The Stories That Made Headlines In 2015

By EGP Staff Report

The count down has started: Out with the old and in with the new!
Well, not quite.
2015 may be coming to a close but some of the stories that repeatedly made our headlines this year are sure to be back in 2016; some with a vengeance.
From the Exide toxic pollution scandal to the threat of El Nino, to the growing number of homeless, rising rents and crime numbers, the battle to close the 710 to 210 transportation gap and demands for higher wages, EGP predicts these issues will continue to grab headlines in 2016.
Not because movement on the stories are at a standstill, but because they continue to evolve.
Economists say more people are working and the economy has recovered, but there’s also an increasing amount of data showing many more people are now homeless and fewer people are able to buy a home or afford skyrocketing rents.

Exide Contamination Scandal
No story on our pages received more coverage than the battle by local residents and environmental justice activists to shut down Vernon-based Exide Technologies.
After years of hazardous waste violations, residents in East and Southeast communities in March rejoiced at the news that Exide – a lead-acid, battery recycler – would finally be closed permanently. In order to avoid federal criminal prosecution, the company agreed to close down permanently and pay millions of dollars in fines and for the cleanup of facility and any properties in surrounding areas contaminated by its emissions.
What’s Next: Testing and cleanup of properties in the surrounding communities of Boyle Heights, East Los Angeles, Bell, Huntington Park, Maywood and Commerce is still underway by the Department of Toxic Substances Control. Up to 10,000 homes may require decontamination. A community advisory committee is “overseeing” the process, including the removal and transportation of the tainted soil to another location.

 A crew from the Department of Toxic Substances Control collect samples of dirt for testing. (EGP photo archives)

A crew from the Department of Toxic Substances Control collect samples of dirt for testing. (EGP photo archives)

Crime In Northeast Los Angeles
Also making multiple headlines in 2015 was the gang war in Northeast Los Angeles that resulted in numerous shootings and widespread fear in the community.
Los Angeles police from the Northeast Division attended a community meeting earlier in the year where they told residents that the LAPD had increased patrols and stepped up enforcement of gang injunctions to get control of the street violence.
The gang violence did quiet down, but other violent crimes, including the murder of two young girls whose bodies were found in Debs Park, multiple stabbing attacks and gentrifying Figueroa Street took its place in the headlines. Hit-and-run deaths also increased, heating up the war over bike lanes, which advocates claim are the best way to slow down traffic and increase pedestrian safety. Opponents dispute their claim, saying bike lanes will not stop someone from driving under the influence or taking off when they hit someone. They also say the bike lanes will just create more traffic jams and decrease valuable street parking.
What’s Next: Bicycle activists say they will continue to pressure the local Councilman, Gil Cedillo, and the city of Los Angeles to adopt their “road diet” plan in Highland Park. Cedillo has proposed other strategies, such as adding more traffic lights and signs in the area. The battle will continue.

A vigil is held for a victim of a hit-and-run in Highland Park. (EGP photo archives)

A vigil is held for a victim of a hit-and-run in Highland Park. (EGP photo archives)

The Homeless Crisis
Throughout 2015, the city and county of Los Angeles have continued to report growing numbers of homeless and to talk about the need to spend millions of dollars to increase transitional and permanent housing and mental health services.
Residents in several communities have complained that homelessness is a problem in their neighborhood and have called on local officials to move transients — forcibly is necessary – out of their neighborhood.
While some point to the homeless as the blame for an increase crime, health and unsanitary conditions, blight and a host of other problems, advocates for the homeless fought efforts to criminalize the homeless and pushed for more services to assist them.
More than 25,000 people are homeless within the city of Los Angeles, according to the latest 2015 count by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority. Countywide, homelessness has risen 12 percent since 2013’s count, from 39,461 to 44,359 people homeless.
In September, Mayor Eric Garcetti and members of the city council declared “a state of emergency on homelessness” and committed $100 million to provide permanent and transitional housing to those in need.
Earlier this month, city officials set aside $12.4 million to help house the homeless and provide more temporary shelter during El Nino storms expected this winter.
The funding, proposed by Garcetti and approved by the City Council, includes $10 million for “rapid re-housing” subsidies for nearly 1,000 transients to help them with rent or move-in costs.
The remaining funds will increase shelter beds this winter by more than 50 percent – to a total of 1,300. These beds will be targeted to those living in the Los Angeles River bed and the Tujunga and Arroyo Seco washes.
At the County level, supervisors last week approved $5 million of Homeless Prevention Initiative funds be set aside for the expansion of programs that help decrease homelessness among youth in Los Angeles County.
The County is now drafting a set of strategies to reduce homelessness through an intensive, inclusive planning process known as the Homeless Initiative, which will include recommendations to establish a Transition Age Youth Resources Center.
Approximately 1.7 million runaways or homeless youth under the age of 18 live in Los Angeles County, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness. Twenty-five percent of former foster youth reported they had been homeless at least one night within 2.5 to 4 years after leaving the foster care system.
Last week city and county officials jointly announced expansion of the County’s SMART team model — known as MET in the County — which according to Sup. Hilda Solis “effectively diverts mentally ill individuals from the criminal justice system and into treatment programs with the potential of helping many turn their lives around.”
What’s Next: With the threat of El Nino looming larger every day, homeless advocates are scrambling to increase the number of shelter beds available this winter. A temporary shelter opened at All Saints Episcopal Church in Highland Park is one such facility that will likely receive emergency funding despite not meeting the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority’s normal standards. Some cities are considering allowing people living in campers to park overnight at city-run facilities, and other changes.

Los Angeles has experienced an increase in homeless living on the streets. (EGP photo archives)

Los Angeles has experienced an increase in homeless living on the streets. (EGP photo archives)

The Threat of El Niño
Federal, state and local officials have been aggressively preparing for El Niño heavy rains that are expected to hit the Southland this winter. In years past, El Niño weather caused traffic gridlock, neighborhoods to be flooded, toppled power lines and damaged homes with the pounding rain for days without end. Cities across the basin have been assessing infrastructure needs and making repairs to avoid storm damage.
Topping the list of preparations across the region has been the clearing of debris flood basins and storm drains.
Earlier this month the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) released a disaster response plan for severe storm weather.
Commerce and several other cities have set up strategies for communicating with residents and business in the event of an emergency, are encouraging people to sign up for their Alert system notifications.
Bell Gardens is sending residents “tips” for preparing for El Nino.
Montebello and Commerce have each handed out a large number of sandbags to local residents.
What’s Next: Local municipalities will continue monitoring areas prone to flooding, clearing out storm drains and distributing sandbags to businesses and residents. The storms are expected to hit in late winter. Los Angeles County has set up safety tips available at www.lacounty.gov/elnino

The SR-710 Debate
For more than six decades, the battle over how to close the 4.5 mile gap between the terminus of SR-710 Long Beach freeway in Alhambra and the northbound Foothill 210 Freeway in Pasadena has divided communities all along the route, from Commerce to La Canada.
The heavily traveled 710 Freeway is a transportation nightmare for commuters and commercial vehicles in the area, and residents living in adjacent communities.
Caltrans and Metro released a draft environmental impact report/environmental impact statement (DEIR/EIS) in March on five possible alternatives for closing the gap, they include: a “no build” option; a traffic management system; a rapid bus line, a light rail and a 6-mile freeway tunnel.
Several groups have called for scrapping the report, after months of meeting and public comment, and starting over. Others have called the long delay a racist, environmental injustice, forcing low-income, mostly Latinos to bare  the brunt of high levels of pollution while allowing more affluent communities to avoid carrying their share of the burden.
What’s Next: Information from comments received during public hearings throughout the year will be used to prepare the final environmental document along with the agencies’ preferred alternative. We can expect to see ongoing debate and political maneuvering from all sides of the issue.

 An  SR710 North public hearing gets heated. (EGP photo archives)

An SR710 North public hearing gets heated. (EGP photo archives)

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December 31, 2015  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

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