Off and Running In Montebello

Races for city council, treasurer and city clerk get underway.

By Nancy Martinez, EGP Staff Writer

Election season officially kicked off this week in Montebello, where six challengers have filed to take on two sitting council members in the Nov. 3 election. Incumbents in the race for city clerk and treasurer have bowed out, leaving the field wide open.

City council hopefuls Fernando Chacon, Kimberly Ann Cobos, Vanessa Delgado, Randy Smith, William Paolisso and Michael W. Samarin-Popoff are challenging incumbents Mayor Jack Hadjinian and Councilwoman Christina Cortez.

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Neither Treasurer Sheraly Khwaja nor City Clerk Daniel Hernandez are seeking reelection, leaving Ashod Mooradian, Charles Pell and former councilwoman Rosemarie Vasquez to go head to head in the treasurer’s race, and Irma Barajas, Christina Gonzales and Annette Ramirez facing off for city clerk.

City Council Race

While Montebello’s long fiscal woes appear to be on the mend, the two council candidates who prove victorious in November will nonetheless still have limited financial resources to deal with the city’s continuing infrastructure issues, limits on city services and Montebello’s long time difficulty attracting new commercial development to the city.

“The city needs someone to fix the budget and bring Montebello forward,” says challenger Delgado, a real estate developer and member of the city’s oversight board.

Printing operations specialist Samarin-Popoff told EGP he has issues with how the current council balanced the city’s $51 million budget this year.

“A budget balanced by the sale of city properties is not the way to go,” he said. “We don’t have enough city assets to sell off every year.”

Mayor Hadjinian, however, defends the council’s actions on the budget. He told EGP the $2 million sale of city land was necessary to move the city forward. If reelected, he said he’ll look at all the city’s assets, including Montebello’s city-run water system, to ensure a fiscally conscious, balanced budget.

We were able to repave 30 streets and trim 7,000 trees despite our tight budget, Hadjinian points out.

Montebello will have elections on Nov. 3 (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Montebello will have elections on Nov. 3 (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

While they may disagree how to get there, most candidates agree with the incumbents that the biggest challenge facing the city is how to attract more taxpayers, specifically, new businesses to Montebello. Cobos, a doctoral candidate and city commissioner, said the city would attract new businesses if it were more business-friendly. Cobos said she wants to look at what it takes to open a business in Montebello, “and see where we are going wrong.”

What Montebello needs are more modern, mixed-use developments, argues Samarin-Popoff. For example, he’d like to see lofts replace the many empty storefronts on Whittier Boulevard.

Delgado says she worked on the Azalea Shopping Center in South Gate and thinks those types of developments, which not only create revenue but also generate jobs, is what the city should be pursuing.

Smith says the city needs to revamp its image if it wants to keep tax dollars within its borders. “We need to invest in community development,” the realtor said. “Everyone goes out of Montebello to eat,” spending their money outside the city, he said.

For Cobos, politics are most at blame for the city’s problems. “The current council is divided” and that’s why nothing gets done, she lamented. “I don’t see myself as a politician, just a resident who wants change.”

In Montebello, it’s not unusual for council meetings to get heated and to devolve into hours long debate on a single agenda item.

Cortez told EGP that she is sometimes criticized for asking too many questions at council meetings, but said she asks the difficult questions to hold the city accountable to its residents.

“I do that for the benefit of the public,” she said.

Among the issues drawing tense debate this year was the Montebello Hills housing development. It’s why Samarin-Popoff, vice chair for the Sierra Club-sponsored Save the Hills group, says he jumped into the race at the last minute.

“I think we still have a chance to improve the Hills project so that “it does the least amount of damage possible,” said Samarin-Popoff, who does not think the other candidates will be as reliably concerned about the development as he would.

In every election, money is always an issue. It’s hard to campaign without it, but the source of donations can also raise questions about a candidate’s ability to be independent.

Smith said he’s not going to focus on fundraising, but on going door-to-door to hear from voters and win their support.

“I don’t plan on flooding the city with signs that say vote for me,” he said.

Hadjinian has the most cash-on-hand, $69,000. Of that, $55,000 was raised this year alone. He also has the endorsement of Montebello’s police union, which can likely be counted on for campaign support.

Chacon – administrative director of a local non-profit – and Delgado have each raised nearly $30,000, however most of Chacon’s money comes from a personal loan he made to his campaign

As of June 30, Cobos had less than $2,000. She’s fundraising locally, but says she plans to do more with less, as she would with the city’s budget.

Cobos is targeting local businesses for support rather than major corporations. At the end of the day, “what will that big money cost,” she said.

Cortez has so far raised over $7,000 but has more fundraisers scheduled.

“Its not about how much money you have,” she said. “Money doesn’t elect you, it’s the people who elect you.”


Fernando Chacon and William Paolisso could not be reached for comment. 


Twitter @nancyreporting

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August 13, 2015  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.


3 Responses to “Off and Running In Montebello”

  1. Yvonne Watson on August 14th, 2015 1:30 pm

    The city council’s recent approval of 1,200 new “luxury” homes in the middle of the Montebello Hills oilfield is going to be a major issue in this upcoming election. For some candidates, their previous actions and/or positions will haunt them like the angry spirits in the movie “Poltergeist.”

    Last night, Al Jazeera America broadcasted a report on urban drilling sites in the City of Los Angeles including the Murphy drill site operated by Freeport McMoRan Oil & Gas, the same company that now owns and operates the Montebello Hills oilfield. One of the major arguments in favor of approving the Montebello Hills housing development is the oil company’s plans to minimize the risks to public health and safety by modernizing the existing oilfield operations.

    According to Al Jazeera, at the Murphy drill site, Freeport McMoRan has been trying to install a type of gas burner that is being “phased out by the U.N. and the World Bank.” Is this the type of “modernization” we can expect to see here in Montebello?

    The public is no longer willing to act as guinea pigs for the oil and gas industry.

    Oil and homes don’t mix!

  2. Yvette Fimbres on August 14th, 2015 2:14 pm

    Excellent article! Bravo! Love the following quote by Kimberly Ann Cobos:

    For Cobos, politics are most at blame for the city’s problems. “The current council is divided” and that’s why nothing gets done, she lamented. “I don’t see myself as a politician, just a resident who wants change.”

    Vote for Kimberly Ann Cobos for Montebello City Council!

  3. Stephanie Serrano on October 14th, 2015 9:23 pm

    I am lucky to know Christina Gonzalez who is running for City Clerk. She makes a great candidate for many reasons, here’s a few:

    She grew up in Montebello, Sacred Heart Graduate, enrolled and committed to U.S. military, she is a volunteer mentor at a local youth program, and amongst many other things she is a fresh thinking, hardworking, millennial with endless opportunities to grow with the City of Montebello.

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