The votes are in. Those in favor doubled those opposed. Next stop: The mining battle goes to court. See you all tomorrow.
The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office of Public Integrity said an investigation into the misuse of public funds by Duarte officials regarding an Azusa referendum remains open.
Furthermore, Head Deputy District Attorney for the department, David Demerjian, said he doesn’t expect any decisions on the case prior to the special election based on the referendum in question which is scheduled for Tuesday.
Azusa Mayor Diane Chagnon alleged in a complaint filed with the district attorney’s office in November that Duarte hired a public relations firm to help with a referendum campaign in Azusa and illegally discussed certain items in closed session.
Officials in Duarte rebuked the claims and submitted hundreds of documents to the attorney’s office in response.
It was brought to my attention (Thanks, commenter David) that after reporting on this blog the Canyon City Alliance did not list Vulcan Materials as part of its coalition on its website, it has now been changed.
This also comes following a letter from the Fair Political Practices Commission that outlines an investigation into the group for alleged violations of the Political Reform Act. The group has been accused by an anti-mining group for not clearly listing its sole donor, Vulcan Materials Co., on campaign material.
Canyon City Alliance officials said they did not plan to change any material because they believed to be in compliance.
The website change must have been some sort of exception…
I reported in today’s newspaper about a Fair Political Practices Commission investigation into “potential issues” regarding campaign literature from the Canyon City Alliance.
The first thing I want to discuss is the assertion by Azusans Against Mining Expansion that the FPPC found violations the CCA was guilty of violating the Political Reform Act.
Is that claim true? To my best knowledge and understanding, that answer is: undetermined.
Let me explain.
The FPPC’s letter is highly ambiguous regarding any violation. In the second paragraph it states:
In our investigation of this allegation, we have identified several potential issues that may be violations of the Act
The key words in this sentence are “potential” and “may be.” If you are citing someone for a violation, you don’t leverage your claim by adding crutch words like potential and may be. That suggests there is room for error, interpretation or argument. I think that is what we have hear.
That is demonstrated by the claims of a violation over the 410 committee statement paperwork. That potential violation was already taken back by the FPPC after speaking with Vulcan, according to FPPC spokesman Roman Porter. A new letter was issued without that allegation and Porter said the CCA was previously in compliance regarding the 410, prior to the original FPPC letter being drafted. If this letter was citing steadfast violations, the FPPC wouldn’t have changed its tune on one of the “violations” in just a few days.
When I asked Porter what this letter meant, he declined to speak about an open investigation. The fact this is an open investigation directly implies that CCA has not be found in violation. If this was a done deal, Porter would speak freely about the investigation, the violations, and all the documents related to that would be posted on the FPPC website. Maybe they will in the next couple days, but right now, that just isn’t the case. It is very possible that by the end of the week, Vulcan is fined. It is possible this all will be taken back. The point I am making is that none of this is solidified yet.
For now, Porter said this was a “cease and desist” letter, but wouldn’t comment on any actual violations due to the open investigatation. Whether or not anything needs to be stopped or changed, is still a matter of debate. I think we will have our answer soon, but the fact is, we don’t have it yet.
QUICK UPDATE: I did go to the Canyon City Alliance website and found it curious that in the “Who We Are” section, it lists “Yes on A, Canyon City Alliance is a coalition including the Azusa Chamber of Commerce, the Azusa Police Officers’ Association, community leaders and local residents.”
Item number two.
There has often been the argument that if the development agreement doesn’t nullify the entire conditional use permit for Vulcan’s mining plan amendment, why are they fighting to support the referendum election?
Jeri Vogel said just as much to me yesterday.
“If Yes on A gets rid of all the money they have to pay the city of Azusa, then why do they plan to fight that unless they plan on making a whole lot more money later on?” she said.
To her credit, I think it is an easy conclusion to assume. I wondered just the same myself when the referendum was first proposed. In fact, that same thing happened in Rosemead with its Wal-Mart referendum. When the people came forward to the City Council to ask them to take back the development agreement, Wal-Mart stepped forward and said sounds like an awesome idea. Guess what? The city lost the money and Wal-Mart kept its use permit.
So the question arises, why is Vulcan promoting Measure A?
For Vulcan this situation is a lose-lose. Fight for Measure A and you get accusations like Vogel’s (which aren’t without merit).
Yet, if they fought against Measure A, they would make themselves an easy target to be cast as the greedy mining company out to squeeze whatever they can out of the community, including tricking the people into giving them a mining plan without Vulcan giving anything back (except its regular tax rate) to the city.
I posed the question to Vogel.
“That is kind of a hard one. They are in a lose-lose position as far as that goes,” she agreed. ” I still think they are going to make a whole lot more money on the other side.”
For Vulcan, it was an easy choice, especially since they made a promise to the city they would defend against any referendum.
“The city can’t campaign in favor of it, but we can and we said we would,” Vulcan spokeswoman Peg Casey said. “The development agreement requires that if there was a challenge, that Vulcan would defend against that action. It is perfectly appropriate that we defend and support Measure A.”
Note: I changed the headline because when I have the opportunity to make an 80s pop music reference, I take it.
Common blog commenter “David” responded to a recent post about Duarte possibly trying to turn a fire at a Vulcan Materials facility into a political affair.
As a response to that post, David said “Pot meet Kettle” implying that, for my part, I was guilty of the very thing I was writing about. In response, I left the following comment that I thought would make for some good discussion:
I expected this response and I can’t say it isn’t wholly unwarranted. I conferred with several colleagues and outside friends wondering if I was being critical. The resounding answer was no.
But that is outside of the point I want to make in response. I think that argument – media fans the political fire just as much as politicians – is circular reasoning.
If we lived in fear of that criticism and chose to ignore stories to avoid adding to the fervor, how would we ever write about politics? Any story that is in any way critical or shows a politician in a negative light could be criticized (and often is) as a media creation meant to urge feuds and feed turmoil.
Just because we write about politics doesn’t make us political. When we write about political turmoil, that doesn’t make us tumultuous. If I report on a political argument, I am not being argumentative. So, if I write about one entity turning an apolitical incident into a political one, I don’t believe I am guilty by association.
Think of the slippery slope of your comment outside the context of the media. If you go and talk to your friends about this story, are you inciting or sensationalizing the episode? Or merely making an objective statement about something you witnessed?
Obviously, it can’t be ignored that writing about something naturally raises a situation to a different level of awareness. What I try to decide is if something is worthy (information that is pertinent/necessary/interesting to the people) of giving it the added attention. I felt this situation warranted the post and I believe I was fair in reporting it.
I will also admit that there are reporters and media outlets who do use their abilities for evil and pour gas on the fire or push something to be more than it is. It is a fine line that we walk. Every time I report on something, I weigh its newsworthiness, run a check list of pros and cons, consider the consequences, who this would be important to and why. For a blog post, this passed the test.
Duarte officials are trying to throw some coals on a fire at a Vulcan Materials Co. facility last week.
I can’t say I am surprised. When has an opportunity ever been lost in politics?
More to the point, after a fire broke out at a plant run by Vulcan last week, Duarte jumped at the opportunity for some bad press for the company.
On Duarte’s city website, the city issued a press release regarding the incident entitled “Fire erupts at Vulcan Materials plant.”
Duarte immediately notified AQMD of the fire, according to the release. The release goes on to discuss air quality briefly before tacking on a picture.
Did the fire warrant a reaction from Duarte? Duarte residents would resoundingly say yes, while Vulcan officials and mining plan proponents would probably argue this was politically motivated.
I understand the excitement about the incident. When I first heard there was a fire at Vulcan, I immediately realized the implications and the possibilities arising from any incident at one of the company’s plants.
The company is the middle of a political battle in Azusa where they are trying to get a development agreement passed for a new mining plan amendment for the Azusa Rock Quarry. A referendum election is scheduled for Jan. 25.
Duarte has opposed the mining plan and is challenging it in court.
If this had been a serious fire, there would have been political implications and opponents of the plan would be armed with additional ammunition.
But, alas, it was not to be. The fire was small, the affect minimal, and it went relatively unnoticed to most people.
But Duarte posted a story on its home page in somewhat of an alarming fashion. Should the city have informed its residents? Yes. I mean, we wrote about it. It would be kind of hypocritical to say no.
But does it smell of political motivations? (besides the burning rubber smell) Of course, which somewhat taints the action all together.
Fires happen in cities, often times at businesses, and without the help of the fire department or local residents, we may never know about them. Cities aren’t often in the business of writing press releases when a roofer starts a small tar fire or a restaurant has a minor kitchen fire.
When Duarte decides to write a story on this subject, one assumes it is with a purpose beyond reporting the news.
It’s to provide a spark.
The Tribune had an editorial meeting with members of the Canyon City Alliance and Azusa council members Robert Gonzales and Uriel Macias today.
After listening to their pitch, an interesting comment came about during discussions about Measure A and the Azusa Rock Quarry mining project.
It is and has been the position of the majority of the City Council, Azusa, and the CCA that a no vote on Measure A would only nullify Vulcan Materials Co.’s amended mining plan’s development agreement, but that its use permit would stand. Essentially, the mining would be allowed to continue but many of the benefits negotiated by the city with Vulcan Materials would be lost (a fact that remains questionable).
Now, of course that all comes with the caveat that legal challenges – and you can be sure there would be one – could argue the CUP and development agreement are tied together and upon success in a legal challenge, they both could go down.
But barring that hypothetical, the question was posed what would stop Azusa from negotiating a new development agreement connected to the project if this one is rejected?
The answer, in short, was nothing, according to Macias.
The long answer was no one knows what will happen during a no vote. Litigation? New deal? It is all something of an unknown, Macias said.
“With (Measure A) we know whats going to happen,” if it is passed, Macias said. “With a no, we don’t know. (Supporting Measure A) is us taking control of our own destiny.”
But to me, that said that, barring a legal victory to the contrary, a no vote on Measure A could lead to the city renegotiating new benefits with Vulcan. Whether or not Vulcan will listen, is certainly a question. And the company would then be put in the position of having a significant amount of leverage.
UPDATE: Azusa Councilman Keith Hanks phoned me and reminded me that there is a one year “cooling off” period following a referendum of a council action. So if a new deal were to be struck, it would have to be done in 2012.
UPDATE TWO: Macias called and had this statement regarding the potential for future negotiations:
“We have done that already. We told them no when they wanted to expand to 270 acres and the first time in May when we negated it and went back to the negotiating table. We have in fact already done that.”
On a related note, I asked Canyon City Alliance officials if they would be donating to candidates in the City Council election. President Liz Ramirez said those discussions have not taken place with board members. Chamber of Commerce board member Mercedes Castro said that after Jan. 26 (the referendum special election is Jan. 25) the group intends to disband.
UPDATE: (I really hope this is the last one, I have received more phone calls on this post than any other.) Castro called me and told me she misspoke when saying the CCA would disband following the referendum election. The group will still exist, but may close its offices, she said.
Macias then jumped in and said he would not accept any money from Canyon City Alliance.
It is well known that Vulcan is a member of the CCA, contributes services and is the major source of funding for the group.
(An earlier version of this story identified Mercedes Castro as the Chamber of Commerce President. Castro is the former president.)
There will be more on this in tomorrow’s newspaper, but Duarte has submitted a rebuttal to claims the council misused public funds by hiring a public relations firm to help with the Azusa referendum effort.
Duarte sent a large packet of documents to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office whose Public Integrity Division is investigating the allegations submitted by former Azusa Mayor Diane Chagnon.
Duarte believes those documents will exonerate them from the charges.
According to a statement from the city:
“The documents submitted by Duarte to the District Attorney confirm the work performed by the firm was not related to the referendum but rather to inform Azusa residents about the adverse environmental impacts the Vulcan mining expansion project would have and to encourage residents to attend the Azusa City Council’s public hearings on the project on May 17, 2010 and July 6, 2010. Englander Knabe & Allen completed all of its work for Duarte prior to the July 6, 2010 decision by the Azusa City Council to approve the Vulcan project and therefore prior to the referendum effort undertaken by Azusa residents.”
Duarte officials have said they believe this is a political ploy by Chagnon – a member of Canyon City Alliance – to cast doubt on the referendum and attack Duarte.
The Canyon City Alliance is a group of individuals who support the new mining plan and advocate in favor of Measure A. Vulcan Materials Co. is part of the organization and is the main financial supporter for the group.
There is nothing new to report regarding applications for the Azusa City Council. The list of potential candidates remains the same with Jorge Rosales, Peggy Martinez, Paul Naccachian, Madelyn Payne and incumbents Urial Macias and Angel Carrillo.
The news, for now, may be the lack of a competitor for Mayor Joe Rocha. Rocha ran unopposed two years ago and appears to be close to doing the same this election cycle.
This only lends credence to no one believes they can beat Rocha in an election.
Often known as a “people’s” councilman, Rocha is known for his generous nature. He knows everyone, reaches out to those in need, and will often visit the homes of those he thinks could use a friend.
Not only that, but he often has a populist touch to his voting habits. Take the Vulcan mining issue for example. Rocha was the sole no vote on the issue that faced intense scrutiny and was lambasted by neighboring Duarte officials and residents, as well as many Azusa residents.
Whether that was the popular vote among Azusa residents remains to be seen. What we do know is that Rocha may have become such an entrenched character of the council, that no one appears ready to take him on in an election.
Especially, in this election where there seems to be an opportunity – somewhat – for a challenger. A major issue is before the city (Vulcan mining) which a candidate has the opportunity to distinguish themselves on. In addition, a jumbled field follows any of those vying for an open council position. There are six council candidates campaigning for two spots, which includes a battle against the incumbents holding the positions now. This thought had to cross someone’s mind: Would I rather have a one vs. one, winner take all fight or a knock down, bare knuckle, wrestle mania match with five other candidates (maybe more) where other challengers could siphon votes from me and give the incumbents an edge?
Yet, no one appears to want to take that risk against Rocha.
It begs the question: Is he untouchable?
If you were a bit confused at Azusa’s council meeting last night when the council, already having voted on a going with a special election for the Azusa Rock Quarry referendum, decided to vote again, I can clear that up.
During the break after the initial vote, I asked Mayor Joe Rocha why he had voted no on the original motion.
Was it because he disagreed with the date? The special election versus the March municipal election date? DId he prefer voting to rescind the development agreement as a council?
None of the above. Rocha was surprised at the question and realized he made a mistake. He then asked they could re-vote so he could be on record as voting in favor of the referendum’s special election.
In the end, it was unanimous.