After years of legal delays, mining work at the Azusa Rock Quarry has begun again. The site has been active since September, when the state appeals court backed a decision by the Los Angeles Superior Court that allowed the company to move forward with the mining process. Most visible to the public is the work being done on the Mayan steps, 30- to 50-foot high conventional benches that will be converted to 1- to 2-foot “microbenches” and restored with native vegetation by August 2015 as part of the agreement between the city of Azusa and Vulcan. The work, which turns the hillside bright green — visible from afar, is being done by Nature’s Image, a habitat restoration company that specializes in slope restoration. No blasting has been done in 2014 yet and the company, in partnership with contractor Ames Construction, has been making efforts to bring in heavy-duty vehicles that will do most of the mining and minimize the number of blasts, which are limited to 100 per year. The company also is making progress to complete a pathway through the mining property for the public to access the Fish Canyon Trailhead, he said. That trail, which will be open to the public seven days a week, must be completely open by Aug. 20 of this year as part of the development agreement. The trail to the Fish Canyon Falls around the western edge of the property is a moderate 9-mile hike with a 2,280-foot elevation gain, while the trail through the mining property is an easier 3.2-mile hike. Vulcan’s plan eventually will shift its mining operations from 80 acres on the eastern end of the 270-acre property to 80 acres on its western end, under a permit to mine 190 acres of its land. The plan also includes tax revenues for Azusa, which Vulcan officials said have totaled more than $2.5 million paid to the city so far. The site also undergoes regular inspections from Air Quality Management District officials.
A proposed affordable housing development that would be built next to the police department and Metrolink station is being reviewed by the City. The city is considering whether to give the environmental thumbs-up to the project, which includes up to 72 units of affordable housing and nearly 6,000 square feet of commercial space and the project’s specific plan. If it receives approval by the City, the development still needs to qualify for federal tax credits for affordable housing and secure funding to become a reality, but developer ROEM Corporation is confident that will happen. The project site, located at Ramona Boulevard and Bogart Avenue, is home to parking lots, a police evidence room and an entry to the jail that would have to be demolished. The project consists of two four-story buildings. The one closest to Ramona Boulevard would have retail on the ground floor. For residents, the buildings would also feature a computer room, a fitness area, a courtyard, an outdoor kitchen and a playground. City staff say those latter amenities would help decrease the project’s impact on city parks. An estimated 338 people would live in the project, 88 of them school age. To offset its impact on schools and parks, ROEM would pay approximately $30,000 to the Baldwin Park Unified School District and $33,000 to the city. A traffic analysis revealed the project is expected to generated an estimated 882 daily trips on a typical weekday, still allowing area intersections to operate at acceptable levels. No new parking would be built for the project. Residents would be able to park in a new parking structure built for the Metrolink Station that opened last year. Each apartment would get one spot. The development would be slightly more dense than is currently allowed under the city’s zoning code. For example, under the zoning code, two-bedroom apartments are supposed to be at least 900 square feet; under this project’s specific plan, they would be at least 800 square feet. The increased density contributes to making the project affordable. The $20-$25 million project is being financed by ROEM, with the help of the federal tax credits and a loan from the city. If ROEM receives the credits this spring, construction could start by the fall, with completion scheduled for the first part of 2016. City officials hope the project contributes to the improvement of downtown Baldwin Park — a larger goal for the city. The City is reviewing proposals for the creation of a downtown specific plan, which would serve as a blueprint for how the city wants to shape the area in the coming years. The plan would define what type of businesses the city hopes to attract as well as propose ways to make the area feel more like a cohesive city center, through sidewalks, trees and other landscaping and infrastructure. The city is also working with Mt. SAC college to bring a satellite campus to downtown.
Following the direction of other local cities, the City Council voted to implement a permanent ban on all medical marijuana dispensaries less than a year after a storefront facility was shuttered by federal authorities. The City Council first approved an extension of a temporary ban on medical marijuana clinics that will last until January 2015. It also introduced a second ordinance that will permanently ban medical marijuana operations from the city Both ordinances passed by 5-0 votes. No one from the audience spoke in favor or against the ban. Previously, the city allowed one medical marijuana facility to operate in Diamond Bar. That facility was known as Farm Assist Caregiver. The medical marijuana clinic was issued a business license in April 2006. The dispensary was shut down by federal authorities sometime in 2013. The city was not sure of the exact closure date. In November, Whittier banned medical marijuana clinics from the city, saying the city must abide by federal law. In August, Covina banned all types of medicinal marijuana facilities from its city limits. California voters approved the use of medical marijuana when they voted in favor of Proposition 215 in 1996. However, the law states that a medicinal marijuana dispensary cannot be a profit-making entity.
It took more than 10 years, $15 million in state grant money, a line of attempted developers and several failed attempts, but the city finally broke ground Thursday on a $110 million residential and retail development project next to the bus station. El Monte Gateway, as the project is dubbed, will include stores and nearly 500 homes off Santa Anita Avenue, north of the 10 Freeway. The project consists of three buildings on approximately eight acres — a four-story building with 131 affordable apartments, a five-story building with about 145 market-rate apartments, and a larger five-story building featuring about 200 market-rate apartments built above 25,000 square feet of retail stores and restaurants. The city is also working to revitalize downtown El Monte, across Santa Anita Avenue from Gateway. And up the street, developers plan to bring large retailers to the corner of Santa Anita and Valley Boulevard. The City estimates the Gateway project will generate at least $573,000 in annual tax revenue, and create 250 construction jobs and 150 permanent jobs. The affordable units will be rented to families with an average household income of $37,000. The affordable building, which is expected to be completed by July 2015, will also include an after-school learning center and community space where community-building events will be held. The project will cost an estimated $110 million to $120 million. While the majority is being funded through private investment, it is receiving millions in public funding through grants and loans. The approximately $30 million in infrastructure costs will be partially funded through a $14.8 million state grant and $4.9 million from the city to match to the grant. Grapevine is contributing $9 million toward the infrastructure but El Monte is transferring the land for the market-rate buildings to the developer in exchange for its contribution. The city has also provided Grapevine a $1.25 million pre-development loan.
The arraignment of four current and former Irwindale officials was delayed for the sixth time on Thursday February 27th pending a filed demurrer. Mayor Mark Breceda, Councilman Manuel Garcia, former Councilwoman and current city Planning Commissioner Rosemary Ramirez and retired Financial Director Abe De Dios will appear in court again on April 9. The four are charged with embezzlement, misappropriation of public funds and conflict of interest for allegedly spending $200,000 in public funds for high-end hotels and restaurants, Broadway shows, Major League Baseball games and limousine services while on lavish trips to New York City between 2001 and 2005. The trips were designed for the officials to obtain a higher bond rating for Irwindale. If the demurrer is granted by the higher court, 10 of the 15 counts will be dismissed — five counts of misappropriation and five counts of conflict of interest. Breceda filed the demurrer on Sept. 11. It states that the misappropriation of public funds and conflict of interest charges against Breceda, Ramirez and De Dios are outside their four-year statute of limitations. Garcia does not face those charges. There is no statute of limitations on the embezzlement charges. February 27th marked another delay in a proceeding that was originally scheduled for September 2013. All four defendants appeared in court on February 27th with representation. Judge Renee Korn preceded. According to previous reports, City Manager Robert Griego testified before a grand jury that he knew about the alleged crimes in 2005, and the statute of limitations begins when a person in a supervisory position, like Griego, learns of the situation. Throughout the hearing’s five-month postponement, the quartet’s respective attorneys have maintained that 10 of the 15 allegations are outside their legal limitations.
A mandatory program requiring owners to strengthen downtown buildings prone to collapse from earthquakes continues to go without enforcement nearly 20 years after notices went out. Unreinforced masonry buildings, built before code changes in 1933 following the Long Beach earthquake, exist throughout Los Angeles County but few have received as little attention as in La Puente. Los Angeles County’s building code — which La Puente adopted decades ago and reaffirmed in January — makes it “unlawful to own, use, occupy, maintain or be in control of a building” that fails to comply with an order requiring improvements. Notices about the mandatory program went out to businesses in the 1990s. Unreinforced buildings like the 20 in La Puente’s downtown could collapse from a magnitude 5.5 earthquake, according to seismologists. La Puente plans to reissue the notices and work with businesses to secure low-interest loans or grants for the expensive fixes. The cost of retrofitting in some cases exceeds the building’s value. A previous attempt to enforce the program in 2011 was tabled by city council after residents attacked the proposal as a ploy to demolish and replace the downtown with chain stores. All of the shops have mandated warnings in their windows, but most of the tenants brushed off the danger. La Puente weathered some of the worst earthquakes without damage, including the 1933 Long Beach earthquake, the 1987 Whittier Narrows earthquake and the 1994 Northridge earthquake. Those quakes devastated other cities and spurred some, such as Los Angeles and Long Beach, into improving their building stock. The state monitored the amount of unreinforced masonry buildings in high-risk areas until 2006 but stopped for budgetary reasons, according to Fred Turner, structural engineer with the California Seismic Safety Commission. The commission is in early talks about reviving the program.
The City Council unanimously agree to study the feasibility of operating Claremont’s water services program, but there are a lot of “ifs” involved in any later decision to do so. The first and biggest “if” is whether Claremont actually acquires the portion of the Golden State Water Co. water system in the city limits.. Last week, Claremont City Council members approved the agreement drafted by La Verne and Claremont municipal staffs. Claremont has offered to buy the Golden State holdings in its city and, failing that, has threatened using eminent domain to acquire it. A staff-conducted feasibility study will be coordinated by Public Works Department Director Dan Keesey who estimated it would take three to six months to complete. La Verne is merely considering the sharing of services, much like the cities of Brea and Yorba Linda do for police services and Upland and Montclair do for fire services. Each city is responsible for its staff time and any water engineer’s or special legal counsel’s involvement in the study. If Claremont abandons the acquisition or doesn’t choose La Verne to operate the newly acquired utility, it must reimburse any study costs incurred by La Verne. La Verne’s water service to residents and businesses is provided by the water and utility division of the city’s Public Works Department except for a small area served by Golden State. The division operates and maintains municipal water production and distribution system. Within the battle of Claremont’s attempt to acquire Golden State’s holdings in its city, the two entities are also in a legal fight over Claremont’s refusal to release details on how it calculated that its residents pay 54 percent more for water than Pomona, 65 percent more than La Verne and 182 percent more than Upland. Claremont officials have also said if it acquires Golden State assets in its city at $55 million, it could provide water services at cheaper rates than the Golden State rates that are regulated by the Public Utilities Commission. Golden State wants documentation for the city’s financial conclusions regarding rates and acquisition costs. The Golden State lawsuit asks a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge to make Claremont comply with the California Public Records Act and release documentation. Claremont contends a disclosure exemption because it pertains to appraisals and feasibility estimates for acquisition of property. Golden State says the city gave up the right to any such exemption when it released part of the financial report to the public in November. If Claremont loses the suit, in addition to its own legal fees, the courts could order the city to pay Golden State attorney fees which could be as high as $200,000. If Claremont doesn’t acquire the water system and if La Verne is enjoined in the Golden State lawsuit, Claremont must reimburse La Verne costs incurred for the study and pay La Verne’s legal fees. In May 2013, the state PUC unanimously approved a 16-percent rate increase for Golden State Water customers in the water utility’s Region 3 which includes Claremont, San Dimas, Wrightwood and Apple Valley. Golden State also provides water services in small areas within Montclair, Pomona, Upland and unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County. The PUC would have to approve Claremont’s acquisition of Golden State assets in the city.
Construction has already begun inside the former Circuit City on a new state-of-the-art 40,000-plus-square-foot gym. Gold’s Gym Montclair Plaza will be a new, full-service gym in the 5100 block of Moreno Street, just north of Macy’s and next to Target. The gym is expected to open April 1, and will offer amenities such as Cardio Cinema, which allows members to get a workout while watching a full-length film. The gym will be the latest addition in Southern California for the fitness chain. The Circuit City site has been shut since 2009, when the electronics chain closed after filing for bankruptcy. Officials with Gold’s Gym said that it is expected that the nearby residential units, The Paseos, which earlier this month welcomed its first occupants, will serve as a strong customer base for the gym as well as the mall.
Gold’s Gym follows Mina Shoes, Fly (men’s fashions) and Xtreme (men’s casual fashions), which opened their doors in September and October, as the newest arrival at Montclair Plaza. Prinkipia Frozen Yogurt also opened this year.
City Council on March 4th approved a series of documents designed to set a vision for future development in the city. Council members unanimously approved a General Plan amendment, a Corridors Specific Plan, an Active Transportation Plan, a Green Plan and an environmental impact study.
The council gave preliminary approval to a change of zone document. The General Plan provides guidelines for the city’s future development and the Corridor Specific Plan provides details for the implementation of the guidelines along Garey and Holt avenues and Foothill and Mission boulevards. The Active Transportation Plan provides direction for creating an environment for a more friendly walking and bicycling environment. For its part, the Green Plan is meant to guide the city to becoming more environmentally sustainable. The last time the city’s General Plan was updated was in 1976 and updating the document was a process that began in 2003.
Each day more than 1,000 riders board the Metrolink from the station off Milliken Avenue, but by August, those users may have to start paying to park at the station. Currently, it is free to park at the station, but a proposal by the city could impose a daily fee, something other cities already do..
With expenditures exceeding what is currently budgeted, officials say the measure could generate $164,000 annually and keep the city from dipping into its reserves. The motion has already gained approval of the City Council last month to look into a paid parking program. The city will seek approval from San Bernardino Associated Government to implement the program. If it gains SanBAG approval, the fees could be in place by August, city officials said. SanBAG officials have received the request and are still evaluating the next step, said Jane Dreher, public information officer for SanBAG. In the 2013-14 fiscal year, Rancho Cucamonga allocated $237,120 for the operation, maintenance, and security guard contract services at the two parking lots. Rather than operating at a loss, staff is looking to impose a $4.50 daily fee and monthly fees that would range from $25 to $30 to help recoup operating costs. If implemented, the paid program could generate $164,000 annually. There are two major parking lots, totaling 982 parking spaces. Of those, 20 are handicap spaces, two are electric vehicle spaces, For the past 20 years, the city has had an agreement with SanBAG to maintain the property at the station including parking lot, landscaping, lighting, utilities, security and maintaining the pedestrian underpass.
Funding for those costs has come from the Landscape Maintenance District 3B assessments as well as capital reserves funds. The city also relied on its former redevelopment agency for funding.
The City Council has moved forward with plans to implement a voluntary 20 percent water use reduction from its users. City staff is available, including herself, to help residents look for avenues to save water. About 75 percent of water use is for outdoor irrigation. Users are asked to voluntarily avoid outdoor irrigation between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. As part of the effort, outdoor irrigation by residents and other water users will be based on their addresses, with even numbered-homes watering on even days and odd-numbered homes on odd days of the month. Residents can receive rebates on several services, including rain barrels. Upland also offers classes on irrigation as well as landscape design, where residents learn about replacing their lawn with drought tolerant plants. One thing many residents may not know, is that they are not allowed to wash down their driveways. It is currently prohibited in the city.
More than 79 South Hills lots expected to bring in millions in property taxes will move forward in March after a freeze on development is lifted. The moratorium put into place in May halted construction on residential homes on 10 streets in the upscale South Hills neighborhood. The majority of those lots belong to Ziad Alhassen, who has been locked in legal battles with the city over three auto dealership properties he lost in bankruptcy. The moratorium officially ended March 6. The previous City Council enacted the measure to give the city staff time to draft a code amendment for future construction. That amendment was approved in January. The code change requires houses with more than five bedrooms or 4,500 square feet have three car garages, that 10-feet of level ground exists between the rear of a house and the slope of the hill and that balconies and decks have additional setbacks unless adjacent to permanent open land. The homes are expected to sell for between $1 million to $2 million each, generating new revenues for the city. Van Daele Development owns 22 of the vacant lots, and the properties were valued at more than $1 million each when the development company purchased them.