Kites of all shapes, sizes and colors could be seen soaring above Ascot Hills Park in El Sereno Sunday, where the park’s trails have become the site for a fairly new, yet flourishing community celebration.
The Third Annual El Sereno Kite Festival attracted hundreds of families despite hot weather and competition with CicLAvia and other events. Approximately 200 people, mostly adults, signed-in at the event, but the number of attendees may have been closer to 500, according to Michael Oropeza, LA32 Neighborhood Council Arts & Culture Committee chair.
The festival began in 2010 as a way to introduce then recently opened park to the community, Oropeza said, crediting former committee chair Steve Boland with the initial idea. Over the last two years the festival has evolved into a significant community-unifying event, according to Oropeza.
He told EGP they were really surprised by the response they received to the first Kite Festival, noting “It proved to be a very positive experience for a community that has been historically underserved.
“We feel it provides youth and their families with an experience that is a part of a necessary foundation, building blocks essential to a healthy and thriving community, something El Sereno really lacks.”
“From what I know, this is the first type of event like this: the first traditional, annual community event,” Oropeza said.
The LA32 Neighborhood Council sponsored the event with matching funds from County Supervisor Gloria Molina, he told EGP
“Because of Supervisor Molina’s office, we were able to purchase over 400 kites and 400 medals for participating children,” he said, adding the participants also received certificates.
While some brought their own kites, and others made theirs ahead of time at a workshop offered by Vex Arts Center, the vast majority of the children from the low-income community received a donated kite at the event, according to Oropeza.
As part of the day’s festivities, Supervisor Molina and representatives of the nonprofit environmental group Northeast Trees held a tree planting ceremony. According to Molina, 385 new trees will eventually be planted at Ascot Hills Park. Thousands more will be planted across the first district as part of a $1.4 million initiative that aims to plant 4,800 new trees in 20 different locales, including Montebello, Monterey Park and other San Gabriel Valley and Southeast cities, and the eastern portion of the city of Los Angeles and unincorporated areas such as East Los Angeles, Molina announced on Earth Day.
“Nothing transforms the community’s aesthetics like canopies of gorgeous trees,” Molina said. “So we’re investing over $1.4 million to beautify the First District, from South Gate to South El Monte and beyond.”
The LA 32 Neighborhood Council and its Arts and Culture Committee, and the Barrio Action Youth and Family Center hosted the Kite Festival. Students from four different Wilson High School clubs, united under the banner “Urban Visionaries,” volunteered to help teach the children how to fly their kites, and to clean up, Oropeza told EGP. The student members of Teens Representing Environmental Education (TREE), Crankheads Cycling Club, Hip-Hop Club and MEChA, also spent Earth Day upgrading the irrigation system for the school’s community garden.
It was not too long ago that the city of Montebello was facing a projected five-year, $17.3 million deficit and having trouble securing a loan to help it get through a severe cash crunch to pay its bills.
A recent audit of the city’s finances now shows that the city may be on the road to recovery, with as much as $7 million in revenues not currently allocated.
While the audit findings are good news to city officials, Montebello’s city administrator is warning they are not yet out of the woods. City Administrator Francesca Tucker-Schuyler is cautioning city council members and city employees that in 2014 Montebello must start to make 20 annual payments of $1 million each on a multi-million dollar debt obligation.
Through a combination of cost-saving measures, including cuts to city services, contract re-negotiations and fund transfers, Montebello had a $7.2 million surplus in its general fund by the end of the 2011-2012 Fiscal Year, an increase of $2.2 million from the year prior, according to the audit by accounting firm Vazquez & Company that was presented at a city council meeting earlier this month. Most of the cut to deficit, however, was the result of the city restructuring a agreement made in 2000 with the city’s redevelopment agency that resulted in the agency pre-paying the city $13.5 million to help cover the city’s potentially crippling shortfall.
“The city has put a lot of effort into managing its financial resources and it’s showing up in the general fund,” said Peggy McBride, a partner at the firm.
However, only around $500,000 of that surplus is a reflection of increased sales tax revenue and decreased spending by the city, Tucker-Schuyler explained. She said the remaining $1.7 million was a one-time collection from a previous credit agreement with the former Redevelopment Agency (RDA).
The audit also looked at enterprise-business type funds for the city that has desperately tried to attract large businesses to the community to make up for the $2 million in economic development revenue lost by the state’s decision to dissolve all of the RDAs in California.
That created a huge financial challenge for the city, said Tucker-Schuyler.
According to the audit, Montebello sustained losses in several of its operations, including a $360,000 in the water utility fund, a $339,000 loss by the city’s detention center and an almost $300,000 loss at the city-owned Montebello Golf Course.
It’s important to look at all city funds, and not just the General Fund, if you want to know the “financial health of the city as a whole,” said McBride.
She told the council those losses are “manageable,” including the nearly $4 million deficit owed to the Hilton fund. She did advise, however, that they look at the cost of operating these businesses in order to eliminate the losses.
“Everything is about perspective,” said Tucker-Schuyler. “We have made a recovery in the past two years and the findings in this are far less significant in comparison to the previous year.”
She said the city still has no plans to sell off its golf course or contract with the county for its public safety services, two previous recommendations that riled residents. She told EGP losses incurred by the city’s detention center —jail —are actually less than if they had to pay to transport inmates to the County.
Tucker-Schuyler told EGP that the city must find a way to create revenue by growing rather than cutting. She said city elected officials are not in favor of raising taxes, like the half-cent sales tax or utility user tax increases approved by voters in nearby cities. Montebello is instead choosing to focus on local economic development to help raise General Fund revenue, she said.
But the city must act quickly because beginning October 2014 they must start to pay back the bond debt, which will cost about $1 million a year for the next 20 years, Tucker-Schuyler said.
“Come 2014 this city must have additional revenue of at least $1 million to make sure the debt service is met.”
At the end of the 2009-2010 fiscal year, Montebello faced a $6.7 million budget deficit. That same year, state auditors said the city had improperly handled its finances, including federal housing funds, and the city’s credit rating took a dive, making it hard for the city to borrow the money to cover its bills.
Tucker-Schuyler told EGP that although state auditors included findings of funds being used on dinners and golf embroidered polo shirts, she said the state’s 2011 audit found nothing illegal in nature and nobody was arrested for mishandling money in the city. She said the city and its finances were “mislabeled” by outside parties. She attributed the problems to poor accounting practices and issues arising from the former RDA.
The corruption scandal involving city officials in the city of Bell, the political season, and the state’s process of dissolving RDAs is what led to the city’s state audit in 2011, said Tucker-Schuyler.
“Unfortunately Montebello happened to be…a victim because these three things lined up,” she said.
By the end of the 2010-2011 fiscal year the city no longer carried a negative balance and ended the year with a $5 million general fund balance.
The main contribution to the city’s financial turnaround was the restructuring of a legal agreement between city and its Redevelopment Agency to prepay its financial obligations in a one-time payment of $13.5 million in 2011.
Following the audit presentation, council members agreed to conduct a mid-year budget review to make the city remains on track.
“We have a positive momentum going,” observed Tucker-Schuyler. “We’re conserving our cash, recognizing that there are some urgent matters that need attention, and keeping an eye on the ball knowing that we must conserve the cash for debt services.”
The beating of drums and the rich aroma of tantalizing foods filled the air as a variety of Asian vendors showcased Japanese and Japanese-American culture on the streets of Monterey Park last weekend during 16th Annual Cherry Blossom Festival.
The two-day festival at Barnes Park included martial arts demonstrations, performances by traditional Japanese dancers and music by Japanese “taiko” drummers.
Pictured: Yoki Daiko, a Japanese drumming ensemble, performs at Monterey Park’s Cherry Blossom Festival.
Una agencia estatal el miércoles, 23 de abril, ordenó que una planta que recicla baterías en la ciudad de Vernon pare sus operaciones, diciendo que los residuos peligrosos y las emisiones se están filtrando en el suelo y el aire, y plantea un riesgo para la salud pública.
El Departamento Estatal de Control de Sustancias Tóxicas (DTSC por sus siglas en inglés) alega que el “soporte de metal” de la tubería subterránea tiene una fuga y está liberando residuos de Exide Technologies, ubicada en 2700 S. Indiana St., y la operación de la planta no es segura.
Exide fue ordenada a suspender las operaciones debido a las “liberaciones significativas al medioambiente” en curso y el riesgo “inaceptable” a la salud de la comunidad y de los trabajadores debido a las emisiones trasmitidas por el aire, dijo la directora de la agencia, Deborah Raphael, durante una conferencia telefónica con los medios el miércoles por la mañana.
En marzo, la agencia de control de contaminación de aire South Coast Air Quality Management District (South Coast AQMD por sus siglas en inglés) citó a la instalación por liberar arsénico al aire. Se le ordenó a Exide a reducir inmediatamente sus niveles peligrosos de emisiones de arsénico y notificar a los 110.000 residentes del sureste del Condado de Los Ángeles de su
exposición a sustancias químicas y contaminantes que pueden producir cáncer.
“Hicimos la determinación de que esta planta representa un peligro inminente y sustancial a la salud pública, la seguridad de los trabajadores y del medioambiente”, dijo Raphael.
La planta recicla 22 millones de baterías de automóviles al año y ha estado operando en Vernon desde 1920. Exide, una compañía que cotiza en bolsa con operaciones en 80 países, adquirió la planta hace unos 10 años.
Un representante de la instalación declinó a hacer comentarios, y un portavoz de Exide no estuvo inmediatamente disponible.
El mandato por DTSC fue elogiado por los funcionarios locales electos, cuyos electores se han quejado durante años por los problemas de salud y del medioambiente relacionados con la planta de Exide.
El presidente de la Asamblea John Pérez llamó a la orden una “gran victoria para los residentes y los trabajadores” en la zona sureste. Su distrito incluye Vernon y otras ciudades del sureste.
El concejal de Los Ángeles José Huizar también alabó la suspensión, pero agregó que no estaba satisfecho con la agencia de control por el manejo del proceso de permisos de Exide en los últimos años.
“Yo pongo en duda por qué la empresa se le permitió operar con un permiso provisional”, dijo Huizar, quien representa el barrio de Boyle Heights ubicado a los limites de Vernon.
La planta de reciclaje de baterías durante los últimos 32 años estaba operando bajo un permiso temporal de DTSC y es la única planta que queda en el estado que no ha recibido todos los permisos, dijo el portavoz de la agencia Jim Marxen a City News Service.
Marxen no pudo explicar por qué la agencia desde un principio no completa el proceso de autorización de la planta, pero dijo que la instalación ha funcionado desde la década de 1920 y cuenta con un conjunto de temas “complicadas” que no fueron enfrentados para obtener los permisos bajo la ley federal de materiales peligrosos en 1981.
En 2002 se hizo un esfuerzo para poner la planta al día para que pueda calificar por un permiso completo, pero el proceso se estancó en 2006, él dijo, y agregó que hubo extensas audiencias públicas llevadas a cabo en ese momento.
Se hizo un esfuerzo renovado para lograr que la empresa llegue a cumplimiento en el año 2011 cuando el gobernador Jerry Brown nombró a Debbie Raphael como la nueva directora de DTSC, él dijo.
“Ella entró y empezó a preguntar, ¿Por qué no se mueve el proceso de permisos? ¿Cuál es el problema con eso?’” Marxen dijo.
El último orden para cerrar la planta de baterías se produjo cuando volvía a iniciarse el proceso de autorización de permisos, pero “llegó a un punto en que los problemas llegaron a un nivel de riesgo inaceptable” para que pueda seguir operando la compañía, dijo Marxen.
Pérez también envió una carta a la agencia de control de tóxicos a principios de este mes, instando una “solución rápida” para las emisiones de arsénico y lo calificó como “un capítulo más en esta historia terrible de la contaminación continúa y de la mala conducta”.
Pérez hizo un llamamiento para arreglar “toda la contaminación pasada y presente” con Exide pagando el costo de la limpieza y tomar “acción inmediata” para finalizar el proceso de permisos de la instalación “para que podamos empezar de nuevo… con los más rigurosos estándares y protecciones para los barrios y los trabajadores en el lugar.”
Un comité del Ayuntamiento de Los Ángeles encabezado por Huizar está considerando tomar acciones legales en contra de Exide por las acusaciones de contaminación de arsénico. AQMD calculó que el arsénico en el aire podría afectar a cerca de 110.000 personas.
Los funcionarios de la ciudad – casi totalmente industrial – de Vernon dijeron que estaban de acuerdo con la decisión de DTSC para cerrar la planta.
Los funcionarios de control de salud y de medioambiente de Vernon dijeron que monitorearían el trabajo de los inspectores estatales de DTSC para asegurar que los trabajadores de Exide Technologies y el medioambiente que rodea la planta esté completamente seguro antes de que la instalación sea autorizada a reanudar su operación”, dijo el administrador de la ciudad Mark Whitworth en un comunicado el miércoles.
Whitworth dijo que la ciudad le pidió a AQMD en marzo a emitir un aviso de salud, y agregó que lo hicieron “porque nuestra prioridad es la salud y la seguridad” de más o menos 100 residentes de Vernon y las 55.000 personas que trabajan en las empresas de la ciudad.
MacFarlane dijo a EGP que la pérdida temporal de los salarios de los trabajadores de la instalación es “problemática”, sin embargo, la prioridad de la ciudad es la salud y la seguridad del público.
Reportera de EGP Nancy Martínez y reportera de CNS Elizabeth Hsing-Huei Chou contribuyeron a esta nota.
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa Monday released his final budget proposal before leaving office, in which he called for solving the city’s projected budget deficit by rescinding scheduled employee pay raises and requiring them to pay 10 percent of their health premium contributions.
The idea of employees paying more into their healthcare benefits “is not a radical notion,” but rather a “sustainable notion,” Villaraigosa said in outlining his proposed 2013-14 budget.
The city is projected to face a $150 million to $165 million budget deficit, revised down from the $216 million anticipated months earlier. City leaders in March pushed a half-cent sales tax ballot measure to help make up the budget shortfall, but it was rejected by voters.
The majority of city employees are scheduled to receive a 5.5 percent pay raise on Jan. 1, the “last installment” of a 25 percent raise agreed to years earlier, while most employees do not contribute into their healthcare plans.
City leaders have worked in recent years to reduce a billion-dollar deficit, which Villaraigosa said was partially due to the 25 percent pay increase for employees that he and the City Council agreed to right before the economic downturn.
“I felt compelled to make up for that,” the mayor said, adding that the increase was approved on the recommendation of a previous city administrative officer.
If his budget plan is followed, Villaraigosa said, the next mayor could end his or her term with a $15 million surplus.
His spending plan maintains police ranks at 10,000 officers and puts $292 million into the city’s “rainy day” reserve fund, while projecting $111 million in increased revenue from various taxes to help close the budget gap.
The budget also calls for using one-time federal and state money to fix deteriorating city infrastructure.
Cheryl Parisi, head of the Coalition of L.A. City Unions, which represents 22,000 employees, said that while they were happy about the commitment of funds for “road repair and tree trimming,” the budget “does not go far enough to protect the people of L.A. now and in the future.” The city needs to “restore, revitalize and renew this world-class city,” she said.
Parisi’s coalition represents city employees in a variety of areas, from tree trimmers to librarians to 911 operators. The group does not include Department of Water and Power workers and sworn police and fire employees.
Councilman Paul Krekorian, who heads the council’s Budget and Finance Committee, called the mayor’s proposed budget “another step in the right direction” following measures taken in recent years to come out of the red, “but any optimism should be tempered by the reality that we still have much more work to do.”
“Our economic recovery is still slow and fragile, and all of the gains we’ve made in reducing the structural deficit could be lost if the city falls back into its old habits,” he said. “Starting April 30, the Budget and Finance Committee will begin 2 1/2 weeks of lengthy daily hearings, in which we
will closely examine every part of the proposed budget and question the managers of every city department.
“My goal in the committee hearings will be to ensure that the city’s budget reflects our residents’ priorities and values while eliminating the structural deficit for the long term,” Krekorian said.
Former Commerce Secretary Mickey Kantor said the LA 2020 Commission, the independent panel that was recently formed to study solutions to Los Angeles’ budget deficit, has decided not take make recommendations until “after the mayor’s race.”
City Councilman Eric Garcetti and City Controller Wendy Greuel are facing off in a May 21 runoff election to succeed Villaraigosa.
Prosecutors Wednesday charged Los Angeles County Assessor John Noguez with 11 additional counts of misappropriating public funds by allegedly lowering property tax bills for campaign contributors, bringing to 30 the number of felony charges against him.
The charges come about 1 1/2 months after Noguez, 48, was released from jail on $1.16 million bail, where he had been held since his Oct. 17 arrest.
Noguez is now charged with 19 counts of misappropriation of public funds, five counts of perjury by declaration, four counts of accepting a bribe and two counts of conspiracy.
Prosecutors also filed 41 new counts — including misappropriation of public funds, bribing an executive officer, embezzlement by a public or private officer and grand theft of personal property — against Noguez’s co-defendant, tax consultant Ramin Salari, 50, who is now facing 59 counts.
Principal assessor Mark McNeil, 55, was charged with 11 new counts of misappropriation of public funds, bringing to 20 the total number of charges against him.
The District Attorney’s Office dismissed five counts of misappropriation of public funds that had been filed earlier against the three, who were initially charged last October.
Outside court, Deputy District Attorney Susan Schwartz said the new charges involve an alleged loss of nearly $10 million in taxpayer money involving 18 properties for which taxes were allegedly reduced illegally and dating back as far as 1998. She said the investigation was continuing.
The three defendants are free on bail while awaiting a hearing to determine if there is enough evidence to require them to stand trial. A date is scheduled to be set June 26 for that hearing.
Also awaiting a preliminary hearing in a separate case is a former county appraiser, Scott Schenter, who was arrested in May 2012 in connection with corruption allegations and was the first to be charged.
City officials on Tuesday morning marked the beginning of construction for the first of four street enhancements projects along the Metro Gold Line in Boyle Heights, where Los Angeles Councilman Jose Huizar (CD-14) also announced he would ask the city council later that day to dedicate a street in the area in honor of a famed Mexican singer.
Huizar made the announcement during the groundbreaking ceremony for improvement to be made on Bailey Street near White Memorial Medical Center, part of the $12 million Eastside Access Improvements project.
Huizar wants the city council to approve signage dedicating Bailey Street as “Avenida de Lucha Reyes,” though the street will not be renamed, according to Huizar spokesperson Rick Coca.
“Ranchera” singer “Lucha Reyes,” whose full name is Maria de Luz Flores Aceves, is already a fixture in the area, with a statue nearby at Mariachi Plaza.
“Lucha Reyes is an icon to the Mexican community,” Huizar said in a press release. “Dedicating a street in her honor adjacent to Mariachi Plaza will complement the improvements currently underway.”
Eastside Access projects, funded by voter-approved Measure R, aim to encourage residents to use the Gold Line Eastside Extension that opened in 2006 by making local streets safer and more attractive.
The Bailey Street project will include extended curbs and sidewalks to make the pedestrian crossing distance shorter on Bailey at 1st Street and Pennsylvania. Dual curb ramps, enhanced crosswalks, permeable paving, a hearty landscape with shade trees and new seating and lighting will beautify the corner. The highlight will be two small gardens at the corner of Bailey and Pennsylvania where there will be colorful native drought-tolerant plants, seating areas and Mayan-influenced elements to enhance the streetscape, according to the city.
The project adjacent to Mariachi Plaza is expected to be complete by fall 2013 at a cost of about $600,000. The City of Los Angeles is overseeing the construction, while Metro did the initial planning and design.
“Today we begin a transformation project that will benefit the Eastside community,” said Metro Deputy CEO Paul Taylor. “Because Metro is not just about moving people but enhancing neighborhoods, the revitalization process that is taking place here at Boyle Heights and also in Little Tokyo and East Los Angeles along the Metro Gold Line will be far more meaningful than just pushing trains along tracks.”
The other projects along Boyle Heights’ stretch of the Gold Line include: a plaza at 1st Street and Cummings Plaza that will connect Soto Street and Mariachi Plaza station through landscape, seating, art and shade elements; an Arts and Civic Streetscape between Mariachi Plaza and Soto Street stations with new sidewalks, trees and lighting; a bike-friendly streetscape on Mott St.; and new safety surface and exercise equipment at the Evergreen Jogging Path.
A Bicycle Network on 1st and Echandia Streets have already been implemented. Sharrows (or shared lane markings) have been added to adjacent streets to improve safety for cyclists.
In unincorporated East LA, the Gold Line’s Indiana, Maravilla, East LA Civic Center and Atlantic Boulevard stations will also receive improvements, but those projects are being handled by the County.
For more on Eastside Access visit http://www.metro.net/projects/eastside/goldline_eastside_access/
Hundreds of students, parents and Bell Gardens residents attended Monday’s city council meeting to watch as Kimberly Moore was given the “Key to the City in honor of her charitable contributions to the community.
Moore is known as the “female Santa” for her charitable work in underprivileged neighborhoods. She has answered hundreds of “Dear Santa” letters from families in Bell Gardens, donating toys and presents during the holidays.
In 2008, Moore also donated hundreds of instruments to Bell Gardens High School after learning that students had to share instruments because there were not enough to go around.
“Never in a million years did I ever think I would get something like this,” said Moore, responding to the recognition by the city.
Pictured: Kimberly Moore, center right, receives the “Key to the City” during the April 22 Bell Gardens City Council meeting.
Starting a fund from Proposition 39 proceeds to pay for clean energy and efficiency projects could help create up to 21,000 “green” jobs, according to a study released late last week by the Los Angeles Business Council Institute.
The LABC Institute commissioned UCLA researchers to look at Proposition 39, which was passed by voters in 2012 and requires businesses operating in multiple states to calculate their state income tax liability based on the percentage of their sales in California.
A percentage of the taxes, between $50 million to $125 million per year over five years, could be invested in a loan fund for projects that support improving energy efficiency.
Researchers at UCLA’s Luskin Center for Innovation concluded that such a fund would help the state reach its clean energy goals and help create jobs.
The study envisioned schools, universities and other public institutions, as well as the private sector, retrofitting their buildings to save energy and expanding the use of renewable resources.
“Using a revolving loan fund would bring great benefits to the economy and the environment,” said Brad Cox, chairman of the LABC Institute.
“California is leading the way in sustainability, and leveraging Prop. 39 would allow us to remain the national leader in providing significant resources to help the public and private sectors shift from carbon-based fuels to renewable energy, including the investment in energy efficiency programs,” he said. “In the business community alone, there are in excess of four million commercial buildings in the State in need of energy efficiency retrofits.”
J.R. DeShazo is director of the Luskin Center for Innovation.
“With a total allocation of $250 million, for example, the public revolving loan fund could reap an investment of $1.06 billion over 30 years, compared to $250 million from a basic grants program,” he said. “This leverage could create upwards of 21,000 job years and if private funds are brought in, those figures could double.”
The City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved the replacement of a 1,800-megawatt coal-fire power plant in Utah with a smaller, natural gas facility, with officials calling the vote a deceptively simple but “historic” step in shedding Los Angeles’ reliance on coal power by 2025.
The 12-0 vote, which was greeted by applause from members of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign and other groups, allows the Department of Water and Power to amend a purchasing agreement with the 23-member Intermountain Power Authority and five other California-based power purchasers to replace the coal-fired Intermountain Power Plant with a facility that adheres to California’s stricter emissions standards.
DWP and the other agencies involved with the agreement have until 2020 to decide on the size and design of the power plant, as well as determine the exact combination of natural gas and renewable energy that will be generated.
Next to coal plants, which are “uniquely within a city’s control,” only vehicles “put out more carbon pollution,” according to Councilman Jose Huizar, who chairs the Energy and Environment Committee that recommended approving the agreement.
“Kicking our coal habit is the single biggest thing our city can do to cut global warming pollution,” he said.
The decision, along with an upcoming vote to divest the city’s financial stake in the 477-megawatt Navajo Generating Station in Arizona, would allow DWP to go completely “coal free” ahead of state-mandated deadlines. The city buys 39 percent of its power from coal-fired sources.
The council also approved an amendment by Councilman Dennis Zine to have DWP officials report back in 90 days on the contract’s status, and to have the ratepayer advocate Fred Pickel review the report. He also instructed DWP officials and the ratepayer advocate to give annual reports on the energy generation options for the new power plant.
Pickel said natural gas and renewable energy prices will likely fluctuate in the 12 years before the plant is expected to begin construction.
“It’s good we monitor this and choose the right mix of alternatives,” he said. “This is perhaps the biggest single energy decision that we’ve faced since 1980.”
The City Council is also expected to vote on a finalized ordinance on the agreement at its May 1 meeting.