Customers Protest Water Rates Amid Conflicting Reports

August 27, 2009 by · 3 Comments 

Some customers are balking at the latest water rate hikes from the Central Basin Municipal Water District and demanding to know why they’re getting charged as much as double the current fees. But the information about the exact amount they are being charged is in question.

A representative for the Central Basin says news reports and assertions by city officials over the last two months have been incorrect. They were based on figures from other agencies, Central Basin spokesperson Valerie Howard said Wednesday.

At an Aug. 18 council meeting, Commerce staff reported that the Central Basin’s “administrative surcharge” had increased from $44 to $62 in July, and would go up to $72 on Jan 1, 2010, and $92 on July 1, 2010. The same increases were also reported in newspaper accounts.

“Those articles are wrong,” Howard said Wednesday, referring to the Los Angeles Times and Whittier Daily News articles that reported the Central Basin rate hikes more than double water rates for customers.

“Not counting the MWD [Metropolitan Water District] pass-through, the increase to Central Basin’s existing rates is 41 percent,” Howard said. The Central Basin’s rate increase is $18, she wrote in an email to EGP. MWD increased their own rates by 19 percent, she said.

Based on an excel sheet Howard sent EGP, Central Basin increased its surcharge by $18 to $62 on July 1, 2009 and will increase the charge to $72 on January 1, 2010. An increase for July 2010 was not included in the chart.

Residents in the Central Basin area who say their water rates are being doubled worry that the board of directors who voted unanimously for the rate hike “signed our lives away,” because many low or fixed-income people cannot afford to pay the increase.

“That’s a good chunk of change. That can either make us or break us,” said Commerce resident Ivan Hernandez, who thinks it will amount to 159 percent increase, a figure that Howard disputes.

Hernandez spoke at the Aug. 18 council meeting in which residents and council members blamed the increase on a project to build a 12-mile recycled water line stretching from Pico Rivera to Vernon. City officials and the residents who spoke at the meeting said the project is unnecessary at this time.

Howard said the rate increase is not for the recycled water line project, but is the result of pass-through rate increases from the Metropolitan Water District, which supplies the bulk of the water in Southern California and is raising the rates because a drought has made water scarce. Eighty-eight percent of that increase is due to higher rates from the MWD, and the rest is due to a “combination of external factors” that caused a $2.28 million budget deficit Central Basin needed to fix, she said.

But the Central Basin didn’t just pass on the costs from the MWD, they “came out with a number that’s out of this world,” Commerce Councilman Robert Fierro said Monday.

City Administrator Jorge Rifá attended the June 24, 2009 meeting at which the board approved the rate increases. He and several representatives from the district’s cities and water agencies spoke in opposition to the rate increases. He said their understanding was that the increase was due to the recycled water line project.

Most water users expected to get charged more this year because of the MWD’s new rates, Rifa said at the Aug. 18 Commerce City Council meeting, “but that’s not what’s at issue. What’s at issue is the rest of the rate increase appeared to go into a capital project…”

“The lion’s share, as we understand it and as a number of these other agencies understand it, the lion’s share of the Central Basin’s increases relate to a financing of a recycled water project,” Rifa said. He said the Central Basin’s financing of the project is “well over a hundred million dollars.”

On Monday, Howard said the district did propose a new “infrastructure surcharge” this year to support capital improvement projects such as the recycled water line project, but “in response to the concerns of our customers, the Board voted to NOT implement this surcharge at this time,” she wrote in her email on Monday. The board “postponed” the surcharge at the June 24 meeting, she wrote.

Brian Wolfson, spokesperson for the city of Commerce, maintained on Tuesday that the city knows nothing of the board voting to postpone the surcharge for the recycled water line project.

“That would be great news, but [Central Basin] hasn’t notified us to date” that the infrastructure surcharge was not implemented, he said.

“The Central Basin Municipal Water District’s new rate increase was greater than the Metropolitan Water District increase. It wasn’t simply a pass through of the Metropolitan Water District increase. They added additional costs. And as we understand it, those are due to the infrastructure surcharge that they’ve implemented and the infrastructure surcharge is to pay for the recycled water line,” said Wolfson, basing his figures on the Aug. 18 staff presentation.

Minutes from the Central Basin’s June 24 meeting do not note that the surcharge was postponed. But the agencies and customers opposing the increase who were at the meeting should have witnessed the board voting to not include the infrastructure charge, Howard told EGP on Wednesday.

“[The board] said, no, we’re not doing this,” she said. Howard clarified on Wednesday afternoon that the board did vote to implement the infrastructure surcharge to begin on Jan. 1, 2010, but she said the surcharge will be brought back to the board sometime in December.

Howard’s initial assertion that the Central Basin’s rate increase would not fund the recycled water projects contradicts reports by other news media accounts including the Whittier Daily News, and a July 18 Los Angeles Times story in which the Central Basin’s Executive Director Art Aguilar defended using the additional revenue from the rate hike to fund capital improvement projects.

Aguilar also issued a statement on Monday to EGP, through Howard, explaining the rate increase is the result of budgetary difficulties and infrastructure project needs: “This action reflects our best effort to balance the budget by reducing our agency’s spending coupled with a necessary rate increase to ensure essential services and needed infrastructure projects will continue.”

These projects include the Southeast Water Reliability Project, SWRP, which includes a water line that connects existing Central Basin pipes to Pico Rivera, Aguilar said. The SWRP has qualified for state and federal grants for some of these projects because it will usher in “lasting economic and environmental benefits to our region,” he said.

“Considering that California will experience continued population growth and limited water supply, this is a project we cannot afford to put on hold any longer,” Aguilar said. Creating a recycled water system should also bring down the costs of drinking water, he said.

The 12-mile recycled water line project is also part of the SWRP. Howard said it was approved in 2003. “It was part of the District’s long-term recycled water plan but has been suspended for various reasons,” she said.

In his presentation at the Aug. 18 Commerce City Council meeting, Rifa reviewed an earlier audit on the recycled water line project. California’s state auditor in 2001 called it a “poorly planned” project that has “burdened taxpayers.” The audit notes that Central Basin seemed to be working toward making the project more self-sufficient, meaning it has to line up enough potential customers for the water line.

The state at the time said the Central Basin had not secured enough agreements with potential users of the recycled water line. Rifa said the water district was once hoping to bring in the proposed power plant in Vernon as a customer, but “there’s some wide agreement that the Vernon project has been stalled.”

Now, the only agreement the Central Basin has secured seems to be with Montebello’s city-owned golf course, Rifa said. More customers will be needed to justify the usage capacity of the recycled water line project, he said.

Several cities that are part of the Southeast Water Coalition have asked the state to conduct a new audit on the recycled water line project and the district’s justifications for its rate increase. The coalition says that while the district board has postponed the infrastructure surcharge through January 2010, it has not cancelled either the surcharge or plans for the recycled water line. They believe the fee could still increase to $92 by July 2010. The coalition, which sent its request to State Senator Alyson Huber, chair of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee, represents the cities of Commerce, Cerritos, Downey, Lakewood, Norwalk, Paramount, Pico Rivera, South Gate, Vernon and Whittier, among others. The California Water Service Company, which provides water to Commerce, also requested a state audit.

Howard said the SWRP was audited in 2003 and that a financial analysis was presented at Central Basin’s June 24 board meeting. She also said the district held five public hearings and meetings on the proposed rate hikes and budget cuts in which customers expressed their concerns and were invited to the June 24 board meeting.

“We gave out plenty of information,” Howard said.

Council members and residents in Commerce called their Central Basin representative, Board Director Art Chacon, to task for not coming to his constituents first before voting on the rate increase. As of the Aug. 18 meeting, officials said the city and the Commerce community had not received a presentation on the rate increase from a Central Basin representative.

“That’s where the anger is. The anger is the Central Basin has failed to educate and justify this increase… I feel the central basin is very unsympathetic,” Councilman Fierro said. He and Councilwoman Tina Baca Del Rio “challenged” fellow councilman Hugo Argumedo, who is Chacon’s brother, to exercise some influence in getting his brother to rethink his vote.

The Central Basin’s five Board Directors did not respond to EGP’s interview requests. The board’s president Edward Vasquez is a former mayor and councilman of Montebello and the husband of its current Mayor Rosemarie Vasquez. He recently became a board member of the Metropolitan Water District.

Corrections Made: EGP spoke to Central Basin spokesperson Valerie Howard on Monday and Wednesday, only. There were no exchanges with the Central Basin on Tuesday, as was written in the print version of this article.

Related Story: Does Central Basin Have a Deal With the Vernon Power Plant?

LAUSD School Board Passes Historic and Divisive Plan

August 27, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

The thousands of people gathered at Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) headquarters Tuesday gave board members an ear full as they prepared to vote on a divisive reform plan that would allow non-profit groups to submit bids to operate certain district campuses beginning next year.

The boards 6-1 approval of the “Public School Choice” resolution seemed to be an anti-climatic conclusion to an otherwise lively four-hour session of finger pointing, accusations and an occasional compliment.

Under the approved plan, non-profit charter operations and other educational institutions will be allowed to bid for control of 50 new schools – including 20 campuses in the 2010-2011 school year – plus 200 low-performing campuses.

The change will affect more than 200,000 students, representing more than one-third of the district’s student population.

Board Member Marguerite LaMotte’s lone dissenting vote generated the final burst of applause from a group of teachers and resolution opponents watching the meeting on a T.V. monitor in the building’s cafeteria. Moments earlier, fellow Board Member Steve Zimmer provided the afternoon’s most dramatic moment for the opponents when he eventually cast a vote in favor of the resolution after spending the majority of the meeting expressing strong opposition.

Tuesday’s meeting marked an important date for a variety of teacher’s unions, community groups, parent organizations and students. Alliance College-Ready Public Schools held a rally outside district headquarters in the hours leading up to the 1 p.m. meeting. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, a vocal supporter of the proposal, egged on the crowd, saying the measure will be a new beginning for education.

“We’re going to say yes to choice, no to the status quo, yes to innovation, yes to parent participation,” he said to the crowd.

After the rally, a separate group of students and activist staged a protest around the headquarters building as the Board conducted the meeting inside.

Opponents of the resolution repeatedly challenged the board to prove that a back-door deal was not already in place and that the public was not wasting its time in attending the meeting. Several speakers openly mocked board members for “being in the Mayor’s pocket.” Opponents chastised board members repeated use of data revealing the low-test scores and high dropout rates of district schools.

They likened the usage as attacks against their communities and countered with various tales of success experienced by students in the district.

In one heated moment, Ricardo Rivas, a teacher at Garfield High School referenced one of the Eastside’s proudest moments in his public comment. “Do not tell the students that found the courage to ‘Stand and Deliver’ to sit down and shut-up.”

Supporters of the resolution were careful to acknowledge those singular cases of success but pressed that there was still a need for progressive reform to help those students who do not experience the same success.

In his comments to the board, Superintendent Ramon Cortines said aggressive action is long overdue.
“For too long we have protected the status quo,” he said.

Supporters repeatedly used the status quo phrase in urging the board to take this opportunity to make a dramatic change in the way the much-maligned district operates its schools.

Monique Bacon of Inner City Education Foundation Public Schools expressed supporter’s frustration with the city’s school system: “I’m here on behalf of thousands of parents who are in support of the resolution for choice,” she said. “We have no intention of standing by to allow another 50 state-of-the-art schools to be built on the backs of taxpayers that have the same failing programs in them.”

Board President Monica Garcia and other board members urged both supporters and opponents to quickly move beyond the heated discussions in order to become part of the reform efforts. With the resolution’s passing, new efforts will be required to heal the wounds created through the sometimes-vicious attacks. For the past few weeks, numerous groups have staged town-hall meetings on both sides of the issue.

On Monday evening, Board Member Yolie Flores-Aguilar spent two hours on the wrong side of a heated community town-hall meeting at Garfield High School. A coalition of parents, students, teachers and community activist peppered their school board representative with demands to rescind the resolution she proposed. Speaker after speaker chided Flores-Aguilar for their perceptions of her as an “absentee” representative. She was repeatedly taken to task for a failure to communicate with Garfield stakeholders concerning the resolution. One student began her remarks by admitting she was simply confused by the proposal and its potential outcome. Parents and students criticized Flores-Aguilar for not conducting enough outreach concerning the proposal as well as for a lack of resolution materials available in Spanish.

Last Friday, parents and students staged a rally outside Garfield. Several adults and students wore red shirts that stated opposition to the “privatization of public education.” The resolution, as clarified by the board on Tuesday, will accept bids from not-for profit entities only. Some students at the rally told EGP that the proposal confused them. Some had only become aware of the issue less than three-weeks-ago. Vanessa Jaimes, a Garfield freshman said she was concerned that if students fail their classes they will be kicked out of the school. Her older sister Annabel, a Garfield alumnus, worried that colleges and universities may devalue Garfield diplomas if the school changed its management.

Hector Gomez, a Garfield sophomore said it was unfair that students were not informed of the plan. He along with other speakers vented their frustrations with the constant use of negative statistics to describe their schools.

“We’re not guinea pigs,” he said at last Friday’s rally. “We’re proud to be Bulldogs!”

The majority of comments made at Friday’s rally and Monday’s town hall meeting demonstrated a clear lack of knowledge on the complex organizational structures of charter operators and other non-profit institutions poised to take control of public schools. This is part of the challenge the district appears to have to confront as it moves forward with its new plan. Cortines acknowledged this much during his speech.

“We need to do a better job of listening to our community,” he said.

With Tuesday’s historic vote in the books, a clearly fractured faculty and student body begin the new school year     with a certain level of uncertainty about their future.

MUSD Kicks-Off the 2009-10 Year

August 27, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Students at Bell Gardens Intermediate may be happy to learn that Literary Coach Kris Hood, fifth grade English and social studies teacher Evelyn Barba and sixth grade math and science teacher Lynette Gutierrez, all want to “have fun” and “play” too.

These Bell Garden Intermediate teachers are just a few of the hundreds of Montebello Unified School District (MUSD) certified and classified staff who crowded into the Bell Gardens High School auditorium on Monday to kick-off the school year and get better prepared to help their students.

“Students spend so many hours in our care,” said MUSD Superintendent Edward Velasquez. “You know, certified and classified employees truly make our school sites a student’s home away from home—and I believe it is our obligation as MUSD employees to make sure we do everything in our power to provide learning environments that are at the high quality our students deserve.”

MUSD Board President Gerri Guzman said back-to-school is a busy and hectic time, and noted that MUSD has faced challenges of declining enrollment and the budget crisis.

“It is not easy making the decisions we have had to make,” said Guzman. “We have put in countless hours in meetings determining what needs to be done to keep our District thriving. And all the while—our staff—our MUSD family—has been among the top priorities…you always have and always will be,” she told the gathered staff.

Guest Speaker Clay Roberts, of the Search Institute, discussed the 40 Developmental Assets he says can help them better serve students during the school year, and take-on the individual challenge to help, support, and to inspire a young person.

The assets discussed are both external and internal characteristics and behaviors that aim to promote positive behaviors and attitudes, and protect youth from high-risk behaviors.

Teachers were encouraged to be aware of their behaviors and attitudes that could negatively impact students—a strategy Roberts called “feed the staff so they don’t eat the kids.”

Roberts acknowledged the loss of good staff members due to early retirements targeted at avoiding teacher layoffs. He encouraged staff to take better care of each other and foster a healthy environment for each other as well as for students.

Part of the presentation included a film with “gems” staff members jotted down to remember later.
Karla Flores, Cesar Chavez Elementary Instructional Assistant, wrote on a post it “It’s not [about] being the Best in the World, but the Best for [the] World.”

Roberts told the audience anecdotes of teachers that have had an impact on student’s lives.
“One day she [my sister] was at the office, she wasn’t feeling well. And the nurse said ‘why a nurse, why not a doctor,’” Roberts said about his sister who is now a physician. “It’s the little things you do that really change their behavior for ever.”

Roberts encouraged the audience to look back in time for someone in education who made a difference in their lives; he received a good showing when he asked the audience to raise their hands if they could remember someone.

“I want you to talk about the people who made a difference, why do you remember them?” Roberts said prompting them to tell the person seated next to them. “Why would you remember someone like that [snaps fingers] somebody from 30 years ago, they must have done something powerful… we want to be that someone for our students.”

Ester Flores, from Wintergarten Elementary School, told EGP she remembers her Garfield High School English teacher, Dr. O’Callaghan.

“I remember it was the first time I got excited to read and discuss what we were reading,” Flores said, adding that she encouraged her classmates and told them they had the potential to be anything they wanted to be.

George Flores, a campus security officer at Suva Elementary School for 21 years, told EGP he remembers his homeroom teacher Mr. Serrano at Belvedere Jr. High.

“I was a big clown, so I can relate to the students [at Suva], I remember he [Mr. Serrano] pulled me aside to talk, he said I could be more than a class clown.”

The MUSD event was partially funded by MUSD’s Safe Schools/Healthy Students Grant Initiative, which is providing $9 million in federal funding to the district over four years to enhance, or create, programs that promote school safety and health among students, according to an MUSD press release.

EDITORIAL: The Old Lion Goes Home

August 27, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Even though he never tried to cover up that he was a liberal with a capital L, Senator Edward “Ted” Kennedy’s passing will only add to the Senates’ partisanship.

Everyone knew where Senator Kennedy’s sentiments were. He was a Democrat who held the dreams and needs of people not as affluent as he or his family close to his heart. The “Lion of the Senate,” Kennedy carried these needs of ordinary Americans as a mantel on his broad shoulders. He roared on their behalf, and had a say and vote in nearly every Civil Rights accomplishment achieved in the U.S. during the last forty or so years in the Senate,

Yet Kennedy’s recognition that little, if anything, could be accomplished in the Senate without a true give-and-take among his fellow Senate members, was perhaps his greatest accomplishment, and an unfortunate rarity in our times.

True bipartisanship is one more step closer to the grave with the passing of Senator Ted Kennedy. The old lions are disappearing, as is their statesmanship and civil discourse. Let’s hope that the young lions will gain a better perspective on how to create a more civilized atmosphere as they discuss the public’s business by reflecting on Kennedy’s ability to make friends and influence others.

Asian Americans Mobilize for Immigration Reform

August 27, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

For the first time in the nation’s history, Asian American and Pacific Islander groups came together this week to call for comprehensive immigration reform.

A dozen API organizations hosted activities in cities with high Asian American populations, including the Asian American Justice Center in Washington, D.C., the Asian Law Caucus in San Francisco, the Asian Pacific American Legal Center in Los Angeles and national chapters of the Organization of Chinese Americans.

“Immigration is often Latino-focused,” said Tuyet Duong, senior staff attorney of Asian American Justice Center (AAJC), “but Asian Americans also want to activate their network and become involved.”

Although Latino immigrant rights groups have been more vocal about immigration concerns, the needs within the API community are just as urgent. The API community is one of the fastest growing immigrant populations, with more than 15 million Asian Americans living in the United States. Family reunification remains the most pressing issue for many Asian immigrants.

Duong noted that according to the Department of Homeland Security, 90 percent of green cards issued to Asian immigrants are through family-based immigration.

Due to the huge backlogs, these immigrants often face long wait times, with Indian immigrants waiting an average of 11 years and Filipinos 23 years to join their siblings in the United States according to the Asian American Justice Center.

“Asian Americans want family reunification as much as Latinos want legalization,” said Duong.
However, many Asian groups also tout the need for legalization of the 1.2 million undocumented Asian immigrants in this country.

“Since Obama took office, three dozen Vietnamese and Cambodians have been deported,” noted Bill Ong Hing, immigration law professor at the UC Davis School of Law.

Unlike Latinos, Asian and Pacific Islander Americans lacked a general consensus on legalization in the past, with some worrying that legalization would create further backlogs. This week, API immigrants are calling for immigration reform that would both speed up the backlogs and legalize the undocumented.

“In the Korean-American community alone, one in five is undocumented,” said Dae Joong Yoon, executive director of the Korean Resource Center in Los Angeles. “Many of them are under the age of 18.”

Michael, a 21-year-old undocumented Chinese immigrant from Hong Kong, who is currently studying computer engineering, said students like him would benefit greatly from the DREAM Act that would give undocumented students a path to citizenship.

Since age 5, Michael has spent two-thirds of his life in the United States without a Social Security number or work authorization. Though speaking in public posed a huge risk for him, Michael said, “I want to stop being afraid, I want to move on. Please pass a comprehensive immigration reform and give me and my brother a chance.”

Since President Obama’s announcement that immigration reform would most likely be delayed until 2010, API immigration experts have feared that further delays could hamper the passage of comprehensive immigration reform.

“2010 is an election year,” explained Hing, who supports initiating the process in 2009 and passing it during early 2010. If immigration reform is delayed until early next year, Hing said, “attention will shy away [from immigration reform] in the House.”

Other Asian American activists advocate restoring the right to due process and fair hearings within the immigration justice system, in addition to ending prolonged immigration detention.

“In the aftermath of 9/11, the South Asian community bore the brunt of repressive immigration enforcement tactics and policies,” said Tamia Pervez, policy organizer of South Asian Network. “We need to stop sweeping detentions and deportations where immigrants are often without access to fair hearings.”

The nationwide collective effort reflects the API community’s increasing strength, population and political power. The Immigration Policy Center estimates that the number of API voters increased by 21.3 percent, from 2.8 million in 2004 to 3.4 million in 2008.

Between 2004 and 2008, Asian voters increased by 182 percent in Arizona, 216 percent in Virginia and 166 percent in Colorado, according to Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum. “The urgent need for reform is clear and politicians need to step up or face an increasingly frustrated electorate,” Noorani said during a national August 18 teleconference.

Newly elected Chinese-American Rep. Judy Chu (D-California) added that along with this growing electorate is an increasingly powerful economic base. “Immigration reform helps the economy,” said Chu, who recognized immigrant consumers as a crucial sector of the economy.

Reverend Vien Nguyen, a Vietnamese-American priest who provided assistance to immigrant groups after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, agreed. “New Orleans won’t be able to recover without [the help of] undocumented workers and employees,” Nguyen said.

In order to mobilize young Asian Americans to join the effort, the campaign organized a National Text-In Day. Young people showed their support by texting “AAPI” to 69866. Information and resources have also been posted on Asian American blogs.

API immigrant rights groups say this week’s series of collective actions is the beginning of a larger movement for immigration reform. Other groups, including labor, religious coalitions and other ethnic groups are expected to join in the effort in the fall.

New Coach Looking to Rebuild Montebello High Football Team

August 27, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

Despite having his work cut out for him, new Coach Pete Gonzalez is excited about rebuilding the Montebello High School football program and returning to the Montebello community.

The former St. Paul coach grew up in Pico Rivera, but attended Montebello’s Cantwell High School and La Merced Intermediate School, and played all of his youth sports in Montebello. He played football for the Montebello Indians, basketball in the Montebello Golden State program and baseball with the Montebello Baseball Association.

New Montebello High School football Coach Pete Gonzalez and his staff are working to have the Oilers ready for their Sept. 4 season opener at Bellflower. (EGP photo by Mario Villegas)

New Montebello High School football Coach Pete Gonzalez and his staff are working to have the Oilers ready for their Sept. 4 season opener at Bellflower. (EGP photo by Mario Villegas)

“I’m really excited about the opportunity and it’s great to be back in a community that has really made us feel welcome,” Gonzalez said.  “Montebello High has always had strong ties to the community and I’m proud to be part of it.”

Gonzalez and his staff are working to field a team that will make the community proud and feels the Oilers, who have had five straight losing seasons, are on the right track.

“We’ve got some fantastic kids that have good manners and are hard workers,” he said. “They’ve been very receptive to the things that we are asking of them. Even though they struggled on the field last year, they were in a program that gave them some good direction.”

The program is healthy, he says. There are 165 players in a program that consists of three levels – varsity, junior varsity and freshmen.

“We tell the players that they have to believe in everything that we are doing out here and they are starting to believe,” Gonzalez said. “That’s really important. There’s a learning curve and once we get through it, we’ll be OK.”

The players are hungry and there’s a lot of competition, Gonzalez said.

“We’ve really stressed competition,” he said. “We tell the players that if they want someone’s job to go out there and get it. Competition is very healthy and very fair. We don’t care if you’re a sophomore, junior or senior, or 5-5 or 6-5, the best player is going to play.

“We’re getting better every day,” he added. “We’re starting to understand how little things mean a lot. No one can take a play off. All 11 guys have to play every down. The goal is to work hard on every play until the whistle blows.”

The Sept. 4 season opener at Bellflower is only a week away.

“It’s coming fast, it’s coming fast,” says Gonzalez, adding that a season-opening victory could be the key to how well the Oilers do in 2009.

“The year we won the title at St. Paul I told my players that it didn’t matter how they started the season, but how they finished,” he said, recalling the 2007 season. “We lost our first two games and then went on to win the CIF championship.

“But this year it’s going to be about how we start because a good start will help build a lot of confidence.”

Gonzalez spent the past nine seasons at St. Paul, the last three as head coach. Besides the CIF and Mission League titles in 2007, he also guided the Swordsmen to the CIF semifinals in 2006.

He’s also had assistant coaching stints at Cathedral, El Rancho and Cantwell.

Gonzalez was an all-league football and baseball player at Cantwell and played baseball at Whittier College.

He has 13 assistant coaches, including his son, Peter Gonzalez and two with the same name – Eric Gonzalez. There’s also Andy Guerrero, Butch Hernandez, Kevin Rivas, Xavier Vega, Jason Arellanes, Patrick Beltran, Gary Canales, Matt Saenez, John Gonzalez and George Villa.

“There are 14 coaches watching every down and every player is being watched all the time,” Gonzalez said. “The accountability is there.”

Bell Gardens Among Cities Targeted in Counter Mexican Drug Cartel Operation

August 27, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Sixteen alleged associates of the Mexico-based Sinaloa drug cartel were indicted and more than 550 pounds of drugs were seized as part of an eight-month undercover investigation that included surveillance operations in Los Angeles, Bell Gardens and Pacoima, Attorney General Jerry Brown announced Wednesday.

Among those indicted were six Los Angeles-area residents, two of whom have been arrested and four of whom remain at large.

“This notorious cartel smuggled massive quantities of cocaine and marijuana into Southern California, fueling addiction and violence across the nation,” Brown said. “Through a very dangerous and courageous undercover operation, the Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement and the Imperial County Narcotic Task Force has dealt a body blow to this syndicate and seized hundreds of pounds of narcotics.”

The indictments, arrests and seizures were the result of  ”Operation Silver Fox,” an eight-month effort in which a state narcotics agent infiltrated a Mexican drug syndicate, according to the Attorney General’s Office.

State prosecutors contend the syndicate is responsible for distributing thousands of pounds of cocaine and marijuana throughout the United States and Canada.

As part of “Silver Fox,” more than 100 surveillance operations were carried out, including some in Los Angeles, Pacoima, Bell Gardens, Riverside and San Diego.

Investigators also executed six search warrants and took part in 30 undercover meetings, according to Brown’s office.

Initiated in January, the operation determined that the cartel was smuggling drugs into Southern California, often through the Calexico ports of entry using vehicles with hidden compartments. The narcotics would then be shipped across the country and Canada.

Investigators seized 420 pounds of cocaine and 136 pounds of marijuana, with a combined street value of more than $19 million, according to Brown’s office. Also seized were $1.7 million in U.S. currency, nine firearms, seven handguns, two assault rifles and nine vehicles.

Four of the 16 people named in the indictment have been arrested, but the others are still being sought.
Among those indicted were Marco Mendoza, 43, Juan Gabriel Molina, 28, and Ramon Valenzuela, 33, all of South Gate; Gerald William Andrews, 42, and Hilario Lopez Rodriguez, 43, both of Pacoima; and Norberto Ruelas Urias, 39, of Long Beach. Mendoza and Andrews are both in custody.

Southeast Mobile Tech Lab Nearly Ready for the Road

August 27, 2009 by · 2 Comments 

City of Vernon Mayor Hilario “Larry” Gonzales journeyed to Perris, California last month to take a first hand look at the work-in-progress on the Vernon – Southeast Mobile Technology Lab. The vehicle, which has been nearly a year in the making and is funded by Vernon, will provide southeast area residents access to new tools to bridge the digital divide. Pictured left to right: Andy Carrasco, Public Affairs Manager, East/Southeast LA Southern California Gas Company; Ron Garcia, Regional Manager, Southern California Edison; Vernon Mayor Hilario “Larry” Gonzales; Emma Hernandez, Consultant, Applied Behavioral Services For Children, Inc; and Cesar Zaldivar-Motts, Executive Director Southeast Community Development Corporation, take a look at the body infrastructure of the Vernon – Southeast Mobile Technology Lab.

City of Vernon Mayor Hilario “Larry” Gonzales journeyed to Perris, California last month to take a first hand look at the work-in-progress on the Vernon – Southeast Mobile Technology Lab. The vehicle, which has been nearly a year in the making and is funded by Vernon, will provide southeast area residents access to new tools to bridge the digital divide. Pictured left to right: Andy Carrasco, Public Affairs Manager, East/Southeast LA Southern California Gas Company; Ron Garcia, Regional Manager, Southern California Edison; Vernon Mayor Hilario “Larry” Gonzales; Emma Hernandez, Consultant, Applied Behavioral Services For Children, Inc; and Cesar Zaldivar-Motts, Executive Director Southeast Community Development Corporation, take a look at the body infrastructure of the Vernon – Southeast Mobile Technology Lab.

Monterey Park Children’s Court Forced to Evacuate

August 27, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Monterey Park Children’s Court Forced to EvacuateThe second floor of the Edmund D. Edelman Children’s Court was evacuated Tuesday after staffers reported a hazardous material in the building.

Monterey Park firefighters were called to 201 Centre Plaza Drive at 9:30 a.m., and haz-mat teams from the sheriff’s department and Glendale and Burbank fire departments also responded, said Monterey Park fire Battalion Chief Jim Birrell.

He said the substance was cleaned up and the area declared safe to reoccupy, but authorities are still trying to identify the material.

LA County Raises Parking Ticket Fees

August 27, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Parking fines in unincorporated county areas will be going up as much as $25 in some instances, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors decided Tuesday.

Citing higher penalties in other areas and a lack of price increase since 1996, Sheriff Lee Baca asked in a letter to the board for increases in fines, increased charges for late payments and a $5 “assessment” to offset parking revenues claimed by the state.

Fines will increase from $5 to $25, depending on the violation, according to county officials.

All tickets will include a $5 surcharge. In January, the Legislature passed a bill, requiring all cities and counties to pay $4.50 of every parking fine to the State Court Facilities Construction Fund. The county surcharge is meant to offset this payment to avoid a loss of revenue. The charge is $5 rather than $4.50, because the Department of Motor Vehicles will only process even dollar payments, according to county officials.

The board voted 5-0 in favor of the price hikes. It was unclear when the new rates would take effect.

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