The council convened for the first time since being scorched by L.A. Times columnist Scott Gold in December, who ran roughshod over everything from newly-elected mayor Eliot Rothman’s comb-over to Pomona’s economic decline and ethnic tension. Gold’s column gave extensive voice to perennial gadfly and failed political candidate Milo Rodich, who protested the resignation of Police Chief Joe Romero by threatening an immediate recall. Gold’s civic eviscerating evoked the constant lampooning of Pomona city politics during the days of Clay Bryant and Donna Smith, two unpopular mayors who were run out of office.
But with a new head honcho and two new council members, the chance to shake off a bad 2008 and start fresh in a new year was apparent from the outset of the meeting.
Both Paula Lantz and Christina Carrizosa used Council Communication time to urge the new council to clarify goals for the upcoming year. David Rodriguez thanked the city for helping administer a successful toy drive.
Newly elected District 2 rep Danielle Soto was touched during the public participation period, when residents requested that Hamilton Park be renamed for her grandmother, Nell Soto, who spent twelve years on Pomona City Council before being elected to a series of state offices.
Tim Saunders, at his first meeting since being appointed to the District 5 seat vacated when Rothman was elected mayor, didn’t say much but still projected an infectious vibe.
With all this love on the council, what could possibly wreck the mood?
To begin with, downtown blight and saturation patrols.
Second St. has a big dirt hole where historic buildings used to stand, and the Fox Theater is still in the long process of renovation. It’s been close to 15 years since Pomona erected signs proudly proclaiming its “Art Colony” yet in that time it has never gained any real mainstream traction outside of its indie rock venue The Glass House and the second Saturday Art Walks.
The solutions—temporary sculpture gardens, a tequila bar and a hookah joint. According to A.S. Ashley, a dA Gallery board member and sculpture garden proponent, “we’re finally making progress attracting new people.” Yet, Ashley says, “when Aladdin Jr. opens [at the corner of Main and 2nd], its customers will be looking at a vacant lot.”
Likewise, says property owner Ed Tessier, an upscale tequila bar that sells over 20 varieties of gourmet desserts will be just the thing to bring patrons rushing in to spend big bucks. Planning Commissioner Arturo Jimenez, though opposed to issuing more liquor licenses downtown, offered his support. “We’re trying to put together something different here . . . to be more like San Diego or San Francisco.”
The council seemed amenable to these ideas, but the air of serenity soon gave way to acrimony when it came time to discuss Pomona’s participation in the Avoid The 100 task force. The multi-city task force uses grant money provided by the state’s Office of Traffic Safety to conduct DUI checkpoints and saturation patrols in participating cities. One such checkpoint (under a different OTS grant) in Pomona last May ignited a firestorm of controversy, including inspired protest marches and the eventual resignation of Police Chief Romero.
Pomona P.D.’s participation in Avoid The 100 is cognizant upon there being no DUI checkpoints within city limits, which would seem to be enough to quell the debate. Not so, according to Jim Sambrano of La Verne, a member of the Pomona Habla coalition.
“There will still be saturation patrols,” he said. “The saturation patrols created this problem.”
Up stepped resident Virginia Madrigal to defend the patrols. Railing against unlicensed drivers, and fed up with the continued perception that public safety is getting the short shrift, Madrigal wondered “why do we have to go through this time after time?”
At this point, the debate devolved into a public shouting match between Madrigal and Jimenez, while the council looked on in dismay. Meanwhile, Carrizosa remained unconvinced the grant money will solve any of the political problems involved, because the grant will be administered by Glendora P.D.
“Control is important,” said Carrizosa.
Despite a motion by Carrizosa to send the whole thing back to the Traffic Checkpoint Ad Hoc Committee, the council passed the resolution. While taking a collective breath, the silence was broken by a cell phone ringtone.
It proved to be Soto’s Blackberry, and her relaxed discomfiture over the faux pas gave way to a moment of laughter, a sound not heard much at Pomona council meetings in the last year.