Herald American

Norwalk reapproves plan to lease lot for vehicle storage

NORWALK — The City Council Feb. 7 affirmed an earlier decision by voting 3-1 to lease a lot for vehicle storage from neighboring Santa Fe Springs.

Mayor Mike Mendez, retired after many years as the parks and recreation director for Santa Fe Springs, joined Vice Mayor Cheri Kelley and Councilman Luigi Vernola to again support the move, even though he acknowledged that he still worked part time for that city.

In a report to the council, Administration Services Manager Adriana Figueroa said staff learned after the Jan. 17 vote that since July 2016, Mendez has been paid $75 an hour for on-call services to advise the new recreation director and staff in Santa Fe Springs.

But Jim Ciampa, an outside attorney called in to investigate, said there was no conflict of interest since Mendez did not profit financially from the lease plan.

He noted that Santa Fe Springs City Manager Thaddeus McCormack pledged in writing that funds from Norwalk would not be used for recreation but for transportation purposes, to maintain the city’s 300-space parking lot on the east side of the MetroLink depot. Norwalk maintains a similar lot within its limits on the west side of the depot.

Councilman Leonard Shryock, the lone dissenter Jan. 17 when he said the lease was too costly, had a new reason for objecting Feb. 7.

“You can’t tell me there is no conflict of interest, even if it’s just generating goodwill to his employer,” Shryock said, chastising city staff for “sloppy work” in not knowing about Mendez’s part-time job.

Three votes were needed to pass the measure. Norwalk has held open a fifth council seat, formerly occupied by Marcel Rodarte, pending the March 7 municipal election. Rodarte resigned last July to become executive director of the California Contract Cities Association.

Ciampa said he recommended a second vote by the council to make it clear they knew of Mendez’s employment.

Pressed by Shryock, Ciampa said it would be up to the Los Angeles County district attorney or the state Fair Political Practices Commission to make a final determination if the issue is challenged.

“But someone would have to bring it to their attention,” Shryock said without indicating if he would do so.

“We need the storage space,” Vernola said.

Figueroa said there is no similar sized available lot in Norwalk. The closest was a 53,248-square-foot lot in Cudahy, several miles away, with a cost of $240 to $245 per square foot. Santa Fe Springs is charging the city $1.20 per square foot, she noted.

Officials said the lease money would “come back to the city” in maintenance of Santa Fe Springs’ portion of the MetroLink depot, operated jointly by the two cities.

The lot in question is a vacant lot of 1.76 acres south of the Santa Fe Springs parking lot, 12800 Imperial Highway, formerly used as a landfill. State monitoring wells still operate and must be maintained to watch for contaminated ground water, Figueroa said.

She said the 50-year lease, which can be extended another 20 years, would cost Norwalk $1,000 a month until construction of the paved facility is completed, then go to $7,666 a month with future hikes based on the cost of living index. Hikes may not exceed 10 percent, Figueroa added.

City Engineer William Zimmerman said the cost of constructing the facility is estimated at $2 million but about $975,000 would be received from a federal grant.

Another $298,750 is expected from Los Angeles County Proposition C tax and a county aid to cities grant of $33,900, Zimmerman said.

Transportation Director James Parker said the site qualified for transportation grants even though other departments will store vehicles and equipment on it. The site will allow the relocation of vehicles currently stored at the former Senior Citizen center at Foster Road and San Antonio Drive.

That site is planned as a one stop social service, employment and education center with participation of the Norwalk Chamber of Commerce and Cerritos College.

Council directed city staff to seek bids for initial construction, estimated at $1.3 million. Bids are to be opened March 7.

Construction, to include grading, paving, filling depressed areas and stabilizing the site with a rock blanket, will take about 80 days, Zimmerman said.

That vote was also 3-1 with Shryock again dissenting.