Chen, 31, said he will ride the train to Old Pasadena for dinner and shopping, or to downtown Los Angeles, home of the hip Arts District near the Gold Line’s Little Tokyo Station.

A ride from the eastern-most station at APU/Citrus to Union Station will take about 46 minutes, said Chris Burner, Foothill Gold Line Construction Authority’s chief project officer.

Most of all, it will remove single-occupancy drivers from the increasingly congested 210 Freeway, Balian said.

Chen said the option to ride a train instead of drive his car was a selling point. It is also part of Rosedale Partners marketing campaign as seen on billboards, banners and inside Gold Line train cars. The last homes will be built by 2018.

“In Rosedale in Azusa, you have the best of both worlds,” Chen said. “You have the space, the quality of homes, the proximity to a university and the convenience of light rail. Plus, you don’t lose the whole San Gabriel Valley suburban aspect.”

Where should Gold Line run? Wash Blvd? 60 Fwy?

PICO RIVERA >> The battle over which communities will see light-rail through their cities as part of the Gold Line Eastside Extension officially began Saturday, with the first of four public hearings sanctioned by the Federal Trade Administration and the county Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

About 75 people listened to Laura Cornejo, project manager for MTA (Metro), explain the impacts of building the line along the south side of the 60  Freeway to Whittier Narrows Recreation Area, or running it south down Garfield Avenue in Montebello and east along Washington Boulevard through Pico Rivera and terminating west of Lambert Road in Whittier at Five Points.

About 15 people spoke about the eastward expansion from the Gold Line station on the edge of East Los Angeles at Atlantic and Pomona boulevards. Of those, six preferred the Washington Boulevard route, three preferred the 60 Freeway route and the rest did not specify a choice in their comments.

The presentation of the long-awaited, $15 million environmental impact statement/report to the public for the first time gave both sides an official chance to persuade Metro which route to pick. The public meeting, which lasted 90 minutes, marked the first public shots fired in a battle involving cities favoring the Washington Boulevard route or the 60  Freeway route.

The debate promises to intensify during the next six weeks, as the FAA and Metro hold three more public hearings starting Monday in Montebello. The official hearings will culminate in a staff position on where to put the train tracks and a vote by the Metro board on Nov. 13, Cornejo said.

An extension of the U-shaped Gold Line that runs from East L.A. to downtown L.A. to Pasadena and soon out to Azusa, will serve 720,580 residents or about 7  percent of the population of Los Angeles County, Metro said. The train extension would not be built until 2035, she said, unless speeded up by Metro.

While many residents would conceivably have access to downtown, South LA and the Westside without leaving their seat, Cornejo said, some who live along Washington Boulevard didn’t want the train because it would shrink the car corridor to make way for aerial tracks and/or at-grade tracks and overhead electrical wires.

“It will bring more people, more congestion and a potential for more crime to our area,” said Roberta Torres of Pico Rivera.

Pico Rivera resident Judy Rankin testified against the train entirely. “You want to put a train down Washington Boulevard? There is no room for it. Besides, this is a car state. People are not going to get out of their cars,” she said.

The EIR/EIS estimates the Washington Boulevard route would serve 19,900 daily boardings each weekday at cost of $1.4  billion to $1.7  billion to build, more riders and more money than the 60  Freeway at 16,700 daily weekday boardings for a cost of $1.3  billion. Either line would be used by people of lower socioeconomic levels who can’t afford a car, the report stated.

The Washington line would be 9.5  miles with six stations and the 60 Freeway route would go 6.9 miles with four stations.

“We have a lot of people who need to get to jobs or the VA or need access to other countywide facilities,” said Ted Knoll, executive director of First Day, a homeless outreach center in Whittier. “Please don’t disenfranchise these marginalized individuals.”

Joseph Gonzales, mayor pro-tem of South El Monte and chairman of the SR-60 Coalition, which includes six cities: Montebello, Monterey Park, El Monte, South El Monte, Rosemead and Industry, said the 60 route would not be just for commuters because the group has planned transit-oriented development around each of the four stations.

He also said the aerial tracks above Garfield Avenue planned for the Washington Boulevard line “would destroy Montebello.” The report says the Washington route would take out 58 businesses and nine homes, while the 60 Freeway route would not displace any residents and requires demolishing only eight businesses.

Henry Madrid, consultant for the SR-60 Coalition, warned Metro that if it chose the Washington route it would surely face lawsuits from the city of Montebello.

No city or elected officials from Whittier, Montebello or Pico Rivera spoke at Saturday’s public hearing. Pico Rivera Mayor Brent Tercero said his city is officially neutral on the debate over the train’s route.

“I came here mostly to listen,” he said during an interview after the meeting. “Personally, I think the Washington Boulevard alignment will connect communities, but there are a lot of impacts we will have to face.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Santa Claus gets La Puente ordinance exemption resolution

Santa Claus (iStockphoto)

Santa Claus (iStockphoto)

Old Saint Nick could receive a gift-wrapped fine or a night in jail when he appears above La Puente, if an important vote at tonight’s city council meeting does not go in his favor.

The council’s first agenda for the night starts with a vote on whether “Mr. S. Claus” should receive certain exemptions from city law.

If the vote passes, Santa Claus will receive a variance allowing him to enter homes without permission, make noise at any hour and buzz through the sky without requesting additional clearance. The resolution further grants Claus the right to disregard the city’s animal regulations.

On top of the waiver of city law, Claus would receive a free business license to operate as a non-profit organization.

The resolution, written by Recreation Manager Roxanne Lerman and submitted by interim City Manager Martin Lomeli, does state that staff directed Claus to get a valid vehicle registration from the Department of Motor Vehicles; an employee audit to verify his elves receive minimum wage from the Department of Health and Welfare; and a check from the Air Quality Management District to “ensure a safe and clear sleigh ride.”

“Granting Mr. S. Claus this request serves a public purpose in that it allows Mr. S. Claus to continue the tradition of spreading holiday cheer and merriment to the good children of the City of La Puente,” Lerma wrote in her recommendation.

The variances have no fiscal impact, Lerma wrote.

Claus could not be reached for comment.

Molina objects to Edmiston’s settlement; oil drilling OK’d?

Two of the most powerful preservation groups in the state settled their lawsuits with Whittier, potentially opening up a 1,280-acre nature preserve bought with taxpayer dollars to oil drilling for the next 25 years, the city reported Thursday.

The Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority agreed to accept $650,000 in attorneys fees as well as a portion of the city’s oil revenues, up to $11.25 million a year or about $280 million for the life of the project. The city could realize $150 million a year for 10 years or $1.5 billion, making the MRCA share about 7 percent to 11 percent.

The parent agency, the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, also dropped its lawsuit but did not receive a cash settlement, said Whittier City Manager Jeff Collier. The SMMC was represented by state Attorney General Kamala Harris.

However, Whittier failed to come to terms with the other plaintiff, Los Angeles County, which controls lands purchased with monies raised by the 1992 county measure Proposition A. The city used $9.3 million in Prop. A monies it received from the Santa Monica-based MRCA to buy a portion of the Whittier Hills, vowing to preserve it as open space in perpetuity. In 2011, the city approved an oil and gas exploration project on a 7-acre piece of land in the preserve located near the Friendly Hills neighborhood.

In June, a judge ruled the city and its partners, Matrix Oil and Clayton Williams Energy, Inc., violated the public trust by drilling on land that was supposed to be for open space and wildlife habitat. He ordered all equipment off the preserve and said the county must sign off on the project if it were to proceed.

Joseph Edmiston, executive director of both the SMMC and the MRCA, said in an interview Thursday that his small group could no longer fight Big Oil and decided taking the deal would help all the parks under his care.

Even though MRCA won the case in Superior Court, Edmiston, the guru of environmental protection and parks development in the county for several decades, said he feared losing in an appeal. He said recent MRCA and SMMC losses in appellate courts involving cases in Malibu cost the agencies hundreds of thousands in attorneys fees.

“Our record from the court of appeal has not been good,” he said.

Also, Edmiston said the $11.25 million a year nearly doubles the MRCA’s maintenance budget for the 69,000 acres of land and 114 recreational facilities it manages throughout the county. He said the oil money will help keep the toilets clean and the parks supervised for visitors who use MRCA-managed parks throughout the county.

L.A. County Supervisor Gloria Molina, who has fought the Whittier oil project, said she was shocked to learn Edmiston and his board had agreed to the settlement.

“I feel betrayed by a leader we have entrusted for decades to preserve and conserve open space,” Molina said. “I’m troubled by the rationalization he created for himself. It is the same kind of rationalization Judas used.”

Molina said the county Board of Supervisors will be looking at the settlement and then decide what to do next.

“We have a judge who ruled this was clearly a violation of the public trust. We basically won. Why would I settle with somebody? Greed is really present here,” she said, adding: “This is not over.”

Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, whose district includes the Santa Monica Mountains, said through an aide he would not comment on the MRCA settlement with Whittier.

Local residents opposed to the project were disappointed with the settlement.

“The Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy is no longer a conservancy. It is an acquisition corporation that buys lands for oil companies,” said Roy McKee, president of Whittier Hills Oil Watch.

“The Pacific Palisades is rich in oil, maybe that’s the next place Mr. Edmiston sells,” McKee said. “The MRCA and SMMC exhibited that they can be bought.”

Edmiston said he was pleased the settlement prohibits the use of fracking. He said he wished the county had participated in the settlement, even as he characterized it as far from perfect.

“In a perfect world, we wouldn’t have to go to this kind of funding mechanism,” he said. “We need to look at this kind of alternative funding, or we will not have the parks we have.”

Collier said the city will return to Judge James Chalfant’s courtroom in downtown Los Angeles on Sept. 6, at which point he’s expected to dismiss the two lawsuits. The county’s complaint is another matter.

“We will have to wait and see about the county,” Collier said.

Hacienda Heights/La Puente school board called ‘racist,’ self-serving in public report

Report gauges the district strengths, weaknesses in an effort to recruit a new superintendent
By Steve Scauzillo, Staff Writer
@stevscaz on Twitter

In a raw, highly critical report, parents, staff and teachers lashed out at the Hacienda La Puente Unified School District school board, some calling them “racist,” disrespectful to the community, and at times basing their decisions on personal agendas, favoritism and friendships instead of what is best for students.

The report, released over the objections of one board member Thursday night at a special school board meeting, is part of a process taken by the board to help it choose a successor to former superintendent Barbara Nakaoka, who retired after 42 years with the district on June 30.

The report, tabulated from 17 hours of meetings of anonymous comments from 199 people, said the next superintendent would have to try to tame an often divided, politically charged board that has “hidden agendas” by standing up to the board and saying “no” when he or she is right.

Filling the shoes of Nakaoka, 65, who did not attend the meeting, is a tough task. The report said some wanted the next superintendent to be a lot like her. A majority of one group suggested the board choose “a Nakaoka clone,” or someone with a breadth of experience in the classroom and as an administrator but who is “visible,” “friendly” and will “put her foot down” when needed.

The participants were described as passionate, involved in the district, and even “angry” at times, said the consultant.

“When you do this, it won’t make anybody happy,” said Frank Cosca, president of The Cosca Group, which conducted the meetings and produced the initial report for the board. Cosca’s agency was paid $26,000 to gauge what the community and the board wants in a new superintendent, and to recruit candidates.
The report listed many district positives, leading with a fiscally sound management approach that produced zero furlough days, a diverse district and staff, dedicated teachers and high academic achievement. HLPUSD’s average API score is 814 (out of 1,000), considered excellent. The board’s priority goal is to stem the flow of students from the district and address declining enrollment. Sometimes, parents send their children to Troy High School in Fullerton, a magnet school that recruits the cream of the crop from the eastern San Gabriel Valley. The board wanted a superintendent who “understands the role of the board and is not afraid to speak up and give the board advice.”

The board addressed a key issue that has plagued the two-cities district for decades: the divide between schools in La Puente and in Hacienda Heights. Commenters in Groups 7 and 10 wrote the board favors Hacienda Heights over La Puente and doesn’t provide equal programs at all high schools, according to the report. A majority of commenters in Group 7 wrote the board shows “racial favoritism/bias” when deciding on school staffing and projects.

After Board President Jay Chen insisted names be redacted, to which Cosca reluctantly and only partially agreed, the report mentions criticism of Los Altos High School leadership but specific names were removed. However, one group in the report, talking about racial bias, said Chen promoted college preparatory workshops and advertised to schools that excluded La Puente High and Workman High, something Chen said was not true.

“I held the last two college workshops in La Puente,” he said Friday. Chen said while a workshop in 2010 was held at Wilson High School, he held workshops in 2011 and 2012 at La Puente High, and one in 2009 at Workman High.

During the meeting, he called the issue a “perception problem,” but later made it a priority of the new superintendent to create a “one district sense of unity rather than a north-south divide.”

A small group in the audience reacted when Chen made his comments. One of them, Gilda L. Ochoa, a professor of sociology and Chicano/Latino studies at Pomona College who lives in La Puente, said many in the Latino community are deeply concerned about the divide. She said it starts at the top — three of the five board members are from Hacienda Heights.

“I am concerned on a number of levels on the issue of inequality. The school district is very unequal,” Ochoa said after the meeting. “There is more attention to Hacienda Heights than La Puente. They say it is a perception. It is not perception, it is reality.”

Recruitment letters will go out after being approved by the president and vice president of the board. Those candidates from within the district will no longer be treated differently as originally proposed by the board. The board ruled they, too, must submit resumes, as outside candidates.

Another change to the process came after Cosca raised concerns that board members and staff were calling him in an effort to influence the process. The board agreed not to call Cosca with concerns unless a member had a question. “No board member should be contacting you guys; no staff members should be contacting you guys and influencing the process,” said board member Anthony Duarte.

Chen said Costa and him had phone conversations about redacting the report to protect employees. Chen was disappointed in the report, calling it a regurgitation of comments without much analysis. “This isn’t about people airing grievances about employees. This is about finding a superintendent,” he said.

Can cities better prepare for effects of climate change?

 

Insurance commissioner urges companies to adjust to extreme weather

A home at the end of El Nido in La Verne, Friday, June 28, 2013, sits just south of the Angeles National Forest. Insurance companies are worried about global warming and may increase their rates for those living in high risk areas. (SGVN/Staff Photo by Sarah Reingewirtz)
HEAT WAVE

  PASADENA – Rather than adjust to the extreme effects of climate change, many insurance companies are simply not insuring properties in low-lying coastal zones due to the threat of flooding and are canceling policies of homeowners living near hillsides that may catch fire, said insurance and government experts Friday.

California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones, speaking at a forum examining insurance and climate change at the Pasadena Central Library’s Wright Auditorium, urged insurance companies not to cancel policies but instead to plan for the inevitable changes to the planet and increasing damage claims as a result of climate change.

“This is the biggest and most fundamental problem we face as a people,” Jones told an audience of about 100 people. “And there is room for the insurance industry to take a leadership role as well.”

Out of 184 survey responses from insurance companies sent to the commissioner’s office, only 23 had a comprehensive climate change strategy. “That is way too low,” he said.

At stake is how insurance companies respond to huge payouts from increasingly frequent and more extreme weather events such as hurricanes, floods, tornadoes and wildfires, Jones said.

For example, when climatologist models predict more frequent and intense wildfires in Southern California due to longer periods of drought, drier conditions and extended fire seasons, some insurance companies are “pulling back” because they can’t manage the risk. “That is a real problem. If a homeowner cannot get insurance, that creates real problems and risks for them,” Jones said.

Recent statistics illustrate the problem insurance companies face.

Since the mid-1970s, the average length of the fire season in California and the western United States has increased by 78 days, said panelist Fire Chief Ken Pimlott of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. “Twelve of the 20 most damaging wildfires in California occurred in the last 10 years,” he added.

Jones said the budget for CalFire increased from about $400 million a year when he was a state legislator to $1 billion a year today. So far this year, CalFire responded to more than 2,000 wildfires that burned 50,000 acres. Last year at this time, the number was 1,100 wildfires and less than half as much acreage.

Pimlott said there will never be enough engines and firefighters to put out all the wildfires in the state — not now and not in the next few decades when global warming is expected to get much worse. “We have to learn to be resilient and live with fire,” he said. He urged cooperation from cities and citizens to better prepare homes for eventual wildfires.

Also, cities must consider global warming in land use decisions, especially when weighing new developments in flood plains or near wildlands, he said. Insurance companies should help shape land-use decisions to reduce climate change’s effects and reward owners of green buildings by offering them lowered premiums.

Fireman’s Fund Insurance Co., a division of Allianz, a Munich-based conglomerate, does offer incentives to policy holders who practice conservation, but Jones said it is only one of a handful.

Steve Bushnell, senior director of Fireman’s Fund, said planning for risk is much tougher when the climate varies from historical patterns. But that’s no excuse for not planning for more extreme weather events and how to shape insurance policies.

“We are right in the cross-hairs of climate change,” he said.

In 2011, worldwide losses from natural disasters reached a record high $400 billion, That spring, insurance companies in the U.S. experienced $21.3 billion in insurance losses, the fourth highest in U.S. history, after 9/11, Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and Hurricane Andrew in August 1992.

“Parts of the world, including parts of Florida, are becoming uninsurable,” said Andrew Logan, director of oil and gas programs at Ceres, a “green” investment group that advocates for a sustainable economy. “If we don’t get our act together fairly soon, the future will be worse and the damage from climate change will grow,” he told the audience.

Besides insurance claims, climate change will hurt the broader economy. Logan said Hurricane Sandy along the New York and New Jersey coastline caused $60 billion in damage. “These physical impacts (from climate change) are a threat to large swaths of the economy,” Logan said.

State Sen. Carol Liu, D-Pasadena, who organized the event, said it is part of her effort to begin a dialogue on climate change in her district and in the state.

“It is a conversation. It is an awareness,” Liu said. “You can’t stop it but we can do something.”

Judge comes close to dismissing conflict-of-interest charges against Nick Conway

By Steve Scauzillo, Staff Writer
Posted: 05/30/2013 03:36:13 PM PDT
Updated: 05/31/2013 09:08:56 AM PDT

LOS ANGELES – A judge Thursday came close to dismissing the criminal conflict-of-interest charges against former San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments Executive Director Nick Conway, but instead gave Conway’s attorney the opportunity to file an argument that may grant Conway a waiver from law.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Norm Shapiro, clearly troubled by the evidence before him, suggested that a waiver motion could be filed that recognizes inherent conflicts in Conway acting as the SGVCOG’s executive director while chasing contracts that boosted his management firm, Arroyo Associates.

Conway’s firm was hired by the COG to manage the joint powers agency of which 31 San Gabriel Valley cities are members.

“Although Mr. Conway’s conduct may have come under the 1090 government code, but the conflict was waived in this situation,” suggested Shapiro during a spirited, hour-long discussion of a motion to dismiss all charges filed by Conway’s attorney, Kenneth White.

While Shapiro did not rule on the motion, he said repeatedly that the case handed to him by Judge M.L. Villar de Longoria, who ruled there was enough evidence to suggest Conway was guilty and ordered a trial, was unique and perplexing.

“I can’t find a case that addresses anything like this,” Shapiro said, suggesting later that the case does not hinge on solid evidence but on “the interpretation of what happened.”

Conway, 61, a Pasadena resident, was charged with four felony counts of conflict of interest while running the SGVCOG last July. The 1090 clause of the California penal code says office holders or their employees “shall not be financially interested in any contract made by them in their official capacity” and that they shall not “be purchasers” of contracts.
Assistant District Attorney Dana Aratani argued that on four separate occasions while he headed the SGVCOG, Conway sought out and signed contracts that benefitted himself and his company. For example, one amendment to the 2010-2011 contract containing a flat rate payment of $422,000 a year added $105,000 “on top of the $422,000,” Aratani said.

Two other amendments were added after Conway sought out and signed additional grants, one adding $21,896 and another adding $21,573 to Arroyo Associates’ contract in the same fiscal year.

“Mr. Conway was going out and finding these additional contracts and signing them,” Aratani told the judge. “By signing these contracts, he got additional income. This is a very textbook example of a conflict-of-interest situation.”

Later in the hearing, Aratani brought up a 2006 investigation by the Los Angeles County District Attorney into Conway and the SGVCOG for alleged conflict of interest. Though it never led to charges being filed, Aratani said the investigation should have cautioned Conway to stay away from future conflict-of-interest situations.

While Shapiro acknowledged that Conway “was no babe in the woods,” he did not agree with Aratani that this case was clear cut. Instead, he leaned toward the defense argument that Conway was only doing what the SGVCOG board ordered him to do.

While this argument was rejected by Judge Villar de Longoria after the preliminary hearing, it gained more traction with Shapiro.

“It is clear that the judge was troubled by this case where it is so clear a man was told by the government to do something that was approved by counsel hired by the government and is now being charged with a crime for doing that,” White said in an interview after the hearing.

White argued that the SGVCOG’s chosen form of governance — to contract out its management to Conway and his company — was a way of saving money. But it also contained flaws. He said Foothill Transit, a San Gabriel Valley transit agency that contracts out with a private management firm, last week voted to sever that contract and manage its administrative personnel in-house. He said it was not a coincidence that Foothill Transit is moving away from a possible conflict of interest.

Even the SGVCOG, which fired Conway and Arroyo Associates on Oct. 31, has since hired its own employees, an indication that the system was flawed, not the man.

“Entities all over now are looking at this,” White said. “This structure has some inherent flaws. It is fundamentally unfair to make this man the scapegoat for those flaws that the government has chosen to save money.”

Aratani objected to the waiver petition being considered, saying the state’s 1090 law clearly applies in this case.

“The public has a right to know their executive officer of the San Gabriel Valley COG is doing things at the best interest of them, as opposed to growing his company,” he told the judge.

White will submit a written argument on the waiver option by June 17. Aratani will have until July 2 to respond, Shapiro said. He ordered both sides to appear in court July 12, so he could rule on the motion to dismiss the charges. He said that is unless a settlement between the two sides can be reached before then.

When asked about a settlement, White said he would not comment.