New Commerce Budget Expands Programs

July 16, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

For the third year running, the Commerce City Council has approved a new fiscal year budget that’s not only balanced but also has a small surplus.

The council July 7 voted unanimously to approve a 2015-2016 General Fund budget of $56 million that includes some added spending for popular programs as well as funds for one-time capital outlays. A decision on approximately $10 million on other operating budget expenditures – including the use of $1 million in Measure A and $6 million in transportation funds was delayed pending additional information.

Higher than initially anticipated revenue bumped the city’s surplus to $414,000, more than the $250,000 initially projected. City councilmembers, however, voted to use $301,000 of the revenue for a variety of expenditures ranging from adding a second Citadel Job Fair to adding a part-time library literacy clerk and Aquatorium Fitness Center attendant. Also approved was $9,800 to pay for an additional day of pre-school program at each park; $6,000 to cover traveling expenses for the girls’ soccer team; $15,000 for adaptive aquatics swim lessons; $10,250 for the Water Polo entry fees/expenses; $2,000 to expand the Halloween program to include Dia de los Muertos and $4,000 for Commerce’s boxing program.

City Council votes unanimously to approve the budget for the fiscal year 2015-2016. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

City Council votes unanimously to approve the budget for the fiscal year 2015-2016. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

City Administrator Jorge Rifa said his budget priorities were focused on four spending areas for the upcoming fiscal year: public safety at the Citadel; reorganization of the community services department to enhance code enforcement; a fair pay and benefits package for city employees; and re-allocation of water lease revenues from the General Fund to the Water Utility Fund.

In Commerce, the libraries are a major source of civic pride and an important community resource. Library Director Beatriz Sarmiento told EGP that adding a part-time literacy clerk was greatly needed and will go a long way to help the department run more smoothly. “It’s like an office job, that person will have to answer phones, help the public, help plan events and be at the [library] counter when needed,” Sarmiento said.

Mayor Lilia Leon thanked city staff for months of hard work preparing the budget. Leon said the combination of meetings and workshops and feedback from the different departments heads helped identify revenue and highlight what is most needed and wanted in the community.

“I appreciate all the department heads for bringing up the needs and coming together and making sure we can provide” as much as possible, Leon said.

Nuevo Presupuesto de Commerce Expande Programas

July 16, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

Por tercer año consecutivo, el Consejo de la Ciudad de Commerce aprobó un nuevo presupuesto del año fiscal que no sólo está equilibrado, pero también tiene superávit.

El 7 de julio el consejo votó por unanimidad para aprobar un presupuesto de $56 millones de dólares del Fondo General 2015-2016, que incluye algunos gastos adicionales para los programas populares, así como fondos para los gastos de capital de una sola vez.

Read this article in English: New Commerce Budget Expands Programs

La decisión de aproximadamente $10 millones de dólares en otros gastos del presupuesto operativo – incluyendo $1 millón en la Medida A y $6 millones en fondos de transporte se retrasó hasta proveer información pendiente.

Los ingresos previstos inicialmente toparon el superávit de la ciudad a $414,000 dólares, superior a los $250,000 dólares proyectados inicialmente. Concejales de la ciudad, sin embargo, votaron a favor de utilizar $301.000 dólares de los ingresos para una variedad de gastos que van desde la adición de una segunda Feria de Trabajo a la adición de un empleado a tiempo parcial en la oficina de la biblioteca y un asistente en el Centro de Ejercicios.

El Consejo de la ciudad de Commerce aprobó el presupuesto anual el 7 de julio. (EGP foto por Jacqueline García)

El Consejo de la ciudad de Commerce aprobó el presupuesto anual el 7 de julio. (EGP foto por Jacqueline García)

También se aprobaron $9,800 dólares para pagar por un día adicional del programa preescolar en cada parque; $6,000 dólares para cubrir los gastos de viaje para el equipo de fútbol de niñas; $15,000 dólares para el deporte acuático de clases de natación de adaptación; $10,250 dólares para los derechos de inscripción/gastos de Waterpolo; $2,000 dólares para expandir el programa de Halloween para incluir el evento de Día de los Muertos y $4,000 dólares para el programa de boxeo de Commerce.

El administrador de la Ciudad Jorge Rifa dijo que sus prioridades presupuestarias se centraron en cuatro áreas de gasto para el próximo año fiscal: la seguridad pública en Citadel; reorganización del departamento de servicios de la comunidad para mejorar la aplicación del código; un paquete de remuneración y beneficios justos para los empleados de la ciudad; y la reasignación de ingresos por arrendamiento de agua provenientes del Fondo General al Fondo de Servicio de Agua.

En Commerce, las bibliotecas son una importante fuente de orgullo cívico y un importante recurso de la comunidad. La directora de la Biblioteca Beatriz Sarmiento le dijo a EGP que la adición de un empleado en la oficina de alfabetización a tiempo parcial es muy necesaria y que ayudará con el tiempo en la carrera del departamento para que funcione mejor.

“Es como un trabajo de oficina, esa persona tendrá que contestar teléfonos, ayudar al público, ayudar a planear eventos y estar en el mostrador [de la Biblioteca] cuando sea necesario”, dijo Sarmiento.

La alcaldesa Lilia León agradeció al personal de la ciudad por los meses de trabajo duro para preparar el presupuesto. León dijo que la combinación de reuniones y talleres y la retroalimentación de los diferentes jefes departamentos ayudó a identificar y resaltar lo que más se necesita y quiere en la comunidad.

“Agradezco a todos los jefes de departamento por presentar las necesidades y unirnos y asegurarnos de que podemos proveer” tanto como sea posible, dijo León.

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Twitter @jackieguzman

jgarcia@egpnews.com

Commerce Hit By Fallout From Freeway Fire Closure

July 9, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

It’s happened again.

Traffic on City of Commerce streets was backed up for more than a day following the closure of a freeway that runs through the city.

A grass and trash fire late Monday night at a homeless encampment in a riverbed near the Santa Ana (5) Freeway at Slauson Avenue prompted officials to shut down southbound lanes on the freeway while Caltrans crews worked to repair the damage to the freeway caused by the fire. Only one lane was reopened Tuesday, forcing trucks and cars to use local streets to try to get around the traffic nightmare.

All lanes were reopened about 1 p.m. Wednesday, 36 hours after the closure.

Traffic on Telegraph Road and Washington Boulevard, both major thoroughfares that travel through the city and parallel the Santa Ana Freeway, was almost at a standstill for much of Tuesday and the Wednesday morning rush hour, blocking access to local homes and businesses.

The streets of Commerce were congested this week following the closure of the Santa Ana Freeway due to a fire.  (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

The streets of Commerce were congested this week following the closure of the Santa Ana Freeway due to a fire. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

Commerce residents said it was a struggle to get around their city. Some said it took them 15 minutes just to cross one block.

“It’s taken people up to an hour to drive from Veterans Park to the Commerce City Council” meeting at City Hall, Commerce resident Gloria Nezahualcoyotl told EGP.

It might have been better to “just stay at home while there’s chaos in the city,” added another resident.

It was really bad on Washington where there’s already construction going on, said Carmen Marquez. “It’s a disaster,” she said. “Wherever you turn [there] is so much traffic.”

According to CHP Officer Patrick Kimball, the fire was reported about 11:30 p.m. Monday in the Rio Hondo near Slauson Avenue.

Firefighters extinguished the flames in about an hour and 15 minutes, said Los Angeles County Fire Department Dispatch Supervisor Michael Pittman“It was a grass and trash fire,” Pittman said. “It was definitely dry down there.” There were no injuries, Pittman said.

A SigAlert was issued at 11:56 p.m. Monday, shutting down both the northbound and southbound sides of the Santa Ana Freeway at Slauson Avenue, the CHP reported.

Two northbound lanes were reopened about 2:30 a.m. and one southbound lane was reopened about 6:15 a.m., the CHP reported.

Caltrans engineers were sent to check the integrity of the roadway, said CHP Officer Tony Polizzi.

Freeway Closed in Commerce Due to Riverbed Fire

July 7, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

A grass and trash fire overnight in a riverbed near the Santa Ana (5) Freeway in the Commerce area prompted officials to order lane closures while crews worked to inspect the roadway for damage.

The fire was reported about 11:30 p.m. Monday in the Rio Hondo near Slauson Avenue, the California Highway Patrol reported.

Firefighters extinguished the flames in about an hour and 15 minutes, said Los Angeles County Fire Department Dispatch Supervisor Michael Pittman.

“It was a grass and trash fire,” Pittman said. “It was definitely dry down there.”

There were no injuries, Pittman said.

A SigAlert was issued at 11:56 p.m. Monday, shutting down both the northbound and southbound sides of the 5 Freeway at Slauson Avenue, the CHP reported.

Two northbound lanes were reopened about 2:30 a.m. and one southbound lane was reopened about 6:15 a.m., the CHP reported.

Caltrans engineers were sent to check the integrity of the roadway, said CHP Officer Tony Polizzi.

Update: Man On Bike Shot, Killed In Commerce

July 1, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

Sheriff Homicide detectives are investigating a shooting death early Tuesday morning in Commerce, authorities said.

The body of 19-year-old Bryan Hernandez was found near the intersection of Eastern Avenue and East 61st Street around 2:50 a.m., Los Angeles County sheriff’s Lt. Richard Westin said.

According to the preliminary investigation, Hernandez was riding a bicycle when he was shot, said coroner’s Chief Craig Harvey.

Authorities said a motive was not immediately known but they would be reviewing surveillance cameras in the area to try and identify the assailant.

Streets in the area near Eastern and Peach Street and Slauson were closed off for hours to traffic as sheriff deputies investigated the crime scene.

Anyone who might have been in the area or who has information about the crime is urged to contact the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s Homicide Bureau at (323) 890-5500 or Crime Stoppers at (800) 222-TIPS.

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.

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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.

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