Officials from Vulcan Materials Company announced the start of mine development at the Azusa Rock Quarry, taking the first steps toward resuming mining at the site, which will be ongoing until 2038.The company is able to move forward with the mining process after the state appeals court backed a decision by the Los Angeles Superior Court rejecting claims by the city of Duarte of a faulty environmental impact report.The rock quarry contains more than 100 million tons of quality granite aggregate, Vulcan officials said in a statement. The project also will help with the redevelopment of former mining sites, generating millions of yards of overburden material to be used in the reclamation of a former sand and gravel mine in Irwindale. Vulcan’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, under a permit to mine 190 acres of its land. The plan includes environmental incentives, which includes a new technique to reshape the hillsides after mining and added tax revenues for Azusa. Duarte officials had raised questions over the EIR’s findings that the project would not create significant or unavoidable air quality impacts, pulling the city and Vulcan into two and a half years of litigation and spending about $600,000 in legal costs. With the Second Appellate District Court’s ruling in February, the city declined to continue the legal fight, instead focusing on monitoring air quality in the city. A monitoring station at 203 Melcanyon Road near Valley View Elementary School, which is 3,000 feet below the mining site, was approved by the Duarte City Council on Sept. 10. The station will provide continuous monitoring of particulate matter and the staff report indicates that costs for the station will be shared by AQMD and the city, with the city budgeting about $42,500 for the initial year of operation and $7,000 for maintenance in following years.
Baldwin Park released its much-delayed fiscal 2013-2014 budget this week and with it a comprehensive 10-year financial plan for the city. Without dramatic changes, the numbers aren’t optimistic. If Baldwin Park wants to maintain even a basic level of service and begin addressing its long-term financial obligations, like pensions, it faces a $3.6 million budget deficit this year — 13 percent of total proposed spending — and larger deficits in the years to come, according to the budget. The 400-plus page document aims to provide a true outlook of how the city can survive over the next decade given its revenues and expenses. The proposed budget includes restoring some levels of service and staff that have been cut or left vacant in recent years. It proposes initially adding six full-time staff positions, including a city clerk and an economic development department, neither of which currently exist, and increasing the number of sworn police officers to 77, five more than are currently budgeted. The proposal also calls for increasing spending on maintenance and equipment replacement, funding for which has been insufficient in recent years, according to city staff, and increased funding for special events like concerts in the park and the Christmas parade. Since 2006, the number of non-police city staff has been nearly cut in half, from 119 in 2006 to 63 this year. Baldwin Park draws in significantly lower tax revenues per capita than surrounding cities. While other nearby cities draw an average of $584 per resident annually, Baldwin Park receives $316 — 46 percent less, according to the budget. The next lowest city, El Monte, pulls in $421. As with many cities, the other large and growing expense for Baldwin Park is pensions and retiree health care costs. Because the recession hit investments in CalPERS hard, cities are being asked to contribute more. Pension costs in Baldwin Park have increased 55 percent, from $3.6 million in fiscal 2005 to $5.5 million in fiscal 2013. And retiree medical costs are also rising according to the budget. While staff recommends a new tax or policing switch, the council could cut its way out of the deficit created by growing pension costs. That would mean cutting 12-15 sworn officers from the Police Department in addition to other cuts and using some of the city’s $4.6 million reserve, according to the budget. If the council goes the tax increase route, it has three choices: a parcel tax, a sales tax or a utility users tax.
- A half cent sales tax increase would bring the sales tax in Baldwin Park up to 9.75 percent, similar to El Monte and South El Monte, and raise an estimated $3.2 million, according to the budget. A full cent sales tax increase would bring it up to 10.25 percent, similar to Pico Rivera and South Gate, and raise an estimated $6.4 million.
- A parcel tax would be the same for any parcel in the city, regardless of size. A $150 parcel tax would generate $2.1 million while a $290 parcel tax would generate $4.15 million, according to budget estimates.
- A utility users tax increase, paid by residents and businesses based on their utility bills, would generate $1.5 million if it is increased from the current 3 percent to 5 percent, and $2.2 million if it is raised to 6 percent, according to budget estimates.
The City Council could place a tax increase on the ballot in a special election April 8 or June 3. The deadline for the April election would be Jan. 14 and for the June election would be March 4. The City Council is already taking steps to put a measure on the ballot asking if residents want to maintain the police depart or contract with the sheriff’s department.
City officials are looking at how to resolve the issue of residents whose properties encroach onto public land. The possibility of allowing residents under some conditions to purchase the disputed land that both they and the city maintain is theirs was discussed at a workshop. Residents received a review of the current encroachment enforcement program and be provided an overview of options for modifying the program. The city in 2009 adopted its current program in which it identifies encroachments and works on resolving each issue one street at a time. Previously, the city had the same encroachment program as San Bernardino County’s, which was to sell residents odd pieces that caused the city more trouble to maintain than not. What happened was the city would sell the land to residents who were prohibited from putting any permanent structure on it. There are now 225 homes whose boundaries officials have identified as encroaching on city land. A handful go into public property by more than 500 feet. Before the legal transfer of any land can be completed, an environmental review of the sale would have to be done and the area would have to be rezoned. The cost of those requirements will have to be met by the resident.
City-wide projects including slurry seal, a new water main construction and a sewer rehabilitation plan are under way. American Asphalt South recently started preliminary concrete and asphalt repair work to prepare for an upcoming slurry seal project within the Claremont Club neighborhood. On Second Street in front of City Hall and adjacent to the Claremont Public Library, Southern California Edison sub-contractors will work on wrapping up a final asphalt patch for recent vault work. At the southwest corner of Base Line and Monte Vista Avenue, officials said, a new water main line installation for the Citrus Glen development is progressing. The installation will be on Base Line from Kemper Avenue to Monte Vista.
The city of Covina took a clear stance against medical marijuana sales when officials banned all types of medical marijuana dispensaries from operating within city limits. The city’s decision follows a California Supreme Court ruling in May that allows cities to make their own decisions on whether medical marijuana dispensaries can operate within their borders. Covina council implemented an urgency ordinance in July but adopted a standard ordinance Tuesday to clarify their description of a dispensary to include all types, including mobile units. A staff report to council cites roughly four dispensaries within 10 miles of Covina that advertise direct delivery to the city.
The authority that provides insurance to government agencies in California has put Irwindale on notice that allegations of corruption in the Police Department and at City Hall could result in cancellation of its liability and worker’s compensation policies. An Aug. 28 letter from the California Joint Powers Insurance Authority says a series of lawsuits, alleged misconduct and reports of criminal behavior forced the city into settlements that totaled nearly $2 million over the past five years. The letter also outlines a performance improvement plan, or PIP, it says city officials must adopt. Once terms are negotiated, the city will have 18 months to improve or it could face losing its insurance coverage.Of JPIA’s 123 members in California, only the city of Cudahy is on a performance improvement plan, May said. La Puente had been on a PIP, but recently completed it. Calexico, in Imperial County, is in the same situation as Irwindale, where JPIA staff are creating a PIP for the city, he said. The letter notes that four current and former city officials have been arraigned in Los Angeles Superior Court on suspicion of embezzlement, misappropriation of public funds and conflict of interest. They also cited reports of alleged Police midconduct:
• A $20 million lawsuit a woman filed against the city alleging Sgt. David Fraijo sexually assaulted her during a traffic stop in October;
• Officer Daniel Camerano was placed on paid administrative leave amid accusations he had inappropriate relationships with Explorer Scouts;
• Officer Dennis Alva is accused of stealing $250,000 cash from his father’s home in Azusa and has been charged with grand theft, second-degree burglary and elder abuse;
* Officer Rudy Campos has filed a civil lawsuit against the city accusing Lt. Mario Camacho of retaliation; and Camacho is also accused of sexually harassing a female cadet.
JPIA also pointed to pending criminal charges against two City Council members — Mark Breceda and Manuel Garcia — and two former city officials — Rosemary Ramirez and Abe De Dios. The four are accused of misappropriation of public funds, embezzlement and conflict of interest. Prosecutors allege the officials took lavish trips to New York City and spent $200,000 in public funds on expensive hotels, steak dinners, Broadway plays, limousines and professional sports games. Irwindale will have 18 months to complete each of the action items under the PIP proposed by JPIA or risk losing coverage.
Among the proposed action items, Irwindale must:
• Hire a permanent, full-time human resources manager;
• Submit any proposed adverse disciplinary action against personnel for approval by JPIA;
• Notify JPIA of any anticipated internal investigations and reasons for such investigations;
• Notify JPIA of any complaints of harassment, discrimination, retaliation or police misconduct and;
• Council members are required to complete training on council relations and cooperation.
Ron Ingels, the city’s former police chief, was sworn in to fill the vacant City Council seat left empty by the death of Robert Rodriguez. Rodriguez, 83, died of respiratory failure on July 6. The council decided in July that a special election would be both costly and leave the seat vacant until April 2014, the earliest date a special election could be held. Rather than spend $70,000 for a special election, the four remaining council members decided to accept “letters of interest” from potential candidates. Eighteen candidates submitted letters before the Aug. 7 deadline. By state law, the vacancy had to be filled by 5 p.m. Sept. 3. The council didn’t want to wait until the very last minute so it set a special session for 5 p.m. Monday to hear comments from the candidates. A random drawing was held to determine the order of each candidate’s 4-minute presentation. Ingels’ law enforcement career began in La Verne in 1971 as a reserve officer. He was hired as a regular officer two years later and served until he retired as police chief in July 2005. He is currently the law enforcement liaison for the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office. Ingels’ public service has focused on law enforcement. He is a past president of the Los Angeles County Police Chiefs Association, sat on the California Police Chiefs Association board and previously chaired L.A. Impact, a regional anti-drug and anti-crime task force of municipal and county law enforcement officers. He started the La Verne Police Citizens Academy.
City Council members gave preliminary approval to an ordinance that calls for awarding a transfer station franchise agreement to Grand Central Recycling and Transfer Station for the operation of a waste transfer facility on East Ninth Street. The agreement is expected to generate $1 million in revenue for the city’s general fund after the first year of the facility’s operation. The $1 million estimate was based on the transfer station handling 1,500 tons of waste per day. The fees will be 5 percent of the transfer station’s gross revenues or $2 per ton of material that passes through the facility, whichever is greater. The $2 per ton figure will increase annually based on changes in the Consumer Price Index or changes in rates the company charges, the staff report said. Gross receipts will generate a sum on the lower end of the revenue scale but as more waste is handled by the transfer station the figure is expected to increase. Fees will be paid on a quarterly basis once the facility is issued a certificate of occupancy by the city. If given final approval, the agreement would be for a 10-year term, and the city could renew the agreement twice for consecutive five-year terms, the proposed ordinance said The facility would be completed in October 2014 and would go into operation the same month. Aside from the franchise fees, the proposed the agreement calls for the following:
• Valley Vista Services will provide the city $100,000 a year to be used to pay for code enforcement services in the industrial zone where the transfer station will be located. The provision was agreed to as part securing a conditional use permit for the project.
• Once the Ninth Street facility opens, the smaller transfer station on East First Street will close. The waste company took over the First Street facility from another trash company along with the agreements it had for the facility.
• The Ninth Street facility will provide a community clean-up program that will include an annual clean-up event in each of the city’s six council districts saving the city about $41,000 a year.
• Every three years the city will hire a firm to conduct an audit that will be paid for by the waste company.
• City-collected residential waste will go to the transfer station but the city will continue to be charged a favorable rate as exists under agreements tied to the First Street facility.
The city is looking to Congress for help as it grapples with issues surrounding rising numbers of visitors to Cucamonga Canyon — issues that include graffiti, trash, neighborhood nuisance, and public safety costs. Rep. Judy Chu, D-Pasadena, has proposed placing areas of the San Gabriel Mountains and foothill wilderness under National Parks Service oversight through a national recreation area. City officials want the canyon included as part of the proposal. The plan must be approved as an act of Congress and signed by the president, but city officials are hopeful for a successful outcome which they believe could potentially mean better management of the problems that plague the canyon. The U.S, Forest Service currently has jurisdiction over much of the canyon. The National Park Service in April released the San Gabriel Watershed and Mountains Special Resource Study, which recommends the establishment of a San Gabriel Unit of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. The area would include the San Gabriel Mountain foothills, part of the San Gabriel and Rio Hondo river corridors, and western Puente Hills. The Park Service would manage the area through partnerships with private landowners toward resource protection, ecological restoration and education programs, according to a city staff report on the matter. The city is also recommending that undeveloped land south of the canyon outside of the national forest and within city limits also be included in the National Recreation Area, according to the report.
Although seriously concerned about the lack of mandated health inspections, the City Council modified the city’s Municipal Code to accommodate a new state rule allowing residents to operate cottage food operations in their homes. Council members struggled with what they thought might be a missing mandate in Assembly Bill 1616, the California legislation that lets individuals operate food-based businesses from their residential kitchens. The missing ingredient – mandated periodic county health inspections – was considered vital to public health by the council. The law was passed by the state Legislature on Sept. 21, 2012, went into effect on Jan. 1 The law allows residents to “own and run cottage food operations as a home-based business preparing and/or packaging certain state-approved foods and (to) sell their products both off-site and on-site directly from their homes.” The legislation requires cities to modify municipal codes to comply with the new state law. Cities cannot deny the operation of a cottage food operation meeting the provisions of the state law and specific requirements related to product sales, sanitation, product preparation and other health-code regulations.
Through a company called Dighton America, developer Ziad Alhassen repurchased 10 of his liquidated properties in Covina and West Covina after bidding more than $44 million in a federal bankruptcy court auction. City officials in West Covina tried to block Alhassen’s purchase of a $16 million, three-dealership property off East Garvey, but Judge Ernest Robles denied the request. The city plans to appeal the decision and to ask for a stay on the sale of all of the properties because City Attorney Arnold Alvarez-Glasman said the procedure used by the bankruptcy trustee for the first five properties in Covina did not result in bids that could have been higher. Alhassen’s Dighton America Inc. outlasted every other bidder in both sets of auctions, which included five “nondealership” properties in Covina and five “dealership” properties in West Covina. Alhassen’s Hassen Imports Partnership lost the properties earlier this year when the bankruptcy court liquidated the assets. Dighton and City Ventures LLC, which owns townhomes in Covina, escalated the aggregate bid price of the Covina properties to $13.75 million before City Ventures backed down. Because only three of the five properties were individually outbid, Ehrenberg awarded the collection to Dighton because the individual bids did not exceed Dighton’s aggregate offer. Covina officials previously said they did not want Alhassen to regain the properties in their city because every one has become blighted.