Montebello Meltdown

Redevelopment corruption


A pair of state audits recently found new troubles for Montebello, a city in eastern Los Angeles County that has been mismanaged for decades. 

California Controller John Chiang's September audits of Montebello's redevelopment agency (RDA) and a municipal gas tax identified "$31 million in questionable spending, loans, and fund transfers." Chiang, who is leading a broad investigation of RDAs across the state, also revealed that a former city manager in the highly politicized city was reimbursed for a lunch meeting with a former city councilwoman at a Chuck E. Cheese's restaurant.

Montebello has cycled through four city manager/administrators in recent years. A 2010 recall election purged many members of the local political class. The current city administrator, Larry Kosmont, a real estate developer, says the city has been getting its finances in order, acknowledging that some practices are "not acceptable and need correction." Kosmont disputes the $31 million figure, however, claiming the city faces only $1,067,842 in "legitimate obligations."

This dispute is playing out in a region of Los Angeles County where several towns have witnessed public spending scandals. One, the industrial city of Vernon, this year survived an effort by state Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez (D-Los Angeles) to revoke its charter. 

But it was the Chuck E. Cheese's angle that caught the attention of the Los Angeles Times and other local media outlets. The Whittier Daily News caught up with former City Manager Richard Torres, who told the paper "the council's preference, more than others, was to meet for breakfast or lunch." A large pizza at the popular kids' chain boasts 2,040 calories.