Libro por Activista Se Enfoca en Cómo Protestar Eficazmente

August 8, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Randy Jurado Ertll detectó la necesidad de que los activistas latinos tengan un método unificado de lucha en EE.UU., y por ello, con ejemplos de personajes y organizaciones, prepara lanzar el libro “La vida de un activista en el frente 24/7”.

“Con mi libro quiero enseñarle a los activistas que solo saben hacer carteles y salir a gritar cómo se puede protestar para cambios sociales de una manera sofisticada”, dijo a Efe Jurado Ertll.

“En nuestra comunidad mucha gente no tiene la posibilidad de ir a la universidad para aprender la teoría sobre cómo organizar y algunos de los activistas más efectivos no tenían un título universitario, como el líder afroamericano Malcolm X o el líder campesino César Chávez”, explicó.

“The Life of an Activist: In the Frontlines 24/7” es el título de este libro, de 136 páginas, que será lanzado el próximo 14 de septiembre en inglés y a finales de año en español.

“En el libro hago un perfil a las tres organizaciones latinas más antiguas como el Fondo Mexicoamericano para la Defensa Legal y la Educación (MALDEF), la Fundación para las Oportunidades Mexicoamericanas (MAOF) y el Centro de Acción Social de Pasadena donde trabajé”, indicó Jurado Ertll.

El escritor y activista explicó que en el libro explica que por ejemplo en MALDEF, que es dirigida por abogados y que también son activistas, tienen un método de trabajo que es producto de la formación en escuelas de derecho.

“A muchos activistas que no saben de un método de lucha lo que los motiva a protestar es el enojo interno, frustraciones, porque a veces han sido víctimas o han visto muchas injusticias”, declaró.

“Pero a veces hacen cosas para llamar la atención que no favorecen a sus causas, como cuando algunos se ponen a quebrar las vitrinas en negocios que no tienen nada que ver con sus enojos o les pegan fuego a los carros que encuentran, eso está demostrado que en vez de ayudar afecta”, criticó.

Jurado Ertll destacó el método de trabajo del religioso ecuménico Don Smith, quien, como miembro de la iglesia presbiteriana, se dedicó a trabajar en la década de los ochenta con el movimiento de solidaridad con El Salvador, entre otras causas.

“Personas como él no caen en el estereotipo negativo de que los activistas son un montón de coléricos, problemáticos que salen a la calle a andar gritando”, explicó el escritor.

“En mi libro trato de resaltar el trabajo de héroes del activismo de nuestras comunidades que no son famosos, para que aprendamos de sus ejemplos”, indicó.

Entre los ejemplos destaca además el trabajo de David Allgood, director político de la Liga de Votantes para la Conservación del medio ambiente de California, quien es sajón y se dedica a organizar votantes afroamericanos y otras minorías como hispanos.

En el libro describe también el trabajo de Caren Lee, activista asiática de la iglesia presbiteriana, que está involucrada en activismo de inmigración, educación y el Movimiento Ocupar.

Además incluye a Lorna Holt, afrolatina de Panamá, de quien describe como “una ingeniera súper dotada en matemáticas y ciencias graduada de Cornell University”, que trabaja en la compañía de gas de California y organiza protestas con una mentalidad de reingeniería social.

Jurado Ertll ciencias políticas en Occidental College de Los Ángeles y en la Asuza Pacific Universiy se graduó de la maestría en Organizaciones Sociales y Liderazgo.

En 2009 publicó su primer libro sobre su experiencia como salvadoreño estadounidense, “Esperanza en tiempos de oscuridad”.

“Yo nací en Los Ángeles; pero mis primeros años de vida los viví en El Salvador porque mi mamá no tenía documentos, fue deportada y me llevó con ella”, contó el escritor.

“Pero después arregló su residencia a través de mí, que soy ciudadano. Regresamos y comencé en el activismo hasta que entré a la universidad”, finalizó.

Maestros de Adultos en California Piden Más Fondos para Enseñar Inglés

August 8, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Los maestros de escuelas de adultos de California mostraron su preocupación por la exigencia de aprender inglés que incluye la propuesta de reforma migratoria aprobada en el Senado, ya que, en su opinión, aumentaría el número de alumnos en estas escuelas afectadas por los recortes presupuestarios.

“Las escuelas de adultos están esperando y anticipando que vengan más alumnos si la reforma migratoria es aprobada y en la cual se incluye el requisito que los solicitantes aprendan inglés”, dijo a Efe Steve Curiel, director de la escuela de adultos de Huntington Beach, California.

“Una de las preocupaciones que tenemos es que, en la medida que crecemos y tratamos de agregar más clases y contratar más maestros, los fondos para financiar y apoyar eso no están ahí”, afirmó.

El programa de Inglés como Segunda Lengua (ESL) de la escuela de adultos de Huntington Beach tiene inscritos 2.000 alumnos, de los cuales más del 50 por ciento son hispanos.

La propuesta de reforma aprobada por el Senado es que los once millones de indocumentados que deseen legalizar su situación migratoria en EE.UU. deben hablar y entender el idioma de William Shakespeare.

“Las escuelas de adultos en donde servimos clases de ESL en California son un poco más de 300, entre las que hasta 2008 el Departamento de Educación del estado distribuía 650 millones de dólares anuales para educar 1,2 millones de estudiantes”, indicó Curiel.

“Hubo recortes presupuestarios y desde hace 5 años solamente 300 millones de dólares son invertidos en educación para adultos cada año y, por eso, hoy solo podemos atender a 600.000 estudiantes, la mitad de los que atendíamos en 2008”, explicó.

Alfonso Neavez, maestro de inglés de la escuela de adultos de Huntington Beach, dijo a Efe que están “felices de que hasta hoy no han cerrado los programas de enseñanza ESL”.

“Las escuelas estamos haciendo todo lo posible, con el poco dinero que nos asignan, para ofrecer las clases de inglés”, aseguró Neavez.

H.D. Palmer, vocero del Departamento de Finanzas de California, dijo a Efe que “el gobernador californiano, Jerry Brown, apoyó la proposición 30, aprobada en las elecciones del año pasado, para recaudar temporalmente más impuestos para financiar la educación”.

“Si se aprueba la reforma migratoria o no, cada escuela recibirá un subsidio por estudiante inscrito, más subsidio suplementario por número de alumnos que pertenecen a tres grupos con mayores dificultades, que son los estudiantes de inglés, estudiantes de familias de bajos ingresos y jóvenes en casas de crianza”, indicó Palmer.

Sergio Espinoza, estudiante de inglés, criticó a la comunidad inmigrante que desea la reforma migratoria, pero, al mismo tiempo, no estudia inglés.

“Desgraciadamente no he visto la reacción de la gente, porque en este momento es el tiempo de inscribirse para tomar clases de inglés y no veo el flujo de gente que esperamos”, lamentó Espinoza.

“Espero que en el futuro lo hagan, no precisamente para el requisito de la reforma migratoria, sino para beneficio personal”, aconsejó.

Por su parte, la también estudiante Adriana Méndez dijo a Efe que “si se da esta reforma migratoria o no, (al aprender inglés) al menos ya sabes que tienes un conocimiento más, tienes una oportunidad más de crecer y desarrollarte como persona en este país”.

“Porque sabemos que el gobierno (de EE.UU.) nos apoya, y si lo que necesitan es ver que tenemos ganas, sabemos que los latinos la tenemos, tenemos hambre y queremos crecer y debemos de demostrarlo”, aseveró Méndez.

“Así que yo les invito a que vengan (a las escuelas), a que pregunten por donde viven que, de seguro, hay una forma de aprender inglés”, finalizó.

Raids Cripple ‘Budding’ Mexican Mafia, Drug Cartel Joint ‘Project’

August 8, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Twenty-two people named in two federal grand jury indictments outlining an alliance between the Mexican Mafia prison gang, a South Los Angeles street gang and a drug cartel were arrested Tuesday in a series of Southern California raids.

The crackdown is being hailed as a major blow to efforts by the La Familia Michoacana drug cartel to extend its reach into Southern California, and to protect and expand the cartel’s drug trafficking activities across the U.S.

A multi-agency news conference was held on Tuesday on the arrest and federal grand jury indictments. (LASD)

A multi-agency news conference was held on Tuesday on the arrest and federal grand jury indictments. (LASD)

“Today’s salvo against the Mexican Mafia is part of a 20-year fight to curb the influence of the prison gang both inside prison walls and on the streets of Southern California,” U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte Jr. said.

The first indictment names 13 defendants – eight of whom were arrested Tuesday, four who were already in custody and one who remains a fugitive, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

The seven-count indictment names six members of the Mexican Mafia, three associates of the gang, and four people directly linked to the La Familia Michoacana drug cartel, which, according to the indictment, “is responsible for the trafficking of hundreds of thousands of pounds of controlled substances, including methamphetamine, from Mexico into the United States.”

Authorities say the Mexican Mafia “is a powerful prison gang that controls much of the drug trade and other criminal activities within California state prisons, county jails and some federal prisons….  Its “members are generally senior members of street gangs such as Florencia 13, also exercises control over and directs the narcotics trafficking activities of Latino street gangs across Southern California and in prisons,” according to the U.S. attorney’s office.

The indictment outlines a venture between the two criminal organizations that participants referred to as the “Project” and which involved the highest levels of La Familia, authorities said.

They allege that participants in the Project sought to give La Familia members “free rein” to sell methamphetamine in Southern California and to provide protection for incarcerated cartel members in exchange for money and methamphetamine going to Mexican Mafia members.

A second indictment unsealed Tuesday targeted the Mexican Mafia and its control over the Florencia 13 criminal street gang in south Los Angeles County. Forencia 13 is one of the largest, most powerful and oldest street gangs in Southern California. Several members of the gang have risen through its ranks to become leaders of the Mexican Mafia, according to a statement from the Los Angeles office of the U.S. Attorney.

That indictment charges 31 defendants and alleges violations of the federal racketeering statute, as well as numerous narcotics, firearms and fraud offenses. Fourteen people named in the indictment were arrested during Tuesday’s takedown. Three of those named were previously arrested and eight are fugitives. Six other defendants were already in custody in connection with the charges.

“These two investigations disrupted the criminal activities of the Mexican Mafia, the Los Angeles street gang Florencia 13, and the Mexican Mafia’s relationship with the La Familia drug cartel, which is responsible for using firearms to commit violent crimes and trafficking hundreds of thousands of pounds of controlled substances into the United States,” said Steven J. Bogdalek, ATF Special Agent in Charge of the Los Angeles Field Division. “By combining law enforcement resources, we were able to curtail their ability to build alliances and prevent their violence from spreading further into our communities.”

Larry Miranda, Chief of the Office of Correctional Safety for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, said: “One of the most chilling aspects of this investigation was the budding relationship between the Mexican Mafia and the La Familia/Knights Templar, showing how two powerful organizations attempted to combine their efforts to control prison facilities and the communities in which we live.”

The joint operation “allowed law enforcement to intervene in the development of a very strong and powerful merger between dangerous criminal organizations, said Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca.

“We believe that we have initiated a crippling effect to those members who are still loyal to the Mexican Mafia criminal organization.”

The indictments targeting the Mexican Mafia and the La Familia drug cartel resulted from an investigation by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department; and the Los Angeles High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area/Southern California Drug Task Force, a federally funded group led by the Drug Enforcement Administration.

The Southern California task force included federal and local law enforcement agencies, among them the DEA, the ATF and officers from the Los Angeles, Montebello and Pasadena police departments.

East L.A.’s 3rd Street Rezoning Plan Wrapping Up Initial Phase

August 8, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

East Los Angeles residents last Saturday attended a scoping meeting on the East LA 3rd Street Specific Plan, which aims to set new building standards and an attractive vision for the transit-oriented revitalization in the area affected by the arrival of the Metro Gold Line light rail extension.

The draft specific plan, available online, is a result of the input and efforts by the East Los Angeles Planning Advisory Committee (ELAPAC), county staff, local residents, business and property owners, according to the county. Public outreach has been taking place and the scoping meeting was part of the outreach efforts.

Residents listened to a presentation and had an opportunity to ask questions and look at large maps and rendering.  (EGP photo by Gloria Angelina Castillo)

Residents listened to a presentation and had an opportunity to ask questions and look at large maps and rendering. (EGP photo by Gloria Angelina Castillo)

Meetings on the plan began back in 2009, at the height of the now defunct East LA Cityhood movement; several cityhood proponents were members of the committee.

The Specific Plan is meant to replace the outdated East Los Angeles Community Standards District and Community Plan established 25 years ago, in 1988.

The new 3rd Street Specific Plan, however, focuses on an area bound roughly by Cesar Chavez, Indiana, Hubbard and 6th Street and Atlantic Boulevard, according to Carmen Sainz of the LA County Dept. of Regional Planning.  The second phase of the specific plan will focus on updating the plan for the remainder of the community, according to the Los Angeles Planning Commission website.

The initial phase is wrapping up and stakeholders have until Aug. 12 to submit a public comment if they feel something is missing or concerning in this initial environmental review. Saturday’s scoping meeting was intended to get oral input from residents about what should be included in the Environmental Impact Report (EIR), which is expected to be published in about 6 months. The Final EIR should be available about a year from now.

More public meetings and public comment periods will be scheduled at those benchmarks, according to Julian Capata of Atkins, the company preparing the EIR.

“We’re looking at the impacts of the plan itself, so we’re not looking at specific developments.” Capata said.  “Because  there are no applications [for construction projects] as part of this… we’re looking at what happens if the area gets built out as envisioned by the plan,” he explained.

Capata said the EIR will determine the environmental impacts on the community and prescribe mitigations that will inform developers and the county what level of review will be required for specific types of developments.

According to the LA County Dept. of Regional Planning’s principal regional planner, Phillip Estes, the current zoning ordinance for the plan area will be replaced by “form-based code”, a type of zoning that sets requirements for building types, their placement near the sidewalk, and other considerations such as where parking will be located and required windows and doors. The form-based code will also look at options for what the building fronts, signs and landscaping should look like, ultimately giving the area a consistent and attractive character.

“It prescribes a set of land use, urban standards, architectural standards, sign standards to guide the development of the area,” explained Estes. So “it provides a more predictable built environment in contrast to the existing zoning ordinance, which is more about separation of land uses,” Estes said.

The form-based code will facilitate mixed uses for residential, office and commercial development in order to create a more pedestrian friendly community.

Existing businesses and structures will not be affected.

The placement of bike lanes, bike routes and jogging paths are also being considered as part of the planning process.

According to Estes, residents have raised concerns about the plan’s impact on traffic, which he said will be analyzed in the EIR.

Antonio Gomez of So-Cal Burgers Chill & Grill on Mednik told EGP he owns a vacant lot on 3rd Street behind Belvedere Elementary School that he would like to develop.

“Right now, parking issues are the barrier,” Gomez said.

The lot, zoned commercial (C-3), is not big enough for a building and a parking lot, and the construction of the Gold Line took street parking, Gomez said.

He’s hopeful mixed-use zoning will make it easier to get a loan and help bring down the costs of getting permits so he, and other property owners, can start to bring new shops to East LA and keep the community’s money in the community.

Victor Duran and his wife Stella, owners of Original Snow Cone and Antique Car Parts (both located on 3rd Street), said they liked what the Aug. 8 presentation detailed, but generally feel the studies are a waste of money and time, and too often don’t go anywhere. “I hope to see it [implemented] in my lifetime,” Stella said.

Victor said he was disappointed that more people from the community did not participate n the process.

It was a sentiment echoed by Brian Anda, 24, who said county planners missed an opportunity the night before to announce the meeting to a captive audience during “movies in the park” at the East LA Civic Center outdoor amphitheatre, which is right outside the East LA Library where the scoping meeting took place.

Anda added that he would like to see more housing developed in the area, like the Alta Vista apartments at 3rd and Woods, near the Gold Line Atlantic station.

 

For more information visit http://planning.lacounty.gov/ela 

 

Obama Fields Housing Questions Online During Visit To L.A.

August 8, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Continuing a two-day trip to the Los Angeles area Wednesday, President Barack Obama fielded questions from homeowners and prospective buyers about the nation’s housing situation, saying in an Internet discussion he wants to simplify the mortgage process so people are more “empowered” during the purchase process.

“We can expect that we’re going to try to simply mortgage(s) … so that you don’t have a lot of fine print, you know exactly what you’re getting,” Obama said during the online discussion, titled “Zillow Presents: A Better Bargain for Responsible Homeowners: President Obama Answers Your Questions.”

The president said he wants to simplify the process so “somebody who’s involved in a transaction can operate with complete transparency, they can know what they might owe once they get a mortgage potentially approved. The more knowledge consumers have, the more empowered they’re going to be and the more likely they’re going to be (able) to live out the American dream that I think all of us want to see, not just for ourselves but for our kids and our grandkids.”

The online discussion, moderated by Zillow CEO Spencer Rascoff, was conducted just before Obama traveled to Van Nuys Airport for a helicopter trip to the Camp Pendleton Marine base in northern San Diego County, where he visited with troops and their families to thank them for their service to the nation.

Obama arrived at LAX shortly before 3:30 p.m. Tuesday aboard Air Force One from Arizona, where he toured a construction company and delivered a speech at a Phoenix high school, calling for sweeping housing reforms, including the elimination of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

He then traveled to NBC’s Burbank studios by helicopter and motorcade to appear on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” where he attempted to win Republican congressional support for increased spending on infrastructure.

“For the last three years I’ve said let’s work together,” Obama said. “Let’s find a financing mechanism and let’s go ahead and fix our bridges, fix our roads, sewer systems, our ports.”

The president cited the widening of the Panama Canal to accommodate supertankers, set to be completed in 2015, as one reason to support increased spending on domestic infrastructure.

“If we don’t deepen our ports all along the Gulf (of Mexico) — places like Charleston, S.C., Savannah, Ga. or Jacksonville, Fla. — … those ships are going to go somewhere else. We’ll lose jobs. Businesses won’t locate here.”

Obama also criticized a new law in Russia banning “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations.”

“I have no patience for countries that try to treat gays and lesbians and transgender persons in ways that intimidate them or are harmful to them,” Obama said.

“What’s happening in Russia is not unique. When I traveled to Africa, there were some countries that are doing a lot of good things for their people, who are working with them and helping them on development issues, but in some cases they persecute gays and lesbians and it makes for some uncomfortable press conferences sometimes.

“But one of the things I think is very important for me to speak out on is making sure that people are treated fairly and justly because that’s what we stand for.”

Obama said he did not think the law would impact next year’s Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

“I think (Russian President Vladimir) Putin and Russia have a big stake in making sure that the Olympics work and I think that they understand that for most of the countries that participate in the Olympics, we wouldn’t tolerate gays and lesbians being treated differently. They are athletes. They are there to compete.

“If Russia wants to uphold the Olympic spirit, then every judgment should be made on the track, or swimming pool or on the balance beam and people’s sexual orientation shouldn’t have anything to do with it.”

In a wide-ranging interview, Obama also fielded questions on topics including government surveillance and the safety of vacationing abroad. He acknowledged government surveillance programs have “raised a lot of questions for people,” but are a “critical component to counterterrorism.”

“We don’t have a domestic spying program,” Obama said. “What we do have is some mechanisms that can track a phone number or an email address that is connected to some sort of terrorist threat. That information is useful.”

The State Department issued a travel alert Friday that is set to expire Aug. 31, reminding U.S. citizens of the potential for terrorist attacks, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa.

“The general rule is just show some common sense and some caution,” Obama said. “If people are paying attention, checking with the State Department or embassy, going on the website before you travel and find out what kind of precautions you should be taking, then I think it still makes sense for people to take vacations. They just have to make sure that they are doing so in a prudent way.”

The “Tonight Show” appearance was Obama’s fourth as president. He is the only sitting president to have appeared on the NBC late-night talk show, which premiered in 1954.

Following the “Tonight Show” appearance, Obama traveled by helicopter and motorcade to the Hilton Woodland Hills/Los Angeles, where he spent the night. According to White House press secretary Jay Carney, Obama had a private dinner with DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg, described as a “longtime friend” of the president.

As Obama prepared Wednesday morning to end his Los-Angeles-area visit and travel to San Diego County. the White House announced the president is postponing a scheduled U.S.-Russian summit meeting, in part because of Russia’s decision to grant NSA leaker Edward Snowden temporary asylum, but said the two nation’s defense and foreign affairs chiefs would all meet in Washington Friday to discuss making progress in bilateral relations.

Although President Barack Obama now will not have a one-on-one with Russian President Vladimir Putin, “The president still looks forward to traveling to St. Petersburg on September 5-6 to attend the G-20 Summit,” according to the White House statement.

It was Obama’s 15th trip to the Los Angeles area since taking office and just the third that did not include a speech at a political fundraiser. He has made 10 trips solely for fundraising.

 

 

Vernon’s Finances Back In Order, Says City’s Independent Monitor

August 8, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

With Vernon’s financial problems close to being fully resolved, the city can now look toward the future, says the city’s Independent Reform Monitor in his latest report.

The semi-annual report compiled by Former State Attorney John Van De Kamp details Vernon’s progress on good governance reform measures intended to turnaround the industrial city following past accusations of wrong doing by city officials being paid “outlandish salaries.”

The city has since made changes in its staff, budget and good neighbor policy in order to address requirements set forth by Sen. Kevin De Leon who brokered the deal that helped the city fend off the disincorporation campaign waged by Assembly Speaker John Perez, said Van De Kamp. “The City of Vernon was in essence given time to clean up its act,” Van De Kamp remarked in his report.

“The important thing is [the city] has dealt with the ethical issues,” he said. “The city is now well run and the people in charge have strong ethical backgrounds.”

Van De Kamp writes that in the past 6 months, “great progress has been made in putting the City in the mainstream,” going so far as to commend the council’s willingness to engage in some personal sacrifice by cutting their own pay. Acting on Van de Kamps’ recommendation, members of the city council will begin the new fiscal year with a salary of just under $25,000; about half the amount two members of the council receive last year.

Vernon’s began the 2013-2014 fiscal year by balancing its $336.6 million budget. More importantly, Vernon’s Finance Director William Fox told EGP, the city’s General Fund deficit decreased from over $5.6 million last year to $834,598 in its current budget.

Budget cuts and an early retirement program are projected to save the city $1.8 million, but the biggest economic boost is expected to come from three voter approved tax measures estimated to generate $8 million a year for the next 10 years.

“This is what the city needed, the budget this year has put the city on pretty solid footing,” Van De Kamp told EGP. “Now they can look into the future and look at the long-term plan for the city.”

That long term plan includes taking a literal look at issues such as street maintenance, graffiti and litter control, landscape improvements and improving mobility, Van De Kamp suggests in his report.

“We need to make the city more attractive and welcoming to the community,” he said.

With a population of 115, and only 70 registered voters, some state officials claim Vernon’s small electorate has led to corruption and a lack of transparency and accountability. Responding to those criticisms, the city council has approved a development deal to build 45 more residential units by mid 2015.

“The housing project will help the city by increasing the number of residents and nearly doubling the voter population,” Van de Kamp said. “By doing so, the city opens the door to potential qualified candidates that will help run the city in the future.”

In 2011, the city council approved a plan to put $5 million a year for the next 10 years into a Community Benefit Fund to “help mitigate the decades of noxious air released from Vernon” into nearby cities, but has so far failed to set aside the full amount: $2 million has been allocated in the current budget, with $1 million going for a separate $10 million fund to help pay for recreational facilities in Boyle Heights and Huntington Park.

Van De Kamp told EGP that despite the city’s hope to contribute more to the funds, the reality of the budget did not allow it. They will have to figure out how to do better in the future, he said.

Vernon has long been criticized for the pollution emanating from within its borders, and accused of being indifferent to the impact on surrounding cities and neighborhoods.

The brief closure earlier this year of Exide Technologies —accused of releasing dangerous levels of toxins in and around the city — not only affected the business, but the city’s image as well, Van De Kamp said.

“[Exide] left the city with a black eye but the only thing left to do is to move forward,” he said.

The city is also facing a lawsuit filed by former city administrator Bruce V. Malkenhorst, who was receiving over half a million dollars a year from the CaLPERS state retirement system after being employed by Vernon for over 30 years. CaLPERS, however, in 2012 reviewed Malkenhorst’s pension, ultimately deciding in 2012 to substantially reduce his benefit based on the rules in effect at the time of his employment. Despite being convicted of misappropriation of public funds while receiving a salary of over $900,000, Malkenhorst is suing Vernon to get his pension restored.

One of the most important issues that remain to be dealt with is the lack of discussion and questioning by council members during council meetings, said Van De Kamp. He said he has addressed the issue in past reports and during council meetings, but not until recently have the councilmembers begun to take a more active role.

“[Change] is going to take a while,” Van De Kamp said. “Vernon is not like any other city.”

EGP asked to speak with council members about the Independent Monitor’s report, but

Vernon spokesperson Fred MacFarlane told EGP that the council is still reviewing the report, and council members will not comment on it until they have had the opportunity to fully review it’s findings and recommendations.

 

 

 

 

Soto Street Bridge Removal Project Aims to Connect Residents

August 8, 2013 by · 2 Comments 

Local residents gathered at the Rose Hill Recreation Center last week to hear the latest updates on the proposed Soto St. Bridge demolition project scheduled to begin this fall. Since a previous story published by EGP News in February, the contract has been awarded and an official Notice to Proceed will be issued this month.

The three-phase, $14 million project will begin in October and is scheduled for completion in early 2016. City officials hope the area will be enhanced by the project, which calls for the elimination of a bridge deemed structurally obsolete, improved traffic routes and increased landscaping. The Soto Street Bridge links El Sereno, Boyle Heights and Lincoln Heights.

Of course, no development is ever free of opposition, and opponents of the bridge demolition were on hand to voice their concerns, ranging from health and safety issues to increased traffic flows.

Project Manager Dung Tran delivered a PowerPoint presentation on the complex project that include all the steps developed to ease the impacts on commuters and residents during construction.

For Tran, the project aims to restore a sense of community to an area that is currently divided by the bridge. Completed in 1937 to carry Pacific Electric red cars, the bridge no longer serves any rail purposes as the tracks were removed in the early 1960’s. Photos on the El Sereno Historical Society web site, opponents of the project, show the area around the bridge was largely open land, opposed to the rows of homes and apartment buildings that flank both sides now.

With the removal of the bridge, city planners aim to connect residents much the way they were able to do with the construction of the nearby Valley Boulevard Bridge four years ago.  In place of an industrial bridge will be roadways with light signals on both sides and lined with extensive landscaping. Tran also stressed the safety features resulting from residents no longer being required to cross under an intimidating bridge with poor lighting.

He acknowledged, however, that even the best planning will not eliminate all the traffic problems that will rise as a result of the construction. The main goal was to set up a series of detours and work schedules to maintain traffic flow. Tran focused on the steps taken to minimize all associated adverse effects of such a large-scale project.

At least one lane of traffic in each direction will be open at all times, he explained. All surrounding pedestrian walkways will remain accessible and detailed signage will be put up to direct residents to relocated bus stops in the project area. In addition, a Facebook page will be created to allow residents to receive updates on potential closures. Drivers will need to be alert, as signs will be added to guide them through detours that have already been established.

Once the PowerPoint was complete, the forum turned to a question-and-answer session, which organizers gamely tried to control with a one-question-per-attendee format. This was quickly dismissed when Dr. Tom Williams proceeded to wrap four different questions into one. At the very least, the corresponding cheers and applause the loaded question generated appeared to buy Tran some time to figure out where to begin his response. With plenty of water and a generous supply of Famous Amos Chocolate Chip cookies and Cheez-Its supplied by organizers, the audience was set for an extended session.

Throughout the course of the next 45 minutes, questions came in all forms. Some residents expressed concerns over increased traffic, noise and who would tend to all the new landscaping, demonstrating a lack of faith in the city’s performance of such basic services. Not all the opinions fell in the unfavorable category; several residents took their opportunity to offer equally spirited support for the project.

As the question-and-answer phase came to an end, Anthony Manzano offered a proposal that could bring significant financial benefit to the Rose Hill Recreation Center if adopted. He asked if it would be possible for the city to retain at least a percentage of the profits that the project contractor will make when the steel and metal collected from the bridge are sold to a recycler. Cora Jackson-Fossett, Public Affairs Director with the Department of Public Works, said the proposal would be taken to the board for further consideration. Saying she’s never before heard of such a request being made, Jackson-Fossett said she could not state whether it would be approved.

Manzano, a member of the El Sereno-area Neighborhood Council, supports the bridge project but would like to see if the city could use it to generate some funds to benefit the adjacent Rose Hill Recreation Center. Manzano said he would welcome a negotiation between the city and the contractor to retain some percentage of any proceeds for the recreation center.

The Department of Public Works will host another community briefing on Wednesday, August 14, at 6 p.m. at the El Sereno Senior Center, located at 4818 Klamath Place, Los Angeles 90032.

County Considers Pay Changes at Child Welfare Agency

August 8, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Tuesday discussed pay changes for social workers as a means to reform the Department of Children and Family Services.

Phillip Browning, the director of DCFS, detailed a number of other reforms he was implementing as part of an effort to prevent deaths like that of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez, who was left in his Palmdale home despite multiple reports of abuse.

The tot died in May, allegedly after being tortured by his mother’s boyfriend, and his death renewed calls for changes at DCFS and the formation of a blue-ribbon commission to recommend fixes.

Two social workers and two supervisors are set to be fired in connection with the boy’s death.

Browning, who got the board’s go-ahead Tuesday to hire an additional 147 employees, said training for social workers is being increased from eight weeks of classroom instruction to a full year, with a focus on real-life situations and field work alongside experienced employees.

A 6,000-page training manual is going to be cut down to a more manageable size and made accessible online with links to training videos, he said.

Employee unions want 1,400 more social workers hired to lessen caseloads.

But even with new hires, better training and clearer policies, some structural obstacles remain, including a pay scale that gives social workers an incentive to move into management, whether qualified or not, according to some members of the Board of Supervisors.

Supervisors Gloria Molina said the problem mirrored that of the teaching profession.

“Why take a really good teacher out of the classroom?” Molina asked.

Molina acknowledged that increasing pay for talented social workers might create unanticipated problems.

“You might have a situation where a social worker makes more money than a supervisor,” she said.

A union leader said it was a “great” proposal.

“Social workers are resigning every day,” said David Green, board treasurer for Service Employees International Union 721, which represents social workers.

Green, a social worker himself, added, “Our number one priority is child safety, and if this is how we can keep qualified, well-trained and committed social workers in Los Angeles County, then we must do it.”

It’s also difficult to keep employees where they are most needed, Browning said. Offices tend to be understaffed in remote areas like Palmdale or Lancaster, or in South Los Angeles, where high crime rates and limited community resources contribute to more complex cases of abuse.

Employees can ask to be transferred after a year, though Browning froze transfers and is negotiating a longer commitment from new hires taking those jobs.

“We’re trying to put in a three-year expectation,” Browning said of union negotiations. “Like the military. You get in and you can’t get out.”

Molina suggested an incentive for social workers handling tougher cases.

Elements in DCFS’ September 2012 strategic plan designed to better serve children range from recruiting and training more foster parents to reduce the number of children forced to live in group homes to using technology like smartphones to make employees more effective. But when it comes to child safety, training and retaining social workers with the right skills is key.

“The biggest problem that we find when there’s a child death … is that social workers haven’t followed their own policies and procedures,” Molina said.

In an interview following the board meeting, Browning said tragedies typically resulted from “a combination of a policy lapse and a judgmental issue.”

Building that judgment, which Browning likened to a kind of “sixth sense,” takes time.

“Workers need to have some reflexes that are intuitive,” Browning said.

Under the new, “more realistic training operation,” law enforcement officers will be brought in to teach investigative techniques, testing social workers’ ability to spot problems during home visits. A “home” is being built to simulate the conditions employees might find when checking out a report of abuse.

Despite the decision to fire four workers and reprimand three others involved in the Fernandez case, Browning sought to dispel any perception that large numbers of social workers are dramatically incompetent.

“If there’s a critical situation, we put someone on desk duty,” Browning said. Only about 10 employees are currently on desk duty, he said.

 

Celebrate Bell Gardens Brings Food, Rides and Residents Together

August 8, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

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City of Bell Gardens

Hundred of Bell Gardens residents last week attended the four-day celebration of the city’s 52nd Anniversary.

Carnival rides, games and booths took over Veterans Park last Thursday through Sunday, while live entertainment, food and activities for the entire family kept local residents in celebration mode. During the event, residents and the city council were introduced to the Miss Bell Gardens participants, and watched as residents competed in a salsa preparation contest.

 

Pictured: Veterans Park was filled with Bell Gardens residents who celebrated the city’s anniversary August 1- August 4.

 

LAUSD Granted NCLB Waiver

August 8, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

The Los Angeles Unified School District is one of eight districts across the state granted waivers Tuesday by federal education officials from meeting provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act.

Under the waivers granted by the U.S. Department of Education, the districts’ schools will not have to meet the strict math and English achievement requirements of NCLB, but will adhere to a “school quality improvement system” that backers say is aimed at preparing students for college and closing achievement gaps.

“Our collective commitment to equity has never been stronger,” LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy said. “The School Quality Improvement System will shine a bright light on achievement gaps and disproportionality. We will work together and hold ourselves accountable for increasing achievement for all students while eliminating disparity. We must do this to ensure a bright future for California and our communities.”

The waiver will give LAUSD greater control and flexibility over how it spends its funds, according the district.

The No Child Left Behind Act has been criticized by some educators for having onerous mandates for student proficiency in math and English. With many schools not expected to meet the goals, some states have been granted waivers, but California’s application was denied due to issues with teacher evaluations and student achievement.

The eight districts joined together as a group called the California Office to Reform Education and filed their own waiver application.

District officials said the improvement system they plan to use includes multiple levels of accountability, including more transparency in student and school achievement data, self-evaluations and oversight by a panel including education experts.

Other districts in the coalition are Long Beach, Santa Ana, Fresno, Oakland, Sacramento, San Francisco and Sanger.

“All California schools deserve relief from the unworkable mandates of No Child Left Behind, so it’s noteworthy that a few districts have — temporarily at least — managed to navigate the complex waiver requirements imposed by the administration,” according to Tom Torlakson, state superintendent of public instruction. “I continue to believe that Congress should make it a priority to revise NCLB, and that relief from the failings of federal policy should not be reserved only for those prepared to provide Washington an ever-expanding role in the operation of California’s public schools.”

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