Election Marks New Era for Commerce

June 22, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

The swearing-in of two new council members marked a new era for the City of Commerce, but talk of “change” and “moving forward” was not enough to convince some residents that more harmonious political times are ahead.

Leonard Mendoza, John Soria and incumbent Ivan Altamirano took the oath of office Tuesday during a crowded city council meeting. The three received the top votes in the June 6 election, each securing a four-year term while ousting longtime Councilwomen Lilia R. Leon and Tina Baca Del Rio.

“It’s time for unity, it’s time for change,” said Altamirano upon being sworn-in. “My promise is to really listen.”

For years, the Commerce City Council has been divided with at least one member behind the dais on the outs. Recently, that lone wolf has been Councilmember Hugo Argumedo, who was the target of a failed campaign started by Soria to remove him from office.

On Tuesday, the newly formed council appeared to pledge to make past political infighting a thing of the past now that Commerce residents have voted for change.

Ivan Altamirano, John Soria and Leonard Mendoza take the oath of office during Tuesday’s Commerce council meeting.  (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Ivan Altamirano, John Soria and Leonard Mendoza take the oath of office during Tuesday’s Commerce council meeting. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

“It was important to give residents a choice,” said Mendoza, referring to the 10 candidates on the ballot. “You wanted to give other people a chance,” he told the crowd.

The nomination of Oralia Rebollo as mayor and Altamirano as mayor pro tem, however, left some in the audience feeling the council is likely to remain divided.

Sandra Cornejo, a longtime resident and wife of a former Commerce councilman, told EGP that by ignoring rotating traditions and skipping over Argumedo who was next inline for one of the council’s top two positions, the new council showed they are still divided 4-1.

“I don’t understand why they didn’t give [mayor] to Hugo [Argumedo],” Cornejo said. “That’s not right, it’s going to cause problems.”

Carmen Marquez has lived in the city for decades and says she has “seen it all” over the years, including councils that didn’t always get a long, but now hopes things will be different moving forward.

“I would like to see things stay positive,” she told EGP Tuesday. “Focus on good decision making,” she advised the council.

During the city’s final vote tally last week, longtime resident Javier Hernandez congratulated Soria on his win, then asked him to not “forget to work together” with his new colleagues.

Hernandez, one of a dozen or so residents in attendance, told EGP he was content with the results.

“At least we got two out,” he said, referring to Baca Del Rio and Leon. “They ran the city down the wrong road.”

Altamirano doesn’t buy that characterization and told EGP residents didn’t give the incumbents a fair shake, arguing that many projects now in the works took years to execute.

In the end, residents were “not seeing results and it was too little too late,” Altamirano said.

For years, Baca Del Rio, who was first elected in 2005, was nicknamed “Teflon Tina,” a reputation forged from winning reelection after being recalled and surviving another recall attempt despite controversy over her Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) filings.

Leon was first elected to the council in 1998 but did not seek reelection after her first term. Years later she again ran for office, winning reelected in 2008 and 2013. She too defeated a recall attempt in 2009. She is credited for founding the city’s annual college fair.

Outgoing councilwoman Tina Baca Del Rio, pictured third from left, was recognized by the new Commerce city council. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Outgoing councilwoman Tina Baca Del Rio, pictured third from left, was recognized by the new Commerce city council. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

On Tuesday, both women were recognized for their years of service to the city. Councilmembers and local dignitaries called the two “mentors” and credited them for their successful efforts spurring economic development in the city and for major street improvements.

Leon, 68, said she was going to enjoy retirement but continue to stay involved in the community.

“You need to be involved, not just during election time,” she advised residents.

Argumedo chose to recall a more positive time in his often-bumpy relationship with Baca Del Rio, telling the story of why he first appointed her as one of his commissioners.

“As you can tell we have a long history,” he jokingly said. But “I saw something in you.”

A tearful Baca Del Rio thanked Argumedo for the appointment that catapulted her political career.

“I wouldn’t be here now because I didn’t see that in myself [back then],” she told Argumedo.

Baca Del Rio told EGP she was not surprised by her loss, admitting she hadn’t really campaigned, instead deciding to leave the outcome up to fate. She says she’s ready to dedicate more time to her family.

“You don’t have to like what’s going on here,” she told residents, referring to the election results. “All I can say is give them a chance.”

With over 1,700 ballots submitted, City Clerk Lena Shumway said the election saw a 97 percent increase in participation.

“There were more absentee ballots than votes at the polls,” she added.

The final count was: Mendoza, 522; Soria, 508; Altamirano, 475; Tina Baca Del Rio, 450; Jaime Valencia, 440; Denise Robles, 423; Johncito “John” Peraza, 406; Lilia R. Leon, 390; Sylvia Muñoz, 345; and Charlie Calderon, 208.

The newest council members thanked residents for their support and vowed to keep the city moving forward.

“Come tomorrow my sleeves will be rolled up and ready to work,” Soria said. “I didn’t make campaign promises, only long term promises.”

“I made a lot of commitments, these commitments are going to keep me busy the next four years,” echoed Mendoza.

Altamirano told EGP he was relieved, humbled and grateful for his victory. He received just 25 more votes than the next candidate, Baca del Rio.

“I’m sad to see them go but I’m looking forward to creating new beginnings with a council that is full of vision.”

Election Could ‘Shake Up’ Commerce City Council

June 8, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

A contentious election that had candidates accusing each other of spreading misleading information and engaging in dirty campaign tactics appears to have ended with two longtime Commerce city council members being ousted from office.

Councilwomen Tina Baca Del Rio and Lela Leon were trailing Wednesday in the unofficial vote count. According to the city clerk, 179 provisional votes still needed to be verified and tallied.

Elections results aren’t official until certified by the city council, according to the city clerk.

If the numbers hold, Leonard Mendoza, a school district painter, and John Soria, a law enforcement technician, and Mayor Ivan Altamirano, the third incumbent up for reelection, will fill the three seats up for grabs.

Leonard Mendoza, pictured left, currently holds the highest number of votes in the Commerce City Council race.  (EGP photo archive)

Leonard Mendoza, pictured left, currently holds the highest number of votes in the Commerce City Council race. (EGP photo archive)

Without any endorsements and self-funding his campaign, Mendoza was at the top of the vote count with 440 votes, according to the unofficial election results. Soria was in second with 437 votes, while Altamirano received 424 votes to come in third. Baca Del Rio was in fourth with 391 votes, while Leon received 343 votes.

With the totals between the 11 candidates so tight, the top three rankings could still change when the final tally is released.

But on Wednesday, Mendoza was ready to claim victory.

“I think this election spoke loud and clear that us residents wanted change, we want to take our city back from the special interests,” Mendoza told EGP. “It was important to come in first to send that message.”

Mendoza first became involved in city affairs when an I-710 Freeway expansion project threatened to displace families in 240 homes in the Ayers, Bandini and Bristow Park neighborhoods. Since then, he has publically advocated against the Union Pacific Railroad, Vernon Power Plant and the now-shuttered Exide Technologies plant as environmental justice issues.

Commerce City Council challenger John Soria with councilmember incumbents. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Commerce City Council challenger John Soria with councilmember incumbents. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Soria, who unsuccessfully ran two years ago, had the endorsement of Councilwoman Oralia Rebollo and Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia. Soria did not shy away from the spotlight after his loss, convincing the city attorney and council to pursue legal action to oust one of the victors in that race, Councilmember Hugo Argumedo who had been prohibited from holding office for three years after being convicted on a corruption charge. After the three years was over, Argumedo ran to regain his seat and won.

The courts found Argumedo could remain in office, a decision that could wind up costing Commerce money if Argumedo prevails in a lawsuit against the city for its role in that effort.

Throughout the campaign, Soria accused the other candidates of engaging in personal attacks in campaign flyers filling up voters’ mailboxes. Last week, his campaign released video of two men allegedly distributing negative campaign flyers without the required Fair Political Practices Commission disclosure of the name of the committee paying for the mailers. When approached, the two men admitted to being hired by a local church.

“It is a shame to see a Christian church involved in the attack of my family and the illegal defamation of my name. This issue should be investigated by the appropriate authorities,” Soria said in a press release.

At one point, the city clerk’s office sent a letter to residents alerting them to complaints about robocalls alleged to have misleading information about the vote-by-mail process. The office cited Election Code Section 3017, which allows voters to designate someone to return their ballot to the city clerk – the city’s election official.

In a sign of urgency, the message was shared last week in an official city emergency Nixle alert.

Mendoza says he ran a clean campaign and was not behind hit pieces that included attacks on Soria, Altamirano and even a former public information officer not running for office.

Baca Del Rio, who has been on the council since 2005, was accused last year of 24 violations of the Political Reform Act, including accusations that she illegally transferred campaign funds into her personal bank account and failing to file contributions and campaign statements in a timely manner. The councilwoman reached an agreement with election regulators that reduced the number of charges and fines against her. Baca Del Rio repeatedly denied she misappropriated campaign funds.

Less than two months later, Altamirano agreed to pay a $15,500 penalty for violating five counts of the Political Reform Act over failing to timely file and disclose financial activity on campaign statements and for voting on matters the FPPC concluded he had a financial interest in. During his campaign, Altamirano repeatedly asked voters to elect him and the other two incumbents, claiming the trio has brought positive changes to the city.

“I’m sad about the potential of losing my colleagues ,but also…ready to work with everyone,” Altamirano told EGP Wednesday, adding he’s worried projects will not move forward as quickly under new leadership.

“I really don’t know what will happen, I’m leaving it in God’s hands,” he said.

Mendoza compared the city election to the 2016 presidential race, with voters electing outsiders over career politicians.

“I think we sent out a message,” he said. “If you are honest, work hard and run an informative campaign you don’t need endorsements,” he said. “Voters will see you are running for them.”

 

Sheriff’s Substation Is the Answer to Many Questions

May 25, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

As a member of the Commerce City Council and the current Mayor, I have been involved in discussions both internally and externally regarding significant issues relating to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s services in our City. The challenge that we have faced, along with our neighboring cities of Maywood and Cudahy, is that all the Sheriff’s personnel that work and respond to calls in our City are dispatched from the East Los Angeles Sheriffs Station, which is located approximately 2.8 miles away at the corner of Mednik and 3rd Street. On average, according to dispatch personnel at LA County, Officers spend up to anywhere between one and one-half hours to two hours each day traveling to and from the East LA Station to the City of Commerce. What this means is that we lose 20% of each officer’s workday when they travel to and from the Station. This equates to a loss of services to Commerce of approximately $1.5 million dollars per year! If an officer is required to attend a meeting held at East Los Angeles Station or deal with a mechanical malfunction during his/her shift, even more time is lost with travel time to and from the Station.

Our goal is to improve and enhance public safety while not incurring any additional annual operating costs. The proposed Substation in the City of Commerce would place the officers’ primary reporting location in Commerce. The time saved on travel to and from East LA would result in immediate deployment of officers within the City of Commerce and more immediate deployment in our surrounding Cities of Maywood and Cudahy. Officers dispatched to Maywood and Cudahy would travel our City streets to get to their destinations and therefore provide an additional deterrent benefit to the City.

Mr. Stinnett raised questions about the City’s ability to provide funding for the proposed Substation and to also have sufficient funds available to address the critical issues at Veteran’s Park. Let’s examine the facts. The preliminary discussions would have the City make a one-time payment for the land needed for the Substation. The land, which is part of a 10-acre site on the corner of Telegraph and Washington Boulevard, is owned by the Successor Agency to the City’s redevelopment agency, which took ownership of the property when the State Legislature decided to dissolve redevelopment several years ago. The City would purchase the land from the Successor Agency at the same square foot price that the other portion of the 10-acre parcel is being sold for: approximately $2.8 Million. So where will the $2.8 Million come from? As many in the City know, the 26 acres of land located along Interstate 5 freeway, across from the Citadel will be sold along with the 10-acre parcel at the corner of Telegraph and Washington Boulevard. The combined sales price from these properties will be $36 Million ($26 Million + $10 Million). The City will receive 7% of the $26 Million gross sale proceeds, which equals approximately $1.8 Million. This money has not been earmarked in any of the existing City budgets. Assuming there is no other funding sources for the Sheriff’s Substation land, the net difference between the City’s portion of the sales proceeds ($1.8 Million) and the Sheriff’s Station land purchase price ($2.8 Million) would leave a shortfall of $1 Million. This is a relatively small price to pay for the safety and security of our families and businesses! Also, with the proposed Sheriff Substation, in just over a year and a half, the City would make up the investment by recovering the lost services (approximately $1.5 Million per year).

But that is not the whole story. The City will be exploring a potential for having the land transferred to the City at no cost. The Redevelopment Dissolution Law authorizes redevelopment agency land that is used for “governmental use” to be transferred to a city, at no cost. The City of Commerce has had some properties transferred to it under this law. The City Council will be asking the State Department of Finance to allow the transfer of the Substation land to the City at no cost because the proposed Substation will be an important government use that will benefit Commerce and the entire region.

In closing, I would like to thank the Sheriff and his executive staff who have shown tremendous support, have outlined the benefits of having a Substation in Commerce and are working hard to help make this proposed Substation a reality. While the process is by no means complete, we are at the forefront of having a state-of-the art facility being built in our Model City, at a very strategic location for our residents, our business community and the region. It will send a strong message to those who might challenge the law in our City, that in Commerce, we will respond immediately. While we know the Substation will result in a much greater level of policing efficiency and deployment of existing officers, it is difficult to calculate the full impact that such a level of police presence, literally blocks away from our homes and businesses, will have on our safety. The local job opportunities that will be provided to our residents, local union members and our Veterans, are also important considerations.

In my humble opinion, the proposed Sheriff’s Substation in the City of Commerce may be one of the most important long-term initiatives that we, as Councilmembers and as a community, will undertake. My ultimate goal is to continue taking action that allows the City of Commerce to keep being the “Model City” – the safest city to live in, work in and play in, in all of Southern California.

 

Ivan Altamirano is mayor of the City of Commerce.

 

Sheriff’s Substation Proposal Raises More Questions than Answers

May 11, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Commerce Mayor Ivan Altamirano recently encouraged Commerce residents to contact East Los Angeles Sheriff’s Station Captain Chris Perez, who Altamirano said would enthusiastically share the benefits of a proposed Sheriff’s substation.

The proposed substation would be on a 10-acre property valued at approximately $10 million, the sale of which is in negotiations between the City of Commerce Successor Agency and a joint venture that includes The Commerce Casino and The Citadel Outlets. The portion of land for the substation would be purchased by the City from the joint venture group with one time funding sources anticipated from the sale of this and another property.

When I called the Station to talk to Captain Perez, I instead spoke briefly with Lieutenant Smitson who said, “To my knowledge there aren’t a lot of specifics at this point because it’s very early in the process.” Smitson’s statement highlights the speculative nature of the proposed substation.

Despite this non-committal statement from Sheriff’s personnel, a pending real estate transaction, and what can only be described as theoretical follow up real estate transaction, I find it surprising that Altamirano has disclosed multiple details about the proposed substation. He has described a 20,000 square foot building with an onsite fueling station that will house more than 150 employees, some of whom will include City staff.

In addition, Interim City Administrator Matt Rodriguez, who is also a retired Sheriff’s Lieutenant, has stated that the construction and ongoing facility maintenance costs would be borne by the new property owners.

This raises a lot of questions. Is the City planning to purchase land from the successor agency or the Casino-Citadel joint venture? Does it make sense to purchase land for a substation that hasn’t been approved, much less considered by the City Council?

Given that The Commerce Casino and The Citadel Outlets are major campaign contributors, are there any conflicts in what appears to be a complex series of commercial real estate negotiations and transactions?

Rodriguez stated that the station would also serve Maywood and Cudahy. Are the costs being borne solely by the City of Commerce? In talking to officials in both cities, responses ranged from not knowing about the proposed substation to it being a “done deal.”

To best evaluate the City’s needs given the $7 million contract in place and an environment in which violent crime is down and property crimes are up, the most important question is how will this proposed substation improve law enforcement service to the City of Commerce?

Will this substation improve response times? How will it do so? Will there be Sheriff’s Deputies on tactical alert to respond to emergent incidents? If so, how much more will it cost and how will it differ from the current response times we experience with deputies that currently patrol Commerce’s six square miles?

Add to that this substation proposal has not appeared on a City Council agenda. While it’s unclear whether any laws have been broken, this approach is highly unusual and lacks the appropriate level of transparency given the millions of dollars that may be circulating between the City and joint ventures sponsored by local business interests that also happen to be heavy contributors to Commerce elected officials, including Altamirano who is up for reelection on June 6.

Commerce has a critical need to catch up on long neglected street and road improvements, as well as to identify major funding needed to replace the Veterans Park Recreation Center is sinking into the landfill over which it was built. With so many other pressing needs, the City Council needs to assess fiscal priorities before committing millions to what appears to be a solution in need of problem.

Jason Gardea-Stinnett is a fourth generation Commerce resident, community advocate and the former Commerce Public Information Officer. He has over 25 years of experience in local government, public utilities and community advocacy.

 

Candidates Face Off on Crime, Ethics, Environment

May 11, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

COMMERCE – Some familiar faces and novice candidates are challenging three City of Commerce council members up for reelection on June 6. Saying they hope to bring change to the city, last week four of nine council contenders went head to head with Mayor Ivan Altamirano, Mayor Pro Tem Tina Baca Del Rio and Councilwoman Lilia Leon, who have each had their share of controversy while in office.

The face off took place during a candidate forum May 4 at City Hall hosted by the League of Women Voters. Much of the night’s discussion revolved around reducing crime and beautifying the city as a means to attract more business and generate more revenue for city services.

 

Commerce Means Business

While Commerce may not be strapped for cash like some of its neighbors, large lots along the city’s busiest corridor have remained vacant for years, curtailing economic development, according to candidates who accused the council of not doing enough to attract new business to the city.

Drive a mile and you will see dozens of “for lease” signs, said challenger John Soria, a law enforcement technician and second-time candidate for city council.

The city’s 1 percent vacancy rate can mostly be attributed to a single owner, one of Commerce’s founding families, responded Altamirano, who added he is meeting with the owners to discuss the issue.

“I’m not going to wait until an election to attract businesses back into our community,” Soria retorted, accusing Altamirano of “waiting too long.”

Former councilwoman and nonprofit advisory board member Denise Robles echoed the accusation, saying it’s apparent there “hasn’t been a whole lot of economic development” since she lost her reelection bid two years ago. Robles accused the incumbents of not focusing on city cleanliness, which she said is important when trying to attract business.

“It has not been due to a lack of funds, but a lack of priorities,” Robles said.

Baca De Rio fended off the criticism saying the current council has worked hard to change the city’s aesthetic, which she admitted many potential businesses previously found to be too “industrial looking.”

“This didn’t just happen in a handful of months, this took years” of working hand-in-hand with the business community to bring change, Baca Del Rio said, adding, “We didn’t have that relationship” before.

This council has put Commerce on the map, said Leon, citing as an example a city-sponsored shuttle service to the Citadel Outlets that attracts 17 million visitors annually.

When the city was strapped for cash, during the recession and following the loss of its redevelopment agency, it was she and her colleagues who kept the city afloat, said Leon, who has served several terms, though not consecutively, since 1998.

“I brought in donations [from businesses] to make sure services were not taken away,” Leon told the audience.

By thinking outside the box, this council kept a lot of people from being laid off, said Altamirano, who was appointed in 2012 and won re-election in 2013.

Seven candidates running for one of three seats on the Commerce City Council took part in a forum last week.  (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Seven candidates running for one of three seats on the Commerce City Council took part in a forum last week. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

 

Quality of Life Issues

Highly industrial, Commerce has long struggled to balance its need for revenue to pay for city services and the environmental impact businesses have on city residents.

Pollution and contamination caused by industry, rail yards, and the never-ending flow of diesel trucks, has left many residents concerned about their health and quality of life.

The city should defer to what residents want when it comes to new businesses moving to Commerce, said Robles, referring to a failed venture to bring a Walmart to the city that caused protests from residents.

Other candidates said the city council should be making sure that existing businesses are complying with the city’s green zone initiative, and should be required to erect improved signage informing the public of any emissions or impacts to the environment.

“I’m in favor of working with businesses that will create jobs and create a balance with environmental issues,” said Johncito “John” Peraza, a 20–year-old loan analyst and city commissioner.

Leonard Mendoza, a school district painter and member of East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice, argued that public health and safety should come before business. “It doesn’t matter what projects we’re working on if our people are dying,” he said. “Let’s stop the crime and let’s clean up the air.”

Soria said industry is not the only culprit when it comes to environmental issues, attacking incumbents for failing to expedite the lead clean up underway at Veterans Park, which has been closed to the public for months and may require a complete renovation. He stressed that parks are a deterrent to crime and provide a safe place for children to spend their free time.

Each of the challengers said the council has not done enough to reduce crime and he or she would do a better job if elected.

But according to Altamirano, public safety has been his top priority. He said he has been working to open a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s substation in the city, which he believes will help reduce the spike in crime by making law enforcement more visible.

Lacking any real detail on the proposal, most of the candidates said they are reserving judgment until the substation project is officially presented to the city council on May 16.

Soria called it “very premature” for individuals to “flaunt” the merits of such a proposal.

Robles says it is more important to improve the city’s current patrol system before building a station.

 

Question of Ethics

For Peraza, “restoring integrity and honesty in our government” is his top priority.

He was referring to the controversies surrounding the incumbents, who in the past have each been targeted for recall and in the cases of Baca Del Rio and Altimarano’s, have also been fined by the Fair Political Practice Commission for ethics violations.

Last year, Baca Del Rio, who has been on the council since 2005, was accused of 24 violations of the Political Reform Act and faced a $104,000 fine, one of the largest in state history before it was later reduced. The councilwoman was accused of illegally transferring campaign funds into her personal bank account to pay for personal expenses related to a kitchen remodel and failing to file contributions and campaign statements in a timely manner.

Baca Del Rio denied she misappropriated campaign funds and claimed she paid herself back for campaign loans, something FPPC investigators said they found no evidence of.

The FPPC ultimately reached an agreement with Baca Del Rio, who admitted to 12 of the charges and agreed to a reduced fine of $55,000.

Less than two months later, Altamirano agreed to pay a $15,500 penalty for violating five counts of the Political Reform Act, when he failed to timely file and properly disclose financial activity on a pre-election campaign statement and for voting on a matter the FPPC concluded he had a financial interest in. He was accused of using his position to get his sister appointed to a city commission, which comes with a stipend.

But it is not just the incumbents who have been the center of controversy in recent years: Former councilwoman Robles was also at one point targeted for recall and was accused of using a city-owned vehicle to commute to school, personal business which is not allowed.

Soria unsuccessfully ran for office two years ago, but it is his failed campaign to oust Councilmember Hugo Argumedo from office that may ultimately wind up costing Commerce money if Argumedo were to prevail in a lawsuit against the city for its role in that effort.

“I believe our government officials need to be held to the highest ethical standards and treat people with common courtesy and respect,” says Peraza in his campaign statement.

Businessman Charles Calderon, former councilwoman Sylvia Muñoz, truck driver Randy “Sax” Romero, and Jaime Valencia, an accountant, are also on the ballot, but were not at the forum.

 

Commerce Kicks Off Cinco de Mayo Festivities

May 4, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Commerce residents celebrated Cinco de Mayor early this year, kicking off the Mexican festivities Sunday at Bristow Park.

The event featured performances by Commerce folklorico dancers, live mariachi bands, food and games.

(City of Commerce)

(City of Commerce)

Plan to Station Deputies in Commerce Gets Initial Look

April 27, 2017 by · 2 Comments 

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.

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