Compiled by Bill Ruh, CVAR Government Affairs Director
Even before being officially sworn in on Monday, Nov. 21, Police Chief Steve Hunt’s leadership was tested. As interim chief and just after being named chief of the Azusa Police Department in early November, Hunt had two fires and an Election Day shooting to handle. Hunt, a former Arcadia Police Explorer and U.S. Army veteran, is replacing Chief Samuel Gonzalez, who retired in June. Hunt graduated from the Orange County Sheriff’s Academy in February 1990, and began his law enforcement career with the Azusa PD. Hunt worked a variety of assignments with the department, including Explorer Advisor, SWAT Member and Commander, Narcotics Detective, Active Shooter Instructor, Gang Investigator, Terrorism Liaison Officer, and has earned Meritorious Service and Exceptional Achievement awards. Hunt feels confident in the department he is inheriting, especially after dealing with an active shooter situation this last Election Day. Hunt is married and has a daughter, with whom he volunteers to assist the Southern California Special Olympics. Hunt also teaches Administration of Justice at Citrus Community College in Glendora.
The Baldwin Park City Council approved two development agreements for townhome projects in the downtown area, effectively killing a separate plan to construct a three-acre community plaza and park on the land. The council voted 3-2 to enter the disposition and development agreements with Walbern Development, a subsidiary of MJW Investments LLC, to develop 26 market-rate townhomes across from City Hall, at the intersection of Maine and Pacific avenues, and approximately 27 townhomes at the intersection of Ramona Boulevard and Badillo Street. Mayor Pro Tem Susan Rubio and Councilwoman Cruz Baca voted against approving the agreements. Up until the council entered exclusive negotiating agreements with the developer in February, the two elected officials had been working to create a civic plaza and park on the land. The city is expected to receive up to $1.25 million for the sale of the Maine and Pacific property, and $450,000 for the Ramona and Badillo property, according to city documents.
Ray Marquez was selected by his peers as the new mayor for Chino Hills in a unanimous vote on Nov. 22. Peter Rogers was selected vice mayor. Unlike many area localities where the mayor is elected, the position is rotated each year in Chino Hills. The term is Mr. Marquez’s first as mayor since his election to the city council in 2013. Mr. Marquez said his No. 1 goal is to resolve the lighting and landscape shortfall by holding community meetings and possibly hiring a consultant. His second priority is establishing an emergency preparedness plan to handle earthquakes and fire.
He also wishes to institute a volunteer program for a community emergency response team.
Mr. Marquez, 60, believes a plan of action is necessary to establish new fire stations in Chino Hills to accommodate growth. He will serve on the ad hoc committee to resolve differences between the city and the fire district about funding the new stations. Finding money for the extension of Pine Avenue off the 71 Freeway will also be a priority, he said. The project has been ruminating for decades. He also wants to be more involved in the 71 Freeway widening project in Pomona, and seeks improvements for the 71-91 interchange. Mr. Marquez was elected to the city council in a special election in March 2013 to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of former councilman Bill Kruger.
Developments this month set the stage for a litigation battle over the future of private water systems in California. Private water companies, equity funds, and public agencies could all be affected by this potentially precedent-setting eminent domain fight. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Richard Fruin on Nov. 10, 2016 issued a tentative decision blocking the City of Claremont’s plan to exercise eminent domain over the private water system serving its residents. Claremont has filed objections, and the court could hand down a final decision within a month. If the tentative decision stands, the system’s current owner, Golden State Water, will retain control, and the City’s years-long takeover effort will have suffered a significant blow. The decision may also affect similar pending suits filed by Casitas Municipal Water District against Golden State in Ventura Superior Court in May of this year, and by the town of Apple Valley against Liberty Utilities in San Bernardino Superior Court in January. Claremont filed suit against Golden State in December 2014, after Golden State rejected Claremont’s $56 million offer to purchase the water system. To forcibly acquire a currently operating private utility like Golden State, which has offered water to the public in Claremont since 1929, California Civil Procedure Code section 1240.610 requires a public entity to demonstrate that its desired use is “more necessary” than the property’s current use. In the case of a water, gas, or electric utility, section 1240.650 provides a rebuttable presumption that the use of property by a public entity qualifies as a “more necessary use” than private ownership. Judge Fruin interpreted the phrase “more necessary use” to require “[t]hat the benefits from municipal operation must be significant over the present operation of the water system.” This interpretation will be a central focus of any appeal by the city. Following a 21-day bench trial, the court determined that Claremont’s proposed use failed to satisfy the “more necessary” statutory requirement. Specifically, Judge Fruin wrote that the city had not fully explained to the court why it wanted to exercise eminent domain over the water system. The court also faulted the city for failing to submit appropriate factual findings supporting the proposed takeover, a requirement the court found to be “implied by” the private utility’s “statutory right to rebut the presumptions favoring public ownership.” The court agreed with Golden State’s criticisms of Claremont’s proffered plan tasking the nearby city of La Verne with day-to-day operations of the facility, concluding that La Verne had a poor record of water quality, maintenance, and reporting of testing results. The court further dismissed arguments that Golden State had overcharged Claremont ratepayers, rejecting the city’s argument that a fee known as a “water rate adjustment mechanism,” which allows Golden State to impose a surcharge on ratepayers when water usage falls below a standard set by the Public Utilities Commission, should be viewed as a “penalty” imposed on ratepayers for conserving water. On Nov. 23, the city filed objections to the court’s decision, arguing, among other things, that the court had misapplied the statutory presumption and “instead imposed on the city a burden akin to absolute necessity.” Once the court finalizes its decision, the city council will determine whether to appeal, triggering a statutory interpretation dispute with significant implications for the pending eminent domain cases in Ojai and Apple Valley, as well as with private water systems and investors across California.
San Fernando City Manager Brian Saeki has been selected to be Covina’s new top executive. Saeki, 42, has nearly two decades of experience in the public sector, working for the cities of Downey, Rosemead, Arcadia, and San Fernando in various positions, including community development director, assistant city manager and economic development manager, according to a city statement. He has been the city manager in San Fernando for nearly three years. The council is expected to approve his employment contract at their Tuesday meeting. He will take over for Interim City Manager Don Penman on Jan. 3, with an annual base salary of $205,000. Saeki’s hiring comes about seven months after former City Manager Andrea Miller resigned from the position. He was selected from a group of more than 50 applicants nationwide. Saeki currently lives in East Pasadena and is a member of the International City Managers Association and the California City Managers Foundation. He has a bachelor’s degree in urban and regional planning from Cal Poly Pomona, and master’s degree in public administration from California State University Northridge.
Two new affordable veteran housing projects are expected to open in El Monte by 2019. Hollywood Community Housing Corporation is set to break ground on its Palo Verde Apartments project, at 4704-4716 Peck Road, Jan. 25. Meanwhile, Mercy Housing is looking build another affordable veteran housing project at the intersection of Baldwin and Rose avenues by as early as 2019. Palo Verde is expected to have 49 single, double and triple apartments, and Mercy’s project is expected to offer 55 of the same varieties to house single veterans and those with families. Twenty-five of Palo Verde’s units will be dedicated to housing low-income or homeless veterans, while the remainder can go to locals whose incomes fall below 50 percent of the area median income. For Mercy, 32 of the units will house low-income veterans, and 22 will go specifically to homeless veterans. The city has different levels of involvement with each project. In the case of Palo Verde, the city offered a $360,000 low-interest loan for construction. With Mercy, the city is working to acquire railroad-owned land at the intersection of Baldwin and Rose avenues to transfer to Mercy at a cost of $2.66 million, and the city is also providing Mercy a $750,000 low-interest loan to be repaid over 55 years. While Hollywood Housing has built apartments for special needs populations for years, this is its first project serving veterans, said Executive Director Sarah Letts. After attending City Council meetings and seeing a strong veteran presence in the city, Letts said she understands why El Monte has gone out of its way to help organizations get these housing projects built. Mercy already has a presence in the city, having built the El Monte Veterans Village, an affordable veteran housing project with 40 studio apartments that opened in 2014. New housing for homeless or low-income veterans is sorely needed in the San Gabriel Valley, with an estimated 7,800 veteran families and 500-1,000 homeless veterans, said Ed Holder, vice president of real estate development for Mercy Housing California. Negotiations with First American Title and the Alameda Corridor-East Construction are ongoing. The City Council voted unanimously to extend its escrow window with First American Title and the authority from Dec. 31 to June 30, 2017, allowing real estate negotiations to continue into the new year. One way organizations such as Hollywood Housing and Mercy can help create more affordable housing for those who are homeless or near to it is the proposed county-wide quarter-cent sales tax to help fund homeless supportive services, approved for the March ballot on Tuesday by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.
Rumors and uncertainty regarding the demolition of Irwindale (CA) Speedway have been a dark cloud hanging over the facility for the past two seasons. It appears race fans and enthusiasts can breathe a sigh of relief, at least for 2017. The Irwindale Event Center (IEC) revealed via a press release Wednesday, Oct. 25, that the facility is scheduling events for next season. The IEC includes the LA Racing Experience, Irwindale Speedway, Advanced Driving Dynamics, and Irwindale Dragstrip. IEC said that it will continue its Thursday Night Drags, NASCAR Whelen All-American Series and Nights of Destruction, along with special events such as K&N Pro Series West, HotVW’s Drag Day, the NHRA Summit Series, Thursday Night Drift, Truckin’ for Kids, Formula Drift Championship, and “MoonEyes,” all being presented on the traditional calendar dates. The uncertainty surrounding the facility dates back to May 2015, when it was reported that the site would likely be demolished to make room for an outlet mall. However, no further action has been taken toward the demolition of the facility. For more information visit www.irwindalespeedway.com
Local officials celebrated the completion of a sound wall in La Puente with a dedication ceremony. The wall, which now covers a total of 6,050 feet along the major thoroughfare, helps to mitigate noise generated from vehicle and truck traffic, as well as railroad operations for more than 80 residential properties in La Puente and City of Industry. The third and final phase of the project, which included drainage improvements and the installation of a walkway, was funded by an inter-local loan agreement approved between the two cities in October 2015. The project had been ongoing for several years. La Puente Mayor Valerie Munoz said funding difficulties held up the project for some time. Construction of the wall began in 2010. Officials broke ground on the last piece of the wall in early 2016.
Upland took the first steps to disband its fire department after more than a century of service, seeking to turn fire protection over to San Bernardino County. The move by the City Council might save $3.5 million a year, in large part by imposing a parcel tax on property owners of $148 a year. Upland spends nearly $46 million a year, most of which goes to police and fire. Interim City Manager Marty Thouvenell got a proposal from the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, but concluded that keeping a city police force is $1.3 million cheaper. Outsourcing fire protection has more promise for savings. Rather than continue to spend $11.9 million on a city fire department, Upland can contract with the county for $7.6 million and get equal, and possibly better, service. The actual difference in providing the service is roughly $600,000 to $1 million, but the savings are greater because annexing to the county fire district would include a parcel tax that would generate $3 million per year and lower the city’s contract costs. The council voted 5-0 to file the application and authorize Thouvenell to negotiate a contract that would return to the council for discussion and possible approval by mid-2017. The goal is for any takeover to occur prior to Aug. 8, the deadline for putting a parcel tax on the assessor’s tax rolls.
A controversial solar project proposed for a hillside across from the campus of Mt. San Antonio College will have to go through the city for a grading permit, according to college officials. Superior Court Judge James Chalfant last week upheld a city stop-work order and granted United Walnut Taxpayers, a neighborhood group opposing the project, its request for a preliminary injunction, according to court documents. The court’s ruling effectively postpones any work on the 10-acre, ground-mounted system of solar panels until the trial in March and the lawsuits are resolved, according to the city of Walnut.
The court ruling is a victory for the city, which has sued the college, contending Mt. SAC must obtain a conditional-use permit and a grading permit. Mt. SAC, both publicly and in court, maintained that the project is not subject to city laws—the college said that its solar panels fall under state laws for generating solar capacity. Mt. SAC also said that as a community college district, its projects are not subject to local zoning ordinances. Mt. SAC President William Scroggins said that the matter was purely a technical issue. He said the judge both signed off on the college’s environmental documents and supported the conclusion that the college does not have to adhere to city zoning laws. Mt. SAC still must submit its application for a grading permit to the city of Walnut, which will delay the project, Scroggins said. At issue is whether the college can build a 2.2-megawatt solar-generating facility on a 24-acre, college-owned parcel of land, on the southwest corner of Grand and Temple Avenues. The solar project will cost approximately $7 million and will eventually shave the college’s electric power bill by about $400,000 a year. Walnut officials said the college will “tear down hillsides and fill in existing ravines to create a building pad” for rows of photovoltaic panels. The project will also involve 160 large truck trips per day for 109 days in order to import between 163,000 and 260,000 cubic yards of fill dirt. This is equivalent to filling an ordinary football field over 120 feet in height, said Walnut City Manager Rob Wishner, in a prepared statement.
The West Covina City Council has forged an exclusive negotiating agreement with Singpoli Group LLC that could bring an amusement park to a former BKK landfill site in the city. Pending approval, Singpoli President and CEO Kin Hui said he hopes to complete the project, which could span as many as 200 acres, within a few years. A portion of the park would be built on 122 acres the city owns, but plans to sell the remaining 84 acres that would be leased to Singpoli. City Manager Chris Freeland said the city envisions an entertainment complex that could include everything from a zip line ride to virtual reality attractions that are interactive. The city is required to sell the 122-acre portion of the property under requirements associated with the dissolution of redevelopment agencies in California.
Singpoli will return in 90 days with a project plan. If all goes well, the city would then negotiate a sale and development agreement with Singpoli and the project would move forward with community meetings and an environmental impact report. Singpoli plans to partner with Hong Kong development firm Lan Kwai Fong Group (LKF) and Tom Mehrmann, chief executive of Ocean Park Corp., to develop the proposed outdoor recreational park. Both have experience working on park development. LKF founder Allen Zeman was successful in transforming Ocean Park in Hong Kong into an award-winning amusement park that has been recognized as a World’s Top Theme Park. The now-closed landfills are located at 2210 Azusa Ave., West Covina, and the landfill covered 583 acres. To the southeast, several homes are only 25 to 50 feet away from the BKK property, according to a report from 2005 on closure and monitoring from the state Department of Toxic and Substance Control. The Class I landfill accepted hazardous waste. The Class III landfill portion accepted nonhazardous, solid household waste. The hazardous waste landfill began operating in 1963 and continued to accept hazardous liquid waste through 1984, when it stopped receiving most types of hazardous waste. According to the DTSC report, from 1972 through 1984 the landfill accepted approximately 3.4 million tons of hazardous waste, in addition to large amounts of nonhazardous waste. Examples of the kinds of waste buried at the BKK Class 1 landfill include (but are not limited to) asbestos; acid and alkaline solutions and sludges; cyanide wastes; contaminated soils, drilling muds and petroleum wastes; heavy metal solutions; oils; paint wastes; plating solutions; pesticides; polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs); phenolic wastes, and solvents, according to the report. BKK’s hazardous waste landfill continued operating, receiving only asbestos waste until 1987. Actual closure of the landfill was completed and certified by BKK in 1991. The Class III landfill accepted municipal waste from 1987 to 1996. Phil Lempert, a Santa Monica-based expert on consumer behavior and marketing trends, figures Singpoli may be onto something, especially if they incorporate virtual reality into the mix. Lempert said the park’s success would also depend largely on keeping costs down. Paul Ruben, North American editor for the industry trade publication Park World, noted that VR experiences are typically “low capacity attractions,” in that few visitors can participate in such attractions at any given time. But Southern California’s temperate climate is a plus, he said, because it allows amusement parks to operate year round.