Parcel Tax exemptions:
AB1891, which passed unanimously in September 2016 and took effect Jan. 1 2017, says that once an exemption to a school district parcel tax is granted, it will remain in effect until the taxpayer becomes ineligible. An analysis of the bill said it will be up to taxpayers to notify the school district when they are no longer eligible, or up to the school district to come up with a strategy for determining whether taxpayers remain eligible. California allows school districts to exempt certain classes of homeowners from voter-approved parcel taxes and many do—to get the required two-thirds majority to pass. These taxes can add hundreds of dollars to property tax bills each year. In the past, districts could require homeowners who got the exemption to renew or reapply for it each year, and many did. School districts may exempt homeowners who are 65 or older, people receiving Supplemental Security Income for a disability, or low-income people receiving Social Security Disability Insurance. Some districts exempt one group (most often seniors) but not others. Seniors, will automatically qualify each year unless they transfer or move out of the house. Seniors and others who have not yet been granted an exemption still must apply. Even if they were not eligible when the parcel tax was approved, they can apply when they turn 65 or meet the disability or income requirements. Most school districts require applicants to live in the home as their primary residence, apply by a certain date—usually in May or June for the tax year starting July 1—and provide proof that they qualify. In summary, school districts that grant parcel-tax exemptions to seniors, low-income or disabled homeowners cannot require them to renew or reapply for the exemption each year. The link to the bill.
Business License Tax:
The city of Azusa has had a Business License on the books since the late 1960s. The city has vigorously enforced the Business License Tax with every business. The city interprets the Business License Tax as applying to any business operating within the city of Azusa. The tax is administered regardless as to whether the business is site-based in the city, or located elsewhere. Azusa administers the tax on REALTORS® as they do to any and all businesses. If you show, list, or have an open house, you must pay the Business License Tax. If the property does not close, you are still responsible for the tax. The city of Azusa does check on all properties listed in Azusa.
Weeks after abruptly firing its police chief, the City Council learned that the city’s former Chief of Police had improperly canceled the Baldwin Park’s long-standing helicopter patrol program. The revelation was made public at the council’s meeting May 17 when members voted unanimously to reinstate the program, which is managed by the El Monte Police Department. In a letter dated April 11, then-Chief David Salcedo informed the El Monte agency that due to financial issues the city was suspending its contracted helicopter services for the remainder of the current fiscal year, which ends June 30. But the letter was sent without the knowledge or approval of the city’s CEO or the City Council. In order to cancel the contract, Salcedo needed the authorization from the council—a fact he was made aware of, city officials said. On April 19, the City Council voted 3-2 to dismiss Salcedo “without cause” after less than two months on the job. A former police captain in Inglewood, Salcedo was the second chief to be fired by the City Council in seven months. Mayor Manuel Lozano and Councilwoman Monica Garcia voted against the dismissal. Earlier this month, the council voted 3-2 to appoint Salcedo’s predecessor Michael Taylor as interim police chief. Taylor was fired by the council, also in a 3-2 vote and “without cause” in September amid allegations of racial discrimination within the police department.
Councilmember Glenn Duncan plans to step down after 25 years. Duncan is winding down his financial planning business and other commitments, he and his wife have listed their home for sale—so far he has two full-price offers—and they’re in escrow on a home in a Palm Desert retirement community with golf courses, pools and more. The reason? Health. He was diagnosed in September with Parkinson’s disease, a progressive disorder of the nervous system. It can be treated, but not cured. Duncan, 69, was elected in 1992 and has been returned to office six times since. Only Ulloa, first elected in 1984, has served longer. Duncan contemplated running against Ulloa to succeed Yates but decided to seek a new council term instead. While the matter of replacing Duncan won’t come up until he formally resigns, the understanding is that under a new state law, his seat would have to go up for election in 2018. A replacement could be appointed in the meantime from Duncan’s District 1, in northwest Chino. Duncan said he expects to resign by July and perhaps as early as June.
See City of Industry
For the second time this year, Claremont officials have revoked their approval for a mixed-use retail and apartment project in downtown Claremont known as the Village Lofts. After the Claremont Planning Commission upheld a staff decision to void Los Angeles-based Denley Investment & Management Co.’s entitlements, the developer vowed to appeal to the City Council. In January, Claremont Community Development Director Brian Desatnik sent a letter to Denley, informing them he was terminating the city’s earlier approval of the project. He complained that the project had not proceeded at a “commercially reasonable pace,” verbiage with which the developer later took issue. Wanting to move forward with the project, Denley appealed Desatnik’s decision to the Planning Commission. The commission was unmoved and denied the appeal on a 6-0 vote. Areg Sarkissian, an attorney representing the developer, said he plans to send a letter appealing the commission’s decision. Sarkissian argues that the city’s phrase, “commercially reasonable pace,” is too vague and is calling for the city to update the municipal code to provide more clarity. The project, on West First Street between Cornell and North Oberlin avenues, envisions 10,000 square feet of retail on the first floor in addition to 10 live-work units and 64 apartments. Architectural approvals were originally granted Dec. 12, 2012, and were extended for 90 days in 2014. While waiting for market conditions to change, the city proposed the developer build an interim 75-space parking lot on the property.
The Covina-Valley Unified school board voted 5-0 to close Lark Ellen Elementary School at the end of the school year. The decision came six weeks after the district sent a letter to Lark Ellen parents that sparked an uproar and said in part, “As you are likely aware, Covina-Valley Unified School District has decided to repurpose Lark Ellen Elementary School at the end of this school year.” After an outcry from parents, the district backpedaled on that letter. While it maintained that a school closure was necessary because of declining enrollment and a state budget proposal that’s unfriendly to public education, district officials said they would consider closing Manzanita or Merwin Elementary in addition to Lark Ellen. As part of that process, the district convened a committee to consider the decision. That committee voted 9-0 last week to recommend closing Lark Ellen. Lark Ellen parents, however, have remained skeptical of the district’s intentions. Many have said the district had no plans to reconsider their decision, but it was trying to save face because the decision to close a school without a public forum is a violation of the Brown Act, California’s open meetings law. A group of parents calling themselves the “Coalition of Parents to Save Lark Ellen” has threatened to sue the district. Parents from Manzanita and Merwin Elementary Schools spoke in support of their schools and expressed support for the district’s decision.
See the City of Industry report.
Franchise owner Carlos D. Mayen Solorzano opened Glendora’s first Chick-fil-A restaurant on June 1 and celebrated with a grand opening road trip that transported up to 100 people on an interactive field trip around the area in order to earn a year’s supply of Chick-fil-A meals. The restaurant, at 1247 S. Lone Hill Ave., brought 100 new jobs to the area and provided an opportunity for the community to donate children’s books to benefit the Glendora Public Library. The eatery’s first 100 guests had a chance to partner with Feeding Children Everywhere to package 10,000 meals. Up to 100 eligible participants 18 and older began gathering at the restaurant shortly before 6 a.m. on May 31 to register and participate in the grand opening celebration. Registration was held at the restaurant that morning from 6 a.m. until 8:30 a.m. or until 100 eligible participants was reached.
Despite claiming that no such plans existed, the City of Industry has been working quietly and out of public view on a multimillion-dollar proposal to build a massive solar farm amid more than 2,000 acres of undeveloped rolling hills along the shared borders of Los Angeles, Orange and San Bernardino counties. Over the past year, the manufacturing city of about 200 residents spent more than $1 million on leases, reimbursements and studies aimed at building an estimated 440-megawatt solar power facility, according to documents obtained by the Southern California News Group. The previously unreported scope of the potential project—along with the planning activity and taxpayer spending that has taken place—caught off guard the elected officials, nearby homeowners and conservationists who have long monitored proposals for the open space. As outlined in city documents, the solar farm would be among the biggest in Southern California, an unusually large-scale green energy project in the heart of a developed urban region. The facility could generate enough power to serve nearly a dozen UCLA campuses, or 10 percent of the power consumed by Los Angeles, the nation’s second largest city, experts said. The news of the city’s plans have intensified criticism of the manner in which Industry has controlled information about possible future uses of such a large and unique piece of publicly owned land. Industry officials said the contract met legal requirements. The city has not yet developed detailed plans to share with the public. Industry council members are committed to protecting one of the largest swaths of open space remaining in our region for open and recreation space, as well as pursuing unobtrusive renewable and green energy opportunities.
The solar farm proposal is the latest turn in a long battle over control and development of the tract of unspoiled ranch land, canyons and pastures that form a major respite from the surrounding suburban and industrial sprawl of the San Gabriel and Chino valleys and northern Orange County. It also represents a benchmark in an ongoing political struggle over the future of historic and coveted pieces of land: the 2,450-acre Tres Hermanos ranch, currently controlled by an independent state panel, and a neighboring 3,800 acres of parcels owned by the City of Industry. Both properties lie miles outside Industry’s city limits and partially within the boundaries of Diamond Bar, Chino Hills and unincorporated Orange County near Brea, along the 57 and 60 freeways. Tres Hermanos, a cattle ranch and one-time private hunting grounds owned for generations by wealthy Los Angeles families, including the late Los Angeles Times Publisher Harry Chandler, was purchased by Industry’s redevelopment agency in 1978—before the state shut down such entities and put the land up for sale. Industry leaders have been trying to buy back the ranch so it can be added to the city’s adjacent Tonner Canyon holdings for use in the green energy project, records show. A state-created panel tasked with selling off Tres Hermanos has delayed a decision on Industry’s $100 million offer because city officials haven’t disclosed their plans for the property. Panel members have indicated that they could consider other offers. Officials hope the state panel will approve their purchase rather than an alternative bid by a housing development investment group that wants to build 1,881 new tract homes.
Among the newly obtained city documents is a master ground lease signed in May 2016 with San Gabriel Valley Water and Power LLC, an entity created for the solar project. Industry officials and a company spokesperson have refused to disclose investors in the limited liability corporation. The ground lease includes the Tonner Canyon land already owned by Industry and states that if the city succeeds in acquiring Tres Hermanos, “then such property shall be added to, and become part of” the property for the project. The lease extends up to 65 years and gives the water and power firm “the right of first refusal” to buy the land if Industry opts to sell. A separate professional services agreement with the design firm Kimley-Horn, executed last October, clarifies Industry’s intention to put the solar farm on Tres Hermanos ranch land. Records related to the land show payments of more than $1 million on studies and consultants, including to a London-based law firm whose partners billed $1,200 an hour for 40-hour work weeks. Multiple experts in solar power, shown maps and aerial video of Tres Hermanos, said the ranch is the most viable space in the hills for the solar panels because it is sun-drenched, flat and less ecologically sensitive after decades of cattle grazing. The rest of the city’s property in Tonner Canyon includes steeper terrain that may cast too much shade, they said. One megawatt of solar power requires about 100,000 square feet—or roughly a quarter of an acre—of space for solar panels, said Rajit Gadh, a professor of UCLA’s Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. The entire 440-megawatt solar farm would require about 1,100 acres of land, or an area about 2 miles by 1 mile, he said.
The estimated output of the proposed solar farm would equal a large chunk of the 2,000 megawatts to 3,000 megawatts of electricity that county officials expect to seek for a new, government-backed power supply network, dubbed Los Angeles Community Choice Energy. The ambitious program, expected to start in 2018, will offer electricity to cities through an interagency Joint Powers Authority being organized by L.A. County. Projections are that the program, partly intended to encourage development of more green energy, would serve more than 1 million residents and 200,000 businesses. The Industry project in Tonner Canyon could be a potential supplier. City documents show that, if the solar project doesn’t proceed, Industry officials would consider allowing San Gabriel Valley Water and Power to construct an 89-billion-gallon reservoir and hydroelectric dam. The project would generate between 50 and 75 megawatts and take up more than 2,000 acres of land. The possibility of a power-generating reservoir in Tonner Canyon has cropped up repeatedly for decades, ever since Industry first bought Tres Hermanos. Neighboring cities, particularly Brea, have opposed that idea, noting the property is near an earthquake fault. City leaders in Diamond Bar, Chino Hills and Brea have largely pieced together what they know about the future of Tres Hermanos from news reports, public records requests and Industry’s public meetings. Industry hasn’t held public hearings on the San Gabriel Valley Water and Power ground lease, which was signed last May 2016, and includes one of the first references to a solar farm, records show. City records aren’t clear on when or how city council members agreed to enter into the lease.
The Star Theatre, a 1940s-era building, a barrel-shaped structure stretching across the full length of its block at the edge of downtown La Puente, is historically and architecturally significant piece of the history of La Puente. The city may soon lose that piece of history—the new owners of the theater at 145 N. 1st St. are working on a plan to demolish the building and develop condominiums on the site. Linda Young, of Star Theatre LLC, which purchased the building from its previous owner in April 2016, said the building has fallen into disrepair and would need extensive work to bring it up to code. Designed in the late 1940s by renowned theater architect S. Charles Lee, the Star is one of five theaters designed by Lee using a lamella roof form, a vaulted roof made up of crisscrossing arches. Lee’s La Puente theater is significant because it is the only one lacking a rectangular facade that conceals the barrel shape of the auditorium from the street, according to Marcello Vavala, a preservation associate at the Los Angeles Conservancy. Vavala said the La Puente theater is an example of Lee experimenting with building types unusual for movie theaters.
Residents hope to convince the city and the owner not to demolish the theater and instead renovate the building and repurpose it as a venue for community performances, art therapy and movie screenings. City officials say there’s not much the nonprofit or the city can do to stop the demolition. The building is not designated as a landmark. And even if it was, that status would not prohibit the owner of a private building from demolishing it. The owners have not yet obtained a permit to demolish the building, but they have submitted a site plan, building elevations and other development documents for the city to review. Because demolition of buildings is considered by law to be a ministerial, and not a discretionary action, the city would be obligated to issue the permit if the owner provides the proper paperwork. Preservationists and residents say because the city is aware of a proposed development project that would require the Star to be cleared from the site, the city would have to conduct an environmental review of the project before allowing the theater to be demolished. The theater, though not designated as a landmark by a local, state or federal agency, should be considered a historic resource under the California Environmental Quality Act, and thereby any environmental review should determine whether there would be significant impacts to the building. The city’s Planning Commission and the City Council have not yet reviewed any plans for the proposed development, but at least one council member has said the theater isn’t worth saving.
The building-scape at the University of La Verne is about to change. In a few months, University of La Verne officials expect to break ground for the construction of a five-story, 398-bed student residence and a dining hall on the southern end of campus. The project will kick off what is expected to be the first of a three-phase plan for new construction and renovation projects to be carried out over an 18-year period. It’s all part of a master plan for the university recently approved by La Verne city leaders. The development plans are meant to provide the resources that will allow students to train in some existing and new fields of study at the university and be ready to meet the needs of the region. The growth comes as the university celebrates its 125 years as an institution. Developing the plan was a four-year process that included participation of the university community and city, all collaborating to determine how ULV is going physically going to meet the needs of future students and the region.
Rather than spreading out, the university will grow upward. Each of the plan’s three phases will take about six years to complete. Plans for the first phase are the most clear and have a financing road map. Phase II plans have been developed, but before the university can begin construction, it must raise money and pay off Phase I debts. Phase III is still somewhat of a concept that will come more into focus as part of a future master plan. What comes first. Phase I will augment student housing, which currently can accommodate 837 students. At buildout, and with the demolition or repurposing of existing dorms, the university expects to able to house just over 1,000 students on campus. The first project is a five-story building that will house both a residence hall and dining facilities to be built just north of a new parking structure built along Arrow Highway. The building will be 60 feet tall, about 4 feet taller than the parking structure, according to a city staff report. Despite the height, staff recommended the council approve the university plans because “the building is internal to the campus and will not be substantially visible from the public right of way,” according to a staff report. The 116,090-square-foot building’s first floor will be occupied by the dining hall, and the four top floors will comprise the 386-bed residence hall. That’s 178 more beds than the nearby Studabaker-Hanawalt Residence Hall. Cost of the building is estimated to be $40 million, which will be paid through bonds and funds the university has set aside. Once the new building is ready for the fall 2018 academic session, Studabaker-Hanawalt Residence Hall will be demolished. That space will become a parking lot.
Meanwhile, Brandt Residence Hall, on B Street and Bonita Avenue, will be renovated and an addition built. It will no longer serve its original purpose, becoming instead the university’s new Multicultural, Interfaith and Spiritual Center. Once completed, the facility will have a new and bigger sacred space, the university’s multicultural center, interfaith offices and possibly space for community engagement programs. Because the existing chapel does not meet accessibility requirements for people with disabilities and requires earthquake work, it will be demolished. Groundbreaking for this project is expected to take place in fall 2018. The final project of the first phase will be the construction of a new academic building on land currently occupied by the University Chapel. What comes next. Phase II plans include demolition of Davenport Dining Hall and Woody Hall, a building that currently houses financial aid, university registrar and accounts receivable offices. Phase III plans are fluid and include property to the east of D Street and south of Second Street. Some of the plans fall within the city’s Old Town La Verne Specific Plan area. Development there would have a mixed-use element, including retail on the ground floor and offices and housing above. The city would like to see development that serves to entice pedestrians from a Gold Line light-rail station — anticipated to open in about a decade at Arrow Highway and E Street — to downtown, he said. Plans for Phase III will probably come before the City Council for approval sometime after Phase II is completed. principle planner for La Verne. Downtown and ULV. Residents and property owners living near the university have had opportunities to review and comment on the academic institution’s master plan, Scherer said. Some have expressed concerns about the older buildings on the campus, particularly those of a historic nature, and some have spoken out about what is now a shuttered plan to close Third Street between B and D streets.
Brookfield Residential continues new home building in Ontario with Shutters at Edenglen, located in Ontario Ranch. Set within the established Edenglen master-planned community, this new neighborhood will feature three distinctive single-family detached designs. With prices anticipated from the $500,000s, these homes will of contemporary style, spanning from approximately 2,371 to 2,937 square feet with three to five bedrooms, two to four baths and two-car to three-bay garages. Floorplans will showcase a convenient downstairs master suite, a private den, and a smart second floor with bedrooms and a versatile bonus room. Ontario Ranch, located within the city of Ontario, and is set across 8,000+ acres. The future Chaffey Park will be the centerpiece of Ontario Ranch, a large, open space with parks and trails for playing, walking and exploring the outdoors. It is planned to align with the goals of the Healthy Ontario Initiative. Ontario Ranch is envisioned as a mixed‐use area that will encompass residential neighborhoods, commercial facilities and recreational amenities. Proposed plans include retail and business space, along with nearly 1,000 acres dedicated to public open space, parks and schools. The location offers direct access to the I-15 via the new connection at Cantu-Galleano Ranch Road. With the introduction of Ontario Ranch Road as well as the connection to the 60 Freeway via the newly improved Archibald Avenue, Ontario Ranch offers commuters easy access to major employment centers in LA, Riverside, San Bernardino and Orange counties. For more information visit www.OntarioRanch.com.
City representatives have informed the state’s Department of General Services they will not purchas the building at 600 S. Park Ave. In fall 2015, the state Legislature authorized the Department of General Service to sell or lease a small number of armories, including those in Santa Barbara, Indio, Lynwood and Pomona. In related legislation, signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in September, cities in which the armories are located were given first chance at buying the facilities. The Pomona Armory has some unspecified operational issues the city is concerned about, but the primary reason that the city declines the purchase option is that the price is too high. In December, the state had the building appraised and set the price at $2.1 million, the letter read. Department of General Services personnel have informed the city there is no process for negotiating a purchase price, according to the letter. Behind Pomona, Los Angeles County is next in line for the opportunity to purchase the Pomona Armory, but it’s not clear if it will do so. The county has until July 1 to inform the state if it is interested in purchasing the armory. If the county opts out, then the property will be offered for sale to the general public. The Legislature has directed that the sale be based on fair market value of the property. The building dates back to the 1930s and was used by troops prior to their deployment overseas. During the last 25 years, the armory has been part of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority’s Winter Shelter Program for the homeless. This year, the winter program will extend through the end of November while the city is working to establish a year-round emergency shelter on the eastern end of Mission Boulevard, scheduled to open in December. Had the city purchased the armory, it would have found a different use for it rather than continuing to use it as a shelter. Should the county also pass on the building, any prospective buyer would have to keep in mind that the armory has no parking and the courtyard is owned by the city.
The area where the armory is located is zoned as mixed-use/institutional, but institutional use is probably the least desirable because there are already many government buildings nearby. The building could easily become an office building, but someone with imagination could find another use. The two-story building, which the Pomona City Council unanimously granted single historic landmark designation at its May 15 meeting, could be turned into an office building or become home to a restaurant or a brew pub. It may still be early in downtown Pomona’s resurgence for the building to accommodate the latter, but once a movie theater comes into the neighborhood and the population continues to increase a restaurant or brew pub will be a good fit, according to city staff.
City leaders have approved two new fees, which will generate $300,000 annually, to offset the cost of towing. Currently, towing is provided through the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s substation in Rancho Cucamonga. However, the city plans to start its own towing program soon, hiring private companies to do the job. The Rancho Cucamonga City Council agreed May 17 to establish the new fees. Potential towing vendors will have to pay a $2,000 application fee during the request for proposal process. These costs will help pay for city staff time in handling the process, as well as evaluating potential vendors and conducting inspections of their facilities. The second fee is a $5,000 monthly flat rate tow companies would pay and will help Rancho Cucamonga recoup costs deputies spend out in the field responding to tow-related services. Among five anticipated tow companies, this fee is expected to generate $300,000, which will be placed back into public safety programs.
The $5,000 flat fee would be less than 10 percent of revenues that tow companies generate in Rancho Cucamonga. Without its own agreement, the costs are borne by the taxpayers and the general fund. The Tow Service Agreement authored by the city mirrors the current agreement offered at the sheriff’s department. The council signed off on the ordinance May 3. The city began receiving applications May 8 and on May 17 held a hearing for the service agreement fees. Applications will be due to the Police Department by June 5 and the contracts are expected to be awarded June 20.
For years, Rancho Cucamonga has charged a fee to use any of the 10 tennis courts or the arena at the Heritage Park Equestrian Center. The fees were never formally adopted them by resolution. The council also unanimously agreed to the technical change. It coincides with a change the city is making on how it collects those fees. The city charges $1 per hour for these facilities through a coin-operated system.
Saddle Creek 28 Group, LLC a subsidiary of Brandywine Homes, has acquired an approximately 10-acre site entitled for 28 single-family detached lots in San Dimas, from MJW Investments, LLC. Terms were not disclosed. Land Advisors Organization, a nationwide advisory firm focused on the acquisition and disposition of land and land-related assets, brokered the deal. Dubbed Saddle Creek, the parcel was assembled by MJW from 5 separate property owners with an entitlement process that took more than 3 years to complete.
SOUTH EL MONTE
South El Monte officials racked up thousands of dollars on city credit cards for consultants’ bar tabs, airfare and pricey electronics. They splurged on hotel stays and a trip to Las Vegas without proof that it was related to city business. The former city manager charged more than $3,000 for a cheerleading camp, and the city paid $390,000 to a consultant after their contract had already expired. These are just a few of the findings of a California state controller review of how South El Monte spent money. In a scathing assessment, Controller Betty Yee declared: “South El Monte officials demonstrated a culture of incompetence and blatant disregard for taxpayer dollars.” In a statement released May 25, Yee also said that she was “especially concerned with exorbitant lobbying and consulting expenses that resulted in undefined benefits to the city and its residents.” The state’s blistering review comes just as the city is embroiled in a corruption scandal involving ex-Mayor Luis Aguinaga, who in September pleaded guilty in a federal bribery case. Prosecutors said Aguinaga accepted at least $45,000 in bribes from an unidentified city contractor. The former mayor also split some of the payoff, delivered in envelopes with cash, with another city official, according to prosecutors. That person has not been charged or publicly identified. Aguinaga was sentenced last month to a one-year federal prison term.
The city has been taking actions to correct the problems and plans to adopt even more changes, according to the review. Councilmember Joe Gonzales said the city needs to go above and beyond the steps it has taken and is proposing to take. He said South El Monte needs to appoint a special overseer to be a check on the administration. He said he hoped such a step could help the city get its financial affairs in order. The state review of South El Monte’s spending found that from July 2013 to June of last year one contractor billed the city $1 million without submitting time cards. The city was negligent about having written contracts for services and employment and sometimes renewed top managers’ contracts long after they had lapsed. In 2009, South El Monte and agencies in four other cities reached an agreement to lobby the Metropolitan Transit Agency on a Metro Gold Line Eastside Extension route. When two cities stopped paying their share, according to the state review, it cost South El Monte $314,000. But South El Monte was so sloppy in its financial controls, according to the review, that it incorrectly billed a city that was not part of the pact and collected $56,000. The city had paid $1.4 million to lobbying and consulting firms to fight for South El Monte’s preferred Metro Line route. But there was no public airing of the project or costs associated with it. The controller’s review found that the vast majority of South El Monte’s internal controls—almost 90%—were inadequate. Several of the more exorbitant expenses by city officials involved hotel stays. For example, on Jan. 30, 2013 a former city manager charged $642 to stay at a Wyndham hotel in San Francisco. In October of that year, the manager charged $840 twice for a two-night weekend stay at a Westin hotel in Seattle. One council member charged the city-issued credit card $378 in June 2015 for a hotel stay at the Aria hotel in Las Vegas. In each of these cases, according to the state review, there was “no description, justification, or any type of documentation as to the purpose and necessity of these trips.” Here is the link to the audit.
A plan to establish an overnight parking permit program is on hold to give staff more time to evaluate the public’s concerns. Officials held a hearing for a plan that would have imposed $3 daily and $75 annual fees for those who parked their vehicles on the streets between the hours of 2 and 5 a.m. Violators would be issued a $45 citation. Residents, however, raised questions about the legality of the notification process, whether the city could legally profit from $379,400 in excess revenues, and if the measure really would effectively reduce vehicle-related crime, such as thefts and break-ins. After hearing from the public for nearly an hour May 15, interim City Manager Martin Thouvenell announced there would be no vote. The ordinance was extensively researched and five models were studied, Upland Police Capt. Cliff Mathews told the council during a presentation about the proposal. The council entertained a proposal to prohibit parking on all streets and publicly owned parking lots from 2 a.m. to 5 a.m. Daily and annual permits allowing overnight parking would be available for residents to purchase, while disabled parking would not require permits. Under the proposal, Upland would purchase equipment to issue the citations—including buying a parking enforcement vehicle—as well as enter into a contract with Inter-Con Security System for a parking enforcement officer. The program would cost $82,283 to launch. Annually, it would cost Upland $143,630 to operate, with revenues expected to generate $523,023 in fees and fines, leaving an annual surplus of about $379,400.
Citing call volume records over a three-year period, Mathews said Upland officers have seen an 83 percent increase in complaints about vehicles violating the city’s 72-hour parking limit and a 19 percent increase in vehicle-related crimes. For example, in 2014 there were 929 vehicle-related calls—for auto theft, vandalism and theft from a motor vehicle, for example. By 2016, that figure jumped to 1,098. While some residents complained about the inconvenience of not being allowed to park on the street nightly, others questioned the city’s motives. Residents were concerned that the proposed ordinance did not include how many annual permits could be purchased per household. Residents also voiced concern about a rule that allows a temporary permit to be renewed no more than six days. After that, the household would have to wait 28 days to seek another temporary daily parking permit.
Faced with a projected $5.3 million deficit in the city’s general fund, city officials said Tuesday they are considering making 5 percent cuts across all departments to help close the gap. During a community budget workshop, city staff presented updated budget forecasts and proposed cuts to expenditures and potential revenue sources for the next fiscal year beginning July 1. Earlier projections showed the city faced a $6.1 million deficit due to increases in pension costs, increased costs for personnel and supplies, the elimination of 3 percent salary savings across departments and the loss of a federal public safety grant that funded firefighter jobs. City staff were able to reduce the deficit by about $800,000 through revisions in revenue and expenditure projections and changes to the city’s fleet operations. The proposed 5 percent cuts would bring in about $3.1 million, according to the staff presentation. But because the city’s police and fire make up about 75 percent of the general fund expenditures, the two departments would end up taking the biggest hits if the cuts are approved. According to the presentation, a 5 percent cut to police and fire would amount to roughly $1.6 million and $931,000 in reductions, respectively. The city hopes to avoid any layoffs, it could see cutting positions that are currently vacant rather than staffing them through overtime. Meanwhile, cuts in staffing and equipment have already been proposed for the fire department. Already factored into the budget projections is the reduction of six vacant positions that are currently being filled through overtime. The cuts to the fire department are the result of the elimination of the SAFER grant, which provided around $1.5 million for department personnel costs, and a change in how the city deploys its first responders. Other potential revenue generating measures include a street sweeping fee, a charge on sports groups for using city fields and lighting and not allocating general fund dollars to the city’s vehicle replacement fund for one year.
In other matters, The city will pay $220,000 to settle a lawsuit alleging West Covina’s previous election system violated state law and disenfranchised Latino voters. The City Council voted 3-2 in closed session to amend the settlement agreement reached in February, which resolved how much the city would pay for the plaintiffs’ attorneys fees. Mayor Pro Tem Mike Spence and Councilman Tony Wu voted no. Filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court by three West Covina residents in September, the lawsuit alleged the city’s at-large election system violated the state’s Voting Rights Act because it created “racially polarized voting,” meaning the preferred candidate of a minority group—Latinos in this case—was not the preferred candidate of the rest of the electorate. The suit forced the council to adopt an ordinance in January establishing a district election system in which council members are elected every four years from five different areas of the city. Though several council members said they preferred the city’s at-large election system, they decided the cost of fighting the lawsuit was too great for the cash-strapped city. Fighting the lawsuit could have cost the city between $750,000 and $2 million. If the city lost the lawsuit it would have been ordered to pay the plaintiffs’ attorneys’ fees, which in some cases have cost more than $3 million, according to a staff report. As part of the settlement agreement, West Covina was required to hire a consultant to assist in the process of creating district boundaries by June 6. The council voted 4-1 to approve a $33,000 contract with Claremont-based National Demographics Corporation to provide those services. Wu cast the dissenting vote. The corporation will assist staff with developing a community outreach plan, compiling demographic data and geographic data, developing and analyzing publicly submitted maps, making presentations at public hearings and working with the county registrar to implement the selected map. Though Spence voted in favor of the contract, he said it was ironic that now the city would be asking for extensive community participation in designing the districts when it did not give voters the chance to decide whether to establish district elections when faced with the lawsuit. Efforts to reverse the council’s decision to move to districts are still underway. Proponents of an initiative petition to restore at-large elections plan to begin collecting signatures to place the measure on the ballot in the coming weeks.