Wednesday, September 7, 2022

NLMUSD approves change electing school board by districts

In an attempt to avoid costly litigation, the Norwalk-La Mirada Unified School District board has elected to change to a system of electing its members by district.

The move was triggered by a demand letter from an attorney stating that the district's method of electing its board members from votes submitted from across the entire district may violate the California Voters Rights Act 

Enacted in 2002, the CVRA bans any election system that impairs a minority group or protected class from influencing the outcome of an election by diluting their votes.

The placed the board into the position of either paying out millions to defend an at-large system with little hope of prevailing and paying the plaintiff's legal costs or change to a system of district voting.

By switching to electing a board by district, legal fees are capped at no more than $30,000.  Cities and districts that have chosen to fight almost always lose and find themselves paying the other plaintiff's legal bills that can run into the millions of dollars fast.

Dozens of demand letters are sent to cities and districts each month, mostly by the same attorney, and are widely seen as a shakedown. No proof supporting the allegation is required to submit such a letter.

Instead of bowing to a demand letter, the City of Santa Monica chose to fight all the way to the state Supreme Court where it awaits a decision after spending $7-10 million defending at-large elections there.  A request for $22 million in legal fees by the plaintiffs attorney's is on hold pending a decision in the matter. 

The City of Palmdale spent $4.7 million and Whittier $1 million before each reached an agreement to end at-large elections.

The next action by the school board will be to conduct two public hearings to allow community members to make suggestions and voice concerns on the criteria that the board adopts to be used to establish the boundaries of the new districts. A demographer will use those criteria in drawing up two or more maps of proposed districts, followed by two more public hearings on the proposed maps and then another hearing to adopt the final district map.

Simply stated, the public will have plenty of opportunities to voice their opinion of what constitutes a fair district and what a map for the school district should look like.

The school district has not announced when the board will hold the initial public hearing.

Thursday, September 1, 2022

La Mirada is taking a bite out of crime

In an effort to combat the ongoing problem of catalytic converter theft, an ordinance was passed by the city council at its last meeting making it a misdemeanor to possess one of the devices in La Mirada without proof of ownership.

112 catalytic converters were reported stolen in the city in 2011 with another 58 taken through the first five months of 2022 according to a city staff report.

The devices can run $2,000 or more to repair and replace and currently have no serial numbers engraved on them making it difficult to tie a specific converter to a specific theft. 

Legislation is pending in the California legislature mandating a vehicle identification number be engraved on each device before sale or purchase.

Persons suspected of violating the ordinance will be given a chance to present evidence to deputies when first contacted or to detectives that are investigating the case that they lawfully possessed the devices by showing proof of ownership in a number of ways.

A few examples proving ownership can include presenting a bill of sale from the original owner, documentation from an auto body shop or scrap yard that the original owner relinquished the catalytic converter, and photographs showing the vehicle and VIN number that the converter came from.

Violations of the ordinance are a misdemeanor and are punishable by up to 6 months in the county jail, a fine of as much as $1,000, or both.

The ordinance is just one of several tools the city council has approved recently for use by deputies to combat crime in the city which is up a modest 7.93 through July of this year compared to the same time period in 2021.

During the same meeting, final approval was given for the purchase and installation of a 10-camera 'Automatic License Plate Reader' (ALPR) system.

ALPR reads the license plate of each vehicle passing by one of its cameras snapping a photo and detecting and recording unique specifics about it including the color, the model, date, and time while simultaneously checking a database of wanted vehicles.

Deputies will be alerted if a vehicle in near real-time, if that vehicle has been reported stolen, used in a felony, or is associated with a person is missing passes a location where ALPR has been deployed. 

If there is a wanted vehicle hit, an image of the vehicle along with the location it was spotted and the direction of travel will appear almost instantly on the computer screens inside patrol vehicles as well as at the Norwalk Station 911 center.

The information gathered by the system is stored and can be used to assist detectives to solve crimes.  The presence of the units has also been found to deter crime.

The same system is currently in use in Norwalk, Lakewood, and Bellflower and will cost the city $20,850 a year.

The camera locations will be chosen based on recommendations from sheriff's crime analysts, detectives, and La Mirada Public Safety and can be relocated to new locations as crime trends dictate.

The system does not capture images of the occupants of a vehicle and will not be used to catch traffic violations or persons that have outstanding tickets.  

Other actions by the city council recently aimed at fighting crime include approval for an $80,000 video surveillance system for Creek Park, and increases to the Sheriff's contract that adds a fourth patrol unit on the graveyard shift and a second day shift motor deputy conducting traffic  enforcement five days a week. 

The additional patrol car overnight raises the number of deputies on patrol on the early morning shift in La Mirada to its highest level since the 1990's. 

Friday, June 17, 2022

City to fight crime with automatic license plate readers

The city council has directed city staff to go forward with a plan to deploy automated license plate cameras at key locations throughout the city to assist deputies to detect and locate vehicles that are wanted or have been reported stolen or used during the commission of a crime.

The council approved a proposal Tuesday evening by a 3 to 1 vote to place ten cameras at locations throughout the city selected by the La Mirada Public Safety unit and the Crime Analyst at Norwalk Station after determining that they would be most effective detecting the passing of stolen and wanted vehicles in real time as well as record the license plates and vehicle images for later investigations of serious crimes.

The cameras are not used in any way to enforce traffic laws.  

The system comes at a cost of just over $20,800 per year for five years and is compatible with one already in place at the sheriff's department.

When a camera detects a vehicle that is wanted in a felony crime, stolen, or connected to a missing person the vehicle information, image, and location is immediately relayed to dispatchers and the computer screens into patrol vehicles. When available a sheriff's helicopter is also dispatched to assist in the search.

Such a system will be helpful into investigations such as shootings, robberies, and catalytic converter thefts where the information recorded by the system can help detectives solve cases that now go unresolved.

Monday, June 6, 2022

Analysis and an Endorsement for the District 2 Seat: Integrity, Community Service, and showing up counts

Residents of District 2 in the southeast section of La Mirada are selecting a council member for a four-year term in what many view as a referendum on Andrew Sarega, who is seeking a third term despite stating that he supports term limits.

During a failed 2018 campaign for an Orange County congressional seat that did not represent La Mirada, Sarega told voters in his platform statement that he would not run in 2022 for council because if he were unable to fulfill promises he made to voters in eight years "what are the chances I would do it in 30 years when energy and motivation are low?"

Looking to unseat Sarega are David Constantine who lists among his many accomplishments serving as president of the Kiwanis of La Mirada and has been one of the most active members of the community with local PTA's, and former school board trustee Chris Pflanzer who has. Both have extensive histories of service to the community and when it counts they are there for La Mirada. Sarega? Well, he is a good candidate to be featured on a milk carton.

Yes, June 7th is fast approaching and if it's election season you can count on a new round of election signs being vandalized and stolen and a rant by the elder Satega, John will get him ejected from a city council meeting, you can also bet the farm that controversy will swirl around one of the Sarega's.

In 2013 Andrew was going to remake City Hall, out with the 'Good ol' Boys. In 2015 his father also ran for a seat on the council. 2017 was a scandal involving mailers that were sent to voters making vicious attacks on Andrew's opponent Pauline Deal and John Lewis who was running against Tony Aiello of the La Mirada Blog a friend of Andrew's and last election John Sarega, Jackie Fowler, a Sarega proxy running against Steve De Ruse and members of her family attempted to engage De Ruse in a shouting match inside council chambers to bring a quick adjournment to an already completed meeting.

For the record, both Sarega and Aiello have stated they had no involvement in the mailer fiasco and it happened to be a strange coincidence the mailers were printed and sent out by the same obscure printer in Texas.

In deciding which candidate is best suited for public office there are a number of factors to consider including community involvement and interaction, their platform, and ability to put it into motion, and of the utmost importance is integrity.

Andrew and John Sarega reside in the same home and have their personal interests very much intertwined so please bear with me. 

In 2003 John Sarega operated a smog inspection business on Rosecrans Avenue in Santa Fe Springs and had his right to ever operate a repair business again revoked by the state Bureau of Automotive Repair (BAR) the following year after a series of criminal convictions for engaging in a scheme called clean piping.

Clean piping occurs when a shop hooks up smog inspection equipment to a vehicle that runs 'clean' and will pass a smog inspection then entering the VIN number into DMV records for a car that runs 'dirty' and will not pass inspection in order to issue a passing smog certificate for the vehicle.

In 2011 both Sarega's formed RRK Motors and were issued a DMV license to operate an auto dealership which eventually moved operations to a location on Valley View Avenue. In 2016 investigators from the agency that regulates repair facilities BAR issued a citation to Andrew Sarega of RRK Motors for operating an unlicensed repair shop while a seated member of the city council and just months removed from being a Newport Beach police officer.

Several visits in 2019 by La Mirada News to the RRK Motors business found John Sarega operating an unlicensed body repair shop with multiple employees after hours and on weekends in what appeared an attempt to avoid detection by BAR investigators. 

During the same time period, the DMV license that allowed RRK Motors to operate had expired while four of the vehicles driven by members of the Sarega family outfitted with dealer plates continued to be driven instead of registering the vehicles and paying fees through DMV. When informed of this fact John Sarega moved to see that their DMV license was brought back into compliance. 

RRK Motors appears to no longer be in business. Its offices have been shuttered and all the wrecked and used vehicles for sale have been removed and the state suspended its right to operate as a corporation in 2020.  The RRK DMV license has expired yet vehicles that still have the registration fee dodging dealer plates attached and an Orange Ford Mustang driven by the councilman himself with Oregon license plates can be found at the Sarega home.

Andrew Sarega has failed to address his high absentee rate, lack of community participation nor why he is running for a third term despite proclaiming earlier that he favored term limits. 

Sarega is running on a platform that pushes a plan for the city to replace all the privately-owned block walls which appear to be in a state of disrepair in many places with new uniform walls at taxpayer expense. A city report on such a proposal prepared for the council came with a hefty price tag when adjusted for inflation nears $200 Million. This is more money than is spent in the city on law enforcement and fire and rescue services in La Mirada over a ten-year period. The city will need to purchase a printing press to print the money to pay for this proposal.

Both David Constantine and Chris Pflanzer are both good candidates and would serve the city well if elected to the city council. La Mirada News prefers David Constantine because he has put forward in a clear and distinct platform a series of goals that center on public safety and the safety and development of the youth of La Mirada that the city budget can accommodate.

La Mirada News endorses David Constantine on June 7th for the District 2 city council seat.