Tempers Flare at City Hall as Election Approaches in Bell Gardens

Old rivalries die hard, or never at all.

By Gloria Angelina Castillo, EGP Staff Writer

The Bell Gardens City Council on Monday unanimously approved a motion to allow the  city’s redlight traffic camera contract to expire and to send a letter opposing the local water company‘s proposal to increase water rates.

Councilmember Pedro Aceituno motioned that the contract with RedFlex Traffic Systems, Inc. not be renewed after city staff reported the traffic cameras had not significantly affected the number of injury accidents at the intersection of Florence and Eastern Avenues, and the police department said there were unanticipated personnel costs to manage the system.

Read this story IN SPANISH: Temperamentos Estallan en el Ayuntamiento de Bell Gardens

The temperature in the council chambers quickly escalated when Mayor Jennifer Rodriguez beat Councilman Daniel Crespo’s attempt to second Aceituno‘s motion. Crespo, a long time critic of the cost of tickets generated by the system, accused Rodriguez of trying to take credit for ending the traffic camera program and using it for political gain.

Crespo’s charge sparked a nearly 10 minute long shouting match that included the mayor pounding her gavel several times as she repeatedly told Crespo he could speak when she was done making her point.

Rodriguez said she and her fellow councilmembers origianlly made the difficult decision to approve the red light camera contract with the safety of residents in mind. She accused Crespo of being a politician who abstains on difficult votes to avoid controversy and responsibility for decisions made by the council.

Rodriguez also accused Crespo of influencing her challengers in the upcoming Nov. 8 election, when she and Aceituno are up for reelection. Holding up a campaign mailer from her challengers, she said they are spreading “lies” manufactured by Crespo and telling voters they can lower residents‘ utility bills and provide housing for seniors when they cannot. The loud rambling also included controversies raised during past election campaigns.

“You use people” and exploit their vulnerablilities, Rodriguez told Crespo.

“These ladies who are going door-to-door are offending the intelligence of our community,” Rodriguez said.
While the name calling and accusations continued, other city councilmembers and city staff sat quietly and uncomfortably. Mayor Pro Tem Sergio Infanzon burried his face in his hands during the tirade. At no point did the city attorney attempt to stop Rodriguez and return the meeting back to the agenda, though he did attempt to signal Crespo to hold his comments.

Both Rodriguez and Crespo brought up decade-old sore points during the shouting match. She accused him of being part of a stagnant city council in the 1990s, and he accused her of causing the death of a cancer-stricken city employee whose hours and benefits were reduced with her backing.

When Crespo was finally allowed to speak, he did so calmly, but he did not attempt to stand up for the city council challengers who are reportedly his friends but were not at Monday’s meeting.

He asked staff to clarify whether the city was benefiting from the red light cameras, and why the price of a ticket was never posted. He asked how the red light cameras were similar to the cameras in the City of Los Angeles.

“This is a good decision for the community, I’m happy we discontinued it,” he said.

Following the meeting, however, Crespo continued to say the timing of the decision to scrap the contract was politically motivated, since it was not scheduled to expire until March 2012: the election is about a month away.

At the end of the meeting, Rodriguez apologized for getting “emotional,” but still added that the community sees right through the political manuverings of Crespo and her opponents.

With order restored, the council moved on to other business and approved sending an official protest letter to the California Public Utitilites Comission (CPUC) over Golden State Water Company’s proposed three year rate increase. The increase would affect 70 percent of the city’s water lines.

Bell Gardens water system is divided and owned by two potable water systems. Bell Gardens owns 30 percent of the city’s water system, while Golden State Water Company (GSWC), a subsidiary of American State Utility Services, Inc., owns and services the remaining 70 percent of the city’s water system.

The Golden State Water Company has submitted a request to the CPUC—the body that oversees and sets utility rates—soliciting permision to increase their residential water usage cost by 20 percent in 2013; 2.8 percent in 2014 and another 3.3 percent in 2015. The increase would mean a monthly household water bill of $51.34 would increase to $65.47 over the three year span.

The water company says the rate increase is needed to cover increased water rates, pumping costs and needed infrastructure and capital improvements.

The rate increase, if approved by the Commission, could take effect in January 2013 and would also apply the company’s metropolitan “Region 2“ area that includes portions of Bell, Unincorporated Los Angeles (Florence, Willowbrook), South Gate, Cudahy, Huntington Park, Artesia, and Norwalk, according to Golden State Water Company’s Central District Manager Katherine Nutting.

Bell Gardens resident and former city council candidate Cristina Garcia congratulated the council for approving the protest letter and suggested they use their power to urge legislators to push for a moratorium and an audit of Golden State Water Company’s expenses, and place a moratorium on other increases.

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September 29, 2011  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.


2 Responses to “Tempers Flare at City Hall as Election Approaches in Bell Gardens”

  1. Henry on September 29th, 2011 6:18 pm

    For every incumbent city council member who pulls a publicity stunt (like this council action) to avoid the wrath of the voters, there is a member of our state legislature who thinks the voters are clueless about what’s going on in Sacramento. Here is what they are doing to screw us:

    If the Governor signs AB 529, cities will be able to reduce posted speeds by 5 mph, even on streets with a great safety record. That will allow them to shorten yellows, which will increase red light cam ticketing by at least 50%. (Four of the sponsoring cities have red light cams.) Worse, the shortening will increase severe accidents by 30 to 40%. (Source: “Development of Guidelines for Treating Red-Light Running,” Texas Transp. Inst. pg 2-20.)

    AB 529 is on Gov. Brown’s desk for signature – or veto – right now. If you live in California, or visit here, phone him at 916 445-2841, or email him via the form at http://www.gov.ca.gov. Ask him to veto. Also phone your union or professional assn. As soon as possible. Also ask him to veto Simitian’s SB 29, which reduces the number of warning signs required, removes the 15-day deadline for the mailing of the tickets, and legalizes the fake tickets (“Snitch Tickets”) many police departments mail out.

    To the supporters of 529: Remember that 529 will increase severe accidents, a lot, just for $$.

  2. Guillermo on October 28th, 2011 10:27 am

    Do I really car for red light cameras? no i obey traffic rules and that’s it, very simple. Has there been any studies about what happens if you run the light camera? or how more accidents happen if you stop trying to avoiding not to get a red light camera? Just slow down relax…
    I’ts all a political approach to spend more that is what its all about. On a real note, look i’m reading this tempers flare in Bell Gardens and the real issue is not going to be fixed, the water bill is going to go up like it or not, can the mayor stop all this ? I don’t know, i hope the promises don’t fly out the door once they get reelected…
    What was our mayor doing before all this water bills started going up? (nada) nothing, put now it’s election time now there looking in to it, 🙂

    The Golden State Water Company has submitted a request to the CPUC—the body that oversees and sets utility rates—soliciting permision to increase their residential water usage cost by 20 percent in 2013; 2.8 percent in 2014 and another 3.3 percent in 2015. The increase would mean a monthly household water bill of $51.34 would increase to $65.47 over the three year span.
    Come join us on the protests against GSWC… THANKS

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