Information Regarding California Public Agencies

Huntington Park Cuts Ties With Leal Law Firm

By Brian Hews and Randy Economy

Within hours after a published report by Los Cerritos Community Newspaper that outlined specific details of a controversial contract between the City of Huntington Park and its longtime powerful city attorney Francisco Leal, the formal relationship between the two entities was officially dissolved on Tuesday.

“The City of Huntington Park and its contracted City Attorney, Francisco Leal of the Law Firm of Leal & Trejo have agreed to part ways. The City Council of Huntington Park received the resignation today of Leal and Trejo which takes effect immediately. Mr. Leal and his firm have represented this City since December 2003 on legal matters pertaining to city business, policies, procedures and contracts.”

“The City appreciates his services to date as the agree to part ways.”

“The leadership of the City of Huntington Park has agreed to end the contract for services with our city attorney,” said City Manager Rene Bobadilla.

“At this time, we feel the legal needs of our city have evolved significantly and it was best for us to consider other options and resources to best meet these needs.”

Bobadilla stated that the search for new legal counsel and resources would begin immediately but could not predict how long it would take to name a new city attorney, up to and including a formal RFP Process. “We will work closely with city council members to make sure that future legal counsel can meet the needs of the city’s current and future operational and business concerns.” he said.

City officials stated that they don’t “expect any significant disruptions to current city business for day-to-day operations while this process moves forward.”

“The selection process will be posted on the city’s website and through other appropriate announcements in the next few weeks.”

Interim legal counsel has yet to be determined.

“As a contracted service to the City of Huntington Park, the City Attorney is not an employee of the city and is not entitled to benefits. City Attorney services are provided through contract agreement and can be terminated by the city at its discretion with appropriate notice.”

Los Cerritos Community News published the contract between the law offices of Leal and Trejo on Tuesday afternoon and reported that taxpayers in the cash starved city could be on the financial hook to legally defend LA County Assessor John Noguez in any possible criminal charges he may face in the future, including the ongoing massive political corruption probe at the LA County Assessor’s office.

Leal, who is the main legal counsel with the firm, came under public scrutiny Monday night after angry residents served formal recall notices on all five city council members.

Leal & Trejo’s legal service rates ranged from $180 per hour not to exceed $30,000 per month, and “special legal services” that shall be billed at $250 per hour with no limitation on a monthly amount, LCCN reported.

A closer inspection of the scope description reveals possible loopholes that can allow Leal to defend Noguez, who is a former city councilman and mayor. Noguez is on a formal paid leave of absence from his responsibilities as Assessor of Los Angeles County and is the central figure in a massive criminal probe that is centered on bribery, forgery and money laundering allegations.

Buried in the “scope description” of the contract is the following directive, “(Leal and Trejo) law firm shall….represent and appear for the City, and City officers or employees, or former City officers or employees, in any or all actions and proceedings in which the city or any such officer or employee…. is a party.”

Many observers say the “former City officer or employee loophole” gave Leal permission to defend Noguez in any possible future criminal trials. Noguez was a Huntington Park City Councilman and Mayor between 2005-2010.

REACTION SWIFT FROM COMMUNITY MEMBERS

Reactions poured into Los Cerritos Community Newspaper from some of Leal’s biggest detractors just hours after the decision was made public.

Longtime resident Valentin Amezquita told LCCN that “if it was not because of the pressure of the residents and the media coverage on the city attorney’s salary at $40,000 per month, it would be business as usual in City of Huntington Park.”

“The problem is not over with the City Attorney’s questionable resignation. The problem of the City still remains in the five remaining City Council members who have mismanaged, misled the City, and will continue to do so if not removed quickly from office,” said Amezquita.

Huntington Park Citizens United, an organization who has been “dedicated to bring to light the corruption within Huntington Park” said through spokesperson Karina Macias that, “Government without transparency means they are hiding something. Clearly Mr. Leal has something to hide do to his quickly resignation following the pressure of the current movement for recall of the City Council members.”

Community Activist Marilyn Sanabria also told LCCN that, “Mr. Leal’s questionable resignation is only because he was unable to answer to residents and the huge media coverage on his unjustifiable salary. Many questions remain unanswered in the City of Huntington Park, such as the questionable ties that the current council members have to, currently under investigation, Los Angeles Tax Assessor, John Noguez, and allegations of corruptions that have risen in part because currently the recall process is underway.”

A local website www.watchourcity.com has been reporting on the political climate surrounding Huntington Park City Hall and other local municipalities for the past decade. ”The problems with the City leadership and related contracts like the City Attorney and others have gone on for far too long,” the Editor for the website told LCCN.

Los Cerritos News, October 17, 2012
See http://www.loscerritosnews.net/2012/10/16/huntington-park-cuts-ties-with-leal-law-firm/.

Records do the talking

Whittier Daily News, April 14, 2007

Big changes have come to Montebello's city government, and they're coming at a lightning pace. But do they signal improvement, or are they evidence for concern?

Recently, the City Council has fired Community Development Director Ruben Lopez, fire Chief Jim Cox, City Attorney Marco Lopez and, just last month, City Administrator Richard Torres.

After serving 18 years, Torres wasn't dismissed for cause, so the council's impatience for "fresh blood" and a "different direction" will cost the city an estimated $200,000.

But of equal interest are the City Council's new hires - Arnoldo Beltran as city attorney and Randy Narramore, Huntington Park's former police chief, as interim city administrator.

We've seen this type of rapid overhaul before. It often begins with the marriage of elected officials to a politically powerful attorney.

For example, South Gate's suffering began with a change in its City Council, which produced a new three-vote majority that ceded power to city treasurer Albert Robles.

Allied with city attorney Salvador Alva, Robles brought in a new city manager, with no experience, and a new police chief. After plundering $20 million from city coffers, Robles was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison.

Similarly, Huntington Park Mayor Edward Escareno hired Francisco Leal as city attorney. Later, Escareno was charged with misappropriation of public funds and convicted of felony grand theft.

In Lynwood, longtime mayor Paul Richards was sentenced to 16 years in prison for municipal corruption, while Beltran, his city attorney, continues in office.

Bell Gardens Councilwoman Maria Chacon also partnered with Beltran, creating an ordinance that allowed Chacon to become city manager.

After the DA charged Chacon with criminal conflict of interest for her vote approving the ordinance, her unsuccessful defense was that Beltran advised her she could.

These incidents weren't entirely unexpected.

Back in 1999, a Los Angeles Times story included allegations that Beltran and Leal had threatened to launch recall campaigns against councilmembers in Lynwood, Commerce and Bell Gardens, if they refused to award city attorney contracts to their law firm.

L.A. Weekly reported that Jesse Jauregui, former partner of Beltran and Leal, said of his former colleagues, "I'm glad to no longer be a part of Tammany Hall-style politics," a reference to Boss Tweed's infamous New York political machine.

So, just what was in the minds of Montebello councilmembers when they voted to employ Beltran as city attorney and Escareno's police chief as interim city administrator?

Whatever the answer, it's hard to gain comfort from reports that Councilwoman Rosie Vasquez was not concerned about Beltran's qualifications or that Mayor Norma Lopez-Reid had been "very impressed" by Narramore, a subject in several well-publicized discrimination lawsuits filed against the Huntington Park police department by minority officers.

If nothing else, it's certainly a time for the people of Montebello to remain attentive.

Richard P. McKee is past-president of Californians Aware and a La Verne resident.

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Cronyism continues

Similar to Pico Rivera, Montebello is now going through a shake-up at the top of its municipal government.

We're disappointed that the 3-2 majorities of the city councils of both cities appear to have chosen paths that hint of shortcutting their processes for rebuilding their top administrative leadership rather than conducting professional searches for the most qualified applicants.

Pico Rivera and Montebello are cities where recent history should signal to the elected council members that it is time for them to show their willingness to hire outside agencies to search for top candidates for their highest offices, so they can choose the best people at a wage the cities can afford.

Most importantly, this would demonstrate to their constituents and to their political rivals that they are willing to distance themselves from the temptation to select cronies.

Actually, we thought when council members Norma Lopez-Reid, Bob Bagwell and Jeff Siccima became the "reform" Montebello council majority in 2005, we would see a decline of what we perceived as cronyism.

But it has been surprising to watch, after the recent firing of City Attorney Marco Martinez, the hiring of Arnoldo Beltran to succeed him. A relative of Beltran's worked on Siccima's election campaign. Could that be significant? We're not sure. That's the problem with cronyism, we think it means something, but we're not exactly sure what.

But you know what they say about ducks.

Siccima, Lopez-Reid and Bagwell also voted to end City Administrator Richard Torres' 18-year career with the city and appoint former Huntington Park police Chief Randy E. Narramore as interim administrator as they placed advertisements for applicants for a permanent city administrator in various publications.

We weren't particularly impressed that it appeared that one of the reasons Narramore was selected as the acting city administrator was he served briefly as interim district manager of the Los Angeles County Vector Control District, where Lopez-Reid met him and thought "he did a great job."

When there is a severe split on a governing board, the majority can adhere meticulously and scrupulously to detail to avoid criticism from the minority members or just because it is the better way to function.

To do otherwise, it seems, is to get sloppy because they have the power.

This transition between city administrators is the juncture where we hoped the Montebello council would take the high road and opt for squeaky cleanness.

It seemed the council majority would want to do more than place advertisements in strategic publications. It seemed they might want to go out and hire a good headhunter company to conduct a search and bring back a half-dozen of the best candidates for the council to interview and, perhaps, choose the best person for the job from that list.

Right now there still seems to be time for the Montebello council majority to do something really refreshingly different than the things they complained about when they were in the minority.

But, we haven't seen any indication yet that they intend to become heroic at this stage.

Politics-as-usual can get fairly exciting, but Montebello and Pico Rivera would both be well-served by some unexciting efficiency.

Pasadena Star News, April 6, 2007

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Rosemead's city attorney already $43,000 over his budget

By Jennifer McLain, Staff Writer

ROSEMEAD - The city attorney is over his legal budget by $43,000, with six months remaining in the billing cycle, records show.

Rosemead City Attorney Bonifacio Garcia of Garcia, Calderon and Ruiz has charged the city $205,000 since July, the start of the fiscal year. The legal budget for the firm's services in 2007-08 is nearly $162,000.

Garcia did not return calls.

"That is outrageous," said Councilwoman Margaret Clark. "If we are overbudget, we are going to dip into our reserves. This is the wrong time to be overspending on anything."

The City Council on Tuesday will discuss Garcia's billing practices. This is after some council members last month questioned why he had not submitted four months' worth of bills.

Since Garcia was hired nearly one year ago on the recommendation of Councilman John Nunez, the council has adjusted its policies and taken steps to lower the city attorney's bills, which reached as much as $58,000 in November.

"I find that (Garcia) gives us great and sound advice, but in terms of cost, obviously I am very concerned about the bills," said Mayor John Tran. "I've asked staff to closely monitor the bills."

Since Garcia was hired a year ago, he has charged $323,785 for his services.

"There was one month where a bill was $56,000," said Rosemead City Manager Oliver Chi. "That type of situation can't happen anymore."

The bills prompted the city to place a $30,000 cap effective September 2007. The cap does does not include "extraordinary circumstances" such as litigation, court proceedings or investigations.

Garcia's $205,000 in fees since July include work on a pending personnel lawsuit against the city, and a city legal dispute against Councilman Gary Taylor that was referred to the grand jury.

"During the last few months," Chi said, "we have taken on extraordinary circumstances, and there is an additional cost for those services."

Legal costs vary among San Gabriel Valley cities.

In Baldwin Park, home to more than 80,000 residents, city attorney fees range between $10,000 and $20,000 a month. Invoices show the city spent about $17,000 in November, $17,000 in October and $12,000 in December for work performed by former City Attorney Stephanie Scher.

In South El Monte, which has 21,400 residents, city attorney fees averaged $31,000 a month last year, records show.

In Rosemead, a city of nearly 53,000, Garcia's bills average $36,300 a month.

Officials said they expect to present the council with a balanced budget, but legal costs could be an obstacle.

"At some point, if we exceed the appropriated amount, a budget amendment has to be executed," Chi said. "This is one of these areas where we will have to bring back some sort of budget amendment to be able to continue to pay for this service."

Pasadena Star News, April 4, 2008

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Lawyer's council dealings questioned

By Gene Maddaus, Staff Writer

CARSON - A lawyer with a reputation for shady political dealings has been courting Carson City Council members as they seek to hire a new city attorney.

Francisco Leal, who serves as the city attorney in Maywood and Huntington Park, has met with all three members of the council majority.

Leal's associates also contributed $3,800 to Councilman Mike Gipson's campaign for the Assembly in November. Arturo Fierro, an attorney who works for Leal, gave $900 while his wife, Maria Fierro, contributed $1,000.

The council voted to put the city attorney's contract out to bid in January. It was a surprise move and passed on a 3-2 vote over strident opposition from Mayor Jim Dear and Councilman Harold Williams. The bids are due on Monday.

At the time, members of the council majority gave only a vague rationale for the decision, saying it would be "healthy" to go through the bid process and would ensure greater "transparency."

But a source who attended a meeting between Leal and Gipson in November said the decision came at Leal's urging.

At the time, Gipson was struggling to raise money for his campaign for the 55th Assembly District. He would go on to lose that race to his better-financed opponent, Warren Furutani.

According to the source, Leal made repeated offers to bundle contributions for Gipson, beginning in late October. Ultimately, Gipson met with Leal and Fierro at the Sizzler restaurant in Carson in mid-November. At the meeting, Leal urged Gipson to put the attorney's contract out to bid, according to the source who attended. Gipson said he had no control over the votes of the two other majority members: Councilman Elito Santarina and Councilwoman Lula Davis-Holmes.

In an interview, Gipson said he had met Leal, but could not remember the circumstances of the meeting or what was said.

Long Beach Press Telegram, March 23, 2008

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Council asks for Garcia's legal bills
City attorney said to be four months behind

By Jennifer McLain, Staff Writer

ROSEMEAD - Officials are wondering why they haven't seen a bill from the city attorney since November.

Since April, legal fees from three separate law firms representing the city reached about $300,000, records show. Of that, $233,414 has gone to City Attorney Bonifacio Garcia.

Some elected officials are concerned about how high fees will spike because Garcia has only billed them from April through October.

"I want to find out why he is four months behind," Councilman Gary Taylor said, who called Garcia's billing habits, "very unusual," and alleges the city attorney is finding ways to milk the city.

Garcia did not returns calls seeking comment.

The city hired Garcia, whose firm, Garcia, Calderon and Ruiz also represents the Garvey School District, on April 3. Since then, the city has seen legal fees that have been unmatched in previous years.

City Manager Oliver Chi expects the bills to be around $150,000, which is about $37,500 a month.

"Clearly something is wrong here," said Robert Stern, president for the Center for Governmental Studies. "Normally, if you do work, you submit bills."

Rosemead has budgeted legal fees at $265,000 for the 2007-08 fiscal year, and Chi expects the fees to exceed the budget. The projected cost for the city attorney costs in 2006-07 had been $159,735.

Attorney's fees were lower in the past, Mayor John Tran said, because city development was stagnant.

"Of course the legal fees will be higher than in the past, especially with the fact that the city is finally providing better services," Tran said.

Garcia's high bills prompted the city to place a cap on his contract, limiting him to $30,000 a month. The retainer does not include additional legal work such as lawsuits.

"Most of these are legal expenses which are an exception to his retainer," Taylor said. "He brings in these extra cases, and gets more money."

Among the cases are a lawsuit filed by a former employee Randy Haro, which cost $4,893 in October, the recommendation of Taylor to the Grand Jury over possible leaking of confidential material, which cost $7,370 in October, and a lawsuit brought by the Department of Justice against Rosemead, which cost $5,880 in September. The DOJ lawsuit preceded Garcia's arrival and deals with voting rights.

These are not attorney initiated causes that Garcia is taking up, Tran said.

"He takes direction from the council," he said.

The City Council also hired a separate law firm, Burke, Williams and Sorensen, to represent the city's redevelopment agency. Since Burke, Williams and Sorensen was hired in September as the city's redevelopment agency attorney, it has charged the city $28,315, or about $7,000 a month.

"Just because a number is budgeted, doesn't mean that we are held to that account," Tran said. "In the past, we have exceeded the budget."

Pasadena Star News, March 13, 2008

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Travel tally
City expense budgets range from frugal to generous

By Tania Chatila and Jennifer McLain, Staff Writers

Local cities expect to spend nearly a half-million dollars this year to send officials to conferences across the country.

Taxpayer money covers nearly all the costs associated with these trips, including air fare, hotel stays and meals.

But where these elected officials go, what they spend and how often they travel differs from city to city.

A review of travel expenses for council members in 17 cities show some municipalities budget as little as $5,000 for travel and have strict policies that curb expenses. Other cities, however, give their councils up to $60,000 a year - split equally among members - to cover costs like $75 seafood plates, stays at posh hotels and beers ordered at pool-side bars.

"We've never needed (limits)," La Puente Councilman Louie Lujan said. "All of our council members have always acted professionally, always submitted receipts. We've never had any issues."

La Puente, which has 43,000 residents, and South El Monte, with 22,500 residents, have the largest budgets of all 17 cities, at $60,000 a year each.

South El Monte did not respond timely to a public records request made in July. Late Friday, the city released some documents that are being reviewed.

South El Monte Councilman Louie Aguinaga said their expense budget is justified because of the amount of commercial development occurring in the city.

"Because of the conferences we go to," Aguinaga said, "we are getting the money we deserve, and it has paid off."

Other cities with double, triple or even five times the number of residents have smaller budgets.

But Lujan said those numbers alone are difficult to compare.

"For each council in their respective cities, of course they vote on what works for them," Lujan said. "This works for us."

West Covina, Pasadena and El Monte all have populations of more than 100,000. West Covina's budget is $39,000, El Monte's is $30,000 and Pasadena's is $27,000. Whittier, with a population of 83,700, budgets $17,200 for meetings and travel.

"Considering we're not financially strapped ... we're pretty frugal," Whittier City Controller Rod Hill said. "It's not like they are just going to travel for the heck of it."

La Verne had the lowest travel budget reviewed with a total of $5,000 a year. Last year, council members spent $3,000 more than what was budgeted, but that number is still lower than all other cities.

"Some people would say that is exorbitantly cheap," said La Verne City Manager Martin Lomeli. "We have a city council who gets out to a lot of regional activities, but they just don't tend to travel a lot."

Not all cities follow that trend.

While most local council members travel to between three to five conferences a year, Rosemead Councilman John Nunez attended 22 conferences in two years.

"The way I see it is that I have a unique opportunity to attend conferences," he said. "I don't have small kids, I don't have a 60-hour job. I'm just trying to be a better city councilman."

The total cost of Nunez's trips could not be calculated due to the way Rosemead files expenses.

Nunez said the conferences allow him to network and learn about complex issues such as redevelopment.

"Sure, I could read a book about some of these things," he said. "But that would take me seven years."

These conferences are "extremely valuable," said Eva Speigel, spokeswoman for the League of California Cities.

"They have an opportunity to learn from experts, learn new ideas, hear from legislators, hear what is happening in the Capitol, and have the opportunity to network," Speigel said. "That is very important because they aren't able to do that just staying in their cities."

But attending conferences does not always come with a high price tag, according to officials.

Baldwin Park, Diamond Bar, West Covina, El Monte and Industry are a few of the cities that have daily meal limit.

"In some instances, obviously you look and see there are those politicians that abuse the system," Baldwin Park Mayor Manuel Lozano said. "Personally, I think it's good for us to have this system in place. It not only monitors but reminds you this is public money."

Meal caps range from about $50 to $100 a day in the municipalities that have them.

Some policies allow for a slightly larger allowance in what are considered "high-cost cities."

"The meal limits establish a cost associated with those expenses and cap those costs at which the city will reimburse," Diamond Bar City Manager James DeStefano said.

In most cities, if council members go over their limit, they must pay for it. With these caps, municipalities take into consideration that food is often served free of charge to members attending conferences.

In West Covina, Councilman Mike Touhey was denied reimbursement for a $21 breakfast and a $23 lunch while at a conference in Monterey last year. The reason: those meals were "included in seminar itinerary," records show.

But such policies are not always followed.

While it has a $65-a-day limit for food, Rosemead paid for a $243.29 bill from Les Artise Steakhouse that was found on the invoice of Councilman John Nunez's bill while he stayed at the Paris hotel in Las Vegas in 2006.

Officials could not explain the expense.

"I think you'd go on what's sensible and reasonable," said Martin Saiz, a professor of political science at Cal State Northridge. "Certainly steak and lobster every night is a little excessive."

While at a conference in Las Vegas in May, a group of La Puente officials - including Lujan, Mayor Lou Perez, Councilwoman Renee Chavez, City Manager Carol Cowley and Assistant City Manager Gregg Yamachika - used about $700 of taxpayer money for dinner at Ceasars Palace.

Some of the meals purchased included a $46 lamb chop plate, a $45 lobster plate and a $42 prime rib plate, receipts show.

"I had never been to Vegas before," Cowley said. "It was my first time so I had no clue of what restaurants were good ... I tried to look for restaurants with medium range so that we didn't go overboard and then I made the reservation at Nero's."

Cowley said she was floored by the menu prices and had not expected to pay that much.

La Puente has no meal limits. Lujan said they are too restrictive, considering council members are adults and should be trusted to use public funds accordingly.

If La Puente council members choose, they can spend $70 on organic greens, steak, sorbet and iced tea for dinner, as Mayor Perez did while at a conference in Indian Wells last year, receipts show.

Earlier that day, while visiting the Hadley Fruit Orchard in Cabazon, he spent an additional $20 on a hot dog, a shake, one pound of peaches and 12 ounces of apricots, records show.

Lujan said he purposely books his hotels on discount travel sites like priceline.com so that he can spend a little extra on entrees like ahi tuna, salmon, vegetarian pizza and red snapper, as seen in his receipts.

He encourages council members in all cities to take advantage of every penny of their expense budgets.

"I know some council members (in general) that don't use their full budget for fear of scrutiny," Lujan said. "I wish they would just get over it."

San Gabriel Valley Tribune, October 28, 2007


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As city's legal fees rise, confusion persists

By Jennifer McLain, Staff Writer

ROSEMEAD - The decision to hire two law firms for municipal work is proving costly and confusing, city officials said.

The law firm Garcia, Calderon and Ruiz was hired in April to take over as the city's and redevelopment agency's attorney. But half of the firm's work was taken away in September when Burke, Williams and Sorensen was hired to represent the redevelopment agency.

City officials said the move would help reduce attorney's fees. But since then, attorney's bills are higher than in past years, and officials can't agree on how to divvy up the responsibilities.

"As of today, there still needs to be more clarification," Mayor John Tran said.

Confusion remains on whether Garcia's firm will be representing the Planning Commission or if that duty should be passed on to Burke, Williams and Sorensen. The City Council on Tuesday requested to review both firms' contracts and to discuss it at a future meeting.

The Planning Commission handles issues related to land use, and Burke, Williams and Sorensen was hired to represent the city on those matters. But Garcia's firm is still representing the commission.

Councilwoman Margaret Clark is concerned the city is being overcharged by Garcia's firm.

City Attorney Bonifacio Garcia has charged the city nearly $164,000 for five months of work, including an August bill for $17,622, and a May bill for $56,440.

Burke, Williams and Sorensen charged $5,612 for the month of September.

"I've been disappointed in the billing and the performance," Clark said referring to Garcia's firm.

In the meantime, the city is also paying its former law firm, Wallin, Cress, Reisman and Kranitz, for several cases it is handling. During six months, the firm has charged nearly $30,000, including $1,862 a month for health insurance.

City Manager Oliver Chi said the council has addressed ways to control Garcia's attorney's fees, and they are beginning to see the effects now.

"We are at a better place today at our legal costs than several months ago," he said.

Garcia's high bills prompted the city to place a cap on his contract, limiting him to $30,000 a month.

"I am satisfied with the type of work and legal advice that his firm has provided," Tran said.

Rosemead has budgeted legal fees at $265,000 for the 2007-08 fiscal year, and Chi expects the fees to exceed the budget.

"It falls in line with what we have already set aside for what we've budgeted," Tran said. "We took action to decrease our legal bills, and I think that it is working."

Pasadena Star News, November 26, 2007
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Bloggers take aim at city governments -- and hit home

Some websites are watchdogs, others are just scurrilous, but their influence on the cities they cover is growing

By Jonathan Abrams, Times Staff Writer

The anonymous blogger posted documents on his website that, he said, showed that Mayor Maryetta Ferre and Mayor Pro Tem Lee Ann Garcia were beholden to developers putting up big-box stores such as Lowe's.

"We need to recall them now," "Grandpa Terrace" fumed a year ago. "We don't want more traffic, more crime, dayworkers just to bring in some pocket change, when the cost to the city will go up to combat the problems brought by these types of development."

His rants helped fuel a recall effort last year against the two council members. Although the campaign ultimately failed, his blog was another example of the growing influence of citizen journalists roiling communities across Southern California, many of which rarely are covered by newspapers or other traditional media outlets.

These muckraking bloggers say they have stepped in to fill the government watchdog vacuum. Some are anonymous, others are scurrilous and, on occasion, possibly libelous. And to local politicians, most are a royal pain in the tuchis.

Bloggers in the San Gabriel Valley have raised the alarm about a possible budget crisis in Sierra Madre; ones in the Inland Empire have written about the high costs of trimming city trees in Claremont and allegations that killers are getting away with murder in Pomona.

"We realize in today's electronic environment, it's a fact of life," said Grand Terrace City Manager Thomas Schwab. "The thing that's the most disturbing is they can put things on the blog that have no basis in fact, and you really can't refute it."

It may only be a matter of time before bloggers start to have a major influence in local politics and policymaking.

"It's inexpensive, and my guess is there are a lot of people who find it fun," said Matthew Spitzer, former USC Law School dean.

"There have always been citizens who love to go to city council meetings and see what's going on. Putting it on a blog makes it a lot easier and it increases accessibility to 24/7."

In Grand Terrace, the recall effort fell about 500 signatures short of the 1,506 needed to trigger the election. A citizen-driven group, buoyed by the blog, collected signatures at a Stater Bros. market and mailed petitions to residents.

"For years the city of Grand Terrace tried to keep residents in the dark," said resident Jo Springfield, a strong supporter of the recall effort. "The blog enlightened many residents to start asking questions and going to meetings."

Several bloggers interviewed by The Times insisted on anonymity, saying they feared a backlash from city officials.

All said they were residents of the area they report on and got involved because their community did not receive enough coverage from the traditional media.

"We want our words to stand on our own, and with anonymity, the only way someone can judge us is by what we write," said Publius of the Foothill Cities News Blog, who takes his pseudonym from the Roman whose name was used by Alexander Hamilton, John Jay and James Madison when they wrote the Federalist Papers.

"If we send an e-mail to an elected official, the odds are we won't get a response," he said. "But if enough people read it, they are going to have to respond at some point."

The Foothill Cities Blog, which covers several cities in the San Gabriel Valley, was the first to report that Assemblywoman Nell Soto (D-Pomona) was absent from the Capitol for 25 days because of pneumonia. It was later reported that she still collected more than $20,000 in per diem pay.

The website also has been critical of Pomona's high crime rate, saying that the local press ignores the issue.

"It took a rash of violent crime, or should I say a rash of violent crime that finally received lots of press, but the council's new focus on law enforcement is commendable," said a post in June applauding efforts to hire additional law enforcement officers.

But the praise is mixed with criticism aimed at Pomona officials. The site drew the ire of administrators in May after posting that its city manager was forced to step down ďż˝ which city officials said was untrue.

"It took me back to high school days when you gossip with girlfriends," said Pomona Mayor Norma Torres, adding that she may start her own blog to communicate directly with constituents. "Some of the information reads like a gossip column."

Pomona City Atty. Arnold M. Alvarez-Glasman sent a cease-and-desist letter to the website, ordering it to remove the post.

"While the City of Pomona strongly supports an individual's First Amendment Rights ďż˝ it is difficult to respond to anonymous fabrications such as those published by you in your web-site publication," he wrote.

The website took down the post but enlisted free-speech attorney Jean-Paul Jassy to respond.

"In many ways, these kinds of sites are at the cutting edge and more modern vision of commentary," Jassy said. "The Constitution and the U.S. Supreme Court placed a high premium on making sure freedom of speech is protected, especially when it comes to commenting on public officials."

It is the anonymity that separates the bloggers from professional journalists, said Michael Parks, director of the journalism program at USC's Annenberg School for Communication.

"Journalists need to accept responsibility for their reporting and comments, and that provides for them to be identified," said Parks, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter who is a former editor of the Los Angeles Times.

"Anonymous blogs are similar to writing something up, not signing it and putting it on a bulletin. It's more social commentary than anything."

Although blogs are protected under the 1st Amendment, they are vulnerable to libel lawsuits, said Erwin Chemerinsky, a Duke University constitutional law professor.

They present unique 1st Amendment challenges.

"They cannot have defamatory speech any more than a traditional media type; however, the difficulty with an anonymous blog is who is actually doing the blogging?" he said. "And if you ask a server to take it down, what happens if they refuse?"

Two years ago, the Delaware Supreme Court ruled that an elected official who makes a defamation claim against an anonymous blogger must have substantial evidence to support the claim. Otherwise the lawsuit could not proceed and the blogger would remain masked.

A similar case has yet to be heard in California.

The California Supreme Court, however, ruled last year that Internet service providers and bloggers cannot be held liable for posting defamatory material written by someone else. The case was brought by two doctors who said they were defamed by a San Diego activist for victims of problem breast implants who called one doctor "arrogant and bizarre" and the other "a bully and a Nazi."

In Claremont, former Mayor Diann Ring threatened the Claremont Insider blog with a defamation suit.

The blog has criticized moves by the city's landscaping and lighting district assessments and targeted former city officials, including Ring, for contracting with a water agency outside the city.

"When you turn on your tap, when you pay your water bill, or if your house burned down in 2003, think of Diann Ring; in fact, call her up and thank her personally for her 'vision,' " one April post said.

Claremont Mayor Peter S. Yao said the blog provided a bit of insight but had to be taken with a grain of salt.

"It certainly is one additional input for the City Council on how some of the population feels on certain issues," he said. "Occasionally, it sheds a little light on a situation, but most of the time it is a rumor mill."

For all the furor the blogs create, city officials could take a cue from Fontana Mayor Mark Nuaimi.

Nuaimi routinely posts on a blog in his city and said he welcomed it as a way to communicate with citizens.

"I'm not going to sugarcoat things," he said. "If somebody misses the issue, I'll tell them. I'm sure folks in the future will use whatever I've written and will twist it. Frankly, my job is to do my job, and part of my job is to answer people's questions."

Los Angeles Times, July 23, 2007


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Conflict of interest in school deal?

By Jennifer Mclain

ROSEMEAD -- A deal that appears to benefit the community, Garvey School District and East Los Angeles College also raises questions about the involvement of the mayor and city attorney.

The city on Tuesday granted permission to the Garvey School District to use Dan T. Williams Elementary School as a satellite campus for ELAC.

The deal came after years of negotiating, said Garvey school board member Bob Bruesch.

It will help Garvey supplement a $512,000 budget shortfall and satisfies ELAC's demand for more classes.

But questions surfaced over the city's and school district's legal representation as well as to a possible $20,000 that Rosemead Mayor John Tran will make from the agreement.

Tran, who served on the Garvey School Board until he left in 2005 to take a seat on the City Council, is a Realtor and served as negotiator between Garvey and ELAC.

"There is nothing wrong with a former trustee acting as a negotiator," said Bob Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies, a watchdog group. "But an attorney can't represent two clients on the same issue. He would have to disqualify himself."

City Attorney Bonifacio Garcia's firm, which represents the Garvey School District, was expected to provide legal counsel for the city's planning commission meeting. But shortly before the meeting, City Manager Oliver Chi said he called another attorney to represent the city on that particular issue. Garcia's firm dealt with the rest of the agenda.

Joe Montes of Burke, Williams and Sorensen was hired last month to take Garcia's place as the city's redevelopment agency lawyer and to be the counsel to the planning commission. However, Montes was not scheduled to start his new position for another two weeks, Chi said.

The potential for conflict of interest could have been there, interim Redevelopment Director Brian Saeki said, but it was avoided by having Montes serve as counsel instead of Garcia's firm.

George Yin, the attorney from Garcia, Calderon and Ruiz, recused himself from the agenda item.

"George Yin made a statement that he has never worked on the project and never provided any opinions on the subject to the (city)staff," Saeki said. "But he did recuse himself, and Joe Montes stepped in and oversaw the proceedings."

Bruesch said the only thing Garcia's firm has done for Garvey in the land deal is, "helping us with dotting all of our 'I's' and crossing all our our 'T's'."

When Garcia was hired in April, council members questioned whether it was a conflict of interest for him to serve as counsel to Garvey School District and the city.

The day that Garcia was hired, Councilwoman Polly Low asked him: "Is there a conflict of interest for you to represent the city of Rosemead as well as the Garvey School District?"

Garcia said there wasn't, and in the event that there was an overlapping issue, "we would step back and .... advise that you bring other counsel to handle your relationship with the school district."

Residents also raised conflict-of-interest questions about the mayor's connection to the lease deal.

Steven Ly, president of a community group, Rosemead Partners, said that he sent out a letter to several hundred neighbors informing them of the possible change in use to Williams School. He also noted Tran's involvement.

"We view what is going on as a conflict of interest," Ly said. "(Tran) will be profiting a large commission."

Tran, who will receive up to 4 percent of the $500,000 deal, said that he has been upfront with staff and council members.

"This is another erroneous attempt to mislead and deceive the public once again," Tran said of Rosemead Partners, formerly known as Rosemead Guardians. "The Rosemead Guardians should be ashamed of themselves."

He also said that he plans on recusing himself from the council meeting if this comes.

Stern said as long as Tran doesn't participate in the vote and doesn't tell his colleagues how to vote, he is within the law.

"I told everybody not to mention ELAC in front of me," Tran said. "If it gets approved, I will recuse myself."

Though the mayor said the district contacted him, Bruesch said that Tran approached the district.

"He is a Realtor, and before he went into politics, that is what he did," Bruesch said. "When he said he would negotiate the lease for us it seemed logical because he knew both parties and could work through the issues."

San Gabriel Valley Tribune, September 9, 2007


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Rosemead puts cap on legal fees
Move comes after city billed $100,000 in 3 months

By Jennifer McLain, Staff Writer

Concerns about legal fees trail Rosemead's city attorney, Bonifacio Garcia.

Officials at several cities have complained about high bills, questionable charges and lack of city attorney experience.

Garcia's firm, Garcia, Calderon and Ruiz, represents Rosemead, Wasco, Garvey School District and served Arvin's planning commission until the city fired the attorneys in July.

Garcia defends the quality of his firm's work and its rates.

"We want the highest quality of lawyers," he said, "and we're willing to pay for them and so are our clients."

Garcia is relatively new to the city attorney's business. He spent the past 11 years representing Garvey School District. In his 26 years as a lawyer, his first city attorney job was in January for the city of Wasco, which is near Bakersfield.

Garcia's lack of experience was the cause for an increase in costs in Arvin, Wasco and Rosemead, officials said.

"People think an attorney is an attorney is an attorney," said Alan Christensen, interim city manager at Arvin. "But you wouldn't hire a research attorney to do litigation for you. Of course they could learn, but it will be on the city's dime."

In Rosemead, a May bill for $55,000 prompted the City Council on Tuesday to place a $30,000 cap on Garcia's contract.

Garcia charged the city $100,000 the past three months. That is nearly the total charged for a year's worth of work by the previous law firm, Wallin, Kress, Reisman and Kranitz, according to city records.

From 2000 to 2007, annual charges from Wallin, Kress, Reisman and Kranitz ranged from $137,583 to $179,219, according to the city's finance records.

Rosemead City Council members Gary Taylor and Margaret Clark said Garcia performed work that should be done by staff and that is another reason why his bills were so high.

Garcia was originally hired to represent Rosemead's redevelopment agency, city and housing authority. Two weeks ago, however, the council hired a separate attorney to represent the redevelopment agency and housing authority. Now, Garcia only represents the city.

In Arvin, Garcia was fired because of his high bills, city officials said. Garcia's firm represented the planning commission from November to July.

"The city did a financial review of their legal expenses, and based on that decided to let the legal firm Garcia, Calderon and Ruiz go," Christensen said.

Garcia, however, said his firm's departure was the result of political turmoil and came after former Arvin City Manager Enrique Ochoa resigned.

Arvin's financial records show that for eight months of legal work to oversee the planning commission, Garcia's firm charged nearly $50,000. Half of those charges came from two months alone.

The flat fee charged by Arvin's previous firm in 2005 was $105,000 for city attorney and planning commission representation. That included attendance at two council meetings per month. Garcia's contract required the attendance of one planning commission meeting a month.

Arvin city officials said they are also asking for a refund for work performed by attorney Eva Plaza, who charged a partner and associate rate of $225 per hour. She was not admitted to the California State Bar until July, records show, and Arvin officials said the city should have been charged accordingly.

In Wasco, the hiring of Garcia's firm prompted a grand jury investigation, which was released in July.

The Kern County grand jury alleges the Wasco City Council violated the state's open meeting law by deciding in secret to fire the city attorney and replace the firm with Garcia, Calderon and Ruiz.

The report states that since Garcia was hired, "the city is incurring substantial increases in the cost of having a city attorney. It is estimated that this will cost four to five times more than the previous city attorney."

Garcia denied the grand jury's allegations. On behalf of the city, Garcia responded, "The grand jury's mistaken legal conclusions could have been avoided with a reasonable amount of legal research and factual investigation."

According to Wasco's finance records, Garcia's firm billed the city $148,024 for six months worth of work. In comparison, the previous law firm billed the city $34,178 for the previous six months of work.

"He is not overcharging the city. Some people say that his contract rate is too high, but he is charging the city what the contract rate is," said Wasco City Manager Ron Mittag.

Bob Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies, said an attorney can charge whatever he wants to charge. "The real question of course is, `Is this guy providing his money's worth?', and that is something for the city to determine."

Wasco Councilman Tilo Cortez said he thinks Garcia is "screwing the city."

"Bonny says you get what you pay for," Cortez said. "But I don't see what we are getting for the extra money that we are paying him."

Garcia's charges at the Sweetwater Union School District, where he has been counsel for the past 12 years, also raised questions.

The San Diego Union-Tribune reported last year the Sweetwater Union High School District surpassed its legal budget halfway through the fiscal year, spending more than $1 million on legal services for the year. That was 77 percent more than in the past fiscal year, the Union-Tribune reported.

Officials from the Sweetwater Union School District did not return calls for this story.

Garcia stands by his work, his charges and the councils he represents. And ultimately, he said, it is up to the elected officials to determine whether they are getting value from Garcia and his firm.

"One of things you don't read about is any massive losses," Garcia said. "Our reputation is that we are very effective lawyers."

San Gabriel Valley Tribune, September 4, 2007


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Council decides on law firm

By Jennifer McLain, Staff Writer

ROSEMEAD - The city hired a new redevelopment attorney on Tuesday, replacing the lawyer it hired four months ago to fill the post.

Law firm Burke, Williams and Sorensen, which began its public law career in Montebello in 1938, beat out four other firms vying to represent the city's redevelopment agency.

The other firms were Best, Best and Krieger; Alvarez-Glasman and Colvin; Kane, Ballmer and Berkman; and Richards, Watson and Gershon. Each were interviewed by the council at Tuesday's meeting.

Contracts for the new law firm have not been negotiated.

Bonifacio Garcia, a former attorney for Burke, Williams and Sorensen, was hired in April to represent the city and its redevelopment agency. He remains as the city attorney.

The decision to bring on a separate agency attorney was sparked by a request by Councilman John Nunez, who said having two firms representing the city and the redevelopment agency will avoid conflict of interest concerns.

The unanimous approval on Tuesday for Burke, Williams and Sorensen came after a failed motion by Mayor John Tran and Nunez to hire Alvarez-Glasman and Colvin.

Council members and residents expressed their apprehension about bringing aboard partner Arnold Alvarez-Glasman, who represents West Covina, Bell Gardens, Pomona and Pico Rivera.

"I have a real problem with Glasman and his involvement in politics," Councilwoman Margaret Clark said, referring to Alvarez-Glasman and his interest in Montebello politics.

Alvarez-Glasman pulled papers Aug. 3 to run for city treasurer, but later said he decided not to run after discussing it with his family.

"It doesn't matter that he withdrew it. It shows that he's still involved with politics," Clark said. "We don't need this kind of politics in Rosemead."

Alvarez-Glasman, a former Montebello City Councilman, has also served as city attorney for Baldwin Park, Montebello, South El Monte and La Puente. However, his contract was not renewed with these cities after new council majorities came aboard.

"He is a fine attorney," said Baldwin Park Councilman David Olivas, who voted to oust Alvarez-Glasman. "I felt it was time to make a change, but it had nothing to do with \ service to the city."

Among the firms, Alvarez-Glasman was the only one to give campaign contributions to existing council members, according to campaign finance records: $1,000 to Tran in 2004, and $1,000 to Councilwoman Polly Low in 2007.

Clark said this was also another reason why she would not vote for Alvarez-Glasman.

Low, however, said that receiving campaign contributions is no guarantee on a vote.

"Just because council members receive a contribution doesn't necessarily mean they will absolutely vote because they've received money," Low said.

Tran, who just before voting for Alvarez-Glasman, added, "$1,000 does not buy my vote, Maggie."

Pasadena Star News, August 15, 2007


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City reviewing law firm proposals

Frank C. Girardot, Staff Writer

WEST COVINA - The City Council plans to review proposals from several law firms seeking to represent the city in areas ranging from code enforcement to workers' compensation.

City officials are paging through 28 separate proposals covering four specific areas of legal expertise.

"In essence it's good to have the city go through this every so often," said Chris Freeland, assistant to the city manager. "It's an opportunity to make sure we are getting value for these services."

The review of the law firms' plans began Monday and will conclude in a public meeting at 6 p.m. Wednesday.

Three proposals deal with city prosecutions, including code enforcement, environmental law and the filing of some criminal complaints, such as traffic infractions and misdemeanors.

Seven proposals offer legal services in the area of personnel and labor law; 10 deal with defending the city against liability lawsuits; seven offer services defending the city in workers' compensation cases; and one proposal offers to cover the city's legal needs in both general liability cases and workers' compensation.

Officials expect to use a dim sum approach to choosing these services, picking firms that specialize in specific areas of liability or compensation.

"We might pick one firm to represent us in slope failure and another to handle civil rights claims," Freeland said.

In addition to City Attorney Arnold Alvarez-Glasman, West Covina uses the services of at least five firms in litigation involving the city. The city is also covered for some legal services by an insurance policy through the Joint Powers Insurance Authority, City Manager Andrew Pasmant said. That policy covers claims over $1 million, according to Debbie Domingues, the city's safety and claims manager.

It has been several years since the city undertook a comprehensive look at its legal representation. "This is a good thing to do," Pasmant said.

Among the firms submitting proposals to act as city prosecutor is Burke, Williams and Sorensen. Rosemead's new city attorney, Bonifacio Garcia, a former attorney with the firm, had his billings called into question last year. The San Diego Union-Tribune learned he had billed the Sweetwater School District in San Diego County for as much as 15.3 hours in a day, and $131,708 between July 1, 2005 and the end of May 2006.

Garcia left Burke, Williams and Sorensen late last year and was recently appointed to represent Rosemead. Other firms that submitted city prosecutor proposals are Best, Best and Krieger; Burke; and Jones and Meyer.

Best, Best and Krieger would charge $185 per hour for their services. Burke, Williams and Sorensen billing would be $225 per hour for the services of a partner; $175 per hour for an associate; $150 per hour for a clerk; and $125 per hour for a paralegal.

Jones and Meyer, which currently represents the city, would charge a flat rate of $160 per hour, according to their proposal.

San Gabriel Valley Tribune, April 16, 2007


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Rosemead council delays decision on law firm

By Jennifer McLain, Staff Writer

ROSEMEAD - The majority of the council decided to interview attorney candidates for the redevelopment agency in August.

Despite Rosemead Mayor John Tran and Councilman John Nunez saying they were prepared to approve an attorney on Tuesday, the council voted 3-2 to interview the five law firms vying for the post.

"I read their proposals and reviewed them, but that is more of a paper interview," Councilwoman Polly Low said Wednesday. "I am more comfortable meeting all five before making a decision."

With one of the five firms represented at the meeting - partner Arnold Alvarez-Glasman - Tran and Nunez voted against interviewing all of the firms.

"I'm ready to choose one," Tran said at Tuesday's meeting, with Nunez echoing his comments.

Council members were provided with the bids on July 12. Councilwoman Margaret Clark said Wednesday, "that it is a little bit odd that they did not want to interview the firms."

Alvarez-Glasman is the city attorney for Pomona, West Covina, Pico Rivera and Bell Gardens, and has also served Baldwin Park, Montebello, South El Monte and La Puente.

Among the firms, he is the only one to have given campaign contributions to existing council members, according to campaign finance records: $1,000 to Tran in 2004, and $1,000 to Low in 2007.

"I'm just happy to be part of the process," Alvarez-Glasman said at Tuesday's meeting.

The other firms are Best, Best and Krieger; Burke, Williams and Sorensen; Kane, Ballmer and Berkman; and Richards, Watson and Gershon.

The search comes three months after the city hired Bonifacio "Bonny" Garcia as city attorney to represent Rosemead and its redevelopment agency.

Garcia was brought on as lead attorney on the suggestion of Nunez. The council did not accept any other bids for the position.

The council's decision in April drew some criticism from the community. Residents questioned Garcia's billing practices and why the council didn't put the contract out to bid.

Garcia serves as general counsel to the Sweetwater Union High School District, and the Garvey School District. He is also the city attorney for Wasco and counsel to the City of Arvin.

According to Garcia's resume, he "is an expert on the (Ralph M.) Brown Act, municipal governance, California conflict of interests and ethics laws binding on elected officials, litigation and labor and employment matters."

The Brown Act mandates how municipalities and public agencies conduct their meetings. The resume does not make reference to redevelopment work.

Nunez recommended last month that the council hire a separate attorney to represent the redevelopment agency to avoid conflict of interest concerns, and stated it did not reflect his opinion of Garcia's work at the city.

"I didn't think it is appropriate to have the same law firm handle development and be the city attorney," Nunez said previously.

Longtime council members Gary Taylor and Clark, who frequently vote against increases in the budget, said at Tuesday's meeting that such a move would tag on extra costs to the city.

"So why are we hiring another attorney?" Taylor said.

Garcia's contract calls for a $5,000 monthly retainer for the attendance of two regular city council and planning commission meetings per month. For the redevelopment agency, there is no retainer.

Basic legal services cost between $125 to $210 per hour, and speciality services including business and real estate or intellectual property range from $205 to $295 per hour, depending on the experience of the attorney.

The council will interview the attorneys at 4:30 p.m. Aug. 14, said interim City Manager Oliver Chi.

San Gabriel Valley Tribune, July 19, 2007


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Political feud splinters quiet Glendora
Charges, countercharges and acrimony prevail as a former mayor leads an effort to topple the City Council. It's the latest chapter in a long fight

By Jim Newton, Times Staff Writer

Nestled unobtrusively at the base of the San Gabriel Mountains, the city of Glendora hardly seems a place stewing with political controversy. Its streets are quiet, its parks plentiful, its light poles proudly decorated with names of servicemen and women fighting in Iraq.

But over the last several years, this quiet little town has waged a series of spirited, sometimes angry and sometimes frankly ludicrous debates. Acrimony often overshadows City Council meetings, and a local public-access television show has become a sort of government-in-exile by a former mayor, a Los Angeles deputy district attorney named John Harrold.

Led by Harrold, critics of the current mayor and council accuse them of bending, even breaking, the law in order to help a political benefactor, of retaliating against those who speak out and of violating state public records laws. Among their allegations: that the council earlier this year approved a rezoning and development agreement that benefited a local sprinkler and irrigation company, Rain Bird Corp., whose top official supplied most of the money that helped put those same council members in office.

City leaders vehemently deny any wrongdoing in that or any of the other areas that have sparked dissent. They instead complain about being harangued by Harrold and his allies. The result is a fractious town, sharply divided over the work of its government and facing off in bitterly opposing camps.

The effect on local politics has been unmistakable. In a little more than five years, Glendora elected one slate of leaders, then tossed them out in a recall, then brought in new ones and chewed up some of them. It has cycled through 11 council members and six mayors. Politics, says the city manager, who was hired by one faction and now works for the other, has devolved into "blood sport."

Doug Tessitor, the city's current mayor, acknowledged that his town has become a divided, sometimes nasty, place. He chiefly blames Harrold, whom he describes as "sick" and prone to leveling "charge after charge after unsubstantiated charge." On one recent afternoon, Tessitor watched a recording of one of Harrold's shows, shaking his head in wonder as he was derided as "incompetent" and "a crook" atop a "culture of corruption."

"There," he said, as the program was paused. "You get the idea."

Harrold, who served for three years as mayor before being ousted, fires right back. "A group of insiders has great influence at City Hall," he said. "I disrupted that."

"These guys," another resident, Gil Aguirre, said of the current council, "don't like to be challenged."

The current struggles for power in the 52,000-resident town on the edge of Los Angeles County date roughly to the late 1990s, when advocates of slower growth and open government united to begin running candidates for office. In 1999, two of those candidates won seats on the five-member council. That attracted some concerned interest from local developers, and their worries were realized two years later when two more candidates advocating slower growth won their campaigns.

The new council majority worked quickly to consolidate its power, replacing a number of city commissioners and officials. And then the counterrevolution began. Alarmed by what others viewed as a purge, council critics launched a recall. Tessitor was picked to oversee campaign finances.

He and other recall supporters turned, as many in Glendora have in recent years, to Arthur Ludwick. Heir to Glendora's leading business, Rain Bird Corp., Ludwick has deep pockets and an abiding interest in Glendora civic life. His name and that of his wife grace the new wing of a local hospital, and his philanthropy has extended to other community projects as well. So when recall supporters needed cash to support their effort, they reached out to Ludwick. He and his wife produced. They donated, lent or otherwise supplied more than $125,000 toward the effort. They were, by far, the biggest contributors to the campaign.

The recall prevailed, casting out three members of the council -- including Harrold -- and replacing them with three others. The next year, another election brought Tessitor to office.

Once in place, the new council was presented with a development proposal that involved Ludwick. Rain Bird was interested in selling a large parcel of land in Glendora, and William Lyon Homes agreed to develop it. For that project to proceed, however, the land needed to be rezoned to allow residential development.

Last Jan. 24, the City Council approved the rezoning and the development agreement. The vote was 4 to 0, with one council member abstaining because he lived close to the development area. Of the four votes in favor, three were from council members involved in the recall — two who won office directly as a result and Tessitor, who helped organize the campaign.

Critics noted the neatness of that exchange: Rain Bird's executive paid for the recall that helped turn over the council. The new council then approved the deal sought by Rain Bird.

Tessitor, a retired insurance salesman who acknowledges that he has sold some policies to Rain Bird officials over the years, says it's true that Ludwick may have benefited from the council vote, but he defends the vote as a good move for the city. The rezoning took land that could have been developed for light industrial uses and transformed it into a small residential community, he said.

Eric Ziegler, the city manager, agrees. "The fact that Art Ludwick financed a recall does not create a conflict," he said. "In terms of the legalities here, there is no question."

Council critics, however, seized on that vote as further evidence of what they see as a city leadership all too willing to accommodate development and other moneyed interests. They question a recent renewal of a contract with the city's trash hauler. They object to the council's decision to allow the developer of a new shopping mall to post a sign on city property. At every turn, they suggest that money is changing hands; when Harrold gets on a roll on his show, he pulls a sheaf of bills from his pocket and fans them for the audience as a reminder.

As that gesture makes clear, when the sides collide in Glendora, it can get ugly.

Take the sunny Memorial Day weekend afternoon in 2005. Ziegler and Gary Clifford, then the mayor, were tooling around town when they spotted a man named Richard Hicks washing out paintbrushes into a storm drain. They called authorities and Hicks, whose wife had spoken out critically about the council, was cited the next day, accused of violating a misdemeanor toxic-waste disposal law.

Although Hicks ultimately pleaded no contest, others saw it as a clear case of retaliation. What, they asked, were the mayor and city manager doing outside Hicks' home that afternoon? Harrold accused Ziegler and Clifford of stalking Hicks. Ziegler protested that it was merely a coincidence, that they had been out driving and happened to spot Hicks — not that they'd gone looking for him.

To this day, Hicks is not sure whether he was simply caught with a paintbrush or targeted for retaliation. He just wants to put the matter behind him and rushes a reporter off the phone. Asked whether he was a scofflaw or a political prisoner, he answered, "It's hard to say."

The paintbrush incident embedded itself in Glendora's fast-expanding political lore alongside a continuing and, to the participants, infuriating debate over the city's handling of public records. There, the leading protagonist is Gil Aguirre, who owns property in town and sought access to city records relating to the formation of a street lighting district. He opposed the idea and asked for documents that would provide information on it.

The city at first tried to brush him off -- illegally demanding to know why he wanted certain documents before agreeing to hand them over — then attempted to impose an administrative fee, also illegal under the Public Records Act. Aguirre, a mild-mannered but persistent sort, kept at it, demanding his rights under California law.

Ziegler now admits that the city failed to turn over documents to Aguirre as required by law but says it eventually complied. Aguirre continues to protest and has filed suit. His case is slated for trial next year.

Even the most casual perusal of Glendora's record-keeping suggests it's far from perfect. Take the Jan. 24, 2006, council meeting at which the Rain Bird-William Lyon Homes project was approved. The city's news release omitted all mention of Rain Bird, and its website featured another curious omission. By this fall, minutes of every one of this year's council meetings through August were posted for the public to review — except for the Jan. 24 meeting.

"I'm not a conspiracy guy, but what does that tell you?" Aguirre asked.

Those minutes were not displayed for more than six months. A few hours after The Times requested a copy of them, the city clerk posted them on the website.

All these controversies play out in Glendora and, inevitably, on Harrold's television show, "Public Comment." The show gives Harrold a weekly platform to attack his adversaries, and he uses it to considerable effect.

In 2005, Harrold satirized Tessitor and the rest of the council by comparing them to the characters in "The Wizard of Oz." Unamused, Tessitor informed Warner Bros., which then delivered Harrold a stern letter threatening to sue him for unauthorized use of the film and warning that its damages could exceed $200,000.

Harrold kept at it. This spring, he used his show to question a recent renewal of the city's trash contract and laced his commentary with barely concealed hints of organized-crime involvement. During the show, one panelist asked Harrold: "If you were to do a word association and you were asked, 'What business do you associate with organized crime?' "

"Trash!" Harrold replied.

That earned Harrold another threatening letter, this time from lawyers for the agitated trash hauler, who did not appreciate that comment or others, including one noting the prevalence of trash companies in the "Sopranos."

Tessitor's wife urges him not to watch Harrold's show, but he can't help himself. It offers, he said, clear evidence of what he's up against — a reckless opponent willing to dirty up those he does not like, even at the fringes of the law.

Harrold admits no such thing. He sees himself as being in battle with the forces of repression, a shadowy but venal old-boy network.

He takes to cable week after week; just last month, he was accusing Tessitor of incompetence and obstruction of justice while three other panelists looked on in agreement and callers, some of them regulars on the show, dialed up to register their approval.

And so it goes in Glendora.

There is no doubt that Harrold and Tessitor are locked in a long combat with few points of agreement. And on that, at least, the two do concur: Neither side sees this ending any time soon.

"I have a feeling John Harrold will be back, will be running for office again," Tessitor said with a sigh.

A few days later, Harrold proved him right. "I am," he said last week, "on the ballot and running for City Council."

Los Angeles, Times, December 17, 2006



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Sweetwater racks up large, clouded legal bill
Descriptions of services left off released forms

CHULA VISTA -- The Sweetwater Union High School District busted its legal budget halfway through the fiscal year that ended June 30.

Sweetwater reports it spent more than $1 million on legal services for the year, 77 percent more than in the past fiscal year, with some expenses for June yet to be logged.

It's tough to tell why.

Through a public-records request, The San Diego Union-Tribune got invoices documenting the district's legal bills, but the descriptions of services rendered were redacted by order of the district's general counsel, Bonifacio Garcia, who is based in Los Angeles.

With no detail of services, the public can't know if an attorney was working on a lawsuit, advising a board member or attending a board meeting.

Garcia said the billings are not merely descriptions but status reports on legal work, which could reveal strategy to opponents if they were made available to the public.

That may be true in a few instances, but most of the information would not give away any secrets, said Peter Scheer, executive director of the California First Amendment Coalition.

The systematic redacting in over 1,000 pages of legal bills of every single description of the services rendered can only reflect a knee-jerk impulse for secrecy, Scheer said. It also underscores how forgetful public officials are that this information belongs to the public.

Garcia himself billed the district as much as 15.3 hours in a day, and $131,708 between July 1, 2005, and the end of May. The district has not yet produced June's invoices.

Garcia's legal meter starts running hours before he sets foot in the board room. In what Garcia terms portal-to-portal billing, he begins charging Sweetwater $200 an hour for his time the minute he leaves Los Angeles for a 2 -hour commute to Chula Vista. He also charges for the drive back and $133.50 in mileage expenses.

That means it costs Sweetwater more than $1,100 to have Garcia at a board meeting, in addition to time he spends on open-and closed-session deliberations.

When asked why he doesn't dispatch a San Diego-based attorney to the meetings, Garcia said, "This is a business that is a service business, and it depends on who the client is comfortable with."

Nor does it mean he's the best attorney of the bunch, he said, but it's the choice of the board to use an attorney with whom it has a decade of experience.

"We're not widgets," Garcia said. "It's about the confidence of the client in the counsel."

Board President Greg Sandoval said he believes Garcia can use drive time to talk with Sweetwater staff by phone. But when asked why the board doesn't use a San Diego-based attorney to save on the $1,100-per-meeting cost, he said, I guess we're going to have to review that.

Months ago Garcia presented district trustees with his findings that Sweetwater's legal bills are in line with those of similar-sized districts in Northern California.

However, the Sweetwater school board appears to have leaned more heavily on attorneys than most other local boards. Garcia attends every Sweetwater board meeting, joined the board for a series of interviews with superintendent candidates during spring and sat in on a Saturday exploratory conversation with former Chula Vista Elementary Superintendent Libby Gil that Sandoval avoided calling a job interview.

San Diego city schools has its own attorneys, and one sits on the dais with the board at meetings. Sweetwater, with 42,000 seventh-through 12th-graders, is the county's second-largest school district, and it contracts with several firms for legal advice, as do other local districts.

But the third-, fourth-and fifth-largest local districts Poway Unified, Chula Vista Elementary and Vista Unified only have an attorney present at board meetings when a particularly controversial issue is on the agenda. The next-largest district, Grossmont Union High, has an attorney present at every board meeting.

Garcia said he could not comment on why he was at the superintendent candidate interviews during spring and why he's not attending this week's interviews. Spokeswomen for the Oceanside and Poway districts said attorneys were not present at their boards' interviews of the candidates who now hold the superintendent jobs.

Sandoval said Garcia sat in on interviews with four Sweetwater finalists so he could negotiate on the spot with a candidate of the board's choosing. On the day of a special board meeting on March 2, Garcia billed Sweetwater $3,060 for 15.3 hours of work.

At that time, Sandoval said, the board was negotiating with Anthony Monreal, superintendent of a much smaller Fresno-area district. But in mid-March the board announced it was seeking new candidates and never took a vote on Monreal.

In addition, Sweetwater was billed for 9.1 hours of Garcia's time on the day the board spoke with Gil, who was never officially a candidate.

On Monday, the Sweetwater board is scheduled to consider approving a contract with Garcia's new firm. He's leaving Burke, Williams & Sorensen to form his own firm, Garcia Calderon Ruiz. He's taking his team of Sweetwater attorneys with him.

He's also taking his clients. Southwestern College, San Ysidro School District and Otay Water District, which also use Burke, Williams & Sorensen, will consider making the same change at upcoming board meetings. Those other agencies use San Diego-based attorneys at their board meetings.

After doing some litigation for the district in the early 1990s, Garcia was contracted to become the district's chief attorney in 1996. Garcia was in Los Angeles even then, so he established a San Diego office for local attorneys who could serve Sweetwater on legal matters outside of direct work with the board.

Garcia has donated to the election campaigns of trustees Jim Cartmill, Arlie Ricasa and Sandoval. Campaign finance records show donations of $1,000 to Ricasa in 2001-02, $1,000 to Sandoval in 2002 and $975 to Cartmill in 2002.

In separate interviews, Garcia and Dianne Russo, the district's chief financial officer, said there are several reasons for the increase in legal costs:

The investigation of an employee suspected of conspiring with a paving contractor to overcharge the district for paving.

The investigation of a principal who resigned amid allegations that she stole property from her school, including a treadmill so large that she built a room around it in her Eastlake home.

The costs of defending and settling a lawsuit filed by a former principal who contended she was demoted for filing a sexual harassment complaint.

Construction defect lawsuits to correct substandard work among the hundreds of millions of dollars of school building projects done in recent years.

Garcia acknowledged that his time on the superintendent search probably helped boost Sweetwater's legal bills above their average. Billings to Burke, Williams & Sorensen were nearly $800,000 this year, Russo said. That's up from $442,441 in 2003-04 and $102,760 in 2002-03.

San Diego Union-Tribune
July 22, 2006


# # # # # # # # #

Sweetwater's annual legal expenses:

2001-02 $ 495,267

2002-03 $ 451,425

2003-04 $ 639,494

2004-05 $ 603,919

2005-06* $ 1,070,863

Sweetwater's annual payments to Burke, Williams and Sorensen:

2001-02 $ 104,357

2002-03 $ 102,760

2003-04 $ 442,441

2004-05 $ 521,304

2005-06* $ 778,481

** Not all accounts for 2005-06 have been settled. Figures could increase.

Source: Sweetwater Union High School District

San Diego Union-Tribune
July 22, 2006


See article at http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/education/20060722-9999-6m22legal.html


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Legal costs leaking funds from Otay Water District;
But officials say troubles are over

by Anne Krueger, Staff Writer

SPRING VALLEY -- With legal expenses of more than $500,000 this year, the Otay Water District is still spending a lot more for lawyers than other water districts in the county.

But Otay officials say that much of their legal bills now are for items that a water district should be paying for: dealing with contracts, advising the board or settling with a homeowner when a pipe breaks.

Otay General Manager Mark Watton said the legal budget was a marked improvement from what he called "the dark days" when the district was filled with dissension and legal problems. Those issues culminated in 2004, when the district spent $2.2 million in legal bills.

Otay officials say they're now able to focus on providing water to about 48,000 customers in a rapidly growing section of southeastern San Diego County, instead of worrying about infighting among board members and lawsuits from fired employees.

The water district serves southern El Cajon, Rancho San Diego, Jamul, Spring Valley, Bonita, eastern Chula Vista, Eastlake and Otay Mesa.

The lessening of tension is reflected in the budget for legal costs, Watton said.

"Our legal agenda is about as boring as our board agendas," he said.

At their meeting this week, board members agreed to a yearlong contract with the law firm of Garcia Calderon Ruiz, which includes a retainer of $262,500.

Yuri Calderon and Aerobel Banuelos, the district's attorneys, had been with the law firm of Burke Williams & Sorensen, which has represented the district since 2001. Burke Williams is closing its San Diego office, and Calderon and Banuelos, along with 13 other attorneys, are forming a new firm.

The law firm had been closely involved with some of the controversies the water district faced. Ruben Rodriguez, the district's former auditor, claimed in a lawsuit that he was fired in July 2001 after he was told to investigate questionable hirings and massive legal bills. A Superior Court jury decided in favor of the water district.

Tom Harron filed suit in 2001 after he was fired as the district's attorney and replaced with the Burke Williams firm. Harron's lawsuit is still pending.

Another pending lawsuit was filed by six employees who said they were fired in early 2001 because of a scheme to have them replaced by Latinos. The suit was filed in San Diego County Superior Court after it was dismissed in federal court.

The district also incurred legal expenses to obtain a restraining order in May 2002 against then-board member Tony Inocentes, prohibiting him from harassing two other board members, then-general manager Bob Griego and others.

The legal troubles caused Otay's attorney fees to swell to $1.3 million in fiscal 2002, more than $1 million in 2003, and $2.2 million in 2004.

Watton said legal bills were starting to go down. The district spent about $852,000 in 2005 and $577,000 this fiscal year.

He said actual legal expenses were lower because the district had recovered or expected to be reimbursed by its insurance company for some legal expenses. The district also received a settlement of almost $1 million when it successfully sued its first attorney in the Rodriguez civil suit, claiming he wasn't prepared for trial.

In contrast, other water districts of comparable size pay much less for their annual legal expenses. The Helix Water District, with more than 54,000 customers, paid about $266,000 for legal expenses last year, and $207,000 the year before, General Manager Mark Weston said.

The Padre Dam Municipal Water District, with more than 23,800 customers, paid about $157,000 in legal bills last year, and $212,000 the year before.

Watton said Otay's legal bills were high in part because the district was growing so quickly. The number of customers is predicted to nearly double within the next 15 years, he said, to about 80,000 a year.

Legal expenses

Otay Water District's legal costs by fiscal year (July to June):

2002 $1,348,480

2003 $1,026,061

2004 $2,215,608

2005 $852,284

2006 $577,691

San Diego Union-Tribune, August 6, 2006


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Otay Water District's legal advice keeps getting more expensive

In yet another example of the Otay Water District's irresponsibility toward ratepayers, board members have agreed to pay the legal costs for defending their own outside attorneys in a ratepayer's lawsuit against the district.

Got that? Otay board members are paying for attorneys to defend their attorneys. They have no choice. At a November 2001 meeting, in a move that legal experts say was highly unusual for a public agency, board members voted to give the Los Angeles law firm of Burke, Williams & Sorensen blanket indemnity from any legal action brought by anybody against the firm for its advice or its actions on behalf of the district.

Usually, when an outside law firm represents a public agency, either the firm indemnifies the agency against bad legal advice or both sides agree that each will be held harmless. But not at Otay.

Among a half dozen legal actions and complaints pending against the district is a false-claims lawsuit against board member Jaime Bonilla, General Manager Bob Griego, the firm of Burke, Williams & Sorensen, and two Burke attorneys, Bonifacio Garcia and Roberta Sistos. The claim alleges Bonilla directed Garcia and Sistos to perform legal services for the Otay Water District in December 2000, months before the water district board had hired the law firm. In fact, Bonilla himself hadn't even been sworn in as a board member when he ordered the legal services to be performed.

Nonetheless, the law firm submitted bills for more than $32,000 for the months before it had been hired, and Griego and the board, led by Bonilla, paid the bills in March 2001.

The false-claims lawsuit says that money should be repaid to the water district, plus damages and civil penalties.

Garcia and Sistos are closely linked to Bonilla. On the first meeting after Bonilla was sworn in, he helped engineer the firing of the water district's in-house counsel. Burke, Williams & Sorensen was retained shortly thereafter. The district has paid the law firm over $1 million and perhaps as much as $2 million over the past 2 1/2 years. Now, the water district board is paying other legal counsel to represent the law firm and board members for actions taken by the district on advice from Burke, Williams & Sorensen.

Legal experts say the indemnity given to Burke, Williams & Sorensen by the Otay Water District is far from normal procedure for public agencies. Most lawyers would not ask to be released from liability for advice rendered to a client. And why would any client, especially a public agency supported entirely by ratepayer dollars, agree to such a deal? What kind of legal advice is Otay receiving if its attorneys won't stand behind that advice without indemnity?

Garcia says the indemnity clause is perfectly legal and within the rules of professional conduct. He has a letter from Escondido attorney Ellen Peck, dated yesterday, saying as much.

But Burke, Williams & Sorensen does not have the same indemnity clause with its other major South Bay client, the Sweetwater Union High School District. Attorney Dan Shinoff, who is now representing Otay in the false-claims lawsuit, said he has seen such indemnity clauses before. But when asked if he had such indemnity from the district for his legal work, his answer was no.

The indemnity clause could become very costly to Otay ratepayers. The turmoil at the district already has produced a lot of legal action, and more may be forthcoming. If Otay's pricey outside attorneys are responsible for giving legal advice that results in harm to the district, ratepayers will foot the bill. It's just more bad news from the Otay Water District.

San Diego Union-Tribune, June 19, 2003

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Recall Campaign Jolts Glendora

By Richard Winton

Glendora has a reputation as a folksy community. A place renowned for its bougainvillea vines, old-style downtown and antique shops.

High school basketball, and bears and deer wandering into town are what usually count for excitement.

But a recall campaign against three City Council members has jolted the once sleepy town into the political fast lane.

By a simple majority, Mayor John Harrold and councilmen Richard Jacobs and Paul “Sonny” Marshall could be ousted from office Tuesday in the community of 49,415, set in the foothills 27 miles east of Los Angeles.

The three are advocates of slow growth in a 19.5-square-mile city traditionally favorable to developers of upscale homes in its foothills.

Glendora Citizens for Responsible Government accuses the three of abusing their power since becoming the governing majority on the five-member council last spring.

“It’s a sad mess they’ve made of the city,” said Bob Kuhn, a former mayor and recall advocate. “They kicked out dozens of volunteer city commissioners to make way for their cronies. They fired a popular city manager and secretly hired a city attorney.”

The recall group has raised more than $200,000 in its effort to oust the three men, making for plenty of lawn signs and mailers. That is nearly 10 times as much as the incumbents have garnered.

Art Ludwik, one of the owners of Glendora-based Rainbird Sprinkler Manufacturing Corp., and his wife have contributed and loaned the recall campaign about $80,000.

“The same arrogance and brashness that led 7,400 registered voters to sign the recall petition has led to a broad range of contributors to give to the campaign,” said Doug Tessitor, the recall committee’s spokesman.

Harrold, Jacobs and Marshall, however, say the recall is driven by a small group of development-friendly leaders.

“This is a recall election engineered by an arrogant elitist ruling class from their country club,” said Jacobs, a retired professor of environmental studies at Cal Poly Pomona.

Jacobs doesn’t like his chances in the election. “It is a beautiful test,” he said. “I think they are going to win. Money does win elections.”

On their anti-recall Web site, the three categorize their critics as “The Fat Cats” and “The Sore Losers.” They warn: “Don’t Let Wealthy Developers and Special Interests Buy Glendora’s City Council.” The three portray themselves as the protectors of the foothills that have gradually disappeared as homes climbed up the canyons in recent years. They also seek to capitalize on the city’s class and geographic divides.

Most of the recall campaign contributors, Jacobs said, live in the wealthy foothills, home to gated communities and the country club. He said those people for years ignored residents south of Alosta Avenue, now named Route 66.

That kind of divisiveness is exactly why the three have to go, Tessitor said.

“Rather than bringing the community together, they are trying to tear it apart,” he said. “I’m not a member of the country club nor are most people involved in the recall.”

Planning Commissioner Ken Herman is making a bid for Harrold’s seat, former Judge Eugene Osko and business executive Gary Clifford are vying for Jacobs’ seat, and Azusa Pacific University basketball Coach Cliff Hamlow hopes to replace Marshall. Herman, Clifford and Hamlow are endorsed by the recall committee.

Nearly 24,000 registered voters are eligible to cast ballots to replace one, two or all three council members in the first recall election in city history.

Incorporated in 1911, the “Pride of the Foothills” was a quaint town surrounded by citrus groves until the 1950s, when large residential developments began to spring up.

As land became scarce in the 1990s, controversy emerged over development.

Then homeowner Robert Gagne sued the city for violating his civil rights, claiming it illegally allowed a house in the foothills on a too-small lot above his home. That suit, settled when the city paid Gagne $800,000, further made development a hot-button issue.

Harrold and Jacobs won council seats in March 1999. The next year, they opposed a retail development, Glendora Marketplace, which includes Home Depot, Sam’s Club and other stores.

With one of the five council members recusing himself, the council deadlocked 2-2 on the project, slated for an area known as the old strawberry patch.

Harrold and Jacobs dissented, claiming it was too close to a neighborhood and would be better used as a park. Shortly afterward, voters approved the project in a citywide referendum by a 2-1 margin.

Although the referendum passed, Harrold and Jacobs got a new ally on the City Council when Marshall was elected last March.

In the wake of that victory, Kuhn said, the three became brash and rude toward opponents. They passed an ordinance last May to replace many longtime city commissioners–people who had volunteered for years, he said.

“I can understand them wanting like-minded planning commissioners, but some of these commissions are far from political,” he said.

Kuhn complains that the three councilmen fired the city manager, Gary Napper, and charges that they violated the state open meeting law by hiring a new city attorney after meeting with him privately.

Recall supporters say the three have created a crisis of confidence in Glendora that makes the community less attractive to businesses.

Harrold said they never fired a single commissioner–just asked them to reapply and comply with a new ethics code. They did remove the city manager, he said, but that is not unusual in local government. He said they chose a new city attorney in public in compliance with the law.

“When Jimmy Hahn or George Bush were elected,” he said, “no one said they couldn’t appoint who they wanted.”

Los Angeles Times, March 03, 2002
See http://articles.latimes.com/2002/mar/03/local/me-glen3.


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Will somebody investigate shenanigans at Otay Water District?

It's too early to know whether six former Otay Water District employees were fired due to discrimination, as they allege in a recent federal lawsuit. They say they were let go and replaced by Hispanic men who were associates or former employees of Otay board member Jaime Bonilla.

Bonilla is a wealthy radio station owner who, during the 1980s, was the protege of Baja Gov. Xico Leyva, who was ousted from office for extreme corruption. Bonilla bought his way onto the Otay board in 2000 by spending nearly $90,000 on his campaign in a district where candidates usually spent one-tenth that amount. Today, he remains the power behind the board and district management.

A judge and jury -- or a settlement -- will decide the validity of the discrimination claims. But the favoritism and shady hiring practices of the Otay Water District since Bonilla's election don't require a legal hearing to uncover. They do, however, require more ink and paper than are available here, so we'll mention just a few of them.

Shortly after he won in 2000, Bonilla began bringing in cronies, including Leopoldo Valencia. Valencia was once the general manager of the Tijuana Potros of the Mexican Pacific League, a baseball team owned by Bonilla. In 1988, Bonilla and Valencia were banned from the league for life. Newspaper reports said the charges against them were for fixing games and for paying players in excess of the league's salary cap.

Mateo Camarillo, a former business partner of Bonilla's, was brought in for a short time as acting general manager of the water district. A board majority led by Bonilla fired Otay attorney Tom Harron, who was replaced by Bonafacio Garcia, who had done legal work for Bonilla, including, according to documents obtained in an employee lawsuit, providing legal advice on how to fire Harron, cancel department heads' contracts and lay off employees.

Garcia, as an outside counsel on retainer, has charged the district nearly $2 million in fees since he began working for Otay. No other water district has incurred legal bills anywhere near that amount.

Bonilla isn't the only person guilty of favoritism at Otay. General Manager Bob Griego, who is supported by the Bonilla majority on the board, is the person who actually hired Garcia. Garcia also is the counsel for the Sweetwater Union High School District, where Griego is a board member.

Griego just hired Manny Magana as Otay's chief of engineering and water operations. The two worked together for the city of Whittier during the 1980s. Griego also was a partner in a metal fabrication company with his top lieutenant at Otay, German Alvarez, and Griego gave Alvarez a generous raise and even a car in his job at Otay. After the outside business partnership was revealed, Griego said he and Alvarez would divest themselves of their interests in the company. Griego also has brought in Bill Jenkins to Otay, first as a consultant and now as a permanent employee. Jenkins helped Griego to set up a Web site for Griego's failed attempt to run for the Chula Vista City Council last year.

There are many other serious problems at this water district, but you get the general idea. Currently, the Local Agency Formation Commission, a state agency, is conducting a review of Otay Water District practices. We hope the LAFCO review will turn up enough questions to interest the county Grand Jury or District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis. The beat goes on at this out-of-the-way corner of local government. We wish somebody would take notice.

San Diego Union-Tribune, March 19, 2003

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'Pride of Foothills' and evolution of a recall;
Glendora election to pit old vs. new, north vs. south

By Marianne Love, Staff Writer

GLENDORA -- Looking back at the evolution of this foothill city, it's easy to see the role politics played in the apparent division of the community into north and south, rich and poor, and pro versus slow growth.

While there may not be one factor that sent Glendora into the depths of reform and an impending recall election, a trip through time reveals a picture of the political fabric that began with a tear and now possibly is beyond repair.

On March 5, voters will decide the fate of Mayor John Harrold and councilmen Richard Jacobs and Paul "Sonny" Marshall. The majority council have been targeted for recall by a political action group that says the three men abused their power.

Harrold, Jacobs and Marshall say nothing they have done since a turnover of the majority council in the March 2001 election was illegal, unethical or gained through back-room deals to further their political agenda in the "Pride of the Foothills."

Instead, the men like to think of themselves as political revolutionists.

It will be the 23,682 registered voters, who will sift through dirty campaign tactics, glossy mailers with half-truths and one last City Council meeting, to judge who goes or stays.

When you look at major issues, the five councilmen agree.

In 5-0 votes, the City Council decided Glendora's crumbling, aging infrastructure of streets and water-delivery system needed an infusion of money to replace and repair them.

All agreed to hire a financial and management consultant and to form adhoc committees to preserve the foothills and explore more trails and parks.

It's how the job gets done that causes friction.

Councilmen Mike Conway and Marshall Mouw often have differed with their colleagues.

Spending down the city's reserves became popular in one camp but not the other, a cause of tension between old-time Glendorans and the new regime's philosophy of not squirreling the cash and giving people a better quality of life.

Critics appear fiscally conservative.

"[Opponents] do not want to spend money," Marshall said. "We had a professional, financial audit done by a reputable firm which showed we were up to 89 percent of reserves in our general fund, and we should be at $4 million. We had $15 million."

Dissension has became evident at council meetings the past 12 months, often times resembling a circus. Political tensions caused meetings to last five hours. Council watchers became animated, disrupting meetings with catcalls, laughter and sneers.

One resident was removed from council chambers for making an obscene gesture, while another is accused of threatening the mayor and disrupting a public meeting.

Councilmen lambasted residents from their seats on the dais.

Animosity, hurt feelings and hatred took over. It's become personal.

All -- some would say -- because of change.

A change from a few favorite families, cliques who controlled the city -- Joe Finkbiner, for example, who was on the council for 20 years -- to what others call an open government that shares the wealth with all, including their enemies.

"A fundamental change in the power structure came in March, 1999," Jacobs said about one turning point in Glendora politics when he and Harrold were elected. "We introduced democracy. Before things were based on an old model, a single person dominating the city and its politics. We broke up concentration of that power structure."

Early Glendora Founded in 1887 and incorporated in 1911, Glendora began as a small citrus-producing community until the 1950s when large-scale residential development emerged, threatening open space and the quaint, small-town atmosphere.

Political watchers say that up until that time and throughout most of the '60s, '70s and '80s, elected officials and residents conducted themselves with respect and decorum.

Disagreements happened, but respect won over.

"These were years of rapid growth and development with many subdivisions and a growing population," Assistant City Manager Culver Heaton, a longtime employee, said. "Everyone, for the most part, was new and accepted development and more new people into the community."

The construction of the Foothill [210] Freeway in the late '60s and early '70s could be seen as an imaginary dividing line through the north and south of the city.

Heaton said by the '80s and early '90s, the community was almost built out. Developers took on problem parcels and eyed the lower hillsides.

The community watched Diamond Bar being carved up, and under Finkbiner's watch, passed the first rural hillside residential zone.

"We were trying to avoid tract homes in the hillsides," former Mayor Bob Kuhn said. "We were leaning toward custom homes. That led to a fundamental argument. And for political reasons, it's easy to attack the establishment and say, 'Look. They are letting them build anything on the hillsides' when nothing could be further from the truth."

The 1980s This period showed some of the first signs of political division.

As the community matured, residents adopted an attitude of "not in my back yard" about issues.

The Morgan Ranch development of large, expensive, two-story homes on small lots in the hillside shocked some.

Others favored less yard maintenance.

When the hillsides at the north end of Lone Hill Avenue looked like they might be developed, the community organized.

"From that time forward, this new council, and more recent councils, have struggled with balancing private property rights with issues concerning hillside development," Heaton said.

The '90s Glendora had one ZIP code: 91740.

As the community grew, the post office on July 1, 1993, decided the population warranted two.

The dividing line became Route 66, formerly known as Alosta Avenue.

South Glendora kept the 91740 ZIP, the north was now 91741.

Earlier, in 1979 and 1980, an unincorporated portion of Los Angeles County in the south was annexed into Glendora against residents' will. The derogatory term "Baja Glendora" -- an image of run-down homes and trailer parks -- followed.

It rears its ugly head during political campaigns and is used by some candidates to remind those in the south they don't live in the privileged north.

Critics of Jacobs said he didn't help close the gap when he insisted on referring to "the good old boys, those guys up on the hill, guys at the country club, guys behind gated communities" -- all of whom lived in the northern section.

"There was only one Glendora," said resident Stan Levin. "Harrold and Jacobs pandered to those living in the south and asked, 'What was the council doing for them?' The council had been looking at Glendora as a whole."

Then, council meetings were televised. More of the community became arm-chair legislators and land-use watchers.

Others played to the camera.

Historically meetings ended around 9:30 p.m.

Now, everyone's delighted if they end by midnight.

Land-use issues Glendora's inability to get land-use issues down pat has added fuel to the fire.

There was a case brought by the Historical Preservation Committee over the destruction of a house to build a parking lot across from City Hall on Foothill Boulevard. That suit cost the city $60,000.

Another example was the Robert and Linda Gagne case in 1997 over a zoning dispute. The couple eventually sued, claiming a violation of their civil rights. They said the city allowed a single-family house to be built on a small lot above their home. So far, the legal tab is close to $1 million and has not been settled. The city is suing its legal representatives for malpractice.

More political divide Political analysts say the election of Christine Degrassi in 1994 was the beginning of a deeper chasm in the community.

Degrassi, a one-term councilwoman, didn't warm herself to her peers when she challenged them on many issues.

Embroiling the city in a lawsuit -- that eventually cost Glendora more than $125,440 -- didn't sit well with others.

The way the council treated Degrassi and residents was the impetus that catapulted today's mayor from his living room to the Council Chambers.

"The way people were being treated was rude," Harrold said.

"I'm used to the courts where everyone is allowed to speak without being intimidated, without being heckled when they disagree with other people's policies," said Harrold, a deputy district attorney.

The first resistance he met was when he talked about salary raises for police officers and a resolution to support the death penalty for minors who kill law enforcement.

"They treated me badly," Harrold said. "They got me upset. One of our officers [Louie Pompeii] was murdered. All the people wanted was a resolution toughening the law."

Glendora marketplace It was a patch of land at Lone Hill Avenue and Gladstone Street that served as a major catalyst of division.

Heated debates ensured about how 48 out of the 80-acres would be developed.

A historic tug of war culminated 30 years of rancor over what is now known as the Glendora Marketplace, a huge retail development still under construction.

It was the voters in March 2001 who decided 2-to-1 how the center should be developed.

At that time Harrold and Jacobs faced off with challengers, many of whom are still challenging the two men today.

Political action committees And finally, in the mind of Brad Kovar, who twice unsuccessfully ran for City Council, the proliferation of political action committees in the late '90s drove another wedge into the community.

And this upcoming recall election is no different.

The group that made the recall a reality had a war chest amounting to $127,000 as of last month.

The former planning commissioner says that while committees like that might be a necessary evil, they are only a short-term fix for a nagging problem.

"Bottom line. You must be responsive to the needs of ordinary citizens and, at the same time, when a council abandons the concerns of the majority of citizens, the majority of citizens will abandon the council," Kovar said.

Life in Glendora after March 5 Depending on which side of the recall bench one sits, political watchers say the view of Glendora after March 5 will be rosy or murky.

Its reputation has plummeted over the past year. Some report the political turmoil in Glendora has made it the laughingstock of the San Gabriel Valley -- affecting real estate prices, businesses and prides.

If the recall is successful, supporters say politics will become tranquil and dignified.

"I see it going back to what it was in the '50s, '60s and the '70s," said former City Manager Art Cook, who retired in the summer of 1997 after 41 years with the city.

It was "a time when [decisions] were made based on what's best for Glendora and not best for personal egos," he said.

Cook, a recall supporter seen by some as still pulling strings in City Hall, says if it's not successful, Glendora will cease as a community of volunteers.

"There'll be a small group of people getting involved and a narrow group who will be trying to exercise its own will and desires," he said. "And, the majority of the community of 100 years, who have given to this town to make it what is, will be ostracized."

In true Glendora style, Community Services Commissioner Roy Schall disagrees.

If the recall is successful, Schall said corruption inside City Hall will continue. If the makeup of the council remains as is, politics in Glendora will be open.

In either case, it's not hard to predict politics will come under a microscope to judge the council's actions by the losers, until the next election, when it starts all over again.

Los Angeles Times, February 21, 2002


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New Light Shed on Corruption Probe; Investigation: Complaints from neighboring cities led authorities to look into political appointments in Cudahy, Bell Gardens.

by Richard Marosi, Times Staff Writer,

Authorities investigating alleged political corruption in Cudahy acted in response to complaints from managers in nearby cities concerned that such practices would spread throughout the region if gone unchecked, according to city managers and a search warrant affidavit.

The search warrant was one of two affidavits unsealed Friday that shed light on investigations in Cudahy and nearby Bell Gardens. The managers in both cities, both former city council members, are under investigation for voting for measures that cleared the way for their appointments.

Managers from other southeast Los Angeles County cities approached prosecutors because they feared the moves in Bell Gardens and Cudahy would be copied elsewhere and undermine years of reforms statewide aimed at keeping administrations free of political influences.

"It would be a step back to old machine politics," said Jack Joseph, deputy executive director of the Gateway Cities Council of Governments.

"If the profession were changed from essentially a professional lifetime manager [position] to a political appointment, it changes the whole nature of the council-manager form of government," Joseph said Friday.

Bell Gardens City Manager Maria Chacon, charged on suspicion of violating conflict-of-interest laws, was not available for comment. Nor was Cudahy City Manager George Perez, who has not been charged with wrongdoing.

The search warrant affidavits had been under seal since April, when authorities raided the city halls of both cities as well as the homes of Perez and Chacon.

The documents detail the ascendancy of both officials based largely on the testimony of former council members and officials. They also show that investigators believed the city attorneys in both cities played significant roles in the appointments of Perez and Chacon.

Cudahy City Atty. David Olivas was the alleged "brains" behind the council meetings where Perez was appointed, according to the testimony of William Davis, the city's former community development director.

Bell Gardens City Atty. Arnoldo Beltran allegedly orchestrated a meeting between council members and Chacon on the appointment issue, according to the affidavit.

Neither Olivas nor Beltran were available for comment.

Neither attorney has been charged with wrongdoing.

Los Angeles Times, July 7, 2001


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Bell Gardens Official Charged in Conflict-of-Interest Case; Courts: City manager is accused of making a power play to gain her post. Lawyers say Latinos are being targeted, which prosecutors angrily deny

Richard Marosi and Greg Krikorian, Times Staff Writers

Prosecutors have charged Bell Gardens City Manager Maria Chacon with violating conflict-of-interest laws by allegedly orchestrating a power play that pressured City Council members to vote for her appointment.

The felony complaint, after a two-month investigation, marks the first charges levied against a public official by the newly formed public integrity division of the district attorney's office.

Prosecutors contend that Chacon, as a council member last year, voted for measures that cleared the way for her appointment to the $80,000-a-year city manager's job and influenced fellow members to go along with her plan. She is scheduled to be arraigned Thursday, and prosecutors are recommending that bail be set at $20,000.

Chacon's attorneys called the charge unfounded and accused prosecutors of singling out Latino officials for heavy-handed treatment.

"This is a witch hunt, and it's focusing on southeast Los Angeles County," said Mark Rosen, referring to current political corruption investigations in other nearby, largely Latino cities.

Chacon was not available for comment. If convicted, she could face three years in state prison.

The criminal complaint, filed late Monday, sparked wide-ranging reactions in Bell Gardens and nearby communities. Some viewed the criminal filing as a strong step against widespread corruption.

"It's marvelous what [prosecutors] are doing for our city," said Rogelio Rodriguez, a former councilman and a Chacon opponent. "This will send a message to other cities."

The allegations of targeting Latinos drew angry denials from the district attorney's office. Prosecutors said inquiries are proceeding countywide and stem from complaints filed by citizens, many of whom happen to be Latino.

"We respond to complaints, and [in this case] we received a complaint," said David Demerjian, head of the public integrity division.

Chacon is considered the most powerful public official in Bell Gardens. Credited for spearheading a campaign to oust the white-majority council in the early 1990s, she has consolidated her power by getting a series of allies elected.

Last year, she voted as a council member to repeal a law that required one year to elapse before a council member could be appointed to a staff position such as city manager. Prosecutors say Chacon then met privately with at least one council member at his residence to influence the appointment vote.

Her appointment drew angry protests from residents who said she was not qualified because she does not have a college degree or training in running a city.

Other Bell Gardens officials could face prosecution for participating in the alleged scheme, said Deputy Dist. Atty. Richard Wilson.

Wilson said he is seeking access to city documents that could implicate others. He said officials could be charged with aiding and abetting, or with violating the Brown Act, the state law that requires open meetings of public bodies.

City Atty. Arnoldo Beltran has not turned over those documents because he says they are protected by attorney-client privilege.

Chacon cleared a key hurdle Tuesday in her bid to resume receiving her salary. She was removed from the payroll in April after prosecutors told the city her contract was void because of her alleged crime. But a judge ruled Tuesday that the law cited by prosecutors is unconstitutional because it denies Chacon a right to a hearing.

It is not clear if the city will resume paying her. Council members are to discuss today whether to place her on administrative leave.

The district attorney is also investigating George Perez, Cudahy's city manager and a former councilman, for alleged conflicts of interest. And Huntington Park Councilwoman Linda Luz Guevara is under investigation after allegations that she does not live in that city.

Los Angeles Times, June 27, 2001

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Probe Focuses on Official's Real Residence; Huntington Park: D.A. investigators search offices and home in a corruption investigation of councilwoman

Richard Marosi, Times Staff Writer

District attorney's investigators served search warrants and closed offices at Huntington Park City Hall on Thursday as part of a corruption probe of a council member suspected of not living in the city.

The raid marks the launch of the latest investigation into southeast Los Angeles County cities and came as several Cudahy City Council members and officials were ordered to testify before the Los Angeles County Grand Jury.

The Huntington Park raid by about 10 investigators focused on the city offices and the business of Councilwoman Linda Luz Guevara, according to city officials.

Investigators also executed a search warrant at a home in Downey alleged to be Guevara's true address.

Rumors about Guevara's residency have swirled for years. Earlier this year, residents launched a recall effort against her because they believe the house she lists as her residence in Huntington Park is actually her mother's address.

Guevara's critics claim she actually lives in Downey with her husband and son. Sources said investigators found her Thursday morning at the Downey house. Authorities also executed warrants at her son's school in search of documents containing residency information.

Guevara, a paralegal who was elected to the council in 1997, was not available for comment. Mayor Ric Loya said Guevara should step down if the allegations are true and "thus bring an end to the turmoil that the city is now in the midst of."

The Huntington Park investigation exemplifies Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley's increasingly aggressive stance against allegations of public corruption. The newly formed public integrity unit has launched several probes in recent months, mainly against city officials in Southeast L.A. County.

Earlier this year, a South Gate City Council candidate was charged with election fraud stemming from allegations that he does not live in the city. His case is pending.

The most wide-ranging investigation involves alleged conflict-of-interest violations by the city managers in Bell Gardens and Cudahy. Both managers--Maria Chacon in Bell Gardens, George Perez in Cudahy--are former council members who voted for ordinances that cleared the way for their appointments.

Chacon and Perez--neither of whom have college degrees--each makes more than $80,000 per year running their cities.

The Cudahy probe reached a crucial stage this week as several council members and city officials testified before the L.A. County Grand Jury. After the two-day hearing, some officials emerged badly shaken.

Though they could not comment on the secret proceedings, one called the prosecution's investigation a "witch hunt."

"We walk in as witnesses, we come out as targets," complained one official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Meanwhile, Chacon has launched a legal battle to resume her salary after prosecutors advised city officials that it was unlawful to pay an official who is in violation of conflict-of-interest rules.

Chacon, who has not been paid since late April, claims she is entitled to her salary because she has not been charged with any crime. According to court documents, Chacon states that she may have to step down if the city does not resume paying her.

Though some officials in the blue-collar cities targeted in the investigations criticize prosecutors' tactics as heavy-handed, others applaud their efforts as long overdue.

"It was about time that they put a stop to this woman," Rosa Mesa, a resident involved in the recall attempt, said of Guevara. "When someone lives in Huntington Park, you see each other. We never saw her anywhere."

Huntington Park Councilman Ed Escareno added: "We don't have anything to hide. We welcome any investigations. I see it as an opportunity to prove that [residents'] faith in voting for us is justified."

Los Angeles Times, May 25, 2001


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A Scramble for Power, Patronage;
The Battle for Lucrative City Attorney Contracts in L.A. County's Heavily Heavily Latino Cities Has Resulted in Some Nasty Allegations. Ex-Partners in a Well-Connected Firm Are in the Center of the Storm

Ted Rohrlich, Times Staff Writer

As new groups scramble to consolidate power and patronage in Los Angeles County's small cities, the pushing and shoving usually takes place underneath public radar.

One exception involves a pair of lawyers who, adversaries complain, have not exactly been using the good government handbook.

The lawyers, Stanford-educated J. Arnoldo Beltran and Harvard-trained H. Francisco Leal, have played power politics in pursuit of lucrative municipal attorney contracts long held by white-dominated law firms, and now also sought by competing Latinos, in cities with new or changing Latino majorities in southeast Los Angeles County and the San Fernando and San Gabriel valleys.

They have used the specter of recall campaigns as a threat against newly elected Latino officials if those officials do not vote to give them contracts, the officials or their associates charged in interviews with The Times. In one instance, a political ally of the lawyers, state Sen. Richard Polanco, allegedly did the threatening for them.

The lawyers and Polanco deny the charges.

There is nothing new about mixing recall politics and the pursuit of city attorney jobs, which are awarded in small cities by majorities of five-member city councils. In Los Angeles County's largest cities, city attorneys are elected.

Edward Dilkes, a veteran white municipal lawyer, recalled that in the 1970s, he was part of a generation of lawyers allied with tax conservatives and environmentalists who seized political power largely at the expense of older, pro-development whites who had settled in Southern California after World War II. Dilkes said he got the city attorney's job in Rosemead after advising such allies on how to run a recall there.

But the allegations lodged against Beltran, Leal and Polanco go beyond merely advising. They involve a form of coercion--specifically, promising to call off recalls in return for contracts.

Because of the rifts they have created, the allegations are significant for another reason: They provide an unusual opportunity to glimpse normally secretive operations of the political machine Polanco is building as it continues to gain and keep footholds in Los Angeles County's local governments.

Polanco, a Democrat who represents northeast Los Angeles in the state Senate, has become known as the leading architect of Latino empowerment in California largely through his successes in sponsoring Latino Democratic candidates for the state Legislature. But he has also dabbled in local politics. He acknowledges that he has possible county supervisorial ambitions when he is termed out of the Legislature in 2002.

As his political allies, lawyers Beltran and Leal have enjoyed considerable success in recent years. They have represented, at various times, eight Los Angeles County cities with contracts each worth hundreds of thousands of dollars per year. They also became lobbyists in Sacramento for some of the same cities, earning tens of thousands of dollars more.

But as participants in a volatile business where job security is only as solid as a three-member city council majority, they also experienced their share of defeats--losing some of these same contracts to other lawyers in a hotly competitive field.

This past summer, Beltran and Leal broke up their partnership, dividing the cities that their firm represented in a move that Leal attributed to stylistic and personality differences. Leal is smoother, thinner, and at 39, 10 years younger than Beltran. He is the diplomat. Beltran is more plain-spoken and direct.

The allegations of coercion lodged against them and Polanco involve only three cities--Bell Gardens, which Beltran still represents; the city of Commerce, which Leal's breakaway firm still represents; and Lynwood, from which the Beltran-Leal firm was fired.

In Bell Gardens, two council members facing recalls said that Beltran and Leal told them early this year that the recalls could stop if the law firm were retained.

Councilman Joaquin Penilla said Leal told him: "What does it take for me to get you not to fire us? What does it take? You want us to stop the recall tomorrow? We'll do it."

"Beltran then said, 'I have a lot of powerful friends, and they'll be very disappointed if we get fired,' " Penilla said.

Another of the council members, Salvador Rios, said that Beltran talked to him too.

"He says he can do anything to keep us in office, but don't fire him ," Rios said. "And I said, 'What could you do?' And he said, 'I could stop the recall just for you.' "

Beltran and Leal deny making the statements.

In Commerce, a different form of pressure was applied.

Leal admits he launched a retaliatory campaign to punish the councilman he held most responsible for firing him by targeting the councilman's half-brother, a school board member, for electoral defeat. Leal said he now regrets that move, which he attributes to letting his anger and hurt get the better of him.

He also wrote a petition to recall the councilman.

Then something strange happened.

Facing recall, the councilman, Hugo Argumedo, suddenly reversed himself and voted to rehire Leal.

Exactly what persuaded Argumedo to change his mind remains unclear since Argumedo would not explain himself for this article. But someone who knows him said Argumedo explained to him that he acted under duress, after he was told that the lawyers would dump big money into the recall campaign against him unless he changed his mind.

Leal and Beltran deny making any such threats.

In Lynwood, Polanco himself became involved.

A council member, Ricardo Sanchez, said that Polanco, the state Senate majority leader, told him that a recall attempt against Sanchez could be stopped if the firm were rehired.

Sanchez had broken away from Lynwood's first-ever Latino City Council majority, which had hired the firm, and formed a new majority with two black council members, which had fired Leal and Beltran.

Sanchez said Polanco told him, "We should work things out. The recall could die if we allowed these people to come back."

Sanchez said Polanco referred to Leal in their conversations as "his boy."

Polanco, whose public demeanor is perennially buttoned down, denied threatening Sanchez and denied referring to Leal as his "boy." "I don't talk like that," the senator said.

He said he met with Sanchez and other members of the Latino bloc, at Sanchez's request, to see if he could repair a breach between Sanchez and Leal and patch up the fractured Latino majority.

"I sit down and I tell them . . . 'Look, you guys are just getting started. You've got to learn to work together,' " Polanco said.

The senator said he has no financial ties to Beltran and Leal, other than that they have made campaign contributions to him, and merely supports them as qualified lawyers in a field that "has been closed to ethnic minority law firms."

Beltran and Leal's reputed involvement in recalls, and a perception that they are closely tied to Polanco, have contributed to an atmosphere of fear even in cities where there were no recalls. Some council members who are already known as dissidents were cautious about what they would say. "I don't feel comfortable being quoted by name in any article regarding them ," said one.

Bell Gardens

Bell Gardens is a 2 1/2-square-mile city of 40,000 in southeast Los Angeles County that was settled by whites fleeing the Dust Bowl in the 1930s and incorporated in 1961. Thirty years later, it became the cradle of the current Mexican American political ascension, when a Latino voting majority recalled a nearly all-white City Council.

Beltran, then a real estate lawyer active in politics, was involved in that recall effort through an organization called NEWS for America, whose "news" was that Mexican Americans no longer needed to wait and practice coalition-building with other ethnic groups since they were so numerous--N(orth), E(ast), W(est) and S(outh).

Two years after the Bell Gardens recall, its local leader, Maria Chacon, herself won election to the council, and Beltran became city attorney. Chacon put together her own three-member slate of council candidates to join her on the governing body in 1997.

Beltran backed this slate--which he knew, if successful, would contain his future employers--by asking political friends to contribute. There was nothing illegal or unusual about that. Some city attorneys or would-be city attorneys do not do it because they take a long view that contributions aimed at making friends also, unavoidably, make enemies of the friends' opponents. But Beltran's view was: "Unless and until the rules change, I'm going to help people who help me."

Shortly after the slate was elected, trouble erupted between its members and Chacon and that led to her effort to recall them.

As tensions mounted, former Bell Gardens Planning Commissioner Alfredo Martinez said that Beltran told him repeatedly that a recall was in the works against the slate, even before a petition was filed. "He said, 'These bozos don't believe we're going to recall them,' " Martinez said. Beltran denies making the remark.

Many issues were involved. One was the use of city funds to subsidize a single-family-home development to be built in part by TELACU, an acronym for The East Los Angeles Community Union. TELACU is an influential nonprofit community development corporation, containing profit-making subsidiaries, that has long been a mainstay in providing Polanco with financial and political support.

Financing for the Bell Gardens portion of TELACU's 53-house project, which extended into neighboring Commerce, was contingent on a $ 2-million Bell Gardens loan.

The City Council initially gave the project a green light. But Chacon's handpicked council members, David Torres, Salvador Rios and Joaquin Penilla, had second thoughts. They said they worried that the loan might not be repaid and that houses, which they said were to be sold for $ 150,000 or more, would prove too expensive for most Bell Gardens residents.

Beltran stepped in to try to save the deal, Rios said.

He said Beltran called him to arrange a private meeting between him, Polanco and the key developer, TELACU President David Lizarraga's son, Michael, who is TELACU's executive vice president.

Beltran denies setting up the meeting.

At the meeting, which Penilla also said he attended, Rios said Polanco pushed for the housing project, saying it would be good for the city.

Polanco, who early in his career worked for TELACU, acknowledged attending. "I was invited to give a recommendation . . . on the experience of TELACU as a housing developer and to share with them history about the organization . . . and I did, as I have done for others who I believe are capable and qualified and, if given the shot, will do a good job," he said.

Rios and Penilla remained unmoved, and together with Torres, voted against the project.

As a recall movement against all three gathered steam, they also moved to fire Beltran. Leal said he then stepped in to try to prevent the loss of a "million-dollar" account. "I'm the relationships guy," Leal said. "I can ask. I can plead. . . . Arnoldo Beltran can't."

Leal said he sought out council member Penilla to make "mostly a plea based on loyalty."

Leal, as well as Beltran, denies Penilla's account that Leal offered to call off the recall against Penilla in return for Penilla's vote.

Leal said it was absurd to imagine that he would say he could stop a recall inspired by Chacon, the most influential politician in town.

Rios, however, said that first Beltran and then Chacon herself made similar pitches to him.

Rios said Beltran told him: "I could stop the recall just for you."

Then Chacon joined their conversation and said, as Rios tells it: "If you don't fire Beltran, we can keep you in office."

Beltran denies saying he would call off a recall. But he acknowledged that he listened as Chacon said "basically, 'We want to work with you.' Obviously, the comment means, 'We don't want you out of office.' "

Chacon said: "I don't recall that at all."

Penilla and Rios, along with their ally, Torres, went ahead with their vote to fire Beltran.

Beltran responded by helping to raise money for their recall. "Some of my friends contributed," he said.

Polanco reported giving $ 1,000 through a campaign committee he controlled.

Saying that was his only involvement in the recall, he explained that he gave the money to help Chacon, who "has been a strong friend and supporter of all of us." By "all of us," he said he meant himself and Democratic state Sen. Martha Escutia, a lawyer whose legislative career he launched in 1992 by helping her win election to the state Assembly representing Bell Gardens and other southeast cities. He also included Democratic Assemblyman Marco Firebaugh, a former Polanco aide who became a law clerk and lobbyist for the Beltran and Leal firm, and then last year, Polanco's choice to replace Escutia in the Assembly.

Escutia's campaign records show that she, too, sent a $ 1,000-contribution to the Bell Gardens recall committee. She sent it to the address of the Beltran and Leal law firm in downtown Los Angeles.

The recall was successful.

The day after new City Council members were sworn in, Beltran was rehired.

The new members, who had campaigned on a pledge to approve the TELACU project, quickly did that too.

Commerce

Commerce is a small industrial city six miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles that boasts that it has no local property or utility taxes. Established in 1960 when industrialists and homeowners decided they would be better off incorporating than risking annexation, the city has more than 40,000 workers but only 12,000 residents.

Leal got the Commerce city attorney job in 1994 and kept it until 1997, when City Councilman Hugo Argumedo led a move to oust him. Leal attributed their squabble to personnel matters. There were also disagreements about a multimillion-dollar project known as Rail Cycle.

Rail Cycle was to involve construction of a giant facility in Commerce to remove recyclables from 8 million pounds of garbage that would be trucked daily into the city from other towns. The remainder of the waste would be put on trains bound for a landfill in the San Bernardino County desert.

The project's partners, Waste Management Inc. and the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway Co., hired a well-connected Latino political figure, Robert Morales, a longtime aide to former state Sen. Art Torres, the current state Democratic Party chairman, as their consultant. His job was to drum up community support for the project.

With Morales' help, Rail Cycle won a conditional use permit from the City Council in late 1992. But four years later, when Argumedo was running for council on a campaign against the project, major construction had still not begun. Rail Cycle's partners cited unforeseen delays in winning approval for their desert landfill.

Citing the inaction, Argumedo asked Leal for a legal opinion that he could use to revoke Rail Cycle's conditional use permit.

But Leal would not provide one. Leal said that he was concerned Rail Cycle could sue the city and win and advised that a better course was to wait, since the project might die of natural causes.

Argumedo would not be interviewed for this article, but associates described him as fed up with what he saw as Leal dragging his feet. He engineered Leal's firing and the hiring of a replacement who said that the city would be on solid legal ground stripping Rail Cycle of its permit.

Rail Cycle sued, and Leal's replacement, interim City Atty. Fernando Villa, won in court, persuading a judge that Rail Cycle could not reserve land indefinitely for future use. The company has appealed.

Leal and some of his associates, meanwhile, set out to punish Argumedo for having fired Leal.

Initially, they targeted Argumedo's half-brother, Hector Chacon, the effective head of Argumedo's local political family, who at the time was running for reelection to the school board of Montebello Unified, which also serves Commerce and nearby cities.

Leal and others associated with either Polanco or the law firm helped fund a campaign committee, called Parents for a Better Education, whose sole purpose was to defeat Hector Chacon.

Leal launched and directed the committee without Beltran's knowledge, both men say.

Polanco denies any connection with Rail Cycle or the committee.

The committee's records show that besides Leal, key donors included David J. Olivas, another lawyer who worked for the Beltran-Leal firm; George Castro, a financial manager who is Polanco's brother-in-law; George Pla, a longtime TELACU insider who heads Cordoba, a consulting firm; and Dario Frommer, then an attorney-lobbyist subcontractor for the Beltran-Leal firm. Frommer later became Gov. Gray Davis' appointments secretary, recommending to the governor who should get patronage jobs in state government, and is now an Assembly candidate from Los Angeles.

Chacon would not agree to be interviewed for this article.

However, his campaign consultant, Phil Giarrizzo, said his client had no doubt where his opposition was coming from. Chacon identified "the people who want to see me defeated because of my brother" as "Polanco, Leal," the consultant said.

Chacon, who had been the school board's top vote-getter, barely survived the challenge, finishing in third place with only three seats up for grabs.

Leal also wrote a petition to recall Argumedo.

He wrote it at the request of Edgar S. Miles, a Commerce activist who had reasons of his own to target Argumedo, according to both Miles and Leal.

Faced with the possibility of being recalled, Argumedo suddenly reversed himself on the question of Leal as city attorney and voted to rehire him.

Someone who knows Argumedo, who was interviewed on condition that his name not be published, said the councilman explained to him that the change of position was made under duress. "They told me, if we didn't take them back, they'd put $ 30,000 into the recall against me," the source quoted Argumedo as having said.

Leal and Beltran deny having made such a threat.

Leal suggested that Argumedo voted to rehire him for another reason. Leal said that the law firm that replaced his was costing more. The increased legal fees had become a big issue in the recall.

Who was behind the recall remains something of an official mystery.

Donors to the effort were not enumerated in a campaign report. Miles said that was because no contributor gave more than $ 100 and therefore names did not have to be disclosed under state law.

But not everyone believed that the recall was exclusively the grass-roots effort it seemed to be.

Bill Orozco, a political operative and one-time aide to former state Senate majority leader David Roberti, said he believed one of Roberti's successors, Polanco, was behind it.

He said he visited Polanco to try to persuade him to call off the recall, which had also targeted an Argumedo council ally.

"I told Polanco, 'Can we stop that recall taking place in Commerce?' " Orozco said. "And he said, 'No, I'm going to see that the two candidates are recalled.' He said, 'I didn't like what they did to people who are loyal to me , so I'm going to punish them and take them out of office.' "

The two candidates were indeed recalled, although Argumedo later won reelection.

Polanco said that his alleged conversation with Orozco never took place. "People are going to say things and do things and create things based on sour grapes, and I think I get credited at times for things that I have very little to do with," the senator said. In fact, he said: "I had nothing to do with that recall."

Lynwood

If Bell Gardens was ground zero in Latino takeovers of city councils from whites, Lynwood was ground zero in Latino takeovers from blacks.

A three-member Latino council slate wrested control of the city from black politicians in 1997, with the aide of an independent expenditure campaign financed by an out-of-town billboard company looking for business opportunities and managed by the political consultant-husband of state Sen. Escutia.

After the slate won, Leal sought the city attorney's job and said he asked Polanco to lobby on his behalf. Polanco acknowledges providing a reference.

Leal got the job but lasted--as did slate unity--less than a year.

Slate member Ricardo Sanchez had a series of disagreements with his fellow Latinos on the council, who subsequently launched a recall campaign against him. Sanchez then allied himself with two black council members, forming a new majority which named him mayor and fired Leal. Sanchez blamed the lawyer--Leal says inaccurately--for playing a role in the recall attempt.

Leal said he once again turned to Polanco for help.

Polanco paid Sanchez a visit.

There are two very different accounts of what happened next.

Sanchez and a friend whose account was read into the record at a public meeting said that the senator told Sanchez that the recall attempt could be stopped, if he came back into the fold and voted to rehire Leal and/or a Latino city manager who had also gotten the ax.

"He was saying, 'We should work things out. The recall could die,' " Sanchez said.

Leal and Polanco deny that Polanco made that statement. Polanco said he had nothing to do with the recall attempt in Lynwood. He said he spoke generally, as a peacemaker. "I sit down and I tell them . . . 'Look, you guys are just getting started. You've got to learn to work together.' "

Leal says he regards what happened in Lynwood as "a tragic story, where a Latino community has been empowered but has been unable to overcome differences for a greater good."

He portrays himself as something of an idealist, trying to help "well-intentioned, humble individuals who want to improve these cities," but don't have the education or experience to do so.

Sanchez is not buying this. He survived the recall attempt when a petition alleging numerous improprieties on his part was invalidated for lack of enough valid signatures. But he remains embittered. "I have a lot of hate," he said. "They made me look like the worst guy in the whole world."

Los Angeles Times, November 17, 1999


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S. Pasadena Tax Panel Violated State Open Meeting Law

Richard Winton

Already beset by scandals involving its police officers and a onetime assistant manager, South Pasadena is now embroiled in another controversy, this time over its acknowledged failure to obey the state's open meetings law when an advisory committee on taxes met behind closed doors.

A divided South Pasadena City Council on Wednesday narrowly voted to place its existing 5% utility tax to the voters in a Dec. 3 special election based on the recommendation of that committee after the city attorney admitted that the panel met numerous times in violation of California's open meetings law.

Council members, as they took the 3-2 vote, said the election could be scrapped if the city attorney determines that the violations of the law by the council-created Utility Tax Ad Hoc Committee would make the election result vulnerable to a successful legal challenge. The current utility tax expires next July.

City Atty. Francisco Leal said the committee had failed to follow the law by not providing public notice of the meetings and then denying the public the right to attend the sessions--including one Tuesday that brought the problem to light after reporters were denied access.

"This committee was not in compliance with the Ralph M. Brown Act and we ought to be frank about that," Leal said.

He said it would require further legal research to determine the ramification for the council vote, but on its face the council could make its own decision.

The committee recommendation was approved after more than two hours of debate in which a council majority initially expressed concerns over a Dec. 3 ballot given the potential legal problems and seemed to be moving toward combining the vote with next March's City Council election to save the $ 25,000 cost of an extra election.

But a speech by Ted Shaw, former mayor and committee chairman, turned the tide.

"Let the issue alone go directly to the public and let them have an opportunity to vote on it--nothing else--and allow them to look it straight on and not a number of other issues," he said.

Mayor Dorothy Cohen said it was difficult to ignore such advice. "We are dependent on community volunteers to carry out this campaign" she said. "These same community volunteers are the ones telling us to do it in December."

Cohen, council members Wallace Emory and Paul Zee voted for the December election, while council members Dick Richards and Harry Knapp dissented.

Los Angeles Times, September 6, 1996

South Pasadena Names Third City Attorney in Past Three Months

By Kenneth Ofgang, Staff Writer/Appellate Courts

The City of South Pasadena has hired its third city attorney in three months.
Francisco Leal, of the Los Angeles firm of Beltran, Leal & Medina, was unanimously named to the post on an interim basis Monday night following a closed session of the City Council, the Pasadena Star-News reported yesterday.

Leal, who is also the Commerce city attorney, replaces Judith Roberts, who resigned 33 days after being hired to replace Edward Lee. The newspaper previously reported that Lee had been fired due to council displeasure with the amounts of his billings.

Roberts is one of a number of members of the city's government who've resigned, been fired, been arrested, or taken leave in recent months. The others include the city manager, assistant city manager, and senior center director, as well as the police chief, who is on voluntary leave while the city faces a number of claims and suits regarding alleged police misconduct.

Metropolitan News Enterprise, August 28, 1996


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South Gate City Attorney's Aides Donated To Campaigns

By Sharon Hormell, Staff writer

When he applied for the job of city attorney in 1993, Arnold Alvarez-Glasman promised to avoid involvement in South Gate politics.

But last year, three of his paralegals and his secretary donated $5,750 to the campaign committees of Mayor Albert Robles and Councilman Bill Martinez.

Because the campaign finance reports that Robles and Martinez filed with local and state governments did not accurately list the donors' occupations and their employers' name, as state law requires, it is not apparent from the public documents that the donors worked in Alvarez-Glasman's private Montebello law office.

Robles, whose losing 1994 campaign for the state Board of Equalization received $4,000 from the workers, and Martinez, whose City Council campaign received $1,750, could not be reached for comment despite repeated calls requesting interviews. There is no indication that Alvarez-Glasman got anything from the council in return for the contributions his workers sent.

Alvarez-Glasman's mid-1993 resume seeking the South Gate post said, ''Mr. Glasman knows that a good city attorney will be sensitive to the pressures of the elected officials, yet will avoid playing politics or counting votes''

Asked if his office workers' donations to Robles and Martinez might make it appear that he was politically favoring the pair, Alvarez-Glasman likened the contributions to those that might be made by a city employees' union.

''There is no inappropriate activity whatsoever. Campaign contributions are everyone's First Amendment right,'' he said.

According to campaign reports, Alvarez-Glasman himself did not donate to any South Gate council members last year. He said he made a donation in his own name of more than $100 to Robles' council campaign committee in March.

In January, the council gave Alvarez-Glasman a 25 percent raise, increasing his hourly fee from $100 to $125 per hour to handle city and redevelopment issues.

At that rate, he still earns less than the average rate of $145 per hour charged by his predecessor, William Rudell at the firm of Richards, Watson and Gershon. Depending on the complexity of the issue and the attorney assigned, South Gate was paying Rudell's firm $105 to $250 per hour. The council changed city attorneys in 1993 as an economizing move, several council members said.

State law says candidates who receive $100 or more from a donor must truthfully disclose the donor's full name and address, occupation and employer. Candidates and their treasurers sign the reports, swearing under penalty of perjury that they have used all responsible diligence in preparing the forms, said Fair Political Practices Commission spokeswoman Jeannette Turvill.

Failing to disclose the real occupations and employers of donors is an illegal practice informally known as campaign money laundering. The Fair Political Practices Commission can levy fines of $2,000 per offense against the donor and recipient, or turn cases over to the District Attorney's Office for criminal prosecution.

The FPPC does not confirm, discuss or deny ongoing investigations, so Turvill would not say if the agency is researching South Gate council campaigns or Robles' failed 1994 state Board of Equalization campaign.

However, South Gate City Clerk Nina Banuelos said an investigator from the FPPC had requested Robles' council cam paign finance records dating back to 1991 as part of an audit of all candidates in the Board of Equalization race.

''People have the right to know that the companies and their employees are supporting a particular candidate,'' Turvill said. ''If the disclosure (report) is not accurate, that can be a deliberate attempt to defraud the voters.''

On the required forms, Alvarez-Glasman's three paralegals were listed as working at three different paralegal or secretarial services bearing their last names and their home addresses in Chino, Chino Hills and Arcadia, although none holds an official county permit to do business as those firms.

The secretary, who lives in Monterey Park, was identified as working at Alvarez-Glasman's firm, but her occupation was misidentified as an attorney on the campaign disclosure form.

Two of the paralegals could not be reached for comment despite repeated calls to their homes and office. The secretary and the third paralegal said in separate interviews that they made the donations voluntarily and were not reimbursed, but each declined to discuss the circumstances or reasons for writing the checks.

Alvarez-Glasman said he knew of the donations by his workers, ''probably, in passing, they may have mentioned it,'' but stressed, ''I had nothing to do with that, and it is up to you to decide if it is a coincidence.''

Because he is also a Montebello City Council member, his office often receives mailed requests to donate to political campaigns, and it is up to each individual to decide whether and how much to give, he said. Those who donate receive no benefit and incur no penalty if they don't give, he said.

No employee is reimbursed for a political donation, he said, declining to say how much he pays his secretary and paralegals.

According to campaign finance reports, none of his office staff has donated to any sitting council members of Montebello, where Alvarez-Glasman has held office since 1985, or Pomona, the other community he represents as city attorney.

Long Beach Press-Telegram, June 20, 1995


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Program Benefits; Mayor Buys In--Literally--To Aid Plan for First-Time Home Buyers

By Sharon Hormell

South Gate, Calif--The city has a kitty of $1.12 million to lend interest-free to 25 first-time home buyers, and the short list of people who seized the opportunity includes a bachelor high school science teacher, a two-income family of five and Mayor Albert Robles.

"It's a great program," said Robles, 29, whose $28,000 junior high school teacher's salary plus $10,000 mayor's pay qualified him as just the kind of moderate-income, first-time home buyer the program was intended to help when he and the rest of the City Council approved it last July.

He has opened escrow on a $140,000 townhouse on Karmont Avenue on the city's east end. If his loan application is approved, he stands to get a no-interest "silent second" mortgage of up to $40,000 that need not be repaid until the home is sold, transferred or occupied by somebody else.

Thus, the price of his new home would be reduced by the amount of the silent second mortgage, making it easier for him to qualify for a regular bank mortgage to finance the balance.

There is enough money in the program, depending on the needs of each borrower, to fund about 16 loans of up to $40,000 for moderate-income home buyers.

That would describe Mark Trepanier, to whom teaching is like a religious calling.

Although the wages are higher than the priesthood's traditional vow of poverty, his salary as a South Gate High School science teacher just wasn't enough to buy a house.

Until now. As one of a handful of moderate-income people to qualify for "silent second" mortgages, he was able to buy a house in South Gate's Hollydale neighborhood.

"I wanted something with two bedrooms, nothing fancy, just something with a nice yard, because I like gardening," said the 36-year-old bachelor, who lives with his cat, Booger.

Now, as he waits for the spring planting season, he plans his garden and enjoys his newfound status as a homeowner.

"I really feel like I'm part of the community," he said, "a citizen of South Gate."

Another nine loans of up to $50,000 are destined for low-income households like that of Griselda and Rafael Rodriguez.

Their home ownership plans seemed dashed when an unexpected third pregnancy ate up their savings.

But Rafael suggested they apply for the home buyer assistance program he saw reported in a newspaper.

Griselda told him, "That's a bunch of baloney; I don't believe it," but they applied anyway, and were accepted into the program for low-income, first-time home buyers, eligible for a silent second mortgage of up to $50,000.

To house their three growing boys, they found a two-bedroom house with a den that could be converted into a third bedroom about a block from the Tweedy Boulevard commercial district. They moved in Dec.4.

"The first thing we did was give thanks to the Lord, and we laughed, remembering the first time I told my husband, 'No, no, and no,' " Griselda Rodriguez said. "Because now he says, 'You see, you see?' And he's happy."

Robles and the city's four other council members approved the program last July, which increases by a fraction of 1 percent the number of South Gate homeowners.

The Community Development Department drafted the loan program to comply with state laws requiring that one-fifth of the proceeds of the Redevelopment Agency be spent increasing the city's stock of low- to moderate-income housing.

South Gate's entire $680,000 housing set-aside account is being spent on the Homeownership Assistance Program, along with $440,000 in federal money earmarked for first-time home buyers.

City Attorney Arnold Alvarez-Glasman said that even though Robles voted to create the home ownership assistance program, he was free to apply for its benefits as long as he was treated like every other applicant.

"There isn't a conflict (of interest) if the mayor is participating in this process," Alvarez-Glasman said. "He's having to go through all the same hoops as everyone else."

Although the program's money will be distributed on a first-come, first-served basis, no qualified person who has applied has been denied money yet, said Community Development Director Andy Pasmant.

Several people have been disqualified because their earnings are too low, their pre-existing debt is too high, or their credit record is poor.

The intent of the program is to increase the number of owner-occupied houses in the city, Pasmant said.

Although 25 is a very small percentage of the 22,000 households in the city, "it's 25 more than last year," Pasmant said.

Nearly half of South Gate's dwellings are owner-occupied, about the same percentage as the county average, the 1990 U.S. Census said, but that rate is lower than the national average of 64 percent and the state average of 56 percent.

The median value of South Gate owner-occupied homes is about $161,900 in this 86,284-population city, where the median household income is about $27,279.

Chicago Tribune, February 5, 1995


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Political Allies at Issue in Bid to Unseat Soto; Campaign: The Councilwoman Says Her Opponents Want to Return Control to the Old Boy Network. Challengers Question Soto's Ties to Ousted Councilman C. L. (Clay) Bryant

By Mike Ward, Times Staff Writer

POMONA -- In the midst of her first reelection campaign, Councilwoman Nell Soto says she's still a valiant enemy of the Old Boy Network.

Her opponents in the March 5 election, however, seem more concerned about her friends, who they say include special interest contributors and recalled Councilman C. L. (Clay) Bryant.

Neither the Old Boy Network nor Bryant is on the ballot, of course, but they have emerged as the prime campaign targets.

Soto, 64, said her opponents are bent on returning Pomona to the control of the people who nearly ruined it, the group she has dubbed the Old Boy Network.

"The people who are supporting my opponents are those people who have been kicked out of City Hall, the old leeches, the old hangers-on, the people who have gotten rich off Pomona taxpayers," she said.

Meanwhile, Robert Jackson, a 33-year-old teacher who has become the most aggressive campaigner among her three opponents, said the removal of Soto from office is the logical follow-up to the recall of Bryant, her political ally on the council who was ousted in June.

"She was and is the other side of the Clay Bryant coin," Jackson said. "We must rid ourselves, as we did of Clay Bryant, of those responsible for the turmoil this city has faced."

Both Jackson and another candidate, Timothy Smith, a 41-year-old air-conditioning technician, have accused Soto of catering to special interests. Smith said Soto has given the city "the worst representation in recent history" and "has been a constant source of embarrassment."

Jackson and Smith are appealing to the same block of voters: those who advocated Bryant's recall. Bryant was targeted in part for his role in effecting wholesale change at City Hall, including the firing of a city administrator and police chief and the ouster of other key officials.

The fourth candidate in the race, Reyes Rachel Madrigal, a 57-year-old associate professor at Mt. San Antonio College, is trying to remain above the fray. She has avoided criticizing Soto directly, saying only that "the image of Pomona has suffered as a result of the infighting that has occurred."

Madrigal and Soto are Latinas in a district whose population of about 22,000 is estimated at 43% Latino.

Soto won election to the council four years ago and in 1989 forged a "new majority" with Bryant and Councilman Tomas Ursua that remolded city government before the coalition fell apart, first with a split between Ursua and Bryant, and then with Bryant's recall.

Soto said the political turmoil has produced positive changes, including a new city staff that is more responsive to citizens. "Sure, there's been a lot of bickering and you know why?" she said. "Because change is hard to come by. . . . Change is hard to accept by those who have been in power for the last 30, 40 or 50 years."

Soto was born in Pomona and counts her great-grandson as the ninth generation of her family to live in the city. As she was growing up, she said, Pomona was a segregated town, with Latinos barred from the municipal pool except on days set aside for them, exiled to a special section at movie theaters and excluded from living north of Holt Avenue.

Discrimination and growing up poor shaped her politics and her attitude toward the Pomona establishment. Active in the Democratic Party most of her life, she helped her husband, Phil, win election to the state Assembly in the 1960s, and she ran campaigns for other politicians before winning a seat herself on the Pomona City Council in 1987.

She knows many city officials throughout the region because of her job as local government and community affairs representative for the Southern California Rapid Transit District. Through her contacts in city government, she recruited the current Pomona city administrator, Julio Fuentes, and other newcomers who have filled key positions in the city.

Soto lists among her achievements the formation of a community group to fight gangs, the initiation of a volunteer mounted patrol and a mobile substation for the Police Department, and the installation of new playground equipment in neighborhood parks in her district.

Both Jackson and Smith have accused her of siding with special interests, such as billboard companies and gambling club promoters, and have criticized her vote for a motel project on Holt Avenue.

Jackson has strongly criticized Soto for accepting nearly $3,000 in campaign contributions from the billboard industry and $1,000 each from City Atty. Arnold Glasman and Miller & Schroeder, a bond consulting firm employed by the city.

Jackson said the donations represent a conflict of interest because Soto voted to hire Glasman and the bond firm and has been backing a proposal that would allow billboard companies "to keep their dilapidated eyesores in our city."

Soto said there is no conflict of interest because she promises nothing in return for contributions. For example, she said, she has never voted to increase the number of billboards but favors allowing sign companies to replace some aging billboards with new ones on the outskirts of Pomona.

Both Jackson and Smith have assailed Soto for voting last year to put a measure on the ballot to legalize card clubs. The council withdrew the measure after a barrage of protests from residents.

Soto said her opponents have wrongly accused her of favoring casino gambling. Soto said she voted to put the measure on the ballot only because she believes residents have the right to make that decision. She said revenue from card clubs, such as those in the City of Commerce and Gardena, could produce enough money to enable Pomona to cut or eliminate its unpopular and relatively high tax on utility bills.

Smith and Jackson said they strongly oppose card clubs in Pomona.

Jackson, a veteran of the Marine Corps, holds a teaching credential from Cal State Dominguez Hills and has lived in the city for 12 years. He teaches at a Pomona junior high school.

Smith, who has lived in Pomona 19 years, said he offers voters independence without ties to any group. "I think we're ready in Pomona for a new politics," he said.

Madrigal, who has lived in Pomona more than 30 years, teaches Spanish at Mt. San Antonio College. Her varied background includes work on farms and factories and as a teacher and school administrator. She holds a doctorate in education from Claremont Graduate School.

She said the current council has been quarrelsome and indecisive. She said she can make difficult decisions and would work diligently to bring harmony to the council.

The 1st Council District takes in the central portion of the city west of Garey Avenue and south of the San Bernardino Freeway. The March 5 election will be the first in Pomona in which voters choose council members by district. If no candidate receives a majority of the votes, the top two finishers will meet in a runoff April 16.

Los Angeles Times, February 17, 1991














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