The Azusa City Council will be considering its next steps as City Manager James Makshanoff prepared for his last day on September 18th. The council will have the option of selecting an internal candidate, having staff conduct a candidate recruitment or hiring a professional firm to fill the position. Hiring a consulting firm to conduct executive recruitment would cost the city approximately $25,000, said Theresa St. Peter, interim director of Human Resources, in a staff report. Having the human resources department conduct the search would cost the city about $6,000, while appointing a current staff member to the position would only cost the difference in salary. Three consulting firms submitted proposals to the city, estimating the time frame for a new candidate between 14 to 17 weeks, the staff report states. Bob Murray and Associates listed a 16-week search for $24,400 and has conducted city manager recruitments for Arcadia, Chino Hills, El Monte, Montebello, Pico Rivera and Temple City within the past three years. Peckham and McKenney estimated a 14-week search for $24,500 and has recruited city managers for Bell, Burbank and Palos Verdes Estates. William Avery and Associates would conduct a 17-week search for $24,900 and has recruited city managers for Saratoga, South San Francisco, San Mateo, Emeryville and Lynwood. A search conducted by the human resources department would involve placing job announcement ads in various publications, such as Western Cities Magazine. The ad would be published in the November edition of the magazine. Makshanoff has been city manager since 2012, when he was appointed from his position as assistant city manager. He will be taking a city manager position with San Clemente beginning Sept. 29. The council also was scheduled to discuss a proposed contract with Transportation Concepts to operate Azusa Transit, however, city staff recommended continuing the discussion to the Oct. 6 meeting.
Residents and businesses will be seeing higher trash bills over the next year as the city council approved two fee increases. Commercial, industrial and multi-family properties with five or more units will be required to take a recycle bin and charged a “blended” rate in order to comply with state law. California State Assembly Bill 341 requires cities to set up mandatory recycling programs or be fined $10,000 per day. The second fee change would be an annual increase as set by the consumer price index for trash collection, the staff report states. For the next five years, all residential and commercial customers will see an increase on July 1, up to 5 percent of the bill. Discounts are available for certain accounts, such as for senior citizens. The mandatory recycling program could reduce the trash bills for some customers, if the business is able to reduce the size of their dumpster as a result of the recycling program. If a customer with a 3-yard trash bin downsizes to a 1.5-yard bin after acquiring a recycling bin, that would bring down costs. Several business owners complained about the increase in cost as a result of the mandatory recycling program.
The city and Golden State Water Co. continue to battle, this time over the water company’s application to the state Public Utilities Commission to increase revenues over a three-year period. The PUC will hold a hearing in San Francisco to review Claremont’s petition. In the latest battle with the company, Claremont is seeking intervener party status so it may advocate for consumers — residents, businesses, and educational institutions — on proposed revenue hikes. In July, San Dimas-based Golden State Water asked the PUC for slight revenue increases for Region 3, which includes Claremont, San Dimas, Apple Valley and Wrightwood. The water provider has asked the PUC to increase revenues by 0.68 percent in 2016; 2.41 percent increase in 2017; and 2.69 percent increase in 2018. The increases would help finance improvements and capital investments. In its protest, Claremont is asking the water company to release financial information involving office expenditures and capital projects, to understand better how those costs impact current and future rates. Claremont is not the only agency opposed to the proposal, the Office of Ratepayers Advocates — a division within CPUC — has also protested the general rate case. The city has requested that a public hearing be held in the city in September or October. City officials have been fighting with the water company over its rate increases since 2012 and is considering using eminent domain to take over the water system. Earlier this summer, the City Council approved a ballot initiative, known as Measure W, which would allow Claremont to use up to $135 million in bonds to acquire the water system.
$750 million in development projects could be built in the next 5 years. A 133-room hotel has already been approved and later this month , a 62,000-square-foot newspaper building. The projects include:
- Valley Hotel Project (9920 Valley Blvd.): The construction of this four-story, 133-room hotel is scheduled to go before the Planning Commission on Tuesday. The 93,000-square-foot project includes a restaurant, banquet rooms and pool. The project, developed by private developer California Investment Regional Center, LLC on private land, will not go before the city council.
- Media Center (9133 Garvey Avenue): The construction of this five-story, 62,000-square-foot office building is scheduled to go before the Planning Commission later this month. The facility will be the local headquarters for an overseas newspaper that will employ approximately 700 people, according to Thai and planning documents. The project, which is being developed by Asia Pacific, Inc., also includes remodeling two existing buildings for a print shop and warehouse.
- Lawrence Equipment Improvement Project (12238 Chosen St.): Lawrence Equipment Company wants to expand its facility, in South El Monte on the El Monte border, into an El Monte neighborhood. The controversial project includes a new office/warehouse and a parking lot that would be built on properties that are currently the site of several homes and a restaurant along Chosen Street between Maxson Road and Durfee Avenue.
- . Walmart (4000 Arden Drive): Last week, city staff received a draft EIR for the proposed 187,000-square-foot Walmart Supercenter. Once the EIR is finalized, it will be released for public review, likely this fall, and then go before the Planning Commission.
- Norms Restaurant (Valley Boulevard and Santa Anita Avenue): In May the finance department approved transferring city property to the Norms development team. City staff is now finalizing the development and purchase and sale agreements. After they are finalized, specifics such as design and parking will go before the Planning Commission.
- Flair Spectrum (9400 Flair Drive): This mixed-use development would bring a 500,000-square-foot outlet mall, 220-room hotel and 600 homes to a 14.7 acre site just south of the 10 Freeway on Rio Hondo Avenue. The project is undergoing environmental review and city staff hope to release the EIR this fall. They hope to bring the project before the Planning Commission and City Council by the end of the year. The developer has letters of intent from major anchor tenants.
Glendora is reviewing a tentative tract map and development plan for a City Ventures proposal at 303 E. Arrow Highway. The project is proposing to build 23 two-story townhomes ranging from 1,364 to 1,802 square feet. Each unit would have three bedrooms, 2.5 bathrooms and an attached two-car garage. No significant traffic impacts are expected, so no traffic impact analysis is required. No significant impact to sewer or water services is expected, although the developer will be required to replace an 8-inch water main on Arrow Highway. The 1.84-acre site is surrounded by residential neighborhoods to the north, south and east. The property consists of two lots: a 1,726-square-foot home built in 1949 sits on one lot, while Woodies RV Storage is on the other lot. All existing structures would be demolished as a result of the project. Glendora has approved a number of developments in the past year and a half, including Avalon Bay, Gables on 66 and the Glendora Village Collection.
Irwindale officials pleaded not guilty on Friday September 19th in Los Angeles County Superior Court to public corruption charges related to lavish trips the officials took to New York City. Mayor Mark Breceda, City Councilman Manuel Garcia and former City Councilwoman Rosemary Ramirez face embezzlement, misappropriation of public funds and conflict of interest charges stemming from the trips taken between 2001 and 2005 where the officials ate at expensive restaurants, stayed at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel on Central Park, used limousine services and attended New York Yankees games and Broadway shows. A case was originally filed against the group in October 2010. While that matter was pending, the district attorney’s office filed a superseding grand jury indictment, which an appellate court eventually dismissed finding prosecutors withheld exculpatory evidence. The DA’s office re-filed charges last summer. Arraignment was delayed for more than a year while the group’s defense attorneys attempted to have the conflict of interest and misappropriation of public funds charges dismissed. Attorneys argued the statute of limitations had passed on those charges. Judge William C. Ryan denied the defense’s motion to dismiss those charges, which lead to the not guilty pleas being entered today, Garcia’s attorney Steven Levine said. A preliminary hearing setting was scheduled for Oct. 17. Levine said he expects the defense team to file a motion for a statute of limitations hearing before the preliminary hearing takes place. Retired Irwindale Finance Director Abraham “Abe” DeDios was also charged in the same case with the three other defendants. He pleaded no contest to a conflict of interest charge and was sentenced to three years probation and ordered to pay restitution. In the same case, former City Manager Steve Blancarte pleaded guilty in 2011 to misappropriation of public funds as part of a plea deal. The trips to New York City totalled $200,000, this news organization reported in 2007. The trips were taken in an effort to improve the city’s bond rating, officials said. Prosecutors allege Breceda, Garcia and Ramirez received $75 daily meal allowance per diem payments during the trips even though third-party bond underwriters picked up the tab for the expenses. The underwriters then charged the city for the payments.
The popularity of downtown restaurants, rising enrollment at the University of La Verne and visitors’ desire to shop in unique Old Town shops have created a parking-shortage.
The City Council received in-depth data from two consultants and the Community Development Staff.
On a 3-0-2 vote, Mayor Don Kendrick and Councilmen Charlie Rosales and Ron Ingels directed staff and the city parking committee to prioritize solutions to the parking problems in the central business district. Councilwomen Donna Redman and Robin Carder, both ULV employees, left the Council Chambers because of a conflict of interest. Insufficient parking has been lamented by city officials and Old Town merchants since the 1970s. When complaints surfaced again in October 2013, the council directed Community Development Director along with the Police and Fire departments to work with parking consultants, the Old Town La Verne Business Improvement District advisory board, merchants and residents to determine the extent of the problem and consider solutions. The Mobility Group and J.R. Parking Consultants, both Irvine-based, started the study in January. The study involved six months of collecting data, surveys of downtown, university and residential parking spaces, solicitation of comments from merchants, visitors and residents and meetings with ULV Vice President of Facilities and Technology Clive Houston-Brown and ULV safety and administrative personnel. It additionally explored possible short-term and long-term remedies. Although a long-term solution may be the university’s construction of a parking structure, short-term remedies like increasing the number of 90-minute and three-hour spaces and reducing unrestricted time-limit spaces are more viable for now. Another short-term remedy: a more aggressive campaign to get faculty to park in the ULV-created shuttle lot at A Street and Walnut Avenue rather than in closer downtown spaces.
Posting of no-parking signs for downtown parking in residential neighborhoods and residential permit parking for property owners around ULV and Old Town were included on the short-term list.
A California Welcome Center, which will help market the region to tourists, is set to make its return to the Ontario Mills this fall, after the closure of the welcome center in San Bernardino last year. The informational center, when it opens later this year, will help better market the region to visitors. The Greater Ontario Convention & Visitors Bureau won a bid to host the welcome center, and hopes to open the 1,200-square-foot area in an area near the mall food court. With 28 million visitors annually, Ontario Mills is a prime location for the visitors center. New freeway signage, will direct motorists from out of town toward the welcome center at the mall, helping to bring more people into the shopping center. The center will employ about 10 to 15 paid staff and volunteers. Toshiba will be providing the technology at the center, which will also include digital displays, brochures and ticket sales for events and attractions in the region.
City Council members selected a proposed plan that will lead to construction of improvements at Hamilton Boulevard and the Union Pacific Railroad tracks. Council members voted 6-1 in favor of an option presented by the Alameda Corridor East Construction Authority designed to address public safety in the area in preparation for future increases in the number of trains traveling through the neighborhood. Council members selected an option that calls for keeping Hamilton Boulevard open to through traffic and adding improvements such as pedestrian crossing gates and fencing that will be both visually appealing and help guide pedestrians to the gates. Similar improvements will be made at Park Avenue along with Main and Palomares streets. The option the council selected will require the approval of other agencies including the railroad company and the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments.
City leaders have backed a move to include Cucamonga Canyon into the San Gabriel National Monument designation efforts, despite having few details on how the plan would be implemented or any guarantee that additional funding would be diverted to the popular hiking trail. Rep. Judy Chu, D-Pasadena, is attempting to fast track the national designation of a 961-square-mile portion of the San Gabriel Mountains. A letter from Rancho Cucamonga supporting the designation and advocating the enhanced preservation and management of the canyon, as well as encouraging the U.S. Forest Service to conduct additional public outreach in San Bernardino County, was approved. The City Council agreed 4-1 to send the letter to the U. S. Department of Agriculture. Problems at the canyon date back to 2009, with a rise in graffiti, trash, neighborhood nuisances and public safety costs. With a higher priority from the federal government, there is potential for improved services and better management.
The council voted unanimously to deny a proposal by City Ventures to build 47 condominiums on 3.65 acres at 155 N. Eucla Ave. The units would have been in two- and three-story structures, range in size from 1,315-square-feet to 1,838 square feet and be in a gated development. The proposal was recommended for approval by staff and split decisions of the Planning Commission. It was presented for approval ,resolutions to amend the general plan and change the land use designation from commercial and industrial to high residential allowing 12.1 to 16 units per acre; amend the municipal code text to create a new planning area allowing residential development and sanction a zone change. The other two aspects of the proposal – approval of the tentative tract map and removal of 58 trees with a mandatory new tree replacement plan – were a matter of simple action without resolutions required The council’s denial was prompted by its feeling the proposal was incompatible with the neighborhood, didn’t adhere to town-core development standards, used a gate to isolate project children from existing neighborhood children, could damage the integrity of the historic neighborhood and could potentially set precedence for future downtown residential developments. City Ventures development vice president, had asked that the formal denial resolutions be passed “without prejudice” so they could return sooner with an alternative plan. They also wanted to receive council directives on what were acceptable and non-acceptable possibilities before submitting a revised plan. They additionally wanted to avoid paying costly fees again if forced to start from scratch in the city planning procedure.
The City of Walnut has been involved in controversy for several months mostly over repeated public attempts by Mayor Nancy Tragarz to fire the city attorney that boiled over during a raucous public meeting filled with accusations and pleas by her colleagues for her to stop talking. In addition, open government advocate Gil Aguirre of San Dimas sent the city a “demand to cease and desist” for violating the state’s open meeting law which claims Tragarz communicated with outside attorneys hired by the city and other council members, passed out documents and distributed emails to fellow council members without providing copies to the public. Aguirre’s six-page letter dated Sept. 3 cites numerous alleged violations of the state’s Ralph M. Brown Act during the Aug. 27 City Council meeting, as well as describing the meeting as “more of a public spectacle than a public meeting.” During the meeting, Tragarz spent more than an hour trying to convince the Council that 10-year City Attorney Michael B. Montgomery should be terminated. She spoke of a contract that she said was invalid and other issues regarding his retainer and performance. At each step, Councilman Robert Pacheco interrupted, saying she was making accusations and speaking on items that went beyond what was written on the agenda.
Pacheco also said she communicated with the law firm of Liebert Cassidy Whitmore hired by the city to help evaluate the city attorney’s contract. The mayor said Montgomery was operating under a false contract, Montgomery Law Corp., a law corporation that was dissolved in 2000. Tragarz said Montgomery was breaking ethics laws by not carrying malpractice insurance. The City Council may terminate Montgomery’s contract “without cause” and send out recruitment letters to find a new city attorney, according to the report. Or, the Council has the option of reaffirming Montgomery’s status by giving him a 2-year agreement earning him about $109,000 a year. In addition, Montgomery would earn 0.50 percent of the total bond sales he negotiates for the city, according to the proposed contract.
Tragarz objected to Montgomery getting a piece of bond sales. Montgomery said that was dependent on the sale of bonds and would amount to an extra $12,000 per year at maximum. He said the bond percentage is compensation for extra work and has always been in his contract.
State Controller John Chiang announced his office will audit two years of West Covina’s financial records. The announcement puts West Covina on a list of audited cities that includes the troubled southeastern Los Angeles County communities of Bell and Cudahy and Atwater in Merced County.
The city, which requested the audit, must pay the bill. It could cost as much as $200,000, city officials recently estimated. The review will focus on sharp decreases in the city’s reserves, high legal costs and whether the city properly used and refinanced city and redevelopment bonds. Chiang noted more than $30 million in “extraordinary losses” related to loans between West Covina and its former redevelopment agency. A similar audit in Cudahy found $22.7 million in redevelopment funds were misused. In Atwater the state stepped in after the city failed to submit annual financial reports on time for five years. The West Covina probe covers both fiscal year 2011-2012 and 2012-2013. Additionally, Chiang’s office will pay for two separate audits of the city’s spending of a Special Gas Tax Street Improvement Fund and a Traffic Congestion Review Fund. The City Council requested the audit in June at the behest of Councilman Mike Spence as the city needed to determine if financial problems cited by residents actually existed. Assemblyman and former Councilman Roger Hernandez sent a letter to Chiang asking for an audit after learning that more than $10 million in legal fees were spent fighting developer Ziad Alhassen.
The council approved a proposed reorganization of executive staff, which included the elimination of an executive assistant in the City Manager’s Office. Under the changes, the finance manager will now report to the city manager and focus on implementing the Fiscal Response Task Force recommendations that could help generate up to $7 million in savings to the city’s general fund. In January, the task force outlined 22 items, including looking at ways to create new revenue for the city. The changes with the approval of the city’s incoming top executive director Rod Butler. The administrative services director oversees the City Clerk’s Office, human resources, information technology, and risk management.
The council agreed to move the finance manager from administrative services to the city manager’s control while the accounting supervisor will handle the day-to-day operations of the finance department. The revenue coordinator position would be reclassified to customer service supervisor.