Firefighters Battle Stubborn Fire in Commerce

April 28, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Dozens of firefighters spent more than an hour battling a stubborn fire at a single-story commercial building in Commerce.

Flames burned through the roof of the building in the 4000 block of East Washington Boulevard before 55 firefighters snuffed it out, Los Angeles County Fire Department Inspector Richard Licon said.

No one was inside when the fire broke out about 2:50 p.m. on April 21, according to Licon, and no one was hurt. Knockdown was declared at 4:03 p.m. later that day, the fire department reported.

Other businesses attached to the burned 10,000-square-foot structure, where diesel engines were repaired and assembled, were undamaged, Licon said.

The Vernon Fire Department sent one engine company to the scene to assist in the firefight, Licon said.

Video from the scene showed firefighters on the scorched building’s roof, which was partially covered in white flame-dousing foam.

Exide: From Brownfield to Classroom

April 28, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

East and southeast Los Angeles County area residents could soon be trained to test for environmental damages like those in their own backyard.

The Department of Toxic Substances Control plans in coming months to roll out a job and development training program open to residents living in the areas impacted by lead contamination from the now shuttered Exide battery recycling plant in Vernon.

“This is truly a unique program and a first for DTSC,” says Ana Mascarenas, assistant director for environmental justice and tribal affairs for DTSC. For once, the “local community can benefit directly and be a part of restorative justice,” Mascarenas told EGP.

The $176.6 million Exide cleanup package signed by Gov. Brown last week includes $1.2 million to train local groups and residents in skills required to take part in the testing and cleanup process.

DTSC, the state regulatory agency overseeing the Exide cleanup, is currently consulting with experts in the job-training field to develop its program, and they will solicit input from the community during an Exide Advisory Committee meeting being held today.

Mascarenas told EGP that DTSC plans to model its program after the California Environmental Protection Agency’s, CalEPA, Brownfields Environmental Workforce Development and Job Training program, which has prepared local residents to clean up contaminated properties while at the same time preparing them for careers in environmental remediation.

“We want this program to prepare residents for green jobs that will help to immediately clean up the neighborhood, while providing a long term [positive] impact for the community’s economy,” Mascarenas said.

Assemblyman Miguel Santiago’s 53rd District includes many of the communities polluted by Exide, and he is the author of the bill funding the Exide cleanup and training program. He told EGP that creating jobs in the state’s third poorest district was an important consideration.

“The least the state can do is offer jobs to the community it dumped on for decades,” he said.

“The community is in desperate need of jobs and must be cleaned up,” he said, explaining the dual benefit to communities like Boyle Heights and Vernon.

The idea to include a clause promoting the use of local businesses and to give local residents the skills needed to be part of the decontamination effort is the results of hours spent listening to constituents testify at Exide-related public hearings, explained Santiago.

“When money is expended, I want to make sure it is expended in the impacted district and used to provide local jobs,” he told EGP.

While details for the training program are still in the works, it’s likely those who sign up will have to commit 12 to 16 weeks to the program, which will include lead awareness classes, certifications and exposure to tools used for remediation.

“These certificates will not be exclusive to just Exide,” said Mascarenas, “they can apply these skills to DTSC cleanup sites across the state.”

Steven Gendel of ThermoFisher Scientific shows eastside residents how to use a portable analyzer to test soil samples.  (Department of Toxic Substances Control)

Steven Gendel of ThermoFisher Scientific shows eastside residents how to use a portable analyzer to test soil samples. (Department of Toxic Substances Control)

Completing the training, however, is not a guarantee for employment, emphasized DTSC, although DTSC and state legislators will stress the importance of hiring those trained through the program to the contractors hired to cleanup residential properties, clarified Mascarenas.

Mark Lopez, executive director for East Yards for Environmental Justice, told EGP the community wants reassurance local hiring is not just promoted but required.

East Yards, together with other community activists, have drafted language detailing their ideal local hire and workforce development program, including a demand that at least 50 percent of all jobs created directly or indirectly by the cleanup effort be performed by local hires, with 20 percent specifically set aside for low-income residents.

Training will vary by position. Some groups will simply be trained to do outreach, something DTSC has been doing for months.

Members of East Yards, for example, have already been going door to door in the communities surrounding the Exide plant to get the access agreements needed to test for lead.

“We want to understand the intimate details involved with the clean up so that we can communicate that to the community,” explained Lopez explained.

Lopez told EGP he would like to see students from the YouthBuild Charter Schools in Boyle Heights and East Los Angeles benefit from the program. As a dropout recovery school, students at YouthBuild often suffer from learning disabilities, circumstances surrounding violence and issues that can be correlated to exposure to lead, he pointed out DTSC expects to have cleaned up 250 homes by June, using funds previously obtained from Exide and the state. The agency is waiting on the results of a still to be conducted environmental impact report before it continues with the cleanup of 2,500 additional homes, hopefully beginning sometime next spring.

Over 40 eastside residents have already been trained and certified to operate the XRF devices being used to sample soil on properties near Exide.

DTSC says it wants to have hundreds of local residents trained and ready to start when remediation, which could take at last two years, gets underway. Soil testing will continue in the meantime, Mascarenas said.

The Exide plant was permanently closed March 2015 after operating for decades on a temporary permit, even after repeatedly being found to have exposed more than 100,000 people to dangerous levels of lead, arsenic and other chemicals and collecting dozens of hazardous waste violations.

“In many ways, this will help to remediate the damage done to the community,” acknowledges Lopez.

Railway Offering $5,000 Reward in Commerce Vandalism Case

April 21, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

BNSF Railway is offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person responsible for vandalism on BNSF property.

At approximately 7:15 p.m. on April 12, a suspect was seen vandalizing BNSF property, in the 2500 block of S. Atlantic Blvd. in Commerce, according the company’s reward announcement.

The suspect was caught on videotape, and is described as white female between 23-25 years old, 5’, 3” with brown hair and hazel eyes. She was wearing a black tank top and green paints, and had tattoo writing on her right shoulder.

Trespassing on railroad property is against federal and state law, BNSF said in written statement.  Tampering with or destroying railroad property is not only illegal, but dangerous, the company added.

Persons with information should contact the BNSF Crime Tip Hotline at 800-832-5452.

Huntington Park Police Shoot, Wound Man In Commerce

April 21, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Huntington Park police officers on surveillance shot and wounded a man in Commerce when he approached their unmarked car, pulled a handgun from his waistband and pointed it at an officer, authorities said April 15.

The officer involved shooting took place at 9:45 p.m. Friday, in the 2500 block of Leo Avenue, according to Deputy Lisa Jansen.

“Two Huntington Park police officers were conducting a surveillance at the location regarding a past murder that occurred in the city of Huntington Park,” Jansen said.

Both officers were sitting in an unmarked car when a suspect not related to the surveillance “approached the vehicle on the driver’s door and retrieved a handgun from his waistband. The officer on the driver’s side lowered the window as both officers identified themselves as police officers,” she said.

“Both officers fired their weapons at the suspect striking him multiple times in the upper torso,” Jansen said. His handgun was retrieved at the scene.

The suspect was taken to a hospital where he was listed in fair condition, Jansen said.

Sheriff’s homicide detectives were assisting Huntington Park police with the investigation, she added.

Commerce Council Must Follow CEQA

April 21, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

As one of the State’s most impacted environmental justice areas, Commerce has suffered the brunt of cumulative impacts of heavy manufacturing in conjunction with decades of pollution from truck and train traffic.

These impacts have a chilling public health legacy measured in high incidences of respiratory illnesses, cardiovascular disease, cancer and countless other chronic conditions. Every resident knows someone who has suffered from these conditions.

The Bandini neighborhood is now in the unlikely position of receiving some small measure of relief thanks to the long overdue cleanup of contamination from the Exide lead battery recycling plant.

Ironically, this relief comes seemingly just in time to coincide with a proposed Walmart center which will bring additional truck traffic, pollution and traffic safety issues on a busy arterial street and the likely loss of nearby homes due to the I-710 Expansion Project.

The City cannot ignore or override CEQA consideration to address these significant impacts.

In fact, as currently proposed, the City is on the hook to pick up most of the costs to install an unproven traffic control system to mitigate some of these safety issues. That Walmart would pay only 3% of this cost equates to corporate welfare for a company whose business practices force a significant portion of their workforce to seek public assistance in order to make ends meet. In effect, the proposed Commerce Walmart will be ripping off taxpayers twice.

In addition, the property is contaminated with volatile organic compounds. After the Exide debacle, the public deserves to know how the community’s health will be protected.

Furthermore, Walmart has proven to be an untrustworthy business partner to cities across the United States. Washington D.C. spent $90 million to make a similar project viable only to have Walmart pull the plug and stick taxpayers with the bill. “I’m blood mad,” said D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser.

Closer to home the Walmart store in Pico Rivera closed abruptly for eight months last year due to alleged plumbing issues without notice. With this unprecedented action, Walmart put approximately 500 people out of work and caused the loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue to the City of Pico Rivera. According to a published news report in the LA Times, this action caught the city administrator and mayor of Pico Rivera by complete surprise.

Add to that the recent closures of stores across the country including the one in our neighboring City of Bell Gardens, it paints a clear picture of Walmart’s “here today gone tomorrow” business practices that leave in its wake blighted urban sprawl, lost revenue and in Commerce’s case the distinct possibility of Bandini residents losing their homes.

Finally, it is of note that large groups of people have been bused in from outside of the community to the last two Planning Commission Meetings wearing yellow shirts touting “More Jobs for Commerce.” While it is uncertain who was footing the bill for this effort two things are clear. The first is that someone stands to gain financially. The second is that this deliberate effort to create the perception of support for the project and mislead residents is an insult to this community.

Commerce was founded as “The Model City.” I believe that standard still matters in what we do to improve our community. Based on the way this corporate giant destroys small businesses, mistreats their workers and exploits cities like Bell Gardens, Pico Rivera and now Commerce for profit at any cost, Walmart does not meet that standard.

Jason Gardea-Stinnett is a Commerce resident and former Commerce Public Information Officer.

Commerce: Where Interest and Opportunity Meet

April 21, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Walmart is always looking for opportunities to better serve our customers in the Southern California region. We give a great deal of thought in selecting our locations and there are many factors that weigh in our decisions. The City of Commerce is an attractive location with its business friendly environment and close proximity to many of the local manufacturers and distributors we work with daily. In fact, last year alone Walmart purchased more than $219 million worth of goods and services from Commerce suppliers. Perhaps most importantly though is that a Walmart in Commerce would provide the community with convenient access to fresh, affordable groceries, pharmacy services, and a broad assortment of general merchandise.

A Walmart in Commerce will also bring local job growth and economic revitalization. The new store will create approximately 300 new jobs that provide competitive pay, benefits including paid time off and much more, as well as opportunities for advancement. A Walmart in Commerce would keep sales tax revenue in the city to help support important community services like the city’s after-school park program, libraries, and public safety services.

Currently, the best opportunity for a Walmart in Commerce is at the proposed retail center at the corner of Washington and Atlantic Boulevards. This particular area is well positioned for revitalization and that is why the proposed Commerce Retail Center project is now moving its way through the public approval process. It won’t come easy as the site is mostly industrial use now and will require environmental clean-up but it is an area in need of a plan and there are interested parties ready to invest in a transformation.

A great example of a former industrial area revitalization that we’ve been part of is South Gate. Our South Gate Walmart has been a major anchor in the thriving Azalea Shopping Center for about two years. According to a recent South Gate city staff memo the Azalea Shopping Center generated approximately $2.6 million in sales tax revenue for the 2014-15 fiscal year, its first year in existence. Previously, there had been virtually no sales tax reported for

that location. The best part is that South Gate’s nearby Tweedy Mile business district also grew during this time increasing their sales tax revenue significantly. This is exactly the kind of direct and indirect economic development we know is possible in Commerce.

We join with local residents who would like to see the corner of Washington and Atlantic Boulevards transformed into a robust commercial center that contributes to the economic vitality of the city.

That’s why we support the plan for the Commerce Retail Center and are working to raise awareness of the possibilities for this location, including a future Walmart Supercenter as the anchor tenant.
So, yes, Walmart is interested in the City of Commerce and we believe this is the right project at the right time in the right place. We are excited about a future serving this great city, its residents and visitors.

Chad Donath is Regional Vice President of Walmart.

Gov. Brown Signs Legislation to Fund Exide Clean-Up

April 21, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation today providing $176.6 million in funding for environmental testing and cleanup work in neighborhoods surrounding the now-shuttered Exide Technologies battery-recycling plant in Vernon.

“Children should be able to play in yards free from toxics,” Brown said. “With this funding plan, we’re doubling down on efforts to protect the community and hold Exide responsible.”

State officials said the funding would pay for testing of residential properties, schools, day care centers and parks within a 1.7-mile radius of the plant, and fund cleaning of as many as 2,500 properties with the highest lead levels.

There was no immediate word on when the effort would begin or how long it would take. The cleanup effort is subject to an environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act.

Assembly Majority Whip Miguel Santiago applauded Gov. Brown for signing the Exide Clean-Up Package comprised of Assembly Bill 118 and Senate Bill 93.

“The Exide Technologies facility has been able to pollute my community unabated for more than 33 years, which is entirely inexcusable,” said Santiago, author of AB 118.

“Today’s action is an historic step toward fully resolving this appalling situation; but make no mistake – our work is not done here.”

The Exide plant permanently closed in March 2015. When Exide agreed to close the lead-acid battery recycling plant, it committed to pay $50 million for cleanup of the site and surrounding neighborhoods. Of that amount, $26 million is meant to be set aside for residential cleanup.

A crew from the Department of Toxic Substances Control cleans a home in East Los Angeles Wednesday. (Department of Toxic Substances Control)

A crew from the Department of Toxic Substances Control cleans a home in East Los Angeles Wednesday. (Department of Toxic Substances Control)

As of last August, Exide, which filed for bankruptcy in 2013, had paid $9 million into a trust and another $5 million was due to be paid by March 2020, according to state officials.

Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-Los Angeles, called for a fast start to the state’s cleanup efforts.

“We’ve heard the distressing news recently that children living near the closed Exide plant had elevated blood lead levels so there’s no time to waste,” he said. “… I will continue working closely with state and local partners so that the testing and cleanup of homes moves forward expeditiously
and above all, in partnership with the families impacted by the lead contamination. We shouldn’t lose focus of what’s at stake here – restoring a clean and safe environment for our families.”

Mayor Eric Garcetti released a Spanish-language public service announcement, also featuring actress Angelica Vale, urging residents near the plant to have their property tested, and to undergo blood-lead level testing.

“My office will do everything possible to help the (Department of Toxic Substances Control) expedite the cleanup,” Garcetti said. “Identifying the areas and the people affected by lead contamination is a critical first step.”

The city of Commerce, in conjunction with the County health department, will be conducting free confidential lead blood testing at Rosewood Park from 9a.m. to 3p.m. during the annual Kids Are Cute Baby Show. The park is located at 5600 Harbor St. Commerce 90040. For more information, call (323) 722-4805.

EGP staff writers contributed to this report.

Suspect In Commerce Murder Extradited from Mexico

April 21, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

The Sheriff’s Department said Tuesday that a man suspected of killing a rival gang member has been extradited from Mexico and arraigned in Los Angeles in connection with the September 2015 shooting death of a 25-year-old man in Commerce.

Robert Becerra, 20 was involved in a verbal dispute with his girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend and father of her child. The argument eroded into a fight, which ended when Becerra shot Ernest Ramos several times in the chest, according to Lt. Joe Mendoza of the sheriff’s Homicide Bureau.

The investigation into the shooting death began Sept. 15, 2015, when sheriff’s homicide detectives responded to the 5100 block of Astor Avenue to investigate the circumstances surrounding the shooting death of Ramos, Mendoza said.

After the shooting Becerra fled in a vehicle that was last seen driving southbound away from the scene, and during the investigation sheriff’s detectives learned that he fled the United States into Mexico, he said.

“With the culmination of communication, effort and cooperation between agencies, the operation to locate Suspect Becerra was successful and he was detained by Mexican law enforcement personnel,” Mendoza said.

Sheriff’s detectives coordinated with agents from the San Ysidro Marshal’s Office and the FBI to take Becerra into custody. He was returned to Los Angeles County on Friday and transported to the LAPD’s Metropolitan Detention Center, where he was booked on suspicion of murder, he said.
Becerra was being held without bail and faced arraignment Monday at the Central County Courthouse, he said.

Sheriff’s homicide detectives asked anyone with any information regarding the Sept. 15, 2015 shooting death to call the Sheriff’s Information Bureau at (213) 229-1700.

Driver Pleads Not Guilty to Murder Charges

April 7, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

A Whittier man accused of taking part in a race that triggered a multi-vehicle pileup on the Golden State (5) Freeway in Commerce, killing three people, pleaded not guilty Wednesday to three counts of second-degree murder.

Dealio Lockhart, 35, is also charged with four counts of reckless driving on a highway causing injury stemming from the crash that occurred just after midnight Feb. 27.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Upinder Kalra refused the defense’s request to lower Lockhart’s $6.2 million bail.

The judge – who was given a packet of about three-dozen letters from those who knew and had worked with the defendant – said he did not doubt that Lockhart had engaged in a “very positive life” in the past.

“Good people do bad things, and there are consequences,” the judge said.

Defense attorney Dmitry Gorin, had asked that Lockhart’s bail be lowered to $250,000, arguing that his client “had no intent to hurt anyone” and what happened was “an accident.”

Lockhart had no prior criminal record and is a college graduate who worked as a field producer on the TV show “Dancing With The Stars,” his lawyer said.

Deputy District Attorney Michael Blake told the judge that Lockhart was “playing Russian roulette” with his 4,000-pound Dodge Challenger, which was traveling at 127 mph 2 1/2 seconds before the crash.

“This was an 11-mile race,” the prosecutor said, noting that it stretched from Beverly Boulevard to Washington Boulevard. “This was not a situation where you’re dealing with an empty freeway.”

Authorities are still searching for the other motorist, with $36,000 in reward money offered last month for the driver of the Dodge Charger.

California Highway Patrol investigators said the two Dodge muscle cars were being driven aggressively, with the motorists jockeying for position near the Citadel Outlets.

When Lockhart approached a vehicle moving at normal freeway speed ahead of him, he tried to swerve around it but wound up losing control of his car, according to the CHP. The Challenger hit a UPS 18-wheeler, which went airborne and over the center median, shearing off the top of an oncoming Nissan with four people inside, the CHP reported.

The truck came to rest on top of a red Ford Explorer on the northbound side of the freeway, north of Washington Boulevard, and immediately burst into flames.

Debris from the collision also struck a Chevrolet Tahoe and Chevrolet Silverado, which were on the northbound side.

The crash killed UPS driver, Scott Treadway, 52, of Mira Loma, who had been driving trucks for the delivery service for 30 years; and two Valencia residents in the Nissan, Michelle Littlefield, 19, and Brian Lewandowski, 18.

Lewandowski and Littlefield – who were both students at College of the Canyons and worked at Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia – were returning from a trip to Disneyland when the crash occurred. Lewandowski was the son of Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department homicide Detective Victor Lewandowski.

The other two people in the Nissan were critically injured and remain hospitalized, the prosecutor told the judge.

Two other people – a man and a woman – were also injured in the pileup.

Outside court, Gorin told reporters that his client cooperated with law enforcement after the crash and is “truly remorseful over the consequences.”

“I think he was driving fast, which resulted in a horrific collision, but I just don’t think Russian roulette and murder are the appropriate terms and descriptions for the facts of this case,” the defense attorney said.

Proposed Retail Center Splits Commerce

April 7, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

A proposal to build a retail complex that could include a big box type retail store on Washington Boulevard near the 710 Long Beach Freeway in the City of Commerce is drawing heat from a local environmental group, at the same time others in the city say the development will bring needed jobs and added revenue to the city.

Plans for the for the proposed Commerce Retail Center Project on Washington, running from the 710 Freeway to Atlantic Boulevard, and from Washington Boulevard to Sheila Street, include a 122,450-square-foot “Major Anchor” retail store, with adjoining restaurants and other retail spaces.

Lea este artículo en Español: Centro Comercial Propuesto Divide a Residentes de Commerce

It would be built on land the city is selling as required under the state’s dissolution of redevelopment agencies across the state. The city is in escrow with Gatwick Group, LLC, however, the sale is contingent on approval of the retail project.

The city’s planning commission reviewed plans for the proposed development, but last week split 2-2 on whether or not to recommend approval to the city council. One of the five commissioners recused himself due to a potential conflict of interest.

Speculation among the project’s opponents is that the project applicant, Venture Retail Group, plans to lease the site to Walmart, although no specific retailer is named in the project, only a description that describes a retail format found at many of Walmart’s larger stores.

Planning Commissioner Mike Alvarado told EGP he strongly supports the project, saying it would again make Commerce a “Model City,” a reference to the city’s motto.

“The city, as it is now, looks horrible, it is decaying,” Alvarado told EGP, explaining that revenue generated from the development would help pay for repairs to streets, sidewalks and other infrastructure put off for years.

Opponents, however, say the land is too contaminated with toxic chemicals spread by the now closed Exide battery-recycling plant in Vernon and past industrial uses. It is “irresponsible” to move forward without first creating a cleanup plan, says Mark Lopez, director of Commerce-based East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice.

The property was once home to a heavy machinery business, according to Lopez. Toxic materials, percholorethylene (PCE) and tetrachloroethylene (TCE), that could affect movement and control of the body, can be found on the site, Lopez said.

A final Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the Commerce Retail Center Project was released on March 3 of this year and is waiting approval. Lopez believes the review of potential environmental issues, including health hazards has been inadequate.

He says the Department of Toxic Substance Control (DTSC) hasn’t yet characterized the elevated levels of soil contamination, adding the organization does not “trust” DTSC to do an adequate oversight job given the agency’s failures in the Exide contamination issue.

DTSC however, citing its “great deal of experience and expertise overseeing the investigation and cleanup of these types of properties across the state,” told EGP in an email statement that the agency is using its “expertise to ensure the work at the Gatwick site in the City of Commerce is done properly so property is safe for its planned use.”

View of site for proposed retail development at Washington and Atlantic boulevards. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

View of site for proposed retail development at Washington and Atlantic boulevards. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

The agency said it has reviewed and evaluated the developer’s risk assessment and cleanup plans and “sent our comments back to the developer for revision,” DTSC spokesperson Sandy Nax told EGP.

“In addition, the developer has recently acquired a new land parcel within the same block from the City of Commerce. DTSC has required investigation of the subsurface soil in the new parcel and the Proponent will be conducting soil sampling soon.”

East Yards and others also say they are concerned the project could negatively impact the I-710 Corridor Project to improve an 18-mile stretch of the I-710 from Long Beach to the Pomona 60 Freeway in East Los Angeles. The goal of the 710 project is to “improve air quality/public health, improve traffic safety, modernize the freeway design” to accommodate projected growth in the area.

The project has been under review for years, and at one time contained a proposal to take upwards of 100 homes in the Ayers neighborhood to make room for the expansion. If built, the retail center would be located near the 710 Freeway where Lopez said they fought to locate the new northbound off-ramp to avoid the taking of the Ayers neighborhood.

“So part of our struggle was to redesign the project so it wouldn’t take those homes and what we did, instead of having the off-ramp [east of the freeway], it would come to the other side where they want to put the Walmart,” Lopez said, adding they know for a fact that a Walmart is slated to open on the site.

“So if they build a Walmart, who’s going to have better protections from the lawyers, Walmart or the homes?” asked Lopez.

Lauren Wonder, a spokesperson for Caltrans District 7, told EGP there is currently no project alignment for the I-710 project. Nothing has been decided, she said. “The time frame for the final environmental impact report is now early 2017.”

Until the final I-710 EIR is published, comments received and the document is finalized, any discussion of future impacts “will only be a speculation,” Commerce’s Publics Works Director Maryam Babaki told EGP.

Both Babaki and Alvarado say it could take 10 or more years to move the I-710 project, and the city can’t just wait until it does.

Alvarado said he has no problem if Walmart ultimately winds up being the anchor tenant, adding he wants a tenant that will attract more people and benefit other businesses in the area.

Commerce’s General Plan calls for service commercial, general commercial and light industrial uses in the area. A big box store, like Walmart or Target, could generate $600,000 to $800,000 in added revenue per year for the city, according to Maryam Babaki, Commerce’s director of Public Works.

Mayor Ivan Altamirano told EGP he hasn’t decided whether to support the project, saying, “this is not a decision to be taken lightly.”

“I want to know all the players and pieces of this project and quite frankly I don’t believe all of that information has been disclosed,” he said.

“Our community is actually divided on this project. It seems like everyone in the city is already calling this project Walmart except for the developers.”

Altamirano said several factors must be taken in consideration, such as the impact on traffic and the number of good paying jobs it will bring for residents. We also have to look at crime in the area, and whether there are enough sheriff deputies to patrol the area, he told EGP.

Alvarado told EGP the city is already working on traffic improvements in the area, including the widening of Washington Boulevard. The opponents are “a group of people that want to hold back progress of the community,” he said. He and others believe the real issue is opposition to Walmart.

East Yards calls Walmart’s employment track record “problematic,” claiming company workers earn low-wages and work too few hours to qualify for benefits, and has closed up stores with little notice to employees.

Alvarado doesn’t buy the argument, and points out that that other businesses in the area, including at the Citadel, only pay their employees the minimum wage and “nobody complains.”

A date has yet to be set for the project to go before the full city council for review, but it is likely to be within the next few weeks, said Alvarado.

Altamirano said that he will not be rushed into making a decision that will have such a significant impact on the community.

“Once all the information is provided then we can move forward on what is best for the residents of Commerce,” the mayor said.

“Those that don’t want a Walmart are rightfully concerned about the negative effects Walmart has historically had on communities. Those that are in favor of the project I believe really just want a shopping option, Walmart or not.”

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