Chamber Drama: Part III

So, the West Covina Chamber of Commerce had a five-hour closed door board meeting yesterday. I stopped by at noon on Thursday to see if I could go inside in meeting or at least get an agenda, and had no luck with either.

The board members did not tell Exectuive Director Gary Lawson and Marketing Director Monica Cabrera what happened in the meeting. Instead, Lawson and Cabrera received a letter via fed-ex this morning. The letter informed them of their reinstatement, and also that they would both be suspended without pay pending further legal advice. (Read here if you are lost.)

Still no word as to the reason for their firing, reinstatement or suspension, though Lawson is convinced it has everything to do with a restraining order he, Cabrera and part-time employee William Medina filed against board member Luis Chacon.

Since Lawson and Cabrera are the only two full-time employees of the six-person staff, it kind of makes you wonder who is going to be picking up the slack. Also, part-time employee Medina said he is considering quitting over the whole ordeal.

Board members refuse to return calls. While the board is a private agency, it does receive some public funding. This year, it got $75,000 from the city of West Covina, Lawson said.

This is just me talking, but once a private agency receives public money — your money — it seems that those agencies should strive for some sort of transparency and accountability to the public — even if that means returning a phone call or distributing an agenda. I’m not the only one that sees it that way, either. 



West Covina finances in bad shape…and getting worse

West Covina’s deficit is expected to jump another $1.8 million to $3.9 million as a result of the declining economy and sales tax revenues. As a way to make up for some of the loss, the city is considering selling Prop A transportation funds at 75 cents to the dollar to West Hollywood. The sale will result in an increase in revenues of nearly $750,000.

Other ways the city could be acconting for additional revenues is by looking at personnel:

Staff will begin having informal discussions with all bargaining groups to examine possible employee concessions as an additional way to reduce the budget deficit. Current staff is already experiencing the impacts and stress of personnel reductions due to the additional workload and responsibilities resulting from the restructuring of City Hall. However, with personnel costs accounting for 83 percent of the General Fund Budget, it seems prudent to meet with the bargaining groups in an effort to preserve jobs, avoid layoffs, and minimize the impacts that further service reductions will have on the community.

Meantime, reserve levels continue to drop. In 1990, the available fund balance in the reserve pot was $40 million. In 2009-10, it is projected to dip to nearly $9 million.

Blog looks at pension problems in state

Star-News reporter Dan Abendschein points out a new blog about public pensions, The blog is a project of Ed Mendel, a reporter who covered Sacramento for nearly 30 years.

Here’s a snipet about the blog:

About us

The main focus of is the pair of big pension funds based in Sacramento, the California Public Employees Retirement System and the California State Teachers Retirement System, which have two of the world’s largest investment portfolios.

There also are more than 80 smaller public employee pensions funds in California. Among them are 22 pension funds operated by counties, 32 by cities and 25 by special districts.

Most of the pension funds face the same basic issues. Are pension benefits negotiated by employer unions too generous? Will growing pension costs cut deeply into funding for other government programs?

With their investment clout, the big pension funds can push for better corporate performance, energy-efficient buildings and other policies. The operations of these wealthy and powerful funds are worth a closer look.

Bust out your pocketbooks

A few things of interest on Tuesday’s Covina Council meeting:

1. Public hearing about the proposed increased water rates. Initial projections were that it could increase as much as 35 percent, but city officials recently said that is unrealistic.

2. I don’t see it on the agenda, but since it was cancelled last time around, the council should be discussing how to fill the vacancy created by the Nov. 30 resignation of former Councilwoman Meline Juarez.

3. The council could be joining the 21st technology if the council approves the purchasing of camera and web streaming equipment on Tuesday. It’s unclear from the documents I have just have much this costs.

And the results are in…

The presidency wasn’t the only think at stake in Tuesday’s historical election.

Here’s a breakdown of some of the local candidates and measures that failed or passed:

*Measure CC, which would have changed Rosemead from a general law city to a charter city failed. Voters rejected it by a 63 percent to 37 percent margin.

*Former Assemblyman Ed Chavez took over Leon Garcia’s seat in the Upper San Gabriel Valley Municipal Water District. Chavez is the husband of former La Puente Councilwoman Renee Chavez, who was outsed in 2007.

*Assemblyman Ed Hernandez, D-West Covina, will serve a second term in the 57th District. He walked away with 67 percent of the votes versus Baldwin Park resident Victor Saldana’s 33 percent.

*Pico Rivera got its wish with the passage of Measure P, the one-percent sales-tax increase that officials say won’t likely to take effect before April. Measure P is expected to bring in $6 million annually.

*A half cent sales-tax increase was approved by 71 percent of voters in El Monte. Measure GG will fund public safety and infrastructure as well as rebuild the city’s emergency reserves.

Not enough for ya? For more on the elections, visit our special elections page here…

Say goodbye to free street parking in West Covina

Have questions about the proposed parking ordinance that West Covina might impose? Well, the city prepared this on posted it on its Web site.

The parking ordinance discussion will resume on Tuesday, where the City Council will consider adopting the fee schedule as well as put its final stamp of approval on the language of the ordinance, which was first passed earlier this month.

City officials emphasized that this ordinance is designed to improve safety and remove blight, and that it is not a revenue producer. Officials also said that they have been receiving dozens of calls from residents over the past month regarding the ordinance. Some calls have been complaints, others have supported the ordinance, and others wondering where they should pay. (Also, there’s been a flier circulating out there in opposition to the flier. Has anyone seen it or can you email the flier to me at

According to the city, the proposal includes the following:

1. For residents and guests that need to park on the street for one night, single night permits would be available from automatic permit machines that would be located at secured locations, such as fire stations.

2. Annual overnight parking permits will be available to single-family and multi-family type complexes. However, residents must demonstrate there is insufficient on-site parking and that all vehicles are registered to the property.

3. Annual permits will not be issued for recreational vehicles. Recreational vehicle owners can purchase single night permits to load and unload.

Just to re-emphasize, the public hearing on Tuesday will be about how much to charge for the permits and the parking violations. The meeting, on Election Day, begins at 7 p.m.

Stepping away from the Mongols

I’ve been on the Mongols beat the past few days so I got behind with blogging. There are a couple of stories I wanted to talk about.

1. Palin’s expenses: No, not the $150,000 shopping spree, but the doctored expense reports.

Gov. Sarah Palin charged the state for her children to travel with her, including to events where they were not invited, and later amended expense reports to specify that they were on official business.

The charges included costs for hotel and commercial flights for three daughters to join Palin to watch their father in a snowmobile race, and a trip to New York, where the governor attended a five-hour conference and stayed with 17-year-old Bristol for five days and four nights in a luxury hotel.

In all, Palin has charged the state $21,012 for her three daughters’ 64 one-way and 12 round-trip commercial flights since she took office in December 2006. In some other cases, she has charged the state for hotel rooms for the girls.

These types of stories have been my bread and butter in the San Gabriel Valley. I wonder what makes this story any different than, say, former water board member Dolores Holguin who racked up a series of personal expenses and charged them to the district. Holguin pleaded guilty last week to a felony misuse of public funds.

2. Only in El Monte. I was always under the impression that traffic lights were a major cash flow, but Rebecca Kimitch reports that’s not the case in El Monte.

EL MONTE – Cameras will no longer capture images of vehicles that race through red lights at two intersections, the City Council decided Tuesday night.

The council voted 5-0 not to renew a contract with Redflex Traffic Systems to operate the cameras at the intersections of Peck Road and Ramona Boulevard and Santa Anita Avenue and Lower Azusa Road.

The cameras do not generate enough revenue to be worth the man hours spent on their operation, city manager James Mussenden told the council.

“But it’s not about revenue, it’s about saving lives,” he added.

Open forum: Are West Covina parking permits a good idea?

Open forum: Are parking permits in West Covina a good idea?

The city is still looking into the price of parking permits, as well as the cost of the citations. At the city council meeting two weeks ago, there was an even number of people who spoke in favor and against having the parking permits. The council unanimously passed it.

New ordinance will require residents to get overnight parking permit
By Jennifer McLain, Staff Writer
Article Launched: 10/17/2008 11:41:15 PM PDT

WEST COVINA – Starting next year, drivers who leave their cars parked on city streets could get a ticket.

The West Covina City Council has unanimously approved a parking plan that requires drivers to get an overnight permit if they want to park on city streets between 2 and 6 a.m.

“We think it will be beneficial to public safety, and will improve the quality of life and aesthetics,” said Shannon Yauchzee, public works director.

The restrictions will apply to all West Covina streets. The ordinance is expected to be finalized at the Nov. 4 council meeting, where the council will also host a public hearing to discuss the proposed parking permit costs and fees.

West Covina is still preparing a cost analysis and has not decided on permit fees or parking violation costs.

In La Verne, a yearly parking permit is $50, and a temporary permit runs $3 a night. Tickets in other cities range from $40 to $100.

SGV official guilty to abusing public money

Dolores Holguin, former director on the Valley County Water District in Baldwin Park, pleaded guilty today to one count of misusing public funds.

Investigators said that Holguin improperly charged personal expenses to the district, including meals, attorney’s fees and telephone bills. She was ordered to pay back the district $6,200.

Deputy District Attorney Edward Miller said that he hopes the case serves as an example to public officials.

“It is a message that public officials are supposed to exercise the utmost care when spending the public’s money, and if it is not an actual and necessary expense for their function, it is probably illegal,” Miller said.