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Santa Ines assumes Bellflower mayor’s gavel

BELLFLOWER — Sonny R. Santa Ines, a retired financial officer and administrator, moved from mayor pro tem to mayor, replacing Ray Dunton, as the City Council reorganized Dec. 10.

Councilman Juan Garza, employed by a consulting firm, was chosen mayor pro tem by his colleagues. He was appointed to the City Council in June 2016 to replace retiring Councilman Scott Larson, and was elected to a four-year term in March 2017.

Both votes were unanimous.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Lee Tsao administered the oath of office to Dunton and Santa Ines, who will serve four years; and retired city planner Ray Hamada, 62, an appointee who will serve until November 2020.

Hamada was named last month to replace the late Councilman Ron Schnablegger, who died in October. He will represent District 1 along the north side of the city.

Technically, Dunton, District 5; and Santa Ines, District 3; are also appointees this year. They were unopposed in their districts on the Nov. 6 ballot so the city canceled the election.

The first formal action of the new council was to unanimously approve retaining the 5 percent utility tax on monthly electric, natural gas and telephone communications (including cell phones), expected to bring in about $3.3 million in the 2018-19 fiscal year.

No one spoke at the required public hearing on the tax, most of which is pledged to public safety, the rest to public works.

Public Safety Director Joel Hockman said that while his department’s expenses have been increasing along with the city’s population since the tax was approved in 1994, revenue is down.

The tax generated just over $4 million in 2008. He attributed most of the increase to higher costs of service from the city’s contract with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department for police services. The city’s population has increased by 13,000 since the tax was first approved in 1994, Hockman said.

He attributed some of the tax revenue decrease to changes in communication, with many people dropping their telephone land lines.

The tax was approved administratively in 1994 and confirmed by voters in 1997. The 1997 ordinance required the annual public hearing and a review by the city-appointed Public Safety Review Committee, which on Nov. 20 recommended continuing the 5 percent levy, Hockman said.

“It was humbling, being named mayor for the fourth time,” said Dunton, owner of an automotive business.

“Many things have changed for the better and more good things are coming,” Dunton added.

He will be honored for his mayoral service the past year at the next regular council meeting Jan. 14, 2019.

“It’s cool to be named mayor of my adopted town,” Santa Ines said.

He praised Schnablegger and said Hamada “will be a wonderful addition to the council. We don’t always agree, but we always have the best interest of Bellflower on our minds,” he added.

Hamada said that while at first his head was in the clouds when appointed, “my feet are now firmly planted on the ground. My heart is full of hope for this community. I am truly humbled.”

Councilman Dan Koops,  an appliance store owner, said “being on the council is a great experience. The city will continue to take positive actions. We are moving forward, making Bellflower greater.”

“We do care for each other. We work well together,” Garza said, noting that Dunton’s one-year term as mayor was shortened by four months. He was elected mayor in March, but the city then switched from a spring to a fall vote to comply with state law and changed their annual reorganization date as well.

By Arnold Adler

Contributing Writer