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. 

FPPC Approves Penalties Against Commerce Officials

September 15, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Despite residents demanding harsher penalties, the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) today approved reduced fines against two Commerce officials accused of violating campaign-filing laws, among other charges.

The commission approved a $55,000 fine against Commerce Mayor Pro Tem Tina Baca Del Rio, who initially faced one of the largest penalties ever issued by the FPPC  over allegations she had illegally transferred campaign funds into her personal bank account, used a campaign debit card to pay for a kitchen remodel and had failed to timely file and properly disclose contributions. Under the agreement, $15,000 of the fine must be paid out of her own pocket, the remainder can be paid using campaign funds and donations.

The commission also approved a $15,500 penalty against Mayor Ivan Altamirano. As EGP detailed in separate story published today, Altamirano is accused of  violating conflict of interest and campaign filing laws, including failing to file and properly disclose financial activity on pre-election campaign statements, late filing of 24-hour contribution reports and for voting on a matter the FFPC concluded he had a financial interest in.

Commere Mayor Ivan Altamirano, pictured above, at a city event earlier this year, is facing a $15,500 fine from the Fair Political Practices Commission. (City of Commerce)

Commerce Mayor Ivan Altamirano, pictured above, at a city event earlier this year, has agreed to pay a $15,500 fine levied by the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission. (City of Commerce)

The mayor is accused of using his position to get his sister appointed to the city’s planning commission and to get approval for the installation of a stop sign within 150 feet of his rental property.

The penalty amounts approved by the Commission are the result of negotiations between FPPC Enforcement Division officials and the Commerce elected officials. The recommendation by enforcement officials did not sit well with Commerce residents who asked commissioners to reject the settlements.

“I’m asking that you be a lot more firm,” said Richard Hernandez, a Commerce resident who traveled to Sacramento for the hearing. “Make this case an example, not just for Commerce but all the other cities, show them that you’re not going to show any type of tolerance for their violations.”

Hernandez added that other elected officials are following her, citing Altamirano’s troubles as an example. He told the Commission that Commerce residents had been harmed and deserved justice.

FPPC enforcement staff initially proposed a $104,000 default judgment against Baca Del Rio for 24 different violations of the Political Reform Act. The Act regulates campaign finances, conflict of interests, lobbying and ethics laws.

In a 500-page complaint against Baca Del Rio, the councilwoman was accused of illegally transferring $8,000 in campaign funds to her personal bank account and in a separate transaction using a campaign fund debit card to  pay for a kitchen remodel. Baca Del Rio claimed the transferred funds were reimbursement for a loan she had made to her campaign committee.

Commerce Mayor Pro Tem Tina Baca Del Rio will pay a $55,000 fine to the FPPC. (City of Commerce)

Commerce Mayor Pro Tem Tina Baca Del Rio will pay a $55,000 fine to the FPPC. (City of Commerce)

According to the FPPC’s Enforcement Division, however, there is no evidence she ever made such a loan.

Baca Del Rio was first elected to the Commerce City Council in 2005, but recalled in November 2008 only to be reelected a year later. She was most recently reelected in March 2013

Altamirano was appointed to the city council in March 2012 to fill the seat left vacant by former Councilman Robert Fierro who resigned after pleading guilty to a felony conspiracy charge. Altamirano was elected for the first time in March 2013.

The 5-member commission heavily discussed Baca Del Rio’s reduced fine during a meeting in August -that had been negotiated that same say – but voted 2-2 to hold the matter over until the full settlement agreement was in writing and available for the Commission to review. Commissioner Eric Casher, who ultimately voted in favor of the settlement, was not present at the previous meeting to cast his vote.

At the time, citing Baca Del Rio’s past problems and delayed response to the current action against her, the commissioners strongly stated they wanted to see all Baca Del Rio’s stipulations in writing before voting, adding they were reserving their right to reject the settlement agreement if not satisfied by its final form.

Today, Commissioner Maria Audero cast the lone vote against the settlement, saying Baca Del Rio had a history of  violating the rules and not reporting contributions, noting that although the Commerce councilwoman was fined in 2011 for many of the same violations, within months of stipulating “she would not do it again” she was again in violation. Audero said she supported issuing a more punitive fine based on her belief that Baca Del Rio had an “intent to disregard” the law.

Commerce resident Charles Calderon also spoke during the meeting, telling commissioners he was disappointed by their decision to approved the reduced penalty for Baca Del Rio, despite her having been fined for similar infractions in the past.

While both Hernandez and Calderon spoke against reduced fines for either of the elected officials, most of their criticism was directed at Baca Del Rio.

According to Calderon’s testimony, a number of residents are collecting signatures to hand over to Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey asking that her office open an investigation into what he called Baca Del Rio’s abuse of power as an elected official, and her continuously violating campaign and conflict of interest laws.

Calderon said the ethics and campaign violations by the two sitting council members have harmed Commerce’s public image, claiming Commerce is now being bundled up with Southeast cities that have had a history of scandals involving politicians accused of corruption.

“Now we’re being compared to the cities of Bell and Vernon.” he told commissioners.

 

Updated: 10/04/16: Clarifies that Councilwoman Tina Baca Del Rio claimed the transfer of funds was repayment for a loan she made to her campaign, and to not to pay for a kitchen remodel as stated in an earlier version of this story. According to Baca Del Rio, it was she who brought her husband’s use of a campaign debit card to pay for services related to the personal kitchen remodel to the attention of the FPPC.

Second Commerce Official Faces FPPC Fine

September 15, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Less than two months after Commerce Mayor Pro Tem Tina Baca del Rio faced one of the largest penalties ever issued by the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) for campaign violations, a second city elected official is also facing fines and is accused of violating conflict of interest and campaign filing laws.

Under a negotiated agreement with the FPPC, Mayor Ivan Altamirano has agreed to pay a $15,500 penalty for violating five counts of the Political Reform Act, including failing to timely file and properly disclose financial activity on a pre-election campaign statement, failing to file 24-hour contribution reports and for voting on a matter the FFPC concluded he had a financial interest in.

The proposed agreement will go before the FPPC board today for final approval. The panel will also decide on whether to approve a settlement between the agency and Baca del Rio reducing her fines down from $104,000 to $55,000.

EGP reached out to Altamirano for comment, but he he said via email he would have no comment until the case is closed.

Altamirano was appointed to the city council in March 2012 to fill the seat left vacant by former Councilman Robert Fierro who resigned after pleading guilty to a felony conspiracy charge. Altamirano was elected for the first time in March 2013.

Commere Mayor Ivan Altamirano, pictured above, at a city event earlier this year, is facing a $15,500 fine from the Fair Political Practices Commission. (City of Commerce)

Commere Mayor Ivan Altamirano, pictured above, at a city event earlier this year, is facing a $15,500 fine from the Fair Political Practices Commission. (City of Commerce)

Unlike Baca del Rio, who is accused of using campaign funds for personal expenses, Altamirano is accused of using his position to get his sister appointed to the city’s planning commission and to get approval for the installation of a stop sign near his home.

As in most cities, Commerce council members nominate members to the various city commissions and boards and for the most part the full council routinely approves those nominations.

Altamirano first moved to appoint his sister Julissa Altamirano to the city’s planning commission in November 2012. She was re-appointed in April 2013 and again in April 2015 to serve an additional 2-year term, all the time receiving the $50 a month stipend paid to commissioners.

That’s where the appointment appears to have run afoul of conflict of interest laws, accoring to FPPC.

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, making her appointment a violation of the Political Reform Act, which prohibits public officials from voting on matters in which they know they have a financial interest.

Appointments to city commissions and boards are often viewed as political perks, earning the appointee money, influence or both.

At the April 2015 city council meeting, a Commerce resident questioned how commission appointments are made in the city.

“What exactly does that entail? How is that decided,” asked Sharon Basik. “What are the qualifications” needed to be appointed?

Then-mayor Lilia R. Leon responded that the city council reviews all commission applications, but went on to point out that appointments are often made based on the relationship a potential commissioner has with a member of the council.

FPPC officials have also found fault with Altamirano’s role in getting a stop sign installed within 150 feet of his home and rental property – at the intersection of Fidelia Avenue and Jillson Street – overturning a denial by the Commerce Traffic Commission in 2012.

Undeterred, Altamirano in 2014 submitted his request for a stop sign directly to the city administrator, then directly to the city council at the Feb. 3, 2015 council meeting where he personally entered a motion to reverse the Traffic Commission’s decision. The council approved his motion.

At the time, Public Works Director Maryam Babaki said her department had analyzed the traffic report used by the commission to deny the all-way stop, but using their own set of safety criteria in addition to the report, decided to recommend the stop sign as a way to improve traffic at the intersection.

“This is the only street that does not have a stop sign into Jillson [Street] from Washington Boulevard,” pointed out Altamirano from behind the dais. “There’s a lot of cars that speed through there, they are residential areas,” he added.

Altamirano went on to note that a stop sign had been approved for an intersection near the home of then-Councilman Joe Aguilar.

“I remember Leo [Street] where Councilman Aguilar, his home they didn’t have a stop sign either,” he said.

Then-Councilwoman Denise Robles asked why it had taken so long to get the appeal to the council, to which Altamirano responded that he brought the item back after receiving more complaints from residents. “I said I was going to install a stop sign myself,” he jokingly added.

According to Altamirano, he had also informed the city administrator of other intersections where there was an even greater need for a stop sign.

He argued that the stop sign installation was done to protect public safety, not to improve the market value of his property.

But according to the FPPC’s claim, “Altamirano knew or should have known he had an impermissible conflict of interest.” It goes on to state that “Altamirano made or participated in other decisions regarding improvement projects in the area in which he resides and misapplied the public generally exception.”

The exception allows public officials to vote on a matter if a significant segment of the city population would benefit from the decision.

According to the stipulation agreement, Altamirano “now understands these rules and contends that he will abide by them in the future.”

The remainder of his violations stem from his failure to turn in pre-election campaign statements before his 2013 election and failing to disclose the proper amount of expenditures made during that election. According to FPPC documents, Altamirano and his committee “Friends of Ivan Altamirano” submitted $11,054 in expenses when in fact $14,237 was spent on his campaign.

That year Altamirano also failed to disclose 17 late contributions of $1,000 each, which require 24-hour filings under the Political Reform Act.

“One of the purposes of the Act is to prevent conflicts of interest by public officials,” reads the FPPC’s document. “Another purpose of the Act is to provide adequate enforcement mechanisms so that the Act will be ‘vigorously enforced.’”

In 2011, Altamirano was fined $200 by the FPPC for failing to file a statement of economic interest when he served on the city’s planning commission.

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.

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