Tax Hike Placed on November Ballot

May 18, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

MONTEBELLO – Declaring a fiscal emergency, the Montebello city council has voted to hold a special election in November to ask voters to approve a 1-cent hike in the local sales tax.

If approved, Montebello’s sale tax will climb to 9.75 percent, higher than the 9.25 rate in Commerce, but the same rate as in nearby Pico Rivera.

With a projected $5 million deficit for 2017-2018, the city estimates the increase would generate approximately $9.5 million annually for the financially troubled city.

Running out of time and options, city officials were forced to declare the fiscal emergency required to hold a special election in conjunction with Los Angeles County’s Nov. 7 election, or wait until next year.

Under the resolution approved May 10, the city will establish fiscal policies aimed at reducing waste during the emergency declaration. If approved, monies generated through the sales will be placed in a separate fund, with a new, special oversight committee – made up of Mayor Pro Tem Bill Molinari, Councilwoman Vanessa Delgado, the city manager, finance director, representatives from employee bargaining units and five members of the community — recommending to the city council how the funds should be spent.

The proposal to raise the sales tax was originally presented to the council in April, but failed to move forward when Molinari voted against it, citing issues he had with city spending.

Molinari’s concerns were partially addressed in the new resolution, which will impose a hiring freeze on all full-time city positions except for those related to public safety. It also requires contracts exceeding $20,000 to be approved by the council, regular updates on contracts approved by the city administrator, caps the city council’s annual travel budget to $3,600 each and prohibits city funds from being used for city council meals.

The city council hopes to avoid a repeat of last year’s Measure W, which would have approved the sale of the city’s water system but was defeated by voters distrustful of the city’s motives.

Last month, Montebello’s fiscal stimulus committee recommended the city consider studying its fee schedule to determine if they are in line with those in other cities, imposing a utility tax and/or increasing the sales tax.

City officials opted for the sales tax route, explaining a fee study would take too long to complete. Staff had noted the sales tax could generate more revenue than a utility user tax and would be paid by anyone conducting business in the city, not just residents.

 

Reading Between the Grammatically Incorrect Lines

May 26, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Election season is upon us and like many of you my mailbox is beginning to be stuffed with political mailers. Spoiler alert: it’s only going to increase as we near the June 7th primary election date.

Mailers, emails, canvassers, and phone banking volunteers and supporters of issues and/or candidates do help provide information and are traditional aspects of any election season. As voters, we have a responsibility to do the research and educate ourselves in order to make informed decisions before checking a box at our polling places.

This is why one mailer caught my attention recently. Not because of the information it provided, but rather the extreme lack of details on the issue it supports.

A group from Long Beach sent me a nicely printed, high-gloss mailer riddled with grammatical errors. The issue the Long Beach group presented is the Vote Yes on GS for Greater Montebello Unified Schools.

To my earlier point about mailers being a campaign tool and having some educational value by providing voters with details on an issue/candidate – the more information I receive the better I feel about voting for or against an issue or candidate. In this case, information was replaced with rhetoric dusted over one page while photos of officials who support the bond dominated the other side of the mailer.

The mailer looks more like a candidate slate with 12 images of elected officials including Tom Torlakson, our state’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, and Montebello Unified School District’s board president, Benjamin Cardenas.

The problem is there is no information on how much money is involved with the bond or what the funds will be used for specifically if the bond is approved by voters. What it does provide are clichés on helping students and children and making sure all kids get an education they need to succeed.

And they are clichés, because who would argue against any of these obvious goals of our educational system?
So why not remove the images of elected officials and use the space to tell voters more about the bond? There is a website (more grammar issues) offering detail on what the bond will pay for over an eight year period, but for many seniors, first time voters, and those of us with families and careers, we can use help in understanding issues without logging on to the web.

So for all of us voters the lesson here is do your homework.

To the Long Beach group wanting to inform me on Montebello issues, and other groups making the effort to send items to voters, take the time to place useful information on your mailers; and to the elected officials representing education, please proof read items carrying your name and image – especially if you are asking for money for our schools.

Richard Garcia is a Montebello resident.

Election Shakes Up Local Boards

November 5, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

Incumbents on the Montebello City Council and the Montebello Unified School District were ousted from their seats Tuesday, according to semi-official elections results from the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/Election Division.

In the city of Montebello, Mayor Jack Hadjinian received the most votes – 1,695 – in the city council race that had two seats on the five-member council up for grabs.

Jack Hadjinian

Jack Hadjinian

Challenger Vanessa Delgado – a developer – received the second highest number of votes at 1,469, unseating incumbent Councilwoman Christina Cortez who received 1,122 votes.

Vanessa Delgado

Vanessa Delgado

Two out of five seats were also up for election in the MUSD school board, which represents schools in Bell Gardens, Commerce, Montebello and, parts of Monterey Park, East Los Angeles and Pico Rivera. Board President Edgar Cisneros will be returning to the dais, receiving 3,396 votes. Challenger Joanna Flores – a professor at East Los Angeles College – garnered 3,119 votes, enough to win her the second seat on the board.

Edgar Cisneros

Edgar Cisneros

Joanna Flores

Joanna Flores

Longtime board member David Vela was a distant third, receiving only 2,668 votes.

Montebello voters also had the opportunity to elect a new city treasurer and city clerk. None of the incumbents chose to seek office, leaving challengers to face off against each other.

In the race for City Treasurer, Charles Pell, a criminal prosecutor for the U.S. Department of Justice, passed the 50 percent mark with 2,061 of votes casts, beating out former councilwoman Rosie Vasquez. Pell is the son of MUSD’s Chief Financial Officer and former superintendent, Cleve Pell.

The city-clerk elect Irma Barajas received 1,614 votes, enough to beat out Christina Gonzales. Barajas is married to city councilman Art Barajas.

Candidates See Montebello as Diamond in the Rough

October 29, 2015 by · 1 Comment 

When Rose Gascon first moved to Montebello the city was often referred to as the “Beverly Hills of East Los Angeles,” a nickname adopted to differentiate the city’s thriving businesses and clean, paved streets from its neighbor to the east, where many of the city’s residents once lived.

“We used to be the diamond on the hill,” Gascon recalls wistfully.

Lea este artículo en Español: Candidatos Ven a Montebello Como un Diamante Sin Pulir

Nearly 40 years have passed and now all Gascon sees are remnants of the past, potholes on her street and vacant storefronts on the boulevards.

“The luster is gone,” Gascon told EGP. “I look at all the new stores and restaurants opening up in neighboring cities and I just think, ‘what about Montebello?”

On Tuesday, Nov. 3, Montebello voters will have an opportunity to – as one candidate puts it – not just vote for two councilmembers but for the future of the city.

Campaign posters for candidates running in Montebello’s upcoming Nov. 3 election are found throughout the city. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Campaign posters for candidates running in Montebello’s upcoming Nov. 3 election are found throughout the city. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

“We need someone who is going to create a positive impact in our city so businesses want to be located here,” says Angelica Jauregui, executive director of St. Paul Lutheran Church and member of the Montebello Chamber of Commerce.

Six challengers – Fernando Chacon, Kimberly Ann Cobos, Vanessa Delgado, William Paolisso, Michael W. Samarin-Popoff and Randy Smith – are trying to unseat Mayor Jack Hadjinian and Councilwoman Christina Cortez, who have each served one term.

When first elected, Hadjinian and Cortez were faced with a city in the mist of a tumultuous identity crisis, its reputation tarnished by a series of bad financial decisions and political discord on the City Council.

The city’s budget has since improved and several projects that had languished on the books for years have been approved, progress Hadjinian and Cortez hope voters will see as their doing.

But challengers in the race say much more should have been accomplished during the last four years and they hope voters will give them a chance to get it done.

EGP reached out to voters and the incumbents and challengers to get their views on the city’s most pressing issues. Only Fernando Chacon did not respond.

A vacant store front on Whittier Boulevard in Montebello displays signs indicating the businesses is available for lease. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

A vacant store front on Whittier Boulevard in Montebello displays signs indicating the businesses is available for lease. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Economic Development: More Businesses Wanted

All the candidates, including the incumbents, agree Montebello must do a better job of attracting new business to the city. They all say duplicating successes in neighboring cities like Alhambra, Pico Rivera and Downey, would greatly improve the city’s ability to provide services to residents and fix deteriorating infrastructure.

Cobo wants to see one of the main boulevards transformed into a restaurant row and believes streamlining the city’s inspection and permitting process from three weeks to 72 hours would help.

Hadjinian says his real estate background has given him insight into what developers wants and blames city’s demographics for retailers and restaurant chains previously not wanting to open in Montebello. He said they look at demographics, current retail, traffic and the city’s reputation before deciding to invest. He also blamed council politics for at times making the city appear not to be business friendly, but added the current council has been working to make Montebello more attractive to investors by creating more housing stock for families with higher disposable incomes.

Gascon says she’s tired of hearing elected officials spout the demographic argument.

“Just because we’re considered a blue-collar community doesn’t mean we won’t shop or frequent nice restaurants,” she said while visiting the Montebello Senior Center. “Pico Rivera had lower demographics and look at them now,” she said in frustration.

Gascon thinks less talk from the council and more walking of developers through the city is what’s needed. “Bring them to Olive Garden, BJ’s [Brewery] or Applebee’s,” they are always full, she said.

St. Paul’s Jauregui agrees with Gascon and has brought the issue up to the mayor. “I don’t understand why businesses think they would not be patronized by Montebello residents,” she told EGP. “We always have to go outside to spend our money,” Jauregui complained.

Challenger Delgado works with the developer responsible for building the new Azalea Shopping Center in South Gate. She told EGP if elected she would foster a climate that supports economic development, starting with updating the city plan.

“In order to attract investment in the city, the general plan and supporting zoning documents must be redone to make sure they are flexible and encourage creative development projects,” she said.

Incumbent Cortez, however, seems to think the city is getting a bad rap when it comes to business. She argues the city already has a diverse business community. “We have retail that includes a fantastic mall, a Costco and several independent family businesses,” she said. “My guess is that as long as our economy continues to improve businesses will seek out opportunities here.”

Gascon doesn’t buy it. She thinks it’s going to take more than an improving economy to attract restaurants and retailers to underdeveloped Whittier Boulevard. “We need someone who will fight for us and won’t be afraid to push back against developers who say” we can’t support more businesses, she said.

Beautification and Aesthetics

Residents complain that the city has allowed its streets and facilities to fall into severe disrepair. Some, like Jauregui, say it’s the biggest beef they have with the current city council. “They don’t take pride in beautifying the city,” she said, noting how much better cities just across the border look.

“There’s a lot more graffiti, the streets are shot and the alleys are filled with junk” here, laments ninety-year-old Juanita Alavrenge. “I know the city doesn’t have money, but they have to try,” she said.

Nitta Francis, on the other hand, is willing to give the council credit for trying to make improvements. “They’re doing okay,” she said in defense of their work. “The important thing is they are trying.”

Trying isn’t good enough, according to Cecilia LaRogue. She wants the council to raise more revenue by attracting more businesses to the city.

Candidate Smith says the city needs to redevelop its business corridors on Whittier Boulevard and off the 60 Freeway, which he says are long overdue for upgrades. He suggests temporarily raising taxes to pay for the upgrades.

Cobos doesn’t support raising taxes on property owners but will consider a 1 percent increase in the city sales tax. Pico Rivera added millions of dollars to their general fund this way, she said.

Delgado and Cobos propose using grants and tax credits for such projects.

Cortez, Samarin-Popoff and Hadjinian told EGP they are opposed to increasing taxes that would burden residents.

Senior citizen Robert Valverde says he’s tired of the incumbents’ campaigns touting all the positive changes they’ve brought to the city. As far as he’s concerned, when he looks around all he sees is facilities where maintenance has fallen behind.

“I don’t fault them for spending on our police department, but when they buy the entire force new cars and the senior center is deteriorating on the inside it seems unfair,” he said.

Belt Tightening

While city finances have improved, Montebello is a long way from having the revenue to pay for all the city’s many budget needs.

Samarin-Popoff acknowledges that the city’s popular police and fire departments take up a big chunk of the city’s budget, but thinks any cost cutting measures will have to come from some other sector.

“This year, to balance the budget we had to sell a city property,” recalled Cobos who says she doesn’t want to go down that road again. She doesn’t support cuts to the recreation department or programs that benefit residents directly, but agrees with fellow challenger Paolisso that any belt-tightening should begin with the elected officials who are enjoying luxuries like medical benefits not provided to some city employees.

Cortez says she’s not sure there’s room for more cuts in the budget. “Throughout the recession we cut services and expenses to the bone and we are now a very lean, but still full-service city,” she told EGP.

Meanwhile, according to Robert Valverde the city should be paying more attention to its seniors. “It doesn’t make sense the city doesn’t do more to keep seniors happy when they’re the ones who vote,” he said half-jokingly.

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Twitter @nancyreporting
nmartinez@egpnews.com

Off and Running In Montebello

August 13, 2015 by · 3 Comments 

Election season officially kicked off this week in Montebello, where six challengers have filed to take on two sitting council members in the Nov. 3 election. Incumbents in the race for city clerk and treasurer have bowed out, leaving the field wide open.

City council hopefuls Fernando Chacon, Kimberly Ann Cobos, Vanessa Delgado, Randy Smith, William Paolisso and Michael W. Samarin-Popoff are challenging incumbents Mayor Jack Hadjinian and Councilwoman Christina Cortez.

Lea este artículo en Español: Comienza la Contienda en Montebello

Neither Treasurer Sheraly Khwaja nor City Clerk Daniel Hernandez are seeking reelection, leaving Ashod Mooradian, Charles Pell and former councilwoman Rosemarie Vasquez to go head to head in the treasurer’s race, and Irma Barajas, Christina Gonzales and Annette Ramirez facing off for city clerk.

City Council Race

While Montebello’s long fiscal woes appear to be on the mend, the two council candidates who prove victorious in November will nonetheless still have limited financial resources to deal with the city’s continuing infrastructure issues, limits on city services and Montebello’s long time difficulty attracting new commercial development to the city.

“The city needs someone to fix the budget and bring Montebello forward,” says challenger Delgado, a real estate developer and member of the city’s oversight board.

Printing operations specialist Samarin-Popoff told EGP he has issues with how the current council balanced the city’s $51 million budget this year.

“A budget balanced by the sale of city properties is not the way to go,” he said. “We don’t have enough city assets to sell off every year.”

Mayor Hadjinian, however, defends the council’s actions on the budget. He told EGP the $2 million sale of city land was necessary to move the city forward. If reelected, he said he’ll look at all the city’s assets, including Montebello’s city-run water system, to ensure a fiscally conscious, balanced budget.

We were able to repave 30 streets and trim 7,000 trees despite our tight budget, Hadjinian points out.

Montebello will have elections on Nov. 3 (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Montebello will have elections on Nov. 3 (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

While they may disagree how to get there, most candidates agree with the incumbents that the biggest challenge facing the city is how to attract more taxpayers, specifically, new businesses to Montebello. Cobos, a doctoral candidate and city commissioner, said the city would attract new businesses if it were more business-friendly. Cobos said she wants to look at what it takes to open a business in Montebello, “and see where we are going wrong.”

What Montebello needs are more modern, mixed-use developments, argues Samarin-Popoff. For example, he’d like to see lofts replace the many empty storefronts on Whittier Boulevard.

Delgado says she worked on the Azalea Shopping Center in South Gate and thinks those types of developments, which not only create revenue but also generate jobs, is what the city should be pursuing.

Smith says the city needs to revamp its image if it wants to keep tax dollars within its borders. “We need to invest in community development,” the realtor said. “Everyone goes out of Montebello to eat,” spending their money outside the city, he said.

For Cobos, politics are most at blame for the city’s problems. “The current council is divided” and that’s why nothing gets done, she lamented. “I don’t see myself as a politician, just a resident who wants change.”

In Montebello, it’s not unusual for council meetings to get heated and to devolve into hours long debate on a single agenda item.

Cortez told EGP that she is sometimes criticized for asking too many questions at council meetings, but said she asks the difficult questions to hold the city accountable to its residents.

“I do that for the benefit of the public,” she said.

Among the issues drawing tense debate this year was the Montebello Hills housing development. It’s why Samarin-Popoff, vice chair for the Sierra Club-sponsored Save the Hills group, says he jumped into the race at the last minute.

“I think we still have a chance to improve the Hills project so that “it does the least amount of damage possible,” said Samarin-Popoff, who does not think the other candidates will be as reliably concerned about the development as he would.

In every election, money is always an issue. It’s hard to campaign without it, but the source of donations can also raise questions about a candidate’s ability to be independent.

Smith said he’s not going to focus on fundraising, but on going door-to-door to hear from voters and win their support.

“I don’t plan on flooding the city with signs that say vote for me,” he said.

Hadjinian has the most cash-on-hand, $69,000. Of that, $55,000 was raised this year alone. He also has the endorsement of Montebello’s police union, which can likely be counted on for campaign support.

Chacon – administrative director of a local non-profit – and Delgado have each raised nearly $30,000, however most of Chacon’s money comes from a personal loan he made to his campaign

As of June 30, Cobos had less than $2,000. She’s fundraising locally, but says she plans to do more with less, as she would with the city’s budget.

Cobos is targeting local businesses for support rather than major corporations. At the end of the day, “what will that big money cost,” she said.

Cortez has so far raised over $7,000 but has more fundraisers scheduled.

“Its not about how much money you have,” she said. “Money doesn’t elect you, it’s the people who elect you.”

 

Fernando Chacon and William Paolisso could not be reached for comment. 

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Twitter @nancyreporting

nmartinez@egpnews.com

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