April 7, 2011 Issue

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Conservancy Praises Opposition to Wyvernwood Demolition

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Los Angeles Councilmember Jose Huizar has taken a stand against proposed plans to redevelop a privately owned apartment community located on 70 acres in his district. His opposition to the developer’s plans to replace apartment structures at Wyvernwood Garden Apartments in Boyle Heights with high-rise buildings has drawn praise from the Los Angeles Conservancy.

“Thank you, José, for coming out today in support of historic preservation, and in opposition to the demolition of Wyvernwood Garden Apartments,” said Linda Dishman, executive director of the LA Conservancy at a March 31 press conference. “We greatly appreciate the strong support and dedication of Councilmember Huizar and his staff, not to mention the many residents and other stakeholders who are fighting to save this unique, close-knit community.”

The Conservancy has spent several years trying to prevent the “senseless demolition of Wyvernwood,” Dishman said.

Wyvernwood, located near the Sears Tower in Boyle Heights, is comprised of 153 buildings built in 1939, and was the first large-scale garden apartment complex built in the city.

El Comité de la Esperanza, a resident group at Wyvernwood Garden Apartments, applauded Councilmember Jose Huizar for publicly opposing the proposed development project. (EGP photos by Gloria Angelina Castillo)


“It is listed in the California Register of Historic Resources and is eligible for listings in the National Register of Historic Places. Despite its long rich history, Wyvernwood remains highly relevant today through its innovative design,” Dishman said. “Generations have grown up, married, and started their own families here. Some people moved away but came back because they missed the unique sense of community.”

Last year, Wyvernwood became part of The National Trust for Historic Preservation’s “This Place Matters” national campaign.

El Comité de la Esperanza (Committee of Hope), a group of Wyvernwood tenants, has spent well over two years lobbying Huizar to oppose the plans. They see his decision as a victory for their side.

Huizar’s backing is extremely important because the Los Angeles City Council will ultimately vote on the project and other council members tend to defer to the council member who represents the district, said Elena Popp, a lawyer for the Comité.

Citing a nearly four-fold expansion of units in one of the city’s densest neighborhoods as well as the dismantling of a community, Huizar said he opposes Fifteen Group’s $2 billion redevelopment plan. The developer’s plan would increase the number of housing units from the current 1,200 to over 4,000.

“In Boyle Heights, Wyvernwood is a community within a community with its own significant and rich history,” Huizar said. “I cannot support a project that would tear down this proud community one building at a time and replace it with a denser, lesser version of itself.”

Wyvernwood’s open-space concept was considered a model for other projects when first designed by Architects David J. Witner and Loyall F. Watson, and has become a sought-after design in recent years, according to the councilmember’s office.

Linda Kite, director of the Healthy Homes Collaborative calls Wyvernwood “a jewel” because it is one of the largest lead-free and historic housing developments.

The Los Angeles’ Planning Department is currently reviewing the draft Environmental Impact Review (EIR) for the project; the final EIR is expected to be completed later this year, according to Fifteen Group. A date for construction to begin has yet to be set.

“We were disappointed by Councilmember Huizar’s comments, though we are gratified that the Wyvernwood redevelopment project has earned strong support from many other community leaders and residents. Fifteen Group is continuing to move forward with the plan,” Steven Fink, executive vice president of Fifteen Group told EGP in a written statement.

Fifteen Group’s plan has garnered support from community, civic, business and labor leaders because the new development will provide modern homes and 13,000 new jobs. It represents a $2 billion investment that provides significant benefits for the area, including new shopping areas, parks and open space, and transportation improvements, Fink said.

Read this story IN SPANISH: Conservacionistas Elogian Oposición a la Demolición de Wyvernwood

Last month, Fifteen Group announced the formation of the Boyle Heights Jobs Collaborative that includes partners such as Homeboy Industries; Jovenes Inc.; East Los Angeles Occupational Center; Los Angeles Youth Opportunity Movement; Los Angeles Conservation Corps; El Centro de Ayuda; Arbor Northeast Worksource Center; East Los Angeles Skills Center and PUENTE Learning Center.

Wyvernwood’s redevelopment would create 10,000 construction-related jobs, 13,000 jobs overall, during a 10-year period, according to the company. The Collaborative has placed a priority on hiring from the local community, including Wyvernwood residents and local at-risk youth.

Fifteen Group’s plans include replacing existing structures in five separate phases over 10 years to minimize impacts on local residents, and an arrangement to allow tenants in good standing to move into brand new units at the same cost of their current unit, according to Fink.

“This is not just a promise, it is a legally binding commitment to residents that will be formalized in Wyvernwood’s project development agreement. Ultimately, the commitments we make to residents in our Resident Retention Plan become official as part of the City of Los Angeles’ approval of the overall redevelopment plan,” he said.

Nonetheless, residents and supporters have voiced distrust in the agreement.

Fifteen Group says their plan is the result of more than 100 community meetings held since 2005. “The New Wyvernwood will bring enormous benefits to the community, including an investment in jobs for local residents, new homes, new affordable housing, a safer environment, new parks, better transportation and new places to shop. And those are just some of the benefits,” Fink said.

Youth Take On Controversial Issue in State’s Capitol

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Seventy high school students who participate in gay-straight alliance clubs at their campuses had the opportunity to meet several of their state representatives in Sacramento this week as part of an experience that grew beyond the usual civics lesson.

They were able to lobby directly on an issue that affects them personally, pushing for the passage of three new bills, one of which would require that schools teach the history of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered, LGBT, people, a group with which they identify.

The students’ trip to Capitol Hill was organized by the Gay Straight Alliance Network, and is part of its annual Queer Advocacy Day event. State representatives, including local Assemblyman Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens), were among those who met with the students to talk about the bills.

The experience changed one high school student’s view that politicians work against the interests of gay youth. “Before, I would have never thought it was possible for me to go to an office and tell them what I believe, and what I believe should be done,” said Brandon Serpas, a 15-year-old high school student.

Serpas, president of the Gay-Straight Alliance club at Schurr High School in Montebello, joined several other students from similar clubs around the state that took part in a rally on Monday. On Tuesday several among them testified during a committee hearing on one of the three bills – the Fair, Accurate, Inclusive and Respectful (FAIR) Education Act (SB 48), authored by Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco).

If passed, SB 48 would require schools around the state to include the history of LGBT people in textbooks alongside the histories of minority groups like African Americans, Latinos and Asian Americans.

“We want a chance to feel we’re equal to other people who are heterosexuals and minorities that have come to be respected in the United States,” Serpas said.

The students believe teaching about LGBT history in schools would reduce negative stereotypes they feel are leading to severe bullying of students who identify as gay or are seen as such. They believe the bullying has dire consequences, causing some young people to endure emotional stress that could lead them to commit suicide.

“Some stereotypes are for example, they’re all feminine… you have to fit this gender role,” said 17-year old Bell High School student Isaias Guzman, who like Serpas is president of his school’s Gay Straight Alliance club. “I think everyone can relate to this. Not everyone acts specifically how they’re supposed to… everyone expresses themselves differently.”

Local area students like Bell High School student Isaias Guzman, left, met with representatives, including Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), right, to discuss bills that affect LGBT people. (Courtesy of Edward Dunkin, GSA Network)


The students came prepared to discuss not only SB 48, but also Seth’s Law (AB 9), a bill authored by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) that would update anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policies at schools to include discrimination against actual or perceived sexual orientation; and Assemblywoman Toni Atkins’ Gender Nondiscrimination Act (AB 887), which would bolster the housing and employment rights of LGBT people.

“We’re very hopeful and believe that these laws can be implemented and even if they don’t, the GSA Network will come every year to fight for these laws,” said Guzman, who later testified in favor of SB 48 during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Tuesday.

Recent cases of gay youth, or youth perceived to be gay, committing suicide have been blamed on anti-gay bullying. Seth’s Law, for example, is named after Seth Walsh, a 13-year old Tehachapi boy who killed himself last year after enduring bullying that targeted him for being gay.

“Especially given the tragic suicides of numerous young people in the past year, it is crucial that legislators hear and understand the stories of youth who are working in their schools and their communities to combat bullying and harassment based on gender identity,” said Leno.

His own bill was passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday and was recommended for the Senate Floor. Leno says his bill would kick in only when schools decide to purchase new books to replaced old ones.

Students from statewide gay-straight alliance clubs are not the only ones who are taking note of Leno’s bill. The Los Angeles Unified School District, the California Teacher’s Association, and groups like the Gay Straight Alliance Network are among the supporters of the bill, while numerous organizations affiliated with churches or parent groups have come out in opposition against SB 48.

Elizabeth Swanson, a parent in Leno’s district, spoke at Tuesday’s hearing to oppose SB 48. She believes it would bar discussion of efforts to change people from homosexuals to heterosexuals, labeling such discussion as hate speech. “As a free society that values freedom of speech and freedom of religion, this is a very dangerous road that we are going down,” she told EGP.

Swanson is a member of the Protect Kids Foundation, which is campaigning against SB 48. She says schools should not get involved in teaching about LGBT people and feels rather that it is harmful to tell students who identify as gay that they were “born that way.”

Read this story IN SPANISH: Jóvenes Abogan por un Tema Controversial en el Capitolio del Estado

Some groups say lawmakers need to be sensitive to the concerns of parents, especially when it comes to bringing up the subject of sexuality in a school setting. “This is not age appropriate, and it is also very disrespectful to the wide diversity of parents and children with a wide range of moral and social backgrounds and needs,” said Brad Draco, president of the Pacific Justice Institute, a legal defense organization focusing on religious freedom and parental rights.

Those who oppose the bill say bullying could be dealt with in other ways. They also believe there are other factors such as the quality of the young person’s home life that may have contributed to the spate of suicides and the emotional distress experienced by some gay youth.

Leno’s bill received a dissenting vote from Vice Chair Senator Tom Harman (R-Costa Mesa) during the Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing, while Senator Noreen Evans (D-Santa Rosa) who chairs the committee and spoke in favor of Leno’s bill.

Evans drew a connection to her own experience of the women’s movement. “I was told I couldn’t be a lawyer because I wasn’t a man… I remember reading our textbooks, and they were written in the male gender exclusively, as though women were not involved” in the process, she said, before voting to move the bill to the Senate floor.

Whether Leno’s bill ultimately passes, students like Serpas and Guzman say they have begun taking their own steps back home, such as implementing anti-slur measures at their schools. “We have to fight for things that people who don’t fall under our category take for granted – the right to marry, the right to feel safe within our schools… the right to feel we’re worth something… basic fundamental rights that everybody feels they need to have… we have to be treated like people,” said Serpas.

Commerce Negotiates Last Piece of Urban Entertainment Center Land

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The City of Commerce has obtained the last piece of property needed for a 27-acre urban entertainment center project that has been in the works since the late nineties.

The city council, acting as the commission for the redevelopment agency, struck a deal at a Mar. 24 meeting with the owners of the Commerce Casino to exchange property each owns.

The agency traded a property on 2301 Tubeway Ave. that the Casino already uses as warehouse space, for an old railroad right of way called the Spur property, to be used as part of the project.

“It is the last link in the process [before the agency commission] can start looking at different redevelopment projects,” said Assistant Director of Community Development Alex Hamilton.

The Mar. 24 vote to approve the exchange agreement still needs to be finalized to meet redevelopment agency reporting requirements, so will be brought up again at another meeting this month, he said.

Craig Realty, going by the name Eureka Realty Partners, entered into an exclusive negotiation agreement with the redevelopment agency to develop the property in 2009.

The entertainment center is “book-ended” by the Commerce Casino and the Citadel Outlet, so the agency commission has said they “don’t want a project that is going to compete” with others on the Telegraph Road Corridor, according to Hamilton.

Two concepts for the project were recently floated in closed session with the city council, Hamilton said. The general idea is to build a pedestrian friendly retail and entertainment center as part of a larger revitalization of Telegraph Road.

Some completed projects in the revitalization include the Citadel Outlets, Commerce Casino, and Costco.

Craig Realty is required to submit letters of intent for potential tenants and a report on the financial viability of their proposed project as part of its agreement with the city, but was twice granted extensions after citing the uncertain state of the economy. Their deadline for providing this material is now set for October of this year.

Most of the urban entertainment center project site has been cleared, according to Hamilton. Last fall, the city demolished seven buildings located on other properties acquired through the years by the redevelopment agency.

Hamilton says as a developer, Craig Realty has a “proven track record” not only elsewhere, but also within Commerce. Steve Craig who heads the development company “has done tremendous work at the Citadel [Outlets],” which late last year opened a new wing of shops, he said.

The goal of the project is to bring more revenue and jobs into the city, and to remove blight from the area, Hamilton said. The project has been considered ideal because of its visibility from the 5-freeway.

The agency commission was nearly barred from voting to obtain the last piece of property it needed for the project because of campaign contributions commission members received from the Casino, which happens to be a major revenue engine for the city.

At the Mar. 28 meeting, the city attorney said four of the five council members received contributions from the Casino in the past twelve months, so they had conflicts of interest that would prevent the agency from having enough people, a quorum of three or more, to vote.

However, the agency was allowed to form a quorum by drawing straws, and council members Lela Leon and Joe Aguilar were picked to vote with Councilman Robert Fierro, who did not receive any contributions from the Commerce Casino in the past year.

The final vote was 3-0, with Mayor Pro Tem Tina Baca Del Rio and newly elected Councilwoman Denise Robles sitting out the discussion and vote.

Baca Del Rio has not filed campaign finance statements for the past twelve months, but disclosed to the attorney that she had received contributions, according to the city clerk. It was known that Baca Del Rio held a fundraiser during the last year.

Up until December 2010, Baca Del Rio had not filed a single campaign finance statement since she was elected to the city council in 2005. She filed late campaign finance statements, as required by law, for the 2005 through 2009 period at the end of last year.

L.A. Councilman Calls Store’s Anti-Union Practices ‘Fresh & Sleazy’

April 7, 2011 by · 2 Comments 

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified Mike Acuna as Mike Shimpock.

A handful of Northeast Los Angeles area employees backed by union allies blasted Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market for busting their effort to become unionized.

The rally in Glassell Park comes months after a majority of employees signed a petition to become a union shop under the United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW) labor union, according to protesters at Monday’

s rally.

Carlos Juarez and Mike Acuna, both Fresh & Easy employees and Highland Park residents, said 21 of 28 employees at the local store signed a petition supporting unionization. Instead of being recognized as a union shop, however, they claim the company has retaliated by mistreating them, cutting their hours, and subjecting them to unwarranted surveillance with security cameras.

“That commitment to unionization was something that they went to the manager with in what should have been a clear, and ‘fresh and easy’ process, but instead was rejected by the management with the decision to relocate people, to add people to their lists, to find reasons to terminate people so they no longer had a majority. That’s just wrong. That is an injustice. That is against everything we stand for,”

said Rabbi Jonathan Klein, executive director of Clergy & Laity United for Economic Justice (CLUE) Los Angeles.

United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW) joined Fresh & Easy employees to demand worker’s rights. Pictured here, Mike Acuna. (EGP photo by Gloria Angelina Castillo)


Fresh & Easy is saying UFCW union members, not Fresh & Easy employees at the site, are demanding the grocery store be unionized; that’

s a lie, said Juarez, a father of two. Juarez has worked at the Fresh & Easy on Eagle Rock Boulevard in Glassell Park since 2008 and wants to be represented by a union.

The international grocery chain’s starting pay is $10 an hour in California, but after working for three years at the store, Juarez and Acuna said they’

ve only received a 90-cent raise and are probably the highest paid workers at the store.

The two men say they have had loss of time injuries, as have over a dozen other employees.
John Getz, UFCW organizer, told EGP that Tesco, Fresh & Easy’

s parent company, is comparable to Walmart in prolonging unjust labor practices in order to maximize corporate profit.

Two years ago a report titled “The Two Faces of Tesco” was released at Los Angeles City Hall. The report showed that Fresh & Easy’s parent company [Tesco] had collective bargaining for employees in England but not in the US and South Korea. Council members asked Tesco to change its “anti-worker practices”

but it has not, said Jose Sigala, legislative deputy for Councilmember Richard Alarcon (CD-7).

“Tesco exemplifies the word ‘imperialism’ in its treatment of American workers by denying them the right to organize. Tesco calls its stores Fresh & Easy—a better name for the stores is Fresh & Sleazy,” Alarcon said in a written statement read by Sigala. “Let us talk with our neighbors about the reason why the stores should be called Fresh & Sleazy.”

 Speakers noted the rally took place on the anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King who besides being a civil rights leader was also a labor union proponent.

Also present in a show of support were representatives for Assemblymember Anthony Portantino (District 44) and Los Angeles City Council members Jose Huizar (CD-14) and Eric Garcetti (CD-13).

Read this story IN SPANISH: Concejal Dice que ‘Fresh & Easy’ Debe Parar Prácticas Antisindicales

According to their website, Fresh & Easy offers competitive base salary, all employees are eligible for a quarterly bonus and are eligible for a comprehensive benefits package and 401(K).

“We know that to be successful, we need a very motivated workforce. We’ve created a positive, team-based culture, where everyone is treated with respect,” said Fresh & Easy spokesperson Brendan Wonnacott in a written statement. “The choice to participate in a union is a decision that only our employees can make – it is their democratic right.”
Fresh & Easy employees at Glassell Park who requested to join a union were advised to follow the National Labor Relations Act and call for a secret ballot election. “Thus far, our employees have not chosen to join a union or to pursue a secret ballot election,”

said Wonnacott.

Southwest Museum Puzzle Pieces Coming Together: Still a Messy Picture

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The Friends of the Southwest Museum Coalition says new leadership at the Autry National Center and Occidental College and a possible new partnership with both could be  “a fresh start” in the long-running feud over the Mount Washington museum, but “at this point, things don’t look very hopeful.”

During a meeting last week in Highland Park, Chairperson Nicole Possert said members of the Friends Coalition met with new Autry CEO Daniel Finley, who told them maintaining one of the galleries at the Southwest Museum is “potentially do-able.”

At the same time, Occidental College’s president, Jonathan Veitch, is also interested in using one of the galleries for a learning environment, according to Possert.

While the coalition would rather have the full museum open and operating, the new proposal is something to be considered. The plan could open two rooms for programs and exhibits at the now closed site.

“It’s something; we haven’t had anything like this in a while,” Possert told the group of about 50.

Clarli Wilson, left, and other members of the Friends of the Southwest Museum Coalition, expressed anger and frustration over failed attempts to reopen the Southwest Museum. (EGP photo by Gloria Angelina Castillo)


The Friends of the Southwest Museum and the Autry have been at odds for years over what should be done with the Southwest Museum and its extensive and very valuable collection of Native American and Southwest artifacts. Coalition members want the museum to remain a fully functioning museum and its collections to be exhibited there. The Autry claims that is too expensive a proposition, and is restoring the collection with the intent of displaying it at its much larger state-of-the-art museum in Griffith Park.

Most of the discussion at the meeting focused on the facilities located in Northeast Los Angeles. It appears that the Autry is willing to give up some control of the land and buildings, but some attendees are angry that the community is losing possession of the museum’s artifacts.

“It makes me want to strangle someone,” said Clarli Wilson, a long time resident of Eagle Rock who didn’t want to hear that the Autry has the right to sell pieces from the multi-million dollar collection.
The group also discussed possible legal options and the cost of legal challenges. Some believe that the Autry is guilty of fraud in its handling of the merger. They want the State Attorney General to investigate their claim; something Jerry Brown failed to do when he held the office.

The coalition has cited the Autry’s own studies to try and debunk its costs claims, to little success. Past efforts to apply pressure have failed. Elected officials, including the mayor and Councilman Jose Huizar have said they support keeping the Southwest Museum open to the community. A Gold Line Station was built adjacent to provide greater public access to the museum. Nonetheless, the museum remains closed and its galleries empty.

Dan Wright, an attorney and coalition member, says Huizar’s support has been “lukewarm.”

Read this story IN SPANISH: Cautelosa Esperanza para Reabrir un Museo en el Noreste de Los Ángeles

The latest proposals under discussion are the closest the museum has come to being reopened in a long time.

According to Huizar’s office, negotiations are underway to reopen the Southwest Museum as a fully accredited museum that features the Southwest collection.

“I am hoping that we can identify a museum management partner sometime this year,” Huizar said in a written statement.

“While legal action remains an option, it is a last option since lawsuits would undoubtedly lead to a long and costly court battle that would carry on for years and does not in the end guarantee us a favorable decision or the reopening of Southwest Museum, which is the ultimate goal.”

Huizar said he is aggressively pursuing a collaborative agreement and will continue to do so as long as real progress is being made, but coalition members note they’ve already spent eight years challenging the merger with the Autry that led to the museum’s closure.

The Friends of the Southwest Museum Coalition is now weighing the options of settling for this much scaled-down plan, or enlisting community members as plaintiffs to continue the fight.

It’s Time the GOP Calls On Wealthy Corporations to Share the Burden

April 7, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Whenever we look at the budget cuts proposed by the Republican Party we have to throw our hands up in frustration.

Why is it that the GOP cannot bring itself to balance the budget with equal sacrifice by the nation’s wealthy upper class or its very profitable corporations?

We are not opposed to efforts to reign in Medicare and Medicaid costs, but we also think it’s time to eliminate some of the drain on the federal budget that comes in the form of tax breaks and loopholes for wealthy individuals and corporations.

The GOP theorizes that more tax breaks for the wealthy will lead to greater spending and investment by businesses and the wealthy, which will make its way into the pockets of average working class Americans. Well, Wall Street Stock Market averages have gone way up, and Main Street is still waiting to see if any of it will ever trickle down.

In this time of national fiscal crisis, when average Americans continue to face high unemployment, rising fuels costs, and higher costs for everything from food to clothing, it seems to us that the top corporate tax rates should remain at least at the current 35 percent if not slightly higher, and not reduced by 10 percent as proposed by House Republicans.

That slight increase may produce enough revenue to allow the government to pay for the healthcare Americans hoped would come under healthcare reform.

Fair Taxation Requires More Brackets at the Top

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So many governors are hammering their budgets with a “we’re broke” message these days that it’s amazing our country hasn’t shattered into a thousand separate islands. More and more, however, rational voices are correctly asserting that we’re not broke.

The problem isn’t that the United States is out of money. It’s that a tiny sliver of households are under-taxed. The richest 10 percent of Americans own almost three-fourths of the country’s total wealth.

Astoundingly, the most affluent 1 percent of Americans own more than one-third of our total wealth.
Thankfully, the message that our country isn’t broke is making its way closer to the center of the tax and deficit debates. It can’t get there soon enough.

Many Republican lawmakers, along with governors like Wisconsin’s Scott Walker and Ohio’s John Kasich, bizarrely think that they can erase deficits with tens of billions of dollars in budget cuts and tax breaks for corporations and wealthy people who don’t need them. They’re ignoring the greatest economic returns available, which are provided by public investments, federal aid to states, and even unemployment benefits. Instead of helping save the middle class, they’re propelling us toward a busted, plutocratic disaster.

The GOP’s deficit obsession isn’t just misguided. It turns a blind eye on the struggles of low- and middle-income Americans. In contrast, Rep. Jan Schakowsky’s sensible Fairness in Taxation Act would raise taxes on millionaires and billionaires, which better serves the American majority.

Currently, families earning $374,000 pay the exact same federal income tax rates as families with multi-million-dollar incomes, or even the handful who earn a billion bucks every year, such as the heirs of Walmart’s founder. The lifestyles of the ultra-wealthy wouldn’t change in the least if they had to pay moderately higher income taxes. And it would boost our national economy.

The Fairness in Taxation Act calls for establishing five new tax brackets for incomes between $1 million and $1 billion, with rates ranging from 45 percent to 49 percent.

The Illinois Democrat’s bill would also address an absurd aspect of our tax system, which wrongly favors wealth over work. Today, money earned through working nine-to-five or the graveyard shift is taxed at a higher rate than money obtained through windfalls. Capital gains, dividends, and other investment income derived from pre-existing wealth shouldn’t be taxed at rates lower than income earned through work.

Three-quarters of all stocks and mutual funds owned by U.S. taxpayers belong to the richest 10 percent of American households. Therefore, some of the most affluent Americans actually pay lower effective tax rates than many middle-class Americans.

Take, for example, a weasel like Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs. He raked in just over $13 million in 2010 (excluding his bonus of some $12 million worth of shares in his company). Of that $13 million, only his base salary of $600,000 will be taxed according to the federal income tax rates. The remaining $12.4 million will be taxed at a top rate of 15 percent. Unfortunately, Blankfein is just one example of the kind of gross inequity that exists in the current tax system.

A century ago, tax policies adopted during President Teddy Roosevelt’s administration were guided by sound principles that stand in direct contrast to those of today’s Republicans.

“No man should receive a dollar unless that dollar has been fairly earned,” explained Roosevelt in a 1910 speech. “Every dollar received should represent a dollar’s worth of service rendered — not gambling in stocks…I believe in a graduated income tax on big fortunes.”

The Fairness in Taxation Act takes aim at the same inequities Teddy Roosevelt — a Republican — identified long ago. If it were enacted this year, it would generate $78 billion that could fund jobs and social programs that Americans need now more than ever.

Repeat after me: we’re not broke. It’s time to mandate that the wealthiest members of our communities share in the sacrifice of the economic recovery and pay their fair share. The Fairness in Taxation Act offers a clear path in that direction.

Mazher Ali is the communications coordinator for United for a Fair Economy (UFE). www.faireconomy.org

Why is the California Tax Payer Fighting the Battle Alone?

April 7, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

“In my view, we do need to boldly address our deficit crisis, but we need to do it in a way that is fair — that is not on the backs of the sick, the elderly, the children and the poor,” Senator Bernie Sanders in a recent article published in the Huffington Post. We are leaving billions upon billions of dollars untouched, while having the shameless audacity to ask our poor, our elderly and our youth to do without.

This is almost comical, if it were not so tragically illogical.

We (the 99%’rs) exclaim, “Mr. Governor tax me, tax me!”  Meanwhile, Big Oil in California and our top one percent income earners are not even at the pay-your-fair-share table. The Republican Party has wrestled the argument down to one phrase, “No New Taxes,” which resonates with the voters. However, it does not accurately describe the revenue generating possibilities. When you consider the huge tax breaks the wealthiest of this country have received under Bush II and now Obama, on the idea they were going to create jobs, a different question needs to be asked. Is taxing the wealthiest of our Country/State the same as taxing the rest of us?

California should be allowed to vote for taxes to the wealthiest of our State. In so doing, it is not really a ‘new’ tax, it is merely a ‘restoration’ of a tax that helped us balance our books in California a decade or so ago. Given that so much has been given away in tax breaks to the wealthy of this country and in oil subsidies, not taxing these groups has played a significant role in the economic crisis in which we find ourselves. A Senator Bernie Sanders-type proposal, “…5.4 percent emergency surtax on income over $1 million…” is an innovative approach for California, and should be put to the voters.

We can frame the emergency surtax as a restoration of taxes (not new) and keep it in line with the Republican Party’s mantra. It’s not a new tax, it’s a restoration of a tax needed to balance the budget. We must work to change the language and the perspective on how we look and talk about taxes. It is necessary to separate the discussion about taxes between the wealthy (top 1%) and the rest of us (bottom 99%). Creating an understanding that taxing individuals earning more than $1 million annually is most definitely not the same as taxing middle and low income families of California.
There is no evidence that tax breaks for the wealthy, be they corporations or individuals, create jobs or help the economy. In fact, author after author says wealthy tax-break policies have created a greater disparity between a few hundred people with huge amounts of concentrated wealth and the rest of us.
There is a tremendous resource in the $1.85 trillion GSP (Gross State Product) in California from which we can tap. Why or who dictates that we are forbidden from looking at the entire ($1.85 trillion GSP) pie?  General accounting principles tell us there are two sides to the T-account. A revenue side: which has been badly damaged due to the unnecessary tax cuts for the wealthy; and an expense side: which has already taken huge cuts, and risks a worsening of an already weak economy, should more people be laid-off.
In as much as we are begging to tax ourselves, we too must tax big oil in California. The experts agree, an oil extraction fee will have no effect on gasoline prices and will not effect jobs. There will always be someone willing to dig the precious black gold out of the ground, at a cost of $20 per barrel, because at today’s prices that is a whopping $77 per barrel profit. “California still produces 567,000 barrels a day,” says a Daily Finance post on February 28, 2011. When we do the math on these numbers it reveals oil companies in California are making $44 million a day in profits.
Is it really so wrong to ask the wealthiest of our country to take a little less profit?  The voters should decide.
L.A. Ortega is president and CEO of the nonprofit Community Union, Inc. www.communityunion.org.

From Our Readers

April 7, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Re: Growing a Spirit For Service Through Cesar Chavez
I remember Cesar well. My father and uncle (David Ramirez) worked along side with him!! My father Augustine Ramirez Jr…helped Cesar when I was a young girl.

I was lucky and I went to private school as for my father he only had 8th grade education…when my dad worked with Cesar he made signs that I had to help him with as he couldn’t spell well. Through Cesar and my dad I was taught many valuable lessons on money and life!! I’m grateful today for those lessons taught to a once spoiled selfish girl, ME.

Those lessons I have instilled in my own children…even had my son which became spoiled by blessings in life to pick strawberries at 5am then go to school a lesson that some kids were not as lucky as he was and to be grateful for all he had!!! What an eye opener to him!! He’s now a well-adjusted man and I’m proud of his generosity to others.

I’m thankful to Cesar who became a wonderful friend to my dad, and thankful to my father for the wonderful lessons he taught me!!!

Viva la Raza…and to the FWA!!!

—Kristine Ramirez

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