Our Top Stories of 2014

By EGP Staff Report

It’s now 2015 and it’s human nature to hope that the new year will be better than the last, even if it was a good year overall.

There will be resolutions to lose weight, exercise more, stick to a budget, get a better job, and maybe do a little charity work.

But a new year does not mean a new beginning in all areas. Some of the issues and stories that captured the public’s attention in 2014 will undoubtedly still be grabbing headlines in 2015.

With that thought in mind, here is an overview of some of the top 2014 stories EGP reporters expect to continue to be writing about in 2015.

 

Immigration: Executive Action and CA Driver’s Licenses

(EGP photo archive)

(EGP photo archive)

Immigration reform continued to be a hot issue in 2014, with proponents decrying the president’s decision to delay any action until after the November General Elections out of concern that it would cause Democrats seats in the House and Senate. Republicans still won more seats in both chambers, and will be the majority party in 2015.

On Nov. 20, 2014, President Obama unveiled his plan to allow as many as 5 million immigrants in the country without authorization to seek a form of temporary legal status and reprieve from deportation.

Obama’s Executive Action will apply to the undocumented parents of U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents, who will also be able to apply for a work permit valid for three years.

To qualify, they must have been in the country for more than five years, pass a criminal background check, pay fees and show that their child was born prior to the issuance of the executive order. Once qualified, they will also have to pay taxes.

Also, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) for “dreamers”—immigrants who came illegally to the country at a very young age—was expanded to over the age of 31.

There is no application available yet. It is estimated that DACA expansion will begin by February and DAPA implementation in May.

Republicans are challenging the president’s authority to make the “change” in immigration law in the courts. Constitutional experts, however, contend the president is not changing immigration law, but issuing a priority for enforcement.

Expect the fight to continue in 2015 as Republicans take control of both houses.

CA Driver’s Licenses for the Undocumented

Staring today in California, undocumented immigrants can apply for a state isued driver’s license. It’s estimated as many as 1.5 million undocumented immigrants will qualify under the implementation of AB60. The licenses they will be issued will have a slight mark to demonstrate it is only for driving purposes and not for federal or state purposes of identification.

 

Controversy Over Exide In Vernon

(EGP photo archive)

(EGP photo archive)

The controversy over “toxic” air emissions from Exide Technologies in Vernon continued in 2014, however various state agencies took steps to begin to address the contamination at the facility and in the surrounding community.

In November, the Department of Toxic Substance Control (DTSC) ordered the acid-lead battery recycler to pay $38.6 million to cover the cost of clean up if the facility closes. DTSC also required Exide to establish a $9 million trust fund to clean up nearby areas impacted by lead contamination.

That cleanup of homes with high levels of lead began in August in Boyle Heights and resumed in December. The facility has been cited multiple times for higher than allowed emission levels of lead and other toxic chemicals, raising the cancer risk for more than 110,000 nearby residents.

A bill authored by Sen. Ricardo Lara will require that Exide be fully permitted by no later than Dec. 31, 2015 to avoid being shut down.

Just last week, however, several lawsuits were filed against officers of the company seeking unspecified damages for hundreds of plaintiffs claiming they have been harmed by toxic emissions from the company’s lead smelting plant in Vernon. Attorneys for the plaintiffs said their clients have suffered birth defects, asthma, cancer, and in some cases death.

With its permit still pending, new pollution control equipment to be tested, contamination cleanups continuing and lawsuits to be heard, Exide will continue to be in the news this year.

 

 Leadership Change In County Government

The tale-end of 2014 brought a major shakeup in Los Angeles Country government. For the first time in decades, county residents elected new officials to top governing posts, including Sheriff and two members of the Board of Supervisors.

County residents also elected a new Assessor, replacing John Noguez who faces political corruption charges.

Board of Supervisors

Decades in office had in some ways provided a buffer to former Supervisors Gloria Molina and Zev Yaroslavsky, allowing them greater independence from the political pushback that often polarizes other elected officials.

With term limits now on board of supervisor seats, it will be interesting to see if the newly elected supervisors, Hilda Solis in the First District and Sheila Keuhl in the Third District, will be able to exercise the same independence during their tenures.

Molina and Yaroslavsky were each on the board for two decades, Molina a a few years longer. along with Supervisors Don Knabe, Mike Antonovitch and more recently Mark Ridley-Thomas, they ushered the County through ups and downs in the economy, using constraint in spending that at times raised the ire of county employees and agencies seeking more money.

It’s been widely speculated that Solis and Keuhl may not be as able, or willing, to exercise the same level of independence and will bend more easily to public employee groups.

L.A. County Sheriff

2014 started with the resignation of Sheriff Lee Baca after four terms in office and 48 years with the department.

Baca resigned amid a federal investigation of the Sheriff Department’s handling of the prisoners in county jails. There were convictions of several deputies for civil rights violations and obstruction of justice, and speculation that Baca had abdicated his oversight responsibility to staff.

In November, Jim McDonnell, a former Long Beach Police chief and LAPD captain, was elected as the County’s top law enforcement officer, ending a decades long trend of department insiders holding the job.

In 2015, McDonnell will have to deal with a number of issues to reform the department, including overhauling the jail system, re-training and deployment of sheriff personnel, and the federal investigation into the treatment of jail inmates, particularly those believed to have issues with mental illness.

 

Killing of Bell Gardens Mayor Daniel Crespo

(EGP photo archive)

(EGP photo archive)

Bell Gardens Mayor Crespo, 45, was shot to death by his wife, Lyvette Crespo, at their home on Sept. 30, according to the sheriff’s department. Deputies said Crespo and his wife were arguing, and their 19-year-old son intervened, leading to a struggle between the mayor and his son that ended when Lyvette Crespo opened fire.

The killing has raised questions about what the public thought they knew about the mayor and his family, with allegations of domestic abuse and infidelity capturing headlines.

Lyvette reportedly said she shot the mayor as he fought with their 19-year-old son Daniel.

The son and Crespo’s daughter Crystal told authorities that their father had verbally and physically abused their mother.

The mayor’s brother, William Crespo said those allegations are false, an has called for Lyvette to be arrested and charged with murder. He said Lyvette was angry about her husband’s affair, and his plans to divorce her. The District Attorney  has not filed charges.

 

Death of Vernon Councilman

The Vernon community was shaken by the unexpected death of their city’s most outspoken councilmember.

Michael A. Ybarra died of a massive heart attack Sept. 26 following an athletic event in Lodi, California, according to family members. He was 61. The late councilmember was elected in 2011 during the first contested race in the city in many years on the heels of the city’s commitment to reforms in order to avoid disincorporation.

A special election will be held Feb. 17 to fill the vacant seat that would have expired in 2017.

 

California’s Drought 

(EGP photo archive)

(EGP photo archive)

Despite rains in December, 2014 ended as the third consecutive year of drought in California, one of the worst in state history.

About 80% of the state experienced extreme drought conditions, forcing the governor in 2014 to declare an extreme drought emergency, forcing residents and businesses across the state to cut back water usage or face fines from water utilities or local municipalities.

Several cities, including Los Angeles, Monterey Park, Bell Gardens and Commerce, issued restrictions on water use, mandating alternate day watering schedules for lawns and outdoor landscape, prohibiting the hosing off of driveways and sidewalks, or personal washing automobiles without the use of automatic shut off valves on hoses.

Water officials said the drought is the most serious in 30 years, affecting the ability to irrigate crops and causing extreme shortages of drinking water in some parts of the state, most noticeable in the Central Valley.

Recent rains provided some relief to the worst drought conditions, but the full benefit to reservoirs will not be known until March, at the end of winter, according to Jay Lund, director of the Center for Watershed Sciences at UC Davis.

 

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December 31, 2014  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

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