By Susan Motander
Reports from City Manager Oliver Chi and other staff members dominated the Monrovia City Council Meeting on Tuesday evening. Chi commented on the recent city press release about allegedly illegal sewage dumping near the city’s main water well field and responded to requests from the public and council members to explain the grant monies lost by the city in the last several years. The council also approved plans to reorganize its city departments. This reorganization will be explained in detail later.
Acting Director of Public Works, Tina Cherry, reported on the water and sewer leaks in the city at the express request of Council Member Tom Adams at a prior council meeting. A more detailed account of that report can be found online at MonroviaWeekly.com.
Chi started by reassuring the City Council and the citizens of Monrovia that the city’s water is safe to drink. He said that after the city discovered the allegedly illegal dumping, steps were immediately taken to test the water supply and that these checks would continue at a heightened level. He did not report on who was doing the testing or the cost of that testing. (For a more complete explanation of the situation, see related article, “Monrovia Reviews Water Policies after Potential Illegal Dumping” in this same issue.
The City Manager then went on to give the staff’s explanations for the confusion over the loss of money from several grants. The three grants in question range from a $927,000 grant for repairs to the Historic Santa Fe Depot located in the middle of the Station Square complex, to a $1.9 million reimbursement grant for improving the Old Town Shopping area, to a $1.8 million grant for improvements along Huntington Drive.
The first of the grants, the one for the Santa Fe Depot, was awarded in 2002 according to Chi and would have required approximately $300,000 in matching funds (for which the city planned to use Measure C monies). According to Chi, while the city was given access to the building to affect repairs, it did not own the building at that time. Chi also said that at the time of the grant, what is now the Gold Line was still being referred to as part of the Blue Line. He said that at the time, there was a very good chance that the Line would not be completed out to Monrovia.
Mayor Mary Ann Lutz reiterated this point, saying, “I was on the Board of the Gold Line then, and it did not look good at that time.”
Chi said that at the time the city applied for the grant, there were several different ideas of how to use it (including moving the entire building, which would have compromised its historic value). There was a thought to use it as the station for the rail line itself, or as a transit store for both the metro line and Foothill Transit. He pointed out that the issues had not been worked out by the time to funding ran out for the grant. This grant was lost in 2009.
However, some work was done using this grant money and the city was reimbursed for this. Repairs were made to the roof of the depot and plans were drawn up by a consulting company, but were not used. Repeated requests for copies of those plans have gone unanswered.
Mayor Lutz and Council Member Becky Shevlin both made comments that to use “public money” for projects whose future was not feasible was not prudent. They reiterated Chi’s comments that the future of the Gold Line was uncertain and to use the grant money without a solid plan was not wise. Lutz also reiterated that the City did not at that time even own the Historic Depot.
Asked why the city had applied for a grant for rehabilitation on a building it did not own, Chi responded that the city often applied for grants on “Concept Projects.”
He also implied that the city staff was involved in so many projects that the station rehabilitation project was not a top priority because of the uncertainty of the feasibility of the project.
At this same time, the city was handling a grant for $1.9 million for improvements to the Old Town Shopping District Streetscape. This 2006 grant also required matching funds, this time in the amount of $1.4 million. Proposition C funds were used for this match. The repairs were made by 2008, but the reimbursement did not come from Metro, the conduit for the funds for this federal grant.
A year after the work was completed, the city started looking into why it had not yet been reimbursed. Staff found that reports had not been appropriately filed and that they seemed to have been submitted too late. The city employee responsible for allegedly falsifying reports, and in essence costing the city $1.9 million, was subsequently fired and criminal charges were filed against him.
Mayor Mary Ann Lutz said that then City Manager Scott Ochoa informed the members of the City Council immediately of this problem. This newspaper has requested copies of any reports submitted to the council at that time, but as of press time, there was no response from the city. An attempt to find such reports online via the City’s automated system was unsuccessful.
City Attorney Craig Steele said that the District Attorney’s Office had filed the criminal charges against the employee involved, and that he, Steele, was not completely sure he remembered the exact sentence given the former employee. Steele said that it he felt that the individual had pled guilty and was sentenced merely to probation and was ordered to pay what he recalled was a $1,000 fine. Steele said he would search for the exact details and provide them.
It should be noted that criminal fines are not retribution (repayment to the injured party) and so the city did not receive any of the fine money. The money spent by the City was taken from its general fund in anticipation of repayment from the federal grant money.
After describing the Old Town Grant, Chi explained that partially as a response to losing the money on this grant, the city had obtained a grant in 2011 of $1.8 million for reconstructing Huntington Drive. Chi commented that this was considered a shovel-ready project at the time.
He reported, “In July 2014, the City realized that these funds were due to lapse and we would not be able to complete the project per the required grant timeframes.” He went on to report that staff has been negotiating with staff at Metro regarding the extension of these funds. He said that the Metro staff was recommending the reinstatement of these funds, but the Metro Board will not discuss this matter until June of this year.
Council Member Tom Adams asked Chi simply, “So we have lost these funds at this time?” Chi replied in the affirmative.
Chi also said that when the property for the Gold Line Maintenance and Operations Yard was sold by the City of Monrovia to the Gold Line Construction Authority, part of the funds from the sale were used to repay the general fund for the monies lost in the Downtown Streetscape program.
Council Member Alexander Blackburn pointed out to Chi that if the city had filed its paperwork properly and complied with the terms of the grant for the Streetscape, the city would have had both the grant money and all the money from the sale of the M & O yard.
At the conclusion of Chi’s explanation, Council Member Tom Adams asked Chi simply, “So at this time, we are out $4.5 million?” Chi admitted this was the case, but again pointed out that the city had used funds from the sale of the M & O to replenish the General Fund and that the $1.8 million might be reapproved in June.