Vernon No Longer Considering Outsourcing Police to County

April 18, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Although no public comments have been made, the city of Vernon is no longer considering outsourcing its police department to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, now that voters have approved tax increases to help fund public safety costs, assuring city officials that Vernon residents want to retain their local police agency.

A preliminary report from the Sheriff’s Department, estimated that the city would save nearly $4 million a year by closing its department and contracting with the county. According to city officials, given the influx of new revenue, the estimated savings were not “substantial enough” for the city that prides itself for having one of the lowest police response times in Los Angeles County.

The Vernon Police Department has specialized units like the K9 unit to respond to calls in the industrial city. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

“There’s no question that this city wants to have their own police department,” Vernon’s Independent Reform Monitor John Van De Kamp told EGP. “For the time being, the Sheriff’s proposal is off the table.”

It is estimated that the three tax measures approved earlier this month will bring in $8 million for the city’s General Fund over the next 10 years, which will help pay for police and fire services.

Vernon spokesman Fred MacFarlane said it’s unlikely the city will continue to consider contracting with the Sheriff’s department.

Vernon began to consider outsourcing its police department in mid 2012 at the urging of Van De Kamp and business owners who saw the option as a way to close the $12 million budget deficit the city faced that year.

City Administrator Mark Whitworth requested information from the Sheriff’s department around July 2012, and the county came back a preliminary price tag of $6,763,472, which was presented to the council. The County also told Vernon officials that they needed $60,000 to conduct a more exhaustive study to determine a more accurate cost for their services.

MacFarlane said this preliminary $6 million figure concerned the city, which worried it was a “teaser rate” that would increase over the years, and eventually become unaffordable.

“The Sheriff’s Department couldn’t make those iron-clad guarantees” about the costs he said.

In an August 2012 report, Vernon Police Chief Daniel Calleros told the council that while the city-run police department costs are higher, $10,323,915 a year, switching to the county would result in a reduction in services, including longer response times.

Council members decided to hold off on any decision until they received the results of a study being conducted by a consulting firm hired by the city to help compare the two policing options.

The council did not receive the report — which found that Vernon could not be compared to any other California city due to its unique industrial makeup — until January of this year, the same month the council approved placing the three tax measures on the April 9 ballot.

The issue of changing “died due to lack of action by the council,” MacFarlane said.

“There was a conscious decision by the board and myself to stay with the current, independent Vernon police department,” Vernon’s city administrator told EGP. “If we need to further visit the issue or if there is any concerns from the public or the businesses that we haven’t thoroughly vetted the issue, I will agendize it.”

Van De Kamp, however, told EGP that he recommended to the council that it publicly address what appears to be its informal decision to not pursue a contract with the county. He expects they will do at a future council meeting.

The city’s police department has already taken some steps to cut its budget, such as reducing personnel; they also expect some retirements by the end of the fiscal year. Vernon police are also looking at the possibility of contracting out its serviced to neighboring cities like Maywood.

Chief Calleros said cities like Maywood, which closed its police department and now contract with the county, are seeing a reduction in services because the Sheriff’s Dept. often “overextends its services.” Growing up in East Los Angeles, Calleros said he saw first-hand the services the Sheriff’s department provided.

“As police chief here in Vernon, I know the level of service the County provides and I do not recommend it for Vernon,” he said.

The city is only home to around 100 residents, which means most of the interactions the police department has are with businesses, Vernon Detective Jeremy Cross told EGP. Calls to the police department are typically for burglaries and thefts of business-related materials, including copper, diesel fuel and pallets.

Since the city is home to many companies that use flammable chemicals that are not found in your average city, Vernon police are trained to handle specialized calls including terrorist threats and hazardous situations. The department also has detectives assigned to specialized task forces that bring in money to the department through asset forfeiture funds. The county would not provide staffing for those critical specialized units or the number of officers required to maintain low response times, according to the chief.

“The business community relies on the police department,” McFarland said. “A response time of four to five minutes is a real reassurance if you’re a business owner.”

Chief Calleros said he is pleased that the city’s residents approved the three tax measures. Voters made it clear that they, and the business community, want to maintain their local police department, he said.

“Vernon PD is the best choice and the right choice for Vernon, not the County.”

Officers and Domestic Violence Counselors Team Up to Help Victims Find Safety

April 18, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

One moment 32-year-old Tania was walking her child to a bus stop in Hollywood, the next she was running for her life. With help from a team of advocates who work with local police to help save women like her, Tania has escaped the clutches of her batterer and stalker. Today, she is a survivor of domestic violence and chooses to live a life free of violence.

But it was just a short time ago that Tania feared for her life. Last November, a very aggressive woman who appeared to be concealing a weapon, confronted her as she walked her to the bus. Her child saw the whole thing, but it was only the most recent is a series of incidents that made her fear for her life, Tania recalls. She told EGP she was convinced her ex-husband had set up the confrontation, but couldn’t prove it.

Lea esta nota EN ESPAÑOL: Policías y Defensores de Víctimas de Violencia Domestica Unen Fuerzas

“He sent someone to the bus stop to hurt me,” Tania said. “I called the police, they never showed up. I went to the station, they wouldn’t take a report [because I wasn’t hurt and I didn’t see the weapon].” Fearing for their safety, she picked her daughter up from school and “we never went back home,” she told EGP.

Sadly, Tania’s story is not unique.

The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) gets about 48,000 domestic violence calls per year and investigates about 20,000 domestic violence reports as crimes, said LAPD Chief Charlie Beck last October, announcing the expansion of the LAPD’s Domestic Abuse Response Team (DART) program.

DART trains officers and civilian domestic violence counselors to respond to domestic violence incidents and how to offer victims help. A DART unit is comprised of two sworn police officers in uniform and trained DART counselor/advocate. The unit deploys four times a week on the nights when the most domestic violence calls are made to 911.

In the Northeast and Hollenbeck police divisions, DART partners with the anti-domestic violence advocacy group Peace Over Violence, a non-profit that helps and empowers victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, stalking and incest.

Officers Ryan Duncan and Myra Correa respond to domestic violence calls in the Northeast division. The station gets about 5,000 domestic violence related calls a year, Duncan said.

When responding to a call, first the officers secure the scene and start their preliminary investigation speaking with the victim, depending on the severity of the call, officers will provide Emergency Protective orders to the victims and families if needed.

Once the their preliminary investigation is complete, they ask the victims if they want to speak with a DART civilian counselor who can provide information on counseling, advocacy, support, accesses to restraining orders and other resource information. After the victim signs a waiver to allow the counselor to speak with the victim, they speak in private with the officers outside.

Duncan told EGP that calls come in almost every night, but many victims reject the help being offered by Peace Over Violence advocates who accompany them on the calls.

While law enforcement authorities say domestic violence is one of the most underreported crimes and victims often refuse help or try to protect their assailant, according to Tania it was a struggle to find help when she finally wanted it. She told EGP she couldn’t hide out with family or friends, and the police didn’t seem to believe her, which made her feel completely alone.

Like many victims of domestic violence, Tania says her abuse started early, when she and her ex-husband were still dating. It started with a slap across and went down hill from there. One night, while on a “romantic” date, he put a gun to her face after reading in her diary that she wanted to leave him. She didn’t leave.

He was obsessed with the idea that she would cheat on him, she said. “‘If I ever catch you cheating, I will kill you,’ I saw it in his eyes,” Tania recalled.

Tania says she didn’t leave him because she loved him, and feared he would be deported if she got the police involved.

In 2002 she took out a restraining order against him, but thinking he had changed, married him five years later. The abuse started up again as soon as they were married.

It wasn’t until he started physically abusing their child that she got the nerve to kick him out, that’s when the latest stalking began. She changed her locks, but he broke into her apartment. He would call her nonstop, eavesdrop outside the door of her apartment and had people follow her.

Since the November incident at the bus stop, Tania and her daughter, whose real names have been changed to protect their privacy and safety, have stayed at hotels, an emergency shelter and are now living in transitional housing.

Tania connected with Peace Over Violence through a detective at the Northeast Police Station, who gave her the phone number to the organization’s hotline.

She was encouraged to go to an emergency shelter and eventually did after Peace Over Violence emergency services coordinator Alice Corona told her it wouldn’t hurt.

“I didn’t want to go but I did. It was the best advice I could ever take,” Tania confessed.

Tania started receiving crisis counseling, received help getting a restraining order as well as filling out the custody paperwork, Peace Over Violence also helped her connect her to other community resources.

“Alice [Corona] would accompany me to court… It felt really good, she believed me,” Tania said.

Corona remembers Tania said the first night they stayed in the emergency shelter, was the first time her child slept peacefully and didn’t stay up praying worried for their safety.

With the restraining order in place and living out of the area now, she says she feels safe though he’s using the court to harass her. Besides seeking custody, he’s also gone after her for spousal support even though she is not employed. Peace Over Violence has helped her advocate for herself but Tania has also learned to advocate for herself, Corona said.

“Tania would take notes and ask the judge question, she would cross examine her ex,” Corona said, asking him for example why he had recently obtained a passport.

Peace over Violence Director of Intervention Services Yvette Lozano says it takes an average of 8 times before a victim leaves the aggressor and then it becomes more dangerous for the victim. DART officers can provide Emergency Protective orders and advocates can help them get longer-term restraining orders in place.

There are many reasons why victims refuse help. They may dismiss the violence due to embarrassment, or they may be afraid their partner will take the children away, or they may be financially dependent on them. In other cases language or immigration status could be a barrier, she explained.

Sometimes victims say their abuser was drinking, but alcohol does not cause domestic violence, said Duncan.

Lozano remembers a case where a woman was battered by her husband inside a moving car, he then threw her out on the 110-N freeway. The victim, who suffered a broken pelvic bone, had previous incidents of domestic violence but had rejected help back then, she said. The victim was an undocumented woman in her 40s. While she was in the hospital, Peace Over Violence assessed her needs, helped her get a restraining order and resources to get a special visa for victims of domestic violence.

Lozano said the advocates respond to domestic calls with the officers but only talk to the victims after the officers have made sure the location is safe and wait outside. Information shared with the advocate is confidential unless the victim is suicidal or homicidal, she said. Beside accessing the individual’s needs, like if the person needs an emergency shelter or a restraining order, the advocate will follow up within 72-hours of the incident.

Domestic violence calls are some of the most dangerous for officers to respond to, “help me help you,” said Correa.

For more information on Peace Over Violence visit www.peaceoverviolence.org or call their 24-Hour Hotlines at (310) 392-8381, (213) 626-3393 or (626) 793-3385.

Policías y Defensores de Víctimas de Violencia Domestica Unen Fuerzas

April 18, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

En un momento Tania, de 32 años de edad, llevaba a su hija a la parada de autobús por la mañana en Hollywood, el próximo momento estaba corriendo por su vida. Pero con la ayuda de un equipo de defensores que trabajan con la policía local para ayudar a las mujeres como ella, Tania ha escapado de las garras de su agresor y acosador. Hoy, ella es una sobreviviente de violencia doméstica y elige vivir una vida libre de la violencia.

Pero solo hace poco tiempo que Tania temía por su vida. El pasado noviembre, una mujer muy agresiva que parecía estar ocultando un arma, se enfrentó a ella en camino a la parada del autobús de su hija. Antes de subirse al autobús, su hija fue testigo al incidente que era sólo el más reciente es una serie que la hizo temer por su vida, Tania recuerda. Ella estaba convencida que su ex marido había ordenado el enfrentamiento, pero no podía demostrarlo, ella dijo a EGP.

Read this story IN ENGLISH: Officers and Domestic Violence Counselors Team Up to Help Victims Find Safety

“Él envió a alguien a la parada de autobús para hacerme daño”, dijo Tania. “Llamé a la policía, nunca llegaron. Fui a la estación de policías, pero no me dejaron hacer una denuncia [porque no fui herida y no vi el arma].” Temiendo por su seguridad, ella recogió a su hija de la escuela y nunca regresó a su casa, ella afirmó.

Lamentablemente, la historia de Tania no es única.

El Departamento de Policía de Los Ángeles (LAPD) recibe alrededor de 48.000 llamadas por violencia doméstica al año e investiga cerca de 20.000 denuncias como delitos de violencia doméstica, dijo el jefe de policía Charlie Beck el pasado octubre al anunciar la expansión del programa de Equipo de Respuesta a la Violencia Doméstica (DART por sus siglas en inglés).

DART capacita a policías y consejeros a responder a los incidentes de violencia doméstica y ofrecerles ayuda a las víctimas. Un equipo de DART está compuesto por dos agentes de policía uniformados y un consejero / defensor capacitado. La unidad despliega cuatro veces a la semana en las noches cuando entran mas llamadas de violencia doméstica.

En las divisiones del Noreste de Los Ángeles y Hollenbeck, DART esta asociado con la organización sin fines de lucro Peace Over Violence (Paz en vez de violencia), la organización ayuda y capacitar a las víctimas de asalto sexual, violencia doméstica, acoso e incesto.

Los oficiales Ryan Duncan y Myra Correa son parte del equipo DART en la Estación de LAPD División del Noreste de Los Ángeles. La estación recibe alrededor de 5.000 llamadas relacionadas con la violencia doméstica cada año, dijo Duncan.

Cuando responden a una llamada, primero los agentes aseguran la escena y comienzan su investigación preliminar hablando con la víctima, según la gravedad de la situación, los agentes pueden proporcionar una orden de protección de emergencia a la víctima y su familia, si es necesario.

Una vez que la investigación preliminar se ha completado, se le pregunta a la víctima si quiere hablar con un consejero de DART que puede proporcionar información sobre el asesoramiento, apoyo, acceso a un orden de restricción y otros datos o recursos. Después que la víctima firma un permiso para platicar con el consejero, platican en privado con los agentes fuera del cuarto.

Duncan dijo a EGP que casi cada noche entran llamadas de violencia domestica, pero muchas veces las víctimas rechazan la ayuda ofrecida por el programa DART.

Mientras que las autoridades policiales dicen que la violencia doméstica es uno de los crímenes que más seguido no se denuncia y que las víctimas rechazan la ayuda o tratan de proteger a su agresor, Tania dice que fue una lucha encontrar la ayuda cuando ella finalmente la quería. Ella dijo a EGP que no podía esconderse con familia ni con amigos, y parecía que la policía no le creía, lo que la hizo sentirse completamente sola.

Al igual que muchas de las víctimas de la violencia doméstica, Tania dice que su abuso comenzó temprano en la relación, cuando solo eran novios. Comenzó con una bofetada en la cara y después de eso solo fue empeorando la situación. Una noche, durante una cita “romántica”, él puso a ella una pistola en la cara después de leer de su diario que ella quería dejarlo. Ella no lo dejó.

Él estaba obsesionado con la idea de que yo iba a engañarlo, Tania dijo. “‘Si alguna vez te encuentro engañándome, te voy a matar’, lo vi en sus ojos”, recuerda Tania.

Tania dice que ella no lo dejó porque lo amaba y temía que él sería deportado si le llamaba a la policía.

En 2002, ella tomó acción y recibió una orden de restricción contra él, pero cinco años después, pensando que él había cambiado, se casó con él. El abuso comenzó de nuevo tan pronto como se casaron.

No fue hasta que comenzó a abusar físicamente de su hija que ella tuvo el valor de echarlo de la casa, fue entonces cuando intensificó el acoso y el andar detrás de ella a escondidas. Ella cambió el candado de su puerta, pero él forzó la entrada a su hogar. Él también le llamaba a su teléfono sin parar, tenía gente que la siguiera y la escuchara a escondidas fuera de su puerta.

Desde el incidente en noviembre en la parada de autobús, Tania y su hija, cuyos nombres reales han sido omitidos para proteger su privacidad y seguridad, se han quedado en hoteles, un albergue de emergencia y ahora están viviendo en viviendas de transición.

Tania se conectó con Peace Over Violence a través de un detective en la Estación de Policía del Noreste de L.A., quién le dio el número de teléfono a la línea directa de la organización.

Fue animada a ir a un refugio de emergencia y, finalmente, lo hizo después que la concejera de Peace Over Violence Alice Corona le dijo que ir no le haría daño.

“Yo no quería ir, pero lo hice. Fue el mejor consejo que jamás podía recibir”, confesó Tania.

Ella comenzó a recibir consejería de crisis, recibió ayuda para obtener una orden de restricción, así como llenar los formularios de custodia, y Peace Over Violence también le ayudó a conectarse a otros recursos de la comunidad.

“Alice [Corona] me acompañó a la corte… Me hizo sentir muy bien, ella me creyó”, dijo Tania.

Con la orden de protección y ahora viviendo fuera de la zona, ella dice que se siente segura, pero su ex marido ahora está usando el corte para acosarla. Además de buscar custodia de su hija, él también esta buscando que le pague manutención de cónyuge aunque ella no tiene trabajo. Peace Over Violence le ha ayudado a que abogue por sí misma, pero Tania también ha aprendido a defenderse por sí misma, dijo Corona.

“Tania tomaba notas y le hacia preguntas al juez, ella interrogaba a su ex”, dijo Corona, preguntando le a su ex marido, por ejemplo, por qué él había obtenido recientemente un pasaporte.

La Directora de Servicios de Intervención de Peace Over Violence Yvette Lozano dice que es un promedio de 8 intentos para dejar al agresor antes que la víctima lo logra y luego la situación se convierte más peligroso para la víctima. Oficiales de DART pueden proporcionar órdenes de protección de emergencia y los defensores pueden ayudar a obtener órdenes de protección de largo plazo.

Hay muchas razones por las que las víctimas se niegan aceptar ayuda. Pueden despedir la violencia debido a la vergüenza, o tal vez tienen miedo que su pareja le quite los niños, o tal vez dependen económicamente de él, o en algunos casos el idioma o el estado migratorio podría ser una barrera, ella explicó.

A veces, las víctimas dicen que su agresor estaba bebiendo, pero el alcohol no causa la violencia doméstica, enfatizó Duncan.

Lozano recuerda un caso en el que una mujer fue golpeada por su marido dentro de un coche en movimiento, luego él la echó del auto sobre la autopista 110. La víctima, que sufrió una pelvis rota, había sufrido incidentes previos de violencia doméstica, pero había rechazado la ayuda en ese entonces, dijo Lozano. La víctima era una mujer indocumentada de aproximadamente 40 años de edad, y mientras que ella estaba en el hospital, Peace Over Violence evaluó sus necesidades, le ayudó a conseguir una orden de restricción y los recursos para conseguirle una visa especial para las víctimas de violencia doméstica.

Las llamadas de violencia doméstica son algunas de las llamadas más peligrosas para los policías y seguido son frustrantes porque las víctimas rechazan la ayuda “ayúdame a que te ayude”, dijo Correa.

Para obtener más información acerca de Peace Over Violence visite www.peaceoverviolence.org o llame una de sus líneas directas de 24 horas al (310) 392-8381, (213) 626 – 3393 o (626) 793-3385.


ELACC Contests ‘La Casa del Mexicano’ Debt

April 18, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

When East Los Angeles Community Corporation (ELACC) agreed to become the stewards of La Casa del Mexicano in Boyle Heights late last year, they agreed take on the building’s debt, which included paying off a high-interest loan taken out by the property’s previous stewards.

While ELACC is still disposed to paying the debt, it first wants to see a detailed breakdown showing why the mortgage balance has more than doubled since the loan was made seven years ago, says ELACC President Maria Cabildo.

The organization recently sent the loan issuer, Brownstone Mortgage Capital Corporation, a letter asking for the loan details, something they have refused to provide since January, Cabildo told EGP on Monday.

“When we accepted the asset we knew we were also accepting the debt, we just want to make sure the debt is legitimate,” she said. “The mortgage company is not sharing that information.”

The now defunct Mexican Benefit Corp. took out a $175,000 loan against the property in 2006, but failed to make necessary loan payments, sending the property into foreclosure and a date with the auction block.

News of the impending auction was met with a public outcry from community activists who feared the loss of the institution that has served the Boyle Heights community since the early part of the 20th century. They demanded that state and local officials investigate how the loan was approved in the first place, since the property belonged to a nonprofit but appeared to have become the private enterprise for the group’s officers. The auction was put on hold during the investigation, which found that the entity’s stewards — husband and wife Martha and Ruben Soriano and Martha Velasquez — had acted improperly and were liable for monetary damages, civil penalties and the state’s legal fees. The nonprofits Mexican Benefit Corp. and Comité de Beneficencia Mexicana de Los Angeles, Inc., the property’s previous owner, were dissolved.

Meanwhile, the loan amount ballooned to $450,000, according to Cabildo, who says ELACC simply wants to see a break down of the penalties, fees and interest rate charges before taking out another loan to pay it off. Genesis LA Economic Growth Corporation, a non-profit lender, is ready to lend ELACC the money to pay off the debt, Cabildo said.

“Just because ELACC was willing to take on the debt doesn’t mean your entire debt is valid until you show us how you arrived at this number,” said Cabildo, adding they hope to resolve the issue by May or early June.

Brownstone Mortgage Capital Corporation, which identifies itself as a subprime commercial mortgage lender on its website, did not respond to EGP calls and emails for comment.

ELACC calculates it needs about $5 million to restore La Casa del Mexicano to the same level of preservation they achieved at the Boyle Hotel. The building could be occupied with fewer renovations, but the goal is for it to be completely restored, Cabildo said.

ELACC held meetings earlier this month at the site to get input from the community about what they would like, or not like to see happen at the location in the future.

It was not a very hot day, but the roughly 100 people who attended were perspiring and fanning themselves, according to Cabildo, who said fixing the air conditioning would be costly fix because the building does not “have the infrastructure to support a modern air conditioning system.”

Because it is harder to raise money for a community facility, as opposed to housing—ELACC’s specialty — it could be five years before they are able to start the renovations and tenants would likely require some income generating activity, she said.

At the April 10 meeting — held in partnership with the I.am.angel foundation and attended by about 30 young people associated with the group — participants expressed an interest in La Casa del Mexicano becoming a community center where they can go for services, Cabildo said.

Suggestions from 12 breakout groups included returning La Casa to the neighborhood as a cultural space, focusing on cultural events for the community. There were also calls for job placement services and a computer-training lab for young people, college prep and arts programming, and completing structural upgrades to the parking lot and indoor amenities.

“Because the Casa has such deep roots in the neighborhood, we feel it is necessary to create a space where immediate surrounding neighbors and residents living in the general vicinity can put their thoughts and ideas on the table,” Cabildo told EGP. “Our mission is to preserve the Casa back to its original physical form and ensure that it is a place to grow community and local culture.”

Senators Deliver Bipartisan Immigration Reform Bill

April 18, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

A bipartisan group of senators known as the  “Gang of Eight,” on Tuesday released its bipartisan immigration reform bill, earning both praise and condemnation from liberals and conservatives.

Four Republican senators, John McCain, Jeff Flake, Lindsey Graham and Marco Rubio and four Democratic senators, Bob Menendez, Dick Durbin, Charles Schumer and Michael Bennet, introduced the immigration reform bill on Tuesday, which has received the support of President Barack Obama.

“Our immigration system is broken and the status quo of having 11 million undocumented people living under de facto amnesty will only continue if we do nothing to solve this problem,” Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio said in a statement.

President Barack Obama endorsed the proposed immigration reform bill that has been in negotiations for months and called for its early approval.

“I urge the Senate to quickly move this bill forward and, as I told Senators Schumer and McCain, I stand willing to do whatever it takes to make sure that comprehensive immigration reform becomes a reality as soon as possible,” Obama said in a statement issued by the White House.

According to Rubio’s office, the bill “contains the most severe measures of border control in U.S. history.”

Proponents emphasized that the measure will not grant amnesty to the more than 11 million undocumented immigrants who live and work in the United States, but could take more than a decade for those in the country without authorization to become legal residents.

According to Rubio’s office, while undocumented immigrants, with no prior criminal record, could start to apply for probationary legal status, issuance of more permanent status hinges on meeting tough standards for border security.

Among other things, the bill provides $3 billion for increased border surveillance including unmanned aerial drones and $1.5 billion for construction of a double-layer fence to be built by the National Guard.

The bill would also increase penalties for hiring people in the country illegally, while at the same time creating a temporary guest worker program in the agricultural industry. It would increase the number of visas for highly skilled, hi-tech workers, a proposal called for by the country’s business interests. Those visas would replace visas that were previously given to siblings and other relatives of legal residents or citizens, as part of the family reunification priority in the current immigration system.

Immigration rights activists are for the most part calling the bill a positive sign that immigration reform could be passed this year, but many have also cautiously said the bill is a “starting point,” and requires changes.

Most experts agree that the bill still has a long way to go:

“The introduction of a comprehensive immigration reform bill in the U.S. Senate today is just the first step in a long legislative fight,” according to Stephen Yale-Loehr, an authority on U.S. immigration and asylum law and professor of law at Cornell University Law School.

“For example, the Senate bill would eliminate green cards reserved for foreign siblings of U.S. citizens and married children over 30 years of age. Proponents of family immigration will be up in arms over this cut.” Yale-Loehr said a similar proposal in 1989 met a quick death in the Senate. He said the $4.5 billion cost could also derail the bill.

“With Republicans still controlling the House and Democrats controlling the Senate, the path to comprehensive immigration reform is just as hard as ever. If you thought getting health care reform through Congress was tough, immigration reform will be even tougher.”

Sal Castro Former Teacher, Chicano Activist Dies

April 18, 2013 by · 2 Comments 

Funeral arrangements have been announced for former LAUSD teacher Sal Castro, who led his students in the East Los Angeles school walkouts in 1968 to protest inequities in educational opportunities for Mexican Americans and whose efforts were documented in the HBO film “Walkout.” Castro died Tuesday , he was 79.

Sal Castro (standing, far right) at a 2010 panel discussion on about Ruben Salazar hosted by the Chicano Movimiento Resource Center. (EGP Archive photo by Gloria Angelina Castillo)

The educator and activist died peacefully at his home in Silver Lake following a tough battle with thyroid cancer, several of his friends told EGP.

News of Castro’s passing was met with an outpouring of emotion and memory filled statements from across the Hispanic community, including longtime Chicano activists, elected officials and former students.

Former state legislator and now Los Angeles City Council candidate Gil Cedillo said Tuesday via Twitter, “Today we lost a giant in the Chicano movement.”

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa called Castro “a courageous leader during the Los Angeles Chicano civil rights movement” who will “always be remembered for his zeal and commitment to improving educational opportunities for everyone, regardless of race.”

Castro worked at various inner-city schools before landing a teaching job at Belmont High School, where he taught social studies. But his activism with Spanish-speaking students led to him being transferred to Lincoln High School in East Los Angeles.

He was part of a committee that made recommendations to the county about ways of improving education for Latino students, and began working with students whose meetings became the Chicano Youth Leadership Conferences, which trained Latino student activists and leaders.

Castro became increasingly active in his criticism of inequalities between predominately Mexican American schools in East Los Angeles and other campuses. Unrest among activists and students led to walkouts – which were later dubbed “Blowouts” – that began in March 1968 with one school, then grew to include five campuses, including Lincoln. Chicano college students also joined in. The demonstrations eventually led to clashes between students and police.

Castro was arrested and charged with disrupting schools and disturbing the peace, although the charges were later dropped.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina compared Castro with Cesar Chavez.

“For Latinos in Los Angeles, Sal Castro was as influential and inspirational as United Farm Workers co-founder Cesar Chavez was nationally – an example of the power of organizing who personified the possibility of overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds,” Molina said.

Sal Castro, pictured, was honored by the city of Los Angeles during Latino Heritage Month in 2011. (EGP Archive photo by Gloria Angelina Castillo)

LAUSD Board of Education President Monica Garcia said Castro “will be remembered as a teacher, counselor, leader and courageous adult who stood with students in the 1968 walkouts and ever since dedicated his life to learning and leadership. Sal Castro’s courage and dedication will continue to be inspirational to future generations of students and educators.”

A middle school on the campus of Belmont High School was named Salvador B. Castro Middle School in his honor in 2009. He responded to the honor by saying, “I know that by naming a school after me you are really honoring the students who, more than four decades ago, tried to improve education with their courageous walkouts.

Recognizing the importance of the walkout was very important to Castro, according to former assemblyman and Los Angeles councilman Richard Alatorre, who on his Facebook page wrote that the last time he saw Castro he was in the hospital, and “All he could communicate was how important it was for the President to acknowledge the student walkouts.”

Alatorre said Castro never got the credit he deserved for bringing about change in L.A. schools. “We have lost a great friend and one of the most important leaders of our community.”

City Councilman Jose Huizar said Castro was a “warrior” for education.

“He put himself at considerable risk during a volatile time in our country’s history and never gave up the fight,” Huizar said. “I had the honor of getting to know him during my time on the LAUSD Board of Education. He was a true hero and an icon whose work continues through the countless people he inspired.”

Rep. Karen Bass, D-Los Angeles, called Castro “a tireless fighter and devoted public servant to our community.”

“His life’s work inspired a generation of activists to follow his lead in working to improve educational opportunities for all children, especially Spanish-speaking and minority students who had to overcome many barriers in pursuit of a good education to better their lives,” she said.

Funeral services will take place next week, starting with a Rosary at 7:30 p.m. on April 24 at Our Mother of Good Counsel Church, 2660 N. Vermont Ave. in Los Feliz. A funeral Mass will be held April 25 at 9:30 a.m. at the Cathedral, Our Lady the Angels, 555 W. Temple in downtown Los Angeles.

Information from CNS was used in this report.

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story mistakenly identified where and when Sal Castro was speaking.


Residents Worry Highland Park Transit Village Will Take Parking

April 18, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

A transit village being proposed for the community of Highland Park will get a public hearing April 24 by the City of Los Angeles Planning Department.

The department is encouraging residents and local stakeholders to attend and to present testimony on the project that has met with mixed reviews by both residents and businesses, many of whom have expressed concerns that the development will increase local density and traffic, and remove public parking which is at a premium in the northeast neighborhood.

The public-private housing development would be spread across three sites adjacent to the Metro Gold Line tracks in Highland Park, which are currently used for public parking to support local businesses, residents and Metro riders.

“Project site 1” is slated for 119 N. Avenue 56, and would create 80 housing units.

“Project site 2” would be located at 5712 E. Marmion Way (123 &125 N. Avenue 57 and 5706, 5708, 5712 E. Marmion Way) and would create 80 units of housing.

“Project site 3” would be located at 124 N. Avenue 59 (124, 128, and 132 N. Avenue 59) and would create 10 housing units.

McCormack Baron and Salazar, the developer, would build the projects in two phases: site 2 and 3 first, then site 1. Each development would have parking set aside for residents, and residents would also receive incentives to use the Metro Gold Line, according to the plans and statements made by company spokespersons at recent community meetings.

The project calls for moving the city’s public parking lots underground, below the housing developments.

There are 221 public parking spaces today and 221 public spaces will be available when the construction is complete, McCormack Baron Salazar Los Angeles Operations Senior Vice President Dan Falcon told a small crowd gathered Tuesday night for a community forum on the topic.

If approved, McCormack Baron Salazar would be responsible for building and managing the housing properties, but L.A.’s transportation department would control the public parking portion of the project, including parking rates.

At Tuesday forum, hosted by The Walls-Las Memorias, a local LGBTQ advocacy group, several residents expressed concern that the added population the transit village would bring would make local parking challenges worse. Some also said that crime in the area is a major concern and the underground parking element of the project is particularly unattractive.

The Wall-Las Memorias Executive Director Richard Zaldivar said he was not happy that Councilman Ed Reyes, who represents the area, did not attend the meeting, and seemed dissatisfied by the councilman’s representative’s seemingly inability to answer his aggressive barrage of questions, particularly those related to safety and street parking concerns. It was pointed out that people living in a two-bedroom apartment might have more than one car, but the project only allocated one parking space per unit, perhaps forcing one of the vehicles to be parked on nearby streets or in the public parking lots.

Zaldivar complained that there has been a lack of community engagement on the issue.

Addressing the safety issues raised, Falcon said the project calls for surveillance cameras in the parking areas with live footage available to LAPD. He also suggested that a parking district on local neighborhood streets could be established to ensure adjacent neighbors are able to continue to park on their neighborhood streets.

(Pictured Left to Right) The Walls Las Memorias’ Executive Director & President Richard Zaldivar put Councilmember Ed Reyes’ Chief Planning Deputy Rebecca Valdez on the spot regarding safety and parking; she deferred the questions to McCormack Baron Salazar’s Dan Falcon. (EGP photo by Gloria Angelina Castillo)

Other topics discussed at the meeting included selection of affordable housing tenants — two of the three sites would be affordable housing developments — management of the properties, the impact on local utility infrastructure and schools and local businesses would be affected.

Next week’s public hearing will consider approving zoning and tract maps for the transit village. The next step would be consideration by the full Planning Commission which could approve the project. A date for that hearing has not been set.

The April 24th public hearing will take place at 9:30 a.m. in Room 1020 at Los Angeles City Hall, 200 N. Spring Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012.

The project case numbers are: VTT-72147-CN, AA-2013-222-PMLA, AA-2013-222-PMLA, CPC-2013-226-SPE-CU-ZAA-CCMP-SPP. The CEQA case number is: ENV-2013-221-MND. Project documents can be tracked and viewed at http://planning.lacity.org/cts_internet/

For more information, call L.A. Planning Department representative Christina Toy Lee at (213) 473-9723 or email Christina.toy-lee@lacity.org.

Historic Olvera Street Theatre Moves to House L.A. City Television Station

April 18, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

The Los Angeles City Council lat week approved moving the city’s television station studios from their current Union Bank Building space in Little Tokyo to the historic Merced Theatre in the El Pueblo Historical Monument.

CityView Channel 35, which broadcasts city meetings and other programming, will be housed in the nearly 150-year-old Merced Theatre once renovations are completed in 2016.

Merced Theatre, which was built in 1870, has not been used for years, said Councilman Jose Huizar, whose district contains the building.

“This is a win for the residents of Los Angeles, the historic Merced Theatre and El Pueblo Historical Monument, as well as Channel 35,” he said.

Renovation work will cost $19 million to $23 million in revenue from the Public Education and Government Channels fee and will include a new digital television studio, structural retrofitting and historical preservation. The move could result in the city saving $342,000 a year in lease payments.

El Pueblo General Manager Chris Espinosa said the move would encourage foot traffic on the south end of the monument.

“El Pueblo is excited to partner with the Information Technology Agency to revitalize the historic Merced Theatre,” he said.

The theater was designed by architect Ezra F. Kysor to accompany Pico House, which was itself commissioned by Pio Pico, California’s last governor under Mexican rule.

Bell Gardens Reaches ‘Goal’, Completes Soccer Field

April 18, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Young, aspiring soccer players in Bell Gardens have a new and improved place to hone their soccer skills; the recently completed ABC Kids Field at John Anson Ford Park.

Improvements to the field were highlighted last week during an official opening ceremony attended by residents, local officials and one time Mexican soccer star Francisco ‘Paco’ Palencia.

The ribbon-cutting ceremony marked the completion of the 2-phase project started in 2006.

Former Mexican soccer player Francisco ‘Paco’ Palencia, pictured left, prepares to make a goal on the newly upgraded soccer field in Bell Gardens. Palencia was was among the speakers at the ribbon cutting ceremony on April 13. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

The first phase of the project, installation of synthetic turf soccer field, was originally funded with $353,000 secured by County Supervisor Gloria Molina and the Central Water Basin Company, and completed in July 2011.

The field is located on land owned by Southern California Edison, which has been leased to the city under a 20-year renewable agreement. The Bell Gardens city council approved additional upgrades for the park in July 2012.

Phase 2 of the soccer field improvements includes the addition of shaded spectator seating and outdoor fitness machines. The improvements were paid for with $500,000 in County Prop A Bond Funds and $200,000 in private donations from Athens Waste Services, The Bicycle Casino, The Water Basin Company, U.S. Soccer and the Water Replenishment District of Southern California. The second phase brought the total cost of the field to over $1 million.

“Initially putting together this kind of money could be difficult, but it is really money that is very deserving to this city,” Supervisor Molina said during the opening ceremony. “They are investing it into programs that are really beneficial to our young children,” she said, referring to city officials.

Bell Gardens’ youngest soccer players (pictured) were among those cheering at the opening of the ABC Kids Soccer field at John Anson Ford Park on April 13. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

“Even in these very difficult times we’ve been able to go out and seek grants,” noted City Manager Phil Wagner, during the ceremony that drew rousing applause from the spectators.  He said Bell Gardens is fortunate to “have businesses in our community that are willing to step forward.”

CA Groups Challenge Mexico’s “Mega Resorts”

April 18, 2013 by · 1 Comment 

Mexico’s approval of four mega resorts in the Gulf of California has several groups calling for an investigation.

The groups accuse the Mexican government of failing to enforce its own environmental laws.

Earthjustice attorney Sarah Burt says the massive tourism developments threaten fragile ecosystems and endangered species.

“The Mexican agencies responsible for enforcing these laws are really just looking the other way,” she says. “They’re allowing environmental impact assessments to be done piece-meal, so that they’re not taking a comprehensive look at all of the impacts.”

Known as the “World’s Aquarium,” Burt says the Gulf of California is considered one of the most diverse marine regions on the planet, and is home to thousands of species.

She says the approval of the projects – Cabo Cortes, Paraiso del Mar, Entre Mares and Playa Espiritu – threatens the unique coral reefs and mangrove ecosystems of the region, and endangered species such as humpback and gray whales, sea turtles, and many species of migratory birds.

She says that’s why the groups want any development to comply with the environmental safeguards that are in Mexican law.

“They’re not against development across-the-board,” she explains. “They just want to make sure that it’s done in a smart, sustainable way. And, complying with, you know, existing environmental safeguards that are on the books is a necessary first step.”

The coalition submitted the petition to the Commission for Environmental Cooperation, which is an international body established under the North American Free Trade Agreement to promote cooperation among Canada, Mexico and the U.S. on environmental issues.

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