The second appellate district court backed the Los Angeles Superior Court’s decision against the city of Duarte, which claimed the mining plan had a faulty environmental impact report, among other issues. The decision validates the process by which the Azusa City Council evaluated and approved – by a 4-to-1 vote – the revised conditional-use permit, reclamation plan and development agreement between the city and Vulcan Materials Company, said Brian Ferris, vice president and assistant general counsel for Vulcan. In the decision, written by Judge Nora M. Manella and affirmed by judges Norman Epstein and Steven Suzukawa, the court found “no deficiencies” in the environmental impact report prepared by Azusa regarding the amended project plan. Duarte lost its original lawsuit that attempted to torpedo the amended Azusa Rock Quarry mining project. That lawsuit was based on Duarte officials’ belief that the environmental report was flawed, among other grievances. Duarte’s lawsuit was originally filed in August 2010, a month after the approval of the mining plan by Azusa’s council. At the heart of the court’s decision was that Duarte’s argument hinged on the assumption that analysis was not done on the project using the maximum level of production at the quarry – 6 million tons. The court rejected the premise. Vulcan Materials Co.’s plan shifts its mining operations from 80 acres on the eastern end of its 270-acre property to 80 acres on its western end. The company has a permit to mine 190 acres of its land. The plan includes environmental incentives, including a new technique that promises to reshape the hillsides post-mining in a more aesthetically pleasing manner. It also included added tax revenues for Azusa.
Baldwin Park is in the second phase of a study to explore dissolving its Police Department. The study is due back at the end February or in early March. The council could vote soon afterward to make the switch. Under the proposal, deputies would take over patrol of the city and use the police headquarters as a sheriff’s substation. Officers originally were neutral on the proposed switch, but they now say they have doubts about the city’s budget numbers. They also question the commitment of City Council members to make sure that they get hired on at the Sheriff’s Department. The department’s officers are expected to join the Sheriff’s Department as deputies. City officials lately have stated that the Police Department costs $19.5 million a year. But the city’s budget reports the Police Department accounts for $18.4 million of the city’s approximately $70 million budget. And the police budget figure includes the city’s crossing guards and its animal control budget, services that would not be provided by the Sheriff’s Department. Patrol by the Sheriff’s Department would cost about $15 million annually, according to preliminary estimates. Crime in Baldwin Park is at one the lowest levels in decades, according to statistics reported to the FBI. Baldwin Park for two years has declined to make payments on some of its debt, and, if the city doesn’t start paying down principal, it could face huge balloon payments in the coming years, she said. The police association, which represents every police employee except the chief, plans to launch a ballot initiative that in November would give voters say over whether the city has its own Police Department. If the department was already dissolved, it would be restored. Although their pay is slightly lower than officers at surrounding police departments, Baldwin Park’s officers have a generous benefit package compared to other departments. They can retire at age 50 with 3 percent of their pay for every year worked. And they do not pay any money toward retirement.
City officials have expressed their objection, even threatening court action, to state plans to add more inmates at the already overcrowded California Institute for Men. As part of ongoing efforts to improve conditions at California’s prisons and to reduce costs, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has said it plans to build a new Level II facility at five possible locations, one of them being CIM. Level II inmates are the second lowest on the placement and security scale for state prisoners. A Level II facility primarily consists of open dormitories with a secure perimeter possibly patrolled by armed guards, according to the corrections agency. Depending on available space, the state could build at CIM as many as three 792-bed units or a single facility with a second combining two 792-bed units. The City Council authorized staffers to send a letter to the Corrections Department outlining their concerns. Despite sharp reductions in the number of inmates at the Chino prison, its prison population is still at about 160 percent of capacity. State Senate Bill 1022, which authorized the new construction, says specifically, “any new beds constructed…shall be supported by rehabilitative programming for inmates” including vocational, substance abuse, employment assistance and pre-release planning. Corrections officials anticipate the need of new facilities because proposed changes to its inmate classification criteria will most likely result in an increase in Level II inmates. City officials hope the condition of CIM, one of the oldest prisons in California, may keep authorities from building there. In the early 2000s, CIM cost more to operate than any other prison in California due in part to poor maintenance, a high number of open positions and a high cost of overtime.
The Claremont City Council decided to approve a community development block grant program budget and award a sewer master plan and connection fee study to AKM Consulting Engineers. The CDBG program began in 1974 as a federal block grant program to provide funds to counties and cities to carry out projects and programs to benefit low-income residents. Programs for use of the city’s 2013-2014 allocation are: $60,000 for the housing rehabilitation program; $20,580 for the senior case management program; and $56,624 for the job creation and business incentive grant program. Meanwhile, the master plan item passed allows city manager Tony Ramos to execute a contract in the amount of more than $97,100; allocate an additional more than $9,700 for a 10 percent contingency and allocate $15,000 for the city’s Geographical Information System consultant to fully update the sewer GIS layer of information. According to a city agenda report, in the next three to five years, it is anticipated that between 200 and 500 new residential units will be connecting to the sewer system. City officials said the updated plan provides proactive long-term sewer capacity planning and a determination of appropriate sewer connection fees to ensure adequate funds for future sewer upgrades, among other items. The city’s current fee for single-family residences is $500.
The McGill Street Transitional House in Covina for the last six years has temporarily housed homeless women and children while they get back on their feet. But because the property is owned by the city’s former redevelopment agency, which was dissolved last year as part of statewide legislation, it is in danger of being sold. The state Department of Finance – which enforces how redevelopment funds are spent and determining which assets need to be sold as part of the wind-down – in December told the city that the property had to go and was expected to make a final decision on the matter. In response to Covina’s threat of litigation, the department passed the matter on to the State Controller’s Office to hand down the final verdict. Officials with the Department of Finance said they are still reviewing the matter and will render a decision by March. After redevelopment agencies were dissolved, successor agencies were set up to help cities sort out which assets and properties needed to be liquidated, the profits of which would go to local public services. Properties could be disposed of either through a transfer to the city, sale to developers or a number of other options. Oversight boards on those successor agencies could return assets to the cities if they rule the properties serve a government purpose. Covina created a housing authority to take over housing assets and programs, including the McGill House. What’s in question, however, is whether the property was transferred from the successor agency to the housing authority too late. If it was, the property may need to be liquidated. The State Controller would have to determine whether the property was transferred improperly. The McGill House was created in 2004 to meet the needs of homeless families in the area and satisfy low- and moderate-income housing requirements. Catholic Charities of Los Angeles operates the facility for the city and provides case management services. Since it began operating, the shelter and its staff have helped 15 families – including 32 children – find permanent housing. City officials have said that if the state was to force a sale, it would displace the two families currently living in the three-bedroom home.
Citing personal reasons, the city attorney for Diamond Bar has terminated his contract after 17 years. Michael Jenkins, a founding partner with Jenkins & Hogin, submitted his letter of resignation dated Jan. 16 to the City Council. The City Council discussed the city attorney situation in closed session and at the end of January had not announced any action. The City will begin a search for a new city attorney as soon as possible.
The Alameda Corridor-East Construction Authority kicked off a four-lane underpass to be spanned by a double-track railroad bridge. The Union Pacific-owned line carries freight trains from Los Angeles, across the San Gabriel Valley, into the Inland Empire and to the East Coast. Completion of the underpass is expected in 2015. More than a dozen elected officials – from city halls to Sacramento and Washington D.C. – gathered at the tracks to praise the project as both an economic boost and a way to reduce air pollution from vehicles no longer idling at the grade crossing. The underpass will be built at Baldwin Avenue and Gidley Street – roughly between the 10 and 210 freeways. The intersection sees 20 freight trains per day on average and 28,000 vehicles daily, according to ACE. The underpass will speed trucks and cars along Baldwin through El Monte, Temple City and Arcadia, while creating 1,370 jobs. ACE had to relocate between 30 and 40 businesses, including a noodle factory which moved to South El Monte, and residents from an apartment building that was bought and razed. ACE had to go to court for an eminent domain hearing in order to buy the Mipco property The movement of freight by train from the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles up the 19-mile Alameda Corridor creates an almost endless string of freight trains running easterly across the Valley. The trade corridor accounts for 60 percent of the containers moved from the ports by rail. ACE has 17 grade separation projects either completed, under construction or ready to start, according to its project budget.
Ever since Borders Books and Music went out of the business, the 42,000-square-foot building adjacent to Montclair Plaza has sat empty. But in recent weeks, the interior has being demolished to make way for Ashley Furniture Homestore set to open in the spring. Those involved hope the new store will spur development in the surrounding vacant buildings and the Montclair Plaza. The seller was represented by Brad Umansky of Progressive Real Estate Partners who said the furniture store could provide a development boost, which has also seen the closure of two neighboring national retailers during the economy downturn. With the former Borders bookstore adjacent to the 10 Freeway it provides the new tenant with easy exposure to the public. Ashley purchased the building and signed a long-term lease on the land. Financial terms for the sale could not be disclosed, he said. Borders had closed in April 2011 and a month later, Ashley inquired about the property, indicating they were looking for a couple of locations in Southern California. Crews have already demolished the interior of the building and Ashley will formally submit plans to the City.
A plan for more than 300 zone changes will go to the City Council for final approval despite often-heated testimony this week before the Planning Commission. The plan involves zone changes for 900 residential, industrial and commercial property owners in the city. Because of updates to the city’s General Plan in 2010, some properties are now zoned in areas no longer applicable. The changes are an effort from the city to make the General Plan consistent with what the city feels is the right land use for those properties. More than 5,000 properties will ultimately be rezoned. The commission made the decision Tuesday after two hours of testimony from upset residents who were questioning the changes. Many were concerned the changes would lower their property values. Many of the changes included reducing the density allowed on a property or removing animal-keeping designation in parts of the southern part of town. In most cases, residents were informed that even though the zoning was changing, they could maintain already existing units or structures. But if 50 percent of that structure is ever damaged in the future, the residents would not be able to rebuild it because of the zone change.
City Council members have selected a new city clerk for Pomona. Anthony Mejia took over the responsibilities as Pomona City Clerk Feb. 19. Mejia comes from San Clemente where he served as that city’s deputy city clerk. He is active with the Southern California City Clerks Association and serves as the second vice chairman of the organization’s board of directors. . Additionally, Susan Paul, the city’s director of human resources and risk management, resigned last month and completed her last day with the city Jan. 15. Paul left to take a position with Carmel.
The city has concluded negotiations with four of its seven employee groups. All employee groups have agreed to pay their portion of their pension contributions. In November, the City Council gave the City Manager approval to look into several ways to reduce costs to the city, including asking employee groups to make concessions. The recommendations also included looking into outsourcing public safety services as well as contracting out other city services with the goal of freeing up money in the annual budget. The members of the Upland Police Officers Association voted in favor of a contract extension that requires all officers to pay their full contribution.
The City Council unanimously voted to upgrade the city’s webcasting system, which broadcasts council and planning commission meetings online. The new plans include installing a high-definition projector and three HD cameras to focus on the council, speakers and city staff. The City Council has provided no visual broadcasting of its meetings since 2008, when officials, citing a budget crunch, axed the live televised programming. As a compromise, West Covina started providing audio of City Council meetings in 2010, and then began broadcasting live webcasts last year. The city will spend $75,000 from its Public, Education and Government fund account, which has an available balance of $374,000, on the upgrades. The PEG funds come from franchise fees the city collected when Charter Communications was its exclusive cable provider. PEG funds, which help offset the costs of running local public-access programs, can be used only for financing capital equipment and can’t be used for the staff to operate the cameras.
The City Council also voted 3-1 to appoint Andrew McIntyre to the seat left vacant by former Councilman Mike Touhey. McIntyre is vice president of The McIntyre Company, a Covina-based real estate company that has developed several projects in Covina and West Covina, including McIntyre Square and Citrus Grove. His name was the first and only one drawn during the discussion, prompting Councilman Fred Sykes – the sole council member who has not received campaign donations from the company – to decry the decision. McIntyre, a lifelong West Covina resident who serves in several local service groups and nonprofits, said he was excited to represent the city. His appointment is through November. The McIntyre family, through four generations, has owned and operated office and retail development properties in Covina and West Covina for more than 60 years. According to the letter of interest he submitted, McIntyre has held positions in the public and private sector, understand the City Council and Planning Commission processes and has extensive experience with small businesses, making him an ideal fit. Council members – who said they were seeking someone who was positive, honest and had independent decision-making skills – defended their decision.