Nearly Three Years After Scandal Broke, City of Bell Still Struggling to Recover

As an attorney and a current councilmember in the City of Bell, Ana Maria Quintana has more than a passing interest in the downtown jury deliberations to determine if six of her
predecessors are guilty of corruption.

But her focus, she said, remains on a city still in recovery mode.

"Bell has definitely made progress," Quintana said, acknowledging that the city still has a long ways to go. "A lot of changes are slow."

Even more so than other cities, Bell finds itself on a financial tightrope.

"Bell's coffers were stripped," Quintana said.

Raising taxes is not an option. On the banks of the Los Angeles River, in a faded bastion of long-gone heavy manufacturing, working class Bell already has an assessment rate that, compared to all other cities in Los Angeles County, is second only to Beverly Hills.

Quintana is hopeful the tax burden can be eased, but "not in the foreseeable future."

What's more, millions of dollars remain at stake in an assortment of legal conflicts that stem either from actions taken by officials of the ousted city administration, or from the complications of removing them.

Former city administrator Robert Rizzo and his then-assistant Angela Spaccia contend they were illegally terminated, and seek both back pay and compensation for legal fees. They face
criminal prosecution later this year.

Four members of the so-called Bell Six former councilmembers contend the city should cover the cost of their defenses to a separate civil action filed in 2010 by the Attorney General's office, a case that may or may not proceed, depending on a decision from the California Court of Appeals.

If all the claims by former officials are upheld, the city could be liable for as much as $10 million, councilmember Nestor Valencia estimated.

A failed redevelopment project has put the city at even greater risk, after it defaulted on a bond issue of $35 million.

A suit was filed by a banking group which purchased the bonds.

Negotiations have been under way to work out a settlement.

"When we go bankrupt, then we can start over again," said Donna Gannon, an unsuccessful candidate for Quintana's council seat in the March 5 election.

Quintana remains optimistic the city of 36,000 can avoid having to seek bankruptcy protection.

"That's not an option I want," she said.

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