The Ali Saleh Story
City of Bell Mayor Ali Saleh is the son of Lebanese immigrants. He was born, raised and lives in Bell. Ali is a small business owner and father of four. Before entering public service, Ali co-founded the community group BASTA (Bell Association to Stop the Abuse) and has become a national figure in the movement to clean up local government.
The Cost of Intolerance, The Search for the American Dream
Ali Saleh is the son of Lebanese immigrants who migrated to Southern California in the early 70’s fleeing the political violence and economic upheaval of their homeland. While Lebanon is commonly known as a land afflicted by political and sectarian strife–the truth is that for hundreds of years Lebanon was a shining example of human tolerance and cooperation.
It was not uncommon in Lebanon to have communities where Muslims, Jews, and Christians lived side-by-side and celebrate birthdays, mourn deaths, and help each other out in times of need. These friendships ran deep. For instance, Ali’s mother Teresa was given a Christian name to honor a family friend while the friend’s Christian family gave their son a common Muslim name, "Ali" to honor the friendship.
“My family history has taught me the terrible cost of a society that puts self-interest above what is in the common good. It is more important now than ever for all of us to work toward ensuring the American Dream continues to be available for the next generation.”
Working hard for the American Dream
In 1973 Ali parents, Husni and Teresa, moved to Southern California to begin establishing a new life for their family. Ali’s father first worked as a door-to-door salesman to go to eventually open a men’s sportswear shops in Lynwood and Paramount. While his family grew their business Ali was working hard in school. He attended southeast schools Corona Elementary, Nimitz Middle School, Bell High School, and finally Cerritos College. While attending Cerritos College, Ali became more involved in the family business and eventually began working there fulltime. Today, Ali along with his brother own and operate multiple businesses.
“I will always appreciate the opportunity that American provided for my family. I believe having a quality public school system and strengthening small businesses is the best way for to rebuild the middle class.”
Activism, Accountability & BASTA!
As the City of Bell was rocked by continued headlines of corruption and abuse of power by City elected officials and administrators, Ali organized the Bell community to develop new community leaders that would restore Bell residents faith in city government. Ali believed that a united community voice was crucial to restore community control of the City.
Ali joined with other grassroots leaders and helped found BASTA (Bell Association to Stop the Abuse). Ali worked diligently with the BASTA and other local leaders to organize the community and started a historic grassroots campaign to take back the City of Bell from the corrupt politicians that were bankrupting the City.
After months of community organizing, Ali felt compelled to enter public service as part of this effort. Running on a platform of restoring ethical leadership, transparency and fiscal reforms, Ali and other BASTA candidates swept to victory in a historic election in 2011.
Restoring Faith In City Government
Since his election in 2011, Ali has remained committed to his campaign promises to restore faith in the City of Bell. Ali has worked diligently to implement best practices on ethics and transparency and help ensure that Bell residents had access to their City government. Ali has also focused on turning the City of Bell into the community friendly city.
Embracing Diversity and Community
Mayor Saleh is fluent in three languages— English, Spanish and Arabic— Ali navigates the ethnic and cultural diversity of the Southeast LA area with good-natured ease. He grew up living in a mixed Anglo, Latino, and Arab community and has been a unifying force in his community. During the Bell Corruption Scandal, Ali held grassroots meeting for reform minded residents at the local Islamic center. The packed meeting were embraced by all of Bell’s residents and became as the meeting place of the anti-corruption movement BASTA.
“Southeast Los Angeles is a diverse and vibrant community– from Long Beach by the sea to the all of the great inland communities our many cultures and our common values is ehat makes the Southeast great.”
The great Bell turnout around
Shortly after his first election to city council, Ali Saleh was voted in a Mayor of Bell. While Bell residents rejoiced at the prospects of a new day of good governance–the corrupt Rizzo regime left the city with basic structural problems including weak administration, significant debt, and several unresolved lawsuits. Ali quickly moved to stabilize the Bell’s finances and administrative structure. He worked with the California League of Cities of cities to hire an interim city manager familiar with crisis management experience. First, they cut Robert Rizzo’s exorbitant pension to a rate in line with California averages. Then they moved to hire a professional staff. Because the city was nearly bankrupt they negotiated a restructuring of city law suits and actually began to bring in positive revenue streams with a year. They cut trash rates for local residents, stopped increases in property taxes, retained the local police department, and increased Park and Recreation services.
Today, Bell is considered one of the most stable and ethically sound city governments in Los Angeles County. The city’s turnaround is a testament to the power of democracy and what local citizens can get accomplished when they take control of their government and community. Ali Saleh had it right when nearly ten years ago he decided to organize his local community and say ¡Basta! to corrupt government.
Ali’s accomplishments include the following:
- Saved the City of Bell from approximately $20 million of potential liability
- Completed FY 2010, FY 2011, and FY 2012 financial audits during FY 2013
- Implemented monthly financial reporting to the City Council and departments
- Implemented monthly investment reports to the City Council
- Completed bond work out which resulted in eliminating more than $20 million in new taxes to property owners
- Consolidated 11 bank accounts inherited from the Rizzo administration into zero balance accounts, this simplifying the bank reconciliation process
- Reduced citywide debt from more than $140M to less than $80M by the end of the fiscal year 2013-14
- Added more than $30 M in general fund reserves during fiscal year 2013-14
- Authored the City’s first “Financial Management Policies and Procedures Manual”
- Implemented and corrected all audit findings from audits of the Rizzo era
Accountability & Transparency:
- Secured contract for live-streaming of Bell City Council meetings
- Launched new City website
- Municipal Code available on City’s website
- New city website earned an A- from Sunshine Review, an organization that monitors governmental websites.
- Updated the city’s recruitment protocols and internal controls for our hiring process
- City Council adopted the Records Retention Schedule
- Successfully rolled out the Risk Management Program with the City’s new membership in ICRMA
- Successfully completed the implementation of Springbrook finance/accounting system
- Revision of the Council Procedures Manual to confirm with law and good practice
Community Development & Planning:
- Completed construction of a $1.8 M street improvement project (6.3 lane miles); Measure R provided $585,000 for this project; Prop C provided $300,000 for this project
- Completed the 2014-15 Pavement Rehab Project which included the resurfacing or reconstruction of 6.3 lane miles of streets; the repair of damaged curb and gutter, driveway approaches, and sidewalks; and the installation of curb ramps
- Completed entitlement for a 64,000 SF commercial tilt-up warehouse and office building; a new Carl’s Jr. fast food restaurant; a 6-unit commercial retail complex; and a new 4,740 SF bakery
- Dispatch times for priority-1 calls improved by 33%
- Dispatch time for priority-3 calls improved by 40%
- Created COPS office to support and direct Community Policing
- Created Coffee with the Chief program to support the COPS office
- Created college cadet program
- Increased enrollment and had the largest Explorer program in LA County
- Successfully hired (1) Police Chief, (3) new Police officers, and (1) Police Dispatcher
- Deployed first motor unit for traffic enforcement
- Deployed new police patrol vehicle fleet
- Appointed a Police Captain
- Increased the number of Reserve Police Officers
- Completed the installation of 8 camera citywide surveillance system
- Developed a new Pee Wee Sports program for youth ages 4-7
- Developed new Senior Services programs for adults 55+
- Renovated the baseball field at Veterans Memorial Park
- Developed a new Adult Sports Program and a series of after-school programs for youth ages 7-12 years old
- Established the first annual Bell 5K Run/Walk with 1,300 registered participants
- Partnered with the Mexican Consulate, Watts Properties and Senator Ricardo Lara’s office to bring the Barrio Roots Mural project which consisted of a community mural painting behind the Bell Plaza
- Partnered with South East Los Angeles Collective to bring in the Art Walk
- Partnered with Encuentro Latino to coordinate the Dia de los Muertos event
- City was awarded two consecutive $5,000 grants from the Alliance for a Healthier Generation and the Walmart Foundation to continue to provide healthy after-school youth programs at Camp Little Bear.
- Created and established Student Government Day in collaboration with Bell High School
- Developed a policy to quickly respond to sewer spills
- Obtained a $654,000 EPA grant to improve sewer system
- Obtained a SCAG grant to develop a bike master plan
- Completed significant irrigation repairs to reduce water consumption
- Started the tree planting project on Gage Avenue
- Past Board President of the Gateway Cities Council of Governments
- Regional Council Board Member for Southern California Association of Governments
- Board of Trustee Member for Greater Los Angeles County Vector Control District
- Board Member for Los Angeles County Sanitation District.
- Appointed by California Speaker Anthony Rendon to the Los Angeles Rivers and Mountains Conservancy
- Awarded Democrat of the Year in 2011 by the Los Angeles County Democratic Party