One week after the City Council fired them en masse, the five members of the Planning Commission were invited to council chambers to receive commendations from the city for "outstanding service and significant contributions.".
One fired planner, Fred Rivera, boycotted the Monday ceremony. Two others, Johnny Li and Patricia Chin, accepted the citations but acknowledged the irony of the evening.
"I have citations for more than 20 years of volunteer work in this community, and I honor and treasure them," Rivera said. "But I wasn't about to appear and have a phony smile on my face. I felt that if they liked me, they wouldn't have fired me."
"It's kind of funny timing," said Li, a member of the commission since 1984. "I'm working hard to ignore the unhappy part and focus on the happiness of being honored."
"It's ironic," added Chin, a six-year commission member. "But we served our community and we served it well. I accept the honor in that light."
In a 3-1 vote with one abstention, the council last week dismissed the entire commission rather than pursuing the more tedious route of requesting and then accepting individual resignations. Council members criticized the planners for not reflecting what they regard as a mandate to curb commercial and condominium growth.
The dismissal came as the city is nearing completion of a plan aimed at reducing congestion and bringing a new, "more aesthetic," look to commercial development in the city. Councilman Chris Houseman said a Planning Commission with a "fresh approach" was needed for the job.
However, city officials speculate that the mass firing was aimed not at the entire commission but at Li and Rivera, who are members of a group seeking the recall of three council members.
Believing that they still have the support of some council members, Chin and another commission member, Yukio Kawaratani, said they would seek reappointment to the part-time, nonpaid positions. David Barron, who was appointed to his four-year term in 1985, said he also was leaning toward reapplying.
"One council member in particular has urged me to reapply," Barron said.
Rivera said he also would seek reappointment but not because he thought he had any chance.
"I don't believe I will be reappointed. I'm reapplying as a matter of principle," he said. "I want to put the City Council on notice that what they did was wrong."
During the council session, Mayor G. Monty Manibog formally ended his 9 1/2-month rotating term and passed the gavel to Councilman Cam Briglio.
'Second to None'
In his "state of the city" message, Mayor Briglio repeatedly used the phrase "second to none" to describe everything from his family to the city and police and fire volunteers.
He stressed the need for harmony in a community that has experienced racial backlash from the influx of Chinese newcomers in recent years.
In that spirit, Briglio welcomed a group of young singers from Yung-Ho, Taiwan, Monterey Park's sister city. They sang the national anthems of both countries, "America the Beautiful" and a song celebrating Chinese New Year.