Three Killed in I-5 Wrong Way Crash

March 16, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

COMMERCE  – The coroner’s office Tuesday identified a woman killed along with two men in a head-on crash triggered by a wrong way motorist on the Santa Ana (5) Freeway in Commerce.

The crash occurred at 5:20 a.m. Sunday on the northbound Santa Ana Freeway, south of Slauson Avenue, said California Highway Patrol Officer E. Latham.

A man was driving a 2015 Mini Cooper S southbound in the northbound number 4 lane, changed to the number 3 lane and collided head-on with a 1998 Ford Econoline 350 driven by a female with a male passenger, Latham said. All three were pronounced dead at the scene.

The woman was identified by the coroner’s office as Quanlinh Phillips, 53, of Santa Ana. The identity of her passenger is not known.

The driver of the Mini Cooper was identified earlier by the coroner’s office as John Perez, 29, of Downey.

The northbound freeway was closed for more than three hours while an investigation was conducted.

Woman Killed on Freeway Identified

December 21, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Authorities Tuesday identified a woman who was killed when the car in which she was a passenger crashed on the transition from the Golden State (5) Freeway to the San Bernardino (10) Freeway in Boyle Heights.

The accident was reported at 1:38 a.m. Monday, said California Highway Patrol Officer Elizabeth Kravig.

Sathina Raj Varma, 46, died at the scene, said coroner’s Assistant Chief Ed Winter. Her hometown was not known. The driver was taken to a hospital for treatment of unspecified injuries.

One lane of the transition road was blocked for about three hours while an investigation was conducted.

L.A. Mayor Asks Commerce Council to Support Measure M

October 6, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Hoping to garner support for a November ballot transit measure, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti made a trip to Commerce City Hall Tuesday to ask the city council to drop its opposition to Measure M, which if approved by voters will authorize a permanent one-cent increase in the sales tax to fund transportation project.

“I’m here to ask for your support,” Garcetti told the council in what turned out to be a one-way dialogue with Garcetti doing all the talking.

Commerce is among a group of East and Southeast area cities opposed to the passage of Measures M on grounds that their constituents will be paying in to the fund for decades before any of their transportation woes are addressed.

The tax hike would generate at least $860 million annually for highway and street repairs, new rail and bus lines and transportation improvements.

Los Angles Mayor Eric Garcetti addressed the Commerce City Council Tuesday during a presentation on Measure M.  (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Los Angles Mayor Eric Garcetti addressed the Commerce City Council Tuesday during a presentation on Measure M. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Proponents of the transit tax claim it will help solve the region’s traffic congestion problems, improve air quality and create jobs.

Cities opposing the tax hike are unhappy that improvements to transit projects in their region, such as the 1-5 and 710 freeways, will be delayed under Measure M. They claim the distribution of projects favor the western and northern parts of the County.

Garcetti pointed out projects in some parts of Los Angeles will also not see funding for 30 years.

Surprisingly, council members did not use the opportunity to reiterate their opposition to the Measure, or to get the visiting mayor and Metro chair to agree to work with the city on transportation issues in the future.

In August, the 23 cities that makeup the Gateway Cities Council of Government, including Commerce, spearheaded an educational outreach campaign to specifically inform voters what Measure M’s impacts would or would not have. That same month, Commerce and a handful of cities unsuccessfully filed a lawsuit claiming Measure M was misleading when it failed to state the proposed tax would be permanent.

“We’re friends no matter what, before or after,” Garcetti assured Commerce council members.

“I urge you to support Measure M, if not, can you stay neutral?”

Garcetti acknowledged that the city of Commerce, home to 13,000 residents but a daytime working population of 80,000, did have a good argument when they questioned what the return would be to their city.

“But if nothing passes it will be more than 30 years” before transportation issues in the region are addressed, Garcetti told EGP following his presentation.

Currently, Commerce generates about $8 million a year in Measure R sales tax revenue for the county, but annually only gets back about $150,000. The city’s contribution would double to $16 million under Measure M, but it would only receive around $300,000 a year based on its population.

Commerce previously supported Measure R, a temporary half-cent tax that will sunset in 2039 unless it is made permanent under Measure M, which adds an additional half-cent to the sales tax. A two-third margin is required for Measure M to pass. In 2012, a similar ballot measure failed to pass by less than 1 percent.

“We all know it takes a few to defeat this, why not come together to solve our traffic woes,” Garcetti told council members, who did not respond to his statement, instead voting to just receive and file his presentation without action.

 

Pursuit Ends in SWAT Standoff

September 8, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

A suspected drunken driver pulled a gun on CHP officers as he abandoned his pickup truck on the Santa Ana (5) Freeway in Commerce, backed into some roadside businesses, and held officers off for 8 hours before surrendering.

The man was arrested by SWAT team members at about 8:30 a.m. Monday, according to Deputy Guillermina Saldana of the Sheriff’s Information Bureau.

The pursuit began before 9 p.m. Sunday in Orange County, when California Highway Patrol officers attempted to pull over a green GMC pickup truck for swerving and possible drunken driving, CHP Officer Francisco Villalobos said.

Los Angeles-based CHP officers took over the pursuit at 9 p.m. Sunday on the Santa Ana (5) Freeway as the truck left Orange County. It veered off the freeway at Garfield Avenue in Commerce, Villalobos said.

The northbound and southbound lanes of the 5 Freeway were shut down at 12:45 a.m., Villalobos said. The northbound lanes were opened at 1:30 a.m. and the southbound lanes followed at 2:21 a.m.

Television journalists captured video of the man – shirtless, tattoed and waving a pistol – backing into an industrial area.

Deputies from the East Los Angeles Sheriff’s Station were called to the scene at midnight, said sheriff’s Sgt. T. Kim. Attempts had been made to contact the suspect.

The sheriff’s Special Enforcement Bureau was dispatched to the scene about 3 a.m., Saldana said.

Southeast Areas Question Measure M Benefits

August 25, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Located along the state’s worst traffic bottleneck, the city of Commerce has for decades had to deal with more than its fair share of traffic, yet it’s unlikely that a proposed half-cent sales tax hike going before voters in November will help alleviate the area’s transportation woes anytime soon.

Home to hundreds of distribution and manufacturing businesses and located along a major rail yard and network of freeways, Commerce City Administrator Jorge Rifa points out that the city is one of the country’s busiest “ports.”

“We get a significant amount of traffic based on the role Commerce plays in the regional distribution of goods,” but he said the “dry port” receives no special state or federal funding to support its role in the goods movement.

“This is a regional place of investment and employment,” but “the southeast won’t see the benefits of this new tax for the first 15 years,” Rifa told EGP.

In November, voters will decide whether to approve an added half-cent sales tax that could generate at least $860 million annually for highway and street repairs, transportation improvements, and new rails and bus lines in Los Angeles County. If approved by the two-third margin required to raise taxes, the half-cent bump would start in 2017, permanently increasing the Measure R temporary half-cent sales tax hike to a full cent.

Measure R was approved by voters in 2008 as a temporary increase and is currently set to sunset in 2039.

Metro officials tout Measure M as a solution to the region’s traffic congestion problems that will also improve air quality and create jobs.

Large trucks overflow into the streets surrounding the I-5 and 710 freeways in Commerce, creating gridlock traffic throughout the day. (EGP photo archive)

Large trucks overflow into the streets surrounding the I-5 and 710 freeways in Commerce, creating gridlock traffic throughout the day. (EGP photo archive)

Rifa counters that in Commerce the claim should be accompanied by “fine print that says ‘20 years from now.’”

Like Measure R, Measure M would earmark funds generated for specific transportation projects outlined in an expenditure plan. The proposal has angered communities along the County’s southeast corridor that accuse Metro’s Board of pushing Measure R approved projects to the back burner under Measure M’s new expenditure plan.

Unhappy that improvements to the I-5 and 710 freeways and other regional transportation plans would be delayed under Measure M, the 23 cities that make up the Gateway Cities Council of Government are now spearheading an educational outreach campaign to specifically inform voters what Measure M’s impact would or would not have in the region.

In Commerce, the impact goes beyond the obvious traffic and environmental concerns and deals directly with the region’s goods movement, says Eddie Tafoya, executive director of the Commerce Industrial Council – Chamber of Commerce.

“We get a significant amount of traffic based on the role Commerce plays in the regional distribution of goods,” he explains. “If it’s not Vernon, it’s Commerce,” he told EGP.

Metro’s Chief Communication Officer Pauletta Tonilas told EGP it’s important to note that the agency has been working on its expenditure plan for years.

“We understand that not everyone is thrilled but this plan reflected what we heard from stakeholders,” she said. “We believe it is balanced and equitable.”

Currently, Commerce generates about $8 million a year in Measure R sales tax revenue for the county, but annually only gets back about $150,000. The city’s contribution would double to $16 million under Measure M, but it would only receive around $300,000 a year based on its population.

Tafoya is quick to point out however that while the industrial city only has 13,000 residents, its daytime population swells to nearly 80,000 people when you take into account the number of workers who flock to the city.

An additional 230,000 jobs are located in communities bordering the I-5 Freeway, including Downey, La Mirada, Montebello, Norwalk, Pico Rivera, Santa Fe Springs, Vernon in addition to Commerce.

“These jobs are all predicated on the use of freeways and yet [Metro] won’t be touching the I-5 for another 20 years,” complains Rifa.

Tonilas pointed out that not all major projects could be funded at once.

“Everything can’t happen in the first 10 years,” she told EGP. “The time sequence was based on when funds would be available.”

The Industrial Council surveyed businesses in the city and according to Tafoya, over 40 percent responded that traffic congestion is the leading reason they would consider moving out of L.A. County.

There’s no escaping that the high volume of goods traveling through the region leads to more truck traffic and congestion, said Tafoya, noting that “the I-5 is a parking lot.”

“This has a detrimental impact to the economy and quality of life,” he points out.

Tonilas says private-public partnerships would allow businesses to help fund and accelerate some projects.

Last week, the Commerce City Council approved $20,000 to support Gateway Cities’ public outreach efforts in the southeast region. Half of the money will be used to fund a local informational campaign.

“We think, as a region and community, [the plan is] short of being balanced,” Rifa told EGP. “The corridor has been shortchanged.”

Mayor Ivan Altamirano, who pushed for more funding for outreach, agrees. “I really think that’s very little to what we can potentially lose here,” he told EGP.

Before the vote, Councilman Hugo Argumedo noted that efforts to inform voters about what’s at stake locally would be an uphill battle.

“I’m sorry to say this guys, we can say $100,000, but guess what, we’re going to be outgunned,” he told the council, explaining the importance of mobilizing efforts in areas where there are the most votes.

Because city funds are being used, the materials distributed must walk a fine line of educating and not campaign against the measure.

The city, however, is no stranger to voicing its views on transportation projects and their local impacts.

Commerce has been front and center in talks about the Metro Gold Line Eastside Extension Phase 2 project. The city was successful in convincing Metro to consider a route that would include a light rail stop within its borders.

Rifa told EGP the transit measure has been and will continue to be a regular fixture on the city’s agenda as city officials are frustrated with the totality of the plan connected to the new tax.

“The southeast was a huge supporter of Measure R, now we are being ignored,” he said. “The balance has been lost and we must protect our jobs.”

 

Man Killed on 5 Freeway Identified

July 14, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Authorities today identified a man who was killed in a traffic crash on the northbound Santa Ana (5) Freeway in Commerce.

Ricardo Martinez-Reymundo, 62, was identified as the man who died at the scene of the crash early Wednesday, said acting Lt. B. Kim of the Los Angeles County coroner’s office.

The crash occurred about 4:30 a.m. north of Garfield Avenue, California Highway Patrol Officer Francisco Villalobos said. The crash shut down two lanes for about two-and-a-half hours.

Big Rig Crash Closes Freeway

July 14, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

A big rig crashed off the side of a freeway transition road in Boyle Heights Monday, spilling some fuel and resulting in the closure of the connector road while crews worked to repair guard rails.

The crash was reported about 6 a.m. on the connector from the westbound San Bernardino (10) Freeway to the southbound Santa Ana (5) Freeway, the California Highway Patrol reported. One person was treated for an unspecified injury.

The big rig ended up on its side, wedged in an area below the roadway surface and adjacent to a freeway abutment structure.

A hazardous materials team was sent to clean up fuel that spilled from the truck’s tanks.
The transition road was reopened just after 5 p.m., the CHP reported.

Man Killed on Santa Ana Freeway in Commerce

July 7, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

A man was killed Wednesday in a traffic crash on the northbound Santa Ana (5) Freeway in Commerce, authorities said.

The man, possibly in his 60s, died at the scene of his injury, which occurred about 4:30 a.m. north of Garfield Avenue, said California Highway Patrol Officer Francisco Villalobos. His name was withheld, pending family notification.

Two right lanes were blocked while an investigation was conducted into the circumstances of the crash, Villalobos said. One was reopened about 6:30 a.m. and the other was reopened a half hour later.

Bill to Expand Metro Board Introduced

June 30, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

A bill to increase the number of Metro board members was re-introduced last week by Sen. Tony Mendoza, who cites the need for a board that more fairly represents all of Los Angles County, specifically southeast communities along the 710 Long Beach and I-5 Santa Ana freeways in great need of traffic relief.

Senate Bill 522 would add 10 more members to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board, increasing the number of seats to 24, ensuring the county’s 10 million residents are equally represented, said Mendoza.

Currently, the board is made up of the five county supervisors, four representatives of Los Angeles including Mayor Eric Garcetti, Metro’s CEO, and one councilmember each from the cities of Duarte, Glendale, Inglewood and Lakewood.

“With the exception of Lakewood, everything east of the 710 [freeway] lacks representation,” pointed out Mendoza.

Under SB 528, three of the 10 new seats would go to the city of L.A. and one each to the city of Long Beach and appointees of the Senate Pro Tem and Assembly Speaker. The remaining four would be filled by other municipalities.

Critics fear the bill will diminish the voting power of Los Angeles, the county’s largest city. But with 7 seats on the 24-member board, Mendoza says L.A.’s influence will not decrease.

Transportation agencies in surrounding areas have significantly larger boards than Metro. The San Bernardino Associated Governments has 31 members, Riverside Transit Agency 22 and the Orange County Transportation Authority has 18 members on its board.

“They keep numbers low to keep control,” said Mendoza, referring to outsized influence of L.A. and cities on the Westside. “We need to create balance so that everyone has a voice and a fair vote.”

The Board is opposed to any legislation that would change its makeup, Metro spokesman Rick Jagger told EGP.

The I-5 Santa Ana and 710 Long Beach freeways is an area in the County in need of traffic relief. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

The I-5 Santa Ana and 710 Long Beach freeways is an area in the County in need of traffic relief. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

“Any discussion or change in the Board should take place in L.A. County not through a mandate from Sacramento,” he said.

Last week, Metro’s board approved a ballot measure that if approved would levy a special half-cent sales tax to pay for more than $120 billion projects in the county’s new transit improvement plan, which includes a new subway line from the San Fernando Valley to LAX, new extensions from Claremont to Culver City and San Fernando to the South Bay.

Unlike previous transit funding measures that expire, such as Measure R, the new tax would be permanent.

L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti said in a statement that the “bold transportation plan will relieve congested roads, connecting our region with robust, comprehensive transportation systems we need and deserve.”

Senate Pro Tem Kevin de León and representatives from other municipalities had asked Metro to postpone approval of the plan and proposed ballot measure until the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee had a chance to review it at a public hearing.

De Leon authored SB767 last year, which authorized Metro to place a transportation and use tax on the ballot.

“Given the involvement of the state on this matter and feedback Senators have received directly from local stakeholders, we believe it is appropriate to hold an oversight hearing to discuss how Metro evaluated proposed projects … and also to assess the fairness and equity of the plan,” de Leon wrote in a letter to Metro.

The public hearing was set for June 24; one day after Metro approved its plan.

The refusal to postpone the vote prompted Mendoza to re-introduce legislation to change the board’s makeup. A previous bill authored by Mendoza was shelved by the senator in the hope that Metro would consider coming up with a plan that did not postpone projects in the eastside and southeast communities.

“They just don’t care about this side of the town,” Mendoza told EGP. “They chose to expedite projects that serve the wealthier population.”

One of the projects delayed under the county’s new transportation plan includes a light rail line from Union Station to Artesia with stops in Vernon, Huntington Park, Bell, South Gate, Downey, Paramount and Bellflower. After decades on the shelf, the Eco Rapid transit rail, which serves Mendoza’s constituents, would be pushed back another 20 years to 2047.

“This project would help people who are transit dependent,” Mendoza said. The southeast has not seen any new transit projects since 1995 when the Green Line opened.

“It seems the poor communities will continue to struggle with congestion, pollution and traffic,” he criticized.

At the Commerce City Council meeting last week, City Manager Jorge Rifa said he too is disappointed with Metro’s plan, which would push back much-needed traffic improvements along the I-5 and 710 freeways that wrap around the city.

“We can’t wait another 20 years for this part of the freeway to be fixed,” he said. “That’s a big deal for us because this is an economic corridor.”

If approved in November, revenue from the added tax is expected to be at least $860 million a year. Some cities, including Commerce, would see their sales tax increase to 10 cents on every dollar.

“If we don’t have input it will impact the future decisions on how Metro spends money,” warned Mendoza. “So far they are taking us for granted and don’t take us into consideration.”

Motorist Killed in Collision Identified

June 30, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Authorities said today that a motorist killed in a collision with a a big rig on the Santa Ana (5) Freeway in Boyle Heights was a resident of Yucaipa.

The accident was reported at 4 a.m. Monday on the northbound Santa Ana Freeway just south of the eastbound San Bernardino (10) Freeway, said California Highway Patrol Officer Patrick Kimball.

Phillip Sandoval, 31, died at the scene, said coroner’s Assistant Chief Ed Winter.

All lanes of the northbound 5 were blocked for about two hours for the crash investigation and clean-up.

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