Commerce Mayor Ivan Altamirano recently encouraged Commerce residents to contact East Los Angeles Sheriff’s Station Captain Chris Perez, who Altamirano said would enthusiastically share the benefits of a proposed Sheriff’s substation.
The proposed substation would be on a 10-acre property valued at approximately $10 million, the sale of which is in negotiations between the City of Commerce Successor Agency and a joint venture that includes The Commerce Casino and The Citadel Outlets. The portion of land for the substation would be purchased by the City from the joint venture group with one time funding sources anticipated from the sale of this and another property.
When I called the Station to talk to Captain Perez, I instead spoke briefly with Lieutenant Smitson who said, “To my knowledge there aren’t a lot of specifics at this point because it’s very early in the process.” Smitson’s statement highlights the speculative nature of the proposed substation.
Despite this non-committal statement from Sheriff’s personnel, a pending real estate transaction, and what can only be described as theoretical follow up real estate transaction, I find it surprising that Altamirano has disclosed multiple details about the proposed substation. He has described a 20,000 square foot building with an onsite fueling station that will house more than 150 employees, some of whom will include City staff.
In addition, Interim City Administrator Matt Rodriguez, who is also a retired Sheriff’s Lieutenant, has stated that the construction and ongoing facility maintenance costs would be borne by the new property owners.
This raises a lot of questions. Is the City planning to purchase land from the successor agency or the Casino-Citadel joint venture? Does it make sense to purchase land for a substation that hasn’t been approved, much less considered by the City Council?
Given that The Commerce Casino and The Citadel Outlets are major campaign contributors, are there any conflicts in what appears to be a complex series of commercial real estate negotiations and transactions?
Rodriguez stated that the station would also serve Maywood and Cudahy. Are the costs being borne solely by the City of Commerce? In talking to officials in both cities, responses ranged from not knowing about the proposed substation to it being a “done deal.”
To best evaluate the City’s needs given the $7 million contract in place and an environment in which violent crime is down and property crimes are up, the most important question is how will this proposed substation improve law enforcement service to the City of Commerce?
Will this substation improve response times? How will it do so? Will there be Sheriff’s Deputies on tactical alert to respond to emergent incidents? If so, how much more will it cost and how will it differ from the current response times we experience with deputies that currently patrol Commerce’s six square miles?
Add to that this substation proposal has not appeared on a City Council agenda. While it’s unclear whether any laws have been broken, this approach is highly unusual and lacks the appropriate level of transparency given the millions of dollars that may be circulating between the City and joint ventures sponsored by local business interests that also happen to be heavy contributors to Commerce elected officials, including Altamirano who is up for reelection on June 6.
Commerce has a critical need to catch up on long neglected street and road improvements, as well as to identify major funding needed to replace the Veterans Park Recreation Center is sinking into the landfill over which it was built. With so many other pressing needs, the City Council needs to assess fiscal priorities before committing millions to what appears to be a solution in need of problem.
Jason Gardea-Stinnett is a fourth generation Commerce resident, community advocate and the former Commerce Public Information Officer. He has over 25 years of experience in local government, public utilities and community advocacy.