Plan to Station Deputies in Commerce Gets Initial Look

April 27, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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.

Three Killed in I-5 Wrong Way Crash

March 16, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

COMMERCE  – The coroner’s office Tuesday identified a woman killed along with two men in a head-on crash triggered by a wrong way motorist on the Santa Ana (5) Freeway in Commerce.

The crash occurred at 5:20 a.m. Sunday on the northbound Santa Ana Freeway, south of Slauson Avenue, said California Highway Patrol Officer E. Latham.

A man was driving a 2015 Mini Cooper S southbound in the northbound number 4 lane, changed to the number 3 lane and collided head-on with a 1998 Ford Econoline 350 driven by a female with a male passenger, Latham said. All three were pronounced dead at the scene.

The woman was identified by the coroner’s office as Quanlinh Phillips, 53, of Santa Ana. The identity of her passenger is not known.

The driver of the Mini Cooper was identified earlier by the coroner’s office as John Perez, 29, of Downey.

The northbound freeway was closed for more than three hours while an investigation was conducted.

Car Chase Ends in Commerce

February 1, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

A woman wanted for reckless driving struck two cars Monday during a chase before surrendering in Commerce.

The chase began about 10:15 p.m. in the Lincoln Heights area, said Los Angeles Police Department Officer Mike Lopez.

It ended about 15 minutes later when the car driven by the suspect collided with another vehicle near the intersection of Telegraph Road and Garfield Avenue in Commerce.

The car driven by the woman also struck at least one other car during the chase, police said.

The woman was taken into custody and will likely be facing a felony failure to yield charge, Lopez said.

The people in the other vehicle involved in the crash only had complaints of pain, Lopez said.

Commerce Swim Community Shaken by Coach’s Arrest

January 26, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Dozens of concerned parents filled Commerce City Council chambers Tuesday to get information about a city-employed swim coach who was arrested and charged with sexually assaulting a 7-year old girl at the popular Brenda Villa Aquatic Center located adjacent to city hall.

Steven Matthew Garcia, 27, of Whittier, was charged last week with six counts of lewd acts on a child. He is accused of fondling a child in the aquatic center’s employee lounge on several occasions between November 2016 and this month, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.

According to the district attorney’s complaint, after each incident Garcia threatened the victim, ordering her not to tell anyone.

On Tuesday, Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department Capt. Chris Perez said so far there are no additional victims, but the investigation is ongoing.

Commerce resident Edna Jimenez said the incident has caused her to lose trust in all city staff.

“It only took one individual to lose trust in the entire recreation department,” she said Tuesday.

LASD Capt. Chris Perez Capt. Chris Perez said so far there are  no additional victims, but the investigation is ongoing during a special meeting in Commerce Tuesday. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

LASD Capt. Chris Perez Capt. Chris Perez said so far there are no additional victims, but the investigation is ongoing during a special meeting in Commerce Tuesday. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

The city council and staff hosted the special meeting in an effort to reassure the community they are conducting an independent internal reviews of the incident and of city policies, practices and facilities to prevent similar incidents from happening in the future

A trauma specialist was also on-site to provide support for parents.

“How dare this individual do this to our community,” City Administrator Jorge Rifa said about the swim coach’s alleged criminal behavior.

“We are a lot better than this, we deserve a lot better than this,” Rifa said.

Many of the parents, most with children involved in the city’s aquatics program, were visibly distraught by the thought that a city employee they had entrusted their children to was able to molest a child while under the watchful eyes of their close-knit group.

“I want to know what I missed,” pleaded longtime resident Ana Sanchez in disbelief, adding she has always kept a vigilant watch on her grandchildren and other children who swim at the center.

Since being built in 2001, programs offered at the Brenda Villa Aquatic Center – located on the 5600 block of Harbor Street – have helped make the industrial city of Commerce a recognizable name in the competitive world of water sports. The center 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 for.

Garcia, who grew up in Commerce and began working for the city in the summer of 2008, according to city staff. He’s held various positions and worked with children and adults in various capacities, including as a swim instructor and lifeguard, and would at times assist in signing out children from the city’s after-school kids club.

Garcia was arrested Jan. 13, the day after staff supervisors received information of an alleged inappropriate conduct with a child.

However, most residents did not find out about the arrest until nearly a week later when Garcia was arraigned, prompting parents to criticize the city’s notification process and the lack of access to grief counselors for the children.

(LASD)

Former Commerce swim coach Steven Matthew Garcia, 27, of Whittier, was arrested and charged with six counts of lewd acts on a child. LASD)

“Why did it take so long?” asked Georgina Escalera. “There is a counselor here tonight but [she] should have been brought in immediately.”

Rifa responded by saying the city acted swiftly and released the information once Garcia was arraigned. It’s unclear why officials chose to wait until after the arraignment rather than as soon as they learned of Garcia’s arrest.

The delayed notification resulted in our children being left to talk among themselves, without proper counseling, complained some of the parents.

Councilwoman Tina Baca Del Rio said the city plans to make grief counselors available to all residents.

Parents used the meeting to complain about other concerns, including the current locker room situation, which is open to the public for patrons to shower and change while young children are at practice.

Christine Franco, the mother of two young boys in the swim program, told EGP she never lets her children out of her sight, but does not believe this incident will harm the city’s reputation.

“I honestly trust the water polo staff, swim staff and recreation leaders 100 percent,” Franco said after the meeting. “I have not lost faith in them. We are a tight-knit community and we will get through this together.”

Mayor Ivan Altamirano, a father himself, said he was “deeply saddened” and “disturbed” by Garcia’s actions and arrest.

“What happened does not define who we are,” he emphasized.

Garcia is being held on a $955,000 bond at the Men’s Central Jail. He faces 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.

Snow Fun Comes to Commerce

December 22, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Dressed in puffy jackets, beanies and gloves, dozens of children spent a day frolicking in the snow during the City of Commerce’s annual Snow Day.

Holding tight to the their sleds, the children laughed with glee as they glided down a hill of snow brought in specially for the event Dec. 17 held at Veterans Park.

Others spent time making snowballs or snow angels, while parents enjoyed churros and hot chocolate.

(City of Commerce)

(City of Commerce)

Summit Calls for New Southeast Narrative

November 3, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Concerned that the corruption scandals in some Southeast Los Angeles County areas might taint their own reputations, cities in the region have distanced themselves from one another and for the most part chosen to go it alone, strictly focusing on what goes on within their borders.

That changed last week when area leaders and residents came together to highlight their strengths and to begin to construct a new narrative for the region, one which they hope will lead to greater public and private investment to create more jobs, better schools and bring other resources.

“Regionalization allows our community to work together to leverage funds,” pointed out Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) during the discussion on communities located along the SR-710 Corridor.

“It allows us to be more influential,” Lara emphasized.

The Oct. 27 “Summit of Possibilities: People, Community and Progress” was hosted by the Pat Brown Institute and the California Community Foundation and focused on the regional potential of the southeast portion of Los Angeles County, including Commerce, Cudahy, Bell, Bellflower, Bell Gardens, Downey, Huntington Park, Lynwood, Maywood, Paramount, South Gate and Vernon.

Sara Zapata-Mijares, a local businesswoman, brings up the issue of health during a summit on communities located along the SR-710 Corridor.

Sara Zapata-Mijares, a local businesswoman, brings up the issue of health during a summit on communities located along the SR-710 Corridor.

The cities are densely populated and home to a blue-collar workforce surrounded by industry, described opening speaker, Christopher Thornberg, founder of Beacon Economics.

Of the 750,000 people who call the area home, nearly 90 percent are Hispanic, according to the data from Beacon Economics, which also showed that a large number of the residents are fairly young, low-income and have not completed high school.

For most in the room, the information came as no surprise.

“If you lived in the area you already knew this,” said Mark Lopez, executive director of East Yard Communities For Environmental Justice.

A majority of the housing stock is still single-family homes, Thornberg said, suggesting that the cities should invest in building more multi-family housing units to accommodate the Southeast’s growing population.

“This place is ripe for high density, transportation-oriented communities,” Thornberg said. “Given the size of population…single family [housing] is not appropriate.”

It was a suggestion that did not sit well with some of the residents in the audience.

“How can you build when you don’t have space,” Mary Johnson of South Gate asked.

Another resident wanted to know if transforming the area into a technology hub is feasible?

Thornberg suggested cities would be better served by focusing their energies on ensuring existing businesses, especially the large number of manufacturing companies still operating in the region, succeed.

The region has some of the worst air pollution in the state but air quality could be improved and jobs created through better use of the Los Angeles River and pushing more of the goods movement on to the underutilized Alameda Corridor, the economist told Summit participants.

For Bell Gardens and Commerce, Thornberg said continued investment in the casinos in those cities is key to increasing revenue and jobs.

Cities must revisit their general plans, incentivize small builders and unite to compete for grants and businesses, Thornberg advised.

“If you get together you have clout,” he emphasized.

Every presenter acknowledged the event as a very important start to creating a new identify for the southeast region.

Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon of Maywood echoed that the southeast cities he represents are all densely populated, have high rates of poverty and lack resources such as community colleges, parks, courthouses and access to light rail transportation.

Still, he says he believes a “renaissance of the southeast” is on the horizon.

Many of the panelists said they recognize the answer to the region’s woes is greater investment in the next generation and incentivizing them to stay or return to their community.

“Our [communities] should not be places our folks have to leave,” said Lopez. “We need to look to the future, at retaining residents not displacing them.”

Access to high quality education is the key to retaining local talent, said Nadia Diaz Funn of Alliance for a Better Community.

She noted that 75 percent of the students from the 8 area high schools who attend Cal State LA are not proficient in math or English, and only 45 percent of those who attend graduate within 6 years.

“It has to begin at the schools that are serving our children,” Funn said.

Sen. Lara suggested it might take breaking up the Los Angeles Unified School District to make sure southeast area students aren’t neglected.

Currently, Cal State LA guarantees admission to students attending LA Unified schools in East Los Angeles who complete the Go East LA pathways program, Dunn pointed out, adding, “Where is the Southeast’s promise?”

It will take coordination, organizing and residents and elected officials demanding changes to make anything happen, panelists acknowledged.

Nonprofits and philanthropy must also be part of the conversation, panelists agreed.

“It was philanthropy that brought us together,” pointed out Dr. Juan Benitez of the Cal State Long Beach Center for Community Engagement.

“We have identified the southeast region as an area we want to focus on and provide resources,” responded Belen Vargas of the Weingart Foundation, which provides grants and other support to nonprofit groups.

Rendon, however, sharing his own experience in the nonprofit sector, expressed frustration that many companies believe the only way to help Latinos is to provide services in East Los Angeles and Boyle Heights.

With part-time city council members and mayors, it’s often “overcompensated” city managers and administrators who act as the default policy makers, said Benitez. Ultimately, decisions are made through policies, she emphasized. The highly publicized corruption scandals that came out of Bell, Maywood and Vernon revolved around overpaid city administrators.

East Yard’s Lopez says the problem of political corruption needs to be part of the conversation. Holding elected officials accountable after the election is vital, but it will only happen with good community organizing and a clear vision, he said.

“We need baselines or else how will we know we achieved [anything],” Benitez said.

Speaker after speaker said the conversation at the Summit just touched the surface of the Southeast region’s needs, assets and potential power.

“We are all the southeast,” said Lara. “This cannot be the last time we meet, this has to be the new norm.”

Council Debates Changing Local Election Date

October 13, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

COMMERCE – To eliminate the confusion that could result from voters having two different polling places and being given two different ballots in the March 2017 election, the Commerce City Council is considering changing its General Municipal Election to April or June.

The council met Wednesday during a special meeting to discuss an emergency ordinance that would change the March 7, 2017 election to a later date, or consolidate the city’s election with a special county election on a proposed quarter-cent sales tax increase to fund housing for the homeless.

No decision was made as of EGP’s press time, however the council must pass a resolution by Oct. 17

County supervisors hope that the 36 cities and special districts currently scheduled to hold elections on March 7 will consolidate into a single Special Election conducted by the County.

Consolidation is not mandatory and cities can hold a stand-alone election if they so desire.

Supervisor Mark Ridley Thomas says the benefits of a consolidated election are clear.

“They improve voter clarity, avoid duplication of services, reduce voter fatigue, and serve to ensure a countywide awareness of the election which facilitates and encourages voter participation,” he wrote in a motion to hold the countywide election.

While consolidation might be advantageous to the County, the benefits to Commerce are not as clear-cut.

The city would lose control of the vote count, meaning residents would not have a clear idea who won on election night, explained City Clerk Lena Shumway during the Oct. 4 council meeting.

It could take up to 6 weeks for the County to certify the election results, she pointed out.

Commerce has the option to keep the same March 7 election date and not consolidate with the county, but that option presents other potential problems.

“If we do the stand-alone election [March 7] we might end up with two separate ballots, maybe the same location,” Shumway told the council. “We would have our own poll workers, the County would have their own.”

Commerce residents could also be faced with having to vote at two different polling places– one for the County election and another for the General Municipal election.

To avoid confusion, staff advised the Council to move the election to April 11. Another option would be to move it to June 5, however City Administrator Jorge Rifa recommended against it would take place in the midst of the budget process.

Changing the date would be more costly for Commerce. City staff estimates an April or June election would cost $50,000 to $55,000, while consolidating with the County in March would cost be about $14,000, according to the Registrar-Recorder Office. Shumway pointed out that the County’s estimate could increase due to incidental expenses.

Another option is to instead consolidate the March 7 election with the City of Los Angeles, which will be holding its Los Angeles Community College District Board of Trustees election. The cost would be split and the Commerce’s portion would be around $30,000.

The council was adamant about keeping its election separate when the issue was brought to them on Oct. 4.

“Can I just say I’m totally against this,” Baca Del Rio said in response to changing the date.

Councilman Hugo Argumedo reminded his colleagues and staff that when elections were consolidated in the past the City lost control and election results were delayed.

“We should maintain local control, we should hold our own election,” he said.

Councilwoman Lilia Leon questioned whether it was wise to have an election where residents would have two separate ballots.

“It’s going to be confusion,” she said. “I would rather we hold it in April.”

Commerce holds city council elections in March during odd-numbered years. Mayor Ivan Altamirano, Mayor Pro Tem Tina Baca Del Rio and City Councilwoman Lilia R. Leon are up for reelection in 2017.

L.A. Mayor Asks Commerce Council to Support Measure M

October 6, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Hoping to garner support for a November ballot transit measure, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti made a trip to Commerce City Hall Tuesday to ask the city council to drop its opposition to Measure M, which if approved by voters will authorize a permanent one-cent increase in the sales tax to fund transportation project.

“I’m here to ask for your support,” Garcetti told the council in what turned out to be a one-way dialogue with Garcetti doing all the talking.

Commerce is among a group of East and Southeast area cities opposed to the passage of Measures M on grounds that their constituents will be paying in to the fund for decades before any of their transportation woes are addressed.

The tax hike would generate at least $860 million annually for highway and street repairs, new rail and bus lines and transportation improvements.

Los Angles Mayor Eric Garcetti addressed the Commerce City Council Tuesday during a presentation on Measure M.  (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Los Angles Mayor Eric Garcetti addressed the Commerce City Council Tuesday during a presentation on Measure M. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Proponents of the transit tax claim it will help solve the region’s traffic congestion problems, improve air quality and create jobs.

Cities opposing the tax hike are unhappy that improvements to transit projects in their region, such as the 1-5 and 710 freeways, will be delayed under Measure M. They claim the distribution of projects favor the western and northern parts of the County.

Garcetti pointed out projects in some parts of Los Angeles will also not see funding for 30 years.

Surprisingly, council members did not use the opportunity to reiterate their opposition to the Measure, or to get the visiting mayor and Metro chair to agree to work with the city on transportation issues in the future.

In August, the 23 cities that makeup the Gateway Cities Council of Government, including Commerce, spearheaded an educational outreach campaign to specifically inform voters what Measure M’s impacts would or would not have. That same month, Commerce and a handful of cities unsuccessfully filed a lawsuit claiming Measure M was misleading when it failed to state the proposed tax would be permanent.

“We’re friends no matter what, before or after,” Garcetti assured Commerce council members.

“I urge you to support Measure M, if not, can you stay neutral?”

Garcetti acknowledged that the city of Commerce, home to 13,000 residents but a daytime working population of 80,000, did have a good argument when they questioned what the return would be to their city.

“But if nothing passes it will be more than 30 years” before transportation issues in the region are addressed, Garcetti told EGP following his presentation.

Currently, Commerce generates about $8 million a year in Measure R sales tax revenue for the county, but annually only gets back about $150,000. The city’s contribution would double to $16 million under Measure M, but it would only receive around $300,000 a year based on its population.

Commerce previously supported Measure R, a temporary half-cent tax that will sunset in 2039 unless it is made permanent under Measure M, which adds an additional half-cent to the sales tax. A two-third margin is required for Measure M to pass. In 2012, a similar ballot measure failed to pass by less than 1 percent.

“We all know it takes a few to defeat this, why not come together to solve our traffic woes,” Garcetti told council members, who did not respond to his statement, instead voting to just receive and file his presentation without action.

 

Officials Discuss FPPC Fines, Apologize

September 22, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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