Caltrans to Pay Commerce for Access to Bandini Park During Freeway Widening

May 28, 2015 by · 1 Comment 

Commerce city officials have agreed to allow Caltrans to move forward with a widening project on the 710 Freeway that will temporarily close off a section of Bandini Park starting sometime in 2017.

Last week, the city council unanimously approved a motion to grant the California Department of Transportation aerial and construction easements in Bandini Park to allow the transportation agency to continue work on the I-710 Long Life Pavement Rehabilitation Project, which is intended to “increase the safety of travel,” according to city staff.

Lea este artículo en Español: Caltrans Paga a Commerce para Accesar al Parque Bandini

Commerce Director of Public Works Maryam Babaki told the council during its May 19 meeting that this I-710 widening project is not the same as the I-710 North widening project that will add more lanes to the freeway. “This is about widening the shoulders” along the freeway to improve road surface and safety, Babaki explained.

Google Maps aerial image of 1-710 freeway bridge next to Bandini Park. (Google)

Google Maps aerial image of 1-710 freeway bridge next to Bandini Park. (Google)

The project has been in the works for several years but it wasn’t until within the last year that negotiations between Caltrans and the city started to make progress.

“It started out kind of a muck,” said Mayor Lilia Leon, reminding the council that Caltrans “wasn’t going to work with us.” Leon thanked Babaki and her staff for negotiating the agreement under which Caltrans will pay the city $650,000 for the cost of the work and the value of the easements, funds that the city can use to make improvements.

The project calls for widening the existing I-710 bridge 35 ft. next to Bandini Park and 35 ft. next to the Union Pacific rail yard; a 3.5 foot crash barrier and 14-foot high sound walls to prevent noise and debris from landing in the park will also be constructed.

The Easement Agreement gives Caltrans temporary access during the construction phase and a permanent easement to locate the base of the support column in Bandini Park. Caltrans will also be given “air rights” for the bridge overhang.

Commerce residents were not happy about the project when they were first informed years ago of Caltrans’ plans for the busy park. They were worried construction would lead to more pollution and that sediment from the construction would ruin park facilities like the multipurpose courts and softball field.

Residents living in the adjacent Ayers, Bedesson and Connor area — often referred to as the ABC community — were worried that debris, vehicles, or even parts of the planned sound wall and crash barrier could fall into the park if there was a major accident. They also feared construction would increase traffic, pushing more cars and trucks off the freeway and into their neighborhoods.

As with any construction project there could be negative impacts, Babaki told EGP. The park’s popular basketball courts, for example, will not be open during the two-month construction of the sound walls, she said. But Babaki also said the city has negotiated terms that will reduce the project time line and the amount of traffic on city streets significantly from what was originally proposed.

Caltrans will spend nearly $1 million to build the sound walls before construction begins along the backside of Ayers Avenue and Leonis Street on the Union Pacific Railroad (UPRR) side. Caltrans also agreed to give ABC residents two weeks notice before any construction activity begins.

“Caltrans has agreed to stage their construction and route their trucks through Union Pacific property,” minimizing the impact  to businesses and/or residents, Babaki told EGP in an email.

She also said Caltrans has made arrangements to use the Union Pacific access road behind the ABC neighborhood to access the bridge and the park, she said.

While the council stated approval of the terms of the agreement, there remains some reservation about the impact construction will have on park programs. “What will happen with the sports programs? Has that been considered?” Mayor Pro Tem Tina Baca Del Rio asked the public works director.

Babaki responded that since construction will not begin until 2017 there is still time to think about a strategy for moving programs and informing residents.

The 2014 start date was pushed back to 2017 as part of an agreement Caltrans reached with Union Pacific to alleviate impacts to the rail yard, which according to Caltrans Project Manager Diaa Yassin had been underestimated by the transportation agency.

“At first, we had programmed $5 million for right of way impacts on the business,” but in reality the total cost is about $55 million, Yassin said.

“We were talking about monster numbers, we underestimated how the railroad operates,” he said. “Union Pacific runs 25 percent of goods in the U.S.” through its rail yards and they are going to need two years “to reconfigure some of their facility in order to avoid interruption” while Caltrans is working, he explained.

“We have to wait for them to finish their work so we can start ours,” Yassin said.

Babaki said construction at the park will take two months but the entire project could take up to two years to complete.

The city is preliminarily considering using part of the $650,000 it gets from Caltrans to refurbish the basketball courts and for new lighting and landscaping.

According to Caltrans, the roadway rehabilitation will result in better ride quality and reduce future maintenance, minimizing traffic delays, costs and impacts on surrounding communities and the environment.

—-

Twitter @jackieguzman

jgarcia@egpnews.com

Lawsuit Filed Over Oil Spill on 710 Freeway Near Commerce

May 28, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

A lawsuit filed by the owners of a big rig that crashed on the Long Beach (710) Freeway in Commerce in 2013, leaving the driver severely burned, alleges that the accident occurred when a wheel broke free from a minibus that was being towed.

Pan Pacific Petroleum Co. Inc. filed the negligence suit Friday in Los Angeles Superior Court against A&S Towing. The suit, which seeks unspecified damages, also names the tow truck driver, Frank Lopez; minibus owners Cedric Collins and Frank West; and three auto maintenance companies that allegedly performed work on the minibus.

A man who answered the phone at Long Beach-based A&S Towing today said the company has new owners who had nothing to do with the incident. He also said Lopez no longer works with the firm.

The big rig, which was carrying about 8,000 gallons of crude oil, crashed about 9:30 a.m. on Oct. 27, 2013, near Washington Boulevard. The truck hit a guard rail and burst into flames as it dangled over the side of the road, according to the California Highway Patrol.

Much of the crude oil spilled and some of it flowed down an embankment to a residential area, setting two parked trucks on fire.

According to the lawsuit, Donovan Dixon, the big rig’s driver, lost control of the truck when he struck a tire or wheel that came off the minibus as it was being towed.

The suit alleges the towing firm was negligent in attaching the minibus to its truck and that the vehicle was not properly maintained by Collins and West.

The CHP closed the freeway in both directions after the crash and did not re-open it until the next morning. The fire sent residents fleeing from their homes and prompted evacuations in the area.

Congresswoman Recognizes Artists

May 18, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard honored five young female artists this week during her 22nd Annual Student Art Competition.

“Every year, I eagerly look forward to this Art Competition,” said Roybal-Allard. “It’s such a wonderful way for our local youth to share their creativity and talent with the community. It also reminds us of the positive impact that art and art education can have on students’ academic performance, self-esteem, and confidence.”

(Office of Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard)

(Office of Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard)

The winners received scholarships and money for art supplies. The first place winner Justine Muñoz will have her artwork displayed in the U.S. Capitol.

All submitted entries will be on display to the public through June 5 in the lobby of the Citadel Outlets in Commerce.

Pictured: (Left to right) 1st Place winner Justine Muñoz, People’s Choice Award winner Batoul Akil, Congresswoman Roybal-Allard, 3rd Place winner Lelilani Gonzalez, 2nd Place winner Sabrina Claros, and Honorable Mention winner Karla Maria Jacome.

 

710 Freeway Reopens After Tanker Truck Fire

April 28, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

Cities along the 710 Freeway suffered the impact of heavy traffic after a tanker truck loaded with gasoline tipped onto its side and burst into flames on the southbound Long Beach (710) Freeway in the city of Bell on Sunday afternoon.

The tanker, which fire officials said was hauling 8,500 gallons of gasoline, overturned about 3:25pm on the southbound freeway near Florence Avenue and catching fire and sending a plume of smoke that could be seen for miles.

The rig’s driver was freed by firefighters, and no injuries were reported, county fire dispatcher Cheryl Sims said.

The crash and fire shut down all freeway lanes in both directions between Bandini Boulevard to the north and Florence Avenue to the south, backing up traffic for miles.

The blaze, however, which grew into a second-alarm fire, was knocked down at 4:15pm Sunday. No other vehicles were involved, Sims said.

The inferno heavily damaged the roadway surface, leaving the entire southbound freeway closed Sunday overnight and through much of Monday. Late Monday morning, authorities closed the transition road from the southbound Santa Ana (5) Freeway to the southbound 710 Freeway to limit traffic from entering the affected area.

The north side of the freeway was reopened just before 9:30pm Sunday, but the southbound side remained closed, CHP Officer Peter Bishop said Monday.

City of Commerce City Administrator Jorge Rifa told EGP the accident jammed traffic on city streets after the CHP decided to divert freeway traffic  to Washington Boulevard, inconveniencing local residents and businesses in the area.

He said the City made deployed public safety units to the area to help move “the diverted traffic as quickly as possible through the city.”

“As soon as we were aware of the accident, the City posted on its social media page to inform residents,” Rifa said.

California Highway Patrol officials reopened all the southbound lanes at Florence Avenue on Monday at about 4:45pm, according to CHP Officer Patrick Kimball.

EGPNews Receives Commerce Commendation

April 16, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

The Commerce City Council presented Eastern Group Publications, publisher of the Commerce Comet and this newspaper, a commendation for “more than 35 years of service to the residents and stakeholders of Commerce and the East Los Angeles area.”

The council, on the recommendation of Councilman Ivan Altamirano, presented the commendation to EGP during its April 7 council meeting.

Back row, left to right: (Commerce City Council) Ivan Altamirano, Tina Baca, Lilia Leon, Hugo Argumedo, Oralia Rebollo. Front row, left to right: (EGP News) Bianca Preciado, Gloria Alvarez, Dolores Sanchez, Jonathan Sanchez, Jacqueline Garcia.

Back row, left to right: (Commerce City Council) Ivan Altamirano, Tina Baca, Lilia Leon, Hugo Argumedo, Oralia Rebollo. Front row, left to right: (EGP News) Bianca Preciado, Gloria Alvarez, Dolores Sanchez, Jonathan Sanchez, Jacqueline Garcia.

“EGP’s efforts have cultivated public enlightenment by providing fair and accurate reporting of news and events throughout the region,” states the commendation.

Publisher Dolores Sanchez thanked Altamirano and the council for the recognition, and said the newspaper remains committed to covering local news and issues and positive stories, not just political exposés.

Sanchez said the Comet and city officials might not always agree on issues, but they are both committed to Commerce residents.

“Commerce feels like home,” Sanchez concluded.

Broken Sprinkler Floods Commerce Business

April 9, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

A broken sprinkler sent 1,000 gallons of water spewing into a one-story commercial building in the City of Commerce Monday morning, a Los Angeles County fire official said.

The flooding was reported at 5720 Union Pacific Avenue around 12:40 a.m., said Los Angeles County Fire Department Dispatch Supervisor Ed Pickett.

Firefighters spent 2 1/2 hours vacuuming up and pushing out the water, Pickett said.

Developing A Transportion Plan from the Seat of a Bike

April 9, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

A coalition of southeast cities is working to change their streets one pedal, one foot at a time, reaching out to bicyclists and pedestrians who travel through their cities.

Bell Gardens, Commerce, Cudahy, Vernon and now Maywood are hosting free, informal bike rides where they hope to obtain feedback from residents to help them create a master pedestrian/bike plan for the region.

“Nearly all our neighboring cities already have [bike] plans,” but “none of us have a plan in place,” said Chau L. Vu, public works director for Bell Gardens  – the city spearheading the initiative.

The cities are applying for Active Transportation Program (ATP) grants to pay for a study that would ultimately be used to pursue infrastructure funds for bike paths, new sidewalks or traffic roundabouts.

The application process calls for outreach to the community, which the cities are doing during 6-mile long bike tours organized by the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition. Each tour features a discussion on how to make streets safer and travelable for cyclists and pedestrians.

A ride was held Thursday place today at 1p.m., taking off from Bell Gardens High School. Riders  discussed how walking and biking can support the goal of creating a healthier region.

“Our communities have been historically under-resourced,” said Mark Lopez of East Yard Communities – which was scheduled to moderate Thursday’s discussion.

During a bike ride last month in Cudahy, participants said more bike lanes and wider sidewalks are what’s needed, said Bryan Moller, policy and outreach coordinator for the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition.

“Many [bicyclists] said they currently don’t feel drivers pay attention to them,” Moller said. “People don’t feel safe.”

About 25 bicyclists ranging in age from 21 to 60 took part in the ride along the Los Angeles River, stopping along the way to discuss how to improve access to the river and downtown L.A. for southeast cyclists and pedestrians.

“We just want to get a gauge” of the needs in the region, Vu said. “These meetings are giving residents an opportunity to express the type of problems or safety issues they face.”

Commerce Public Work Director Maryam Babaki told EGP she is excited about the health benefits that such plans could bring.

Southeast residents at bike ride in Cudahy last month. (Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition)

Southeast residents at bike ride in Cudahy last month. (Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition)

“Encouraging biking and walking reduces a community’s dependence on automobiles, brings vitality and allows the residents to become more active, as well as participatory in their communities,” she said. “It also reduces air pollution and creates an equitable transportation network for all regardless of age, physical ability or income.”

“These are cities with huge numbers of bicyclists and people who use public transportation,” Moller pointed out.

The cities say before now they did not have the resources to fund the cost of developing a master transportation plan for the region, but that could change if they receive an ATP grant.

The application is due in June and award recipients should be announced by the end of the year.

“Here in the southeast, we all have similar demographics, we are so close to each other…it makes sense to work together,” said Vu, adding that “Some of our residents work in the rest of the cities and vice versa.”

 

4-10-15: Story updated to reflect ride already took place. Headline Changed.

Local Women Recognized for Service

March 26, 2015 by · 1 Comment 

For nearly three decades, legislators across the state of California have been recognizing women who have made a difference in their district.

Last Friday, Assemblywomen Cristina Garcia recognized nine women from the 58th district, which spans through the cities of Artesia, Bellflower, Bell Gardens, Cerritos, Commerce, Downey, Norwalk and Pico Rivera.

Celebrated in the month of March as part of Women’s History Month, the tradition dates back to 1987 when the California Legislative Women’s Caucus presented the first Women of the Year awards. All state legislators now take part in highlighting the accomplishments of women from a variety of backgrounds, from teachers and pharmacist, to city employees and business owners.

“We should be celebrating” women all year, said Garcia during the event held at the Southern California Edison headquarters in Downey.

Nine women were recognized by Assemblywomen Cristina Garcia last week as part of her Women of the Year recognition.  (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Nine women were recognized by Assemblywomen Cristina Garcia last week as part of her Women of the Year recognition. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Among the nine honorees were three local women: Marilyn Thompson from Bell Gardens, Carmen Marquez of Commerce and Shushma Patel of Montebello.

Thompson is a teacher at Bell Gardens Intermediate, Garcia’s alma mater. She was recognized for her work in the classroom and coordinating efforts to organize leadership camps and trips to the state capital for her students.

Thomson said humbly she considers what she does a part of the job.

Marquez, a retired teacher with over 35 years working for the Montebello Unified School District, was recognized for her past work on various committees in the city of Commerce and with groups such as the California Association of Bilingual Educators.

“We don’t do everything alone, we are all connected,” said Marquez at the event. “I brought my village with me,” she added, before recognizing the people who have helped her feel confident about what she does.

Patel owns an independent community pharmacy and serves as the chairperson for the Indian Pharmacists Association of California Advisory, serves on the board of the Montebello Rotary Club and routinely provides free counseling to the community. After receiving the award, she told the audience she enjoys giving back.

Other honorees included: Veronica Bloomfield (a historian) of Artesia; Sandra Espinoza-Perry  (owner of a child care center) of Bellflower; Mae Lovgren (president of PTA) of Cerritos; Alison Elaine Kirby (English teacher) of Downey; Dr. Linda Lacy (president of Cerritos College) of Norwalk; and Lizet Olmos (city employee) of Pico Rivera.

Commerce Installs New Council Members, Names New Mayor

March 19, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

The Commerce Council Chamber was filled to capacity Tuesday for the council’s annual reorganization and the installation of the two newly elected members of the council.

City employee Oralia Rebollo was sworn-in by City Clerk Lena Shumway. Pico Rivera Councilman Bob Archuleta administered the oath to Hugo Argumedo, a former city councilman.

(EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

(EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

Rebollo and Argumedo replace Councilman Joe Aguilar, who opted to not seek reelection, and Councilwoman Denise Robles who came in third, failing her reelection bid.

Aguilar was on the council for 8 years, Robles for one four-year term.

Aguilar and Robles were presented with certificates of recognition for their community service from the Montebello Unified School District, Sen. Tony Mendoza and Assemblywoman Christina Garcia, as well as a proclamation on behalf of the City of Commerce.

Lilia Leon was voted in as Mayor and Tina Baca del Rio as Mayor Pro Tem.

The meeting was followed by a celebration, open to the public, at the Senior Center.

Election Totals Hold In Tight Commerce Race

March 12, 2015 by · 1 Comment 

The final tally of votes in the City of Commerce Monday did not change the outcome of the tight race for city council, with former councilman Hugo Argumedo remaining in first place and political newcomer Oralia Rebollo coming in second, beating out incumbent Denise Robles by 59 votes, to claim one of two seats up for election.

Counting of the remaining provisional and vote-by-mail ballots Monday was repeatedly delayed by technical issues with the city’s voting machines, but in the end, Argumedo had received 599 votes, Rebollo 556 and the defeated Robles 497.

Lea este artículo en Español: El Total de Votos en Commerce No Cambian Resultados

Via email, Robles told EGP it has been a privilege serving the people of Commerce for the past four years. “Learning, growing, and establishing relationships was all part of the experience that I will carry with me as I continue,” said the one-term councilwoman who was first elected in 2011.

Oralia Rebollo was elected as one of the newest Commerce councilmember.

Oralia Rebollo was elected as one of the newest Commerce councilmember.

Argumedo’s past troubles did not seem to weigh heavy in the minds of voters—he was barred from holding office for three years after pleading guilty to signing a false statement during a civil lawsuit involving the city. Argumedo campaigned on his past record on the council and his part in bringing improvements and revenue generating developments to the city while in office.

Argumedo told EGP he is humbled and honored by the overwhelming support from the community.

“I want to make sure that we move our city forward, and for me, it is important not to leave the residents behind,” he said after the final vote total was announced at City Hall. He said his priorities are to restore some of the programs that have been eliminated and to pay closer attention to the needs of seniors.

During his campaign he openly criticized the city council for raising program fees then failing to reduce them when the city’s budget improved, and for “enriching themselves with higher salaries.”

Hugo Argumedo, a former Commerce city councilmember, was elected to represent the city once again in this month's election.

Hugo Argumedo, a former Commerce city councilmember, was elected to represent the city once again in this month’s election.

Rebollo was endorsed by Mayor Tina Baca Del Rio and Councilmen Ivan Altamirano and Joe Aguilar. Together with Councilwoman Leila Leon they often composed the majority in 4-1 decisions, with Robles casting the lone dissenting vote on issues before the council.

Whether the loner distinction will be passed on to Argumedo remains to be seen. During the campaign he said he was hoping to work with Robles, but on Monday said he is willing to work with all the members on the council.

“The voters have spoken and we have to respect them, they are the ones who decide who will represent them,” he said.

Longtime Commerce resident Javier Hernandez was among the small group of people watching the ballot counting in person Monday afternoon: The count was also televised on the Commerce City Channel 3. Speaking in Spanish, he told EGP he has high expectations from the new council members.

“Now I’m relying a lot on the new councilman, Argumedo, because [the current] council members are not doing their job properly,” he said, referring to their raising of their salaries and higher fees for activities, which the council reversed days before the election.

He said the council should focus on restoring education, safety and senior benefits in the city, “because they removed a lot of activities.”

The two newly elected council members will be sworn in during the next council meeting on Tuesday March 17, according to Commerce Media Specialist Jason Stinnett. “We will also be honoring outgoing Councilmembers Joe Aguilar and Denise Robles that evening.”

—-

Twitter @jackieguzman

jgarcia@egpnews.com

 

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