Bell Gardens Mayor Jose J. Mendoza and Mayor Pro Tem Priscilla Flores were sworn in last week during a special ceremony at city hall.
This will be the first time Mendoza will serve as mayor since being elected in November 2013.
The lifelong Bell Gardens resident says he wants to focus on continuing to make the city a great place to live. He currently teaches dance at Bell Gardens Intermediate.
“We’ve come a long way and I look forward to helping us continue to move forward and be a good place for families and businesses,” he said in statement announcing his new role.
Flores was first elected to the Bell Gardens Council in 2015 and has previously served as mayor in 2009 and 2010. She serves as an administrator at Bell Gardens Intermediate.
A judge today sentenced the wife of slain Bell Gardens Mayor Daniel Crespo to three months in county jail and five years of formal probation for shooting him in the chest, saying the couple’s relationship was abusive and bound to “end in tragedy.”
Over the objection of the victim’s brother, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy went along with a plea agreement negotiated between prosecutors and Lyvette Crespo that also calls for the 45-year-old mother of two to perform 500 hours of community service and complete a one-year anger management course.
Crespo — who has already served two days of the jail term — was taken into custody immediately after the sentencing.
She pleaded guilty Nov. 30 to voluntary manslaughter for the Sept. 30, 2014, shooting death of her husband, Daniel. The judge said then that she wanted to review a probation report on the case before deciding whether to go along with the plea bargain.
“I don’t believe that Lyvette Crespo deserves to go to prison for this,” the judge said Friday, noting that she was initially surprised by the terms of the plea agreement but subsequently spent hours reviewing evidence, including grand jury transcripts from proceedings in which Crespo was indicted
in April 2015.
The judge said she believed the defendant “was abused throughout the marriage,” and that both she and her husband “had their demons.”
Daniel Crespo was “absolutely cruel” to his wife and flaunted his extramarital affairs in her face, and “she was not Mother Teresa” either, the judge said.
“But for what happened on September 30th, it would still be going on. It was inevitable if you look at all of this evidence … This was a train going down the tracks and it was going to end in tragedy at some point … It was going to be you if it wasn’t him,” the judge said, speaking directly to
Daniel Nicholas Crespo — who is now 22 — told the judge that his father was a “very complicated man” who was both loved and feared by him, his older sister and his mother. He described all three of them as victims of domestic violence.
He said he admired his father’s service to the city in which they lived, but said his dad was also a “liar,” “bully” and “cheater.”
“He had a lot of demons … Unfortunately, the demons won,” the couple’s son said.
He apologized to his mother, who wept in court as her son spoke across the courtroom, and told her that he wishes he had been stronger and could have done something to stop his father and that he has blamed himself for what happened.
Sheriff’s investigators said the mayor and his wife were arguing when their son intervened, leading to a struggle between father and son.
Lyvette Crespo claimed she was protecting her son when she grabbed a handgun and shot her husband, who had punched the young man in the face.
William Crespo interrupted his nephew as he spoke in court, questioning why the defendant shot her husband instead of calling 911. He and his attorney walked out of court just as the judge began to read the terms of the sentence.
William Crespo has denied allegations that his brother was abusive, but has acknowledged that the mayor had a series of extramarital affairs that angered his wife.
His civil attorney read a statement on his behalf in court, in which he called his brother’s death “a planned killing” and said his sister-in-law had taken the law into her own hands and chosen “to execute him in cold blood.”
A civil lawsuit filed in October 2014 by Daniel Crespo’s mother alleges her daughter-in-law picked a fight with him knowing that their son would intervene, then opened a safe, grabbed a gun and killed her husband “with malice and in cold blood.”
One of Lyvette Crespo’s attorneys, Roger Lowenstein, said there was “no question that there was abuse in the relationship,” while another of her lawyers, Eber Bayona, described her as “the victim at the hands of Mr. Crespo for a number of years.”
Deputy District Attorney Beth Silverman said the case was “thoroughly vetted by the District Attorney’s Office” before prosecutors concluded that “this was the appropriate disposition in this case.”
Outside court, the couple’s son said, “If there was a story, my father would be the hero and also the villain, like a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” He described the work his father had done for their city as “amazing” while saying that he had a “really, really dark side, very, very hateful, spiteful.”
He described the events the day his father died as “the first time I ever stood up to my father.”
“I wasn’t going in for a fight. I was going in to stop him and his reaction was violence,” he said. “I tried to hold his hands so he didn’t punch me, but he did punch me in my right eye and I fell backwards on a flight … of stairs. It took me a moment to realize, you know, what just happened and my father just kept coming towards me, kept walking towards me, and I had to run. I was scared for my life. But even though I was terrified, I knew that I had to do something because he could not keep beating up on my mom … When she shot him and I saw it, I’ll never forget it, but I’m not angry at her. I don’t have any hatred. It’s not her fault.”
The couple’s daughter, Crystal, now 29, said, “It’s not like you can just call and say, `Look at what my father’s doing’ because he held a political position as well as being a probation officer. And also, you don’t want him to go to jail.”
Updated 3:24 p.m.
A free workshop for Bell Gardens parents concerned about their children experimenting with drugs will be held Jan. 17, amid growing concerns of drug abuse in the city.
The Bell Gardens Police Department in partnership with the Recreation and Community Services Department and Bell Gardens High School’s Regional Occupation Program will host the workshop, “Drugs and Kids: What Parents Need to Know.”
The event will take place from 6 to 8p.m. at the Veterans Park Senior Center – located at 6662 Loveland St. Narconon Drug Prevention and Education, Inc. in conjunction with Fresh Start – a drug rehabilitation and prevention program – will provide the presentation. Staff from the city, police department and Montebello Unified School District will be available to answer questions.
For more info, contact Detective John Acosta at (562) 806-7649.
In what’s become an annual tradition, Bell Gardens High School Culinary students kicked off the holiday season by showing off their baking and cake decorating skills by building an entire village of gingerbread houses.
Over 80 students attending the Culinary Hospitality Opportunity Pathway (CHOP) participated in the 5th annual fundraiser held Dec. 9, where more than $1,000 was raised to buy chef jackets and uniforms for students in the program.
The fanciful creations filled an entire classroom, creating a towering neighborhood made out of gingerbread, cookies and colorful frosting.
Some of the creations were as tall as a wedding cake; others took over a month and a half to bake and build.
“These students are doing much more than just cooking,” said Elizabeth Kocharian, lead teacher for CHOP. “Our students use geometry and algebra skills to calculate the sizes of the gingerbread walls, engineering to keep them up and design skills to decorate the house.”
BGHS CHOP senior Cynthia Bernal said she really enjoyed making her house and knowing she could create something like this by herself.
“Our houses are all different because we put some of our own background and heritage into it,” Bernal said.
The top three gingerbread houses will be displayed at the Hilton Garden Inn in Montebello. Winners include: Alexander Castillo’s “Peppa Pig Village” in first place; Jazmin Ramos’ “Farm Stand and Bakery” in second place, and in third place, Dominic Jimenez’ “The Nightmare Before Christmas.”
While growing up in Mexico, Gloria Casillas could hardly contain her excitement as she counted down the days until Christmas. It wasn’t the presents she was looking forward to, but the annual Mexican tradition known as las posadas, which begin Dec. 16 and continue for 9 consecutive nights, ending on Christmas Eve.
Celebrated throughout Mexico and in many Latino neighborhoods in the United States, las posadas are a re-enactment of Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem and their search for a posada, the Spanish word for “inn” or “shelter,” where they can spend the night.
Now, with three children of her own, Casillas is continuing the religious ritual in her new hometown of Bell Gardens, hoping her children will carry on the tradition and come to understand the deeper meaning of Christmas.
“We want to remind our children Christmas is not just about getting presents, it’s about love, family and the celebration of the birth of Jesus,” Casillas told EGP in Spanish.
Over 200 people, most of them neighbors, attended the community posada Dec. 16 at Bell Gardens Intermediate School (BGI). Most of the organizers are parents who want a safe and neutral location to celebrate the religious/cultural tradition while getting to know one another.
Past posadas were held at local homes, but many parents were uncomfortable allowing their children to take part in the caminatas or walks that are part of the annual observance.
“For some time, people didn’t feel safe because of the gang activity” in the area, said Martha Cabral, one of the event organizers.
“In an effort to create a bridge between the school and the community, we [decided] to hold the event in a healthy family environment where parents felt at ease and comfortable,” explained BGI Principal Jose Cuevas, who has for the last eight years played a role in organizing the event.
Each posada kicks off with a candlelight procession and the singing of Christmas carols in Spanish. The procession winds its way from ”inn” to “inn,” where two people dressed as Mary and Joseph ask for lodging only to be turned away. Finally, one of the neighbors agrees to open their doors to the group, symbolically providing shelter and the birthplace for the baby Jesus.
The festivities continue with a piñata full of treats for the children, traditional Mexican food and more singing.
Because BGI is a public school, the religious aspects of the Christmas tradition have been tuned down by eliminating many of the prayers usually recited, while keeping intact the festive cultural elements of the pageantry.
Prayers usually recited during traditional las posadas were left out of the Bell Gardens’ caminata/walk in order to be respectful of all religions, and to maintain a “separation of church and state” given the involvement of the public school, according to organizers. The rest of the festivities were held at the school site.
Carla Dominguez — holding a cup of hot chocolate in one hand and waiting for a bowl of pozole — told EGP she attends the posada every year to make sure the tradition is not lost in her family.
“Many of our children did not know what a posada was,” chimes in Conrada Marquez.
“Now they can’t wait for it and ask when the next one will be held,” adds Dioselina Chavez.
The mothers vividly recalled the posadas they attended as children in Mexico. They spoke of the sparklers they were allowed to hold, reciting the rosary and the people dressed up to recreate the nativity scene. The festivities traditionally last for nine nights, with a different neighbor serving as host each night. Attendees enjoy tamales, champurrado (a hot chocolate type drink), and receive a small gift bag or bolo filled with peanuts, fruit, and candy.
“Over there [in Mexico] we all sang and knew the songs by heart at a very young age,” Carla Dominguez recalled with a smile. “You just can’t compare” the two.
Casillas’ son Derick Froilan, 9, told EGP he has learned some of the songs and looks forward every year to the posadas.
“I like walking around and singing … making friends,” he said enthusiastically. “I like that it reminds me of God.”
After a turn at hitting the piñata, Chavez’s 9-year-old daughter Brisa Figueroa told EGP she plans to continue the Mexican tradition when she grows up.
“I learned a lot about Mary and Jesus,” she said. “It taught me it’s important to be nice to our neighbors.”
A 4-month-old boy killed in a two-vehicle crash in Downey was identified Monday.
The crash occurred shortly before 2 a.m. Saturday at the intersection of Firestone Boulevard and Brookshire Avenue, said Downey police Sgt. Jaime Pelayo.
Xavier Leon of Bell Gardens died at a hospital, the coroner’s office reported.
A Mercedes-Benz SUV driven by a 23-year-old man going south on Brookshire struck a Chevrolet Silverado pickup driven by a 34-year-old man who was going east on Firestone, Pelayo said.
The SUV’s rear-seated passengers – the 4-month-old boy and a 21-year- old woman – were taken to a hospital, where the boy was pronounced dead, Pelayo said.
The woman’s injuries were not considered life-threatening, said Downey police Sgt. P. Miller. Both drivers suffered only minor injuries, Pelayo said.
Downey police asked anyone who saw the crash to call them at (562) 904-2339.
More than 80 firearms from closed criminal cases and voluntary turn-ins were destroyed last month by the Bell Gardens Police Department.
Approximately 85 handguns and rifles were dismantled Nov. 14 and separated into recyclable and non-recyclable parts that were transported to an off-site location and melted down or sold to an authorized vendor.
Although most of the weapons were collected as evidence in cases of robberies and assault with deadly weapons, some of the handguns and rifles were collected after residents voluntarily turned them in for safe disposal.
“The completion of this project ensures that these dangerous weapons are never again used to harm residents of this or any other community,” said Bell Gardens Police Chief Robert Barnes.
The wife of slain Bell Gardens Mayor Daniel Crespo pleaded guilty Wednesday to voluntary manslaughter for shooting him three times in their home just over two years ago.
Lyvette Crespo, 45, is facing three months in county jail, 500 hours of community service and five years formal probation under a disposition reached with the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, according to Deputy District Attorney Beth Silverman.
Crespo is set to be formally sentenced Jan. 5 in connection with the Sept. 30, 2014, shooting death of her husband, Daniel Crespo Sr.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy noted that she will review a probation report once it is completed to determine if she will go along with the disposition. If not, Crespo would have the option of withdrawing her plea, the judge said.
One of the woman’s attorneys told the judge that she wanted to plead no contest, but the prosecutor insisted on a guilty plea and Crespo eventually acquiesced after speaking with her lawyers.
“She should plead guilty to what she did,” Silverman said outside court. “The factual basis is that she shot him three times in the chest.”
Outside court, Crespo’s brother, William, objected to the plea agreement, which he said he heard about for the first time during the hearing.
“I’m hurt. I’m confused, all kinds of emotions are going on right now,” he told reporters. “I’m so shocked. I still can’t believe that she’s gonna get away with this … She should pay for what she did. She killed my brother.”
He said he believes his sister-in-law’s sentence “should be a long time.”
Crespo’s attorneys have claimed that she shot and killed her husband in self-defense after enduring years of abuse at his hands.
At a hearing last month, defense lawyer Eber Bayona said he thought the two sides had reached a deal, but told the judge that the offer apparently was not approved by supervisors in the District Attorney’s Office.
Another of her attorneys, Roger Lowenstein, told reporters last month that two deals had been on the table. The first, involving a plea of involuntary manslaughter, was withdrawn by prosecutors who then sought a voluntary manslaughter plea. Both deals were for probation with no jail time,
“Lyvette Crespo is innocent. This is a self-defense case,” Lowenstein said, alleging her husband “tortured [her] for 28 years.”
He said then that it made sense for Crespo to take the deal and “start healing” given the risk of a possible 21-year sentence and a mandatory 10-year term for using a firearm if she had gone to trial and been convicted.
Crespo was indicted in April 2015 on the voluntary manslaughter charge. Los Angeles County sheriff’s investigators have said the mayor and his wife were arguing when their then-19-year-old son, Daniel Crespo Jr., intervened, leading to a struggle between father and son.
Lyvette Crespo claims she was protecting the couple’s son when she grabbed a handgun and shot her husband, who had allegedly punched the young man in the face.
Bayona contends that Daniel Crespo “was a man who abused not only his wife but other women” and mentally and physically abused his children.
William Crespo has denied allegations that his brother was abusive, but said the mayor had a series of extramarital affairs that angered his wife.
A civil lawsuit filed Oct. 20, 2014, by Daniel Crespo’s mother alleges her daughter-in-law picked a fight with him knowing that their son would intervene, then opened a safe, grabbed a gun and killed her husband “with malice and in cold blood.”
Bell Gardens Mayor Pedro Aceituno will soon be sitting behind two different daises, simultaneously serving on the city council and the Central Basin Municipal Water District Board of Directors.
Aceituno received 40 percent of the votes during the Nov. 8 election, beating out Pico Rivera Councilman Bob Archuleta.
Aceituno will represent the Water District’s Division 1, which covers the cities of Bell Gardens, Downey, Montebello, Pico Rivera, West Whittier-Los Nietos, and unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County.
In an interview before the election, Archuleta told EGP he planned to relinquish his seat on the council if elected. Aceituno did not respond to EGP’s inquiries at the time.
However, the mayor now says he will continue serving on the Bell Gardens City Council and told EGP he has no plans to step down, adding he sees no conflict in holding the two public offices at the same time.
Under state law, an elected official may not hold two different public offices simultaneously if the offices have “overlapping and conflicting public duties.” The Office of Attorney General Kamala Harris previously took issue with a case in the city of Corona, where a councilman also served as the director of the Water Replenishment District.
Bell Gardens City Manager Phil Wagner says that case does not apply to Aceituno, likening it to comparing “apples and oranges.”
“There is no legal reason for Aceituno to step down from office,” Wagner told EGP. “The D.A. hasn’t raised issue here.”
Wagner tells EGP that as city manager he is the one charged with making any decisions related to water issues or purchases in the city. He noted that Aceituno does not deal with the day-to-day activities involving the water wholesaler.
Aceituno has always taken precautions to avoid conflicts, often abstaining from votes or even leaving the room during a vote that could be perceived as a conflict of interest for him, Wagner said.
“If there are any potential conflicts I will continue to do the same,” echoed Aceituno.
The Bell Gardens mayor – a title that revolves between council members – told EGP that he has not been advised by either the Central Basin or city attorney that holding both elected offices poses a conflict of interest. He added that when he was elected to the water district board, voters were well aware of his position.
“When I ran it was no hidden secret that I was the councilman from the city of Bell Gardens, it was on my campaign literature,” he said. Yet “folks still chose to elect me.”
Aceituno says he plans to focus on helping the scandal-plagued board make changes.
In 2007, Aceituno was recognized by the Central Basin for his work making Bell Gardens the first city in the region to embrace a citywide conservation program through use of a conservation grant.
“I have experience dealing with issues of water,” said Aceituno, who previously represented the city on the Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County.
Wagner says having good quality, fiscally responsible representatives at the Central Basin will benefit all cities and help water rates stay down.
“He’s done well [in Bell Gardens],” says Wagner. “I look forward to seeing better management and organization” at Central Basin.
Aceituno was elected to the Bell Gardens City Council in 1999 and is the city’s longest-sitting elected official.
He will assume his position on the Central Basin board next month.
Concerned that the corruption scandals in some Southeast Los Angeles County areas might taint their own reputations, cities in the region have distanced themselves from one another and for the most part chosen to go it alone, strictly focusing on what goes on within their borders.
That changed last week when area leaders and residents came together to highlight their strengths and to begin to construct a new narrative for the region, one which they hope will lead to greater public and private investment to create more jobs, better schools and bring other resources.
“Regionalization allows our community to work together to leverage funds,” pointed out Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) during the discussion on communities located along the SR-710 Corridor.
“It allows us to be more influential,” Lara emphasized.
The Oct. 27 “Summit of Possibilities: People, Community and Progress” was hosted by the Pat Brown Institute and the California Community Foundation and focused on the regional potential of the southeast portion of Los Angeles County, including Commerce, Cudahy, Bell, Bellflower, Bell Gardens, Downey, Huntington Park, Lynwood, Maywood, Paramount, South Gate and Vernon.
The cities are densely populated and home to a blue-collar workforce surrounded by industry, described opening speaker, Christopher Thornberg, founder of Beacon Economics.
Of the 750,000 people who call the area home, nearly 90 percent are Hispanic, according to the data from Beacon Economics, which also showed that a large number of the residents are fairly young, low-income and have not completed high school.
For most in the room, the information came as no surprise.
“If you lived in the area you already knew this,” said Mark Lopez, executive director of East Yard Communities For Environmental Justice.
A majority of the housing stock is still single-family homes, Thornberg said, suggesting that the cities should invest in building more multi-family housing units to accommodate the Southeast’s growing population.
“This place is ripe for high density, transportation-oriented communities,” Thornberg said. “Given the size of population…single family [housing] is not appropriate.”
It was a suggestion that did not sit well with some of the residents in the audience.
“How can you build when you don’t have space,” Mary Johnson of South Gate asked.
Another resident wanted to know if transforming the area into a technology hub is feasible?
Thornberg suggested cities would be better served by focusing their energies on ensuring existing businesses, especially the large number of manufacturing companies still operating in the region, succeed.
The region has some of the worst air pollution in the state but air quality could be improved and jobs created through better use of the Los Angeles River and pushing more of the goods movement on to the underutilized Alameda Corridor, the economist told Summit participants.
For Bell Gardens and Commerce, Thornberg said continued investment in the casinos in those cities is key to increasing revenue and jobs.
Cities must revisit their general plans, incentivize small builders and unite to compete for grants and businesses, Thornberg advised.
“If you get together you have clout,” he emphasized.
Every presenter acknowledged the event as a very important start to creating a new identify for the southeast region.
Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon of Maywood echoed that the southeast cities he represents are all densely populated, have high rates of poverty and lack resources such as community colleges, parks, courthouses and access to light rail transportation.
Still, he says he believes a “renaissance of the southeast” is on the horizon.
Many of the panelists said they recognize the answer to the region’s woes is greater investment in the next generation and incentivizing them to stay or return to their community.
“Our [communities] should not be places our folks have to leave,” said Lopez. “We need to look to the future, at retaining residents not displacing them.”
Access to high quality education is the key to retaining local talent, said Nadia Diaz Funn of Alliance for a Better Community.
She noted that 75 percent of the students from the 8 area high schools who attend Cal State LA are not proficient in math or English, and only 45 percent of those who attend graduate within 6 years.
“It has to begin at the schools that are serving our children,” Funn said.
Sen. Lara suggested it might take breaking up the Los Angeles Unified School District to make sure southeast area students aren’t neglected.
Currently, Cal State LA guarantees admission to students attending LA Unified schools in East Los Angeles who complete the Go East LA pathways program, Dunn pointed out, adding, “Where is the Southeast’s promise?”
It will take coordination, organizing and residents and elected officials demanding changes to make anything happen, panelists acknowledged.
Nonprofits and philanthropy must also be part of the conversation, panelists agreed.
“It was philanthropy that brought us together,” pointed out Dr. Juan Benitez of the Cal State Long Beach Center for Community Engagement.
“We have identified the southeast region as an area we want to focus on and provide resources,” responded Belen Vargas of the Weingart Foundation, which provides grants and other support to nonprofit groups.
Rendon, however, sharing his own experience in the nonprofit sector, expressed frustration that many companies believe the only way to help Latinos is to provide services in East Los Angeles and Boyle Heights.
With part-time city council members and mayors, it’s often “overcompensated” city managers and administrators who act as the default policy makers, said Benitez. Ultimately, decisions are made through policies, she emphasized. The highly publicized corruption scandals that came out of Bell, Maywood and Vernon revolved around overpaid city administrators.
East Yard’s Lopez says the problem of political corruption needs to be part of the conversation. Holding elected officials accountable after the election is vital, but it will only happen with good community organizing and a clear vision, he said.
“We need baselines or else how will we know we achieved [anything],” Benitez said.
Speaker after speaker said the conversation at the Summit just touched the surface of the Southeast region’s needs, assets and potential power.
“We are all the southeast,” said Lara. “This cannot be the last time we meet, this has to be the new norm.”