South El Monte faces rejection

Getting a sit-down restaurant to set up shop in South El Monte is apparently a lot harder than it looks, Ben Baeder reports:

SOUTH EL MONTE – With the economy sagging, this little blue-collar city is facing the cruel sting of rejection as it tries to attract a restaurant to a freeway-close street corner.

The city is offering financial help to any sit-down restaurant that would open on a pair of adjacent parcels at Santa Anita and Merced avenues near the 60 Freeway, according to city officials.

So far, sixteen out of 17 restaurants rejected the city’s offer, according to city documents. Twenty others did not respond.

Only Panda Express expressed interest, but officials opted to locate to a different location in South El Monte.



South El Monte gives thumbs up for stadium

Industry Mayor Dave Perez said that aside from West Covina and Monterey Park, South El Monte is the newest city to voice its support for the NFL stadium in Industry. South El Monte approved it on Sept. 9.

Meantime, Industry officials are still dealing with whether they should approve an extension for those wanting additional time to review the environmental report.

Cell towers and cancer

I got a call today and a fax from a South El Monte resident who is upset about a Verizon Wireless antenna facility that is going up at 9700 Factorial Way. There is a public hearing tonight on the topic at 6 p.m.

The resident is opposing the antenna facility because she claims that it will cause cancer.
But according to the American Cancer Society’s Web site, that is doubtful:

Humans generate electromagnetic fields internally as well as externally. The simple collision between 2 molecules is an electrical event. Since there is electrical activity inside the human body, the question arises as to whether radio waves emitted by cellular phone towers can influence cell function, and in particular whether they can cause cancer.

However, several theoretical considerations suggest that cellular phone towers are unlikely to cause cancer


Plus, she added, there is already an antenna behind the 9708 Factorial Way.

South El Monte Mayor defends spending habits

South El Monte Councilwoman Blanca Figueroa at last week’s council meeting had to continually justify her travel expenses. According to Claudia Palma’s story, some council members are upset with how Figueroa is borrowing money from their travel budgets. In the past, Figueroa has justified these expenses by saying that the city reaps the benefits of these trips, and that as Mayor it is her responsibility to travel and represent the city, more so than the other council members.

Council looks into travel policy
By Claudia Palma, Staff Writer
Article Launched: 06/16/2008 09:28:36 PM PDT

SOUTH EL MONTE – The City Council has yet to decide how to keep travel expenses for individual members in check.

Recent actions from Mayor Blanca Figueroa, such as borrowing from other members’ travel budgets, prompted the council to look into the travel policy and credit card policies.

“If one person (goes over budget), it makes us all look bad,” said Councilman Hector Delgado.

At last week’s meeting, the council directed staff to look into provisions to prevent individual members from going over their travel budget and not using credit cards properly.

Previous city records, show the city was over its $60,000 travel budget by $8,000 in 2006-07. Of that, Figueroa used $20,811.

In February, council moved to reduce its budget to $40,000, giving each member $8,000 for 2007-08.

A request filed two weeks ago for recent records of the council’s travel budget remains outstanding.

Figueroa said when she recently borrowed the money from the travel budget of council members Angelica Garcia and Delgado for a trip to a sister city in Mexico, it was with the understanding that she will pay it back from her travel budget when they get into the next fiscal year, 2008-09.

“I will pay it back and that’s it,” said Figueroa, “I’m not breaking any laws.”

Councilmember Louie Agui aga said the city lost about $100 when the mayor’s trip to Mexico had to be cancelled because of illness.

“We need to be careful,” said Agui aga, “If you don’t have the money, you cannot go or you pay for it yourself.” Read more.

South El Monte’s spending problems revisisted


I notice there is some discussion about the travel expenses accumulated by South El Monte Councilwoman Blanca Figueroa. Here is a story I wrote in November. Since the story ran, the District Attorney’s office launched an investigation into these expenses, and the city cut it’s budget from $60,000 a year to be divided among five directors down to $40,000 a year

City exceeds travel budget; mayor says benefits worth it
San Gabriel Valley Tribune (West Covina, CA) – November 2, 2007
Author/Byline: Jennifer McLain, Staff Writer
Section: News

SOUTH EL MONTE – A three-week trip through the interior of Mexico, a five-day stay near Disney World and a handful of other trips put council members over their travel budget last year by $8,000, records show.

South El Monte budgeted $60,000 during fiscal year 2006-07 to split between the five council members – at $12,000 each – for travel and meeting expenses .

But last year, the City Council spent $68,258.

“Do the ends justify the means?” said Mayor Blanca Figueroa, who spent $20,811 last year. “Absolutely.”

City officials say the development projects that have blossomed recently, including commercial projects and the construction of 100 new homes, are reason enough to justify the trips.

“We’ve had so much growth and development in the city,” said Councilman Hector Delgado. “We have really changed the image of South El Monte .”

The overspending, however, has prompted the city to re-examine its policy and develop ways to curb its travel spending, which council members will discuss at a special meeting on Friday.

“Just because you have the budget doesn’t mean that you should waste every penny of it,” said Councilman Louie Agui aga, who had $2,284 remaining in his travel budget. “I’m going to recommend that we lower our budget.”

Unlike many of the other San Gabriel Valley cities, which typically travel within the country, South El Monte spent more than $20,000 on trips to Mexico.

Most of that cost came from a $17,000 trip for four council members who traveled to Mexico from July 31 to Aug. 19, 2006, records show.

Documents only show city business from July 31 to Aug. 13. The six other days are unaccounted for, records show, although City Manager Anthony Ybarra said the council members met with sister city officials during that time.

No documents were provided.

From Aug. 2 to Aug. 8, the council members traveled to South El Monte ‘s sister city Gomez Palacio in Durango, Mexico. Then they attended a conference in Tuxtla Gutierrez from Aug. 9 to Aug. 13.

Council members said they visited another sister city, Miguel Hidalgo, from Aug. 13 until their departure on Aug. 19, but no documentation was provided for those activities.

Figueroa took other trips to Mexico throughout the year, costing another $3,000.

The council spent close to $10,000 sending five council members and the city manager in July to a conference in Orlando, Fla.

They also visited Washington, D.C., Indian Wells, near Palm Springs, and Las Vegas.

Figueroa said that as mayor, she has an obligation to travel more than her fellow council members, but she doesn’t always want to go.

She spent about $8,000 more than her colleagues.

“I didn’t want to go to Florida,” Figueroa said, “but you sometimes have to bite the bullet and do what is best for the city.”

Agui aga said the generous budget is not the only problem with the council members and the way they use public money to travel .

He also said that council members do not turn in receipts for their meals.

According to the city’s policy, $75 per day is distributed to council members in advance, and must be returned if unused and a receipt must be provided.

The cost covers items such as meals and transportation expenses , not including airfare.

According to the policy, they must provide receipts documenting how the advance was used, and must return the advance to the city treasury within five business days.

Records provided show no examples of per diem refunds.

“Usually, I spent it all,” Figueroa said. “And I don’t come home with anything because it is usually not enough.”

Council members were given a total of $5,625 to spend on food and other miscellaneous costs while in Mexico for the three-week trip.

Agui aga, however, said that $75 was more than enough.

“They did spend the money on food,” Agui aga said. “But there should have been some excess.”

Leftovers column

The Leftovers ftom City Hall column has been moved to Mondays.

Here’s today’s:

Council race will be heated
Article Launched: 06/02/2008 12:05:13 AM PDT

But in eyes of some local leaders, there are more important elections to focus on – even if those elections are more than a year away.

In Rosemead, the next election is in March 2009.

But ask anyone who attends the council meetings, and it appears as though Mayor John Tran and council members Margaret Clark and John Nu ez have been on the campaign trail for months.

It is still unclear who will be running for re-election, but community members seem to think that Clark, Nu ez and Tran will all be trying to win their seats back.

First, there’s Clark, who has sent out several fliers during the past several months opposing proposed city ordinances.

Then, there’s Nu ez, who was the center of a sexual harassment lawsuit, which was settled earlier this year. Last month, it looked like a damage control move when he sent out letters apologizing if he ever made employees uncomfortable.

Finally, there is Tran, who will be riding into the election on a second consecutive term as mayor.

Rosemead’s elected aren’t the only city officials that have the election in mind.

El Monte City Manager Jim Mussenden said recent allegations accusing Mayor Ernie Gutierrez of being drunk in public are “political.”

Other city officials have said they wouldn’t be surprised to see Henry August’s name on the ballot – and their city election isn’t until November 2009.

August was the man who lambasted Gutierrez for allegedly groping his girlfriend and shouting out vulgarities while drunk at a public event.
August, a former police officer, did not return calls for comment.

Gutierrez, Art Barrios and Juventino Gomez’s terms will expire in 2009.

In South El Monte, conflict over travel budgets have some council members wondering whether that means their political futures in the city will be stifled.

Mayor Blanca Figueroa, who has spent thousands of dollars more than her colleagues in meeting and travel expenses, will be up for re-election in November 2009. Angelica Garcia and Joseph Gonzales will also be up for re-election.

Recently, some council members have been more heated than ever as Figueroa continues to go over her spending budget.


El Monte is one of the few technologically-friendly cities in the San Gabriel Valley that actually posts City Council agendas and streaming videos of council meetings online.

It’s no wonder than that a reader so furiously complained on Monday when the May 20 council meeting was still not up on the city’s Web site to view.

The reader pointed to possible conspiracies, and questioned the city’s motives.

A staff member in the City Clerk’s Office said she “forgot” to put it up – nearly a week after the meeting was held.

The meeting was up and running on the Web site within about 30 minutes later. A day after the conversation with the staffer, city spokesman Matthew Weintraub called with some concerns.

Apparently, the city employee was “distressed” over the post on the Leftovers from City Hall blog, detailing why the video wasn’t posted.

Weintraub said he didn’t want people in the community to think the city was trying to hide something.

Apparently, the female staffer who spoke about the council meeting video does not usually do that job. The office is understaffed and it was just an honest mistake.

We did not mean to suggest there was some mysterious reason behind the missing video. We’re just happy the city posts the meetings online in the first place – unlike others who don’t even make it easy to pick up a printed agenda.

(626) 962-8811, Ext. 2477, 2109

Affordable housing in South El Monte

Don Cook, president of DC Corporation, requested that South El Monte waive $150,324 worth of fees for the senior and affordable housing project, according to an inter-office memo dated March 10. The item is scheduled to appear before the council  in the near future, possibly at Tuesday’s council meeting. Here is an exceprt from the memo, written to City Manager Anthony Ybarra by Cook:

“It has already been determined by the Improvement District and Staff that this project could not be built without assistance from the Improvement District, which the District Board has provided. It is inconsistent for the District Board to provide gap financing for the project in order to make the project viable and then have the City require tens of thousands of dollars in fees. I oder to avoid this “Peter to pay Paul” scenarios we request the aboive listed fees be waived by the City. Not only is this logical on its face, it ic consistent with how other cities in the Valley participate in the development of senior and affordable housing,” wrote Cook.

Cook continues, writing that this project has continued to be delayed. In a Triibune article in 2005, DC Corp. unveilved its project plans:

Another mixed-use project on the horizon by developer DC Corp. at Michael Hunt Drive and Peck Road will feature senior housing as well as retail, which includes a drugstore and beauty shop, said Don Cook , vice president of the corporation.

“This is something we’re doing in part with the city, but the city won’t be giving any money,’ Cook said.

DC Corp has also developed homes in Baldwin Park, West Covina and Perris. The South El Monte planning commission first denied the proposed project, claiming that it was too dense, according to a Tribune article.

SOUTH EL MONTE — A town hall meeting Monday night to showcase plans for a retail and housing development turned into a confrontation between the developer and residents.

West Covina-based DCCorporation is looking for City Council approval to build 14 homes, 60 apartment units and 20,000 square feet of retail at 1570 Durfee Ave., behind the 7-Eleven store on Peck Road.

“The project is a superior project,” said DC Corp. employee Don Cook .

But the Planning Commission voted against the project, calling it too dense. DC Corp. is appealing the decision to the City Council, which is set to vote on the matter at its June 28 meeting.

About 60 people attended the meeting at the Senior Center. None of them spoke in favor of the DC Corp. project, with most saying it is too dense for the area.