The Azusa City Council unanimously approved a fiscal year 2015-16 overall city budget totaling $162.8 million. The city’s general fund, which covers most public services, amounts to $36.4 million, and the enterprise fund, which covers expenditures for utilities, sewer service and trash collection totals $80.4 million, according to a city staff report. The new budget increases expenditures about 1.8 percent compared with last year and projects a $250,000 surplus at the end of the upcoming fiscal year. The expenditure increase can be attributed to increases in employee retirement and medical costs, negotiated cost of living adjustments and increases in risk management and workers’ compensation while offset with decreases in loan repayments and election costs, the report states. There will be no cuts in city services, and several departments are hiring new employees and upgrading equipment including two new police cars. Public safety spending accounts for 62.6 percent of the general fund budget, or nearly $23 million, according to the staff report. This budget category includes the Azusa Police Department, which will receive $16.7 million, the police information technology division, police contract services as well as costs associated with asset seizure, emergency services and a $4.4 million contract with the Los Angeles County Fire Department. Administrative departments including the offices of the city manager, city attorney, city clerk and treasurer receive 18.6 percent of the general fund budget, followed by culture and recreation departments’ 12 percent, community development’s 5 percent and public works’ 1.8 percent. From a broader overall perspective, utilities command more than 61 percent of expenditures, public safety costs nearly 18 percent, while all other departments and services receive well under 10 percent of the city’s annual spending. Increases in tax revenue resulted in a slight overall revenue uptick of 0.35 percent totaling $129,000. Property tax revenue is projected to increase 4 percent adding $343,000 to ’14-15’s total, sales tax is expected to rise 3.6 percent contributing an additional $189,000 and after a local ballot measure passed in Azusa’s March election raising the hotel tax from 7.5 to 10 percent. Estimates are that this revenue stream will spike 33.3 percent to the tune of $80,000 in additional revenue to the city’s general fund. These increases offset drops in a variety of fees the city collects for permits and services. The top four revenue contributors for the upcoming fiscal year that starts July 1 are: property tax’s 25.3 percent, “other taxes” such as the levy that is passed on to hotel patrons totaling 23.1 percent, sales tax’s 15.4 percent and 9 percent via the utility user tax. Lesser revenue sources totaling less than 10 percent include fees for licenses and permits, charges for city services and revenue from fines and penalties. It is projected that there will be future budget surpluses totaling $308,000 in FY ’16-17 and $468,000 in ’17-18, but these forecasts do not reflect whatever results might come out of ongoing salary negotiations with city employee unions.
After spending millions of dollars to increase traffic safety but having no way to track how much money the city was getting in return from its red-light traffic tickets, Baldwin Park will let its red-light camera contract end in June. The city has contracted with Redflex Traffic Systems since 2006 to operate nine red-light cameras at six intersections. The contract was approved by the council in 2011 and costs about $360,000 annually. The major point of contention is a monthly report that Redflex promised the city detailing issued citations and how much was paid for each ticket. The company says it offers a cost-neutral system and generates more revenue with the traffic tickets than the city pays for the cameras, but the city has not been able to verify that. The city plans to use the approximately $30,000 it was paying Redflex monthly toward extra traffic patrols throughout the city. Redflex will have to remove the cameras at their own cost, according to the contract.
City officials broke ground Friday June 5th on the city’s first dog park. The desire for a dog park has been more than a decade-long conversation in the city. But with some residents expressing concerns about noise and waste from creating a dog park from an existing park, the project stalled. Then Standard Pacific came in with plans for its new Villa Borba development and offered to incorporate a dog park. The dog park will not cost residents any money as the park is being funded and built by Standard Pacific. Since the dog park is part of a new development, the previous issues of noise and waste are eliminated. The Villa Borba dog park will have two enclosed areas with 0.2 acres for small dogs and 0.4 acres for large dogs. The park will also include a play area for children and human and dog-appropriate water fountains. Nearly 200 homes will be built next to the 5.6-acre park. Standard Pacific also opened their model homesas part of the grand opening. The dog park is expected to be open this fall.
The City Council is reviewing a cooperative agreement with the Metro Gold Line Foothill Extension Construction Authority which outlines the working relationship between the construction authority and Claremont. The Council is being updated on the progress being made with the light-rail project The Claremont station involves plans to relocate the Metrolink station to east of College Avenue, building a shared 1,100-space parking structure and then building the Foothill Gold Line station on the site of the current Metrolink station. There will be four tracks, with the two light rail tracks on the north side. The authority is moving forward with the advanced engineering phase for its light rail system, which would bring the line from Los Angeles via Pasadena to the Montclair transit center. Officials have set aside $36 million for the initial design of that extension. The goal is to break ground on the extension by 2017, but it would depend on a sales tax measure which will go to Los Angeles County voters in November 2016. Each of the six stations in the Azusa-to-Montclair portion of the Foothill Gold Line would have its own art piece and its own theme. The city has selected, through its own progress, artist Joyce Kohl to design the art sculpture for the Claremont station. Claremont has been working with Kohl for the past two years to come up with the concept, he said. Over the next year, the artist will work with Claremont to finalize the concept of the sculpture. A 16-foot lighted sculpture – which will be made out of either steel or aluminum tubing – will be at the entrance of the station. The box-like sculpture will be placed in a skewed angle. Etched in Plexiglas, and lit from within by LED lights, will be letters and numbers in different languages and American Sign Language.
Nine employees were laid off at City Hall during the week of June 14th with more layoffs possible as the city looks at ways to cut costs in the coming fiscal year. The layoffs, which affected the finance and community development departments, were announced Wednesday June 17th and are projected to save the city more than $1.2 million. City Manager Andrea Miller, who was hired by the council in February, said the cuts came in the midst of several years of structural deficits that were historically covered by one-time revenues and reserve funds. Prior to the staffing reductions and one-time transfers of capital funds, the city faced a projected $2.4 million deficit for the 2015-16 fiscal year, documents show. Due to the modifications, the $68.8 million budget to be adopted by the council on June 16th is precariously balanced, according to staff. The employees who were laid off will continue to work with the city through mid-July and will receive an additional two weeks of pay. Other positions that are currently vacant could be eliminated unless they are deemed critical to city operations. Those who lost their jobs had varying tenures at City Hall — the longest-serving employee had been there for about 20 years.
El Monte’s city council is investigating roughly $50,000 spent on City Treasurer Jerry Velasco since a car accident in November. Velasco announced that he plans to run for city council in the November election against Councilman Bart Patel and Councilwoman Victoria Martinez. The elected treasurer receives an annual salary of $7,224, according to El Monte’s finance department. Velasco spent roughly three months recovering from three broken ribs, a broken leg and a punctured lung. Velaso admitted he probably stayed longer than physically necessary, but that he felt he needed the extra care he could not get at home. Velasco said he forwards his bills to his attorney and that he does not know how much the city has paid on his behalf. According to police, Velasco and another driver collided about 8:30 p.m. Nov. 6 at the intersection of Cogswell and Lower Azusa Road. The crash badly injured Velasco, who had to be extricated from his sedan. The city treasurer was returning from the graduation of the El Monte Police Department Citizen’s Academy. On a workers’ compensation claim form dated Nov. 24, Velasco listed the time of the accident as 6:30 p.m. and indicated he was on his way to the event. A second form corrected the time.
The City Council fired its city attorney Wednesday June 10th and hired an attorney who helped steer the city of Bell through a corruption scandal that nearly brought down the southeastern Los Angeles County city. West Covina attorney James Casso was named the new city attorney. The City that like Bell six years ago, faces criminal probes from the county District Attorney’s Office and State Controller Betty Yee for corruption involving its finances and contracts with companies owned by former City of Industry Mayor Dave Perez. Casso, hired by the Bell successor management team and City Council between Aug. 4, 2010, and July 28, 2011, said he was very familiar with how the DA and the state controller’s office worked. Investigations in Bell resulted in the conviction of seven city officials, including former City Administrator Robert Rizo, assistant City Administrator Angeles Spaccia and former Mayor Oscar Hernandez, as well as four City Council members, all on corruption charges. During the brief meeting, the Industry City Council — including the three newcomers Mark Radecki, Cory Moss and Ruggles elected June 2 — voted 3-1 to fire Michele Vadon and her firm, Burke, Williams & Sorensen. Councilman Jeff Parriott voted no. Vadon had served as city attorney for 17 years. City Manager Kevin Radecki, Mark’s brother, has said the three newcomers ran as a slate at the behest of former Mayor Perez, who the city and Vadon sued in September for breach of contract and in May for public corruption. In the May lawsuit, Industry alleged Perez, who served as mayor from 2001 to 2012, conspired with his family members to bilk more than $200 million through vague and erroneous invoices that possibly resulted in massive overpayments for maintenance work. A review of those invoices by the firm KPMG found Perez and his family’s companies made $326 million over 20 years from contracts with the city.
The City Council has unanimously passed an emergency ordinance, effective June 2, that establishes penalties for residential customers who exceed their 22,000 gallons of water allowed for each 2-month period. Commercial, industrial and institutional water-use customers are also mandated by council action to reduce water use by 30 percent over their 2013 usage or face penalties. The council earlier suspended imposition of any penalties until the City Attorney and Public Works Director could more thoroughly examine recent court rulings and make sure the penalties didn’t violate Proposition 218, the right-to-vote-on-taxes initiative approved by California voters in 1996. It was determined by staff that the city could impose a California drought penalty surcharge on residential customers who exceed the municipal water system’s allocation of 22,000 gallons for each 2-month period and commercial, industrial and institutional operations that fail to reduce water use by 30 percent. If imposed, the penalties will first be reflected on August 2015 bills. The matter was approved as an urgency measure because it preserves the public health, safety and welfare of the community. The urgency ordinance puts the city into Phase 7 of its water-conservation efforts. Notices will be sent to municipal water customers as soon as possible, advising them the penalties will be levied immediately. The notices will give customers the option of adjusting their habits, if they haven’t already, to stay within the allocation. The city will also allow grass at less-frequently used parks turn brown and there would be reductions of city water use to meet new state standards. The penalties for residential users are 18 cents per 1,000 gallons for 23,000 to 32,000 gallons; 60 cents per 1,000 gallons for 33,000 to 52,000 gallons; 98 cents for 53,000 to 82,000 gallons and $2.61 for 83,000 gallons and higher. All penalties are in addition to basic water rates. Commercial, industrial and institutional customers using less than 70 percent of water used in 2013 pay only the water rate. Violators pay 98 cents per 1,000 gallons for 70 percent to 100 percent use of the 2013 amount and $2.61 for 100 percent and higher use from the base year. Additional information on drought penalties may be obtained at the La Verne Public Works Department, Water Division.
Two new solar power systems have been installed in Ontario, saving them an estimated $18.4 million over the next 25 years bringing nearly 1.8 megawatts of sustainable green energy to the city. One 680 kilowatt rooftop solar power system is installed at the Ontario Convention Center and a 1.1 megawatt system is installed at the Ontario Police Department. The system at the Police Department includes a rooftop installation as well as solar carport technology, The power systems were designed and constructed by SunPower and estimates predict that the systems are expected to offset the production of almost 30,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide over the next 25 years.
In about a year, a vacant lot in the 900 block of West Holt Avenue will be the site of a three-story, 62-unit apartment project. It will rise up on a 2.5-acre lot that was once home to a deteriorated trailer park. About 45 representatives of Shield of Faith Christian Center, developer Related CA, Tri-City Mental Health Authority and the city of Pomona gathered at the lot for a groundbreaking ceremony in mid-June. The Parkside Family Apartments development, which is expected to cost between $18 million and $20 million, will provide housing to low-income residents. Some of the apartments — 21 units — will be set aside for residents who have been diagnosed with mental illness. A family that has a child diagnosed with a mental-health issue could qualify for housing in the development but so could a person who is homeless or on the verge of becoming homeless. Being able to provide stable housing is a critical part of assisting those with a mental health problem. Tri-City will offer supportive services including therapy, employment services such as resume writing, interviewing skills, parenting programs and classes to help develop leadership skills. The development has come together via a partnership of the non-profit Shield of Faith Economic Development, doing business as Community Builders Association, Related CA, Tri-City and the city. Shield of Faith has spearheaded the effort that has resulted in other low-income housing in the city.
Goodman Group, an industrial property group, has announced that its wholly owned North American subsidiary, Goodman Birtcher, has 100% leased the Goodman Logistics Center Rancho Cucamonga to Georgia-Pacific. The agreement is one of the largest leases signed on an industrial development in Southern California in the past 10 years. Georgia-Pacific, a U.S. company based in Atlanta, GA, is manufacturer and marketer of bath tissue, paper towels and napkins, tableware, paper-based packaging, office papers, cellulose, specialty fibers, non-woven fabrics, building products, and related chemicals. Beginning in August, a third party management company will operate a distribution facility at the Goodman Logistics Center Rancho Cucamonga to support Georgia-Pacific’s consumer products business. Goodman Logistics Center Rancho Cucamonga has excellent access to I-10 freeway, a primary transport route to the Ports of Los Angeles/Long Beach and Ontario International Airport. The facility is yet another project of Goodman Birtcher’s $1.5 billion development pipeline, providing 15 million square feet of Class A logistics space in core U.S. markets including California, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
A group of senior citizens are asking for officials’ help to improve conditions at a mobile home park, though some residents insist the community is a good place to live. More than 30 residents met at the Rowland Heights Mobile Estates clubhouse to share stories of what they claim are predatory towing and discriminatory practices against the community’s elderly Asian residents. Several residents said through an interpreter that in the past, their cars had been towed after being parked in front of their homes for short periods of time. One man said that over eight years, his rent had risen from $750 to nearly $1,100, which is almost his entire monthly Supplemental Security Income. Other residents disputed the claims made at Thursday’s gathering, saying that the issues related to the towed vehicles and discrimination had been settled about a year and a half ago, after a community meeting where the residents were able to share their concerns with the owners. Officials are looking into the claims.
The City Council unanimously voted to postpone approval of the $43 million operating budget during a special meeting on June 15th. Following the concerns raised by the city’s subcommittee on finance, the council asked city staff to provide further clarification on why several part- and full-time citywide positions need to be filled. The $43 million budget has a $542,000 surplus, which Butler noted could be used to fill any staffing requested by the Police Department. The new citywide positions in the budget did not include any Police Department positions. Police Chief Brian P Johnson is expected to give the council a report on police staffing levels next month. The 2015-16 proposed budget would have 271.5 full-time positions. The budget proposes to move a part-time administrative position in the city clerk’s department, to the Police Department. That position would then become full-time. A full-time position would be created to fill the vacancy in the City Clerk’s Office. The city is budgeting for two part-time positions but only one has been filled. In all, those changes will result in a $65,000 annual impact to the city. The full-time position is going to be needed since the administrative services director is going to retire next month. It was recommended that IT technician position be added to help the IT manager and technician with requests throughout the organization. Butler said the IT manager is focusing his time on those request rather than the higher level management issue such as the software update. In the 2014 fiscal year, staff in the IT department responded to 1,800 help ticket requests related to computer and phone issues. In this current fiscal year there have been 2,200 help tickets. In the future, the added IT technician could be located in the Police Department based on the needs at the station. The recommendation would have a $79,000 impact on the budget. The budget now goes back to the Finance and Economic Development Committee for review.
The City Council voted on June 16th night to allow retired peace officers and off-duty law enforcement officers of any jurisdiction to bring firearms to City Hall but declined to offer the same privilege to people with concealed-carry permits. In a 4-1 vote, the council approved a first reading of an amended ordinance expanding the exceptions to a 2008 law that prohibits the possession of and carrying of weapons in West Covina City Hall. Councilman Mike Spence cast the sole “no” vote. “We should apply the law equally to everyone — cop or not a cop,” said Spence, who supported expanding exceptions to those with valid concealed-carry permits. Spence introduced the idea of amending the city law in June. The current ordinance, further limits the exceptions to a California law that prohibits the possession of and carrying of weapons at City Hall to only on-duty law enforcement and off-duty West Covina police officers, as well as members of the military. The state law also allows off-duty law enforcement of any jurisdiction, retired peace officers and those with a valid concealed-carry permit to bring firearms into public buildings. The amended ordinance includes a provision that requires those allowed to carry weapons into City Hall to identify themselves and check-in with the sergeant at arms when entering into a public meeting. Citing the review of a decision last year that struck the “good cause” requirement in issuing concealed-carry permits, some council members noted that if the decision is upheld by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals there could be many more citizens with permits to carry a concealed weapon. A motion by Spence to align the city ordinance with state law and allow concealed-carry permit holders to bring weapons to City Hall failed due to a lack of a second by another council member. The council will vote on a second reading of the amended ordinance in July.