Election Marks New Era for Commerce

June 22, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Election Could ‘Shake Up’ Commerce City Council

June 8, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But on Wednesday, Mendoza was ready to claim victory.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Candidates Face Off on Crime, Ethics, Environment

May 11, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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

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

Commerce Means Business

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Quality of Life Issues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Question of Ethics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Candidatos se Enfrentan Discutiendo el Crimen, la Ética y el Medio Ambiente

May 11, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

COMMERCE – Algunas caras conocidas junto con otras de candidatos novatos, están desafiando a tres miembros del Concejo de la Ciudad de Commerce, quienes se enfrentan a la reelección el 6 de junio.

Proclamando traer un cambio a la ciudad, cuatro de los nueve contendientes del consejo se enfrentaron la semana pasada contra el alcalde Iván Altamirano, la alcalde pro tem, Tina Baca Del Río y la concejal, Lilia León; cada uno con su parte de controversia mientras ocupaban el cargo. El enfrentamiento sucedió durante un foro de candidatos, el 4 de mayo, en el ayuntamiento de la ciudad, organizado por la Liga de Mujeres Votantes.

Gran parte de la discusión de la noche se enfocó en la reducción del crimen y en el embellecimiento de la ciudad.

Negocios de Commerce

Mientras que Commerce no sufre de una crisis financiera como algunos de sus vecinos, los lotes grandes a lo largo del corredor más ocupado de la ciudad han permanecido vacantes por años. Esto ha limitando el desarrollo económico, según los candidatos que acusaron el consejo de no hacer lo suficiente para atraer a nuevos negocios a la ciudad.

Conduzca una milla y verá decenas de letreros “de arrendamiento”, dijo uno de los aspirantes, John Soria, un técnico policial y candidato para el consejo de la ciudad por segunda vez.

La tasa de vacantes, de 1 por ciento, de la ciudad se puede atribuir en su mayor parte a un solo propietario, una de las familias fundadoras de Commerce, respondió Altamirano. Él agregó que se reunirá con los propietarios para discutir el tema.


Candidatos postulados para elección del 6 de junio, discuten temas de Commerce durante un foro el 4 de mayo. Foto de EGP por Nancy Martínez.

“No voy a esperar hasta una elección para atraer más negocios a nuestra comunidad”, replicó Soria, acusando a Altamirano de “esperar demasiado tiempo”.

La ex consejera, parte del consejo asesor sin fines de lucro, Denise Robles, resonó la acusación, diciendo que es evidente que “no ha habido un desarrollo económico completo” desde que perdió su candidatura a la reelección hace dos años. Robles acusó a los propietarios de no centrarse en la limpieza de la ciudad, lo cual ella dijo que es importante al tratar de atraer negocios.

“No se debe a la falta de fondos, sino a la falta de prioridad”, dijo Robles.

Baca Del Río se defendió de la crítica diciendo que el consejo actual ha trabajado arduamente para cambiar la estética de la ciudad, admitiendo que muchos negocios potenciales lo encuentran demasiado “industrial”.

“Todo esto no ocurrió apenas unos meses, esto tomó años” trabajando mano a mano con la comunidad empresarial para traer el cambio, dijo Baca Del Río. Antes “no teníamos esa relación” agregó.

Este concejo ha traído a Commerce a la luz, dijo León, citando como ejemplo un servicio de transporte patrocinado por la ciudad a los Citadel Outlets, el cual atrae a 17 millones de visitantes anualmente.

Cuando la ciudad necesitó dinero, durante la recesión y tras la pérdida de su agencia de reurbanización, fue ella y sus colegas quienes mantuvieron a la ciudad a flote, dijo León, quien ha cumplido varios mandatos, aunque no consecutivamente, desde 1998.

“Yo traje donaciones [de parte de negocios] para asegurar de que los servicios no fueron eliminados”, le dijo León a la audiencia.

Al pensar con originalidad, este consejo logró evitar el despido de mucha gente, dijo Altamirano, quien fue nombrado en 2012 y re-elegido en 2013.

Problemas con la Calidad de Vida

Mayormente industrial, Commerce ha luchado por años, tratando de equilibrar su necesidad de generar ingresos para pagar los servicios de la ciudad y el impacto ambiental que las empresas tienen sobre los residentes.

La contaminación ambiental y la contaminación causada por la industria, los ferrocarriles y el flujo interminable de camiones de diesel, ha dejado a muchos residentes preocupados por su salud y calidad de vida.

La ciudad debe acomodar lo que los residentes piden, en referencia a las nuevas empresas que se trasladan a Commerce, dijo Robles. El mencionó el fracasado intento de establecer una tienda Walmart en la ciudad, causando protestas de los residentes.

Otros candidatos dijeron que el consejo de la ciudad debe asegurarse de que los negocios existentes cumplan con la iniciativa de la zona verde de la ciudad. También se les debe pedir que mejoren los letreros informándole al público de las emisiones o impactos al medio ambiente.

“Estoy a favor de trabajar con empresas que crearán empleos y que a la vez crean un equilibrio con las cuestiones ambientales”, dijo Johncito “John” Peraza, un analista de préstamos de 20 años de edad y comisionado de la ciudad.

Leonardo Mendoza, un pintor del distrito escolar y miembro de East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice, argumentó que la salud pública y la seguridad deberían tener más prioridad que los negocios.

“No importa qué proyectos estamos considerando si nuestra gente se está muriendo”, él dijo. “Paremos el crimen y limpiemos el aire”.


Funcionarios y candidatos debaten como atraer a más negocios a Commerce durante un foro el 4 de mayo. Foto de EGP por Nancy Martínez.

Soria dijo que la industria no es lo único, en cuanto se trata de asuntos ambientales, que está atacando a los operadores históricos por no haber acelerado la limpieza de plomo en Veterans Park. El parque ha estado cerrado al público por meses y podría requerir una renovación completa. Además, él hizo hincapié en que los parques son un elemento disuasivo del crimen y proporcionan un lugar seguro para que los niños pasen su tiempo libre.

Cada uno de los desafiantes acordaron que ellos mismos, si fuesen elegidos, harían un mejor trabajo que el consejo actual en reducir el crimen.

Pero según Altamirano, la seguridad pública ha sido su máxima prioridad. Él dijo que ha estado trabajando para abrir una subestación del Sheriff del Condado de Los Ángeles en la ciudad. Esto ayudaría a reducir la delincuencia y haría más visible la aplicación de la ley, él dijo.

A falta de detalles exactos sobre la propuesta, la mayoría de los candidatos dijeron que reservarían opinar hasta que el proyecto de la subestación se presente oficialmente ante el ayuntamiento el 16 de mayo.

Soria señaló que es “muy prematuro” para que los individuos “exhiban” los méritos de tal propuesta.

Robles dijo que es más importante mejorar el sistema de patrulla municipal actual, antes de construir una estación.

Una Cuestión de Ética

Para Peraza, “restaurar la integridad y la honestidad en nuestro gobierno” es su máxima prioridad.

Él mencionó las controversias rodeando a los legisladores actuales, ya que cada uno ha sido el blanco de destitución. Baca Del Río y Altamirano, también han sido multados por la Comisión de Práctica Política Justa por violaciones de ética.

El año pasado, Baca Del Río fue acusada con 24 violaciones de la Ley de Reforma Política y se enfrentó a una multa de $104.000, una de las más grandes en la historia del estado. La multa fue reducida después.

La concejal fue acusada de transferir fondos de la campaña ilegalmente a su cuenta bancaria personal para cubrir gastos personales, relacionados con una remodelación de la cocina. Además, se le acusó de no presentar las contribuciones y las declaraciones de campaña en forma oportuna.

Baca Del Río negó apropiarse de los fondos de campaña y afirmó que había pagado de regreso los préstamos de la campaña. Los investigadores de la FPPC dijeron que no encontraron evidencia de esta afirmación. La FPPC finalmente llegó a un acuerdo con Baca Del Río, quien admitió a 12 violaciones, la mitad de los cargos y su multa fue reducida a $55,000.

Menos de dos meses después, Altamirano accedió a pagar una multa de $15.500 por violar cinco cargos ante la Ley de Reforma Política, cuando falló en procesar y de presentar adecuadamente actividad financiera en una declaración de campaña preelectoral. También se le acusó de votar sobre un asunto que el FPPC concluyó, era de interés financiero para él. Él también fue acusado de usar su posición para conseguir que su hermana fuese nombrada parte de una comisión de la ciudad, con pago.

Pero no sólo fueron los legisladores quienes estuvieron envueltos en controversias en los últimos años; la ex concejal, Robles, también fue acusada de usar un vehículo de la ciudad para ir a la escuela.

Soria, se postuló hace dos años, pero es su campaña fracasada para expulsar al concejal, Hugo Argumedo de su cargo, que últimamente podría terminar costándole dinero a Commerce si Argumedo prevaleciera en una demanda contra la ciudad por su participación en ese esfuerzo.

“Creo que nuestros funcionarios gubernamentales deben ser mantenidos a los más altos estándares éticos y tratar a las personas con cortesía y respeto”, dijo Peraza en su declaración de campaña.

El empresario Charles Calderón, la ex concejal Sylvia Muñoz, el camionero Randy “Sax” Romero, y Jaime Valencia, un contador, también están en la boleta, pero no participaron en el foro.

Consejo Discute Posible Cambio de Fecha de Elecciones Locales

October 13, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

COMMERCE- Para eliminar la confusión, la cual podría resultar entre los votantes al tener dos balotas y dos centros diferentes de votaciones para las elecciones de Marzo del 2017, el Consejo de la Ciudad de Commerce está considerando cambiar la fecha de su Elección Municipal General para abril o junio.

El consejo tuvo una reunión especial el miércoles para discutir si el decreto urgente cambiaría la fecha o consolidaría la elección de la ciudad con la elección especial del condado. Esta incluiría una propuesta que pide un incremento de cuarto de centavo a los impuesto para financiar viviendas para los indigentes.

Ninguna decisión fue tomada antes de la fecha de esta publicación, sin embargo, el consejo tendrá que decidir antes del 17 de octubre.

Los supervisores del condado esperan que las 36 ciudades y distritos especiales que actualmente están programados para votar el 7 de marzo, se consoliden a una Votación Especial conducida por el condado.

La consolidación no es mandataria y las ciudades pueden establecer una votación por su propia cuenta si así lo desean.

El Supervisor Mark Ridley Thomas dice que las ventajas de consolidar las bolotas son claras.

“Mejorarán la claridad de los votantes, para evadir una duplicación de servicios, reducirá la fatiga de los votantes y promoverá un entendimiento por todo el condado acerca de las elecciones, facilitando y motivando la participación”, él escribió en la medida que pide el cambio.

Mientras que el combinar las balotas puede traer ventajas al condado, los beneficios que Commerce verá no son claros.

La ciudad perdería el control del conteo de sus votantes, significando que los residentes no tendrían idea de quien ganó la noche de la elección, explicó Lena Shumway, secretaria municipal, durante la reunión del consejo el 4 de octubre.

Podría tomar hasta seis semanas para que el condado pueda certificar los resultados de la elección, ella señaló. Commerce tiene la opción de mantener su fecha de votación para el 7 de marzo y no consolidarse con el condado. Sin embargo, esa opción también presenta otros problemas potenciales.

“Si no nos unimos podríamos acabar con dos balotas separadas, tal vez hasta en el mismo lugar”, dijo Shumway al consejo. “Tendríamos a nuestros propios trabajadores en las urnas y el condado tendría los suyos”.

Los residentes de Commerce también podrían enfrentarse con tener que votar en dos lugares separados, uno para la elección del condado y otro para la elección General Municipal.

Para evitar la confusión, el personal le pidió al consejo a que muevan la elección para el 11 de abril. Otra opción sería el moverla para el 5 de junio. Pero a esto se opone Jorge Rifa, administrador de la ciudad, ya que dice que interrumpiría el proceso de creación del presupuesto.

El cambiar la fecha sería más caro para Commerce. El personal de la ciudad calcula que una elección en abril o junio costaría de $50,000 a $55,000 mientras que el consolidarse con el condado, en marzo, costaría cerca de $14,000 de acuerdo a la Oficina de Registros. Shumway también mencionó que el costo del condado podría subir a causa de gastos inesperados.

Otra opción en lugar es de consolidar las elecciones del 7 de marzo con el de la Ciudad de Los Ángeles, quienes estarán eligiendo a la Junta de Administradores del Distrito de Colegios Comunitarios de Los Ángeles. El costo entonces sería dividido y la porción de Commerce bajaría a $30,000.

No obstante, el consejo se mantuvo firme en mantener sus elecciones separadas cuando el asunto fue presentado el 4 de octubre.

“Quisiera decir que estoy absolutamente en contra de esto”, dijo Baca Del Río en respuesta al cambio de fecha.

El concejal Hugo Argumedo les recordó a sus colegas y al personal que cuando las elecciones fueron consolidadas en el pasado, la ciudad perdió el control y los resultados fueron retrasados.

“Deberíamos de mantener el control localmente y mantener nuestras propias elecciones”, él dijo.

La concejal Lilia León cuestionó si es prudente tener una elección en la que los residentes tengan que ir a dos centros de votaciones separados.

“Va a causar confusión”, ella dijo. “Preferiría tenerlas en abril”.

Commerce tiene programado sus elecciones para escoger a su consejo en marzo durante los años impares. El alcalde Iván Altamirano y la alcalde pro tem, Tina Baca Del Río junto con la concejal Lilia R. León son los próximos en ser reelegidos en el 2017.

Officials Discuss FPPC Fines, Apologize

September 22, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

COMMERCE – Two City of Commerce council members apologized to residents Tuesday for campaign and conflict of interest violations that resulted in each having to pay thousands of dollars in fines.

Mayor Ivan Altamirano and Mayor Pro Tem Tina Baca Del Rio made their apologies during Tuesday’s city council meeting, with each of the elected officials telling residents they’ve learned their lesson and will not repeat the offenses.

“I created these issues for myself,” admitted Baca Del Rio, “I want to apologize to this community for what I have done.”

Baca Del Rio initially faced one of the largest penalties ever issued by the Fair Political Practice Commission, $104,000. According to the FPPC, Baca Del Rio illegally transferred campaign funds to her personal bank account, used a campaign debit card to pay for a kitchen remodel and  repeatedly failed to properly and timely report campaign donations. Under a negotiated settlement approved by the commission last week, Baca Del Rio’s fine was reduced to $55,000, $40,000 of which she was allowed to pay using campaign funds.

On Tuesday, Baca Del Rio said procrastination and not having access to her bank statements were the cause for her late filings, not an attempt to deceive the public.

“This was never my intention,” she tried to clarify. “It was a really bad mistake on my part.”

Altamirano also settled with the FPPC last week, agreeing to pay a $15,500 penalty to resolve multiple late filings of campaign and donation reports claims and allegations that he violated conflict of interest laws when he voted to appoint his sister to the city’s planning commission and for a stop sign to be installed near a rental property he owns.

“I’m a man of integrity,” said Altamirano, inviting any resident who has questions or concerns about what transpired to personally meet with him.

Commerce Mayor Pro Tem Tina Baca Del Rio, left, and Mayor Ivan Altamirano, right, discussed their FPPC fines and apologized to residents during the city council meeting Tuesday. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Commerce Mayor Pro Tem Tina Baca Del Rio, left, and Mayor Ivan Altamirano, right, discussed their FPPC fines and apologized to residents during the city council meeting Tuesday. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Both elected officials blamed their late filings on changes to campaign reporting laws that occurred mid-election, which they said they had not been made aware of.

The apologies, however, did not sit well with residents, including some who said the two council members should have faced harsher penalties.

“Residents, wake up to the corruption going on!” said Charles Calderon, who traveled to Sacramento for the FPPC meeting last week. “The City of Commerce deserves better.”

According to Altamirano, the FPPC’s investigation started shortly after he was elected in 2013. He implied the inquiry was triggered by a complaint filed by a failed campaign competitor.

In an interview with EGP Tuesday, Altamirano defended his role in getting a stop sign installed at the intersection of Fidelia Avenue and Jillson Street – about 150-feet from his rental property. He told EGP that area residents begged him to get the city to install the stop sign to keep vehicles from speeding through the intersection, the only one along Jillson where there was no stop sign.

According to Altamirano, he pushed for the sign for public safety reasons and not to raise the value of his property as alleged by FPPC officials.

“Little did I know it would raise my property value,” he reiterated at Tuesday’s meeting.

Altamirano also defended his sister Julissa Altamirano’s appointment to the city’s planning commission, telling EGP she’s “one of the smartest people” he knows and that she has no qualms about telling him when she thinks he’s wrong.

According to Altamirano, there would be no issue if it weren’t for the $50 a month stipend paid to commissioners, which he says his sister has agreed to donate to the city’s senior center.

The mayor repeatedly claimed he’s been in conversations with the FPPC to determine if the conflict of interest concern would be eliminated by his sister donating the stipend, noting that she’s willing to resign if the FPPC says no.

The planning commission is one of the city’s most powerful civilian bodies. Commissioners make recommendations to the city council on zoning ordinances and request for variances, building and development plans, conditional use permits and other decisions that can green light or kill a project. In most cities, planning commissions wield a great deal of influence.

Because Julissa is the mayor’s tenant and paid him rent for at least 10 years, she is considered a source of income to him, which the FPPC determined to be a violation of the Political Reform Act, which prohibits public officials from voting on matters in which they know they have a financial interest.

According to Altamirano, his case was colored by past FPPC cases, which the regulatory agency’s enforcement officials were obligated to consider even though the issues in those cases were significantly different.

Altamirano emphasized that while Julissa may be his sister, she makes decisions on the board independent of what he thinks. For example, he told EGP, “she voted against the Walmart development and I voted for it.”

He acknowledged, however, that out of precaution if he had to vote today he would not reappoint her.

He went on to say he had reluctantly accepted the FPPC findings: “I could have let this go on but I wanted to put this behind me.”

Last week, Calderon said he was collecting signatures to ask Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey to open an investigation into Baca Del Rio, accusing her of abusing her power as an elected official and for continuously violating campaign and conflict of interest laws.

On Tuesday, Baca Del Rio said she was limited in what she could say because of the potential investigation, but went on to tell the audience they should be scrutinizing other councilmembers, specifically naming Councilman Hugo Argumedo.

Argumedo was reelected last year after completing a sentence barring him from holding office for three years after admitting to filing a false affidavit in a lawsuit against the city: Now his fellow council members are spearheading a lawsuit to try to remove him from office over his past conviction.

“If you hold me accountable, you have to hold everyone accountable,” said Baca.

Updated: 10/04/16: Clarifies that the “illegal transfer of funds” and use of a campaign fund debit card for a kitchen remodel are two separate items. 

Oficiales de Commerce se Disculpan Con Residentes y Discuten Multas

September 22, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Dos miembros del Consejo de la Ciudad de Commerce le pidieron perdón a los residentes de la ciudad en una reunión el martes, por violar leyes de conflictos de interés, resultando en multas de miles de dólares.

El alcalde Iván Altamirano y la alcalde temporal Tina Baca Del Río emitieron sus disculpas, asegurándoles a los residentes presentes que han aprendido su lección y no volverán a repetir las ofensas.

“Generé los problemas yo misma”, admitió Baca Del Río, “y quiero pedirle perdón a la comunidad por lo que he hecho”.

Baca Del Río inicialmente se enfrentó con una de las sanciones más altas emitidas por la Comisión De Prácticas Políticas Justas, $104,000. De acuerdo al FPPC, Baca Del Río ilegalmente transfirió fondos de su campaña a su cuenta de banco personal, usó la tarjeta de debito de su campaña para pagar por servicios relacionados con una renovación de cocina y repetidamente falló en reportar a tiempo y adecuadamente donaciones a su campaña. Bajo un acuerdo negociado, aprobado por la comisión la semana pasada, la multa de Baca Del Río fue reducida a $55,000. De esa cantidad, $40,000 serán permitidos que se paguen usando sus fondos de campaña.

El martes, Baca Del Río dijo que su procrastinación y el no tener acceso a sus cuentas de banco fueron la causa de su tardía en procesar sus donaciones, y no el engañar al público.

“Eso nunca fue mi intención”, trató de clarificar. “Fue un error enorme de mi parte”.

Altamirano también llegó a un acuerdo con el FPPC la semana pasada, acordando en pagar una multa de $15,500 para resolver sus tardanzas en declarar sus donaciones de campaña. Al igual, resolvió las alegaciones que lo culpaban en violar leyes de conflicto de interés por apuntar a su hermana a un puesto en la comisión de planificación de la ciudad. Por último, también se le acusaba de instalar una señal de alto cerca de una propiedad de alquiler que posee.

“Soy un hombre integro”, dijo Altamirano, invitando a cualquier residente con preguntas en reunirse personalmente con él.

Ambos oficiales electos culparon el cambio en leyes de campaña, que ocurrieron a media elección, por sus demoras en reportar sus declaraciones financieras. Ya que dijeron que no estaban enterados de los cambios.

Sin embargo, las disculpas no resonaron con los residentes presentes en la reunión, incluyendo a algunos que dijeron que los dos miembros deberían enfrentarse a cargos más rudos.

“Residentes, despiértense y vean la corrupción que está sucediendo”, exclamó Charles Calderón, quien viajó desde Sacramento para asistir la reunión del FPPC la semana pasada. “La Ciudad de Commerce merece mejor”, agregó.

De acuerdo a Altamirano, la investigación del FPPC, empezó un poco antes de su elección en el 2013. Él implicó que la investigación fue motivada por una queja sometida por uno de sus competidores quien perdió.

En una entrevista con EGP el martes, Altamirano defendió su participación en la instalación de la señal de alto cerca de su casa. La señal está ubicada en la intersección de la Avenida Fidelia y la Calle Jillson, a unos 150 pies de su propiedad. Él le dijo a EGP que los residentes del vecindario le imploraron que hiciera algo para impedir que los vehículos continuaran manejando velozmente por la intersección.

De acuerdo a Altamirano, él insistió en instalar la señal por razones de seguridad pública y no para incrementar el valor de su propiedad, como los oficiales del FPPC reclamaban.

“Ni sabía de que el hacer eso incrementaría el valor de mi casa”, dijo durante la reunión con EGP.

Altamirano también defendió el nombramiento de su hermana, Julissa Altamirano, y le dijo a EGP que ella es “una de las personas más inteligentes” que él conoce. A eso agregó que su hermana no tiene ningún problema en señalar cuando no está de acuerdo con sus decisiones.

Según Altamirano, no habría problema con el puesto que ocupa su hermana sino fuera por el sueldo de $50 que ella recibe cada mes, lo cual dijo que ella ha acordado en donar a una centro de ancianos en la ciudad.

El alcalde repetidamente aseguró que ha estado en contacto con el FPPC para determinar si la decisión de donar los $50 mensuales eliminará la violación de la ley. Si esto no fuera a ser, dijo que ella está dispuesta en resignar a su puesto en la comisión.

La comisión de planificación de la ciudad es uno de los grupos civiles más poderosos. Los comisionarios hacen recomendaciones al consejo respecto a ordenanzas municipales, proyectos de desarrollo y permisos.

Ya que Julissa también ha sido inquilina de Altamirano por 10 años, ella es considerada ser una fuente de ingresos para él. El FPPC determinó esto como una violación de la Ley de Reforma Política, la cual prohíbe a los oficiales públicos a votar en medidas relacionadas con intereses propios financieros.

De acuerdo a Altamirano, su caso fue juzgado con bases de otros en el pasado, por obligación, a pesar de que eran significativamente diferentes. Él también enfatizó que aunque Julissa es su hermana, ella toma sus decisiones independientemente. Por ejemplo, él le dijo a EGP que “ella votó en contra del desarrollo de Walmart al que él apoyaba”.

No obstante, él admitió que por precaución, no votará en la decisión de reelegirla.

“Pude haber dejado que esto continuara pero ya quiero dejarlo atrás”, dijo Altamirano, agregando que aceptó los descubrimientos del FPPC renuentemente.

La semana pasada, Calderón dijo que estaba colectando firmas para pedirle a la Fiscal del Distrito del Condado de Los Ángeles, Jackie Lacey, que reabran la investigación de Baca Del Río. El acusa a la alcalde temporal de abusar su poder como oficial electa y continuamente violar leyes de campaña y de conflictos de interés.

El martes, Baca del Río dijo que estaba limitada a lo que podía comentar por la posible investigación, pero continuó diciendo que también deberían de inspeccionar las acciones de otros miembros del consejo por igual, especialmente las de Hugo Argumedo.

Argumedo fue reelecto el año pasado después de completar una sentencia que le impidió ocupar un cargo público a causa de una declaración jurídica fraudulenta.

“Si me hacen responsable a mí, tienen que hacer responsables a todos los demás”, dijo Baca del Río.

Actualizado: 10/04/16: Clarifica que la “transferencia ilegal de fondos” y el uso de la tarjeta de debito de la campaña para pagar servicios relacionados con una remodelación de cocina son dos cuestiones separadas.

FPPC Approves Penalties Against Commerce Officials

September 15, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Despite residents demanding harsher penalties, the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) today approved reduced fines against two Commerce officials accused of violating campaign-filing laws, among other charges.

The commission approved a $55,000 fine against Commerce Mayor Pro Tem Tina Baca Del Rio, who initially faced one of the largest penalties ever issued by the FPPC  over allegations she had illegally transferred campaign funds into her personal bank account, used a campaign debit card to pay for a kitchen remodel and had failed to timely file and properly disclose contributions. Under the agreement, $15,000 of the fine must be paid out of her own pocket, the remainder can be paid using campaign funds and donations.

The commission also approved a $15,500 penalty against Mayor Ivan Altamirano. As EGP detailed in separate story published today, Altamirano is accused of  violating conflict of interest and campaign filing laws, including failing to file and properly disclose financial activity on pre-election campaign statements, late filing of 24-hour contribution reports and for voting on a matter the FFPC concluded he had a financial interest in.

Commere Mayor Ivan Altamirano, pictured above, at a city event earlier this year, is facing a $15,500 fine from the Fair Political Practices Commission. (City of Commerce)

Commerce Mayor Ivan Altamirano, pictured above, at a city event earlier this year, has agreed to pay a $15,500 fine levied by the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission. (City of Commerce)

The mayor is accused of using his position to get his sister appointed to the city’s planning commission and to get approval for the installation of a stop sign within 150 feet of his rental property.

The penalty amounts approved by the Commission are the result of negotiations between FPPC Enforcement Division officials and the Commerce elected officials. The recommendation by enforcement officials did not sit well with Commerce residents who asked commissioners to reject the settlements.

“I’m asking that you be a lot more firm,” said Richard Hernandez, a Commerce resident who traveled to Sacramento for the hearing. “Make this case an example, not just for Commerce but all the other cities, show them that you’re not going to show any type of tolerance for their violations.”

Hernandez added that other elected officials are following her, citing Altamirano’s troubles as an example. He told the Commission that Commerce residents had been harmed and deserved justice.

FPPC enforcement staff initially proposed a $104,000 default judgment against Baca Del Rio for 24 different violations of the Political Reform Act. The Act regulates campaign finances, conflict of interests, lobbying and ethics laws.

In a 500-page complaint against Baca Del Rio, the councilwoman was accused of illegally transferring $8,000 in campaign funds to her personal bank account and in a separate transaction using a campaign fund debit card to  pay for a kitchen remodel. Baca Del Rio claimed the transferred funds were reimbursement for a loan she had made to her campaign committee.

Commerce Mayor Pro Tem Tina Baca Del Rio will pay a $55,000 fine to the FPPC. (City of Commerce)

Commerce Mayor Pro Tem Tina Baca Del Rio will pay a $55,000 fine to the FPPC. (City of Commerce)

According to the FPPC’s Enforcement Division, however, there is no evidence she ever made such a loan.

Baca Del Rio was first elected to the Commerce City Council in 2005, but recalled in November 2008 only to be reelected a year later. She was most recently reelected in March 2013

Altamirano was appointed to the city council in March 2012 to fill the seat left vacant by former Councilman Robert Fierro who resigned after pleading guilty to a felony conspiracy charge. Altamirano was elected for the first time in March 2013.

The 5-member commission heavily discussed Baca Del Rio’s reduced fine during a meeting in August -that had been negotiated that same say – but voted 2-2 to hold the matter over until the full settlement agreement was in writing and available for the Commission to review. Commissioner Eric Casher, who ultimately voted in favor of the settlement, was not present at the previous meeting to cast his vote.

At the time, citing Baca Del Rio’s past problems and delayed response to the current action against her, the commissioners strongly stated they wanted to see all Baca Del Rio’s stipulations in writing before voting, adding they were reserving their right to reject the settlement agreement if not satisfied by its final form.

Today, Commissioner Maria Audero cast the lone vote against the settlement, saying Baca Del Rio had a history of  violating the rules and not reporting contributions, noting that although the Commerce councilwoman was fined in 2011 for many of the same violations, within months of stipulating “she would not do it again” she was again in violation. Audero said she supported issuing a more punitive fine based on her belief that Baca Del Rio had an “intent to disregard” the law.

Commerce resident Charles Calderon also spoke during the meeting, telling commissioners he was disappointed by their decision to approved the reduced penalty for Baca Del Rio, despite her having been fined for similar infractions in the past.

While both Hernandez and Calderon spoke against reduced fines for either of the elected officials, most of their criticism was directed at Baca Del Rio.

According to Calderon’s testimony, a number of residents are collecting signatures to hand over to Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey asking that her office open an investigation into what he called Baca Del Rio’s abuse of power as an elected official, and her continuously violating campaign and conflict of interest laws.

Calderon said the ethics and campaign violations by the two sitting council members have harmed Commerce’s public image, claiming Commerce is now being bundled up with Southeast cities that have had a history of scandals involving politicians accused of corruption.

“Now we’re being compared to the cities of Bell and Vernon.” he told commissioners.


Updated: 10/04/16: Clarifies that Councilwoman Tina Baca Del Rio claimed the transfer of funds was repayment for a loan she made to her campaign, and to not to pay for a kitchen remodel as stated in an earlier version of this story. According to Baca Del Rio, it was she who brought her husband’s use of a campaign debit card to pay for services related to the personal kitchen remodel to the attention of the FPPC.

Second Commerce Official Faces FPPC Fine

September 15, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Less than two months after Commerce Mayor Pro Tem Tina Baca del Rio faced one of the largest penalties ever issued by the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) for campaign violations, a second city elected official is also facing fines and is accused of violating conflict of interest and campaign filing laws.

Under a negotiated agreement with the FPPC, Mayor Ivan Altamirano has agreed to pay a $15,500 penalty for violating five counts of the Political Reform Act, including failing to timely file and properly disclose financial activity on a pre-election campaign statement, failing to file 24-hour contribution reports and for voting on a matter the FFPC concluded he had a financial interest in.

The proposed agreement will go before the FPPC board today for final approval. The panel will also decide on whether to approve a settlement between the agency and Baca del Rio reducing her fines down from $104,000 to $55,000.

EGP reached out to Altamirano for comment, but he he said via email he would have no comment until the case is closed.

Altamirano was appointed to the city council in March 2012 to fill the seat left vacant by former Councilman Robert Fierro who resigned after pleading guilty to a felony conspiracy charge. Altamirano was elected for the first time in March 2013.

Commere Mayor Ivan Altamirano, pictured above, at a city event earlier this year, is facing a $15,500 fine from the Fair Political Practices Commission. (City of Commerce)

Commere Mayor Ivan Altamirano, pictured above, at a city event earlier this year, is facing a $15,500 fine from the Fair Political Practices Commission. (City of Commerce)

Unlike Baca del Rio, who is accused of using campaign funds for personal expenses, Altamirano is accused of using his position to get his sister appointed to the city’s planning commission and to get approval for the installation of a stop sign near his home.

As in most cities, Commerce council members nominate members to the various city commissions and boards and for the most part the full council routinely approves those nominations.

Altamirano first moved to appoint his sister Julissa Altamirano to the city’s planning commission in November 2012. She was re-appointed in April 2013 and again in April 2015 to serve an additional 2-year term, all the time receiving the $50 a month stipend paid to commissioners.

That’s where the appointment appears to have run afoul of conflict of interest laws, accoring to FPPC.

Because Julissa is the mayor’s tenant and paid him rent for at least 10 years, she is considered a source of income to him, making her appointment a violation of the Political Reform Act, which prohibits public officials from voting on matters in which they know they have a financial interest.

Appointments to city commissions and boards are often viewed as political perks, earning the appointee money, influence or both.

At the April 2015 city council meeting, a Commerce resident questioned how commission appointments are made in the city.

“What exactly does that entail? How is that decided,” asked Sharon Basik. “What are the qualifications” needed to be appointed?

Then-mayor Lilia R. Leon responded that the city council reviews all commission applications, but went on to point out that appointments are often made based on the relationship a potential commissioner has with a member of the council.

FPPC officials have also found fault with Altamirano’s role in getting a stop sign installed within 150 feet of his home and rental property – at the intersection of Fidelia Avenue and Jillson Street – overturning a denial by the Commerce Traffic Commission in 2012.

Undeterred, Altamirano in 2014 submitted his request for a stop sign directly to the city administrator, then directly to the city council at the Feb. 3, 2015 council meeting where he personally entered a motion to reverse the Traffic Commission’s decision. The council approved his motion.

At the time, Public Works Director Maryam Babaki said her department had analyzed the traffic report used by the commission to deny the all-way stop, but using their own set of safety criteria in addition to the report, decided to recommend the stop sign as a way to improve traffic at the intersection.

“This is the only street that does not have a stop sign into Jillson [Street] from Washington Boulevard,” pointed out Altamirano from behind the dais. “There’s a lot of cars that speed through there, they are residential areas,” he added.

Altamirano went on to note that a stop sign had been approved for an intersection near the home of then-Councilman Joe Aguilar.

“I remember Leo [Street] where Councilman Aguilar, his home they didn’t have a stop sign either,” he said.

Then-Councilwoman Denise Robles asked why it had taken so long to get the appeal to the council, to which Altamirano responded that he brought the item back after receiving more complaints from residents. “I said I was going to install a stop sign myself,” he jokingly added.

According to Altamirano, he had also informed the city administrator of other intersections where there was an even greater need for a stop sign.

He argued that the stop sign installation was done to protect public safety, not to improve the market value of his property.

But according to the FPPC’s claim, “Altamirano knew or should have known he had an impermissible conflict of interest.” It goes on to state that “Altamirano made or participated in other decisions regarding improvement projects in the area in which he resides and misapplied the public generally exception.”

The exception allows public officials to vote on a matter if a significant segment of the city population would benefit from the decision.

According to the stipulation agreement, Altamirano “now understands these rules and contends that he will abide by them in the future.”

The remainder of his violations stem from his failure to turn in pre-election campaign statements before his 2013 election and failing to disclose the proper amount of expenditures made during that election. According to FPPC documents, Altamirano and his committee “Friends of Ivan Altamirano” submitted $11,054 in expenses when in fact $14,237 was spent on his campaign.

That year Altamirano also failed to disclose 17 late contributions of $1,000 each, which require 24-hour filings under the Political Reform Act.

“One of the purposes of the Act is to prevent conflicts of interest by public officials,” reads the FPPC’s document. “Another purpose of the Act is to provide adequate enforcement mechanisms so that the Act will be ‘vigorously enforced.’”

In 2011, Altamirano was fined $200 by the FPPC for failing to file a statement of economic interest when he served on the city’s planning commission.

El FPPC Considera Reducir Las Multas de La Concejal de Commerce

July 28, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

A pesar de que se enfrenta a la multa más alta que se ha propuesto en contra de un funcionario elegido en sesión, la alcalde pro-tempore de la Ciudad de Commerce, Tina Baca Del Rio, podría recibir una reducción por medio de un acuerdo con la Comisión de Prácticas Políticas Justas (FPPC).

La multa originalmente dada de $104,000, acumulada por un total de 24 violaciones éticas durante su campaña en contra de la Ley de Reforma Política, podrá bajar a $55,000 si ella admite violar 12 de las 24 infracciones.

Baca Del Rio fue acusada de transferir ilegalmente un total de $8,000 recaudados durante su campaña a su cuenta bancaria personal y de usar el dinero para pagar gastos relacionados con la remodelación de una cocina. Al igual, ella también fue acusada de fallar en archivar las contribuciones y las declaraciones financieras de su campaña en el tiempo debido.

En 2011, EGP reportó que el FPPC multó a Baca Del Rio “después de concluir que sus practicas de archivo demostraban un ‘patrón de negligencia’” y la hicieron responsable de pagar $26,000 dentro de un total máximo de $35,000 en sanciones administrativas.

Durante una reunión del consejo de la Ciudad de Commerce, varios exigieron la renuncia de la también concejal de la ciudad, a noticias de las nuevas alegaciones. Esto, a únicamente dos días de la votación del FPPC en contra o a favor del nuevo acuerdo para Baca Del Rio. La ausencia de la concejal fue evidente, su primera falta a las reuniones desde el anuncio público de sus cargos.

“Tina Baca Del Rio necesita renunciar inmediatamente al concejo municipal”, dijo Charlie Calderon durante la sección de anuncios públicos en la reunión.

Hace unos días, la funcionaria había estado en Sacramento el mismo día en que el FPPC propuso el nuevo acuerdo. Al enterarse de que la concejal estaba en reuniones con oficiales de la división de ejecución, con posibilidades de alcanzar llegar a un acuerdo, el FPPC decidió retrasar la fecha en la cual tomarían su decisión.

En una carta escrita por Baca Del Rio, hacía la Comisión, ella declaró que tuvo temor al recibir la sanción ante la junta del consejo de la ciudad. Ella atribuyó su respuesta demorada a causa de que los reguladores electorales no pudieron encontrar un abogado razonable y calificado para representarla.

“Yo no supe que hacer y no entendí todo de lo que se me estaba acusando”, dijo Baca Del Rio en la carta. “Algunas de las alegaciones sí son ciertas pero hay varias que no son exactas”.

La funcionaria desmintió haber usado los fondos de su campaña inadecuadamente ya que alegó que ella misma pagó de regreso sus préstamos durante la campaña. Según las investigaciones del FPPC, no hay evidencia de eso.

En la misma carta, Baca Del Rio admitió a no seguir los protocolos establecidos por la Comisión para liquidar sus gastos, ya que dijo no haber leído el documento con las instrucciones con cuidado.

De acuerdo a un abogado del FPPC el acuerdo preliminar, que posiblemente reduzca la cantidad de las multas, requerirá que ella acepte 12 de los 24 cargos. La abogada principal del departamento encargado en el FPPC dijo que solamente una de las cuatro alegaciones por el uso indebido de los fondos de campaña serían eliminados. Ella recomendó que la decisión fuera movida para el 18 de agosto cuando tome lugar la próxima reunión para dar más tiempo a la finalización del acuerdo.

“Yo estaba lista para dar como hecha la decisión original de la Comisión dado al historial de este caso”, dijo Jodi Remke, presidenta de la Comisión. Ella señaló que ni ella ni los demás comisionados anticipaban un cambio a última hora.

“La solución debe de ser lo suficientemente firme para no dar cabida a ninguna duda”, dijo Remke.

Sin revelar los detalles del acuerdo preliminar, Galena West, jefa de la división de ejecución, dijo que el departamento favoreció el acuerdo con el fin de aliviar la carga de colecciones.

Los comisionados accedieron a analizar el caso de nuevo en 30 días, pero no antes reservar el derecho de rechazar cualquier acuerdo si determinan que las multas no son suficientes.

En la ciudad de Commerce, Sylvia Muñoz, ex concejal de la ciudad y rival de Baca Del Rio por mucho tiempo, ha preguntado repetidamente si la funcionaria renunciará o no.

“Queremos saber qué planean hacer el abogado o el secretario municipal al respecto”, dijo Muñoz antes de ser interrumpida por la concejal Lilia Leon recordándole que el consejo no está permitido a responder a comentarios públicos.

Las finanzas del concejal Hugo Argumedo también fueron cuestionadas durante la reunión cuando el ex trabajador de los parques de Commerce y ahora bloguero de Mayor Sam, Scott Johnson, leyó una carta de la Empresa de Consultoría Pólitica Leading Edge la cual reveló que Argumedo nunca usó o pagó por servicios de la empresa durante su campaña, como mencionan sus declaraciones financieras. Argumedo aseguró que él personalmente conoce al dueño del grupo empresario y que llegará al fondo de estas acusaciones.

“No estoy seguro a quien usted llamó o quién le dió esa información pero es incorrecto”, le dijo Argumedo a Johnson.

El declarar falsamente el uso de fondos obtenidos durante campañas es una violación de regulaciones electorales.

Argumedo fue elegido a ser parte del concejo por primera vez en 1996 pero se declaró culpable de cargos de un delito menor durante una demanda civil en 2010. Él fue prohibido de ejercer un puesto electoral durante tres años y fue reelecto en 2015.

Baca Del Rio fue primeramente elegida en 2005, destituida en 2008 y reelecta algunos meses después en 2009 y de nuevo en 2013.

Los comisionados del FPPC dijeron la semana pasada que esperan que Baca Del Rio pague por lo menos $55,000 en multas antes de que acuerden a una reducción. Regulaciones electorales prohíben que Baca Del Rio use fondos colectados durante su campaña para cubri las multas asociadas con sus violaciones. Las multas tendrán que ser pagadas con su propio dinero.

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