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Protesters incensed by Bell officials' high salaries visit mayor's business, home [Updated]

July 25, 2010 | 12:31 pm

Residents irate over the high salaries hauled in by their public officials marched Sunday to the businesses and homes of the mayor and City Council members.

A boisterous crowd of more than 200 gathered at the corner of Gage and Corona avenues. Several were wearing T-shirts featuring a city seal and the words "My city is more corrupt than your city."

Their first stop: Oscar's Korner Market and Carniceria, owned by the mayor, Oscar Hernandez. They then moved on to the mayor's house, near Florence Avenue, then to a home on Otis Avenue owned by City Councilman George Mirabal.

At the stops, protesters maintained a moment of silence and then shouted "Fuera!" -- "Out!" Dozens of cars honked as they passed and offered thumbs-up, though one man stopped, defended the city officials and challenged a protester physically.

"I don't think they are taking it seriously. And we're serious," said Nestor Valencia, 45, an organizer of the demonstration, a Bell resident since 1975 and a founder of the Bell Resident Club. "They need to resign."

Bell is a working-class city of 40,000 residents. The Times revealed earlier this month that City Manager Robert Rizzo received a $787,637 annual salary, Assistant City Manager Angela Spaccia received $457,000, and Police Chief Randy Adams received $376,288. Rizzo earned more than President Obama, Spaccia earned more than the top administrator for Los Angeles County, and Adams earned 50% more than Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck.

All three resigned on Friday.

Four City Council members are paid close to $100,000 annually for their part-time positions -- sums that are far higher than in other cities of comparable size and which have baffled and upset the League of California Cities and other local government organizations.

"This is a test for our community," Valencia said. "There's been a fiasco here."

Hernandez, in particular, Valencia argued, represented "a culture that is not our culture."

"It is a culture of rule-breaking," Valencia said. "It is a culture of nepotism. ... He thinks he can do anything because he is the mayor."

Hernandez could not be reached for comment.

[Updated at 12:48 p.m.: Bell police have estimated the crowd at between 200 and 300.

Demonstrators have visited the residences or businesses of the mayor, the vice mayor and two City Council members -- all of whom they want to resign.

The crowd also stopped at a Chevrolet dealership, long a fixture on Atlantic Avenue, that shut its doors weeks ago, citing burdensome property taxes. Demonstrators are now approaching City Hall, their final stop.

"This city has woken up," said Jesus Casas, 35, a Bell resident for 15 years. "We want a new city government that will represent by the people and for the people."]

-- Scott Gold