1. Former Lynwood Mayor Convicted of Corruption, November 9, 2005
2. Legal battle over Gold Line noise heats up, October 25, 2005
3. Ex-Lynwood Mayor Goes on Trial; He is accused of steering millions of dollars' worth of contracts to a consulting company he secretly owned, September 20, 2005
4. New council members serve on school boards, March 19, 2005
5. Native becomes Montebello city attorney, February 25, 2005
6. Alhambra school board attorney resigns, January 13, 2005
7. Officials Hope Election Will Aid Carson's Image; Leaders expect winners in March 8 council race to dispel a corruption scandal with plans that could include an NFL team or retail complex,
January 5, 2005
8. Former Carson Mayor Sentenced in Bribery Case; Daryl Sweeney receives nearly six years in prison for serving as the ringleader in a scandal involving millions in municipal contracts, December 21, 2004
9. Montebello delays city attorney's hearing, November 24, 2004
10. City accused of Brown Act violation, October 23, 2004
11. Baldwin Park said displeased with coalition, September 3, 2004
12. Pomona Broke State Law, Complaint Says; D.A. probes allegation that the city violated an open meeting statute, August 31, 2004
13. Website Takes City Officials to Task; Anonymous watchdog goes online to post data, skewer Huntington Park's council members, August 21, 2004
14. Ex-Councilmember's Conviction for Lying About Residence Upheld, July 30, 2004
15. City settles developer's lawsuit; SoPas shopping plaza ready for business, July 9, 2004
16. Lynwood City Hall Searched in Probe of Credit Card Use; Investigators from the D.A.'s office also check the homes of the city's mayor, a councilman and two former council members, May 12, 2004
17. A Timely Victory for Cooley; Up for reelection, the D.A. wins a high-profile conviction. But his opponents say he avoids the tough cases, February 13, 2004
18. Editorial Claims aside, all is not well at Otay Water District, January 22, 2004
19. Time to cut in Lynwood, December 28, 2003
20. City Hall Scandal Playing Out in Compton Court; Ex-officials remain in the spotlight at their trial on charges of misappropriating funds, December 8, 2003
21. Free-speech advocate targets W.C. council, December 4, 2003
22. Time for city to go public, October 29, 2003
23. Pico Rivera Council Rescinds City Manager's 20% Pay Raise, October 22, 2003
24. Even more corruption; Politicians: Until they catch on, there'll be more indictments and recalls, October 18, 2003
25. Picking up the legal tab in the Otay Water District, September 25, 2003
26. Lynwood joins the club; Probe: D.A. focuses on council spending, September 17, 2003
27. South Pasadena council may fire city attorney; Pannone blamed for costly Brown Act violation, August 12, 2003
28. Parent sues Alhambra school board; Brown Act violation alleged in hiring of law firms, July 8, 2003
29. D.C. Perspective - Southland corruption, July 1, 2003
30. Love That Dirty Water, June 20, 2003
31. Otay Water District's legal advice keeps getting more expensive, June 19, 2003
32. Olivas' 'anti-leak' proposal criticized, June 1, 2003
33. 2 B.P. council members say firm's firing was payback, May 1, 2003
34. Alhambra school board's hiring blasted; Three law firms to represent district, April 24, 2003
35. Former Compton mayor among five officials arrested after probe, March 19, 2003
36. Will somebody investigate shenanigans at Otay Water District? , March 19, 2003
37. Investigators Search Compton City Hall; The district attorney is probing the possible misuse of public funds, February 13, 2003
38. Southeast L.A. County Gets a Civics Lesson; Spectacle of corruption and ineptitude is attributed to mostly brash, inexperienced politicians and a lack of checks and balances, March 11, 2003
39. Investigators Search Compton City Hall; The district attorney is probing the possible misuse of public funds, February 13, 2003
40. Probes Focus on Officials in Compton; U.S. examines proposed land deal while county looks into possible misuse of public funds, February 6, 2003
41. S. El Monte fires its legal counsel; Alvarez-Glasman's firm dismissed after nearly 4 years, January 16, 2003
42. Ex-Political Power Broker to Stand Trial; Maria Chacon is accused of orchestrating her appointment as Bell Gardens' city manager, January 6, 2003
43. Councilwoman Gets Jail for Lying About Address; Suspended Huntington Park official lives in Downey. Her council seat will be vacated, November 15, 2002
44. Legal Fees Draw Fire; Critics question the millions of dollars spent to defend South Gate and Cudahy officials under investigation for political corruption, November 11, 2002
45. Council stymies Saeta foe's recall discussion, October 3, 2002
46. Cooley backs up tough words on civic corruption, September 23, 2002
47. Griego endorsement puzzles some, March 2, 2002
48. 'Pride of Foothills' and evolution of a recall; Glendora election to pit old vs. new, north vs. south, February 21, 2002
49. Grand Jury Report Faults City Management, September 19, 2001
The balance of the articles of interest from 2005 and before can be found at Page Two of this website.
Former Lynwood Mayor Convicted of Corruption
by Jennifer English
An ousted Lynwood mayor was convicted Tuesday of federal corruption charges for secretly controlling a company that benefited from lucrative city contracts.
Paul H. "Petey" Richards II, a 49-year-old attorney who spent 17 years on the Lynwood City Council before being recalled in 2003, was convicted of 35 counts, including mail fraud, conspiracy, money laundering and lying to federal investigators.
Two co-defendants were also found guilty, including Richards' sister, 56- year-old Paula Cameo Harris of Altadena. Jurors convicted her of 23 counts, including perjuring herself before a grand jury.
A former city consultant, Anaheim resident Bevan Atlee Thomas, also 56, was convicted of 16 counts.
Sentencing for all three is set for Feb. 13 before U.S. District Judge R. Gary Klausner.
As the trial drew to a close last week, Assistant U.S. Attorney Bruce Searby called Richards "the man behind the curtain" and said the seven-term ex-mayor used his control over the council to "turn power into money."
Searby and his fellow prosecutor on the case told jurors that Richards was behind Allied Government Services, a company that listed his sister -- a bank employee -- as its president.
According to prosecutors, Richards used his control over a three-person majority on the blue-collar city's council to ink consulting deals with AGS.
Another corrupt contract was awarded to Thomas' company, which then passed along the bulk of the about $25,000 it received each month to AGS, jurors were told.
Between 2000 and 2001, Richards deposited $2,000 to $3,000 per month in cash in the checking account he shared with his wife, which prosecutors said came from ATM withdrawals his sister made on AGS' account. The source of the money, they said, was kickbacks from Thomas, whose contract was to do "nuisance abatement" for the city -- such as cleaning up debris and pulling weeds.
Prosecutors said that had Richards not begun losing power, he would have made much more money.
When the makeup of the council changed in 2002, Richards lost control of the majority -- causing the most lucrative of the consulting deals, including one worth nearly $1 million, to be canceled before the city had to make payments.
If all the contracts had gone through, the city could have lost more than $2.5 million, prosecutors have said.
In the nearly $1 million deal, AGS was hired to negotiate for the construction of billboards along the Glenn Anderson (105) Freeway in Lynwood.
Under the proposal by Regency Outdoor Advertising Inc., the city was to have netted $4.8 million. In return, AGS was to receive a 20 percent contingency fee, plus expenses.
But before AGS received the contract, Richards had already begun negotiating for the billboards deal with Regency, and the deal was largely final -- meaning AGS stood to earn $960,000 for doing very little work, prosecutors said.
In another corrupt deal, Commuter Bus Lines, which runs a trolley bus in Lynwood, was told when it renegotiated its contract that it had to hire longer AGS as a consultant, according to the prosecution.
That condition of the contract was later revoked by the new council lineup.
The nuisance abatement contract with Thomas, which had been slated to last 10 years, was also rescinded.
Throughout the trial, Richards and his two co-defendants argued that they were innocent. Richards testified in his own defense for some 14 hours, telling jurors he did not control AGS and did not receive money from the company.
But witnesses for the prosecution, including Richards' nephew, Julio Naulls, and a Regency lobbyist, told a different story, implicating the former official in corrupt dealings.
The lobbyist, Palmdale resident David N. Smith, pleaded guilty in the case and testified in the hope of gaining leniency.
Smith admitted that in October 2001, he gave $7,500 of his own money to a campaign committee that had been set up in 1992, when Richards ran for a state Senate seat.
After the verdict was read, Richards' attorney, Ed Robinson, announced plans to appeal.
Robinson said he was not allowed to present witnesses to testify about the contracts and Lynwood politics.
"We were not allowed to fully describe the political nature of Lynwood politics,'" Robinson said.
Thomas' attorney, E. Wellington Matthews, said he also planned to appeal. "I feel as if the jury had a difficult time understanding the indictment" said Matthews, who added that he believed his client and Harris were "overcharged" in the case.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Shallman said the defendants "received a fair trial." Shallman said he expects to ask that Richards sentenced to at least 10 years in prison. The government would likely seek shorter sentences for Harris and Thomas, he said.
Asked about the recent corruption convictions of officials from the neighboring communities of South Gate and Compton, as well as a corruption case involving an area water district, Shallman said it "should be clear by now to public officials that we mean business."
"No one is above the law," he said.
Richards, who grew up in Compton, attempted to stress his background in the trial. His attorney told jurors when the trial opened that his client was a "dedicated public servant" who returned to live and work in the area where he grew up, rather than take a higher-paying job at a law firm.
Los Angeles Sentinel, November 9, 2005
Legal battle over Gold Line noise heats up
Gene Maddaus, Staff Writer
SOUTH PASADENA -- Diane Hamilton Margrave has taken steps to add her name to a lawsuit filed against the city and several other agencies to address Gold Line noise complaints.
Margrave, who is divorced from Councilman David Margrave but lives with him, has filed a claim against South Pasadena, Los Angeles, Pasadena, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the Gold Line construction authority, alleging that the rail line has harmed her property values.
She received permission from the city last month to build a 17-unit senior housing complex on land immediately adjacent to a Gold Line crossing.
It is the second time she has filed such an "inverse condemnation' claim against the city, and the third time she has filed a claim related to Gold Line noise.
The first claim included some 60 claimants, each with property near the line. It was rejected, resulting in an inverse condemnation lawsuit with more than 40 plaintiffs. Diane Margrave was not listed as a plaintiff in the suit. It is still pending.
The second claim, filed against only the MTA and the construction authority, alleges that federal law was violated in the construction of the Gold Line and seeks up to $220 million in noise mitigation.
The third claim almost identical in substance to the first paves the way for Diane Margrave's name to be added to the list of plaintiffs in the inverse condemnation suit.
"I guess she's decided she wants to participate in the other lawsuit,' said Augustin Zuniga, the deputy county counsel representing the MTA in the litigation.
Assemblywoman Carol Liu, D-Pasadena, led efforts to settle the lawsuit and the federal claim earlier this year. Those talks, which included Mayor Odom Stamps, have collapsed, Zuniga said.
Councilman Margrave has long been a vocal advocate for quieting Gold Line noise. He has participated in several votes on the City Council to pursue litigation on the issue. He is also the city's representative on the Gold Line construction authority board, where he advocates for further noise mitigation.
Earlier this summer, when pressured to step down from the rail board, he offered to resign if the pending litigation were settled. He remains on the board in defiance of his city council.
A ruling last month from the Fair Political Practices Commission found that his economic interests are tied to Diane Margrave's, despite their divorce. He is the target of an open FPPC investigation into alleged conflicts of interest.
In an advertisement in the July 13 edition of the South Pasadena Review, Councilman Margrave who typically speaks to the media on Diane Margrave's behalf asserted that she "has not and will not file any lawsuits.'
On Tuesday, he clarified.
"I stated Diane Margrave was not involved,' he said. "Now she is involved. I support her 100 percent.'
Whittier Daily News, October 25, 2005
Ex-Lynwood Mayor Goes on Trial;
He is accused of steering millions of dollars' worth of contracts to a consulting company he secretly owned.
David Rosenzweig, Times Staff Writer
Carson ... Compton ... South Gate ... and now Lynwood.
In the latest public corruption case in southeastern Los Angeles County, former Lynwood Mayor Paul Richards is scheduled to go on trial today on charges of steering millions of dollars worth of no-bid contracts to a consulting company he secretly owned.
The allegations against Richards, a lawyer who served on the Lynwood City Council for 17 years until his ouster in a recall election, bear a striking resemblance to those leveled against former South Gate Mayor Albert Robles, who was convicted in July of soliciting more than $1.8 million in bribes from bidders on municipal contracts.
In Carson, a wide-ranging federal corruption probe led to the convictions of two former mayors, two City Council members and six other persons involved in a series of bribery schemes that cost the city more than $12 million.
And in Compton, an investigation by the Los Angeles County district attorney's office resulted in the convictions last year of former Mayor Omar Bradley and two other city officials on charges of misappropriating public funds. Why these communities? There are no easy answers. But Robert M. Stern, president of the Center for Government Studies, a non-partisan research organization in Los Angeles, sees some common threads.
These are small, working-class cities that are not well covered by the news media, allowing officeholders to think they can engage in corruption "without coming under anyone's radar," he said.
All four communities have undergone dramatic population shifts and the collapse of high-paying blue-collar jobs, as manufacturing shut down. The changes brought to power new and relatively inexperienced politicians, some of whom might have found it difficult to resist the temptation to enrich themselves, Stern added.
Stern, who served for nine years as general counsel for the California Fair Political Practices Commission, also credits the district attorney's office and the U.S. attorney's office with becoming more aggressive in their pursuit of corrupt politicians.
One of the county's poorest cities, Lynwood operated with a $13-million annual budget while Richards held office.
At the same time, his city income topped $100,000 a year, making him one of the state's highest paid part-time politicians.
His recall two years ago followed a series of articles in the Los Angeles Times that disclosed his questionable business dealings.
A federal grand jury subsequently indicted him on more than 30 criminal counts, including conspiracy to commit extortion, fraud, money laundering and depriving the public of honest services. Richards, 49, has pleaded not guilty to all of the charges.
Facing trial with him are his sister, Paula Cameo Harris, 56, of Altadena, who served as president of Allied Government Services, the front company Richards allegedly set up to do business with the city; and Bevan A. Thomas, 56, of Anaheim, a longtime friend and business associate who is accused of bribing Richards in return for city contracts worth hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.
In 1999, Richards and the City Council majority he controlled awarded a contract to remove litter, weeds and other public eyesores to a company that Thomas set up in his wife's name.
At Richards' insistence, prosecutors allege, Thomas turned over responsibility for performing the cleanup to Allied, taking a $1,000-a-week "cut" for himself for serving as a conduit to the city.
Allied, which had no office, equipment or capital, paid Richards' gardener and other subcontractors $800 to $1,200 a week to perform the actual cleanup services.
Thomas, meanwhile, billed the city $4,995 a week under his contract. Over the next two years, the indictment said, he collected $623,000 from the city, paying $379,000 of that to Allied.
From Allied's share of the proceeds, the indictment said, Richards paid $1,000 to $1,500 a week as salaries to his sister and to a nephew, Julio Naulls, who worked in Richards' political campaigns. Naulls is listed as an "unindicted co-schemer" in the case.
The firm also paid $4,000 for improvements to a house Richards owned in Cerritos, made unreported campaign contributions to Richards' political allies in Lynwood and neighboring Compton and picked up a tab for some of his campaign printing costs.
As the nuisance abatement contract was about to expire in late 2001, Richards arranged for Thomas to receive a 10-year extension as well as an additional $200,000 to $300,000 to serve as the city's consultant on trash collection, according to the indictment.
Richards cast the deciding council vote in favor of the contract, which was scrapped after his recall.
While that deal was being hatched, the indictment said, Richards required the city's trolley operator, Commuter Bus Lines, to hire Allied as a $7,500-a-month consultant in exchange for a five-year contract renewal.
The trolley service balked, demanding a fee increase to cover Allied's fees. The City Council granted the fee hike, which wound up costing the taxpayers $62,500 "for little or no work of any value," according to the indictment.
In a third contract, Richards allegedly orchestrated a deal in which the city hired Allied as its exclusive representative in the selection of a company to erect billboards along the Century Freeway.
Allied was to receive 20% of all fees the city collected.
Behind the scenes, the indictment said, Richards already was in the process of negotiating a deal with Regency Outdoor Advertising.
Regency was ultimately awarded the coveted no-bid contract, agreeing to pay the city $4.8 million, of which $960,000 would have gone to Allied.
The deal with Regency was scuttled, however, after Richards lost control of his council majority in elections in late 2001.
Prosecutors plan to call more than 40 witnesses over four weeks, according to a trial memorandum submitted to U.S. District Judge R. Gary Klausner, who is presiding over the trial.
Los Angeles Times, September 20, 2005
New council members serve on school boards
by Cindy Chang, Staff Writer
ALHAMBRA, CA -- John Tran and John Nunez were both elected to the Rosemead City Council earlier this month on an anti-Wal-Mart platform. Both currently serve on local school boards, Tran in Garvey and Nunez in Alhambra.
While Nunez is stepping down from his school board duties Monday, Tran plans to stay on the Garvey panel until July, when budget deliberations are finished. The seat would remain vacant until the next regularly scheduled elections in November.
Tran says he foresees no conflict of interest in holding both offices concurrently. But an opinion from the California Attorney General's Office appears to prohibit an individual from serving on a city council and school board at the same time.
"Clearly, I would never compromise my duties as a public representative. Because of the part- time nature of the school board role, I will have no problem meeting the needs of my valued Rosemead residents,' Tran said in a prepared statement.
Tran called the attorney general's opinion "outdated' and said that it does not "draw the weight of the law.'
The 1990 opinion by then-Attorney General John Van de Kamp permitted a lawsuit against a politician who attempted to retain his seat on the Bassett school board after he was elected to the La Puente City Council. The public has "an interest in the undivided loyalty of their elected officers," Van de Kamp said in the opinion.
"Obviously, a school board member may want money from a city, or a service from a city, and the city has to balance that against other interests,"
The Alhambra school district is accepting applications to fill Nunez's seat. Applicants must be 18 years or older, registered to vote, and live within the Fifth District, which includes parts of Rosemead, Monterey Park and South San Gabriel.
The four remaining board members will interview the applicants and choose a new colleague at a public meeting on April 19 at 6 p.m. The new member will serve until Nunez's term expires in November 2006.
During most of Nunez's tenure, the school board was bitterly divided between two factions, with Nunez trying to straddle the fence between the groups. Now, all four members are political allies, and the board is expected to avoid the rancor that surrounded the Alhambra City Council's unsuccessful attempt to appoint an interim member last year.
Pasadena Star-News, March 19, 2005
Native becomes Montebello city attorney
Ben Baeder, Staff Writer
MONTEBELLO -- Pico Rivera native Marco Martinez remembered hanging out with his friends at Montebello's Beverly Bowl as a young man.
Nowadays, things are a little different.
He plans to spend most of his time at City Hall.
For the first time, Martinez presided over the Montebello City Council this week as the new city attorney. He replaces Arnold Alvarez-Glasman, whose firm had provided legal services for the city since 1997.
It's a homecoming of sorts for the El Rancho High School graduate.
He grew up in Pico Rivera and then attended Cal Poly Pomona, where he earned his bachelor's degree in u rban p lanning.
After a 10-year career in planning, Martinez attended Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.
After graduating, he joined the Riverside firm of Best, Best & Krieger, where he is now employed.
Martinez, who lives in Chino Hills with his wife and two young children, said he loved the prospect of coming to work in his old neighborhood.
His parents still live in Pico Rivera, and he visits them often with his family, he said.
"I never really left,' he said. "It's so nice to work out that way, to kind of reconnect with Montebello.'
Martinez expects to immediately jump into the complicated legal process that will come with the proposed development of about 200 acres of Montebello Hills, which are owned by an oil company.
The hills are home to a few species of rare birds, and the development of the land will trigger environmental studies required by state law, he said.
He said he was not worried, however.
"[Best, Best & Krieger] has about six attorneys dedicated almost exclusively to [state environmental laws],' he said.
The move to hire a new city attorney began last year after several City Council members said Alvarez-Glasman had too close a friendship with developer Henry Attina.
Companies associated with Attina received more than $20 million in forgivable loans to complete two senior housing complexes. In exchange for the money, Attina signed covenants promising to keep the rent low.
Those familiar with Montebello's politics say Martinez is in for a shock especially when controversial development projects come before the council.
It is not uncommon for shouting matches to take place at council meetings, residents say.
Attina has a deal in the works that calls for the building of more senior housing at Montebello and Whittier boulevards. The project has drawn criticism from some residents, who say senior housing should not be built at the busy intersection.
A few phases of the project still must come before the council before building begins.
"Any time there's an issue like that, it's going to be a real interesting thing,' said John Pringle, a private attorney who regularly attends City Council meetings.
Martinez said his new tenure has started peacefully.
"Everybody's been nice to me,' he said. "So far.'
Whittier Daily News, February 25, 2005
Alhambra school board attorney resigns
Cindy Chang, Staff Writer
ALHAMBRA -- Francisco Leal, the Alhambra Unified School District's general counsel, has resigned from his post to pre-empt a newly constituted school board from firing him.
Leal's law firm, Leal & Dominguez, was appointed to the Alhambra job in April 2003 over the objections of two school board members who said colleagues with personal ties to Leal were forcing the choice through without adequate time for deliberation.
A parent later sued the school district, alleging the decision to appoint Leal's firm was made behind closed doors in violation of the Ralph M. Brown Act, the state's open-meeting law.
"We were taking care of friends and not looking at the district as the first priority. That was when things started getting out of hand,' said Barbara Messina, one of the board members who voted against the appointment.
Leal & Dominguez represents the scandal-plagued cities of Bell Gardens, Cudahy and Huntington Park. The firm was fired by Commerce and Lynwood, but was later rehired by Commerce and now does work for the Lynwood Unified School District.
District officials received Leal's resignation letter Tuesday, the same day the board was scheduled to consider canceling his contract at its regular meeting.
Leal says he does not believe the effort to push him out was politically motivated. The school board's plan to consolidate its legal work with another law firm, Lozano Smith, ending the recent practice of spreading the work among several law firms, "makes sense,' according to Leal.
"I get a sense that they're looking to consolidate their legal services. At this point, another firm is doing most of the services. It's been an ongoing issue with the district, how to best handle their legal services,' Leal said.
New school board members Adele Andrade-Stadler and Pat Mackintosh beat two incumbents in November to win their seats, running as a slate with Messina.
The board, like the City Council, had been split between two factions, with Messina and Bob Gin on one side, William Vallejos and Ruth Castro on the other, and John Nunez trying to stay on good terms with both.
The Messina school board slate was backed by Mayor Paul Talbot, and Talbot-supported candidates swept the City Council races, tilting the balance of power on both bodies decidedly in favor of the Talbot faction.
Nunez had voted with Vallejos and Castro to award the general counsel job to Leal's firm, and the support of Andrade- Stadler and Mackintosh gave Messina and Gin the majority they needed to reconsider the contract.
Vallejos, one of the school board incumbents who was unseated, would not comment on the decision to place the Leal contract back on the agenda, though he said it did not surprise him.
"That's the new board, and I prefer not to comment on what they're doing,' said Vallejos, who accepted campaign donations from Leal, and who recently took a job at Leal's firm.
The district's contract with Leal's lobbying firm, Legislative Advocacy Group, was also slated for cancellation at Tuesday's school board meeting and was ended by the school board after Leal's resignation letter. Under that August 2001 contract, the school district paid Legislative Advocacy $4,000 a month, even though board members say the firm had done little work in recent years.
The Leal & Dominguez contract sets hourly rates ranging from $140 an hour for junior attorneys to $175 an hour for Leal's services.
School board members hope consolidating legal work with Lozano Smith will save them money because such contracts are typically negotiated with a single price tag, allowing the client to dispense with the uncertainties of hourly billing.
Unlike Leal's firm, Lozano Smith has a substantial education law practice, representing more than 300 school and college districts.
"We brought up the fact of what we could do to put money back into the classroom. We had to start downsizing someplace. We had quite a few lawyers, and we had to take a few away,' Mackintosh said.
Pasadena Star News, January 13, 2005
Officials Hope Election Will Aid Carson's Image;
Leaders expect winners in March 8 council race to dispel a corruption scandal with plans that could include an NFL team or retail complex.
Erica Williams, Times Staff Writer
Carson officials are counting on aggressive development efforts and new leadership from an upcoming municipal election to help shake the stigma left by a political corruption scandal.
"We have a bright future," said Councilwoman Julie Ruiz Raber. "We don't want to forget what has happened, but we must move forward."
The city is pushing a plan to make a 157-acre former landfill home to a team that the National Football League hopes to bring to the Los Angeles area by the 2008 season. Failing that, officials are proposing a new retail and entertainment complex for the site.
Community and business leaders are also looking to a municipal election in March to finally break a logjam over board and commission appointments that has developed on the City Council over the last nine months. Three of five council seats are at stake in the election.
Though some local activists and officials remain skeptical about how much to expect from a newly configured council in the near future, the optimism of others comes in part from several events that indicate the city may indeed be ready to move forward, some officials said.
On Dec. 20, former Mayor Daryl Sweeney, who stepped down in July 2003, was sentenced to nearly six years in prison for his role in a bribery scandal involving millions of dollars in municipal contracts.
Also in December, a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge voided an $850,000 housing grant that a developer secured by paying a bribe to Sweeney's predecessor. Pete Fajardo was sentenced to 15 months in prison last fall for soliciting more than $100,000 in bribes while on the council.
And in November, the city achieved one major objective: filling a longtime vacant fifth seat on a fractious council.
Councilman Harold C. Williams joined the panel Dec. 8 after his victory in a special election. The vacancy he filled was created when Mayor Jim Dear left his council post after being elected to replace Sweeney in a special election in March.
Filling that fifth seat was seen as key to circumventing an impasse over board and commission appointments that had divided the council. Officials expect the council to find it easier to form a quorum and avoid delays in city business caused by absences or stalemates.
Williams, a civil engineer, is the public works director for Gardena and formerly for Carson. He also has served on a number of city commissions. He must run again in the March election if he wants to stay on the council. That election will determine whether Williams stays on, who replaces outgoing Mayor Pro Tem Kay Calas and whether Dear keeps his job. Dear and Calas have feuded over some appointments.
Williams said he wants to build good working relationships among council members and to push for development projects that are environmentally sound and enhance the community's quality of life.
But some local activists remain skeptical about the council changes because of the close ties among Williams, Raber and Dear, who endorsed Williams in his council bid and contributed to his campaign. Some fear the formation of another voting bloc if the council makeup stays the same.
"In a city where we've had so much corruption, I don't think we want a setup where there isn't much of a balance of power," said Rita Boggs, a longtime activist who ran for the open council seat in November.
Robert Lesley, a retired port police officer, said he is looking forward to the March 8 election for candidates who are "thinking for the better of this community, business and residents."
Some officials envision remaking Carson, about 18 miles south of downtown Los Angeles, into a destination city to attract shoppers, restaurant patrons and sports enthusiasts.
Carson plans to develop the potential NFL site into a retail and entertainment complex if the city fails to strike a deal with the league. Sources familiar with the league's position on the possible sites have said that the Coliseum and Anaheim are in the lead, followed by the Rose Bowl, then Carson.
Other projects include a plan to revitalize the Carson Street corridor. The city is also trying to attract restaurants, a movie theater and other amenities it lacks. An $80-million renovation of the South Bay Pavilion shopping mall also is underway.
But despite its ambitious plans, restoring Carson's civic pride after the bribery scandal will prove challenging, city officials acknowledge.
"The shame, the disgust that people felt is going to have a long-lasting, negative effect," Dear said.
Besides Sweeney and Fajardo, among those charged in the corruption scandal were former Councilman Manuel Ontal Jr. and former Councilwoman Raunda Frank. All pleaded guilty.
Sweeney, whom federal prosecutors considered the ringleader in the bribery scandal, pleaded guilty to conspiring to extort $600,000 from a waste hauler that was competing for a $60-million contract.
Los Angeles Times, January 5, 2005
Former Carson Mayor Sentenced in Bribery Case;
Daryl Sweeney receives nearly six years in prison for serving as the ringleader in a scandal involving millions in municipal contracts.
David Rosenzweig, Times Staff Writer
Former Carson Mayor Daryl Sweeney was sentenced to nearly six years in prison and received a tongue-lashing Monday for serving as ringleader in a bribery scandal involving millions of dollars in municipal contracts.
"I don't think this was about losing your way or taking a wrong turn. You're nothing more than a thief," U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson told the 47-year-old former chief of staff to Los Angeles City Councilwoman Jan Perry.
"You might as well have taken a gun and gone down to City Hall and stuck it in their ear," Anderson said.
Sweeney, who served on the Carson City Council, a part-time post, from 1997 until 2003, was one of 10 charged in the wide-ranging bribery case. All have pleaded guilty.
Addressing the court before sentencing, Sweeney expressed remorse and apologized to his family, the court, the government, his church, the people of Carson and his political supporters.
Defense attorney Richard Steingard asked Anderson to sentence his client to 30 months behind bars, but the judge would have none of it, recalling Sweeney's secretly recorded comment to a fellow councilman that bribery "is a long-term opportunity."
"The operative word is 'long-term,'" said Anderson, "and you are going to have a long time to think about this."
Still, Sweeney did benefit from a plea agreement he negotiated with prosecutors last year, in which he pleaded guilty to 15 criminal counts and resigned as mayor. He could have been sentenced to up to 135 months in prison under federal sentencing guidelines, but Assistant U.S. Atty. Thomas S. McConville recommended 71 months because of Sweeney's assistance.
According to the prosecution, Sweeney provided information that led to the indictment and conviction on bribery charges of Keith McDonald, former head of the powerful West Basin Municipal Water District.
Sweeney also was credited with assisting the government on other unspecified political corruption investigations.
Anderson agreed to follow the prosecution's sentencing recommendation.
The largest of the bribery schemes involved the awarding of a $60-million trash-hauling contract to Browning Ferris Industries in exchange for nearly $600,000 in payments that were supposed to be shared by Sweeney, fellow council members Manuel Ontal and Raunda Frank and Sweeney's personal attorney and middleman, Robert Dennis Pryce Jr. Also involved were two Browning Ferris representatives.
Ontal, who had admitted involvement in another bribery case, was cooperating with authorities at the time and wore a concealed tape recorder in meetings with other conspirators.
In February 2002, the three council members, comprising a council majority, voted to give BFI the long-term waste-hauling contract even though it was the highest bidder. Pryce received $75,000 from the BFI employees and shared some of it with Sweeney, Frank and Ontal, according to admissions by the defendants.
The Carson City Council rescinded the contract in April 2002 after a federal grand jury returned an indictment against the defendants.
In addition to his prison sentence, Sweeney was ordered to pay $20,000 restitution to the city of Carson.
He is scheduled to surrender to authorities Feb. 14.
Los Angeles Times, December 21, 2004
Montebello delays city attorney's hearing
by Ben Baeder, Staff Writer
The City Council will delay for a month a hearing to consider replacing City Attorney Arnold Alvarez-Glasman, but the long-time city counselor's job is still in jeopardy because of his ties to a local businessman.
In August, council members Bob Bagwell, Bill Molinari and Mayor Norma Lopez-Reid voted to consider replacing Alvarez-Glasman, saying the attorney had too many political connections.
Councilman Ed Vasquez voted against the proposal. Councilwoman Mary Anne Saucedo was not at the meeting.
The hearing to decide whether to terminate Alvarez-Glasman's firm -- Alvarez-Glasman & Colvin -- was initially scheduled for today, but Bagwell said the council decided to put off the meeting until December to give the council more time to interview possible replacements.
According to Bagwell, the main factor that may contribute to Alvarez-Glasman's firm being fired is the attorney's relationship with developer Henry Attina.
"He has received a lot of political help from Attina, and they are good friends," he said. "I really don't know if he's been able to step aside from that when he's giving us legal advice."
Before he became city attorney in 1997, Alvarez-Glasman served as a Montebello City Councilman from 1985 to 1997. And, until 1989, Alvarez-Glasman was Attina's private attorney, Attina said.
Attina, who owns the Wild Coyote restaurant in Montebello, openly supported Alvarez-Glasman's City Council campaigns in the 1980s and 1990s, including putting up yard signs and providing food for many of Alvarez-Glasman's campaign functions, Attina said.
Alvarez-Glasman said Attina was his friend, but he said he was "absolutely not" conflicted when the city did business with Attina.
He noted that, a year after he stopped representing Attina, state law allowed him to represent the city in dealings with Attina.
"There was a very long span between when I worked with him and when I began working [as an attorney] for the city," he said.
Alvarez-Glasman also pointed out that he still lives in Montebello, a town where he was raised.
"I did not move to Beverly Hills," he said. "I'm not going to oversee projects that are bad for the city and cause taxes to go up."
Alvarez-Glasman defended his record as a municipal attorney, saying his firm represents seven cities, including West Covina, La Puente, Pomona and Bell Gardens. His firm offers sound legal service at a great price, he said.
"The first year we took over Bell Gardens, we saved them $1 million," he said.
But Alvarez-Glasman's critics say he has not looked out for the city when it came to dealing with Attina.
"As we have seen over the last few years, the city has entered into questionable costly contracts with developers and have given lucrative forgivable loans to certain businesses in the city," said Jeff Siccama, a community activist who pays close attention to city finances. "And the one thing they all had in common was their close friendship and relationship with Mr. Alvarez-Glasman."
While on the council in 1994, Alvarez-Glasman voted in favor of a deal in which the city's redevelopment agency agreed to loan Attina $2.5 million to finance the building of a restaurant near the Montebello AMC 10 movie theater.
Because the city had financial problems in the 1990s, the deal fell through. The restaurant was never built and the money was never loaned to Attina.
In 1999, as city attorney, Alvarez-Glasman signed off on a deal in which the city loaned Attina $1 million to partly finance the buiLding of a restaurant on the property. The loan was to be forgiven if Attina met certain conditions.
Among the conditions was a requirement that Attina construct at least $2 million worth of improvements on the property.
According to records from the Los Angeles County Assessor's office, Attina did do $1.4 million worth of improvements on the property.
Attina said he actually spent $3 million on the property and said he did not know why the assessor's office only listed $1.4 million.
A contract with the city also required Attina to build "approximately 10,000 square feet" of restaurant space on the property. He only built about 6,000 square feet of restaurant space, Attina said.
Despite this, the city has not asked Attina to repay the $1 million, said City Administrator Richard Torres.
Attina said numbers mentioned in the contract were specific to a restaurant deal Attina had made with popular Spanish-language singer Juan Gabriel in 1999. The deal fell through, and Attina said an Applebee's restaurant is scheduled to open at the site by early January.
"The city is still going to get a great restaurant," he said.
When the restaurant opens, the assessed value of the property could climb to $2.5 million, Attina said.
Along with the $1 million for the restaurant, the city's redevelopment agency also loaned Attina and his partners $22 million for two senior-housing complexes built by Attina and business partners, according to documents from the city.
The projects produced about 230 senior apartments with guaranteed low rents. As long as the rents stay within low-income guidelines set by the federal government, Attina and his partners do not have to pay back the loans, according to the contracts.
Siccama said he believes Attina, his partner Tom Corley and not-for-profit housing developer TELACU got "way too much money for those type of projects."
Torres said a case could be made that TELACU got more than a fair share of the city's redevelopment money.
"It was definitely debatable," he said. "But it was not my call. The council agreed to it."
Alvarez-Glasman, who served as city attorney when the two projects were completed, said Attina and his partners were the only serious developers interested in working with the city at the time.
He also pointed out that the projects were completed successfully and that no legal snags ever came up.
"A lot of these newcomers want to come in here and criticize us about redevelopment," he said. "But they weren't here when almost nobody wanted to do business in Montebello, and they really do not understand what it was like."
Attina said people are too political in Montebello.
"I'm disgusted," he said. "A lot of why he is losing this is because we are friends.
"I get out there and walked the streets for candidates," said Attina, who no longer lives in the city. "And one of the best men I know is now being dragged into politics."
Whittier Daily News, November 24, 2004
City accused of Brown Act violation
Ben Baeder, Staff Writer
WHITTIER -- The Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office has accused the city of violating state law by not properly displaying the agenda for an Oct. 4 Planning Commission meeting.
The state law, commonly called the Brown Act, requires among other things that cities post notices of hearings that will be held during public meetings. The information must be plainly posted at least 72 hours before meetings.
According to Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Lentz Snyder, the city posted only the front page of an agenda packet for the Oct. 4 commission meeting, after tacking the packet onto a bulletin board at City Hall.
The remaining pages were obscured by the front page, according to a letter from Lentz Snyder to the city.
That means that any actions taken by the commission on items listed inside the packet but not visible from the bulletin board were null and void, her letter said.
City officials said the illegal posting was an accident.
They also noted that only one agenda item was discussed by the Planning Commission on Oct. 4 a staff recommendation to revoke the business permit of the Ibiza Steak and Lounge.
The rest of the hearings scheduled on the agenda were put off due to lack of time, said Whittier City Attorney Richard Jones.
However, notice of the Ibiza hearing was listed on the front page of the agenda. That means the commission's recommendation that the nightclub lose its license still stands, Jones said.
On Tuesday, the City Council is scheduled to decide whether to revoke Ibiza's business permit. A public hearing on the issue will be held before any vote.
"This won't have any consequence on Tuesday's hearing,' Jones said.
Ibiza is accused of hosting adult dancers without an adult business permit and of violating fire codes by allowing customers to congregate in a part of the building without proper fire escape routes.
Ibiza manager Ralph Verdugo said he had worked hard to follow the city's rules and regulations, also noting that his business employs 80 people and donates thousands of dollars to local charities.
Snyder said she still expects the city to send a letter promising to correct the way it displays meeting agendas within 30 days.
City officials said that, from now one, they will be careful to spread out pages of all agendas so they can easily be read by the public.
"The bottom line is the agenda has to be fully accessible to the public for 72 hours before the meeting, and for 24 hours a day,' Lentz Snyder said.
Whittier Daily News, October 23, 2004
Baldwin Park said displeased with coalition
By Christina L. Esparza, Staff Writer
Some city officials feared West Covina's decision to leave a San Gabriel Valley government coalition would pave the way for others to follow.
Now, Baldwin Park may be packing up its nearly $22,000 annual payment and leaving the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments a 31-city coalition that lobbies state and federal authorities to meet the needs of the Valley in terms of traffic, housing, air quality and solid waste disposal.
"West Covina raised a red flag for not only Baldwin Park, but for other cities,' said Baldwin Park Mayor Manuel Lozano.
City officials said COG seems to benefit outlying cities, such as those in the foothills, while cities in the center like Baldwin Park are ignored.
"Our transportation issues are not being addressed,' said Baldwin Park City Councilman Ricardo Pacheco, who on Wednesday suggested his city withdraw from COG. "I don't think [the money] is being used as efficiently as it could be.'
But Nicholas Conway, executive director for COG, said Baldwin Park has been a direct beneficiary of several boons the 10-year-old organization has achieved.
It spearheaded the creation of a environmental conservancy which secured $40 million for city parks, and Baldwin Park received $75,000 three years ago through COG's Livable Cities Program.
Also, Conway said, COG is working to add a car-pool lane on the stretch of the San Bernardino  Freeway that runs through West Covina and Baldwin Park.
Baldwin Park's threatened departure comes as COG officials battle with another member city, Pasadena, over issues related to the Gold Line extension project from Pasadena to Montclair.
But the COG has taken the offensive in the matter involving Pasadena. The group's board will consider removing Pasadena Councilman Sid Tyler from his post as COG treasurer as punishment for fellow Councilman Paul Little's alleged anti-Valley votes on the Gold Line construction board.
Officials also said the organization's voting system, which gives each city one equal vote, is skewed.
The vote of a large city that pays $20,000 in dues is equal to that of a smaller one that may pay about $4,000.
Since there are more smaller cities in the Valley, Pacheco argued they have more pull.
"Bradbury has more voting power than we do,' Pacheco said of the city with a population of about 900. "They're getting all the transportation improvements on that side of town, and we're ending up with basically nothing.'
West Covina Mayor Mike Miller, president of COG's governing board, said leaving the COG will hurt the cities more than it would hurt the organization.
"For one thing ... the value you get from working together with 30 other cities is far more than what we pay into it,' Miller said. "Anybody that believes you could solve transportation problems by yourself in this day and age doesn't understand how it works.'
Of the $30,000 West Covina pays in annual fees to COG, about $3,000 comes out of the general fund, Miller said. The rest comes from air quality and transportation fees.
West Covina Councilman Roger Hernandez, who along with two other council members voted Aug. 17 to withhold its nearly $30,000 annual fee from COG, said he's heard complaints about the organization from officials in other cities, and things have to change.
La Puente City Councilman Louie Lujan agreed.
"Perhaps it's time for them to re- evaluate how they address the individual needs of the cities,' Lujan said. "You've really got to adjust to the times.'
The La Puente City Council has not discussed its involvement with COG as a council, Lujan said.
At a Sept. 16 meeting, COG officials will vote on whether or not to change voting methods to make the number of votes proportional to the size of a city, which is a major complaint among COG detractors.
West Covina will also revisit its decision to leave COG at its Sept. 21 meeting, Miller said.
West Covina is the fourth-largest city in the organization. If dues are not paid, West Covina's membership will dissolve in November.
Pacheco said he will meet with representatives from COG to discuss several issues, and the council may vote on whether or not to withhold its annual dues at a later date.
Pasadena Star News, September 3, 2004
Pomona Broke State Law, Complaint Says;
D.A. probes allegation that the city violated an open meeting statute.
Hugo Martin, Times Staff Writer
The Los Angeles County district attorney's office is investigating charges that the Pomona City Council violated the state's open meeting law when it approved a downtown business improvement district on Aug. 2, city officials confirmed Monday.
The district attorney's public integrity unit also has requested that the council rescind all decisions made in the July and August council meetings when the improvement district was on the agenda, according to Pomona city officials.
The investigation was triggered by a complaint that the public notice for the council meeting on Aug. 2 was posted in front of City Hall in a glass-encased bulletin board in a way that partially obscured the agenda. Investigators would not say who filed the complaint.
Susan Chasworth, assistant head of the district attorney's public integrity unit, confirmed that her office is investigating possible violations of the Ralph M. Brown Act stemming from the council meetings at which officials discussed the business improvement district. Chasworth would not give details of the investigation.
The council voted July 19 and again Aug. 2 to create the improvement district after property owners in the downtown area voted to support it.
City Atty. Arnold M. Alvarez-Glasman said the district attorney's office wrote to the city recently, noting that investigators had received a complaint that the agenda was partially obscured. The letter also requested that the council rescind all the decisions made at the July 19 and Aug. 2 meetings, he said.
Alvarez-Glasman called the alleged violation a technicality and said he was surprised that the district attorney's office would ask the council to retract all its decisions for the two meetings. He said the city "took an abundance of caution to ensure that the public was notified about the meeting."
Alvarez-Glasman said the council had yet to meet since the alleged violation took place, and was likely to discuss on Sept. 13 how to respond.
Los Angeles Times, August 31, 2004
Website Takes City Officials to Task;
Anonymous watchdog goes online to post data, skewer Huntington Park's council members
Sam Quinones, Times Staff Writer
When Huntington Park Councilman Ed Escareno spent double his city-allotted travel budget for two years in a row, watchourcity.com asked him to pay it back.
When the City Council voted itself a $350-a-month raise, and hired its city attorney in closed session and without requesting competing bids from other attorneys, the website listed which council members had gone along with it all.
And when the council approved $50,000 in cash and in-kind services to help an influential business group put on a Mexican Independence Day celebration, while allocating $16,500 for a Fourth of July celebration and cutting preschool programs' funding, the website wisecracked, "It seems that the Budget Committee and the rest of City Council members do not have any close ties with the city's preschoolers."
Wrapping an old-style muckraking soul in new technology, the website, www.watchourcity .com is an experiment in public oversight that has been kicking the shins of Huntington Park elected officials since it went online in March.
In news story form, the website presents public-record data on who donated money to which council member, along with suggestions as to what the donor might want in return.
The site includes links to the budget and city contracts. Sprinkled through its pages are quotes on civic involvement from Abraham Lincoln, Plato and Pablo Picasso, together with barbed questions along the lines of: "What was Mayor Juan Noguez, Vice Mayor Ofelia Hernandez and council member Mario Gomez hiding from the public?"
Though the site regularly takes public officials to task, the founder has refused to make his own identity public. He would only tell The Times that he was a bilingual adult, born in Mexico and raised in the United States, a city resident though not a city employee, and that he worked on the site six to eight hours a week and made no money from it. He also said he'd never worked in journalism or with computers. He has communicated with The Times by e-mail and telephone.
"We receive a lot of whistle-blower e-mail," he said. "Everybody fears reprisal, everybody. Anonymity is paramount."
The site's founder said he was attempting to fill the void left by the decline of news coverage and civic participation in the city over the last 20 years.
Blue-collar Huntington Park is similar to many towns southeast of downtown Los Angeles. Its population of 62,000 is made up overwhelmingly of immigrants from Mexico and Central America, many of whom are not U.S. citizens, have no history of civic involvement or newspaper reading and are busy working and raising families. With the transition of those communities from middle-class white to poor Latino immigrant in the last two decades, local newspapers declined dramatically. The Los Angeles Times and La Opinion focus their coverage nationally and regionally as opposed to daily coverage of the 88 cities in the county.
"We really don't have a local paper," said Councilman Ric Loya, who has served on the council for 12 years.
Huntington Park, moreover, has become a place for immigrant families to get established before they move east, to towns like Downey or Whittier.
All that has created a vacuum in civic oversight that is typical of many small cities, said Felix Gutierrez, a journalism professor at USC. "The vacuum came at the same time that there's been an explosion of media technology. It's natural that some people somewhere would be using that technology to fill that void."
According to the website founder, a group of city residents saw these demographics and a lack of public oversight give rise to chaos a few years ago in South Gate, where the city treasurer, the mayor and two council members were recalled amid corruption allegations.
"There was no watch group as is the case in communities that have better educated populations, or second- and third-generation immigrants," the founder said. "Here you have first-generation immigrants with the least involvement in civic duties. Twelve hundred votes can elect a councilman. That's a very small minority that can elect a council member who then makes decisions on how millions of dollars are spent."
Mayor Noguez, a critic of the site, said he read it when it started, because it posted facts about city spending. Then the site began to editorialize, he said.
"I lost respect for them when they started doing that," the first-term mayor said. "A prudent website that is non-opinionated, just gives the facts, is what's necessary virtually in every city. Black and white was all they needed to print, and they chose to start doing a lot more than that. It's completely one-sided. They only take the bad."
Noguez said the site had not asked for his side of what it posted.
"We'd like to hear from [council members]," the site founder said. "Perhaps I should start to contact them."
Noguez said he believed that Linda Guevara was behind the site and was using it to lash out at her opponents. Guevara, a former councilwoman, was convicted in 2002 of lying when she falsely claimed to live in Huntington Park.
Guevara said she was called by the website founder and answered his questions about what documents were public record and how to obtain them. But she said she had nothing to do with organizing the site. "I don't have time," she said.
"I don't know why they keep bringing my name into things. I just work in my home."
The site founder said Guevara has contributed only public records to the site, but "whether Linda was involved in it or not, public record is public record."
The city apparently views it differently. An attorney for the city recently sent Guevara a letter -- received Aug. 17 -- accusing her of "obtaining city records evidently by illicit conspiratorial means" and threatening her with prosecution.
"Everything I've gotten I got through the city clerk," Guevara said.
The three council members most taken to task by watchourcity.com are Escareno, Hernandez and Gomez. Gomez, through a city secretary, declined to comment on the site. Escareno and Hernandez did not return phone calls and e-mails requesting comment.
Loya, whom the site has rarely criticized, called it "one of those unfortunate things that surfaces when people get frustrated that they have no information about city government. I don't like the editorializing in it. But can you fault one for editorializing when they find out what they've been finding out?"
Watchourcity.com began by monitoring the council's travel and cellular-phone spending, the founder said. From there it expanded to include a "campaign contribution watch" and a "contracts watch."
"You'd be surprised how much information is just out there publicly available. Research can be quite easy," the founder said.
Since then, watchourcity.com has criticized the council for increasing Little League fees and for making plans to build a card club. It has asked why City Atty. Francisco Leal has not reported campaign contributions made to Hernandez, and why Noguez, Gomez and Hernandez received a "highly unprecedented" $62,000 of in-kind contributions on election day last year.
The site has also berated council candidates for using old-style Mexican political strategies, such as offering two tacos to those who voted in the March 2003 election.
"It's purely politics from south of the border," the founder said.
It's unclear whether the site is having any effect beyond City Hall, among an immigrant population that often doesn't read English and presumably has a low rate of computer ownership.
The site's founder said one goal of watchourcity.com was to set a new standard for citizen involvement in largely Mexican Huntington Park.
Still, he said, not even his mother knows that he is involved in the site, and would be upset if she found out.
"Growing up in Mexico, our moms, the last thing they wanted us to do was to question authority," he said. "You respect authority. Well, what if the authority isn't doing the right thing?"
Los Angeles Times, August 21, 2004
Ex-Councilmember's Conviction for Lying About Residence Upheld
By Kenneth Ofgang, Staff Writer/Appellate Courts
A former member of the Huntington Park City Council was properly convicted of perjury and filing false nomination papers for lying about her residence, the Court of Appeal for this district ruled yesterday.
Div. Three affirmed Linda Luz Guevara's November 2002 convictions on four felony counts, rejecting her contentions that the statute of limitations had run as to three of the counts before the case was filed and that prosecutors withheld discovery. Guevara was the first elected official to be successfully prosecuted by District Attorney Steve Cooley's public integrity unit.
Guevara first ran for the council in March 1997, Aswearing that she lived on Walnut Street in Huntington Park. She lost the election, but filed two days later to run in a June special election for the seat of a recently deceased member of the council.
Guevara filed a "declaration of circulator" and an "affidavit of nominee" for the special election, both declaring a Huntington Park residence. She won the election, and filed in December 1998 to run for a full term in the March 1999 election; Guevara again filed a declaration of circulator and an affidavit of nominee saying she lived in Huntington Park and won the election.
Following investigation, prosecutors charged Guevara with two counts of perjury and two counts of filing false nomination papers. They presented evidence that she had lived in Lakewood or Downey from 1990 right up to the time of trial, and that she had consistently filed documents with the Downey Unified School District-where her son went to school and participated in an educational program with limited enrollment-attesting to a Downey residence.
Of the two Huntington Park addresses that Guevara had listed on her nomination documents, evidence showed, the first was a multiple unit complex owned by a client of the eviction service Guevara operated with her husband. The second was a leased three-bedroom home in which Guevara's mother and sister resided, with the third bedroom used as a computer room/office.
Investigators testified that they had employed surveillance in early 2001 and discovered that Guevara was staying at the Downey residence and that neither she nor her husband parked a car at her listed address in Huntington Park on any of the several occasions when they checked.
Guevara testified she had rented a room from her client prior to becoming a candidate, then moved into her mother's house and slept on an inflatable mattress. She acknowledged that her husband and son lived in Downey, but claimed she only stayed there on weekends, a plan the family had agreed on so that she could serve on the council while her son remained in Downey schools.
Confronted With Report
The prosecution, however, confronted her with a campaign finance report listing her husband, who was also her campaign treasurer, as living at the same Huntington Park address she was using. She replied that she had signed and sworn to the report in blank, and that her campaign manager had mistakenly added the address later.
Jurors found her guilty on all counts. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge David Mintz placed her on five years' probation and ordered her to serve 180 days in custody, but declined to ban her from politics because the charges did not involve her council service.
She cannot, however, run for public office while on felony probation.
Her court-appointed appellate lawyer, Michael J. Egan, argued that she should not have been prosecuted for filing false nomination papers. Those charges, Egan asserted, are subject to a three-year statute of limitations under Penal Code Sec. 801.
That section provides that a felony prosecution must be commenced within three years following commission of the offense if no other statute of limitations applies. But Justice Richard Aldrich, writing for the Court of Appeal, said another statute did apply-Sec. 803(c), which allows prosecution up to four years from completion or discovery of the offense, whichever occurs later, if the crime involves fraud or breach of fiduciary duty.
The filing of false documents in order to qualify as a candidate for office is such a crime, the justice concluded, because the Elections Code provision that Guevara violated "is designed to protect the integrity and reliability of publicly filed election documents and has at its core protections against fraud."
Aldrich likened the crime to the filing or recording of forged instruments or the sale or issuance of unqualified securities, both of which have been held subject to the four-year statute.
In an unpublished portion of the opinion, Aldrich rejected the contention that the four-year statute of limitations as to one count of perjury and one count of filing a false nomination paper had expired because the document on which they were based was filed on March 6, 1997 and prosecution was not commenced until Sept. 17, 2001.
Jurors, the justice explained, were instructed on the four-year statute. There was, Aldrich concluded, substantial evidence from which they could have found that the prosecution was commenced within four years of the discovery of the crimes.
It was not until early 2001, the justice said, that investigators "had actual notice of circumstances sufficient to make them suspicious of fraud thereby leading them to make inquiries which might have revealed the fraud."
While investigators had been looking at the possibility that Guevara lied about her residence for some time, it was not until they received an anonymous tip, conducted surveillance, and spoke to witnesses who knew where Guevara was staying that they were able to do more than speculate that she had sworn falsely, Aldrich said.
In another unpublished portion of the opinion, the justice rejected the contention that the use of the campaign finance report was improper and prejudicial because the document was not provided during discovery.
Aldrich agreed with Mintz that there was at most a technical violation of the discovery rules, noting the document was one of several that had been seized pursuant to a search warrant and the defense had been given access to all such documents. In any event, the document was cumulative to other evidence, making any violation harmless, the justice said.
Deputy Attorney General Scott A. Taryle represented the state on appeal.
The case is People v. Guevara, B163177.
Metropolitan News Enterprise, July 30, 2004
City settles developer's lawsuit;
SoPas shopping plaza ready for business
By Mary Bender, Staff Writer
SOUTH PASADENA -- The city will pay a developer $75,000 to settle a lawsuit filed after the company was refused permission to build a shopping plaza on a long-vacant property, the City Council agreed this week. The council butted heads with Huntington Fremont Partners LLC over the developer's plans to bring a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant, a Starbucks coffeehouse and other retail shops to the northwest corner of Huntington Drive and Fremont Avenue. The land has been empty since 1988.
Despite the legal challenges and some local opposition, construction on the $2.2 million project began last October and is now complete. So far, Starbucks is the only tenant open in the 7,083-square-foot plaza.
The dispute reached its peak last year, when a Los Angeles Superior Court judge found that the City Council violated the Brown Act and levied a fine against South Pasadena.
The judge penalized the city for a March 2003 closed session in which the council discussed a moratorium on issuing building permits for restaurant-related projects. The developers, who argued that the moratorium was aimed at their project, filed suit.
The temporary halt began in April 2003.
The year before, several neighborhood residents filed a suit against the city in an effort to block the KFC-Starbucks development.
The council unanimously approved the settlement Wednesday night. "This settlement puts an end to the litigation, once and for all,' City Attorney Stephen Pfahler announced after the council's closed session.
"Pursuant to the settlement agreement, the city agreed to dismiss its appeal of the lawsuit [pertaining] to the Superior Court's ruling of 2003,' Pfahler said.
"In return, Huntington Fremont Partners has agreed to waive all of its attorney fees against the city, in exchange for a payment of $75,000,' Pfahler added.
Pasadena Star News, July 9, 2004
Lynwood City Hall Searched in Probe of Credit Card Use;
Investigators from the D.A.'s office also check the homes of the city's mayor, a councilman and two former council members.
Richard Marosi, Times Staff Writer
District attorney's office investigators on Tuesday searched Lynwood City Hall and the properties of the mayor and three current and former City Council members as part of a yearlong investigation of alleged misuse of city-issued credit cards.
About 20 investigators arrived at City Hall when it opened at 7 a.m., as others began searching the residences of Mayor Louis Byrd, Councilman Fernando Pedroza and former council members Arturo Reyes and Paul Richards.
City Hall was shut down for much of the day, with residents told in Spanish and English to return later. "If my bill comes overdue, it's not my fault," said Sotera Villanueva, holding a $41.19 water bill, outside City Hall.
Authorities suspect the officials used public funds for travel to fancy resorts, online purchases, expensive meals and other personal expenses. The officials have defended their use of city-issued credit cards, saying that many of the expenses were reimbursed or related to city business.
The raid added to the swirl of investigations that target most of the City Council in this working-class city in southeast Los Angeles County. The FBI, in a separate case, is probing Richards, the former councilman. His house was searched by federal agents in December, and again Tuesday by local investigators.
The investigation started after a citizen complained of possible credit-card abuse to the district attorney's public integrity unit. A Times review of credit-card statements showed numerous questionable expend- itures, among them:
Byrd once used taxpayer funds to fly a friend to Hawaii, Pedroza paid for a dinner show in Rio de Janeiro and Reyes flew his wife to Rio and purchased jewelry.
Authorities would not disclose what was seized during the search, but sources said that investigators were searching for credit-card statements. Authorities declined to say whether arrests were imminent.
"We're still just gathering information," said David Demerjian, the head deputy in charge of the public integrity division.
Also under investigation is Councilman Ramon Rodriguez. He is suspected of violating conflict of interest laws by approving the purchase of goods from his hardware store by city workers. His store was also searched on Tuesday.
Rodriguez denies any wrongdoing. He said that city workers had purchased supplies at his hardware store for 13 years before he became a council member and that he never solicited any business from the city once elected to office.
In recent months, the City Council has attempted to repair the city's image. Members have cut back somewhat on compensation that made them among the highest paid part-time politicians in the state. They have also canceled their credit cards.
On Monday night, they voted to cancel a controversial resolution that gave the father-in-law of Councilman Pedroza the exclusive right to tow abandoned vehicles off local streets.
Councilwoman Maria Santillan said she hoped the investigations would end the city's political chaos. She and Councilwoman Leticia Vasquez are the only council members not being investigated.
"They don't shut down City Hall unless they know what they're looking for," Santillan said. "I'm happy that this is finally coming to an end."
Los Angeles Times, May 12, 2004
Alhambra school board's hiring blasted; Three law firms to represent district
By Cindy Chang, Staff Writer
ALHAMBRA -- School board President Barbara Messina says she is "totally opposed' to the board majority's hiring as general counsel a law firm that has represented the scandal-plagued cities of Bell Gardens, Cudahy and Huntington Park, calling the appointment "politically motivated.'
Board members Bill Vallejos and Ruth Castro acknowledged having personal relationships with some of the lawyers at downtown Los Angeles-based Leal Olivas Abich & Dominguez, but denied that those ties influenced their decision to hire the firm.
"What's wrong with knowing the people that you hire? I don't see anything wrong with that at all,' Vallejos said.
Leal Olivas donated $1,000 to Castro's re-election committee last December, campaign filing records show.
"There have been people who've contributed, and I've voted against them,' Castro said. "I can't see that any contribution buys my vote.'
A lobbying firm headed by Francisco Leal, former South Pasadena city attorney and one of the law firm's partners, has been employed by the district since 2001 and was listed on the California secretary of state's Web site as one of California's top 100 lobbying firms for the year 2000.
The resolution appointing Leal's firm as general counsel for the district came over the objections of two board members who said they were strong- armed into a vote without being given a chance to research other options.
"I'm totally opposed to it. The process was not followed,' said Messina. The board majority "came back and said, we are going to hire this firm.' Also opposing the hire was school board member Bob Gin.
The resolution passed by the board calls for Leal Olivas to serve as the district's general counsel and the firm Burke, Williams & Sorensen to work on labor negotiations and special education issues. A third firm, Alvarado, Smith & Sanchez, which was previously the district's general counsel, will represent the district in litigation-related matters.
At a time when the district is trying to trim $7 million from next year's budget, the district cannot afford to employ three law firms, Messina said. Law firms bill by the hour, but the district may be charged higher rates if its lawyers fill only niche duties, she said.
"We can't afford, nor do we need, Leal as legal counsel when we're being asked to tighten our belts,' Messina said.
Messina expressed fears that the new general counsel might be granted license to bill excess hours because of its personal ties to some board members.
"It'll be interesting to see the time they put in. We don't need counsel at meetings all the time,' Messina said.
Board member John Nunez was the third vote to hire the firm.
Messina called the decision to appoint the firm "politically motivated' but declined to provide more details.
The city of Alhambra canceled a planned Latin music festival last fall after questions were raised about ties between two members of the City Council and the firm appointed to organize the festival.
One of those councilmen, Dan Arguello, had previously fought allegations that he helped award a city towing contract to a company because it gave generously to his campaign.
Pasadena Star News, April 24, 2003
A Timely Victory for Cooley;
Up for reelection, the D.A. wins a high-profile conviction. But his opponents say he avoids the tough cases
Anna Gorman, Times Staff Writer
The felony conviction this week of former Compton Mayor Omar Bradley for misusing public money gave Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley a high-profile victory in his campaign to clean up local corruption -- and win reelection.
With less than three weeks before the March 2 election, Cooley said the guilty verdicts in the Bradley case prove his ability to prosecute public officials who commit crimes.
"I think there are people out there that are going, 'Am I next?' " Cooley said in an interview. "This conviction and many others will go a long way in hopefully deterring individuals from committing criminal acts."
Cooley's challengers in the race for district attorney accuse him of failing to root out corrupt city officials.
"It isn't enough to pluck a bad apple," said Nick Pacheco, a former prosecutor and Los Angeles city councilman who is running against Cooley. "Cooley doesn't have a plan to bring good government to these cities."
The Compton case was a significant win for the D.A.'s public integrity division, which Cooley created in 2001 to prosecute corruption within governments and public agencies.
Prosecutors have filed 70 cases and won 59 convictions against public officials, ranging from embezzlement to voter fraud. There are also 108 active investigations.
Bradley, along with former Compton City Councilman Amen Rahh and former City Manager John Johnson, were taken away in handcuffs Tuesday after a jury found them guilty of misappropriating public funds. Each faces a possible five-year prison term. Former City Councilwoman Delores Zurita and Councilwoman Yvonne Arceneaux were acquitted.
Political consultants said the success in the Compton corruption case could help Cooley by adding a win to his record and showing the public that, despite criticism to the contrary, he was willing to take on a tough case.
"In more ways than one, it was a good conviction," said consultant Joe Cerrell.
Consultants said they believed it would be difficult for Cooley's opponents to push him into a runoff on March 2, in part because the district attorney has raised more than $940,000. As of Jan. 17, his five opponents combined had raised roughly $60,000, according to the county registrar's office.
The challengers for the nonpartisan office besides Pacheco are, Head Deputy Dist. Atty. Tom Higgins, Deputy Dist. Atty. Denise Moehlman, former Deputy Dist. Atty. Anthony Patchett and public law attorney Roger Carrick.
"This is a very large and expensive county to communicate in," said Democratic strategist Bill Carrick, a consultant to Gil Garcetti in Garcetti's losing 2000 campaign against Cooley. "The voters are left with essentially a referendum on the incumbent district attorney."
Cooley has begun his advertising, sending out glossy mailers, planning television spots and making calls with recorded messages from supporters, including Sheriff Lee Baca. And although his opponents have received some endorsements, Cooley has received backing from many labor and law enforcement organizations throughout the county.
Cooley is not as well known as past district attorneys, but Republican political analyst Allan Hoffenblum says that could help him.
Garcetti, Cooley's predecessor, was well known, but for the wrong reasons, Hoffenblum said. Cooley has drawn some favorable publicity for prosecuting public corruption. "It would be a major upset for him to be defeated," he said. "People don't fire incumbents without cause."
If Cooley doesn't receive the 50% plus one needed to avoid a runoff, however, Hoffenblum said he will become vulnerable and may be in "big trouble."
In the Compton case, Deputy Dist. Atty. David Demerjian, head of the public integrity unit, rejected arguments that Bradley and the others didn't deserve prison time because they had misspent relatively small sums of money. "They shouldn't have been lining their pockets with public funds," he said. "It's unacceptable."
In a similar case, prosecutors are probing possible misuse of public funds in Lynwood, where council members have used city credit cards for expensive dinners and luxury resort trips to Rio de Janeiro. Lynwood activists said the council members might be losing sleep these days.
"The credit-card purchases in Lynwood were much more extravagant than Compton," said Eddy Hernandez, a local activist.
Civic leaders are not the only targets of the public integrity division. Cody Cluff, former head of the agency that promotes film production in the county, has been charged with embezzling public funds. In another case, a vice president of Alan Casden's development firm and 13 subcontractors have been indicted on charges of conspiring to hand out illegal donations in city campaigns.
Though the D.A<.'s unit has had its successes, it got off to a rough start when a judge dismissed the case against former South Gate Treasurer Albert Robles, who had been accused of threatening to kill two legislators. Robles now faces trial on new charges that he conspired to violate election laws and misuse public funds.
Cooley's opponents accuse him of being reluctant to target corporations and complain that he has failed to thoroughly investigate police misconduct. They cite his handling of the Belmont Learning Complex and the Rampart police scandal. They also say Cooley should have continued to investigate lobbyist Art M. Gastelum for possible misconduct and that he should not have dropped a criminal investigation of Newhall Land & Farming Co. when the firm agreed to create a preserve for an endangered plant.
Pacheco said he thought Cooley should have been investigating Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center after the deaths of several patients in the past year.
Higgins said Cooley carefully picks the cases he believes he can win. "In the whole scheme of the cases that the D.A.'s office prosecutes, the Bradley case is on the smaller end," Higgins said. "Where has Steve been on Newhall, Rampart, Gastelum?"
Roger Carrick said Cooley takes on officials of small cities, mostly African Americans and Latinos. "I think Mr. Cooley is afraid to take on big cases. I think Mr. Cooley is afraid of losing a big case," Carrick said.
But campaign consultant Harvey Englander said the challengers were "trying to roll a boulder up a hill" in their attempt to force Cooley into a runoff. He is "not Mr. Personality all the time," but he is what many residents want, he said.
"They didn't want a TV D.A.," Englander said. "They wanted somebody who will convict criminals."
Cooley's campaign consultant, John Shallman, said each of the challengers had a "personal grudge" against Cooley that had prompted them to run.
Cooley, a Republican, confounded some liberal critics when he halted prosecution of most nonviolent third-strikers. In three years in office, he has increased the conviction rate in gang cases and extracted guilty pleas from high-profile defendants such as Symbionese Liberation Army associate Sara Jane Olson and Glendale respiratory therapist Efren Saldivar, who killed six older patients.
But he was criticized for botching the brutality case against former Inglewood Officer Jeremy Morse and for refusing to drop the murder case against Thomas Lee Goldstein, even after a state judge dismissed the 1980 conviction because of prosecutors' use of an unreliable jailhouse informant.
Cooley said he wasn't pursuing public corruption to get reelected.
"It's a promise I made when I ran last time," he said. "It's a promise I've fulfilled. We're doing this because it's the right thing to do."
Los Angeles Times, February 13, 2004
Editorial Claims aside, all is not well at Otay Water District
Board members of the Otay Water District claim a recent state study shows that all its problems are in the past, or, at least, can be blamed on board members who have since departed.
But that's simply not true. The district continues to incur millions of dollars in legal expenses, and will pay even more attorney bills in the future, due to ongoing managerial problems. And one board member who has been the focus of some of those problems, and therefore some of the lawsuits, is still on the board today -- Jaime Bonilla.
The study by the state Local Agency Formation Commission noted that the water district has undergone serious management problems, but that water service to customers has not been affected. The report noted that Otay has experienced the highest employee turnover rates and legal expenses of any water agency in southern San Diego County. It recommends that the district improve its personnel practices, seeking outside professional help to create a better atmosphere between management and employees. The report also urges that Otay require training for its board and management in the state's open meeting law. The commission found that some of the complaints about the board and management are outside of its purview, and so they have been referred to the county grand jury, district attorney and state Fair Political Practices Commission.
Otay's continuing legal bills show that much is still amiss. The LAFCO report quotes Otay officials as claiming that a spike in legal costs was due to past problems, and that legal costs should diminish now that those problems are in the past. Those statements were recorded no later than early 2003, and probably in 2002.
However, a check register from the Otay Water District last fall shows nearly $1 million in fees paid for legal services in a 50-day period. For a small water district with a $36 million budget, such legal bills are extreme and eventually will hurt customer service if they continue.
And the district's biggest legal challenges still lie ahead. Long-time Otay legal counselor Tom Harron, now chief deputy county counsel, has a pending lawsuit against Otay and board member Jaime Bonilla claiming racial discrimination, defamation and wrongful termination. In a federal lawsuit, six other former employees allege discrimination, wrongful termination and retaliation for labor activities. That federal suit also names Bonilla as a defendant. There's another discrimination lawsuit pending by an ex-employee and yet another one waiting to be filed.
Otay's claim that all its problems are in the past is belied by these lawsuits and by the fact that Bonilla, who is named in several suits, remains a powerful board member. The water district is not only paying legal fees for itself, but also for Bonilla and other district officials named in suits. The result will be mounting bills for years to come. If judgments go against the district, those will have to be paid, too.
The LAFCO study did not harshly criticize the Otay Water District, because the study was a service review, and Otay's water service has not been seriously affected by its management or legal problems -- yet. But the Otay Water District is a public agency and therefore must be held to higher scrutiny than whether the water flows. We hope the grand jury, district attorney and Fair Political Practices Commission will also take a hard look at this troubled public agency.
San Diego Union-Tribune, January 22, 2004
Time to cut in Lynwood
Six-figure salaries need to be reduced -- and quick.
What are they waiting for? The Lynwood City Council's game is over the six-figure salaries and lavish perks have been exposed; the D.A.'s office is investigating possible misuse of public funds yet the council majority refused twice this month to cut its salaries down to size.
Unacceptable. Slashing council salaries and perks should be priority No. 1 for Lynwood government.
Even in Southeast Los Angeles County, where political corruption is endemic, the Lynwood City Council's brazen spending has been startling. In the fall an L.A. Times investigation found that some members were collecting more than $100,000 a year in salaries and compensation, and were collecting perks such as travel, meals and entertainment on the taxpayers' dime.
Longtime councilman Paul Richards was recalled by voters in the aftermath, and the District Attorney's Office is investigating the misuse of city-owned credit cards by council members. Yet some, including newly installed Mayor Louis Byrd, still defend the six-figure salaries.
Council members Ramon Rodriquez and Maria Santillan recently introduced a measure that would have limited salaries to $24,000. State law restricts council pay, but some Lynwood officials were charging the city tens of thousands of additional dollars by calling unnecessary committee meetings. The council majority, however, twice delayed the vote.
Councilwoman Leticia Vasquez, who voted for the delay, said the salary cut wasn't enough, and that she wanted to include more restrictions and call for a review of travel authorizations. Fine but get it done soon.
The Lynwood council's overspending and other abuses of power have cost the city dearly, depleting its financial coffers and draining public trust. Capping salaries is the first step back, and the council needs to get to it. No more delays.
Long Beach Press-Telegram,
December 28, 2003
City Hall Scandal Playing Out in Compton Court;
Ex-officials remain in the spotlight at their trial on charges of misappropriating funds.
Richard Marosi, Times Staff Writer
Just two years ago, they controlled Compton City Hall. Omar Bradley was the mayor. Amen Rahh and Delores Zurita were his City Council allies. City Manager John D. Johnson ran the day-to-day operations.
Now they spend their days across the plaza from City Hall, in an 11th-floor courtroom on trial for allegedly using their city-issued credit cards as free passes to charge everything from travel, limousine rides and golf shoes to dental work and health club memberships.
The trial has cast the spotlight again on the controversial tenure of Bradley and his allies, who dominated politics in the working-class city for several years.
The defendants have denied all the charges, with their attorneys offering a variety of defenses, among them that the city was reimbursed. Bradley didn't even like to play golf, his lawyer said in an interview.
"He wasn't playing golf for his own amusement. What he was doing was saying, 'Hey, how about opening up a business in Compton?' " said attorney Ben Pesta, who insisted that all of Bradley's credit card charges were proper.
The former officials also are charged with double-billing the city for thousands of dollars by collecting cash advances for hotel costs, and then using their city credit cards to pay the bills.
Since the former officials lost reelection bids in 2001 and 2002, the city has sunk into a financial crisis so severe that last week it canceled the annual Christmas parade.
Some residents blame Bradley and his allies. For them, the trial is nothing less than an opportunity to hold the former officials responsible for the city's ills.
"The city of Compton has been placed in a state of financial ruin. I think they should be thrown in jail," said Pamela Bates, who is a member of a citizens group that regularly attends the court proceedings.
But others see the prosecution as a potentially tragic end for Bradley, a former teacher whose charismatic, flamboyant leadership once inspired hope for the future of the long-struggling city.
They say he brought in jobs, built new housing and beautified the city, and is being blamed for the mistakes of current leaders.
If convicted, Bradley and the other defendants -- who also include current Councilwoman Yvonne Arceneaux, not a Bradley ally -- would be barred from elected office in California. They could face up to four years in prison. Each of the defendants was charged with two felony counts of misappropriation of public funds.
"It makes me feel sad.... This city was going forward under Bradley," said Jean Bludso, a 30-year Compton resident. "There is no justice, from the D.A.'s office on down."
For the district attorney's public integrity unit, the trial will be a test of juror appeal for this type of prosecution of politicians, according to prosecutors. The unit has launched credit card abuse investigations in other cities, including neighboring Lynwood.
The trial, entering its third week, has been short on drama. Testimony has focused primarily on purchasing procedures and analysis of spending patterns. But lawyers clashed briefly Thursday afternoon when Anthony Willoughby, Zurita's attorney, tried to inject race into the trial. All of the defendants are African Americans.
He asked an investigator if he thought a white politician who paid for his greens fees with public funds would be prosecuted. Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Jack W. Morgan cut Willoughby off, agreeing with prosecutors, who said the issue was irrelevant.
In the trial, which focuses on use of the credit cards from 1999 to 2001, prosecutors have leveled the most serious accusations against Bradley, Rahh and Johnson. Zurita, who is Bradley's aunt, and Arceneaux made swift reimbursements in many cases and used their cards less than the others.
Prosecutors contend that Bradley used public funds to purchase airline tickets for his wife, in-room movies at hotels, golf shoes, divot repair tools and a hat.
Rahh, who teaches at Compton Community College, allegedly paid for his brother's dental work and more than $2,000 in rental car bills for a friend. He also used his card to pay for a $1,000 health club membership, golf purchases and in-room movies, according to the charges.
Johnson allegedly spent $5,300 to send his son's basketball team to Florida for a tournament. He also allegedly charged the city $1,186 for a three-year family membership in a 24 Hour Fitness Club in the Inland Empire, where he lives.
Prosecutors have called or plan to call about 55 witnesses, including members of the basketball team, several city officials -- and a forensic auditor, who will detail the money trail.
A full picture of the various defenses has yet to emerge, because only attorneys for Johnson and Zurita have given opening statements. Willoughby, Zurita's attorney, said that his client paid the city back immediately for all her expenses and that Compton owes her money because she didn't bill for all of her costs.
George Bird -- the attorney for Arceneaux, who was reelected in 2001 -- said his client got permission from a city manager to use her credit card for a repair on her car that was damaged by a pothole. Her only other personal purchase was a mistake, and she repaid the money when she was notified, he said.
In his opening statement, Johnson's attorney, Winston McKesson, posed an argument that could emerge as a key element in the case. He said Compton's ordinance governing the use of credit cards allows for reimbursement of questionable purchases.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Terry Bork, the lead prosecutor in the case, argued that the ordinance states unambiguously that the cards are to be used for city-authorized business only.
He also told jurors that the defendants made the bulk of their reimbursements after their spending habits became a community issue and after investigators served search warrants in September 2001 at City Hall for credit card records.
"After months and sometimes up to two years, where little or no reimbursements were made, suddenly there was a flood," said Bork in an interview.
After the credit card purchases became controversial, he said, City Manager Johnson started blacking out lines on credit card bills to hide certain purchases. Bork said that was evidence that Johnson knew he was doing wrong.
This week, prosecutors are scheduled to call to the witness stand the forensic auditor, who will detail the heart of their case. Among the defense witnesses who may testify: Assemblyman Mervyn Dymally (D-Compton) and former Lynwood Councilman Paul Richards.
The trial is expected to end later this month.
Los Angeles Times, December 8, 2003
Free-speech advocate targets W.C. council
By Diana L. Roemer, Staff Writer
WEST COVIN -- ACity officials have been asked by a free-speech advocacy group to explain five instances of alleged violations of open-meeting laws.
Richard McKee of the California First Amendment Coalition said he did a "routine review' of the West Covina City Council's 2003 agendas and minutes. On Nov. 15, he filed a request with City Manager Andrew Pasmant for an explanation about actions the council took throughout the year, allegedly in private or without proper public notice or review.
McKee gave the city 30 days to respond to the accusations.
Pasmant said the city will deny McKee's allegations and has not violated any laws.
"We do not believe there are any Brown Act violations. We are very proactive. In fact, we have probably expanded our reporting requirements beyond the law,' Pasmant said.
He said City Attorney Arnold Alvarez-Glasman will respond to the claims.
Neither Glasman nor Mayor Steve Herfert returned calls for comment.
McKee said Pasmant is wrong and said the coalition will pursue seeking a remedy to the alleged violations.
"I never start anything I'm not sure about. And I always finish what I start,' McKee, a Pasadena City College chemistry professor, said.
In the demand, McKee requires the city to make a commitment indicating that in the future it will not add items of business to regular meeting agendas without the City Council or Redevelopment Agency posting legally required notifications.
The accusations stem from actions the City Council took in both during open and closed sessions in 2003. Several were about meetings where the purchase of property was not identified correctly or the action was taken during a closed session or without formal public notice about properties.
Other items in question involve closed session meetings on city park projects and discussions about Charter Communications.
McKee, 55, has also questioned approvals made during the consent period of the City Council meeting when an item was not agendized properly and questioned a vote to sue on May 6 over a water line break.
On two separate occasions, according to McKee, the Redevelopment Agency also allegedly violated the Brown Act on May 6 and June 3 by extending negotiating agreements with a developer in closed session.
"There is no authority granted by the Brown Act for discussion or action on exclusive negotiating agreements in a ... closed session,' McKee told the city.
Meeting dates this year in question include Jan. 21, Feb. 8, April 1, April 15, May 6, June 3, July 22, Aug. 19, Sept. 2, Sept. 23, Oct. 7, Oct. 14, Oct. 21 and Nov. 4.
Pasadena Star News, December 4, 2003
Time for city to go public
EVEN when violations of the Brown Act are proven in court, nothing really seems to happen.
So, it seems there's a lack of incentive to adhere to the letter of the law when it comes to the Ralph M. Brown Act.
The Brown Act sets forth the rules for what can and cannot be discussed in secret by public bodies such as city councils and commissions. And if public bodies do makes decisions while in a secret meeting, they must announce the decisions in public as soon as they come out of secret session.
Earlier this month the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office revealed it had sent the city of La Habra Heights a seven-page report concerning its findings after an investigation of allegations of Brown Act violations by the City Council and Planning Commission in connection with proposed revisions of the city's General Plan.
In this case, a private citizen of the community, Katie Martin, complained last January about the alleged violations. When the DA's report was received by the city, this newspaper contacted Martin and was told by her that she had been "beat up publicly for four months' by people who branded her accusations as false.
Yet, the DA's report concurred that City Council members illegally communicated by e-mail in order to circumvent public discussion and that a questionnaire completed by planning commissioners did the same thing. The DA's report also claimed the city falsified minutes and denied public communication at Planning Commission meetings.
However, no criminal charges were lodged.
"We'd like to see them revise their policies,' was all that was asked by Susan Chatsworth, assistant head deputy with the DA's Public Integrity Division.
She said if the city does not respond favorably, it could lead to criminal complaints.
City Attorney Michael Colantuono denied the falsification of minutes, and denied that the public wasn't given an opportunity to comment.
Chatsworth said she had watched video of meetings in question and contended, "They didn't allow people to comment until after they had made their decision.'
Colantuono also said the City Council will discuss it's response to the charges Thursday at 7 p.m. That special meeting will be held in City Hall's multipurpose room, 1245 N. Hacienda Blvd. We thought you'd want to know.
Since the city's legal representative is denying some of the allegations in the DA's investigative report, we believe there should be a public airing of the charges in court in the interest of adjudicating the truth, which the public also has a right to know.
There are plenty of ways in this day and age for elected and appointed public officials to conduct business in secret but, if it violates the law, we don't think they should get away with it.
Pasadena Star News, October 29, 2003
Pico Rivera Council Rescinds City Manager's 20% Pay Raise
Joel Rubin, Times Staff Writer
Facing a possible lawsuit from the Los Angeles County district attorney and withering criticism from its constituents, the Pico Rivera City Council has snatched back a large pay raise from its city manager.
Scores of angry residents packed the usually quiet City Council chambers Monday night to vent their concern over a 20% raise for long-term City Manager Dennis Courtemarche that the council discussed during a closed-door session and later approved in July.
"I am astounded at the kind of mentality that is going on here," James Roybal told the council to cheers from the audience. "It is a slap in our face."
In addressing the council, several residents quoted an internal memo from Courtemarche concerning Pico Rivera's perilous financial situation and questioned how the city could afford to raise his salary to $200,000 a year. When a woman tried to speak in support of Courtemarche, she was interrupted by calls of "Sit down!" from the agitated crowd. A handful of others stomped out when the mayor defended the city manager.
The council was forced to rescind the pay increase and vote on it a second time because, in the eyes of the county district attorney, it had violated a state law -- the Brown Act -- that prohibits elected bodies from discussing salary increases in private.
Susan Chasworth, an assistant head deputy in the district attorney's Public Integrity Division, said county lawyers probably would have filed a civil lawsuit against Pico Rivera if it had refused to reconsider the raise in a public forum.
Courtemarche, who had been considering leaving his post before the council approved the pay raise, said Tuesday that he was disappointed by the council's reversal. "I present a package that was needed to justify my staying," he said. "Now the package isn't there, so I have to regroup and see what's up."
On Monday night, Courtemarche looked on silently as the council members nullified the pay package and then once again debated the merits of awarding him a raise.
"I don't like ultimatums," said Councilman Peter Ramirez, referring to what he said were threats from the city manager to quit if not given the raise.
Mayor Beatrice Proo, also a council member, voiced strong support for Courtemarche, insisting his expertise in running the city of 63,000 residents was worth the additional money.
In an unexpected turnaround, Councilman Carlos Garcia reversed his earlier support for the raise and helped rescind it in a 3-2 vote.
"The people showed that they didn't want it, and we voted against it," said Councilman David W. Armenta, adding that nearby cities pay their city managers less and require them to do more.
The Montebello city manager, for example, receives $124,000 a year while overseeing a $90-million budget, which includes the police, fire and transit departments. Pico Rivera, by contrast, operates on $23 million and contracts out police and fire services.
Chasworth said that since its inception in late 2000, the public integrity office has taken action in roughly 25 violations of the Ralph M. Brown Act, which requires legislative bodies to meet publicly, openly and with adequate notice.
Los Angeles Times, October 22, 2003
Even more corruption;
Politicians: Until they catch on, there'll be more indictments and recalls
One would think that corrupt local politicians in Southeast Los Angeles would start to wise up, even if only for reasons of self-preservation. Aren't they reading the papers and talking to colleagues about what's been happening?
Don't they realize that the L.A. District Attorney's office is taking small-town corruption seriously, and residents are paying much closer attention than in years past? Don't they know that the former South Gate City Council majority was recalled amid charges of corruption, that former Compton City Council members are facing criminal charges for misuse of public funds, or that Carson's mayor, who pleaded guilty to bribery, now faces the longest prison sentence ever for a public official?
Or are they so thoroughly corrupt, ego-driven and selfish that they think the law can't touch them? That seems to be the case.
Since 2000, nearly a dozen elected officials in South Gate, Compton and Carson have been indicted on corruption or election fraud charges. Now, unfortunately, it is Lynwood's turn in the corruption spotlight.
It's disgusting to discover that yet another city in this corner of Southeast Los Angeles has gone down that familiar road; that yet another set of officials have profoundly betrayed the public trust. There is a bright side, though, because exposing the corruption is the first step toward rooting it out and removing the perpetrators from office.
Lynwood voters started that Sept. 23 when they recalled former Councilman Paul Richards, who is one of three council members at the heart of a D.A. investigation into the misuse of city-issued credit cards. Richards, along with Councilman Louis Byrd and Mayor Fernando Pedroza, was "earning" a six-figure salary from his council duties, even though the official pay is just $9,600 a year. The three used lavish perks, outrageous freebies and various other creative schemes to pad their salaries.
As it turns out, the corruption in Lynwood runs even deeper.
Last week an L.A. Times investigation uncovered a shady deal between the city's mayor, Pedroza, and his father-in- law, Raul Varela, who operates a tow-truck service. The Times reported that in 2001 Pedroza and his council allies awarded Valera an exclusive contract to provide city towing services, paying him as much as $500 for each abandoned car he towed. Varela also remodeled his garage with city funds.
When Pedroza was elected he promised, clearly and specifically, not to engage in nepotism. Incredibly, though, when confronted, Pedroza said he hadn't broken the promise because Valera wasn't a blood relative. "I haven't had a family member receive a sweetheart deal," he told the Times. Residents aren't buying that lame excuse, and have started a recall drive against the mayor.
That's not all.
On Wednesday the D.A.'s office charged eight family members of Councilman Ramon Rodriguez with election fraud and perjury after they allegedly registered at a bogus Lynwood address so they could vote for Rodriguez in a 2001 election. None of them actually live in Lynwood. The family members, who are scheduled for arraignment Oct. 29, face up for four years in prison each.
As frustrating as it is to see another Southeast city awash in corruption charges, it can have a positive outcome. Lynwood has already started to clean up its government, as South Gate and Compton have been doing as well.
Let this be a lesson to any other corrupt politicians lurking in the shadows, and any who plan to run for public office for their own personal gain: The D.A. isn't turning a blind eye to this kind of behavior anymore, and voters are no longer sitting by and letting it go unchallenged.
Long Beach Press-Telegram, October 18, 2003
Lynwood joins the club;
Probe: D.A. focuses on council spending
The stench of political corruption never seems to dissipate from the Southeast Los Angeles area; it just drifts from one city to the next.
At the same time leaders in South Gate and Compton are working to turn their governments around after years of corruption, elected officials in nearby Carson were convicted recently on criminal bribery charges. Now Lynwood has made the ever-changing list of suspicious places in this corner of L.A. County, with its patchwork of small cities that operate in relative secrecy.
This week the county District Attorney's office began an investigation of Lynwood City Council members after an L.A. Times report uncovered strong evidence of misuse of public money. The D.A.'s office is seeking the statements from city-issued credit cards given to council members.
The style of Lynwood officials' apparent self-dealing the lavish perks, outrageous freebies and various salary-padding devices are similar to those seen recently in some of the aforementioned cities. The differences in degree, though, are astonishing.
Three Lynwood City Council members earned six-figure salaries in 2000 and 2001 for their council duties, the Times investigation found, even though the official pay is just $9,600 a year. The council's extensive travel and credit card expenses all charged to taxpayers have cost the city more than $600,000 since 1998.
According to the Times: Council members Louis Byrd and Paul Richards have taken more than 25 out-of-town trips each during the past two years, while Mayor Fernando Pedroza regularly travels to Mexico on the city's dime. Councilman Arturo Reyes, along with Byrd and Richards, collected more than $100,000 a year in pay in 2000 and 2001. The city has paid for council members' trips to Hawaii, Mexico, the Caribbean and South America. City-issued credit cards, which are intended only for authorized city travel expenses, have been used in online purchases, book stores and music stores, and have paid for steak dinners, a New York musical and a dance show in Brazil.
The council majority's free- spending ways are, not surprisingly, taking an extreme toll on the city budget. Lynwood, population 63,000, had a $1.3 million deficit in its $13- million budget, which it covered with emergency reserves, not by cutting council spending.
South Gate and Compton, while they were once the poster children of corrupt government, are now providing an encouraging model for how to recover and rebuild. The D.A. usually must take the first steps by seizing records from a defensive City Hall, and filing criminal charges where they apply. Then a full audit of city records is needed to assess the extent of the damage, followed by the elimination of perks and salary-padding schemes.
Lynwood residents' frustration with City Hall has fueled a Sept. 23 recall election against Richards. Byrd and Reyes will face reelection in November.
Lynwood voters may then choose the path that South Gate followed when its elected officials violated the public trust: Throw the bums out, and replace them with leaders who are committed to honest city government.
Long Beach Press-Telegram, September 17, 2003
South Pasadena council may fire city attorney;
Pannone blamed for costly Brown Act violation
By Mary Bender, Staff Writer
SOUTH PASADENA -- City Attorney Joseph Pannone's job could be in jeopardy because of a judge's recent ruling against the city, which prompted a councilman Monday to ask for a vote this month on Pannone's fate.
City Councilman Odom Stamps asked his colleagues to schedule a vote for the council's next meeting most likely Aug. 20 to decide whether to "vacate the office of city attorney,' he said in a statement.
Stamps wanted to postpone the vote so Councilman David Saeta, who is on vacation and missed Monday's special meeting, could attend. The council adopted that motion 4-0, including an amendment by Mayor Michael Cacciotti that they conduct a performance evaluation of Pannone during a closed session, as is standard in personnel matters.
Pannone declined comment after the meeting. But earlier in the session called to discuss this matter and two other pressing city issues he left the dais to address "what some on the council may see is my inadequate representation,' he said, reading from a prepared statement.
The Los Angeles Superior Court judge ruled that the South Pasadena City Council violated the Brown Act, the state's open meeting law, during a March 19 meeting in which they discussed a moratorium during a closed session.
Judge Dzintra Janavs ordered the city to pay estimated attorney's fees of $111,000 from a developer whose project at Huntington Drive and Fremont Avenue was affected by the moratorium.
Developers of the proposed Huntington-Fremont project want to build a Kentucky Fried Chicken and a Starbucks at the corner lot, vacant for years.
Stamps said the city attorney gave the new council bad advice at that March meeting. The councilman alleges that Pannone not only suggested the moratorium as a possible strategy to fight a development that council members and many residents opposed, but that discussing the matter in closed session didn't violate the Brown Act.
Employed by the Los Angeles law firm of Kane, Ballmer & Berkman, Pannone was hired as South Pasadena's city attorney in September 1998. His firm is paid a retainer of $10,000 per month for its legal services, and $165 per hour when litigation services are necessary.
Pannone, citing his 23 years as legal counsel for various cities and listed several issues in which his advice and representation over the years have helped South Pasadena, including matters involving the Rialto Theatre and non-licensed trash haulers.
"I do not represent two or three council members,' Pannone said. "Doing what is right and ethical is what I am committed to.'
Pasadena Star News, August 12, 2003
Picking up the legal tab in the Otay Water District
Who's lying and who's telling the truth in the first of several lawsuits by former employees against the Otay Water District? Jurors will decide whom they believe. But ratepayers have heard enough to realize they voted into office unfit stewards for their multimillion-dollar water system.
The first trial is over a lawsuit filed by former Otay auditor Ruben Rodriguez, who was hired and fired during a five-month period. Rodriguez was supported for the $96,000-a-year job by board members Tony Inocentes, Fred Cardenas and Jaime Bonilla. Then, after Bonilla had a falling-out with Cardenas and Inocentes, and Rodriguez began investigating some very questionable moves by Bonilla, Rodriguez was soon fired by Bonilla and his allies on the board. The reasons given were that Rodriguez lied about his credentials on his resume and that he wrote a check to a nonexistent company. Rodriguez says he was fired because he was investigating malfeasance by Bonilla, including the hiring of Bonilla's cronies at the district. Rodriguez said that Bonilla, Inocentes and Cardenas directed him to add the questionable information onto his resume so he could get the job.
Rodriguez also testified that his firing was also due to his investigation of the district's payments to a law firm, Burke, Williams & Sorensen, hired by Bonilla prior to the time Bonilla took his seat on the board and before the board had voted to hire the firm. Bonilla testified that he hired the law firm before he took office on advice from a lawyer at that firm.
Cardenas and Inocentes are gone from the board, but Bonilla remains. The allegations against one another by these three duly elected men should convince Otay Water District voters to be a lot more careful in the next election.
Cardenas and Inocentes testified that Bonilla solicited a $1 million bribe from a developer for his vote on a project before the Otay board. Bonilla has said that it was Cardenas and Inocentes who wanted the money, and that he worked with the FBI to nab the two. The FBI has said it won't take any action on the matter; no case has been brought against the developer.
And all this is from only the first lawsuit. Next comes the lawsuit by long-time Otay legal counsel Tom Harron, claiming racial discrimination, defamation and wrongful termination. Harron was fired following secret meetings and phone conversations among Bonilla, Otay General Manager Bob Griego and attorneys from Burke, Williams & Sorensen. Harron has a very good reputation. In fact, he works for the San Diego County Counsel's Office. Testimony in his case could be very damaging to the Otay board.
A lawsuit alleging denial of due process and racial discrimination has been filed by several long-time employees of the district who were fired. A ratepayers' claim against Bonilla, Griego and Burke, Williams & Sorensen for the law firm's billings to the district may be revived. And about a half-dozen grievances have been filed against the district by people claiming wrongful termination; one claim recently became a lawsuit and others will follow.
Prior to the 2000 election, which brought Bonilla to power and also saw the election of Fred Cardenas, the district had few if any legal problems and also had good relations with its employees.
Today, it seems the district has more lawyers than top managers. It may even have to pay lawyers to represent its lawyers. In the two-week Rodriguez trial, there were no fewer than four lawyers sitting at the defendants' table -- one representing the district and others representing Bonilla and Griego. All are apparently being paid by water district ratepayers. In subsequent lawsuits, ratepayers will be mailing checks to even more lawyers representing the district, Bonilla, Griego and probably Burke, Williams & Sorensen, too.
This could be a very expensive lesson to voters in the water district, which stretches from Chula Vista to El Cajon. You know those races at the bottom of the ballot for seemingly obscure special districts like the Otay Water District? They can have a big impact on your wallet.
San Diego Union-Tribune, September 25, 2003
Parent sues Alhambra school board;
Brown Act violation alleged in hiring of law firms
By Cindy Chang, Staff Writer
A parent has filed a lawsuit against the Alhambra school board, alleging that board members secretly agreed on the appointment of two law firms more than a month before voting publicly on the issue.
The parent, Carl Tom, filed the suit after exhausting his out-of-court remedies under the Ralph M. Brown Act, a state law created to ensure legislative deliberations are open to public scrutiny.
The Alhambra board avoided possible legal action earlier this year when it rescinded double- digit raises it had approved for the district's assistant superintendents in response to a Brown Act demand letter filed by the teachers' union.
The suit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court on Thursday, asks for an injunction preventing the law firms from working for the district until the appointments are voted on again.
Even though a second vote would probably result in the appointment of the same two firms, it would affirm the public's right to be involved the process, Tom said.
"They know the right thing to do is to let the public be involved. It's not about the result. It's primarily about the process,' Tom said.
Superintendent Myrna Rivera said she could not comment on the lawsuit since the papers had not yet been officially served on the district.
Attorneys for the two law firms, Leal Olivas Abich & Dominguez and Burke, Williams & Sorensen, could not be reached for comment. Neither firm worked for the district last year but Leal Olivas attorney Francisco Leal is a lobbyist for the Alhambra schools.
Alhambra parents and teachers have sharply criticized the appointments, voicing suspicions that the law firms were chosen because of personal ties with school board members.
The appointment of Leal Olivas has drawn particular scrutiny: politicians in the cities of Commerce, Bell Gardens and Lynwood have accused Francisco Leal and his former law partner, Arnoldo Beltran, of threatening recall campaigns if their firm was not awarded city attorney contracts.
The district spent $422,000 on legal fees, spread among four law firms, from July 2002 through the end of March. The Alhambra district has had to trim $5.2 million from next year's budget because of the state financial crisis.
Richard Davis, Tom's lawyer, pointed to an unsigned retainer agreement as evidence that the appointments were a done deal well before the board voted on them in public.
The retainer agreement, appointing Burke Williams as special counsel for the district, is dated March 13, 2003, and was faxed to Leal for his approval on the same date. The board did not vote on the appointment of the two law firms until April 15.
"It's correspondence that predates the supposed decision by more than a month. Obviously, based on that, it looks like the decision was already made when there were no public deliberations,' Davis said.--
Pasadena Star News, July 8, 2003
D.C. Perspective - Southland corruption
Marc Sandalow; Sherry Bebitch Jeffe
San Diego is the latest Southern California municipality to face the glare of the media spotlight. In May, the FBI and San Diego police detectives raided the offices of three City Council members as part of a two-year probe into allegations that public officials had accepted bribes aimed at influencing them to water down the city's strip club regulations.
According the San Diego Union-Tribune, it is the city's biggest political corruption case since 1970 "when eight active and former members of the City Council were indicted on charges they took bribes from the Yellow Cab Co."
San Diego may have given us the Southland scandal du jour, but the city is not alone in being pummeled by charges of political corruption.
Last January, in the midst of federal and state investigations, South Gate recalled the city treasurer and his three allies on the City Council. In March, following a three-year county probe, Compton's former mayor, the city manager, and a majority of its City Council were arrested for misusing public funds. Two indicted council incumbents were defeated in April.
A concurrent federal investigation focused on transactions between Compton officials and Paul Richards, a veteran city councilman from nearby Lynwood. Richards was a longtime ally of former Mayor Omar Bradley, one of Compton's indicted officials. A recall against Richards has been mounted.
Within the past 12 months, the mayor of Carson was indicted for extortion, along with two former City Council members and a former mayor. And this May, the L.A. County district attorney began an investigation into electoral fraud there.
Maria S. Chacon, a Mexican political leader who helped Bell Gardens become the first all-Latino local government in Southern California, was indicted in January for allegedly engineering her appointment as city manager while she still served on the City Council. The case collapsed before trial.
What's going on?
The demographics of each community have shifted dramatically. Immigration, particularly among Latinos, has changed the face of these communities; longtime Anglo residents moved out, leaving behind politically unsophisticated or uninvolved new residents. As the immigrant population grew, the number of eligible voters declined, leaving a lower percentage of the community invested in its politics.
Southeast Los Angeles County communities are now among the county's poorest. Their economic slide began in the 1970s and '80s, when factories began closing down and the area lost blue-collar jobs. Under-participation and poverty can inhibit citizen oversight.
According to the city clerk's offices in the L.A. County municipalities, their local officials had no term limits. Nonetheless some cities had experienced significant political turnover through recalls, resignations and musical chairs.
The lack of media coverage of local government contributes. Most small community newspapers have folded and LA County's metropolitan dailies don't maintain outlying bureaus. L.A. television stations don't even pay much attention to Los Angeles government; local politics elsewhere is largely ignored - until a scandal erupts.
Proposition 13 may have had an impact on municipal politics because it shifted money and power away from local government. Why run for office to "do good," when there's little money available with which to do it? Might that tilt the candidate-selection process toward politicians whose goal is to get something else out of public office?
And then there is the cost of running for office, which can be significant even in small, relatively poor communities. The pressure to raise campaign funds can weigh heavily on local candidates who don't have or don't represent wealth.
Law enforcement is influential, too. Steve Cooley, L.A. County's first-term D. A., seems more aggressive than his predecessors in pursuing municipal corruption. And San Diego's new U.S. attorney, Carol Lam, has focused on the strip-club scandal.
Economics, demographics, political culture and participation are keys to stable local government. What counts is that, in the midst of the current budget crises and unrelenting urban problems, corruption probes distract public officials and can destabilize governments.
A recent San Diego Union-Tribune editorial crystallized the potential harm: "The inescapable risk is that the investigation will rekindle the public's cynicism toward city government."
And the harmful cycle of civic disengagement and political corruption will persist.
California Journal, July 1, 2003
Love That Dirty Water
An oil pump rocks under a gray sky in front of Curley's Cafe in Signal Hill. Inside, City Councilman Larry Forester, a talkative 56-year-old, discusses real estate and greets constituents.
Forester says he is proud to have earned the respect of the crowd at Curley's by promoting economic development in this city founded by oil men in 1924. "I'm in the most redneck place in town and I'm openly gay," he brags.
Over lunch, Forester explains how he started a pro-development coalition called Concerned Citizens of Signal Hill after slow-growth forces took over the city in 1990. "Today, four out of five of us are founding members of Concerned Citizens and have turned an anti-development town into a pro-development city," he says.
Lately, Forester, a council member since 1998, has a new crusade. The former marine engineer, who once worked for Exxon, is challenging rules aimed at cleaning up storm water and other runoff before it reaches the ocean. He claims the rules are too expensive, unlikely to work and could expose cities to potentially unlimited liabilities. Forester has helped bring together some 46 cities under the banner of the Coalition for Practical Regulation to fight the rules in court. Through mid-2002, the group had spent more than $538,000, almost all collected from small cities, to pay for its legal campaign, with most of the money, some $380,000, going to the Orange County law firm of Rutan & Tucker. The group, which charges cities $10,000 a year for basic membership, billed in two $5,000 installments, is expected to take in at least another $400,000 in the fiscal year ending June 30.
From Sierra Madre to Lawndale, city officials appear to be acting out of fear and responding to a misleading campaign contending that the cost of meeting the new requirements would be astronomical, a claim that so far has proved unfounded. In a series of press releases, communications to cities, and on its Web site, the coalition has said that to pay for the cleanup, cities will have to drastically cut police and fire protection or institute massive hikes in fees and taxes.
In an ironic twist, however, if the group succeeds in overturning water-pollution-control requirements for developers, the public most likely will end up paying the bills.
The coalition and law firm have rushed cities to join legal challenges, often obtaining authorizations from city managers ahead of consideration by city councils. Moreover, council members have approved support for the coalition's activities on the basis of memos filtered through city staff and were not fully briefed by the law firm on the details of the various legal challenges they are financing with public money.
At issue are rules the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board adopted over the past four years that call on cities and businesses to prevent contamination in runoff from rainstorms, sprinklers and wash-off. Pollutants carried by runoff to the ocean cause illness among swimmers and threaten marine life. In 2001, Los Angeles County experienced 1,046 beach closures and advisories against swimming due to bacterial contamination.
Forester calls rolling back the rules his number-two priority. "I've never been against clean water," he explains. "The question is to what extent and at what cost." His number-one goal is raising money for AIDS organizations. "I'm living with full-blown AIDS," says the Signal Hill politician, who orders a second iced tea and takes several capsules he drops from a pouch onto the table.
Water-board officials and clean-water advocates point out that pollution of Southern California's shores now stems primarily from storm drains, creeks and rivers that carry urban runoff and storm water full of trash and pollutants from the sprawling Los Angeles area. "If you look at sewage-treatment plants," according to Mark Gold, executive director of Heal the Bay in Santa Monica, "the improvement has been dramatic." However, added Gold, who has worked as a scientist and clean-water advocate for 15 years, "When it comes to storm water, we haven't done a damn thing."
Congress identified storm water as a major source of water pollution when it re-authorized the federal Clean Water Act in 1987. In Los Angeles County, the water board issued its first storm-water-pollution control permit in 1990. "It was really let's join hands and sing 'Kumbaya,'" said Gold.
Since then the board has tightened requirements for new development projects in 2000 and for Los Angeles County and its cities in 2001. New development projects must include filters and areas that retain rainwater so it soaks into the ground rather than running off. Municipalities for the first time face lawsuits and legal penalties if water-quality standards are not met, a provision Forester says opens them to unlimited liability. Among other measures, cities must inspect local businesses for good housekeeping practices and clean their streets and storm-sewer catch basins regularly, according to Xavier Swamikannu, a regional-board engineer.
The rules also require cities and the county to divert runoff from wash-off and sprinklers from storm drains to sewage plants so it can be treated to remove bacteria and other contaminants before it is discharged to the ocean.
Under a 1999 consent decree, the board is adopting a series of standards to set limits on pollution in rivers and at beaches. So far, the board has issued standards limiting trash and bacteria to be phased in over 13 years and 10 years, respectively. Under the consent decree, the board is expected to adopt numerical standards for additional pollutants, including dozens of chemicals, over the next nine years. These limits must support the uses of the waters outlined in the board's basin plan. For instance, some waters are designated for swimming and others for uses that allow more pollution.
Forester's coalition contends that the ultimate cost of meeting these standards will reach $54 billion or more because municipalities will have to build a series of storm-water treatment plants that use an expensive technology called reverse osmosis.
However, the water board envisions that the standards can be met largely without such expensive, centralized treatment plants by preventing or cleaning up pollution at its source -- such as in new developments -- before storm water becomes more polluted as it moves downstream to the ocean. Indeed, storm water, which equals about half the water the region imports, according to regional-board chairwoman Susan Cloke, eventually could become a major source of water for Southern California as the spigot from the Colorado River and Northern California is turned down. To encourage cities to view storm water as a valuable resource, the regional board has given cities that opt to meet the new bacteria limits by using it for irrigation, drinking water and creating recreational areas up to 18 years to comply, instead of 10 years for those that opt merely to clean up pollutants in runoff before it flows to the ocean.
The rules are largely designed to protect swimmers from a variety of illnesses, including gastrointestinal infections, colds, skin rashes, and eye and ear infections. A 1996 epidemiological study showed that one person in 25 swimming near a storm drain along Santa Monica Bay gets sick in the summer. "In wet weather, that number will probably be higher," said Renee DeShazo, a staff scientist with the water board. While nobody knows how many people swim at Southern California's shore, DeShazo said that 55 million people visit the beach annually along Santa Monica Bay, including 7.5 million during winter.
"These are extremely important public-health and public-policy issues," said Dr. Stanley Shapiro, an infectious-disease specialist in Panorama City. Bacteria and viruses in the surf not only cause minor infections, he said, but can cause more-serious health problems. "Coxsackie B virus can damage your heart," according to Shapiro.
Ken Seino is one of the unlucky. In the morning fog, the 47-year-old Asian-American enters the Cow's End Cafe near the Venice Beach pier. Seino looks vigorous, yet remains alive only by virtue of a pacemaker that keeps his heart beating regularly after it was damaged by a viral infection he believes he contracted in 1997 while riding the waves in Malibu.
"I got sick as a dog after surfing," said Seino. Within a few weeks the flulike illness had passed, but three months later he felt lightheaded on a surfing trip to Ensenada. After later dining with friends, Seino collapsed face-down in the street. "I stepped up onto the curb, and that's the last thing I remember," he said. "I woke up looking at people's feet."
Paramedics found that Seino's blood pressure was sky-high, so they took him to a clinic. Eventually, Seino stabilized and his friends tried to take him home to Los Angeles. By the time they reached Oceanside, however, he felt faint again, so they took him to a hospital there.
In the emergency room, an electrocardiogram showed he was suffering from a highly erratic heartbeat. The attending physician said he would need a pacemaker installed to survive. After an agonizing night of being shocked by a defibrillator each time his heart missed beats, Seino underwent surgery. "I said, Please, please. I don't want to live like this." Slightly pulling open the collar of his polo shirt, he revealed a 3-inch scar on the left side of his upper chest where his pacemaker is implanted.
"I got really angry because this sport, which I love, is supposed to be healthy and vital and suddenly was the reason my life was in jeopardy," said Seino, who resumed surfing two years later.
Especially at risk of infection from polluted waters are swimmers with compromised immune systems, according to Dr. Gina Solomon, an assistant professor of occupational and environmental medicine at the University of California at San Francisco Medical School. Los Angeles County has hundreds of thousands of people with compromised immune systems, including some 300,000 with diabetes, 9,000 with AIDS, and an untold number under cancer treatment or suffering from other immune disorders, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Better medical therapies have made it possible for many of them to lead active lives that include swimming, the doctors note.
The biggest beneficiaries of the lawsuits aimed at undoing the water-pollution rules could be land developers. "There is an unholy alliance between the Building Industry Association and a small group of city officials," said David Beckman, an attorney with the Los Angeles office of the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Financial records obtained from Signal Hill, which administers the Coalition for Practical Regulation, show that the Building Industry Association of Southern California is the sole industry group that has financially supported it. A May 10, 2000, memo to coalition members from Signal Hill City Manager Ken Farfsing outlined a plan to spend $70,000 to appeal the storm-water rules for new homes, shopping centers, office parks and other projects to the State Water Resources Control Board. "The Building Industry Association has agreed to pay for one-third of the petition costs and to provide technical support. The cities would fund the remaining two-thirds of the costs," wrote Farfsing. Those records show that the Building Industry Association made the first contribution to the coalition for $5,000 on May 2, 2000, and over the ensuing 11 months contributed a total of $29,682. Thirty small cities contributed $60,000 during the period. The money was run through the city of Signal Hill, which paid out $97,297 in an effort to overturn the development requirements before the state board.
That appeal eliminated some minor requirements, but ultimately left the plan intact, according to Richard Montevideo, an attorney with the law firm of Rutan & Tucker, who represents the group.
The group is pressing the issue in a lawsuit challenging the regional board's 2001 storm-water permit in Los Angeles Superior Court. Montevideo explained, "Part of our lawsuit seeks to have the standard urban storm-water-mitigation plan declared invalid."
The coalition's suit challenges other requirements -- including the duty of the cities to inspect businesses and to face enforcement action when water-quality standards are not met. However, development politics may be at the heart of the case.
"When you talk about standard urban storm-water practices, many people believe the environmental groups are pushing a no-growth agenda," said Montevideo. NRDC's Beckman counters that the development standards are actually intended to accommodate growth.
The coalition's primary goal is to overturn the standards. If that fails, however, it would settle for allowing storm water to be cleaned at regional facilities rather than at individual developments, according to Montevideo. Developers would help pay for such regional facilities, though cities would have to operate them on an ongoing basis at public expense.
The coalition also filed a suit in a federal district court to overturn an earlier trash standard set by the federal Environmental Protection Agency that required cities to clean trash off streets and out of storm drains to prevent it from being carried to the beach by storm-water runoff. District Judge Saundra Brown Armstrong dismissed that suit on May 16, calling the group's claims "moot, meritless or unripe." Undeterred, the group is pressing ahead in Los Angeles Superior Court to challenge the regional board's trash standard, according to Montevideo.
"The problem," observes Los Angeles attorney David Nahai, who sits on the regional board, "is that their legal expenses are mounting and they're losing." The builders lost a suit in state court earlier this year challenging similar development standards included in the storm-water permit for San Diego. k
Ironically, the city councils supporting the coalition may not be fully aware of the group's aims and activities. A series of letters to Montevideo shows that in a rush to meet a legal filing deadline, many city managers authorized participation in the permit appeal before consideration by their elected councils. Moreover, the records show that the coalition actually considered billing cities for a University of Southern California study on the costs of the storm-water rules before those cities had authorized their participation in the project. "I think we should invoice the coalition cities NOW for the USC study," wrote coalition activist Gerald Caton, city manager of Downey, in a December 14, 2001, e-mail to Farfsing. "You will be surprise [sic] how many cities automatically pay invoices. I would bill each city, [sic] $3,500."
Caton could not be reached for comment on the e-mail. Farfsing said that at a meeting of the coalition -- which was held behind closed doors on the basis of a legal opinion that the group is not subject to the open-meeting rules of the Brown Act -- 18 cities agreed to fund the study. Farfsing said he garnered additional participation to raise the requisite $100,000 before sending invoices to the cities for the study.
Meetings of the group are attended by "a mixture" of city representatives, including council members, public-works directors and city managers, according to Farfsing, who said that he sends out regular memos to keep those in the coalition apprised of the group's activities. "If they read it or don't read it, I can't account for that."
Montevideo said that while he was "uncomfortable with discussing the communications process" between his law firm and the cities in the coalition, "on the lawsuit issue, that is something we felt needed to go to the council[s]. In some cases, some of the councils may have ratified it afterwards."
South Pasadena -- which joined the coalition in 2001 -- appears to be among the cities that have paid scant attention, at least at high levels, to the details of the coalition's efforts. In a brief February 20, 2002, memo, former public works director James R. Van Winkle wrote to the City Council: "The Coalition has submitted invoices to the City in the amount of $5,000 for annual membership dues and $5,000 as South Pasadena's share of the legal expenses associated with the appeal process. Neither of these actions were anticipated by staff during the development of the current budget." The council approved the invoices, though one of the two members present during 2001 who remains on the council today could not recall why the city had joined the coalition. "Without having to bone up on it, I couldn't speak on it intelligently," said Council Member David Saeta. "I supported the city's position."
South Pasadena City Manager Sean Joyce said the cities joining the coalition were concerned about the complexity of the storm-water standards and their potential expense. "Most of the cities have allowed the coalition to take the lead and deferred to their judgment," said Joyce. However, he said that South Pasadena will be "revisiting" its participation in light of its budget and the recent federal-court decision on the coalition's lawsuit against the trash standard. "The decision was enlightening," Joyce said.
Montevideo said he was not surprised that all of the City Council members were not "up to speed" on the coalition's activities and the details of the litigation. "It's not their responsibility to understand all the issues," the attorney said. "I don't brief cities on the causes of action on this or any other lawsuit. They leave the contentions to me."
With lawsuits in motion, coalition cities could face untold additional invoices for legal fees. NRDC's Beckman, who estimates that the coalition already has spent some $1 million collected from small cities, says it could spend "millions" before the litigation is concluded.
Sierra Madre is another coalition city. This upscale villagelike community, where the average household income is $66,000 a year, is nestled in the canyons along the base of the San Gabriel Mountains. Here, pristine mountain streams begin their course to the ocean through the Los Angeles metropolis. Bruce Inman, director of public works, says that the city is spending $250,000 to comply with the storm-water rules. While he expects that cost to increase in the future, so far it amounts to $22 a year per household.
Forester maintains that the coalition's campaign is simply aimed at restoring balance to the board's water-pollution-control policy, which he says has gone too far. "We're all interested in cleaning up this entire basin," he says. Yet he notes, "We are living our good lifestyle because of the industrial revolution."
Following lunch he emerges from the dimly lit cafe in Signal Hill and departs in his cream-colored Mercedes along streets lined with big-box retail plazas, a sign of the pro-development city-council coalition's success and the type of development that the regional water board now says must install storm-water-pollution control filters.
In Venice, meanwhile, Seino, who lacks health insurance, worries about how he will afford overdue surgery to replace his pacemaker battery, and at the law offices of Rutan & Tucker, the meter ticks.
LA Weekly, June 20, 2003
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
Olivas' 'anti-leak' proposal criticized
BALDWIN PARK -- Government watchdogs have criticized a Baldwin Park councilman's attempt to pass an ordinance that would initiate criminal action if any council member leaks information discussed during closed-door sessions. After reading newspaper articles about why former City Attorney Arnold Glasman was fired April 30, City Councilman David Olivas said he was concerned confidential documents and other information were being leaked to the public. Subsequent articles revealed the opinions of two city officials who stated the attorney's termination was nothing but political payback by bitter council members. Olivas claimed it was a violation of the Ralph M. Brown Act, the state law that requires legislative bodies to meet openly and publicly but to discuss personnel issues in closed session. That did not satisfy Rich McKee, president of the California First Amendment Coalition, an advocacy group for open government.
McKee views such tactics as heavy-handed, scheming and threatening. "This is an attempt to silence council members into not giving their opinion, which is legal under the Brown Act," he said. Olivas directed the new city attorney, Stephanie R. Scher, to report on the matter, which was discussed briefly at the May 29 meeting.
Her findings stated the city cannot enact a "leak" ordinance because state law already has one, and it takes precedence. Mayor Manual Lozano said the discussion was to keep the council "accountable." Councilwoman Marlen Garcia says it was just a warning.
"This is nothing new to me," she said. "I don't believe anything was exposed. What was reported were the facts." However, McKee says Olivas, who is a UCLA law school graduate and city attorney for Maywood and Cudahy, should have known this. "This is a big waste of public funds," McKee said. "The city paid for an attorney to create an opinion that should have been obvious to somebody who works in this business as a city attorney.
The city is throwing money down the tubes." Olivas says he was protecting sensitive information. "My concern is simply to ensure that the city has safeguards when it comes to sensitive information," Olivas said. Terry Francke, an attorney with the coalition, says these scare tactics are meaningless because there is no authority to prosecute a leak out of closed session as a crime. If it did happen, the grand jury could impeach the guilty party, removing them from office, or an injunction could be imposed baring the individual from doing it again, Francke said. No such case has occurred in the 50 years of the Brown Act, he said. At the May 29 council meeting, Olivas also warned the city staff to be careful about leaks to the public. Since January 2001, when the Public Integrity Unit of the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office opened, attorneys have investigated 93 cases of alleged Brown Act violations of all types, said Deputy District Attorney Susan Chasworth, the DA's Brown Act expert. On another front, McKee stated that Baldwin Park holds too many closed-door sessions on topics that should be open to the public. He claimed the city is the worst offender in the San Gabriel Valley. "City councils like to stretch the boundaries of what can be debated in closed session," he said. "They don't like the scrutiny of an independent press."
Pasadena Star News, June 1, 2003
2 B.P. council members say firm's firing was payback
By Karen Rubin, Staff Writer
Council members angry over the firing of City Attorney Arnold Alvarez-Glasman said Thursday that Alvarez-Glasman was a victim of political payback and personal vendettas.
In a closed-door meeting Wednesday night, council members voted 3-2 to terminate the city's contract with Alvarez- Glasman, of the law firm of Alvarez-Glasman and Colvin.
Alvarez-Glasman could not be reached for comment late Thursday.
The Loyola Marymount University-educated attorney had served as the city's chief litigator since 1999.
With a new council majority of Bill Van Cleave, David Olivas and Ricardo Pacheco, Alvarez- Glasman's days were numbered due to legal advice that either angered or caused concern to some council officials, said Councilwoman Marlen Garcia and Mayor Manny Lozano, who opposed the action.
"It was a setup,' Garcia said.
According to documents and statements by Garcia and Lozano, there were three reasons why the council canned the attorney.
It began with Van Cleave, who is still seething over Alvarez- Glasman's legal advice concerning his criminal case in Los Angeles Superior Court. He allegedly flashed his council badge to intimidate a woman collecting money for a bounced check.
Van Cleave, who says he is not guilty, faces felony charges of abusing his authority.
So far, he has represented himself in court. But he wants the city to pay his legal fees. Alvarez-Glasman provided legal documents explaining when it is appropriate to pay legal fees for elected officials, according to an April 9 confidential staff report.
The final decision is up to the council, which is set to vote on the issue May 7.
Deputy District Attorney Terry Bork says Van Cleave's case is a personal matter that has nothing to do with his council duties or city business. Alvarez- Glasman gave the council the same advice, Garcia and Lozano said.
"The city puts itself at risk approving the use of funds for unlawful purposes,' Bork said. "The City Council can be held personally liable.'
The second reason for Alvarez- Glasman's termination centers on a conflict-of-interest issue raised by Olivas.
According to an April 22 confidential city memo, Olivas raised issues of a possible conflict of interest involving Alvarez-Glasman, his firm, former West Covina Mayor Mike Touhey and developers Charles Co. and Lewis Retail Projects.
"The more I dug into projects, the more I started thinking 'What is going on?' ' Olivas said.
Baldwin Park paid $2,000 for an independent legal opinion from Attorney Baird A. Brown, who wrote in a Tuesday letter: "I do not see a conflict of interest under this set of facts.'
Some speculate Olivas is out to get Alvarez-Glasman because the firm recently acquired a temporary legal post in Bell Gardens, which was formerly held by the law offices of Leal, Olivas, Abich & Dominguez in Los Angeles. Olivas, who is the city attorney in Maywood and Cudahy, is a partner in that firm.
Alvarez-Glasman's firm also took the city attorney post in La Puente about two years ago, which was formerly held by Olivas' law firm.
Olivas denies the accusation.
The third reason Alvarez-Glasman was fired involves a Pacheco grudge, according to Garcia and Lozano.
Pacheco turned against Alvarez- Glasman following the councilman's Dec. 18 censure for allegedly helping a woman breach security and approach Garcia on the dais during a council meeting, Garcia and Lozano said.
While Pacheco declined to comment, his council colleagues said he felt ganged up on and that Alvarez-Glasman sided with those who wanted the censure. When he approached the attorney for legal advice, he said he got none and felt that he was hung out to dry, Garcia said.
Lozano praised Alvarez-Glasman's work.
"Mr. Glasman did an exemplary job and was ethical and professional,' Lozano said. "I just hope for the sake of this city it does not become a town filled with sleazy politicians.'
San Gabriel Valley Tribune, May 1, 2003
Former Compton mayor among five officials arrested after probe
Cynthia E. Griffin
COMPTON, Calif. -- Former Mayor Omar Bradley and four current city
officials--including three city council members--have been arrested on felony
Council members Yvonne Arceneaux, Amen Rahh and Delores Zurita, along
with City Manager John Johnson, were arrested after they were indicted by a
county grand jury. The exact allegations against the five will not be revealed
until the grand jury indictment is unsealed in court.
The charges were filed by the county District Attorney's Office, which
reportedly has been investigating the alleged misuse of city credit cards for
the past three years. The officials were released after posting 25,000 bail,
and ordered to return to Superior Court for a March 24 arraignment, according
to Sheriff's Department officials.
Milton Grimes, attorney for Bradley, and Marie F. Alex, the lawyer for
Rahh, both declared their clients' innocence at a late-evening press conference
last Monday and said they intended to file a motion seeking to recuse the
district attorney from the case based on personal involvement. Compton's
current Mayor Eric Perrodin is a deputy district attorney.
"This has been a witch hunt and a vehement attempt to prosecute Mr.
Bradley since 2001," Grimes said, adding that allegations are based on what he
said is a city policy and practice to allow personnel to use city credit cards
for personal use and then repay the money.
But Compton City Attorney Legrand Clegg denied that the city policy
allows personal use of city credit cards.
According to the District Attorney's Office, the arrests are part of an
ongoing criminal investigation, and follow a Feb. 12 search of City Hall and
numerous other locations by investigators in the District Attorney's Office's
Public Integrity Division.
A separate federal investigation is also under way, purportedly looking
at city council involvement with Lynwood City Councilman Paul Richards and
Michael Aloyan, owner of Hub City Waste Disposal, the company which has the
city's trash hauling contract.
Aloyan recently pleaded guilty to bribing a Carson city council member in
an effort to win a trash contract there in February 2002.
"I wasn't really surprised. I knew this has been coming for quite a
while," said Royce Esters of the arrests. Esters is a long-time Compton
resident and president of the civil rights organization, National Association
for Equal Justice in America.
"The problem is that we have to introduce whoever is going to be on the
city council in Compton or any city in America to 'we' and not 'I.' Without
leadership, without involving the city, this is what happens. When you're
interested in yourself instead of the city, this is what happens," said Esters,
who has lived in the community since 1956 and at one time was president of the
NAACP and the Compton Crime Commission.
Community activist Mollie Bell was not surprised at the arrests, either.
"There has been an ongoing investigation," she said. "But I believe a
person is innocent until proven guilty. If they did something wrong, it will
come out. But I think the timing is awfully strange," she added, referring to
next month's municipal election.
"Professor Rahh and Ms. Zurita are up against two people the mayor
supports. If we find out tomorrow that everybody was not guilty, by the time
the election is over this will impact it. Now instead of talking about the
wonderful job and new things Rahh and Zurita have done, I'm going to have to
spend time talking about the allegations and charges," added Bell.
Business owner Benjamin Holifield also said he was worried that the
arrests could have a dampening affect on residents going to the polls April 15.
"I think all the madness needs to be cut out," he said. "The newspapers
are saying that Compton is on trial. I'm concerned. Regardless of the guilt or
innocence, it's terrible for the city," Holified said.
Tri-State Defender, March 19, 2003
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
Southeast L.A. County Gets a Civics Lesson;
Spectacle of corruption and ineptitude is attributed to mostly brash, inexperienced politicians and a lack of checks and balances.
Megan Garvey and Richard Marosi, Times Staff Writers
By any modern measure, what has gone on in the name of politics in southeast Los Angeles County has been extreme.
In less than a decade, local officials and rivals in such cities as Bell, Bell Gardens, Cudahy, Huntington Park, Lynwood, Maywood and South Gate have been indicted, jailed, wire-tapped, bribed, recalled, threatened, firebombed and shot. In January, the recalled mayor of South Gate whacked a fellow council member in the face.
Troubles continue farther south. Last week, the majority of Compton's City Council was arrested on corruption charges.
The spectacle of wrongdoing and ineptitude offers a civics demonstration on what happens when democracy is practiced with too few checks and balances, according to those who have studied local government.
"There is a convergence of major forces that have created this environment, almost like a perfect storm," said Fernando Guerra, director of the Center for the Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University.
First, a nearly complete demographic shift took place within a generation, with an overwhelmingly white population becoming more than 90% Latino, with many of the newcomers immigrants. Second, thousands of high-paying blue-collar jobs were lost as manufacturing industries shut down.
Alone, the changes might only have made the southeast county a much poorer area. But another factor also was at play.
As the area changed, the growing number of noncitizens meant fewer eligible voters. The result: "You ended up with cities of over 100,000 residents where the next mayor gets elected with 2,000 votes," Guerra said.
At the same time, a once-vibrant local press almost vanished. By the early 1990s, all the neighborhood daily newspapers that had served southeast county cities for decades had folded. The combination of factors appears to have been combustible: inexperienced and brash politicians taking over cities where residents either failed, or were unable, to keep an eye on their elected officials.
Antonio Gonzalez, president of the Southwest Voter Registration Project, said lack of citizen oversight is a chronic problem in poor communities.
"When you find populations that under-participate," he said, "you have the necessary conditions for robber barons and crooks and good-old-boy networks to conduct activity that is illegal."
Political scientists say it is an old story in America. And despite easy comparisons to chaotic Latin American politics, it is far from unique to Latinos. "East Coast and Midwest ethnic politics has often been like this," said Joel Aberbach, founding director of UCLA's Center for American Politics and Public Policy. Politicians "could utilize people's feelings of deprivation and anger at previous leaders to manipulate the system."
There is no question that the process can be ugly when power changes hands.
But southeast county politicians have been particularly brazen about getting their way -- whether shoulder-slamming a rival's 16-year-old cheerleader daughter (Bell Gardens, 1994), steering a no-bid city contract for more than $1 million to the mayor's sister (Lynwood, 2001) or draining the city coffers of more than $2 million even as voters were recalling a majority of the City Council (South Gate, in January).
Residents have seen city treasuries squandered on attorney's fees and low-cost federal loans handed out to the friends and business partners of council members.
In retrospect, the conditions leading up to the current problems existed when these cities rose out of cauliflower and beet fields between the two world wars. Places such as Bell Gardens, Cudahy and South Gate were sold to the working man as suburbs to raise families and grow gardens. For decades, restrictive housing covenants kept many of the cities all white while nearby communities became predominantly minority.
Still, the area never kept out the poor or working class, and after the covenants were declared illegal, a large pool of affordable housing lured immigrants from Mexico and other Latin American countries.
Even as the population was changing in the 1980s, many of the cities along the Long Beach Freeway lived up to their welcome signs that still boast of "All-American City" honors and civic pride. Just seven years ago, South Gate was praised in a Rand Corp. study for a "history of well-performing and responsive city government."
But the report went on to note a dramatic rise in the Latino population, from 58% in 1980 to 87% in 1996, creating an estrangement from City Hall's white leaders.
However well run or responsive city government appeared to business interests, Latino residents were growing sick of a City Hall that looked nothing like them. The Rand report warned that, unless elected officials reached out to the new residents -- and found a way to bulk up a shrinking tax base -- they risked wasting considerable time and resources.
Neighboring cities already had suffered that fate.
"Here you had tremendous change. The job base disappeared. Churches just fell apart. The social infrastructure disintegrated," said Bell Councilman George Cole.
The revolution began in earnest in 1991, when Latinos forced a recall election in Bell Gardens that swept into power the first all-Latino city hall in Southern California. At the swearing-in ceremony, with a mariachi band entertaining the crowd, many of the state's most prominent Latino leaders, as well as the Mexican consul, heralded the day as historic.
A decade later, some of those who celebrated the Bell Gardens recall say it may have engendered a destructive style of politics. Since that recall, Bell Gardens has had at least 47 recall attempts, two of them current. "Power is taken; it is not given," Guerra said, adding that the area's problems can be traced to the white leaders who long resisted sharing power with Latinos.
Though Guerra does not excuse current officeholders, he said white resistance to change prevented two generations of Latino activists from learning to lead. It took aggressive young Latino politicians -- not all suited to hold office -- to force change.
Others disagree with Guerra. South Gate Mayor Hector De La Torre watched as experienced Latino activists ready to lead were pushed aside by a new generation of Latinos.
His city, the mayor said, fell victim to Albert Robles -- whose successful defense last year on charges that he had threatened to rape and kill people was: Everybody here talks like that. De La Torre called Robles a "political hustler" elected within a year of moving there. In South Gate, the mayor said, Robles found a place ripe for the picking.
"Once you adopt the notion that, to the victor goes the spoils, and you're in it for the spoils, you start to see the types of problems plaguing these cities," said Raphael Sonenshein, a professor of political science at Cal State Fullerton.
In any case, some of the new officeholders, having had to fight to obtain power, kept fighting. Cole, one of the last remaining officeholders from the earlier era, watched old community-based watchdogs, such as senior citizens, die or leave town. The city of Los Angeles soaked up the bulk of media attention and county oversight.
"Because of that," he said, the area's politicians "could get away with things."
But if the conditions for misdeeds existed, so did the conditions for tattling. Unstable local politics, observers say, has ensured that backroom dealings and dirty tricks in the southeast county became public more often than elsewhere.
"When you have a city that changes councilmen all the time, whoever loses -- whoever isn't getting their pieces of the pie anymore -- starts snitching people out," said David Demerjian, head of the district attorney's Public Integrity Division, which is conducting numerous investigations in southeast cities.
Will the situation stabilize any time soon?
The overthrow of South Gate's discredited council majority has been cheered as a turning point for democracy. On the other hand, politicians elected last year in Lynwood on an anti-corruption platform already face claims of nepotism.
A key case to watch will be that of Bell Gardens' Maria Chacon, charged with engineering her appointment as city manager while still on the council. The case was dismissed in January. But county prosecutors have appealed a judge's ruling, which held that Chacon could raise as a defense the fact she had cleared the move with the city attorney.
If Chacon's defense is allowed, Demerjian said, City Council members could defend illegal acts by claiming they had received bad legal advice.
"All you'd need then would be a corrupt politician to hire a corrupt city attorney; that's a big concern," he said.
Maybe the lesson of the southeast county is that the public must remain vigilant.
"In some cases, you could say the voters got what they deserved," said Huntington Park Mayor Richard Loya, who wore a recording device last year in a federal investigation after a businessman tried to bribe him in exchange for backing for a $110-million shopping center.
What voters got, Loya said, were "kingdoms." "I think voters have to examine when people are running for office: Who is paying for their elections? What strings are attached? Are we electing a bunch of puppets?"
Los Angeles Times, March 11, 2003
Investigators Search Compton City Hall;
The district attorney is probing the possible misuse of public funds
Ted Rohrlich, Times Staff Writer
On the eve of a county grand jury proceeding into possible misuse of public funds by Compton officials, district attorney investigators Wednesday conducted a search of Compton City Hall.
Employees said investigators ordered them out of portions of the building while officials looked for documents in a court-authorized search.
Deputy Dist. Atty. David Demerjian, who heads the district attorney's public integrity unit, described the search as very narrow and aimed at securing a few specific documents that he declined to identify. Sources have said the district attorney's office is looking into possible misuses of city-issued credit cards by some City Council members and top administrators. A number of Compton officials have been subpoenaed to testify at grand jury hearings beginning today.
The warrant said the district attorney's office was seeking evidence of felonies in travel and other records for seven past and present City Council members, former Mayor Omar Bradley and numerous city administrators as well as friends and relatives of city leaders.
In a separate probe, federal prosecutors have also subpoenaed some of the same Compton officials to appear before another grand jury Thursday. Subpoenas show they are investigating a series of transactions between Compton and Paul Richards, a former assistant city manager who is also a longtime City Council member in neighboring Lynwood. Richards has said he has done nothing wrong and welcomes the scrutiny.
Los Angeles Times, February 13, 2003
February 6, 2003 Thursday
SECTION: CALIFORNIA METRO; Part 2; Metro Desk; Pg. 1
LENGTH: 733 words
HEADLINE: Probes Focus on Officials in Compton;
U.S. examines proposed land deal while county looks into possible misuse of public funds.
BYLINE: Ted Rohrlich, Times Staff Writer
Federal prosecutors are investigating a series of transactions between longtime Lynwood City Councilman Paul Richards and the neighboring city of Compton, including a deal that Compton officials gave Richards to develop city-owned land, a grand jury subpoena shows.
The district attorney's office, meanwhile, is serving its own grand jury subpoenas on Compton officials for a separate investigation into possible misuse of public funds. Sources say the district attorney is looking into how city credit cards were used by council members and top administrators.
Deputy Dist. Atty. David Demerjian, who heads the district attorney's public integrity unit, declined Wednesday to identify targets of the investigation.
City records for one council member, Amen Rahh, show that he charged $1,200 worth of what he described as emergency dental work on a credit card issued for city business. The district attorney's office subpoenaed Rahh's dental records months ago.
Rahh said he repaid the city for that expense.
Other credit card records show former council members making a variety of charges, ranging from $676 at a luggage store to $27 at a movie theater.
Both sets of grand jury subpoenas call for testimony late next week.
In the federal investigation, a grand jury subpoena issued Tuesday demands that city officials produce documents related to any payments by Compton to Richards since he left its employ years ago as an assistant city manager and labor negotiator; any documents regarding a $350,000 settlement of a civil rights and breach-of-contract lawsuit he filed against the city over its decision not to renew his labor negotiation contract; any documents relating to his efforts to develop land in Compton; and any documents relevant to another, pending lawsuit he filed against the city involving his proposed development, which has been stalled by political opponents.
Assistant U.S. Atty. Daniel Shallman, who is running the federal investigation, declined to comment on it Wednesday.
The Times reported last summer that Compton had agreed to sell some of its best city-owned land to Richards, who has no experience as a developer, for millions of dollars less than it is worth. Under terms of the deal, Richards would not put up any of his own money. Instead, the city would loan him $1.6 million to cover the price of the land and nearly half a million dollars in planning costs. He would have to repay the loans -- without interest -- only when he sold the 231 houses he planned to build.
Richards is an important member of a network of allies who have held political posts and other public-sector jobs in Lynwood and Compton. He, like Rahh, is a supporter of former Compton Mayor Omar Bradley.
Richards on Wednesday defended the land deal as "a solid deal for the city, probably one of the best redevelopment deals they've had." He added: "I look forward to scrutiny."
Although the Compton City Council twice approved a loan of about half a million dollars for Richards' predevelopment costs, the city attorney has held up the check, saying he is worried that the city might not be repaid. The city's failure to issue the check prompted Richards to file a breach-of-contract lawsuit against Compton.
Last week, Rahh and two other members of the City Council who say Richards should get the check voted to hire an independent lawyer to represent their point of view against that of the city attorney.
Richards has aspired to become a housing developer at least since 1999, when he proposed in writing that Compton allow him to develop housing at four locations in the city as part of an effort to settle his earlier lawsuit. Compton officials declined to renew his $68,500-a-year contract in 1997 amid union complaints that Richards was often unavailable.
Bradley and his allies suggested paying Richards nearly $1.4 million to settle the suit, according to the city's outside trial counsel, Nelson Atkins. That plan was abandoned after Atkins wrote a letter to the City Council saying that a settlement that large would constitute an improper gift of public funds. The suit was settled for $350,000, officials said.
Richards said Wednesday that about half of that settlement reflected a judge's decision in favor of Richards on the breach-of-contract portion of his lawsuit. He accused the Compton city attorney's office of holding up his current land deal without any cause.
Los Angeles Times, February 6, 2003
S. El Monte fires its legal counsel;
Alvarez-Glasman's firm dismissed after nearly 4 years
By Cindy Arora
SOUTH EL MONTE -- The City Council dismissed its city attorney in a move some people say is political, while others say it's just a matter of how much time the lawyer could devote to city matters.
South El Monte council members, in a closed session meeting Wednesday, fired the firm of Alvarez-Glasman and Colvin, the city's attorney for nearly four years.
The council named Richard Watson and Gershon as its interim law firm and soon will being looking for a permanent attorney.
Alvarez-Glasman said Thursday that South El Monte city officials wanted more personal attention, which he could not give.
"They wanted more of my time ... and I just wasn't able to give them what they were looking for," he said. "While you never want to see a city no longer be your client it will not have an impact on our firm. We wish them well."
Alvarez-Glasman's law firm represents seven cities in the San Gabriel Valley. Glasman oversaw five prior to being dismissed from South El Monte.
The law firm's popularity among cities in the San Gabriel Valley has sometimes brought on questions of conflict of interest.
Baldwin Park Councilman Richard Pacheco said he had some concerns with the law firm when it represented Baldwin Park and West Covina during the "Moe" incident, when the two cities were briefly at odds.
Moe, a chimpanzee, was a pet banned from West Covina in 1999 after he bit off the fingertip of a visitor. There were attempts to bring Moe to Baldwin Park, but that was dismissed after Baldwin Park officials complained.
"They are a fairly good firm but there are a couple of incidents that I didn't think they handled well ... such as the "Moe" case," Pacheco said. "He [Alvarez-Glasman] was the city attorney for West Covina and Baldwin Park so I thought that presented some issues.
"It could have been handled better, but overall they do a fairly adequate job."
South El Monte City Manager Gary Chicots declined to release details about Alvarez-Glasman's dismissal.
"They [Alvarez-Glasman and Colvin] are a good, professional firm and they would be an asset to any city ... we will miss them greatly."
But Councilwoman Blanca Figueroa said it's a political move.
"We have cases that are pending that need to finished," she said. "It's unfortunate that we have lost someone that was good for the city."
However, Alvarez-Glasman said the firm was not handling any cases that could be easily passed over to the new attorney.
San Gabriel Valley Tribune, January 16, 2003
Ex-Political Power Broker to Stand Trial;
Maria Chacon is accused of orchestrating her appointment as Bell Gardens' city manager.
Richard Marosi, Times Staff Writer
The former political power broker of Bell Gardens goes on trial this week, accused of orchestrating her appointment in 2000 to a high-paying administrative post while on the City Council.
Maria S. Chacon, a Mexican immigrant whose leadership helped transform politics in the working-class city, is charged with violating a conflict-of-interest law in a two-pronged plan: First, by voting for a measure that cleared the way for her appointment as city manager. And then by influencing other council members to give her the job, which paid $80,000 annually.
Chacon has denied the felony charge. Her attorney, Michael D. Nasatir, is expected to pose an entrapment defense, saying Chacon relied on the advice of the city attorney, who said the arrangement was legal.
The Chacon investigation, launched in March 2001, polarized the largely Latino community in southeast Los Angeles County. Tensions ran so high that Mayor Ramiro Morales, a Chacon ally, was accused of trying to run his car over a key witness against Chacon.
But Chacon's power has waned. Her former council allies fired her shortly after she was charged in June 2001. They also refused to subsidize her criminal defense fees. If convicted, she faces a potential three-year prison term. The felony conviction would bar her from seeking office.
Chacon still has admirers from the days she helped organize a Latino takeover of the City Council. But many say the community is better off without her.
"What I want is for Bell Gardens to finally function well, and if that means to have her out, that's what Bell Gardens needs," said Jennifer Rodriguez, whose father, former Councilman Rogelio Rodriguez, will testify against Chacon.
Prosecutors say Chacon launched her plan in 2000. Then a councilwoman, she voted to repeal a law requiring one year to elapse before an elected official could be appointed to a staff position. Chacon then allegedly met privately with two council members and influenced them to vote for her appointment as city manager. She was appointed in late 2000.
Prosecutors say Chacon violated a law that prohibits public officials from voting on issues in which they hold a financial interest. Nasatir, Chacon's attorney, said she was merely relying on the advice of City Atty. Arnoldo Beltran, who allegedly authorized the procedure leading to her appointment.
The evidence "demonstrates that the city attorney not only advised the defendant that becoming city manager was lawful, he drafted the very ordinance which made her alleged crime possible," Nasatir states in a court document filed last week.
In an unusual twist, Chacon's defense also is expected to call as a witness the district attorney's head of investigations, Steve Simonian. He worked as a consultant in Bell Gardens before taking his current post as head of investigations, which handled the Chacon probe.
Chacon's defense -- calling Simonian's role a conflict of interest -- succeeded in getting the district attorney's office removed from the case. An appeals court later reversed the ruling.
The trial, which is scheduled to start today and is expected to last less than a week, also will feature the testimony of former council members Pedro Aceituno and Rodriguez.
Rodriguez, a day after Chacon was charged, accused Mayor Morales of plowing his car into him in the City Hall parking lot. Rodriguez suffered a bruised shoulder. Sheriff's investigators did not file charges, citing insufficient evidence.
Chacon, who rose to power in the early 1990s as an activist helping to sweep out the white-majority council, was not available for comment.
Los Angeles Times, January 6, 2003
Councilwoman Gets Jail for Lying About Address;
Suspended Huntington Park official lives in Downey. Her council seat will be vacated
George Ramos, Times Staff Writer
A suspended Huntington Park city councilwoman was sentenced Thursday to 180 days in County Jail and put on five years' probation after being convicted last month of falsely stating where she really lived.
Linda Luz Guevara, who was convicted on four felony counts, had claimed that she lived in Huntington Park when she actually lives in nearby Downey.
Guevara, 45, is the first elected officeholder to be convicted because of a prosecution by Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley's newly formed public integrity unit, which was created to fight public corruption. A council candidate in South Gate was convicted last year of lying about where he lived.
Although Guevara was silent in court, six supporters and friends, including her husband, asked Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge David Mintz for lenience while also maintaining her innocence.
"I've known a lot of politicians.... I've never seen a straighter arrow than my wife. Never," said husband Cipriano Terrazas, who cried as he spoke.
"We haven't done anything wrong," he said.
Outside court, he brusquely turned aside a reporter's request for a comment from Guevara, who was wearing a white sweater with an embroidered American flag on its front. "Get out of our face!" Terrazas yelled.
In asking for lenience, her attorney, Deputy Public Defender Francis Bennett, told Mintz that Guevara had been humiliated by her suspension from office after her conviction on two felony counts of perjury and two of filing false declarations of candidacy.
"She has already paid a heavy price," Bennett said.
Once formal notice of her sentence is received by the city, her seat will be declared vacant, officials said.
After hearing from Guevara's supporters, Deputy Dist. Atty. Scott Goodwin said the case against her wasn't about her worthiness as an official.
"This isn't a referendum about her service as a City Council member," he said. "She doesn't live in Huntington Park."
During a two-week trial, Guevara testified that she lived during the week with her mother and brother in a three-bedroom house in Huntington Park. On weekends, she said, she lived in Downey with her husband and son.
In early morning raids at both homes in May 2001, investigators found Guevara at the Downey residence. During their surveillance of her daily routine, they said, they saw Guevara return regularly to the Downey home.
In imposing a sentence of five years' probation and 180 days in jail and a $200 fine, Mintz said Huntington Park residents have a right to expect that she and other elected officials live in the city they represent.
He also noted that she hadn't expressed any remorse.
The judge rejected a prosecution request that, as a condition of probation, she be prohibited from participating in political campaigns or related activities. Such a ban, he said, was unwarranted.
"There wasn't anything wrong in her service" as a councilwoman, Mintz said.
However, since she was convicted of perjury, a felony, she is prohibited by state law from holding public office. Guevara was ordered to surrender on Jan. 8.
At that time, county probation officials may file a report that could allow her to participate in work furlough or a monitoring program instead of going to jail.
Huntington Park officials said the case has taken its toll on the city.
"It's been hell for everybody," Mayor Ric Loya said. "The city can now focus more easily on serving its residents."
Los Angeles Times, November 15, 2002
Legal Fees Draw Fire;
Critics question the millions of dollars spent to defend South Gate and Cudahy officials under investigation for political corruption
Richard Marosi, Times Staff Writer
Two of the region's poorest cities have spent millions of dollars in public funds to defend officials under investigation for political corruption, and are resisting public scrutiny of the bills.
In South Gate, legal fees in criminal cases now approach $1.5 million, 10% of the annual budget. In Cudahy, the county's second-poorest city, attorney fees have cost nearly $800,000, about half of the city's emergency reserves.
As costs mount, so do questions from critics about the legality and size of the bills.
Politicians in both cities insist that publicly financed defenses are necessary to protect themselves and their colleagues from overzealous prosecutors.
But a judge in one South Gate case has ordered the city to halt payments to one law firm after he was persuaded by residents' arguments in a lawsuit claiming that the defense payments amounted to a gift of public funds.
In another case, the same law firm, Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton, billed the city $613,000 for representing Treasurer Albert Robles in a grand jury investigation in which he appeared only briefly and did not testify.
The attorney at the center of the controversy, Thomas M. Brown, refused to answer questions about his firm's fees. Brown's firm has charged as much as $425 an hour for his services.
The controversy comes two years after Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley launched investigations countywide into allegations of municipal corruption.
The legal dream teams hired in South Gate and Cudahy include former federal prosecutors and a former state Supreme Court justice from some of Los Angeles' most prestigious and expensive law firms. One member of the Cudahy defense team is former Dist. Atty. Robert Philibosian. A key campaign supporter of Cooley, he is a partner of Brown's at Sheppard Mullin.
City officials in South Gate refused requests from The Times for access to the billing statements, citing attorney-client privilege.
"Some of these city councils are authorizing these outrageous, obscene amounts of money for these defense attorneys ... without any basis," Cooley said. "It's just another example of their corruption."
Defense attorneys blame Cooley. They accuse his prosecutors in the public integrity unit of badgering and humiliating witnesses, and of pursuing politically motivated cases.
"The public integrity unit has no integrity," Brown said.
His co-counsel, George B. Newhouse Jr., one of eight defense lawyers in the South Gate investigations, called the prosecution "an assault on democracy in South Gate. The city will not countenance having its elected officials ousted by any means other than the ballot box."
It is common for municipalities to pay for the defense of public officials when their actions could subject city taxpayers to civil lawsuits and liability, such as in police misconduct or sexual harassment cases.
In public corruption cases, councils often follow different legal strategies, based on whether they believe that the public interest is at stake. Councils in Bell Gardens and Huntington Park have decided to let alleged wrongdoers in their cities defend themselves.
Brown has said that he plans to report Cooley to the State Bar of California for allegedly contacting some of his clients improperly. Cooley's prosecutors no longer speak with Brown without a court reporter present.
In South Gate, a working-class city of 96,000, almost every elected official has been under investigation within the last year. Brown represents Robles, the city's perceived political boss, in two cases. In one, Robles was subpoenaed as part of a grand jury investigation last year that ended with two allies pleading no contest to electoral fraud charges.
Appearing before the grand jury in December, Robles invoked his 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination and did not testify. He made one other brief court appearance, and he was never charged with a crime.
Brown's firm billed South Gate for $78,000 during the month of Robles' grand jury appearance, and the fees escalated dramatically in the ensuing months. A review of one heavily edited billing statement obtained by The Times shows that Brown and his associates -- billing from $225 to $405 per hour -- worked 175 hours in March.
Prosecutors said that was after the grand jury proceedings had ended and Robles was not a suspect. The fees eventually topped more than $600,000.
Brown's bills continued to mount after Robles was charged in April with threatening to kill two state lawmakers. Robles' critics thought that the city should refuse to pay for his defense.
Under state law, a public entity is not required to provide for the defense of an employee who is charged with a crime unless the illegal act is committed within the scope of the worker's official duties.
Newhouse, Brown's co-counsel, argued that the alleged death threats, even if true, were a form of protected political speech and that Robles was acting within his duties as city treasurer when he uttered them.
Using that argument, Robles' City Council allies passed a resolution authorizing his defense, in a vote that infuriated residents. Two businessmen, with many residents' support, then went to court and argued that the payment of Robles' legal fees was illegal.
In August, a judge ordered payments stopped, saying that he was troubled by the city's argument.
The day before, the city had sent another check, this one for $146,000, to Brown's law firm.
The threats case, which is still in its early stages, has so far cost taxpayers at least $333,000
Brown's billing for $425 an hour compares with a fee of $80 an hour allotted to attorneys working for the alternate public defender's office of Los Angeles County. By comparison, death penalty defenses -- the most complicated and costly of criminal cases -- rarely top $250,000, said Michael F. Yamamoto, former president of California Attorneys for Criminal Justice, an organization of criminal defense lawyers.
"It's outrageous.... It is way out of line," said Yamamoto, referring to the fees charged by Brown's firm. "The highest-paid lawyers in criminal law, they don't charge that. You can ask any lawyer in the business."
Brown, when asked about the fees, refused to comment. "I don't feel like talking about this," he said in a telephone interview.
"These lawyers should have known that this was an impermissible use of public funds," said Glenn Rothner, the attorney who won the court order halting payments, and is now seeking the return of the money to the city. "The taxpayers of South Gate need every penny of these vast resources back in the city treasury."
In Cudahy, the City Council, meeting in nearly empty chambers, has authorized publicly financed defenses without generating controversy.
Prosecutors are investigating whether former Councilman George Perez pressured other members to appoint him city manager. The investigation began in April 2001, when investigators seized thousands of documents and later subpoenaed more than a dozen witnesses.
The city has paid $786,000 so far to six law firms. The biggest chunk, $438,000, has gone to Brown's firm. The city provided heavily edited billing statements to The Times.
"It's a lot of money, a lot of money for any city, but we didn't bring this upon us," said Perez, adding that he was satisfied with the attorneys' performance. "They're doing their job. They keep us informed of what's going on, and they have reacted favorably to our request to keep a lid on fees."
The legal disputes have centered on prosecutorial access to a number of documents that were seized, and on the tactics of prosecutors during grand jury proceedings.
Brown accused prosecutors of misconduct for allegedly threatening to jail witnesses who invoked their 5th Amendment rights.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Terry Bork, the lead prosecutor in the Cudahy case, said he could not comment on the accusations because they involve confidential grand jury proceedings.
Bork said Brown's tactics are part of a larger pattern designed to frustrate and slow the probe, in which no charges have been filed.
Said Bork: "It doesn't take $800,000 to cooperate with an investigation."
Los Angeles Times, November 11, 2002
Council stymies Saeta foe's recall discussion
By Mary Schubert, Staff Writer
In response to a longtime resident's effort to recall City Councilman David Saeta, the politician's backers publicly stated their support Wednesday, while the mayor stated that a recall could not be broached at council meetings.
Tom Biesek, a 26-year resident who regularly attends City Council meetings, has been openly critical of Saeta's record in office particularly regarding matters of the Gold Line, the 13.7-mile light-rail line that will travel through South Pasadena.
In recent months, Biesek has advocated Saeta's removal and planned to begin the process Wednesday by serving him with a written notice, the required first step in a recall.
Instead, during the public comment portion of the meeting as Biesek was about to speak, Mayor Harry Knapp read a statement with findings from the city attorney regarding the open-meeting law.
"The Brown Act only requires the city to permit a speaker to present information and comments on subjects within the City Council's jurisdiction. If a recall is going to be coming up in any comments, it's not within this council's jurisdiction,' Knapp said.
"If there is any paperwork to be served, I ask you to do it at a break or after the meeting,' the mayor told Biesek.
To mount a successful campaign and qualify a recall for the ballot, Biesek would have to circulate a recall petition and gather signatures from 20 percent of South Pasadena's 14,000 registered voters, according to rules set forth by the California secretary of state.
Proponents would have 120 days to obtain the necessary 2,800 signatures.
Biesek ran half-page anti-Saeta ads in a local weekly newspaper Aug. 28 and Sept. 18.
In Wednesday's edition of the weekly paper, 292 people stated their satisfaction with the councilman's service in a half-page advertisement, which cost $410.
"We support David Saeta No on Recall,' read the ad, bearing the names of fellow council members Dorothy Cohen, David Rose and Knapp, along with school board members Margaret Ann Abdalla, Tammy Godley, Pete Kutzer and Joseph Loo, plus former Councilmen Amedee "Dick' Richards Jr. and Ted Shaw, and former school board member Bob Weaver.
That same edition of the paper included letters to the editor, one of them from Weaver, who criticized Biesek's "vitriol' and "muckraking tactics.'
Saeta "has comported himself with dignity and the highest ethical standards in serving on our behalf,' Weaver wrote.
At Wednesday's meeting, the council permitted Biesek to speak only on reasons for his unhappiness with Saeta, including what Biesek said were the councilman's "failure to get [Gold Line] mitigations similar to those granted to Highland Park residents, [such as] 25- mph speed limit [for trains] ... minimal street closures [and] no horns at crossings.'
Biesek also faulted Saeta for "a totally regal and elitist attitude toward his constituents.'
City Attorney Joseph Pannone said while Biesek has a First Amendment right to speak at "traditional public forums,' council meetings don't qualify as such because their primary function is to conduct the city's business.
"That podium can't be used for politicking,' Pannone said.
The council's only role in a recall matter would be setting a date for the election if the effort meets all the criteria and qualifies for the ballot, Pannone said.
Pasadena Star News, October 3, 2002
Cooley backs up tough words on civic corruption
Los Angeles Business Journal, Sept 23, 2002 by Howard Fine
IT's something that government officials in L.A. County are not used to: the District Attorney's office conducting high-profile raids on the offices of a quasi-government agency, the Entertainment Industry Development Corp., and on the home of its executive director, Cody Cluff.
This followed other sights seldom seen: city officials being led away in handcuffs and facing criminal charges, public bodies being told to hold open meetings or face possible prosecution and scurrilous campaign phone calls being traced back to their source.
But if District Attorney Steve Cooley has his way, people in L.A. government circles will have to get used to it.
After more than 18 months in his elected position, Cooley's crusade has changed the focus of the district attorney's office from his three predecessors, Gil Garcetti, Ira Reiner and John Van de Kamp, who tended to shy away from frequent prosecutions of political officials.
In terms of cleaning the county's political landscape of corruption with many arrests and convictions, however, it has had more limited success.
"We've never seen this level of activity before from the D.A.'s office," said Laurie Levenson, professor of law at Loyola Law School. "In the past, it's usually been federal investigators that have taken the lead on local political corruption cases."
One of the first steps Cooley took when he assumed office in December 2000 was setting up a Public Integrity Division, charged with investigating allegations of criminal wrongdoing by elected and appointed officials, uncovering systemic corruption in government bodies and ferreting out fraud committed against government entities. He assigned nine prosecutors and eight investigators to the division and within weeks, scores of cases were opened. (The number of prosecutors has since dropped to seven due to budget cuts.) Garcetti had only one prosecutor assigned to such cases.
"No question there was a prosecutorial void there," Cooley said. "Allegations of public corruption were clearly not being pursued. That was clear to me even before I announced my candidacy and it was something I promised I would seek to reverse."
517 cases opened
From January 2001 through June of this year, the public integrity division opened 517 cases, according to figures from Cooley's office. Of those, 404 were closed with no charges filed. The other 113 cases were still pending as of June 30.
Most of the closed cases involved allegations of violations of the state's Brown Act, or open meeting statute for public bodies. After an investigation, the public integrity division typically sends out a letter with the findings; as long as no further complaints come to the office, the case is then considered closed even if a violation occurred, Cooley said.
Besides the 113 open cases, the D.A.'s office has filed criminal charges in another 39 cases from January 2001 through June 2002; in 28 of those cases, defendants pled "guilty" or "no contest."
Only one case has gone to trial, which resulted in a conviction, said D.A. spokeswoman Jane Robison. That conviction involved a South Gate City Council candidate, who was found guilty of lying about his address on election forms.
Among some of the other publicized cases over the last 18 months: the arrest this April of South Gate Treasurer Albert Robles for making threats against other public officials and the indictment of former Bell Gardens City Manager Maria Chacon on a felony count of conflict of interest.
Some of Cooley's actions had results far less than intended. Late last year, he tussled with his "bosses," the five members of the L.A. County Board of Supervisors by opening an investigation into whether the board violated the Brown Act by meeting behind closed doors to order the county counsel to table a union's proposed ballot initiative. This past May, Cooley announced he would not pursue the issue, citing reforms the board made to its meeting procedures.
Cooley's office also investigated two sets of phone calls made during the 2001 L.A. mayoral campaign. He was able to trace each set of calls--one to the campaign staff of candidate and U.S. Rep. Xavier Becerra and the other to an organization tied to L.A. City Councilman Nick Pacheco--but since there was no specific law banning such phone calls, he was unable to prosecute.
Belmont and Rampart
Then there are the two biggest cases that he railed about during his campaign: the scandal surrounding Belmont Learning Complex and the Los Angeles Police Department's Rampart scandal. The statute of limitations ran out this month on alleged environmental crimes in connection with the construction of the Belmont school, with no charges being filed. And on Rampart, Cooley stunned many by saying he would soon be "closing the book" on his Rampart investigation. He backed off that statement after the LAPD sent him more Rampart-related cases to review.
Cooley said last week he would be making new announcements on both cases in coming weeks. He also noted that the Public Integrity Division is not handling these cases, even though they deal with allegations of corruption within public agencies. The Rampart matter is being handled by the Justice Integrity unit, which deals with law enforcement issues, while Belmont has been treated as a totally separate case.
Los Angeles Business Journal, September 23, 2002
Griego endorsement puzzles some
Re: "Davis and Griego/Their experience can improve Chula Vista," (Editorial, Feb. 25):
I am so disappointed that the Union-Tribune would support a candidate like Bob Griego for Chula Vista City Council, considering what you already know about him.
I worked with Griego at the Otay Water District and can tell you first hand he had plenty to do with the problems there. He was not, as your paper suggests, part of the solution; he was part of the problem and continues to be part of the problem. Griego was the general manager who secretly hired Bonafacio "Bonny" Garcia as legal counsel when the district already had in-house legal counsel.
It was not a coincidence that Garcia is also the legal counsel for Sweetwater Union High School District, on whose board Griego sits, and an associate of Jaime Bonilla, who bought a seat on the Otay board. Since December 2000, Bonny Garcia has charged the district almost $1 million for legal expenses. In-house legal counsel salary was $130,000 a year.
As far as Griego's story that he quit and only came back after the board promised to behave, the facts are that Griego did quit, but immediately became a "consultant" collecting his $145,000 a year salary. When he did come back, he received a $25,000 raise and a district automobile. No one at the district can tell me what he did as a "consultant."
Griego was quoted in a Union-Tribune article when he quit saying he was doing so because he did not want to have a conflict of interest while running for the City Council seat. Suddenly, that conflict of interest is not a concern to him.
Under Griego's management at Otay, public information and reports have been selectively withheld from some board members, contracts have been awarded through improper procedures and the district's environmental program ceased to exist, prompting a warning from the state Department of Fish and Game.
There must be a reason why two Chula Vista City Council members, the mayor, law enforcement, firefighters, the city employees' union and La Prensa are opposed to Bob Griego. Experience is a good thing, but not the kind Griego has.
DONNA BARTLETT-MAY Spring Valley
Before electing Bob Griego, Chula Vista voters should remember the scandal ending his employment as deputy chief administrative officer for San Diego County.
To refresh your memory and quote the Union-Tribune from a July 2000 article: "Griego's departure came not long after an audit showed he had used county staff, time and equipment to do business for the Sweetwater High School District, where he has been a board member for eight years. The audit also showed he had attended 173 school-related meetings on workdays in a two-year period."
Nothing has changed in the way he does business as general manager of the Otay Water District. Chula Vista residents can expect that if Griego is elected, he will continue his past practices and misuse city staff and abuse city hiring policies to achieve his political goals, while dispensing jobs and other favors to those who he perceives to be his loyal supporters. JAMES CLEMENTS El Cajon
You state that as a 12-year member of the Sweetwater Union High School District governing board, Griego gets "high marks from some of his colleagues." Now there's a lofty testimonial. Why not high marks from all, or even most, of them?
Maybe because most of them remember the SUHSD scandal in 1995 and the close call Griego experienced in the resulting recall election. That's probably good experience to bring to Chula Vista city government.
Griego says his position with the Otay Water District, an agency the city of Chula Vista wants to acquire, should not present a problem for him as a City Council member. Huh? He also claims the turmoil at the Otay Water District is not his fault, and when its board members got crazy, he quit and wouldn't return until they calmed down. Is this a trait the people of Chula Vista and the Union-Tribune find attractive? What will Griego do when things get a little crazy around the council chambers? Take his impressive record of public service and go home?
CHARLIE CASSENS Lake Havasu City
The letter writers are former Otay Water District employees.
March 2, 2002
'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  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
Grand Jury Report Faults City Management
By Mike Ward, Times Staff Writer
The Los Angeles County Grand Jury has accused the city of Pomona of sloppy management, poor staffing, neglect of affirmative action and failure to resolve financial issues that "threaten to overwhelm the city's resources."
In a report released this week, the panel says the City Council hired an inexperienced city attorney without any formal evaluation process, approved redevelopment deals with the county that could be financially ruinous and agreed to sell land at a bargain price to a private developer without consulting the city's finance director.
The basis for the report is a detailed analysis of city management by the accounting firm of Price Waterhouse. It found an understaffed and under-financed city government making decisions with too little information and relying on employees with inadequate technical expertise.
Mayor Donna Smith said many of the criticisms, which are based on a study that ended in June, are out of date. For example, she said, the city has solved its most pressing financial problems by halting planned reductions in the city utility tax.
City Administrator Julio Fuentes said many of the grand jury's criticisms are valid and that many of its recommendations are being carried out. In fact, he said, the city was working on reforms before the grand jury completed its analysis.
"The city is on the right track," Fuentes insisted. But, he added, "You don't turn an organization around in a year and nine months," referring to his own hiring in 1989 and to major personnel changes that followed.
Eight members of Fuentes' 12-member management team have worked for Pomona less than two years.
The grand jury report does credit the city with recent progress.
"City leaders appear ready to take a new direction, one that will lead (Pomona) away from the controversy, charges of favoritism and negative work environment that were so prevalent two years ago," the report says.
Suzanne Proctor, who headed the grand jury committee on government operations while the study was being done, said she hopes the city will do more with the report than it did with recommendations from the 1987-88 grand jury, which found numerous shortcomings in the city Redevelopment Agency. None of the recommendations from that report were carried out, Proctor said. "Not one."
The new report should fare better, because Pomona asked for the grand jury study and paid two-thirds of its $90,000 cost. The county paid the rest. The city had no control over the findings.
The recommendations were approved by the 1990-91 grand jury before it disbanded in June, but the report was not released until this week in order to give Pomona officials time to review and respond to it.
Fuentes on Monday released a 19-page response to the 160-page report. In general, he stressed the city's extensive efforts to put new policies and procedures in place and to put the city on solid financial footing.
The grand jury report said the city has not developed a long-range financial strategy, even though it "faces several substantial and immediate financial risks." Pomona's financial problems are more acute than other cities, the report said.
The grand jury compared Pomona with four other Southland cities of roughly the same size -- Pasadena, Ontario, Riverside and Torrance. The panel found that Pomona has the lowest revenue per capita, but some of the toughest problems. It has more violent crime than any of the other cities, ranks just behind Ontario in population growth and has the second-highest unemployment rate.
To compound its financial problems, the grand jury noted, the city has been steadily reducing one of its major sources of revenue, the utility tax. In addition, the city faces a $4-million shortage in its fund to pay legal claims and a $10-million under-funding of pension obligations.
Fuentes said city officials are doing long-range financial planning, even if no written strategy is in place. Since the grand jury report was written, the City Council has increased the utility tax and other fees and has ordered a study that could lead to higher charges for numerous city services.
The grand jury found that one reason for under-financing is the diversion of property tax revenue to redevelopment projects. Then, the report said, the Redevelopment Agency made a bad decision to share its revenue with the county.
The panel said Pomona's agreements with the county, signed in 1982 and 1988, are "a source of significant financial loss and could be an even greater financial burden in the future."
The complicated agreements, negotiated by the city to obtain the county's help in developing a regional mall, will hurt Pomona financially unless construction begins by July, 1993.
But the mall site is contaminated with hazardous waste, which must be cleaned up. To complicate matters, there are malls proposed in nearby Chino and Chino Hills.
If Pomona's mall is not built, the city will have to repay loans to the county at 7% interest and will have lost other revenue without deriving any benefit.
The grand jury recommended that the city renegotiate the agreements. Fuentes said the city has tried to renegotiate but has no power to force the county to change the terms.
Other issues raised in the report:
* The city adopted an affirmative action policy in 1988 but has no program to carry it out and no system of monitoring compliance. As a result, the grand jury said, the city could face lawsuits over its failure to adhere to minority hiring agreements for the Police and Fire departments.
Fuentes acknowledged the city's tardiness on affirmative action but said a plan will be ready for adoption by December.
* The council hired City Atty. Arnold Glasman and his firm, Glasman, Colvin & Adams, on an interim basis in 1989 and permanently a few months later, although neither Glasman nor his partners had any municipal legal experience.
The grand jury said the council interviewed five firms for the job without setting criteria, then allowed Glasman to approve the form of his contract without outside legal review.
Fuentes said Glasman was versed in municipal law from representing private interests in business transactions with cities and redevelopment agencies.
Councilman Tomas Ursua said the city hired Glasman because he was low bidder. Ursua said Glasman was not his first choice but "we're saving money and the guy works pretty hard."
* The City Council agreed to sell land to a private developer for $620,000 below its appraised value without consulting the finance director or following formal policies or procedures.
The deal involved five acres that the council agreed to sell to San Dimas Mayor Terry Dipple and his partner, Brian Barbuto, last year for $805,000.
The deal was in escrow for more than a year before the council canceled the sale over the objections of Dipple and Barbuto. Fuentes said the sale was a policy decision the council was entitled to make.
* The Redevelopment Agency paid $244,500 to a contractor to work on cleanup of the regional mall site without a written contract. It also failed to monitor costs on other projects.
One law firm that was supposed to get agency approval for any rate increases nearly doubled its hourly rates over six years without any notice to the city.
Fuentes said the agency has established policies and procedures that will require written contracts and monitoring of costs.
* The city has failed to set goals for department heads and to evaluate their performance.
The grand jury said that one department head had not been evaluated in nine years and that the goals established for some departments were so vague (the Police Department is instructed to deliver services in a "realistic, sensitive and positive manner") that it is impossible to measure performance.
Fuentes said previous administrations neglected performance evaluations and admitted that he did not pay much attention to them when many jobs were vacant. Since most of the jobs have been filled, he said, evaluation systems have been put in place.
* The Redevelopment Agency and the community development department are understaffed and the Redevelopment Agency lacks technical expertise.
The grand jury said the city should hire a deputy city administrator, whose responsibilities would include overseeing these agencies, and should fill other vacant positions.
Fuentes said the council has authorized a new deputy city administrator position and the community development and redevelopment staffs are being beefed up.
* The city's coffer for paying insurance claims is under-funded by $4 million. The grand jury says the city's risk management program, which handles worker's compensation and other legal claims, "lacks cohesion and direction."
Fuentes said the program is more comprehensive and better organized than the grand jury suggested. He said he will recommend that the city use new revenue to solve the funding problem.
In addition to the criticisms, the grand jury issued several commendations.
The panel said the Police and Fire departments respond to emergencies just as quickly as departments in comparable cities, although other cities have larger departments.
Fuentes said the grand jury recommendations are helpful and that the study was worth the cost, even though the findings were not surprising.
"It's always good to bring a fresh perspective in from the outside," he said.
Ursua said the report confirms his belief that city government has not been well run and that the city has made poor deals in redevelopment, though he said it is an open question whether "it was because of corruption or stupidity."
The councilman said the city is making progress but still suffers from "sloppiness, waste and inefficiency."
Proctor said the Pomona study was one of the highlights of her term on the grand jury because it offers a means of improving the workings of government.
In this instance, she said, the grand jury was not looking for wrongdoing but for a way of helping a city deal with problems that grew out of years of conflict and turmoil. She said Pomona officials took a very positive attitude toward the study and hopefully "they can use this as a tool of change."
Grand Jury Findings
In its report on Pomona, the Los Angeles County Grand Jury compared the municipality with four other Southern California cities of roughly the same size: Pasadena, Ontario, Riverside and Torrance. The panel found that Pomona has the lowest revenue per capita but some of the toughest problems. It has more violent crime than any of the other cities, ranks just behind Ontario in population growth and has the second-highest unemployment rate.
Population (1990 Census)
Total revenues (1989 fiscal year)
Revenue per capita (1989)
Full-time city employees
Population growth from 1980 to 1990
Average unemployment rate 1990
Violent crimes as a percentage of all crimes in 1989
Note: Pasadena and Riverside own and operate their own electric utilities; the other cities do not. Figures include electric utility revenue of $93.8 million for Pasadena and $131 million for Riverside.