Sheriff’s Substation Proposal Raises More Questions than Answers

May 11, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Commerce Mayor Ivan Altamirano recently encouraged Commerce residents to contact East Los Angeles Sheriff’s Station Captain Chris Perez, who Altamirano said would enthusiastically share the benefits of a proposed Sheriff’s substation.

The proposed substation would be on a 10-acre property valued at approximately $10 million, the sale of which is in negotiations between the City of Commerce Successor Agency and a joint venture that includes The Commerce Casino and The Citadel Outlets. The portion of land for the substation would be purchased by the City from the joint venture group with one time funding sources anticipated from the sale of this and another property.

When I called the Station to talk to Captain Perez, I instead spoke briefly with Lieutenant Smitson who said, “To my knowledge there aren’t a lot of specifics at this point because it’s very early in the process.” Smitson’s statement highlights the speculative nature of the proposed substation.

Despite this non-committal statement from Sheriff’s personnel, a pending real estate transaction, and what can only be described as theoretical follow up real estate transaction, I find it surprising that Altamirano has disclosed multiple details about the proposed substation. He has described a 20,000 square foot building with an onsite fueling station that will house more than 150 employees, some of whom will include City staff.

In addition, Interim City Administrator Matt Rodriguez, who is also a retired Sheriff’s Lieutenant, has stated that the construction and ongoing facility maintenance costs would be borne by the new property owners.

This raises a lot of questions. Is the City planning to purchase land from the successor agency or the Casino-Citadel joint venture? Does it make sense to purchase land for a substation that hasn’t been approved, much less considered by the City Council?

Given that The Commerce Casino and The Citadel Outlets are major campaign contributors, are there any conflicts in what appears to be a complex series of commercial real estate negotiations and transactions?

Rodriguez stated that the station would also serve Maywood and Cudahy. Are the costs being borne solely by the City of Commerce? In talking to officials in both cities, responses ranged from not knowing about the proposed substation to it being a “done deal.”

To best evaluate the City’s needs given the $7 million contract in place and an environment in which violent crime is down and property crimes are up, the most important question is how will this proposed substation improve law enforcement service to the City of Commerce?

Will this substation improve response times? How will it do so? Will there be Sheriff’s Deputies on tactical alert to respond to emergent incidents? If so, how much more will it cost and how will it differ from the current response times we experience with deputies that currently patrol Commerce’s six square miles?

Add to that this substation proposal has not appeared on a City Council agenda. While it’s unclear whether any laws have been broken, this approach is highly unusual and lacks the appropriate level of transparency given the millions of dollars that may be circulating between the City and joint ventures sponsored by local business interests that also happen to be heavy contributors to Commerce elected officials, including Altamirano who is up for reelection on June 6.

Commerce has a critical need to catch up on long neglected street and road improvements, as well as to identify major funding needed to replace the Veterans Park Recreation Center is sinking into the landfill over which it was built. With so many other pressing needs, the City Council needs to assess fiscal priorities before committing millions to what appears to be a solution in need of problem.

Jason Gardea-Stinnett is a fourth generation Commerce resident, community advocate and the former Commerce Public Information Officer. He has over 25 years of experience in local government, public utilities and community advocacy.

 

Commerce Kicks Off Cinco de Mayo Festivities

May 4, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Commerce residents celebrated Cinco de Mayor early this year, kicking off the Mexican festivities Sunday at Bristow Park.

The event featured performances by Commerce folklorico dancers, live mariachi bands, food and games.

(City of Commerce)

(City of Commerce)

Plan to Station Deputies in Commerce Gets Initial Look

April 27, 2017 by · 2 Comments 

When a 9-1-1 call goes out in Commerce, deputies assigned to the East Los Angeles Sheriff’s station respond with lights flashing and sirens blaring as they cut through traffic to reach crime victims and arrest the bad guys.

Commerce pays the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department $7.5 million a year to protect its residents and businesses, but worries precious response time is being lost because deputies are stationed outside the city.

As a result, Commerce officials are now reviewing a plan that could lead to a Sheriff’s substation being built within city borders.

Interim City Administrator Matt Rodriguez says Commerce would be better served with its own Sherriff’s station, specifically on the corner of Telegraph Road and Washington Boulevard. He told EGP it would cut down the time it now takes cruisers to travel down Atlantic Boulevard, the congested corridor that connects East Los Angeles and Commerce.

Mayor Ivan Altamirano agrees. “This is a critical step for public safety,” he said in response to the proposal.

Los Angeles Sheriff’s Deputies at a school in Commerce. (City of Commerce)

Los Angeles Sheriff’s Deputies at a school in Commerce. (City of Commerce)

Commerce has contracted with the Sheriff’s department since 1962 and benefits from a number of department resources, like helicopters, high-tech equipment, special enforcement teams and homicide detectives, all of which would be financially unattainable if the city ran it’s own police department.

Nonetheless, Rodriguez estimates the city is losing $1.5 million a year in service due to the longer time it takes the Sherriff’s department to respond to calls coming from Commerce. Rodriguez estimates each deputy loses an hour and a half of each shift to travel time.

“Having our deputy sheriffs deployed out of Commerce will provide better service to our residents,” he says, adding a new station would also improve response times for neighboring Cudahy and Maywood, which also contract with the Sheriff’s Department for law enforcement services.

While 27 deputies currently patrol the city, only four are “city cops,” meaning they focus on community-related issues, according to Rodriguez. Two additional deputies are stationed at the Citadel Outlets and a sergeant was recently hired to oversee deputies assigned to Commerce, a move that is expected to cost the city an additional half million dollars a year.

During a presentation last week to the city council on Commerce’s preliminary budget forecast, Finance Director Vilko Domic recommended the city allocate about $2.25 million from the anticipated sale of two city-owned properties to purchase land for the proposed substation.

Like most cities across the state, Commerce is being forced to sell off property once owned by its now-defunct redevelopment agency (RDA).

The 10-acre property where the station is being proposed is an RDA-owned property being sold to a joint venture that includes The Commerce Casino and The Citadel Outlets.

Under the plan, the city would purchase 2.5-acres of the property to lease to the Sheriff’s department, while the cost of building of the facility and its ongoing maintenance would be covered by the new property owners, according to Rodriguez.

“This would be a public-private partnership,” explained Rodriguez, who also serves as the city’s public safety director.

While he assures current response times are within the thresholds required under the city contract with the Sheriff’s, he believes building a station in Commerce could only improve service and public safety.

Not only in terms of response time, but also “visibility,” Rodriguez said.

Although Commerce is seeing a decrease in violent crime, property crimes are on the rise, says Rodriguez, who attributes the recent trend in part to prison reform measures.

Rodriguez says the city is currently in discussions with County Sheriff’s over department needs and space planning.

He hopes the city council approves funding for the substation in the city’s 2017-2018 budget in June.

If approved, the proposal would go to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors for final approval.

“The substation isn’t the answer to all crime,” acknowledges Altamirano. “But it is a giant step in the path to making the city as safe as possible.”

 

Superman Surprises Commerce Child

March 30, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

The Commerce City Council meeting Tuesday began like any other meeting, but quickly turned into something straight out of a comic book, when Superman dropped in to personally recognize a pint-sized future superhero.

The guest of honor was 4-year-old Jose Cisneros, a child with Down syndrome who was recognized for his “tremendous courage and indomitable spirit” as part of a belated celebration of World Down Syndrome Day – observed annually on March 21.

The council chambers had been decorated with balloons and cartoon cutouts, making it feel more like a party than a place of business. A short video produced by the city was played for Jose and the audience. It showed Superman flying near city hall and landing outside the building right before Superman himself walked into the meeting.

“Wow!” exclaimed Jose, sporting his own red cape and with Superman at his side.

“Thank you for being you,” reads the city proclamation presented to young Jose, who was also recognized by the Office of Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard.

The clearly happy, healthy toddler’s excitement moved some in the audience to tears.

Jose’s mother, Susana Cisneros, told EGP Jose Angel Guadalupe – JAG for short – was born Dec. 12, the same date observed by Catholics as Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe. She said she took it as a sign she had been blessed with her own little angel, who was diagnosed with Down syndrome at birth.

Soon thereafter, Cisneros quit her job of 18 years to dedicate herself full-time to care and advocate for her son, who participates in the city’s tiny tots and swimming classes.

Superman drops by to surprise 4-year-old Jose and his mother Susana Cisneros during the Commerce City Council meeting Tuesday. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Superman drops by to surprise 4-year-old Jose and his mother Susana Cisneros during the Commerce City Council meeting Tuesday. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

“It’s been the best paying job I’ve had,” she told EGP. “It’s priceless.”

The youngest of four, Jose has always been treated like his siblings, who have all participated in the city’s nationally recognized water polo and swim teams.

“He’s not going to be the exception,” she told EGP.

When Jose turns 6, Cisneros hopes he will become the first child with Down syndrome on the team. “The sky is the limit,” for her son, she says.

She also hopes to mainstream Jose when he reaches kindergarten, meaning he will be in a regular class rather than a class for children with special needs.

“I believe he can learn and has the right to a public education in the least restrictive environment,” she explained.

To prepare for that day, Jose attends therapy sessions every day that range from speech and swimming to applied behavior and occupational skills. He attends a fully inclusive pre-school at Montebello-Commerce YMCA from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m., followed by Tiny Tots, from 12:30 p.m. to 2:30p.m.

Jose CIsneros, paints during his tiny tots class in Commerce. (Courtesy of Susana Cisneros)

Jose CIsneros, paints during his tiny tots class in Commerce. (Courtesy of Susana Cisneros)

 

“He knows his name, his colors, numbers and shapes,” the mother says proudly. “Teachers are surprised with how much he has learned.”

Jose wasn’t the only one in for a surprise Tuesday, however, so was his mother, whose efforts to advocate for her some were also recognized by the city.

“It takes a superwoman to raise a superhero,” said Mayor Ivan Altamirano.

A visibly overwhelmed and touched Cisneros told the crowd that her son has taught her many things, despite the challenges.

“Being a mom isn’t easy,” she said. “Being a mom of a child with Down syndrome is often ten times harder.”

“He has made me stronger, patient, kinder and helped me appreciate all things in life, big and small,” she said.

Commerce Councilwoman Oralia Rebollo said Cisneros is one of the biggest advocates, not just for children with Down syndrome but all children in the city.

“She has such a big, compassionate heart, not just for her family but for others,” pointed out Rebollo.

Cisneros said it’s always more meaningful when other people acknowledge her son’s gains, noting that he has to work three times harder than other children is age but still acts like any other 4-year-old.

“He has a condition, he doesn’t have a disability, he has special abilities just like every child,” she said, adding he simply has a speech delay.

“There’s nothing wrong with him, there’s nothing he can’t accomplish.”

(EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

(EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

She thanked the city for setting up transportation to the 2016 Special Olympics and the other resources the city has provided her and JAG, and thanked Mayor Altamirano for organizing the special recognition.

Taking advantage of the moment, Cisneros asked the council to consider appointing her to the Commerce Education Commission, where she could be a voice for inclusion of children with special needs.

For now, Cisneros is asking parents to teach their children to accept those who are different.

“Think about how you are showing your children to be kind, loving and accepting of other children,” she said. “Are you leading by example?”

 

Another Pet Attacked by Coyote in Commerce

March 23, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

For the second time in two weeks, a small pet has been attacked by a coyote in Commerce.

The lastest attack occurred Monday around 6 p.m. in a resedential area near Rosewood Park known as The Village, this time killing a small dog.

In a community alert, the city promised it would be “stepping up its efforts” to address the coyote problem in response to the two recent attacks.

Earlier this month another dog was attacked in the backyard of a home not far from Rosewood Park. The family-pet required vetinary care for its wounds, but is now “reporetedly doing fine,” according to the city.

Animal control officers captured and relocated two coyotes out of the city following the first incident.

The attacks caused city officials to send out a letter to residents warning them of the coyote sightings and offering tips to ensure safety.

“It is important to understand that coyotes are spread throughout all of California and are increasingly living within urban areas,” the letter reads. “We have been working pro-actively on the coyote problem and several coyotes have been captured.”

The presence of coyotes in urban areas is growing, according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

“These are urban coyotes and they are most likely from the riverbed or train tracks,” explained Commerce Public Information Officer Daniel Larios.

The nocturnal animals live where they can find shelter during the day and come out at night to find food, according to the animal control officers.

“We are consulting with animal experts and trappers, to find ways to deter coyote attacks in the city,” Larios added.

Two additional coyotes were captured earlier this year near the Commerce Casino. Additional sightings have been reported near Veterans Park.

Last year, a park in neighboring Montebello was closed when several coyote attacks were reported within a two-week period; including an attack on people. Coyotes are usually afraid of humans and can be easily scared away, making the incident unusual.

Residents are encouraged to help the city keep track of coyotes and their movement by reporting any sightings to the Commerce Animal Control Division, which can be reached by calling (323) 887-4460 ext. 2236.

 

Coyote Precautions
—Do not feed coyotes or leave pet food or other food sources (pets, trash, etc.) outside, especially during the hours of sunset to sunrise.
—Small animals are especially at risk should not be left outdoors.
—If approached by a coyote, shout, wave, throw objects and otherwise try to frighten it away.

Commerce Celebrates 57th Birthday

January 26, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Commerce officials blow out birthday candles and enjoyed a slice of cake to celebrate the city’s 57th birthday during the Jan. 17 City Council meeting. The city was incorporated on Jan. 28, 1960.

(City of Commerce)

(City of Commerce)

Commerce Swim Coach Charged With Assaulting Young Girl

January 19, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

A Commerce swimming coach was arrested and charged today with sexually assaulting a 7-year old girl multiple times at the city’s popular aquatic center.

Steven Matthew Garcia, 27, of Whittier, was charged with six counts of lewd acts on a child. He is accused of folding the child in an employee lounge at the Brenda Villa Aquatic Center on several occasions, between November 2016 and this month, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.

Garcia was arrested on Jan. 13 for multiple counts of lewd acts with a child and one count of continuous sexual abuse of a minor.

Steven Matthew Garcia, 27, is accused of fondling a 7-year old at Brenda Villa Aquatic Center in Commerce.

Steven Matthew Garcia, 27, is accused of fondling a 7-year old at Brenda Villa Aquatic Center in Commerce.

“After each incident, he allegedly threatened the victim, ordering her not to tell anyone,” the complaint reads.

“Immediate action” taken by the city led to Garcia’s arrest, according to Commerce City Administrator Jorge Rifá, who called the suspect’s alleged conduct “reprehensible” and “not representative of the caliber and professionalism of Commerce employees.”

“The City’s supervisory and executive team … acted decisively and compassionately to protect the victim and family and our patrons,” Rifá said.

The Brenda Villa Aquatic Center – located on the 5600 block of Harbor Street – is home to nationally ranked water polo teams and the state-recognized Commerce swim team, which has trained several top ranking swimmers. The indoor aquatic center, free to Commerce residents, has been the training grounds of past Olympians, including Gold medalist Brenda Villa – who the center is named after.

Since being built in 2001, water sports have found their niche in the industrial city and the competitive environment has encouraged Commerce parents to enroll their children over the years.

EGP first reported that  it was unclear if authorities  are looking for other possible victims, but on Thursday , the Sheriff’s Dept. issued an alert asking for the public’s help in identifying any additional possible victims or witnesses.

Garcia is being held at the Men’s Central Jail on $950,000 bail, according to inmate records. Garcia faces the maximum sentence of 14 years in state prison if convicted as charged.

Anyone with information is encouraged to contact the Sheriff’s Department’s  Special Victims Bureau at (877) 710-5273 or anonymously at (800) 222-TIPS.

[Updated 7:30 p.m.] to include information from City of Commerce.

[Updated Jan. 19 12:30 p.m.] to include updated information about Sheriff’s department seeking information on additional possible victims or witnesses and to add a photo of suspect.

Eastside Children Go on Christmas Shopping Spree

December 8, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Thirty deserving children from the East Los Angeles area were able to cross off at least one thing on their Christmas list this year, after receiving a gift card to go on a shopping spree Saturday.

The National Latino Peace Officers Association – East Los Angeles Chapter and the City of Commerce Target Store hosted its First Children’s Christmas Shopping Spree Dec. 3. Each child received goodie bags and a $75 gift card to purchase clothes, shoes, toys, books, movies, games and more.

(Photo courtesy of Yvette Fimbres)

(Photo courtesy of Yvette Fimbres)

The children were referred and selected by NLPOA – ELA Chapter through various community resources such as churches, local schools, LA County Children and Family Services, and LA County Sheriffs VIDA program.

 

Commerce Considers Impacts of Gold Line Eastside Extension

December 1, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

For more than a year, Metro officials have been conducting technical studies to fine-tune two proposed alternatives for Phase 2 of the Gold Line Eastside Extension, including taking a closer look at what it would take to bring rail service to the City of Commerce.

Though there are talks that in the future both alternatives ¬– one along the SR-60 Pomona Freeway and the other traveling south to Washington Boulevard – could come to fruition, the City of Commerce is very interested in seeing the Washington alternative built first, Councilwoman Lilia R. Leon said during the Nov. 15 city council meeting.

A Gold Line connection to Washington Boulevard would create the opportunity for stops near the Citadel Outlets or Commerce Casino, the two largest revenue generators for the city.

“What we heard loud and clear was the idea of exploring a Metro connection to the Citadel,” said Eugene Kim, project manager for the Eastside Phase 2 Project.

The two alternatives up for discussion have not changed much since they were presented to the public in late March.

One possible alternative would extend the Gold Line 6.9 miles east – from where it currently ends at Atlantic Boulevard in East Los Angeles – along the SR-60 Pomona Freeway and ending in South El Monte. The second alternative would travel nearly 9 miles, providing a north-south connection from Atlantic Boulevard to Washington Boulevard, before traveling east to the city of Whittier.

Metro plans to present the two refined alternatives to the public in spring 2017 and begin talking about reinitiating the environmental impact report process, according to Kim.

One of the biggest challenges Metro officials face however, is selecting a route to get to Washington Boulevard, says Kim.

Earlier this year, Metro identified Garfield Avenue, Atlantic Boulevard and Arizona Avenue as the three most promising routes for the connection. The two latter options would allow for a stop near the Citadel, but present challenges in the heavily congested area known as the Mixmaster, where Atlantic Boulevard crosses the I-5 Santa Ana Freeway.

“Commerce is a very important partner in identifying ways to make that connection,” Kim said.

Eastside residents and business owners have repeatedly expressed complained that under the current proposals their community would once again have to shoulder more than its fair share of the burden from transportation projects in the region, as it has done for decades.

Many believe the Washington Alternative would benefit the Citadel and Commerce Casino at the expense of eastside residents forced to live through the construction. They claim eastside businesses would also suffer, just like they did when the Gold Line was first extended to the eastside along 3rd Street.

“Someone is going to lose and someone is going to gain, but we haven’t done any of the gaining so far,” East Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce President Eddie Torres told the Commerce City Council during their meeting.

“You need to take some of the impacts too.”

Metro left “no stone unturned” when it considered 27 possible alternatives to reach the Washington Corridor, Kim said, but ultimately it will be necessary to cut through Commerce.

Other potential challenges include routes that travel near Southern California Edison transmission lines, crossing a very active freight corridor and rail spurs that serve local businesses.

“Without an alternative that has the support of the city, cooperation of city staff, it will be very difficult to identify a real viable Washington Boulevard Corridor alternative,” Kim explained.

Metro officials are looking at designs that include aerial and underground stations to address the obstacles.

An underground station in close proximity to the widely visited Citadel Outlets could be possible with a tunnel-boring machine, but that would require Metro to acquire up to 5-acres of land, Kim told the council.

Metro officials are also looking for a 12- to 15-acre site for a maintenance facility to compliment the project.

“Have you been looking at the city of Commerce,” Mayor Pro Tem Tina Baca Del Rio asked Kim.

“We’ve been looking everywhere along the corridor,” he responded.

Metro officials have not identified a specific area or parcel for the proposed facility, but back in October they took Commerce officials on a tour of a Metro maintenance yard in Santa Monica to give them a better understanding of what such a facility could look like if built in the city.

The idea of building such a large facility, coupled with the tunnel-boring activity, has city officials concerned about what they see as the inevitable disruption to the city’s busiest commercial corridor.

The city needs more details about what would go on “because we have a lot of activity around that whole area and those impacts need to be properly assessed, ” Councilman Hugo Argumedo said.

Councilwoman Leila Leon was quick to point out that although a Washington route would serve the city’s major destinations, it is just as crucial to work with its neighbors.

“It’s not about the Citadel or casino,” said Leon, acknowledging that “yes we would benefit.”

“We need to look at how we can partner with the Eastside to revitalize East Los Angeles, so they’re not feeling left out.”

 

Officials Discuss FPPC Fines, Apologize

September 22, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

COMMERCE – Two City of Commerce council members apologized to residents Tuesday for campaign and conflict of interest violations that resulted in each having to pay thousands of dollars in fines.

Mayor Ivan Altamirano and Mayor Pro Tem Tina Baca Del Rio made their apologies during Tuesday’s city council meeting, with each of the elected officials telling residents they’ve learned their lesson and will not repeat the offenses.

“I created these issues for myself,” admitted Baca Del Rio, “I want to apologize to this community for what I have done.”

Baca Del Rio initially faced one of the largest penalties ever issued by the Fair Political Practice Commission, $104,000. According to the FPPC, Baca Del Rio illegally transferred campaign funds to her personal bank account, used a campaign debit card to pay for a kitchen remodel and  repeatedly failed to properly and timely report campaign donations. Under a negotiated settlement approved by the commission last week, Baca Del Rio’s fine was reduced to $55,000, $40,000 of which she was allowed to pay using campaign funds.

On Tuesday, Baca Del Rio said procrastination and not having access to her bank statements were the cause for her late filings, not an attempt to deceive the public.

“This was never my intention,” she tried to clarify. “It was a really bad mistake on my part.”

Altamirano also settled with the FPPC last week, agreeing to pay a $15,500 penalty to resolve multiple late filings of campaign and donation reports claims and allegations that he violated conflict of interest laws when he voted to appoint his sister to the city’s planning commission and for a stop sign to be installed near a rental property he owns.

“I’m a man of integrity,” said Altamirano, inviting any resident who has questions or concerns about what transpired to personally meet with him.

Commerce Mayor Pro Tem Tina Baca Del Rio, left, and Mayor Ivan Altamirano, right, discussed their FPPC fines and apologized to residents during the city council meeting Tuesday. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Commerce Mayor Pro Tem Tina Baca Del Rio, left, and Mayor Ivan Altamirano, right, discussed their FPPC fines and apologized to residents during the city council meeting Tuesday. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Both elected officials blamed their late filings on changes to campaign reporting laws that occurred mid-election, which they said they had not been made aware of.

The apologies, however, did not sit well with residents, including some who said the two council members should have faced harsher penalties.

“Residents, wake up to the corruption going on!” said Charles Calderon, who traveled to Sacramento for the FPPC meeting last week. “The City of Commerce deserves better.”

According to Altamirano, the FPPC’s investigation started shortly after he was elected in 2013. He implied the inquiry was triggered by a complaint filed by a failed campaign competitor.

In an interview with EGP Tuesday, Altamirano defended his role in getting a stop sign installed at the intersection of Fidelia Avenue and Jillson Street – about 150-feet from his rental property. He told EGP that area residents begged him to get the city to install the stop sign to keep vehicles from speeding through the intersection, the only one along Jillson where there was no stop sign.

According to Altamirano, he pushed for the sign for public safety reasons and not to raise the value of his property as alleged by FPPC officials.

“Little did I know it would raise my property value,” he reiterated at Tuesday’s meeting.

Altamirano also defended his sister Julissa Altamirano’s appointment to the city’s planning commission, telling EGP she’s “one of the smartest people” he knows and that she has no qualms about telling him when she thinks he’s wrong.

According to Altamirano, there would be no issue if it weren’t for the $50 a month stipend paid to commissioners, which he says his sister has agreed to donate to the city’s senior center.

The mayor repeatedly claimed he’s been in conversations with the FPPC to determine if the conflict of interest concern would be eliminated by his sister donating the stipend, noting that she’s willing to resign if the FPPC says no.

The planning commission is one of the city’s most powerful civilian bodies. Commissioners make recommendations to the city council on zoning ordinances and request for variances, building and development plans, conditional use permits and other decisions that can green light or kill a project. In most cities, planning commissions wield a great deal of influence.

Because Julissa is the mayor’s tenant and paid him rent for at least 10 years, she is considered a source of income to him, which the FPPC determined to be a violation of the Political Reform Act, which prohibits public officials from voting on matters in which they know they have a financial interest.

According to Altamirano, his case was colored by past FPPC cases, which the regulatory agency’s enforcement officials were obligated to consider even though the issues in those cases were significantly different.

Altamirano emphasized that while Julissa may be his sister, she makes decisions on the board independent of what he thinks. For example, he told EGP, “she voted against the Walmart development and I voted for it.”

He acknowledged, however, that out of precaution if he had to vote today he would not reappoint her.

He went on to say he had reluctantly accepted the FPPC findings: “I could have let this go on but I wanted to put this behind me.”

Last week, Calderon said he was collecting signatures to ask Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey to open an investigation into Baca Del Rio, accusing her of abusing her power as an elected official and for continuously violating campaign and conflict of interest laws.

On Tuesday, Baca Del Rio said she was limited in what she could say because of the potential investigation, but went on to tell the audience they should be scrutinizing other councilmembers, specifically naming Councilman Hugo Argumedo.

Argumedo was reelected last year after completing a sentence barring him from holding office for three years after admitting to filing a false affidavit in a lawsuit against the city: Now his fellow council members are spearheading a lawsuit to try to remove him from office over his past conviction.

“If you hold me accountable, you have to hold everyone accountable,” said Baca.

Updated: 10/04/16: Clarifies that the “illegal transfer of funds” and use of a campaign fund debit card for a kitchen remodel are two separate items. 

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