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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Despite residents demanding harsher penalties, the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) today approved reduced fines against two Commerce officials accused of violating campaign-filing laws, among other charges.
The commission approved a $55,000 fine against Commerce Mayor Pro Tem Tina Baca Del Rio, who initially faced one of the largest penalties ever issued by the FPPC over allegations she had illegally transferred campaign funds into her personal bank account, used a campaign debit card to pay for a kitchen remodel and had failed to timely file and properly disclose contributions. Under the agreement, $15,000 of the fine must be paid out of her own pocket, the remainder can be paid using campaign funds and donations.
The commission also approved a $15,500 penalty against Mayor Ivan Altamirano. As EGP detailed in separate story published today, Altamirano is accused of violating conflict of interest and campaign filing laws, including failing to file and properly disclose financial activity on pre-election campaign statements, late filing of 24-hour contribution reports and for voting on a matter the FFPC concluded he had a financial interest in.
The mayor is accused of using his position to get his sister appointed to the city’s planning commission and to get approval for the installation of a stop sign within 150 feet of his rental property.
The penalty amounts approved by the Commission are the result of negotiations between FPPC Enforcement Division officials and the Commerce elected officials. The recommendation by enforcement officials did not sit well with Commerce residents who asked commissioners to reject the settlements.
“I’m asking that you be a lot more firm,” said Richard Hernandez, a Commerce resident who traveled to Sacramento for the hearing. “Make this case an example, not just for Commerce but all the other cities, show them that you’re not going to show any type of tolerance for their violations.”
Hernandez added that other elected officials are following her, citing Altamirano’s troubles as an example. He told the Commission that Commerce residents had been harmed and deserved justice.
FPPC enforcement staff initially proposed a $104,000 default judgment against Baca Del Rio for 24 different violations of the Political Reform Act. The Act regulates campaign finances, conflict of interests, lobbying and ethics laws.
In a 500-page complaint against Baca Del Rio, the councilwoman was accused of illegally transferring $8,000 in campaign funds to her personal bank account and in a separate transaction using a campaign fund debit card to pay for a kitchen remodel. Baca Del Rio claimed the transferred funds were reimbursement for a loan she had made to her campaign committee.
According to the FPPC’s Enforcement Division, however, there is no evidence she ever made such a loan.
Baca Del Rio was first elected to the Commerce City Council in 2005, but recalled in November 2008 only to be reelected a year later. She was most recently reelected in March 2013
Altamirano was appointed to the city council in March 2012 to fill the seat left vacant by former Councilman Robert Fierro who resigned after pleading guilty to a felony conspiracy charge. Altamirano was elected for the first time in March 2013.
The 5-member commission heavily discussed Baca Del Rio’s reduced fine during a meeting in August -that had been negotiated that same say – but voted 2-2 to hold the matter over until the full settlement agreement was in writing and available for the Commission to review. Commissioner Eric Casher, who ultimately voted in favor of the settlement, was not present at the previous meeting to cast his vote.
At the time, citing Baca Del Rio’s past problems and delayed response to the current action against her, the commissioners strongly stated they wanted to see all Baca Del Rio’s stipulations in writing before voting, adding they were reserving their right to reject the settlement agreement if not satisfied by its final form.
Today, Commissioner Maria Audero cast the lone vote against the settlement, saying Baca Del Rio had a history of violating the rules and not reporting contributions, noting that although the Commerce councilwoman was fined in 2011 for many of the same violations, within months of stipulating “she would not do it again” she was again in violation. Audero said she supported issuing a more punitive fine based on her belief that Baca Del Rio had an “intent to disregard” the law.
Commerce resident Charles Calderon also spoke during the meeting, telling commissioners he was disappointed by their decision to approved the reduced penalty for Baca Del Rio, despite her having been fined for similar infractions in the past.
While both Hernandez and Calderon spoke against reduced fines for either of the elected officials, most of their criticism was directed at Baca Del Rio.
According to Calderon’s testimony, a number of residents are collecting signatures to hand over to Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey asking that her office open an investigation into what he called Baca Del Rio’s abuse of power as an elected official, and her continuously violating campaign and conflict of interest laws.
Calderon said the ethics and campaign violations by the two sitting council members have harmed Commerce’s public image, claiming Commerce is now being bundled up with Southeast cities that have had a history of scandals involving politicians accused of corruption.
“Now we’re being compared to the cities of Bell and Vernon.” he told commissioners.
Updated: 10/04/16: Clarifies that Councilwoman Tina Baca Del Rio claimed the transfer of funds was repayment for a loan she made to her campaign, and to not to pay for a kitchen remodel as stated in an earlier version of this story. According to Baca Del Rio, it was she who brought her husband’s use of a campaign debit card to pay for services related to the personal kitchen remodel to the attention of the FPPC.
A suspected drunken driver pulled a gun on CHP officers as he abandoned his pickup truck on the Santa Ana (5) Freeway in Commerce, backed into some roadside businesses, and held officers off for 8 hours before surrendering.
The man was arrested by SWAT team members at about 8:30 a.m. Monday, according to Deputy Guillermina Saldana of the Sheriff’s Information Bureau.
The pursuit began before 9 p.m. Sunday in Orange County, when California Highway Patrol officers attempted to pull over a green GMC pickup truck for swerving and possible drunken driving, CHP Officer Francisco Villalobos said.
Los Angeles-based CHP officers took over the pursuit at 9 p.m. Sunday on the Santa Ana (5) Freeway as the truck left Orange County. It veered off the freeway at Garfield Avenue in Commerce, Villalobos said.
The northbound and southbound lanes of the 5 Freeway were shut down at 12:45 a.m., Villalobos said. The northbound lanes were opened at 1:30 a.m. and the southbound lanes followed at 2:21 a.m.
Television journalists captured video of the man – shirtless, tattoed and waving a pistol – backing into an industrial area.
Deputies from the East Los Angeles Sheriff’s Station were called to the scene at midnight, said sheriff’s Sgt. T. Kim. Attempts had been made to contact the suspect.
The sheriff’s Special Enforcement Bureau was dispatched to the scene about 3 a.m., Saldana said.
COMMERCE – In a city perhaps better known for its close proximity to freeways, rail yards, diesel trucks and blocks upon blocks of large cement warehouses, there’s a move afoot to bring more art into the public landscape.
The Commerce City Council approved an amendment to the city’s zoning code Tuesday that adds an “Art in Public Spaces” requirement for future construction. Under the ordinance, new commercial, industrial and residential projects that have building costs of $250,000 or more will be required to provide public art on site that is visible to the public, or pay a one-time fee that will be used to fund public art throughout the city.
“We wanted to take advantage of the uptick in development to try to get a level of investment in properties and our city,” explains Commerce City Planner Jose Jimenez.
The value of the artwork to be installed will be calculated at one-percent of the total building costs. For example, a project with a construction cost of $500,000 would be required to install artwork with a value of at least $5,000.
If the business does not want an art installation on-site, they can opt to pay the fee.
Those fees will be set aside in a separate account that will be used for art education programs, maintenance, repairs, identification plaques and to fund the installation artwork near existing businesses that are not required to participate, according to city planners.
Similar programs in the cities of Downey, Norwalk and Santa Fe Springs have generated a collection of nationally recognized artwork throughout each of those cities. In nearby Downey, public art pieces include a descending sphere sculpture, a headstone of Governor John Gately Downey and a sculpture portraying the Roman god Neptune gripping a trident.
In Santa Fe Springs, over one hundred pieces of permanent art have been installed in the city since the program was implemented in 1989.
Public art installations, however, are rare in Commerce. Two of the more notable works include a sculpture of a tire at the Citadel Outlets and a steel sculpture standing dozens of feet tall in front of a large warehouse in the city’s southern border.
According to Jimenez, the city will not impose design requirements for the artwork, but he noted that many of the existing art installations reflect the city’s “industrial heritage.”
City staff originally proposed that the ordinance apply to all new construction over $500,000, but council members asked staff in June to lower the threshold amount in hopes of capturing more projects.
“We would encourage any existing property to provide some level of art,” Mayor Pro Tem Tina Baca Del Rio said during the June 21 meeting. “Maybe we can work with those in lieu of fees to add art to the properties that have greater exposure to the community.”
Existing businesses that spend $250,000 or more on a remodel or upgrades to their sites will also be required to abide by the new ordinance, but the council cautioned that they do not want to burden businesses currently in the city.
“They have been here for years, they paid their dues,” said Baca Del Rio. “We would like to see them participate, but not in the matter or expense of a new business,” she said.
Jimenez told EGP the program, which has been on the books for years, will “bring art for all to enjoy and generate something unique for us in our community.”
A second reading of the ordinance will take place at the Sept. 20 council meeting; it will take effect 30 days later.
A judge Tuesday rejected a petition filed on behalf of Commerce and 7 other cities seeking significant changes in the ballot language for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s proposed half-cent county sales tax measure, saying there was no evidence the wording was confusing to voters.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mary H. Strobel said Measure M is not an initiative and therefore did not require the ballot language specifics sought in the action filed last week by the cities of Carson, Commerce, Norwalk, Torrance, Santa Fe Springs, Ranchos Palos Verdes and Signal Hill.
The petition alleged that the ballot label for Measure M did not include the actual 1 percent total rate of the tax to be imposed. The petitioners also claimed the ballot label for Measure M does not state that the proposed tax would be permanent.
Carson Mayor Albert Robles said after the hearing that he and the other coalition members were disappointed with the ruling and are considering an appeal. He said Metro’s argument that the coalition was required to seek help from the Legislature was not an option because it would have been too late to do so in time for the November election.
“All we are seeking is transparency,” Robles said, adding, “The voters shouldn’t be misled and confused.”
Signal Hill City Councilman Larry Forester said many residents of the southern part of Los Angeles County do not have access to computers in order to read background material on Measure M.
“It’s a sad day for voters,” Forester said.
The petitioners said the ballot measure leads voters to believe that there will be an equal distribution of projects. In reality, projects in the western and northern of the regions of the county will take priority, while southern Los Angeles County regions will not see any benefits until 2039-2040, according to the petitioners.
“The plaintiffs attempted to mislead the voters with a politically motivated lawsuit, but the court ruled today that there was no evidence the wording is confusing to voters,” said Yusef Robb of the campaign on behalf of Measure M in response to the judge’s decision.
“Measure M is clear on what it will do: ease congestion and make transportation improvements Countywide and in each of L.A. County’s 88 cities … The plaintiffs should stop interfering with the voters’ right to make their own judgment on Measure M.” Robb said in written statement.
Attorneys for a coalition of seven Los Angeles County cities will try again Tuesday to file a request for an accelerated hearing on a lawsuit filed last week on behalf of taxpayers concerning the
ballot language for Measure M, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s proposed half-cent county sales tax ballot action.
The Los Angeles Superior Court petition filed by the cities of Carson, Commerce, Norwalk, Torrance, Santa Fe Springs, Ranchos Palos Verdes and Signal Hill alleges that the ballot label for Measure M is misleading and does not include the actual 1 percent total rate of the tax to be imposed. Lawyers for the petitioners arrived too late to Judge Mary H. Strobel’s courtroom today for a hearing.
The petitioners also say that the ballot label for Measure M does not state that the proposed tax is permanent.
Measure M opponents say that the ballot measure leads voters to believe that there will be an equal distribution of projects, according to the petitioning cities. In reality, projects in the western and northern of the regions of the county will take priority, while southern Los Angeles County
regions will not see any benefits until 2039-2040, the petitioners say.
The group is asking a judge in a suit filed Friday to correct what they maintain are numerous inaccuracies, misstatements and misrepresentations by amending the ballot label so that voters can cast an informed vote.
“The public deserves, and the law requires, a transparent, accurate description of tax Measure M, including spending priorities,” said G. Ross Trindle, the lead attorney for the petitioning cities.
“At a minimum, state law requires the ballot label to disclose how much money Measure M will cost taxpayers every year and it does not do that. The public will not receive this essential information from the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s current title and description of Measure M, which is critical for taxpayers to cast an informed vote.”
Measure M “does not meet the simple test of fairness and equity,” said Carson Mayor Albert Robles. “But you wouldn’t know that from its current description. If Measure M passes, taxpayers in about 50 communities, representing at least 2 million residents, will be paying for Measure M
forever, but won’t see any traffic relief on their freeways and roads for decades down the line.”
Located along the state’s worst traffic bottleneck, the city of Commerce has for decades had to deal with more than its fair share of traffic, yet it’s unlikely that a proposed half-cent sales tax hike going before voters in November will help alleviate the area’s transportation woes anytime soon.
Home to hundreds of distribution and manufacturing businesses and located along a major rail yard and network of freeways, Commerce City Administrator Jorge Rifa points out that the city is one of the country’s busiest “ports.”
“We get a significant amount of traffic based on the role Commerce plays in the regional distribution of goods,” but he said the “dry port” receives no special state or federal funding to support its role in the goods movement.
“This is a regional place of investment and employment,” but “the southeast won’t see the benefits of this new tax for the first 15 years,” Rifa told EGP.
In November, voters will decide whether to approve an added half-cent sales tax that could generate at least $860 million annually for highway and street repairs, transportation improvements, and new rails and bus lines in Los Angeles County. If approved by the two-third margin required to raise taxes, the half-cent bump would start in 2017, permanently increasing the Measure R temporary half-cent sales tax hike to a full cent.
Measure R was approved by voters in 2008 as a temporary increase and is currently set to sunset in 2039.
Metro officials tout Measure M as a solution to the region’s traffic congestion problems that will also improve air quality and create jobs.
Rifa counters that in Commerce the claim should be accompanied by “fine print that says ‘20 years from now.’”
Like Measure R, Measure M would earmark funds generated for specific transportation projects outlined in an expenditure plan. The proposal has angered communities along the County’s southeast corridor that accuse Metro’s Board of pushing Measure R approved projects to the back burner under Measure M’s new expenditure plan.
Unhappy that improvements to the I-5 and 710 freeways and other regional transportation plans would be delayed under Measure M, the 23 cities that make up the Gateway Cities Council of Government are now spearheading an educational outreach campaign to specifically inform voters what Measure M’s impact would or would not have in the region.
In Commerce, the impact goes beyond the obvious traffic and environmental concerns and deals directly with the region’s goods movement, says Eddie Tafoya, executive director of the Commerce Industrial Council – Chamber of Commerce.
“We get a significant amount of traffic based on the role Commerce plays in the regional distribution of goods,” he explains. “If it’s not Vernon, it’s Commerce,” he told EGP.
Metro’s Chief Communication Officer Pauletta Tonilas told EGP it’s important to note that the agency has been working on its expenditure plan for years.
“We understand that not everyone is thrilled but this plan reflected what we heard from stakeholders,” she said. “We believe it is balanced and equitable.”
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.
Tafoya is quick to point out however that while the industrial city only has 13,000 residents, its daytime population swells to nearly 80,000 people when you take into account the number of workers who flock to the city.
An additional 230,000 jobs are located in communities bordering the I-5 Freeway, including Downey, La Mirada, Montebello, Norwalk, Pico Rivera, Santa Fe Springs, Vernon in addition to Commerce.
“These jobs are all predicated on the use of freeways and yet [Metro] won’t be touching the I-5 for another 20 years,” complains Rifa.
Tonilas pointed out that not all major projects could be funded at once.
“Everything can’t happen in the first 10 years,” she told EGP. “The time sequence was based on when funds would be available.”
The Industrial Council surveyed businesses in the city and according to Tafoya, over 40 percent responded that traffic congestion is the leading reason they would consider moving out of L.A. County.
There’s no escaping that the high volume of goods traveling through the region leads to more truck traffic and congestion, said Tafoya, noting that “the I-5 is a parking lot.”
“This has a detrimental impact to the economy and quality of life,” he points out.
Tonilas says private-public partnerships would allow businesses to help fund and accelerate some projects.
Last week, the Commerce City Council approved $20,000 to support Gateway Cities’ public outreach efforts in the southeast region. Half of the money will be used to fund a local informational campaign.
“We think, as a region and community, [the plan is] short of being balanced,” Rifa told EGP. “The corridor has been shortchanged.”
Mayor Ivan Altamirano, who pushed for more funding for outreach, agrees. “I really think that’s very little to what we can potentially lose here,” he told EGP.
Before the vote, Councilman Hugo Argumedo noted that efforts to inform voters about what’s at stake locally would be an uphill battle.
“I’m sorry to say this guys, we can say $100,000, but guess what, we’re going to be outgunned,” he told the council, explaining the importance of mobilizing efforts in areas where there are the most votes.
Because city funds are being used, the materials distributed must walk a fine line of educating and not campaign against the measure.
The city, however, is no stranger to voicing its views on transportation projects and their local impacts.
Commerce has been front and center in talks about the Metro Gold Line Eastside Extension Phase 2 project. The city was successful in convincing Metro to consider a route that would include a light rail stop within its borders.
Rifa told EGP the transit measure has been and will continue to be a regular fixture on the city’s agenda as city officials are frustrated with the totality of the plan connected to the new tax.
“The southeast was a huge supporter of Measure R, now we are being ignored,” he said. “The balance has been lost and we must protect our jobs.”