‘Missing’ Montebello Funds Went To Restaurant Developer (Updated)

March 17, 2011 by · 1 Comment 

City officials say nearly $1 million thought to be missing from an off-the-book bank account went to a developer to build a restaurant and office building at the Montebello Town Square shopping center. (Photo by Jessica Chou)

Whatever happened to the “missing” $1 million in the city of Montebello?

City officials are now saying it was used to entice a developer to build what is now an Applebee’s restaurant at Montebello Town Square.

The use of the funds was approved by the city’s redevelopment agency, according to a 70-page press release sent out by the city last week.

The $1 million was given as a forgivable loan, or “agency grant,” to developer Henry Attina, also known as Hank Attina, to build an “upscale restaurant” similar to “Hard Rock Cafe or Planet Hollywood with a Latin emphasis.”

Attina was expected to build a restaurant on 10,000 square feet of a 40,000 square foot property he owned in the Montebello Town Square. Another 7,000 square feet would be developed into office space.

A 1999 staff report indicated that the hope was to fill an as yet “untapped market” for an “entertainment venue and restaurant” as well as to “satisfy the long-time wishes of the Montebello community.”

The agreement with Attina’s company Prime Cuts, Inc. was approved in 1999 by redevelopment agency members Kathy Salazar, William Molinari, Mary Anne Saucedo, Edward Vasquez and Art Payan, who were also the city council members.

Molinari still sits on the city council and the redevelopment agency, while the city attorney who handled the agreement, Arnold Alvarez-Glasman, is also currently retained by the city and the redevelopment agency.

The redevelopment agency’s legal budget was recently upped by $400,000, from $60,000, because of mounting legal costs from lawsuits against the redevelopment agency, which Alvarez-Glasman represents.

Last week’s release came after officials discovered a Union Bank statement that was not on the general ledger.

It was the second bank account with seemingly unknown origins. In January, the city was notified of a dormant account with Banco Popular that officials later determined was part of a loan program made available to businesses around town that needed to make improvements to their buildings.

The Union Bank account however remained a mystery as attention from the media and even the district attorney’s office – which received a complaint amid the rush for answers – mounted over questions of whether someone absconded with $1 million in city funds.

All that anyone knew at the time was that originally there was about $900,000 in the account, and currently a little more than $5,000 remains.

The account was so old that no one in the city was authorized to view the details of the account, and a special meeting had to be held by the city council to assign authority to current city officials.

Officials have since officially stated that the Union Bank account may have been left off of the general ledger because there was a mistaken assumption the account was closed, although there were apparently bank statements in the city’s finance department to indicate otherwise.

The city has found some documentation, nearly 70 pages worth, to explain the whereabouts of the $1 million that was taken out of the account.

Those documents indicate the city invested a little over $900,000 into a Union Bank account in November 1999. A year later, the city cashed out a larger sum of $1,007,307.17.

In October 2000, the bulk of the money was wired in two parts to Montebello Hillside, LLC, owned by Attina.

Interim City Administrator Peter Cosentini said they did some digging and found that Montebello Hillside, LLC was linked to an agreement with Prime Cuts, Inc. also owned by Attina, that promised to bring an upscale dining establishment to the city.

The developer was given $1 million from the redevelopment agency to help build the restaurant and an office building where the restaurant was to be located.

According to Molinari, the loan would be forgiven only if Attina satisfied several requirements, including making $2 million in improvements to a 17,000 square foot property in the Montebello Town Square, and bringing in a minimum amount of sales and property tax revenue to the city every year.

Attina “pledged” the restaurant and the office space property to the city as collateral on the loan, according to Molinari, in case he failed to deliver his end of the bargain – which nearly happened.

The original proposal had been to build a restaurant called Noa Noa, a start-up chain backed by Latin recording artist Juan Gabriel. News reports at the time said the deal fell through after disagreements and a court battle ensued between the singer and Attina.

While the city’s release does not explain or document how an “upscale restaurant” project became an Applebee’s, Molinari told EGP that after the original project “fizzled out,” the city went looking for another restaurant.

In the end, the city had Tony Romas and Applebee’s bidding to locate on Attina’s property. The subsidy that would have gone to the Noa Noa project was used instead for the Applebee’s, which won the bid.

According to Planning Director Michael Huntley, the redevelopment agency also contributed money to help Applebee’s with “tenant improvements.”

Molinari said the city council decided to give the $1 million incentive to a developer because restaurant chains were “reluctant” to locate in Montebello because of perceptions about its minority demographic.

He said 21 different national restaurant chains had already rejected the city, and another high-end restaurant project was replaced with three fast food restaurants.

Molinari says Montebello’s Applebee’s has since proven itself by becoming the top location in the region, and by ranking in the top ten in the country.

With so much attention now on Montebello, some city officials, including Molinari, have been eager to show that rather than a “backroom deal,” the $1 million “mystery” account is linked to something more prosaic and “above board,” if not positive for
the community.

But if the whispered conversations by long-time observers of city politics and comments on newspaper message boards are any indication, the new information touches off another set of questions, especially regarding the involvement of Attina, a polarizing figure in Montebello due to his closeness to past and current city officials.

Attina, who has been less visible in recent years, was a long-time businessman and resident of Montebello who ran several restaurants in the city. He is both credited with and distrusted for having a hand in many of the city’s major commercial and senior housing developments.

Molinari defended Attina, saying he has been a “catalyst” for development in the city, and does not see anything “negative” with Attina’s involvement in the Applebee’s project or other projects, and neither does he feel his involvement was ever excessive.
The $1 million given to Attina to develop the project “was a large commitment upfront, but it paid off,” says Molinari, who adds, “If you want the reward you have to be willing to risk something.”

While Molinari believes the $1 million was a good investment, he says people have the right to disagree: “That’s the democratic system.”

Yan Tang, a professor at the USC School of Policy, Planning, and Development, says it is fairly routine for municipal governments, especially ones that are trying to draw reluctant national retailers into their city, to provide incentives to developers, but “such a huge amount of money” as $1 million warrants skepticism.

“It is the right of the citizen to ask officials to justify it,” Tang says.

Meanwhile Montebello city officials who are dealing with multiple entrenched financial problems in the city say they have not yet closed the case on the Union Bank account.

Cosentini said last Thursday he has found “nothing illegal, to date” in the documents they have dug up so far, but there were some “outstanding questions” such as where the original $900,000 came from and whether everything is “okay with the deal” to bring a restaurant into Montebello.

Two Charters ‘Approved’ for Taylor Yard High

March 17, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

After a marathon session with fewer surprises than the first round of Public School Choice —thanks to the early release of Superintendent Ramon Cortines’ recommendations last week—the Los Angeles Unified School District School Board on Tuesday sealed the fate for some new schools and focus schools currently being processed under the district’s in house reform.

About half the applicants for the 27 schools, located at 10 campuses across the district, were approved with reservations, and must resubmit their proposals for further review by April 25. For the most part, the school board agreed with most of Cortines’ recommendations.

Among the plans approved are 12 pilot schools, seven charters, three traditional schools, two expanded school-based management model (ESBMM) schools, and one network partner. Two schools, Mann Middle School and East LA Star Academy, did not have an applicant approved.

“There are many routes to academic success, and we must learn from the promising practices in the highest achieving schools to help low-performing schools that are facing challenges and in fact, to expand opportunities for all students,” Cortines said in a written statement. “The goal of this District is to provide multiple options for students, for their parents and guardians. The Public School Choice reform initiative is one way to provide numerous opportunities for students to excel.”

Central Region High School #13, also known as Taylor Yard High School, in Glassell Park will have three pilot schools and two charter schools at the five-school campus. Alliance for College Ready Public Schools was the only applicant that was approved without reservations and will not have to resubmit their proposal.

Partnership to Uplift Communities, also a charter, was approved with reservations, as were The Los Angeles River School, School of History and Dramatic Arts, and ARTLAB Arts and Community Empowerment. The schools must address the areas of concerns cited by Cortines and resubmit their proposals by the April 25 deadline for final approval.

A sixth applicant, The School of Technology, Business & Education was the only applicant not recommended by Cortines or approved by the board. An amendment proposed by board member Steve Zimmer to allow all the Central High applicants to resubmit their proposals failed.

Responding to Zimmer, Cortines said he did not reject the school of technology’s proposal, but decided in favor of the other schools. Board President Monica Garcia suggested the applicant’s proposal could be resubmitted for another campus.

The only proposal for East LA Star Academy, submitted by a team led by Local District #5, was rejected. Proposals submitted by other local district-led teams, 1, 2, 4 and 8 did make the grade.

The board approved Board Member Yolie Flores’ motion to open East LA Star up to other applicants; plans must by submitted by the April 25 deadline.

Dozens of parents, community members, teachers and applicant team members spoke during the Public Comment period. The board enforced the two-minute time limit, cutting off some speakers like Ceci Dominguez who spoke in favor of ARTLAB and Veronica Ramirez who was about to speak in favor of the East LA Star’s community and teacher-led proposal.

Ramirez, a mother and East LA resident, had typed up her comments to read to the board. She told EGP she was going to support points made by teachers who spoke before her and to thank the board for their support.

“Being a person who likes to be active in my community, who likes when parents are informed and who wants there to be as much transparency as possible, I felt like my hands were tied,” Ramirez said, noting she felt the local district did not provide as much support for writing the proposal as they would have liked.

The Public School Choice reform was approved by the Los Angeles Board of Education in 2009 to encourages nonprofit education-based groups, charter schools and collaborative teams of educators to compete to present the best proposal for existing low-performing schools, identified as “focus schools,” and for newly-constructed campuses.

The comprehensive application and selection process includes informational meetings; advisory votes; an evaluation by the superintendent’s review panel; individual evaluations and recommendations by Cortines; and a final deciding vote by the Board of Education.

Bell Gardens Population Drops, Officials Suspect Undercount

March 17, 2011 by · 1 Comment 

Some time last year, Bell Gardens Councilman Daniel Crespo told his colleagues on the city council that he had observed many residents moving out of the city, a remark they lightly brushed aside, noting that city services are still in high demand.

2010 Census data released last week, however, shows that the southeast city, which spans only 2.5 miles, has lost nearly 2,000 residents; a drop of 4.50 percent since 2000. The 2000 data put the total population at 44,054, compared to 44,437 in 2005-2009, and 42,072 in 2010, for a loss over the last decade of 1,982 residents. At least on paper.

Bell Gardens city officials say they are puzzled by the new figures.

“None of us can understand why the numbers dropped by close to 2,000 people when there’s no signs of any of it that we can see, and so it leads me to believe that we were undercounted,” Bell Gardens City Manager Steve Simonian told EGP on Monday.
“I did notice that most of the southeast cities that are heavily Hispanic showed the same drop, which would lead one to believe that there was a tremendous migration of our people to somewhere else and the cities that showed growth were like Beverly Hills and Irvine… I don’t think it’s a true picture of what happened.”

Simonian says some have suggested that because of high unemployment, many immigrants returned to their home countries. “But my understanding is that that job market hasn’t improved there [Mexico] either and with the increased violence… it doesn’t appear to me that that happened either,” he said.

There are zero vacancies in the city, and when there are vacancies, they are quickly filled, not to mention that many residents live in converted garages, and multiple families are sharing one-bedroom apartments or living in other un-permitted conditions, he said.

While local community groups worked hard to encourage Census-participation, Simonian suspects that fear of deportation, or of being discovered living in un-permitted quarters, or some other fear, led to an undercount.

The consequences of the decrease in the population count in Bell Gardens is still to be determined, but Simonian suspects it will have a direct impact on it’s ability to secure grants as it will be obligated to explain why more money is needed when the city’s population has dropped.

Meanwhile, almost across the board in EGP’s coverage areas, the population grew.

Most notably, the unincorporated East Los Angeles area population grew by 2,213 residents, an increase of 1.78 percent in the last decade. It is possible, but not probable, that some residents from Bell Gardens may have moved to East LA, Albert E. Fontenot Jr. of the U. S. Census Bureau in Los Angeles, told EGP.

Vernon, which bills itself as “exclusively industrial,” experienced a 23.08 percent increase in its population, going from 91 to 112 residents between 2000 and 2010.

Commerce also experienced one of the larger margins of growth locally. It went from 12,568 in 2000, to 12,823 residents in 2010, an increase of 1.78 percent.

Montebello’s population expanded by .56 percent in the same period with 350 new residents, and Monterey Park saw an increase of 218 residents, a .36 percent increase over 10 years.

Los Angeles County as a whole grew by 3.1 percent in the past decade, which is far slower than other Southern California counties, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures released on March 8. Nonetheless, the county is still one of the most populated in the state with about 9.8 million residents. The city of Los Angeles alone has about 3.8 million residents.

Riverside and San Bernardino counties saw the largest increase in population, with 41 percent and 19.1 percent respectively.
California’s population increased by 10 percent from 33.8 million in 2000 to 37.2 million in 2010, with the Latino population growing more than other groups and now makes up 37.6 percent of the state’s population. The white population dropped by about 40 percent, while the Asian population grew by 12.8 percent and the black population increased by 5.8 percent.

After the 2000 Census, districts were redrawn and legislatives representatives were redistributed—a processes called redistricting and reapportionment—said Fontenot. The changes make it difficult to “compare apples to apples,” he said, explaining that how district lines will change as a result of the new Census numbers is not something they can determine.
It’s hard to tell whether the changes in population will impact the reapportionment of state representatives because California now has a redistricting commission, he said.

While redistricting happens every ten years following the census count, this is the first year that a commission, approved by voters last year, will redraw district lines. In years past, elected officials in the state legislature developed the district map, in a process many criticized as designed to protect the political base of incumbents.

Last year, voters approved the California Congressional Redistricting Initiative that gave a panel of 14 commissioners the authority to change the district boundaries while taking many factors into consideration. The commission is expected to consider continguous communities, called “communities of interest,” with the goal of empowering communities previously split by officials who wants to dilute or concentrate voter support in order to stay in office.

Many political observers have said the new Census numbers could create a shift in the state’s political power in several areas, such as increasing the number of districts away from traditional power centers like Los Angeles and the San Francisco region and coastal areas, to inland territories like the Central Valley and Riverside, San Bernardino and Orange Counties. Observers also see opportunities to increase the number of seats, both in the state and in the Congress, where Latinos and Asians can be elected.

How the new Census numbers may impact redistricting in either the County or city of Los Angeles remains to be seen, as elected officials in each of those two municipalities directly oversee the redistricting process.

Information from City News Service was used in this report.

Find Out Where You Can Donate to Japanese Earthquake Relief Efforts

March 17, 2011 by · 1 Comment 

No strangers to the devastation that earthquakes can cause, Californians have nonetheless been stunned by the magnitude of the damage caused by the 9.0 earthquake in Japan last week, as well as the subsequent tsunami and the ongoing radiation threat from the badly damaged and compromised reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

Donations have been slower to come in than for past earthquake relief efforts, with American donors giving at least $47 million as of Tuesday, according to a tally by The Chronicle of Philanthropy. Many may be slow to donate because they see Japan as affluent and self-sufficient, according to some reports. Given the scope and magnitude of the disaster, donations are still very much needed, according to nonprofit relief groups.

Here are some ways you can make donations to help the relief effort in Japan:

Japanese Chamber of Commerce (UNICEF)
They are accepting donations on behalf of UNICEF until end of April. Make checks payable to U.S. Fund for UNICEF” with the note “Japan Disaster Fund.” Please send to JCC office at 244 So. San Pedro St. #504, Los Angeles, CA 90012.

Civic Center Earthquake Relief Fund Drive (Thursday, Mar. 17)
Donations will be collected on behalf of the Japanese Red Cross throughout the day Thursday, Mar. 17, from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. between 1st & Temple, outside Los Angeles City Hall. The drive is organized by the office of L.A. Councilwoman Jan Perry, RafuShimpo, LA 18, and L.A. Councilman Bernard Parks.

American Red Cross
Donations can also be made through the American Red Cross by calling 1-800-RED CROSS, or by texting REDCROSS to 90999 to donate $10. Donations can be mailed to American Red Cross National Headquarters, 2025 E St. NW, Washington, D.C., 20006. Donations can also be made at their website (https://www.redcross.org).

Operation USA
To contribute to this Culver City-based aid organization, text REBUILD to 50555 to donate $10, or visit their website (http://www.opusa.org) to make an online donation. They are assisting organizations in Japan with disaster relief. For more information call 1-800-678-7255 or visit their website.

International Medical Corps

The Santa Monica-based organization has an emergency response team on the ground in Japan, focusing on areas that have not yet been reached. Donate by calling their 24-hour phone line at 1-800-481-4462 or by mailing a check payable to “International Medical Corps” to ATTN: Development Department International Medical Corps, 1919 Santa Monica Boulevard, Suite 400, Santa Monica, CA 90404. You can also text MED to 80888 to give $10, or visit their website (http://www.internationalmedicalcorps.org).

GlobalGiving
They are working with the International Medical Corps, Save the Children and other organizations on the ground in Japan. Donate by going to their website (http://www.globalgiving.org) or text JAPAN to 50555 to donate $10.

CARTOON: Libya

March 17, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

The Lessons To Be Learned From Japan’s Tragedy

March 17, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Following Japan’s devastating earthquake and tsunami, Americans, like people all over the world have been learning more about the nuclear power generating industry than may in some cases be wise.

The news that dangerous levels of radiation could escape from Japan’s severely damaged nuclear reactors has many living in fear that the winds could bring the radiation to our shores.

This may be a case of a little bit of knowledge can be a very dangerous thing.

Judging by the report from pharmacies across the state and the Los Angeles area in particular, people are buying out all supplies of potassium iodide pills. This fact now has many public health officials worried that many who bought the pills may decide to take them, out of fear rather than need.

This could create other complications to their health, so health officials have sent out several warnings to residents to not to take the pills.

We suggest that supplies of the potassium iodide pills not be put on the shelves or even sold – and that a cooling off period, perhaps of five days, be put in place.

For those who would like to know more about the effects of radiation, or more clarification on why not to take potassium iodide, the State of California has established a hot line (916) 341-3947, open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The real lessons that we should be learning from the tragedy in Japan is that we must be prepared for disasters here at home and that the flow of information is not always fast in coming or accurate when delivered.

Sen. Barbara Boxer said yesterday that she is concerned nuclear power plants in California were “built to standards based on 1970 era assumptions,” and called for a complete, top to bottom revenue of their safety, using 2011 information.

Given California’s propensity for earthquakes, we agree.

Congress Needs To Build A Culture of Fairness

March 17, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

A few weeks ago, the U.S. Senate voted down a Republican attempt to repeal last year’s health-care reform law. You may remember this, even though it rated only a mention on the evening news. What I’m virtually certain you don’t remember is how the Republicans, who are in the Senate minority, even brought the issue up.

I’ll tell you. It was an amendment to a completely unrelated bill on aviation policy. And the repeal measure came to a vote because the Democratic majority agreed that it could.

This, in fact, was the real news out of Congress that day. Under an agreement between Democrat Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, and Republican Mitch McConnell, the minority leader, Republicans allowed the aviation bill to the floor with no threat of a filibuster, while the Democrats, who set the rules of the debate, allowed them to offer plenty of amendments — even one as politically unappetizing to them as repealing health-care reform.

And here’s what’s most notable about the whole thing: the sky didn’t fall. The health-care amendment got voted down, the Senate moved on to the substance of the aviation bill, and senators on both sides agreed that the atmosphere in the Senate had benefited from this break in the ongoing partisan wars.

There’s a lesson here, and it’s a simple one. Basic fairness in legislative procedure is essential to the smooth running of Congress and to the achievement of consensus.

Ideally, when a bill comes forward, both sides should offer amendments that require members of Congress to vote on the major policy issues it presents. This does not mean you have to allow every amendment every legislator wants to present — that would produce a chaotic overload. Instead, it’s the committees’ job to pare away the minor amendments, as well as ones drawn up simply to score political points, and to present to the full House or Senate for a vote the major policy issues the pending bill raises. Then the bill would go to the floor, the issues it raises would be debated, and senators and congressmen would go on record with how they stand.

This is not how either the Senate or the House has operated for a long time. As Carl Hulse of The New York Times noted in his report on the aviation bill, under the usual scenario “Democrats would have tried to bring up the bill but then taken parliamentary steps to block amendments, to prevent Republicans from having an opportunity to make a political point. In retaliation, Republicans would have forced Democrats to assemble 60 votes just to get the bill to the floor. Then days, if not weeks, would have passed with nothing much transpiring as lawmakers looked for a way out of their procedural morass.”

The result of that sort of games-playing has become wearingly familiar to Americans: fights, delays, filibusters, charges and countercharges, hot rhetoric, bruised egos, polarization, and the alarming deterioration of Congress’ standing as a democratic institution.

All of this has happened because the majority has chosen not just to overrule the minority, but to keep things easier by preventing it from bringing up its concerns for debate. Years ago, when I served in the House, Democrats ran the body. We would meet to plan legislative tactics and discuss which amendments we’d allow; invariably, someone would say, “Hey, we’ve got the votes, let’s just ram it through.”

It happened under Democrats, and when Republicans took control, it happened then, too: the majority developed the habit of denying the minority a chance to amend, a chance to have a voice, a chance to force a vote on the major tough issues presented by a bill, a chance to present an alternative to the pending bill — and the minority reacted with anger and the legislative equivalent of scorched-earth tactics.

What has been missing in all this is basic fairness — and the realization that it is a fundamental part of what Congress should be about. If you give each party a fair and ample hearing, allow it to bring forward key amendments that are important to its members, and actually permit Congress to consider the issues of the day, the proceedings don’t just benefit the legislative process, they also allow the American people to learn from the policy debate.

So the Senate is to be commended for taking a break from the partisan wars. Let’s hope it lasts, and that the House follows its example. We now have an entire generation of politicians on Capitol Hill who’ve known little besides the frustration and anger of “let’s ram it through” politics, and they need a chance to learn what fair process looks like — and how much they might be able to get done if they allow it to flourish.

Lee Hamilton is Director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.

From Our Readers

March 17, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Re: Workers Fear Loss of Vernon Jobs, But Environmentalists See Hope In AB 46

I was very disappointed to read your article today about the March 1st LA City Council meeting and neighboring citizens allegations about Vernon being the source of air contamination and health effects since I provided you with the air quality analysis that documents that vehicles are the issue. The article would have been a great opportunity to inform and provide a factual balanced perspective.

Lewis Pozzebon, Director of the city of Vernon Health Department

Activist’s Voter Fraud Case Stalled on Competency Question

March 17, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Nearly two years after being charged with eight felonies related to election and voter registration fraud, longtime immigrant rights activist Nativo Lopez has yet to stand trial in a case that has taken many unusual twists and turns.

Lopez insists that he has not committed any crimes and his supporters are demanding all charges be dropped.

Update: Lopez Found Competent to Stand Trial

The prosecutor in the case believes Lopez is pretending to be mentally ill in order to avoid going to trial.

“They have accused me of being incompetent… They want me in a mental institution and forcibly medicated so that I come to court like an obedient zombie,” Lopez told supporters outside the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center on Friday, March 11.

Nativo Lopez (center) talked to his supporters outside the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center on Friday, March 11. (EGP photo by Gloria Angelina Castillo)

 

Last week, Superior Court Judge George Lomeli, following the findings of a court-ordered psychiatric report, remanded Lopez to a state mental institution for mandatory treatment.

A progress report to establish whether Lopez had been admitted to Patton State Mental Hospital in San Bernardino County, was originally set for today, March 17, but was canceled the same day it was calendared.

Psychiatrist Jack Rothberge, one of three psychiatrists who have found Lopez incompetent to stand trial, submitted a supplemental report on March 10 indicating that he had changed his opinion and believes Lopez to be competent after all.

The judge reversed his decision, and let the activist go. MAPA, Mexican American Political Association, an organization where Lopez is president, but which has seen a significant drop off locally in both members and political influence, responded by calling a press conference.

Lopez’s supporters, many of whom said they are members of a branch of La Hermandad (Hermandad Mexicana Nacional), said during the press conference that Lopez is innocent and is being punished for defending immigrant workers.

“We have been supporting him every time he comes to court,” said Alicia Flores of the La Hermandad Hank Lacayo Youth and Family Center in Oxnard.

“Yesterday we found out that the judge did not act very professionally, when he demanded [Nativo] submit himself to a psychological evaluation or be incarcerated. He accepted to go to a psychologist… and answer questions related to the case. The prosecutor was there and she was looking very sarcastically at Nativo, provoking him and making fun of him, ” Flores said.

Lopez’s next court appearance is scheduled for April 14, at which time the court will try to resolve whether Lopez is competent to stand trial. Because Rothberge’s first two reports were inconsistent, the psychiatrist will submit his final report on Lopez’s competence to the judge, according to the district attorney’s office.

Lopez, who wants to act as his own attorney, argues that based on “Common Law,” he has not committed a crime since there is no victim and no damages to property.

In June 2009, the Public Integrity Unit of the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office and Secretary of State’s Election Fraud Investigation Unit charged him with four felonies: fraudulent voter registration, fraudulent document filing, perjury and fraudulent voting. He faces a total of eight felony charges.

Investigators for the Election Fraud Investigation Unit said that Lopez, a resident of Orange County, registered to vote using the address of an office in Boyle Heights, and cast an illegal ballot in Los Angeles in the 2008 presidential primary.

Since then, the case has changed hands three times, and Lomeli is now overseeing proceedings in the case. Lopez was indicted by a grand jury.

Numerous public defenders have been assigned to Lopez, who quickly turns around and fires them. Lopez told EGP he wants to defend himself.

However, because he must first be deemed competent to defend himself in court, the case has stalled as he “pretends to be mentally ill,” said prosecutor Juliet Smidt, of the District Attorney’s Public Integrity Division.

“He thinks that if he makes the court believe he’s incompetent all he’ll get is out-patient therapy once a month which is not punishment. That’s what his game is,” Smidt told EGP on Monday.

Smidt says she talked to Rothberge and asked him revise his opinion; he did and the judge took back his order for Lopez to be in a mental hospital.

Lopez has delayed the court proceedings by talking gibberish to psychiatrist and submitting nonsensical information, for example on the Queen of England and on taxes, Smidt said.

“He’s never made these claims about no victim. There are plenty of crimes where there is no victim,” she said noting bribery and fraud cases are still crimes. “We prosecute a number of violations that are violation of public trust by elected officials or leaders in public positions were there is no property damage.”

“The man is not incompetent, I’ve told the judge that numerous times,” Smidt told EGP.

As the case moves forward, Smidt says Lopez cannot represent himself based on three judges believing he is incompetent.
Lopez’s supporters say they are beginning a new campaign to rally support for Lopez and to have Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley drop the charges.

LEA ESTA NOTA EN ESPAÑOL

County Must Work With State on Budget Crisis, Molina Says

March 17, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

While the County of Los Angeles has not seen the devastating budget shortfalls and cuts to services as other counties and cities in the state, county residents should expect major cuts in the upcoming fiscal year, Supervisor Gloria Molina told attendees at a recent meeting of the East Los Angeles Rotary.

“In the last, almost four years, during… with all the economic shortfalls, we have not cut services or laid off staff,” said Molina.

“Unfortunately, this year is going to be tougher than ever for all of us,” she said.

L.A. County represents one third of the state and with a $24 billion budget hole, the county must be part of the solution to the state’s budget deficit, Molina said.

“We are trying to work in concert with the governor. One of the things he is asking us to do is embrace a series of cuts—calling them ‘realignment,’ but basically sending to us the responsibility to carry out these services,” she said.

Molina warned that while the county may have to swallow this “bittersweet pill,” it wants to make sure that the state doesn’t go back to borrowing money, expanding programs that cannot be sustained or “giving out goodies to special interests.”

Later this year, several temporary tax increases will expire unless voters approve an extension. Without the tax extension, Molina said $2.6 billion more would be cut from the courts and corrections; $1.2 billion from health and social services, and $1.8 million from municipal governments. She said there could be additional tuition hikes at state colleges.

“So we need to work together… [to] get the message out that these taxes are critical, absolutely critical,” she said in support of putting the tax increase on the ballot.

Molina said she is hopeful that “La Linea de Oro,” Metro’s Gold Line, will help improve East LA’s economy, but said the county needs to create a good regional transportation system that includes the San Gabriel region. She said the county has the money, but Metro is leaning toward projects for the westside.

“We need to become involved with the type of decisions that they make… I’m very worried that those projects are going on in the westside, and if we don’t watch the dollars, by the time it’s our turn on the eastside, there might not be enough money,” she said.

The supervisor said that while she has remained neutral on the issue of East LA cityhood, parties on both sides of the issue have accused her of swaying toward their opponents.

Molina said much of unincorporated East LA’s industrial tax base was “gobbled up” years ago by cities like Commerce, Montebello and Monterey Park. She said a fiscal analysis study underway will give residents a chance to see the current costs for services to determine if the area can sustain itself. After that, they can decide if they want to vote to become a city.

Molina cautioned that unless residents get civically engaged, they could end up like some of the southeast cities that have struggled with corruption and financial insolvency.

East Los Angeles Residents Association President Ben Cardenas told Molina that East Los Angeles would never be like the southeast cities because residents there are more engaged.

The results of the fiscal analysis should be made public by June, Cardenas told EGP.

East LA resident and business owner Eddie Torres asked Molina if she would analyze the data once it becomes available, so residents can feel confident about whether the same level of services can be sustained at the current price.

“What am I getting now, what am I paying? What will I get then and what will I be paying? [That will be the] discussion as we move forward,” Molina responded, noting there are always accusations that the information is slanted.

Molina said what she worries most about is “outsiders bringing in lots of money, like in Bell…” to unduly influence the outcome of the election. “I will keep an eye on that… there are lots of predators dressed in business like attire not working in the best interest of the community,” like in Bell, Maywood, and all over the San Gabriel Valley, she said.

Andy Carasco, public affairs manager for The Gas Company, asked Molina her thoughts on AB36, a bill authored by Assembly Speaker John Perez that would dis-incorporate the city of Vernon.

“I have said time and time again that Vernon is not a city; not a democratic city. It is basically a company town.” She said voters are compromised because they are employed by the city and their votes are monitored.

“I’m hopeful it will get passed, then there will probably be a lawsuit,” Molina said. If Vernon is dis-incorporated, she hopes it will go back to the “county as an unincorporated area… through the LAFCO procees.”

“…If that happens, we are not going to put it up for grabs for anybody.”

The City of Los Angeles has already expressed interest in annexing Vernon, which has a substantial tax base. Molina said no one sees Vernon as a liability.

Molina suggested East LA—if it becomes a city—could annex Vernon if it is dis-incorporated. She acknowledged that businesses have threatened to leave if Vernon is dis-incorporated, but said she believes a city can have democracy and strong industry, citing Commerce as an example.

Cardenas told EGP that right now ELARA is not interested in speculating about annexing Vernon, but is instead focused on cityhood.

Pan American Bank filmed Molina’s speech; the video can be viewed at http://livestre.am/E1uI

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