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LOCAL VOICES: Compton’s craters of disgrace

Gaping potholes like this one spurred a rancorous debate at the Feb. 7, 2017 Compton City Council meeting.

More potholes exist in Compton than bomb craters on a battlefield – well, almost

Editor’s note: By now everyone in Compton and parts north, east, west and south, know of the boil-over at the Feb. 7 City Council meeting. Must be election season because a verbal spat that erupted between Mayor Aja Brown and Councilperson Janna Zurita involved a hot political issue of the city’s thoroughfares — potholes, which exist far and wide on nearly every major surface street; more than bomb craters on a battlefield.

That’s what had some folks hoppin’ mad. In fact, the exchanges got so super-heated, there was a “meltdown.”

To understand how the air in council chambers became supercharged, the following provides context beyond what a local television news station broadcast of the meeting which veered out of control.

Beginning with public comment, Tuesday night’s development was a set-up from the gate. A blind mole knew that much.

Two of the first guests to take the microphone were students. Their concern wasn’t municipal revenue for more school computers, resources for music education or extra-curricular activities — something you’d expect. No, they came to express their concerns about potholes. Did someone put them up to it? More than likely. After all, they had more important things to do on a Tuesday evening than worrying about cratered streets. Homework  comes to mind.

That’s grown folks’ business anyway, grown folks like city officials and the political gadflies who make it their business. I’m not saying youth aren’t concerned about their city, but come on.

During public comment, longtime Compton resident, Maria Villareal stopped by the podium. After introducing herself, she began by articulating a few words in Spanish, presumably to a few non-English speaking guests and those watching from home on live video. Whatever, it irritated Council person Zurita.

“Do we need a translater?” she asked, pointedly.

“No, thank you. My name is Maria Villareal. I live in Compton and I do this all the time, so I do not need a translator.”

“But, I do,” Zurita retorted.

Mayor Aja Brown intervened.

“I ‘m going to ask that we do not interrupt the speakers…”

“I have a right…” said Zurita.

“My name is Maria Villareal,” the speaker continued. “And I come here every, every time I have some concerns. I live in Compton and I do pay my taxes in Compton, so therefore I’m here. Everybody has concerns for our city. Tonight, I come to talk about the potholes. I drive from Rosecrans to the 91 Freeway every single day to take my kids to school, back and forth five days a week … I hear people [in] the community and members of the city, employees talk about potholes and blaming each other for something needs to be done.

“We need to take action. I am sick and tired of people fighting each other … there are other people who don’t live in Compton … and they talk about our city. It’s embarrassing when you go out of the city [to hear] people talk about Compton, living in Paramount crossing [through] Compton to go to L.A. Airport and say, ‘those streets look like crap… .’”

Magma inside the gurgling volcano was rising.

Marcus Musante, an attorney and candidate for city attorney was the next speaker.

“I’m not trying to take over,” he began. “But it does seem that someone from the outside might need to come down and lay down the law. We talk about the pothole issue …. A while back under [former Mayor Eric] Perrodin, hundreds of thousands of dollars was spent on a comprehensive plan for the streets with foresight to prevent what has happened. They even included a ‘rainy day clause’— literally a rainy day.

“And it was implemented and apparently something happened where the city hall stopped paying bills; it’s hard to get to the bottom because there … the point is, this administration inherited a plan that went towards this issue. And not that long ago, two years ago, there is video — since we are such into cutting, and slicing, and presenting video — of the city manager saying ‘there is a lot of money for roads; millions of dollars.’ Where is the money? Why are these roads now in a state of emergency?”

Musante went on to say that millions of dollars were available at the state level with then Rep. Janice Hahn on a committee in Congress that “dealt with roads,” and Compton had advocates in county government, yet money to repair the streets of Compton is lacking.

“Nothing has been done in four years,” Musante said, an obvious jab at Brown. “Instead a [ballot] measure  [Measure P] was passed [with] a hundred thousand spent marketing it, and it was a false sense of good. What it is, because think about it; do you honestly think a one percent sales tax” is going to fix the streets?  … “[Measure P] was thrown on the ballot and there was pushback. It’s in court. And, in fact, the county is not arguing about the vote total; they’re not arguing it didn’t get the votes — they’re saying something wasn’t followed, so now we have a full-blown constitutional issue (to applause) and I guarantee you we will get to the bottom of that. Members of the council, [the] mayor’s in a situation where this is all she’s done to the streets. You need to stay strong. Don’t be intimidated. This is an intimidation, what’s been going on.”

The volcano was hissing, spewing smoke and noxious gasses, by now. It didn’t sit well with the mayor, who halted public comment to summon Public Works Director Glen Kau to provide insight on state and federal grants received by Compton for street repair.

“[Marcus Musante] said this administration has not done anything regarding the streets — which is not true,” Mayor Brown countered.

Kau, who was on the council agenda to provide an update on the repair of the city’s streets, noted that construction was in the process on some thoroughfares, notably along Wilmington Avenue from El Segundo Boulevard to Rosecrans Avenue. Kau also said some of the street projects in the $4-5 million range were scheduled before he was hired in 2011.

That only served to incense Zurita, who responded:

“See, my question is, why haven’t we done the work? Why are we talking about bonds? See, this was back when it was campaign time in District One. We had these funds. You know what we’re lacking here in this city, [is] proper management.”

Zurita was pushing back against insinuations by speakers that council inaction is the blame for the city’s deplorable street conditions. But she was only getting started.

“See, what happens is, what you guys don’t understand, and what the city is talking about don’t tell the real story,” Zurita said. “It’s not the council, it’s not the council, at all. It’s the management. And we can only move the city’s business, pay the bills, implement the policies; but we cannot execute the work … we know the status of every street in the City of Compton … we have funding, we have grants, we have hired grant specialists to help us with street maintenance projects, we have a grants department, we have brought on consultants to help us with our streets…

“…so, I believe me, as council person, I’m not going to sit here and be falsely accused of not fixing the streets, because I have done everything in my power that I can do sitting here to have these streets repaired.

“So, this is who you hold accountable — city manager and his staff. That’s who you hold accountable in this. Not me. But I want to tell you, for those of you, young folks, that talk about you want to be informed, you need to get the facts. You need to go back and look at the council meeting that was addressed in the ‘alternate facts,’ because we talked about … we weren’t talking about fixing the streets and waiting on that. We were talking about taxing the people twice — taking out an additional bond for thirty years. That’s what the facts are.”

At that point Mayor Brown interjected that she was going to wait for the appropriate time to address her comments regarding property taxes and infrastructure bonds for the city….

To which Zurita countered, “Not when you’re having your friends doing it.”

“I don’t have any friends working or family working in the City of Compton,” Brown defended. “So, I just want to say that publicly. I have no friends, and no family or no consultants working in the City of Compton, and I don’t think very many people can say that sitting here … so, I’m going to move forward with public comment …”

The temperature in council chambers was elevating precipitately. Zurita interrupted the mayor — “I don’t have any friends, family or consultants that are working in finance and that are working with our bonds, and that are standing in line to do a bond for the City of Compton.”

Brown: “Neither do I.”

Zurita: “For the record. Thank you.”

Brown: “And like I said … and like I said, I’m going to move forward with public comment to take care of the city’s business, but as I said, it’s inconclusive, I have no one working [for] the City of Compton.”

Another speaker addressed the council and simply wanted to know with grant funding on hand, why hadn’t more street repair moved forward in Compton.

Zurita responded, “I’m not campaigning right now. I’m not in any campaign race. But I am in a fight to fix the streets. I’m not doing this ‘cause it’s three or four months before an election that I’m in. I’m living in a community that’s riddled with potholes … I’m not in a political race. I ‘m here for two more years, and I’m going to fight every day … for this management to spend the money that we have.

“Let’s get started (to applause). I keep saying the only way you can get something done is to get started. All this yap, yap, yapping, yapping ain’t doing nothing…”

Mayor Brown interrupted, urging the council to move forward, to which Zurita insisted that she was “going to finish talking,” that she had the right.

Mayor Brown asserted that she was chair of the meeting and that the council person could be asked to leave.

“This is about order. I don’t know where you can go and just be disruptive,” she said.

“I don’t know where you can go and lie, lie, lie,” Zurita shot back, spurring catcalls from the assembly.

The council meeting was beginning to unravel, but City Atty. Craig Cornwell very calmly interjected that, though the discussion was “heated,” a decorum was expected and for a moment the rancor subsided, but only for a moment after the following exchange:

Brown: “There’s a point of order for all of us, and no one up here sitting on the dais or in the audience can be disruptive of the meeting. And, I let council woman Zurita speak…

Zurita: “No, you didn’t let me speak, I spoke! You didn’t let me speak.”

Brown: “Well, I think that you should read the rules, ma’am and try to comport yourself with a little more dignity as an elected official.”

Zurita: “Yeah, some people don’t like to hear the facts. They like the ‘alternate facts.’”

Two other council members, Tina McCoy and Emma Sharif couldn’t get a word in edgewise. Perhaps they considered it prudent to stay out of the fray. Isaac Galvan, the lone male on the council, was absent.

You can view the rest of the meeting, including the “meltdown” at www.comptoncity.org

Visit council chambers, Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2017 at 5:30 p.m., at City Hall, 205 S. Willowbrook Ave., Compton, for the conclusion of “Compton’s Cratered Disgrace.” Or tune in online at the aforementioned website from the comfort of your own home.

 

 

 

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