2023 YEAR IN REVIEW: Politics plays major role in civic events during past year

Contributing Writer

COMPTON — The year 2023 was filled with ups and downs for the city of Compton as officials continued their efforts to make progress for its residents.

The year began with California Attorney General Rob Bonta confirming the appointment of Deidre Duhart to the City Council after a resident filed a challenge to her appointment.

Duhart was appointed to complete the term of former Councilwoman Michelle Chambers who resigned after two years in office.

Resident Lynn Boone sought the right to sue over the appointment of Duhart to the District 1 council seat. Boone sought to have Duhart removed from the seat alleging she didn’t receive the required number of votes to be appointed.

Duhart was nominated during the April 5, 2022 meeting on a 2-1-1 vote. Boone asserted that the Compton City Charter requires three affirmative votes to be appointed.

Bonta found that Section 505 did not address the number of votes required to fill an appointment.

“Compton’s charter provides that the City Council shall fill a vacancy in any elective office by appointment. … Section 505 states that a vacancy shall be filled by appointment. … The provision is silent on the number of votes required.”

“Boone asserts that Section 607, which addresses ordinances and resolutions and orders for payment of money requires three affirmative votes for the appointment. … The relevant part of Section 607 is unless a higher vote is required by other provisions of this charter.”

Duhart has qualified for the March 5 municipal election to seek a full four-year term.

April was a busy month for Compton as the city publicly denounced street takeovers and looting after a video went viral where a local gas station was ransacked during one of the illegal events.

“The city of Compton condemns the street takeovers that have plagued our community for far too long and in the past most of the participants have not been from our city but come here to take part in these takeovers and other senseless crimes,” Mayor Emma Sharif said. “We are working closely with the Compton Sheriff’s Station to find the perpetrators.”

Compton Sheriff’s Station Capt. Terrance Bell shared what efforts the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department was taking to combat the continued nuisance of street takeovers.

“Compton deputies responded to numerous illegal takeovers the morning of April 16 [that] included hundreds of participants at the intersection of Long Beach Boulevard and Rosecrans Avenue, Central Avenue and Alondra Boulevard, Central and Rosecrans avenues, and numerous others, and while responding to these incidents we also received calls for burglaries,” Bell said.

No arrests were announced to the public.

The following week Compton officials and residents gathered at Compton College to celebrate the renaming of the library for the first Black woman to serve on the Compton College Board of Trustees.

Emily B. Hart-Holifield was the longest serving board member in the college’s history. Her name was placed on the exterior of the library and then removed after the district went under the control of El Camino College.

“The Compton Community College District is pleased to posthumously honor Mrs. Emily B. Hart Holifield’s life-long community work, advocacy, and dedication to education and Compton College by naming the campus library as the Holifield Library,” said Keith Curry, president of Compton College.

“Emily B. Hart-Holifield was the first Black woman elected to the district’s Board of Trustees in 1975. She served on the board for 20 consecutive years, including serving 10 terms as board president.”

The following week the city announced that a cannabis task force, formed under former Sheriff Alex Villanueva, successfully shut down close to a dozen illegal cannabis dispensaries operating in city limits.

“I am pleased to report that the first six months, since the task force started, have shut down nine illegal dispensaries in the city of Compton,” Sharif said. “Our task force has worked tirelessly to investigate and process these illegal operations.”

“Our task force has worked closely with the Sheriff’s Department to coordinate our efforts and ensure that we are utilizing all available resources to combat this problem,” Sharif added.

By the end of the year, it was discovered that one of the co-founders of STIIIZY, a popular cannabis brand, was allowing the operation of illegal dispensaries in properties it owned in Compton. The owners alluded to the lack of enforcement as a reason those businesses were allowed to stay in operation.

The city found that Tony Huang, co-founder of STIIIZY, owns nine properties, through holding companies, that municipal, county or state authorities have identified as sites of illegal dispensaries. Publicly available documents revealed ties between Huang’s properties and a larger web of unlawful cannabis storefronts across the Southland connected through real estate deals, common lenders or shared tenants.

The city then celebrated the opening of the Plenty Vertical Farm on May 18.

Plenty specializes in vertical farming, which produces pesticide-free fruits and vegetables.

“Plenty is an indoor growing company so we grow plants inside without the sun in controlled environments,” said Plenty CEO Arama Kukutai. “We are producing leafy greens and we also produce tomatoes and in the future, we’ll be producing strawberries and other fruit and produce.”

The company is located in Councilman Andre Spicer’s district and employs a number of Compton residents at its site.

“This is amazing for the community in a place where we have a food desert,” Spicer said. “To have a company here that is producing the produce, that is non-GMO, and no pesticides means our community is going to get fresh produce.”

Then came the announcement that the Mamba and Mambacita Sports Foundation in conjunction with BodyArmor refurbished a basketball court at Wilson Park on June 16.

The event was attended by Vanessa Bryant, widow of Lakers great Kobe Bryant and WNBA star Lisa Leslie, who unveiled the new court alongside city officials.

“Thank you for showing up and showing out for our exclusive court reopening at Wilson Park in honor of Kobe and Gianna,” Vanessa Bryant said. “Special thanks to artist Sloe Motions for the incredible mural and Lisa Leslie and Trae Young for being a big part of this special occasion.”

Bryant also thanked the donors who made the court possible.

“To our donors, you made this happen,” she said. “Every single dollar you’ve donated and [merchandise] you’ve purchased from the foundation goes toward our mission of creating positive impact for underserved athletes and boys and girls in sports.”

The next month the City Council voted to fire City Manager Thomas Thomas who had been on the job for less than two years.

Thomas joined the city after a nationwide search was conducted to replace former City Manager Craig Cornwell after the city declined to renew his contract.

The City brought back Jerry Groomes as interim city manager, who previously served in the same role in 2016.

Groomes served in the role through the end of the year with his last city council meeting Dec. 20 after the city voted to name Willie Hopkins Jr. the new city manager.

Hopkins currently serves as city manager in Barstow, and is expected to start Jan. 8.

Compton Unified School District continued to make strides in providing quality educational services to its students through various new programs and partnerships announced after the start of the 2023-24 academic school year.

Denzell O. Perry was named the new president of the Compton school board by his colleagues.

“Assuming the role of president of the Board of Trustees for the Compton Unified School District is more than an honor, it’s a responsibility I embrace with my heart and soul,” Perry said. “For me, it’s about serving as a steadfast beacon for our youth, illuminating their paths towards a future defined not by their circumstances, but by their resilience and ambition.

“I stand with them, for them, and because of them, committed to fostering an education system that champions potential, cultivates dreams and cherishes the promise that every student in Compton holds within.”

Board member Satra Zurita was pleased with the board’s choice for president.

“Denzell [Perry] is passionate about supporting students in Compton and his commitment is solidified by our vote,” Zurita said. “He understands our district as a former student and will bring forth ideas that the board looks forward to supporting.”

The Home Depot Foundation’s Team Depot built a 2,800-square-foot garden area at Compton Early College High School and Junior Achievement of SoCal, in partnership with the district, announced the launch of 3DE, which was first piloted in Georgia.

Compton Unified also launched three new NAF Academies of Engineering on three local high school campuses.

“This partnership between RTX, NAF and Compton Unified will impact students in the Compton Unified School District for generations,” said NAF executive Lisa Dughi. “When school districts and employers work together to bring real-world opportunities to students of all backgrounds and capabilities, the results can truly be transformative.

Board member Zurita held her 12th annual Compton Walk for A Cure cancer walk at Centennial High School.

“Our mission at this year’s event is to illuminate the path towards early detection education for Black and brown women and through our dedicated efforts, we are bringing hope, awareness and the tools needed to ensure every woman’s journey begins with knowledge and empowerment,” Zurita said. “As a six-year cancer survivor, I am living proof of life-saving education.”

The district ended the year with the Compton High School marching band participating in the 2023 Hollywood Christmas Parade.

“I am excited to witness the Compton High School band take center stage at the Hollywood Christmas Parade,” said Compton school board member Micah Ali. “This is a moment of pride for the Compton Unified School District that highlights our commitment to arts education.”

The city ended the year shrouded in controversy related to the actions of current and former elected officials.

Former District 2 Councilman Isaac Galvan was formally indicted on bribery charges related to cannabis licensing in the city of Baldwin Park.

“Former Compton City Councilmember Isaac Galvan stands accused of paying tens of thousands of dollars to a corrupt member of the Baldwin Park City Council in order to enrich himself and a client with a marijuana business,” said U.S. Attorney Martin Estrada. “This case is yet another example of my office’s determination to root out public corruption and backroom deals that corrode our political system. We will continue to pursue politicians who violate their sacred oaths by placing their own desires ahead of their constituents’ needs.”

After bonding out and agreeing to meet certain conditions for his release, Galvan violated those terms by allegedly driving under the influence and then failing to report his arrest to the court.

He is now under house arrest and can now leave his home only under limited circumstances, including court appearances, medical treatment and attorney visits, and his location will be tracked at all times, according to the judge’s order.

Finally, Compton Mayor Sharif is under scrutiny for possible conflict of interest under Government Code 1090 after voting to pay herself an additional $15,000 in compensation from federal funds.

The resolution stipulated that payment was not to exceed $15,000. Sharif allegedly received checks for $7,448 each on May 15 and Dec. 31, 2022.

According to documents released by the California Fair Political Practices Commission under a public records request, the complaint was initiated by former City Manager Craig Cornwell.

Compton attempted to “beat the clock” in March 2022, when the City Council approved a resolution authorizing unclassified employees to receive so-called hero pay from funds provided by the American Rescue Plan Act before a final ruling was issued the following month that would have prevented authorizing such use.

Documents released by the city indicate that all of the city’s elected officials took the pay despite the city charter setting their compensation at $600 per month.

According to Bjorn Dodd, assistant head deputy in the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Public Integrity Division, his office received a complaint on the matter which was then referred to the FPPC.

“The Public Integrity Division received a complaint on June 23, 2022, [regarding complaints about Compton elected officials taking hero pay from federal funds received under the American Rescue Plan Act],” Dodd said. “On September 12, 2023, PID received a request from the FPPC for authorization to investigate the matter. … PID granted that request on September 27, 2023. Accordingly, PID is not currently reviewing the matter pending the FPPC’s investigation.”

Councilman Jonathan Bowers and Councilwoman Lillie Darden also voted in favor of themselves receiving the funds although no complaints were filed against them for doing so.

In 2015, the city received a “cease and desist” from the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office for paying themselves outside of what the Compton City Charter allows.

“There is no legal authority in the Compton City Charter that allows the mayor or council members to pay themselves money over and above this $600 salary. Any increase in salary must be specifically stated within, and authorized, by the Compton City Charter.”

Emilie St. John is a freelance journalist covering the areas of Carson, Compton, Inglewood and Willowbrook. Send tips to her at emiliesaintjohn@gmail.com.