Voters will elect three council members in Walnut, as issues swirl around city

WALNUT >> On April 12, residents of this upper middle class bedroom community surrounded by the San Jose Hills will go the polls to vote for three members of the City Council and whether to impose council member term limits.

Since the last election, several issues have arisen, leading many to say this year’s voter turnout could be a record.

A group called United Walnut Taxpayers formed in opposition to plans at neighboring Mount San Antonio College for a five-story parking garage on the edge of the Timberline neighborhood and an 11-acre solar farm on a prominent city hillside.

The group has filed a lawsuit and so has the city. Though the issues aren’t decided, the effect has been a near total collapse of relations between City Hall and the college, which is entirely in Walnut, spread over 411 acres and with an overall student population of close to 60,000.

A Feb. 19 candidates forum sponsored by United Walnut Taxpayers and the Chinese American Association of Walnut drew 200 people. A second forum is scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Walnut Senior Center. “We’ve raised the level of participation in this city,” said Layla Abou-Taleb, founder of UWT.

Second, 16-year Councilman Tony Cartagena is not running, meaning at least one new member will be joining the five-person City Council.

These are just some of the factors raising the stakes for the election in April.

The six candidates in alphabetical order are: Eric Ching, incumbent; Bella Cristobal, challenger; Dino Pollalis, challenger; Andrew Rodriguez, challenger; Betty Tang, challenger; and Nancy Tragarz, incumbent.


In 2012, Ching won his seat by 32 votes. Victory was declared only after provisional ballots were counted. Ching called the experience “a roller coaster ride.”

He ran on removing the red-light cameras from the city, something the City Council agreed to do in May 2014.

This year, he pushed for ballot Measure A that allows for a person to serve a maximum of three, four-year terms or 12 years, consecutive or not. The measure needs a majority of “yes” votes. It would not be retroactive.

Of 31 San Gabriel Valley cities surveyed by Walnut staff, 22 or 71 percent have no term limits. Nine cities or 29 percent have term limits. Those with term limits are: Arcadia, Azusa, Baldwin Park, La Puente, Montebello, Monterey Park, San Marino, Sierra Madre and Temple City.

On Mt. SAC, Ching, 49, said his concern extends to 60 different projects that could add traffic and congestion to Walnut streets. He also supported the recent decision to hire a new city attorney.

He’s received $30,764 in campaign contributions as of the Feb. 27 filing. He added $10,000 in 10, $1,000 contributions, according to an addendum filed March 16.


The retired financial analyst worked for Los Angeles County for 32 years and is a 30-year Walnut resident. Cristobal is on the city’s Parks and Recreation Commission.

She is one of two candidates endorsed by incumbent council members Cartagena, Mary Su and Robert Pacheco. The other is Dino Pollalis. The three incumbents who often vote together on a frequently divided council did not endorse the two incumbents running for re-election.

Cristobal, 66, also received endorsements from Republican leaders: Rep. Ed Royce and Assemblywoman Ling Ling Chang.

She is opposed to Measure A, the term limits measure.

She mentioned two issues specifically: Improving public safety by increasing volunteer patrols and adding amenities. “I want to move on with our project of the aquatic park,” she said.

She received $18,974 in contributions as of the Feb. 27 filing. She received $250 each from Robert and Gayle Pacheco and Mary Su. She received $1,000 from Mt. SAC board trustee David Hall.


In 2014, Pollalis, 53, ran an unsuccessful write-in campaign in which he picked up 196 votes for 2.8 percent.

This time, the retired electrical engineer is on the ballot. He says he’d like to see more emphasis on public safety. He is a volunteer at the Walnut Sheriff’s Station.

The 17-year resident of Walnut said he moved to the city to enjoy the semi-rural atmosphere. “Walnut is truly unique. Walnut is the place due to its open spaces and great family environment,” he said. He also serves on the city’s Mt. SAC task force.

He has not accepted any campaign contributions. He has funded his campaign with $5,100 of his own money as of the Feb. 27 filing.


Rodriguez, 23, is a product of Walnut Valley schools and earned a degree from Rutgers University. He works as a youth counselor at a nonprofit helping students qualify for college.

He is in favor of reducing the number of students at Mt. SAC in Walnut by adding satellite classes in other parts of the district. “I am against the parking structure and I would prefer the college decide to move it somewhere else,” he said. He lives in Timberline, adjacent to the proposed parking structure site.

Rodriguez also said he’d work to improve the look of Valley Boulevard and re-zone some parcels as commercial.

He’s been endorsed by Mt. SAC trustee Jay Chen (who contributed $500 to his campaign), and Walnut Valley school board member Cindy Ruiz.

As of the Feb. 27 filing with the city clerk, he’s raised $4,872.


Tang, 49, is on pace to raise the most money in the campaign. So far, she’s raised $70,000, she said. <URL destination=””>She spent close to $100,000 in 2014 and lost, coming in third behind Su and Pacheco.

The co-founder of CCI Corp., a custom automobile manufacturer and exporter, Tang has once again taken on the incumbents, saying in a mailer “the City Council members have become distracted by personality conflicts and petty arguments. Videos of their embarrassing behavior have made the Walnut Council the laughing stock of the San Gabriel Valley.”

The comments are partly directed at Tragarz, who as mayor in 2014 and 2015 spent hours at each meeting criticizing City Attorney Mike Montgomery’s legal advice, credentials, lack of malpractice insurance and his invoices. Also, a July meeting over who should be appointed the ceremonial position of mayor caused more fighting among the council. Ching, mayor pro-tem, was passed over for mayor by Pacheco, Su and Cartagena who voted for Pacheco. The meeting ended with jeers from the audience.

Tang, a 20-year resident who is serving as the president of the Chinese American Parent Association, said: “I think Walnut needs an independent voice to protect Walnut residents.”

She, as well as Pollalis and Tragarz, mentioned stemming a recent 40 percent spike in burglary crimes in the city.

She’s endorsed by Democrats Rep. Judy Chu and State Treasurer John Chiang, as well as Republicans, including Sen. Bob Huff and Assemblywoman Ling Ling Chang. She has numerous endorsements from members of the Diamond Bar and La Puente city councils but not from members of the current Walnut City Council.


As a 43-year resident of Walnut whose involvement spans schools, regional boards such as Foothill Transit and the San Gabriel Valley Council of Government and community groups, she is the candidate most vested in Walnut and its government.

Tragarz, 53, an attorney,  recently took on the city attorney in some of the fiercest meetings in this small, normally quiet city government. As mayor, she spoke for hours about Mike Montgomery until just recently convincing the rest of the council to put the city attorney spot up for bid.

Barbara Leibold, of the law firm Leibold McClendon & Mann in Irvine, became the new city attorney and began serving this month.

“The Council can see I was right about all those things,” Tragarz said last week.

Montgomery said he and the city agreed to part ways. He had served 36 years. “One of the council members had been attacking me on my billing. So I got tired of that,” he said. He has recently taken a job as city attorney of Maywood, he said.

Tragarz attributed a spike in burglaries on the early release of prisoners as prompted by a federal judge, and on Proposition 47, which downgraded some nonviolent drug felonies to misdemeanors. Law enforcement officials said the new law added criminals to the streets and drove crime up.

She and Ching are running on their record. She said the city is still one of the safest in California. Tragarz is endorsed by Royce, Huff, Ling Ling Chang, Councilman Ching as well as Helen Hall, Walnut Valley USD board member.

As of the Feb. 27 filing, she’s raised $5,387.

Weekend links and yodeling dummies

Did anyone watch the Miss America pageant this weekend? I would be ashamed to admit to it normally, but when someone’s talent is a yodeling ventriloquist act (you heard that right) or describes their biggest asset as being “racially ambiguous” (same person) how can you not be entertained?

Also, the quote of the night (besides racially ambiguous girl Ms. Arkansas, unfortunately I can’t find a video or transcript) goes to either Ms. Iowa with this line from her intro “Leading the state in ethanol production, my state gives you gas,” or Ms. Utah with “Tonight 53 women share a dream, not a husband.”

Anyway, if your attention was taken away by Miss America, or the Jets beating the Patriots, or the Golden Globes, then here is the news you missed.

“My sixth grandfather, Pedro, is buried here along with some of his family. I don’t want them dug up.” Gabrieleno Indians fight to preserve a burial ground where a Mexican cultural center is planned.

A Walnut veteran gives an update on the troop drawdown in Iraq. “As the drawdown happens, it becomes harder to get the supplies and support to the people, but it’s a mission that is very crucial and has to get done.”

The teen birth rate has seen a major decline, but the cause is something left to be determined.

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

Walnut school board fires recently rehired superintendent, justifies thousands lost by saying split was ‘amicable’ (wait…what?)

In today’s paper, reporter Maritza Velazquez has a story about how the Walnut Valley Unified Board of Education’s decision to fire its recently rehired superintendent is going to cost the district hundreds of thousands of dollars.

From the story:

“The district in February renewed the contract for former Superintendent Cyndy Simms and will pay her $295,500 over the next 18 months. Then the board ousted her Aug. 11.”

In addition, “The board recently approved a $14,842-a-month contract agreement to employ interim Superintendent Charles McCully, who will serve in a temporary position for three to five months. They will also pay him $1,000 a month for automobile and housing expenses.”

In a time when schools are hard pressed for funds, districts are laying off teachers and staff, and the future is uncertain, the board must have good reason to make such a fiscally detrimental decision. Unfortunately, they haven’t been willing to give one.

Instead, following the unanimous vote, the board said the split was “amicable” and amounted to nothing more than a difference in leadership and management style that apparently was worth spending about $16,000 a month for her to be gone. This when the district is facing a $3.3 million budget deficit.

I have never been fired from a job before, but I hope if I ever do, it can work out as well as this one. $16,000 a month to fire her? I have friends who have stayed with girlfriends they didn’t like just because they needed a ride to work and didn’t want to pay for the bus.

The board has to wonder, will this be easy for taxpayers, and voters, to swallow?

(NOTE: I am not saying their decision to fire her was wrong or right. What do I know? Exactly. Nothing, which, conveniently, is my point. When you fire someone after rehiring them and decide to pay them bags of money a month – granted it will probably be in check form, like one of those giant checks they give for winning a golf tournament – you should have a really good reason. A REALLY good reason. Not a, well, she butted heads with the Spanish teacher and you have a difference of opinion on positive reinforcement versus constructive criticism. I mean, you rehired her, shouldn’t you already know her management style? Your reason better be that she was somehow detrimental to the education of the school children or seriously hampered the work environment, otherwise what reason is there?)

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

How far can a city go when it comes to code enforcement?


How far can a city go to ensure neighborhoods and homes are uniform, clean and meet a general community standard?

Richard McDonald, 76, has been fighting back against his city. His two-acre property has a $36,750 lien stemming from dozens of code violations he racked up over the years. Walnut is trying to recoup some of the money it spent trying to address his case.

A city prosecutor charged he and his wife with 279 code violations and both were eventually conviction of 33 of those counts last year. McDonald admits to having had as many as 20 dogs, 15 cars and 200 pigeons on land which sits a top a hill on Camino de Teodoro. The city says neighbors have complained since 2003 about the appearance of the property, the smell and dogs.

At the heart of McDonald’s challenge is differing opinions on property maintenance. He claims that no one has complained about his home since he moved there in 1972. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” said McDonald, who retired in 1993 from 33 years of teaching at Fullerton College.

Do you agree?

For more on McDonald’s story read the rest here.

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

To vote or not to vote


There seems to be some confusion over Sen. Bob Huff’s involvement in a Senate vote on Wednesday.

Huff participated in a procedural vote that helped move an environmental bill to the Senate floor. Problem is, that environmental bill — which passed 22-14 — will exempt a proposed NFL stadium in Industry from state environmental laws.

Members of the Citizens for Community Preservation Inc., which has a lawsuit filed against the stadium, said the vote was unethical because of Huff and his wife’s involvement with Industry and the stadium’s developer.

“(Legislators) didn’t have enough votes to move the vote to the floor for, so Huff voted to get it to there,” said Howard Wang, first vice president of the citizens group.

“He said he’s not going to vote because of his personal interest with the stadium and his relations with Industry. Second of all, his wife is an executive of Pacific Palms Resort.

Obviously, there is a direct conflict of interest. Our view is he should not get involved in voting of any kind.”

Pacific Palms is master-leased by Majestic, its CEO Roski and the company’s Vice President John Semcken under a partnership called Majestic Industry Hills, LLC.

Wang said the citizens group was consulting with officials at the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission to determine if there is a potential conflict of interest.

The group is mulling filling a complaint against Huff.

Are you ready for some football?


It’s almost official — almost.

With the larger of two legal challenges against an NFL Stadium in Industry settled, officials are saying that the hope of pro football returning to LA are “that close.”

The Industry City Council approved a $9 million settlement agreement with Walnut on Thursday. That leaves only one legal challenge left — a lawsuit filed by a citizens group in Walnut.

It appears talks to settle that suit have broken down, though I’m sure billionaire developer Ed Roski Jr.’s people aren’t giving up that easy.

In the meantime, take our online poll (just scroll down the homepage) to vote for which NFL team you would like to see in LA.

$9 million settlement looming in Walnut Vs. Industry lawsuit

James Wagner reports that Walnut has agreed to drop its lawsuit against Industry over the proposed NFL stadium for $9 million, among other concessions.

The settlement agreement was approved by the Walnut City Council on Tuesday. It’s expected to go before the Industry City Council this morning.

According to Wagner’s story
, “Under the terms of the settlement agreement, Industry will pay Walnut $9 million for traffic improvements. In addition, Industry will pay for all improvements on Valley Boulevard near Fairway Drive and pay a ‘fair share’ of three other traffic improvement projects.

Industry will also guarantee that Walnut receives an annual payment into a ‘community fund.’ The amount of that payment will vary year-by-year depending on how many events the stadium hosts. Estimates in the agreement suggest that Walnut would receive $350,000 per year if at least 24 events are held. That amount would go up with the number of events, and can also be raised for inflation.”

The most interesting part however is that a provision in the agreement prohibits Walnut officials from helping any opposition to the project — that includes a pending lawsuit filed by Citizens for Community Preservation Inc.

It seems Walnut Councilman Joaquin Lim may not understand that provision. He told Wagner today that if the Citizens group held a meeting and invited him, he would attend.

The costly stadium fight


It’s not easy fighting billionaire developer Ed Roski.

And apparently, it isn’t cheap either.

Reporter James Wagner had a story in today’s paper about the price tag of Walnut’s legal fight against a proposed National Football League stadium in neighboring Industry.

The tab was already at $320,000 since September. That was until Wednesday, when the City Council approved setting aside another $150,000 for additional legal fees.

That brings the total to $470,000.

Councilman Joaquin Lim told Wagner the “expenses are very well justified,” especially when you compare it to how much the city stands to lose in the future if the stadium is approved.

Not everyone agrees, however. Some residents argue the city is wasting taxpayer money on a losing battle.

Chargers refuse new staidum in San Diego, Majestic Realty refuses lawsuit negotiations with Walnut*

Majestic Realty terminates negotiations with Walnut over proposed NFL stadium
By Amanda Baumfeld, Staff Writer
Posted: 05/28/2009 10:00:20 PM PDT

WALNUT – Majestic Realty has terminated negotiations with Walnut over a proposed NFL stadium, saying city officials requested a “wish list of tens of millions of dollars” that had little to do with the project.

As Walnut and Industry parted ways Thursday, San Diego Chargers officials rejected a bid for a new stadium in San Diego. The Chargers are among four teams being courted to move to Industry.

In Walnut, members of the City Council have adamantly opposed Majestic’s proposal for a 600-acre, 75,000-seat stadium complex near the 57/60 freeway interchange in Industry. The project was proposed by billionaire developer Ed Roski Jr., who owns Majestic Realty Co. and is close friends with the Spanos family, which owns the

Read the letter from John Semcken regarding the failed negotiations with Walnut. Chargers.
Roski wants to buy part of a team and move it to Industry.

Majestic Vice President John Semcken on Wednesday night presented a letter to the Walnut City Council outlining his complaints.

On Thursday, he said negotiations with Walnut were over.

“They put together an enormous wish list of items that have nothing to do with project or the impact of the project,” Semcken said. “As a result, until they come back with realistic negotiations with the impacts we hereby terminate all negotiations.”

Some of Walnut’s requests included an aquatics center, a banquet facility, citywide landscaping, a 48-acre park and work to make Meadow Pass Road a through street, according to Semcken’s letter.

“What was in that letter was the tip of the tip of the tip of the iceberg,” Semcken said.

Jan Chatten-Brown, an attorney hired by Walnut to deal with the stadium issue, said Semcken is “mischaracterizing the conversation.”

“Walnut in good faith tried to quantify the amenities to offset the adverse impact on the quality of life,” Chatten-Brown said.

The city will go to court to challenge the project, she said.

In San Diego on Thursday, Chargers officials turned down developer Perry Dealy’s proposal to build a $1 billion stadium as part of a redevelopment of the land surrounding Qualcomm Stadium.

Hours before the project was to be announced, Chargers attorney Mark Fabiani sent the developer a letter saying the team wanted him to stop referring to the Chargers when promoting the project.

The Chargers in January hired a marketing firm to drum up interest for the team in the Los Angeles area.

The Associated Press contributed to this story

Enforcing the state’s open meeting law

The L.A. Times tackles a story about the number of Brown Act violations investigated by the District Attorney’s office, which receives dozens of complaints a year from constiuents across Los Angeles county. The Brown Act is the state’s open meeting law.

Among the cities mentioned in the story is Walnut, which was threatened with litigation for a closed door meeting in which, “Mayor Joaquin Lim was said to have led a council discussion and polled his colleagues about opposing construction of an NFL stadium in the neighboring city of Industry,” according to the Times article.

But as Terry Francke points out in the story, it is very difficult to see criminal charges come from Brown Act violations.

But criminal charges are nearly impossible to bring, said Terry Francke, a lawyer and author of a guide to the state’s open meetings law. Prosecutors must show that an official intentionally violated the law, a difficult standard to meet in court, he said.

“The idea of a letter, firing a shot across the offender’s bow, is a very good one,” Francke said.

As reporters, we frequently receive news tips from people alerting us of a possible Brown Act violation, such as when a majority of council members allegedly make a decision before an item ever appears on the agenda. But even proving that is especially difficult since elected officials can simply say, “No, I did not violate the Brown Act.”