MONTEBELLO — A City Council decision to spend $1.1 million on a parking lot has sparked a political fracas that is dominating the race for two council seats in the Nov. 3 election.
Incumbent Art Payan has been the target of criticism because he voted to spend city money on a parking lot to accommodate the expansion of the Quiet Cannon restaurant and discotheque. The expansion is opposed by a vocal bloc of area residents who say a larger Quiet Cannon will only bring more noisy youths into their neighborhood.
Opponents also note that Payan accepted a $1,000 campaign contribution from the Quiet Cannon Montebello Inc., the firm that runs the restaurant and dance club.
Councilman William M. Molinari also has come under attack in his reelection bid for allegedly failing to report campaign contributions, allegations he calls "totally fabricated." Molinari said the allegations are related to his opposition to the Quiet Cannon project.
The issue has altered the balance of the City Council, one in which Payan often provided the swing vote. Molinari and Councilman Edward C. Pizzorno--like councilmen Arnold M. Glasman and Bill Nighswonger--seldom vote apart.
Two challengers--Art Rangel, a city planner for Baldwin Park, and Kathy Salazar, a registered nurse who owns a local nursing service--are ready to move into either seat. Salazar says she would provide a unifying force, while Rangel touts himself as an independent.
The lines were drawn for the election wars in August, when a split City Council approved a $2.5-million expansion of the Quiet Cannon restaurant and dance club.
The council also extended the Quiet Cannon's 25-year lease agreement by 20 years, and voted to build the parking lot in Montebello's Bicknell Park. The Quiet Cannon operates out of a city-owned building next to the park, and the parking lot will primarily serve its customers.
Councilmen Glasman, Nighswonger and Payan approved the project, while Molinari and Pizzorno voted against it.
A city consultant has estimated the expanded Quiet Cannon will generate $140,000 in additional revenue for the city annually. The lease expires in the year 2023.
Payan, who was on the team that negotiated with Quiet Cannon Montebello, said in a recent interview that he is still convinced it is a good deal that will benefit the city.
The councilman reported in his campaign statement that Quiet Cannon Montebello donated $1,000 to his campaign by buying two tables at a July fund-raiser at the restaurant. Payan said he anticipated his opponents would link the contribution to the vote as the election neared.
"I was negotiating via the instructions of the full council and I wasn't going to reverse myself because of political expediency," said the 50-year-old retired federal probation officer.
More than 100 people filled the council chambers the night the Quiet Cannon expansion and parking lot were approved. Many opposed the expansion, saying the operation already had brought noise, rowdy youths and other problems to their neighborhood. A citizens group that calls itself Save Our Community sued the city earlier this month to stop the parking lot.
Molinari lashed out at the council majority for approving the project despite protests from area residents. At issue, Molinari said, is whether the council should be responsive to residents or to corporate interests like Quiet Cannon Montebello, whose owners live outside the city.
"What benefit is there to the community to expand when the residents are telling us it's already an operation that's unacceptable?" asked Molinari, 48, a partner in a family-owned electrical and building contractor businesses.
He also said it was a poor business deal because it would interfere with city plans to attract a major hotel to the site. The Quiet Cannon has exclusive food and beverage rights that could prevent a hotel from operating its own restaurant, he said. Molinari also said the $1.1 million should have been used to build a new fire station in South Montebello, a project the city has delayed.
Meanwhile, a group calling itself Concerned Citizens for Honesty in Government has requested that the Los Angeles County District Attorney's office investigate whether Molinari failed to report a campaign contribution of more than $3,800 allegedly made by Almansor Court Inc., the operator of an Alhambra restaurant where Molinari held a fund-raising dinner last April.
The Oct. 19 request by Montebello developer Michael Minasian also said Molinari failed to report campaign expenditures.
Molinari said he received an Oct. 19 letter from Almansor Court secretary Brad Perrin, notifying him he had failed to list the firm's $3,828 contribution. But Molinari said his campaign paid the full cost of the dinner--$6,456--and the expenditures in question were reported in his Oct. 22 campaign disclosure statement.