Authorities today identified a man who was killed in a traffic crash on the northbound Santa Ana (5) Freeway in Commerce.
Ricardo Martinez-Reymundo, 62, was identified as the man who died at the scene of the crash early Wednesday, said acting Lt. B. Kim of the Los Angeles County coroner’s office.
The crash occurred about 4:30 a.m. north of Garfield Avenue, California Highway Patrol Officer Francisco Villalobos said. The crash shut down two lanes for about two-and-a-half hours.
For several years now, Joe Gonzalez of Boyle Heights has voiced his complaints to officials with the Department of Toxic Substances Control; repeating himself at nearly every Exide-related meeting he attended.
“They know me by now, they’ve heard it all before,” he told a City Terrace resident Monday outside the latest public meeting seeking input on the decontamination process for residential properties contaminated with lead by the now shuttered battery recycler.
On Monday, for the first time, his and the statements of others were recorded for the official public record on the cleanup process, something Gonzalez has urged DTSC officials to do for years.
“Regulars” like him have attended dozens of public hearings and meetings since air quality regulators forced the Vernon-based plant to suspend operations in March 2013 and to inform over 110,000 east and southeast Los Angeles County residents of their elevated cancer risks due to toxic emissions.
Gonzalez contends there would already be an accurate and transparent record of what residents have said during the closure process if their hundreds of hours of testimony and public comment had been videotaped or recorded for the official record.
As a result, “There is no oral history of what we’ve been through” for the public or elected officials to refer back to, adds Teresa Marquez of Boyle Heights.
That changed Monday, however, when residents and environmental activists spoke on the record, often repeating what they’ve said at past meet meetings about what DTSC should consider in preparing for what some environmental experts believe could be the largest toxic cleanup in state history.
Under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), DTSC is required to consider and release its cleanup plan and an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for public review, which is to be documented by a court-mandated recorder. The document will cover the potential effects of removing and transporting lead tainted soil during the cleanup of homes within 1.7 miles of the Exide plant. The same process took place when the state agency presented an
EIR outlining how Exide plans to clean the now permanently closed facility in Vernon.
“I’m glad, in this case, there is a formal record” of what we want state regulators to do, Marquez told EGP.
Unlike recent scoping meetings in Huntington Park and Commerce where attendance was light, well over 100 people attended Monday’s meeting at Resurrection Church in Boyle Heights.
“We have attended meeting after meeting,” observed Rev. Monsignor John Moretta. “Your presence is important,” Moretta emphasized.
Comments from all three scoping meetings focused on concerns that the residential cleanup itself is not being done efficiently and thoroughly. A large number of residents at the meetings have asked that the 1.7-mile radius be expanded to include more communities.
“Expand the scope,” demanded David Petit, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Lead doesn’t decide to follow one side of the street but not the other.”
Other residents asked that the state agency consider decontaminating the inside of homes and parkways, and that the cleanup be done block by block to avoid re-exposure.
“You can’t just clean one property here and there and expect the whole neighborhood to be cleaned,” said Gonzalez.
Drawing outrage from many was the protracted timeline for starting the cleanup, which cannot begin until the EIR process is completed in June 2017.
So far, 236 of the estimated 10,000 homes possibly contaminated with lead have been cleaned.
“We still have a long way to go,” noted Carlos Montes. “It took years for us to force them to close the plant down and it will take years for them to finish the cleanup.”
Terry Cano, a lifelong Boyle Heights resident, has repeatedly told DTSC officials her family has suffered many health issues over the years. Her block is home to residents suffering with various forms of cancers, she claims are the result of constant lead exposure.
“I have never seen any plan … [detailing what can be done to protect] the health of the community,” Cano told state regulators. “We need to know the cumulative effects of being exposed to toxins.”
Cano is also angry that the public cannot access the results of soil tests taken from area schools, a complaint made by many residents since the fallout from Exide’s lead and arsenic emissions became public.
“I have asked this specifically, that needs to be available now,” Cano demanded.
Gonzalez told EGP he would not be happy until minutes from all Exide related meetings are available to the public.
“There’s a court reporter now, [but] only because it is required under CEQA,” he pointed out.
Montes told EGP there may now be a paper trail of their concerns, but he’s not sure where it will lead.
“It’s great that we have a record of our concerns and complaints,” he said. “But we will have to wait to see if they do anything about it.”
Commerce Mayor Pro Tem Tina Baca del Rio is facing the state’s largest proposed judgment against a sitting local official over allegations she illegally transferred campaign funds into her personal bank account and failed to report contributions in a timely manner, among other violations.
The Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) is proposing to fine Baca Del Rio $104,000 for some 24 different violations of the Political Reform Act, which regulates campaign finances, conflict of interests, lobbying and ethics. Of those fees, $20,000 must be paid out of her pocket and cannot be funded by campaign monies or donations. Her campaign committee, “Tina Baca Del Rio for Commerce City Council 2013” is responsible for the additional $84,000 in fines, and could seek donations to pay it off.
Lea este artículo en Español: Alcaldesa Interina de Commerce Enfrenta Duras Penalidades de la FPPC
The proposed judgment goes to the FPPC July 20 for final approval. Baca Del Rio’s penalty dwarfs a $40,000 fine levied in 2011 on former L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who agreed to a settlement, for failing to disclose free tickets to sports and entertainment events.
Baca Del Rio was reelected to the Commerce City Council in March 2013. She was first elected in 2005 but recalled in November 2008.
Elected officials are required to file routine statements twice a year, and multiple statements prior to an election.
The Mayor Pro Tem was re-elected to office months later in March 2009. She served as treasurer for her campaign committees during the periods in question, according to the FPPC.
The 500-page complaint against Baca Del Rio includes accusations that she used campaign funds for personal use and failed to timely file and properly disclose financial activity on three semiannual campaign statements, one pre-election campaign statement and fourteen 24-hour contribution reports. The document also states Baca Del Rio failed to pay the Secretary of State Office her 2013 and 2014 annual fees.
In the document filed June 30, Baca Del Rio is accused of transferring a total of $8,134 into her bank account between April 2011 and August 2011, claiming to repay herself for a loan made to her campaign committee. According to the FPPC’s Enforcement Division, there is no evidence she ever made such a loan.
Baca Del Rio also admitted in October 2014 her husband accidently used the campaign committee’s bankcard to pay for $1,400 in kitchen remodeling expenses but that he paid the committee back. According to the FFPC, however, she never provided evidence of repayment.
The Commerce City Clerk, the Secretary of State’s Office and a formal complaint referred the case to the FPPC.
Baca Del Rio did not respond to EGP’s call for comment, but in an interview with the LA Times, she claims she was “responsive to commission officials, that the proposed judgment took her by surprise.”
This is not the first time Baca Del Rio has been charged with violating campaign reporting regulations.
As reported by EGP in 2011, the FPPC fined Baca Del Rio “after concluding her filing practices showed a ‘pattern of negligence’ and ordered her to pay $26,000 out of a maximum of $35,000 in administrative penalties.
“Voters in Commerce were ‘deprived of important information’ about a city official’s campaign fundraising and spending habits because she failed to file multiple disclosure documents on time, according to the FPPC’s judgment.
As in 2011, Baca Del Rio’s case was aggravated by her failure to file even after multiple notifications to do so.
In determining its fines, the Commission considers past penalties involving similar cases, and noted in its complaint that “Baca Del Rio had reason to be aware of her filing obligations, as she had been previously fined for failing to file campaign statements.”
According to the FPPC’s report, the purpose of disclosing campaign finance activity is “to ensure that receipts and expenditures in election campaigns are fully and truthfully disclosed in order that the voters may be fully informed and improper practices may be inhibited.”
Baca Del Rio was notified of her violations and provided a summary of the evidence and her right to go before the Commission to determine if she truly violated the Act. She was given multiple opportunities to respond to the report or come to a settlement but failed to respond in a timely manner, prompting the default judgment.
If the commission approves the $104,000 judgment, fines would be paid directly to the state’s general fund.
The FPPC told EPG the commission does not comment on ongoing cases.
A man was killed Wednesday in a traffic crash on the northbound Santa Ana (5) Freeway in Commerce, authorities said.
The man, possibly in his 60s, died at the scene of his injury, which occurred about 4:30 a.m. north of Garfield Avenue, said California Highway Patrol Officer Francisco Villalobos. His name was withheld, pending family notification.
Two right lanes were blocked while an investigation was conducted into the circumstances of the crash, Villalobos said. One was reopened about 6:30 a.m. and the other was reopened a half hour later.
After six-hours of heated debate over the building of a controversial retail center in Commerce, the City Council approved two resolutions early Wednesday that will allow the project to move forward.
The proposed project runs along Washington Boulevard, from the 710 Freeway to Atlantic Boulevard, and from Washington Boulevard to Sheila Street. It will include four smaller individual buildings for retail stores and restaurants, and a Walmart box store as the anchor tenant.
While the council meeting started at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, it wasn’t until after midnight that the council ultimately voted 4-1 to adopt and certify the Final Environmental Impact Report for the proposed Commerce Retail Center. Councilwoman Oralia Rebollo was the sole dissenting vote.
Lea este artículo en Español: Proyecto Controversial es Aprobado en Commerce
On a 3-2 vote, the council also approved development of the 142,997 square foot Commerce Retail Center, this time with Mayor Pro-Tem Tina Baca joining Rebollo in voting no.
City Council Chambers were jammed packed Tuesday with supporters and detractors of the project, leading to hours of public testimony after the presentations on the project by city staff, the developer, Gatwick Group LLC, and representatives of Walmart.
As the meeting went on, it was clear that the hot button issue was not necessarily the retail center itself, but the inclusion of Walmart as the development’s main tenant. Many of those who spoke on both sides of the issue were not residents of Commerce, but either employees of Walmarts in other cities or activists who are fundamentally opposed to Walmart, wherever they may be.
Supporters see the potential for increased revenue for the city and more jobs, while detractors attempted to paint the big box retailer as unscrupulous and bad to its workers.
Explaining his support for the project, Commerce Mayor Ivan Altamirano told EGP he sees the new center as a win-win situation for the city.
“The land is contaminated and no one wanted to clean it up because it was too expensive,” he explained. “Only one entity said ‘yes, we will clean it up,’ and that was Walmart,” Altamirano said.
“It would have been irresponsible of me to allow that land to stay contaminated. It took confidence to possibly stand alone in my decision, and the courage to make the tough decision that I made,” he told EGP.
Resident Erika Bojorquez disagrees that the development is good for the city. She told the council bringing Walmart, with its “bad reputation,” works against the city’s “Model City” motto.
“People talk about the donations Walmart makes, but why don’t they donate living wages to employees,” she said, drawing applause from the audience.
Small business owner Michael Belgan said his 52-year-old company will go out of business if Walmart is built, costing his 12 employees their jobs.
“My little company’s employees make about $40,000 a year, and that’s way more than what Walmart will pay,” he told the council.
Several other speakers said Walmart is a bad neighbor because they pay low wages and take advantage of people in need of jobs.
Everything sounds good, drawings and video are great, but how many people from Commerce will actually be hired? Commerce resident Richard Hernandez wanted to know.
“You [have to] negotiate with these people. We are depending on you” to get them to hire locally, he told council members.
Walmart opening in Commerce will revitalize the city, the company’s Director of Public Affairs and Government Relations Javier Angulo said Tuesday. He cited a substantial reduction in the number of daily diesel truck trips, cleaning of the contaminated industrial site and an additional $600,000-$800,000 in annual revenue to the city’s general fund as benefits from Walmart opening in the industrial city.
“We want to be the anchor tenant…we are in it for the long term,” he said.
Sal Lopez works at the Downey Walmart and said the company has been great to him. “I have been with Walmart for over 10 years,” he said. “Walmart has a training program, bonuses according to performance” and other benefits, he said responding to criticism of the retailer’s employment practices.
You talk about the positive, but what about the negative, demanded Mayor Pro Tem Baca del Rio. “Look at what happened in Pico Rivera,” she said, referring to the closing of the Pico Rivera Walmart.
The store in Pico Rivera was old and it had plumbing problems, said Angulo. “Now we have higher participation in the store and our associates are very happy,” he told the council.
Jessica Piedra was one of the workers displaced when the Pico Rivera store closed down with little notice, and says the company supported her during the transition. “When the Pico Rivera store closed they sent me to the Baldwin Park location and when the store reopened I was interviewed to be brought back to Pico Rivera,” she said.
Opponents claim the real reason the store was closed was because workers had started to unionize.
Mayor Altamirano asked Gatwick representatives about their hiring plans during construction.
“You don’t hire unions. You outsource from other states. How do we ensure the construction of this project stays local?” he asked.
Gatwick is very committed to working with the city as much as we can to hire locally, responded the developer’s attorney, Morgan Wazlaw with Rutan and Tucker.
Council approval of the project, despite their own criticism of Walmart’s business practices and “overwhelming” community opposition, is embarrassing, Mark Lopez, co-director of Commerce-based East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice told EGP, adding “The fight is not over.”
One of the speakers before the vote, however, pointed to a time years ago when there was opposition to another big commercial project in the city, the Commerce Casino.
People at the time thought it would drag down the city, draw prostitutes to the city, but that didn’t happen, pointed out the speaker.
Today the Commerce Casino is one of the largest tax generators for the city, she pointed out.
East and southeast Los Angeles County residents had an opportunity Saturday to have a say in the process to decontaminate their homes and other properties tainted with lead from the now shuttered Exide plant in Vernon, in what is expected to be California’s largest cleanup effort ever.
However, while more than 100,000 people may have been put at risk from the toxic exposure, only about a dozen people showed up to the first meeting where their comments on how to go about removing the contamination from their homes would actually be on the record.
Lea este artículo en Español: Pocos Residentes Asisten a Reunión de Limpieza Residencial de Exide
For some residents, Saturday’s meeting at Raul R. Perez Memorial Park in Huntington Park was the first Exide-related meeting they had ever attended. For others, it was the first time they would hear that their homes and families could possibly be in danger from exposure to cancer-causing arsenic and lead.
Lucia Kikunaga of Maywood told officials from the Department of Toxic Substance Control she was stunned when she received the mailer informing her of the meeting and that there could possibly be toxic chemicals in her home.
Kikunaga’s revelation was surprising given that there have been dozens of meetings and hearings over the last two years regarding the health hazard caused by the battery recycling plan in Vernon. Hundreds of hours of testimony and protests have taken place to date.
Of the handful of residents who spoke Saturday, a majority expressed concern over what they claim is a lack of outreach to their community.
“Public outreach is a key component in our efforts to keep the community informed about the Exide cleanup,” DTSC Spokesman Sandy Nax told EGP, responding to the criticism. “We use a variety of methods to communicate in both English and Spanish.”
The state agency has sent out thousands of postcards, canvassed neighborhoods, set up drop-in information centers, a hotline and used social media to reach out to residents in the impacted areas, he added.
Yet, Kikunaga wasn’t the only person at the meeting to say they were unaware of the Exide catastrophe or efforts to clean up the aftermath.
“I always knew there was major pollution in our communities because we live in an industrial area, but this is very serious,” longtime Maywood resident Zoila Flores said in disbelief.
DTSC plans to test the soil of 10,000 properties within 1.7-miles of the Exide plant and to clean the 2,500 homes with the highest levels of lead by July 2018. Under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), before cleanup can begin DTSC must prepare an environmental impact report that will disclose the potential effects of mitigation efforts such as soil removal and transporting tainted material away from properties in Bell, Boyle Heights, Commerce, East Los Angeles, Huntington Park and Vernon.
On Saturday, it was clear that residents like Leonor Casillas still need basic information before they can begin to give input into what the cleanup process should look like.
Casillas told DTSC staff she had no idea there could be lead in the backyard of her Maywood home. She’s worried there may be a correlation with her husband’s cancer.
“What are the health impacts? And what else is going on in our area,” she asked Saturday.
DTSC, the lead regulatory agency charged with the cleanup, has already tested more than 2,000 homes and cleaned up over 200 homes within the preliminary investigation area, according to the agency. Residents from surrounding areas have repeatedly asked that DTSC expand the area where they are testing properties for lead, claiming the danger is much wider spread.
A second meeting to gather input from the public will be held today, June 30 at 6:30p.m at Commerce City Hall.
The EIR process, which involves public review, meetings and hearings, is expected to be completed around July 2017, a timeline state officials call “aggressive.” EIRs tend to take at least a year and a half, says DTSC’s Kimberly Hudson.
“It is common to extend the public review period,” she added, meaning the process could go longer if community members feel more input is required.
In the meantime, Flores told DTSC they should not forget about impacted areas like Maywood, just because it’s home to a large Latino and undocumented population,
“With so much effort we have been paying for our homes,” she said about the struggle to buy a home. “When it comes to selling our homes, what is going to happen,” she asked, worried the contamination could cause her home value to drop.
“Some of us are scared because we don’t know what the cleanup process is and we don’t want our properties taken from us,” echoed Manuel Borjas, referring to the fear among some residents that the process could lead to them losing their homes through eminent domain or being forced to leave their homes for a long period.
DTSC officials, however, assured Borjas and others in the room that the cleanup process takes less than 5 days and homes would not be damaged or taken through eminent domain.
“Well I don’t see any of that in your packet,” responded Borjas. “That is very important information for the people in my community who are not here because they are scared,” he said.
Looking around the room and seeing so few residents present, Kikunaga told EGP that residents must to do their part to hold the state accountable.
“I know nuestra raza, I tried to encourage my neighbors to attend and some just don’t care.”
Un hombre de 33 años, residente de Commerce, murió cuando su motocicleta chocó con una Toyota Tacoma 2000 en Long Beach el lunes alrededor de las 10pm, dijo la policía.
El accidente ocurrió en la calle Séptima y la avenida Newport, informó la policía de Long Beach.
El hombre quien iba en una Harley-Davidson 2008 murió en la escena y su nombre no fue revelado en espera de la notificación de sus parientes. El conductor de la Toyota es un residente de Long Beach de 70 años, dijo la policía.
Quien tenga información sobre el accidente puede llamar al (562) 570-7355.
La votación para escoger los diseños de arte que adornarán 15 cajas de utilidades de la calle Figueroa, Yosemite Drive y los bulevares Eagle Rock y Colorado ya esta abierto desde hoy hasta el primero de julio.
Los votantes pueden escoger hasta cinco diseños visitando: https://docs.google.com/a/egpnews.com/forms/d/19iRXzg92Q-WksoxzsovBlwSG2njZ9hXywXIllV28J8I/viewform
While many southeast Los Angeles County cities are struggling to find funds to address aging infrastructure, the City of Commerce will be using a projected surplus and over $5 million in other monies to pay for a variety of citywide enhancements, maintenance and capital improvement projects.
The City Council Tuesday approved a $58.8 million budget for 2016-2017 that included $58.2 million in dedicated spending, leaving Commerce with a projected $630,000 surplus, $417,000 of which will be used to pay for things like park programs, increasing the children’s library budget, a children’s faire, and new full-time positions and animal control services.
“If we didn’t have that money we would be digging into the pockets of the general fund right now,” Rifa said.
When the Great Recession hit and state lawmakers closed down redevelopment agencies – tax increment financing used to combat urban decay – to try to shore up California’s massive budget shortfall, Commerce turned to voters and asked them to approve a half-cent sales tax increase to fund city services.
“Measure AA has made all the difference in significant capital improvement projects to address aging infrastructure,” according to Rifa.
Since approved in 2012, Measure AA has generated over $1 million annually to help pay for city employees, public safety, parks, libraries and other city services. For the last couple of years, revenue from the special sales tax has been used to pay for sidewalk repairs and improvements at the senior center and city parks.
“Those Measure AA funds have been so helpful,” commented Mayor Pro Tem Tina de Baca Tuesday before voting to approve the budget.
During the 2016-2017 Fiscal Year, Measure AA revenue will be used to fund various planning initiatives, the implementation of the green zone action plan and other services.
“Hopefully, the residents will see the benefits of that up close,” said Maryam Babaki, director of public works and development services.
Another major source of revenue for the city this year comes from the first installment of an RDA loan repayment. Unlike other neighboring cities that were forced to sell RDA-owned properties or pay millions in settlements, Commerce is receiving $4.2 million in funds from the state.
The funds will be used for one-time department upgrades, including equipment replacement at parks, an internship program, Citadel bus route, curb painting, street and alley repair and youth sports uniforms.
The city also plans to allocate $500,000 from the repayment fund to the city’s Other Post Employment Benefits trust, used to address pension obligations; $1 million will be set aside in the facilities upgrade holding account and another $1 million will be allocated to the city water fund.
Many neighboring cities have struggled to pay for much needed repairs for their aging city-owned water systems, but Commerce is investing in its city-owned asset.
“You can only take care of it for so long before you ultimately have to replace it,” explained Rifa, adding that Commerce has already increased rates to pay for repairs and maintenance.
The city is anticipating a $333,000 surplus in its 2015-16 fiscal budget, which will be used for capital improvements at parks, libraries, city hall and community services, such as new computers, passenger vans, air hockey tables, fitness equipment, a dog drinking fountain, pool tables, and a vehicle for the food distribution program.
Rifa credits The Commerce Casino, Citadel Outlets and Measure AA for Commerce’s financial health.
“Without those three things, we would be in a whole lot of hurt right now,” he said.
Repairs were completed in 24-hours on an 8-inch gas line that was damaged by a work crew in Commerce, authorities said Monday.
A work crew using excavation equipment struck the main distribution line at 11 p.m. Saturday near the 7100 block of Sycamore Street between Vail and Tanager avenues, said SoCalGas spokesman Sergio Jimenez.
SoCalGas crews shut down the flow of gas at 5:30 p.m. and repairs were completed at 11 p.m. Sunday, Jimenez said.
Until the gas flow was stopped, Metrolink’s Orange County and 91/Perris Valley lines were suspended, said Metrolink spokesman Scott Johnson.
Passengers were bused between Union Station and Norwalk, with service delays of up to one hour, Johnson said.
The tracks were reopened at 6:30 p.m. Sunday after the gas flow was stopped, officials said.
The Commerce City Council is expected to vote June 7 on whether or not to allow construction of the Commerce Retail Center Project on Washington Boulevard. The proposed development will include a “Big Box” store, with a Walmart store being the expected tenant.
The proposed project runs along Washington, from the 710 Freeway to Atlantic Boulevard, and from Washington Boulevard to Sheila Street. It includes a 122,450-square-foot “Major Anchor” retail store, with adjoining restaurants and other retail spaces.
Opponents to the Walmart store told EGP they are organizing to voice their concerns against the project.
“We reject the whole project,” Mark Lopez, director of Commerce-based East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice (EYCEJ) told EGP Tuesday.
First, this is a contaminated site that has not been fully cleaned, and second, the location collides with the I-710 Corridor Project, he said.
Others in the community, however, see the development, and a Walmart store in particular, as positive for the local economy.
In a letter to EGP, Ken Merriam, director of Commerce-based Mohave Foods, writes that the “majority of the residents and businesses in Commerce support retail progress in the City of Commerce and the jobs and tax revenue that a retail complex of this magnitude would generate for the city.”
He goes on to point out that many of the jobs created by the development will go to local residents, adding that the revenue generated would “provide an increase in critically needed public services like police and fire protections to its residents and businesses.”
The voting will take place during the regular bimonthly City Council meeting at City Hall. People interested in providing input will be able to speak during the public comment at the start of the meeting, 6:30pm.