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Citadel Outlet Owner Steve Craig Takes Advantage of His ‘Purchased’ Commerce Council Relationships


OP/ED

By Brian Hews

The Commerce Casino is by far the largest tax revenue generator for the City of Commerce. The city receives half of all its revenue from the Casino, yet the Casino is always treated like the proverbial stepchild when it comes to assistance from the City Council.

Meanwhile, the other family member in Commerce, the spoiled child otherwise known as the Citadel Outlet Mall, is given everything, and then some.

In February of this year, Hews Media Group-Community News learned that the Citadel Outlet Mall’s large double-faced digital signs located off the 5 freeway in Commerce were in violation of City, State and Federal outdoor advertising laws and that Mayor Tina Baca Del Rio, Mayor pro tem Lilia Leon, Councilmember Ivan Altamirano, Councilman Joe Aguilar, and City Attorney Eddie Olivo have been aware of the violations yet failed to take action.

At a February City Council meeting, they tried to cover their tracks by passing a sign ordinance amendment that brazenly read, “Conversion Of Citadel Digital Display Signs To Off-Site Digital Signs.”

This was months after Craig held a fundraiser to pay for Commerce Mayor pro tem Tina Baca Del Rio’s $26,000 FPPC fine and just after Craig donated $40,000 to defeat Hugo Argumedo and Denise Robles in this year’s City Council race.

In reviewing the new section, HMG-CN confirmed that the City Council approved the amendment to the exclusive benefit of the Citadel and Steve Craig.

The code exempted the Citadel as the only business in the City to be free from most sign requirements.

The proposed code gave digital billboard permits to the Citadel despite the 720-foot rule, which has been the law in Commerce for over 30 years.

Many residents are also angered over the Citadel Bus deal that was spearheaded by Councilman Altamirano.

In that deal, the city obtained a bus that is used almost exclusively to shuttle Citadel customers back and forth.

Altamirano said the bus would “pay for itself, with no impact on the city budget.”

Documents obtained by HMG-CN show the city is paying for the bulk of the expenses of the bus to the direct benefit of Steve Craig and his Citadel Outlet.

Now, once again the City Council, consisting of Mayor Lilia Leon, Mayor pro tem Tina Baca Del Rio, Councilmembers Ivan Altamirano and Oralia Reballo, are favoring Craig and the Citadel by entering into a contract to hire two L.A. County Deputy Sheriffs to work exclusively inside the Citadel Outlet Mall.

With only Councilman Argumedo objecting that Craig should pay for both deputies, the remaining Council voted for a deal where Craig would pay for one deputy, Commerce will pay for half of the other, with the remaining balance picked up by a grant from the state.

But, after one year, to the ire of Argumedo, the City would pay the entire salary plus benefits of one deputy who will work exclusively at the Citadel Outlet Mall.

The cost to the city, including salary and benefits, is well over $110,000.

Argumedo argued vehemently before the vote for Craig to pay for both deputies but to no avail.

Many attribute the actions of the current City Council to a “quid pro quo”, that is, a “something for something” deal with Craig.

Earlier this year, HMG CM revealed during the 2015 City Council campaign that Craig set up an Independent Expenditure Committee and donated $40,000 to defeat eventual winner Hugo Argumedo and incumbent Denise Robles.

Argumedo garnered the most votes and Robles lost in a close race to the Craig supported Oralia Reballo.

And now Reballo and the Council are paying him back.

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