Proposed Highway Stirs Up Highland Park

August 9, 2012 by · 1 Comment 

News of a proposed highway cutting through front yards and entire homes in El Sereno, and Highland Park’s Garvanza and San Rafael neighborhoods generated a flurry of community opposition this month.

“This is one of the oldest neighborhoods in L.A. It’s over a hundred years old. And all of a sudden they want to take it away from us,” Alex Trejo, who has lived in northeast Los Angeles since the 1970s, told EGP on Monday.

He and nearly 300 other Highland Park residents, impatient for answers about the fate of their homes and their neighborhood, flooded the Ramona Hall Community Center on Monday, overwhelming a routine community liaison council meeting for the project, as well as karate and yoga classes taking place there. A karate instructor, dressed in a traditional Gi uniform, was kept busy directing the tangle of cars trying to get into the center’s modest parking lot, while a community center employee said he has never seen quite this many people, even on days they rent out the facility for special events.

Nearly 300 people, many of them residents of Highland Park who oppose a proposed highway route, crammed into Ramona Hall Monday night. (EGP photo by Elizabeth Hsing-Huei Chou)

The proposed highway route stirring up Highland Park residents would widen streets in several residential neighborhoods. One of the widest portions goes through Avenue 64 where the Garvanza and San Rafael neighborhoods, home to numerous historical homes, are located. The route also goes through residential streets in El Sereno, such as Sheffield and Concord, follows commercial streets such as Fremont Avenue and Monterey Road, and connects to the 134 Freeway.

The route through Highland Park is one of twelve possible alternatives being considered for inclusion in an environmental impact study for the proposed 710 Freeway project spearheaded by Metro, Los Angeles County’s transit authority. The technical advisory board for the study had planned to narrow down the list by Aug. 29, but this past Monday revised the deadline to mid-October.

Caltrans “anticipates completing The Alternatives Analysis phase of the SR 710 Study by the fall (2012); circulate the Draft environmental document and conduct public hearings by the winter of 2013 (1st quarter of 2014); and then finalize the environmental document by the winter of 2014 (1st quarter of 2015), according to Michelle Smith, P.E. Project Manager.

Lea esta nota EN ESPAÑOL: Planes para una Autopista Agitan a los Residentes de Highland Park

Attempts to connect the 710 freeway from its terminus in Valley Boulevard in Alhambra to the 210 Freeway in Pasadena have failed repeatedly over the last five decades, and this time around, with the list of alternatives making the rounds at technical advisory meetings, residents and activists are again coming out in force to oppose the latest proposed project, which now has an expanded study area that includes the 5 Freeway to 605 Freeway, east to west; and 10 Freeway to 210 Freeway, from south to north.

Efforts to connect the 710 and 210 freeways were revived with the suggestion that a tunnel could be built to close the gap; prompting drilling and geotechnical studies throughout the project area to explore the idea.

But with no guarantee of funding, and the possible high cost of building a tunnel, Metro’s list of twelve alternatives also now includes cheaper highway (widened streets) and freeway options, the very type that have incensed residents in the past. Other alternatives include light rail or bus rapid transit routes, as well as a “no build” alternative in which the roads would remain as they are.

Residents at Monday’s meeting demanded a better justification for the project, all the while ignoring requests by Metro’s community outreach officials to hold their questions until the end. Officials trudged through a presentation on the results of several community meetings held back in May, and showed two videos on possible routes –during which residents continued to ask questions about why the routes were even being proposed. Metro officials said there were no technical staff members present to provide answers to those questions.

In the past month, northeast Los Angeles residents who learned of the possible route have passed out flyers, circulated emails, and gone door-to-door to share the information with their neighbors. They crowded into community and Metro board meetings to protest the project, which would connect the 710 Freeway with the 210 or 134 Freeway. The Historic Highland Park Neighborhood Council also voted to oppose the project.

Many of the protesters at Monday’s meeting opposed the project outright, and supported the “no build” alternative. Several were also skeptical of Metro’s claims that the project’s main goal is to relieve congestion.

The sentiment to oppose any kind of future construction was so strong at Monday’s meeting that when one Highland Park resident, Antonio Buenrostro, said he felt there was still a need to relieve congestion in the area, he was immediately “booed” by the audience. When he said he was “not for or against” the project, but feels there “needs to be something” done to relieve congestion and prevent truck idling, several in the audience said it sounded like he had already picked a side. Another person in the audience told him “you obviously don’t [understand]” the route would be “coming through the neighborhood.”

Supporters of the “no build” alternative say they want to keep Metro from pitting communities from different parts of the project area against each other. “I think they are trying to balkanize the communities against each other,” said Highland Park resident Gloria Castro.

Several residents accused elected officials, in particular Los Angeles Councilman José Huizar and Assemblyman Gil Cedillo, who have said they oppose “surface routes,” of hiding behind the language. Some of the sub-surface routes, such as the tunnel or covered trenches would still change the character of the streets along the route, they said.

Others accused Metro officials of not providing the traffic and air quality statistics to support the project, and said officials were being dishonest about the purpose of the freeway.

Highland Park resident Peter Bedard said the project would actually be a “toll-way” paid for with tax dollars, and that its main purpose is to transport cargo from the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports inland. “Please talk to us from that point of view. You need to have it spoken to us in a way that is clear, authentic and transparent,” he said.

He added that freeways are outdated, “they are a joke… if you are talking about building a path for cargo, then build a damn train line.”

But Caltrans officials, responding to the uproar over the project and the route affecting Highland Park, are continuing to stress that no final decisions have been made and the proposed routes are still only concepts. “The Highway/arterial improvements proposed for Avenue 64 is one of the many SR 710 Study alternative concepts under review,” Project Manager Michelle Smith stated Wednesday in an email to EGP.

“All of the SR 710 Study Alternative Concepts are still under review. No final decision about any alternative or route has been made.” Smith emphasized.

“Metro and Caltrans will consider feedback from stakeholders and evaluate the recommendations from the technical team to determine which alternatives carry forward.”

Maravilla Handball Courts Earn State Landmark Status

August 9, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

A sport facility built brick-by-brick by East Los Angeles residents in 1928 received landmark status from the State Historic Resources Commission on Aug. 3. The commission’s approval of the nomination means the Maravilla Handball Court and El Centro Market are now listed in the California Register of Historical Resources, according to Jay Correia, State Historian for the California State Parks Office of Historic Preservation.

Lea esta nota EN ESPAÑOL: Canchas de Balonmano de Maravilla Reciben Estatus de Monumento Histórico

The site was nominated last year by the Los Angeles Conservancy in partnership with the Maravilla Historical Society, and had the formal support of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, according to Los Angeles Conservancy Director of Communications Cindy Olnick.

Olnick said not every commissioner attended the meeting in Beverly Hills, but all those in attendance voted for the listing. There was no opposition to the listing from attendees at the meeting, she said.

For years, the Maravilla Handball Courts have served as a community gathering place. Above, handball players listed on the walls recall fond memories of talented athletes and colorful personalities who frequented the court. (EGP Archive Photo)

“Listing in the California Register offers preservation protection for the site by making certain changes to it subject to public review under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Since the property is located in unincorporated East Los Angeles, which does not have a preservation ordinance, state-level designation currently offers the strongest protection,” Olnick said in an email on Monday.

About 10 members of the community and the Maravilla Historical Society (MHS) attended the meeting and spoke in favor of the nomination, according to MHS President Amanda Perez, who grew up in the Maravilla neighborhood.

“It went excellent, it was just overwhelming,” Perez said.

The commission staff’s presentation on the Maravilla Handball Court and market “emphasized the Mexican-American community and how this location has the support of the community, and how multi-ethnic groups have gone through here,” Perez said.

The Maravilla Handball Court is located just off Mednik Avenue, not far from the East LA Civic Center. EGP Photo by Gloria Angelina Castillo

The Maravilla Handball Court, located at 4787 Hammel St., was built by East LA residents in 1928; El Centro Grocery store and an attached residence were built in 1946, according to the Los Angeles Conservancy website.

Michi and Tommy Nishiyama took over management of the property in the 1940s and later became its owners. Michi came to the Maravilla neighborhood in East LA following her internment in a Japanese relocation camp. She would host community Christmas parties and other social activities, and was loved for her acts of generosity, which included giving residents a line of credit at El Centro Market.

The handball court was home to the men’s-only Maravilla Handball Club from 1928 to 2007. After the Nishiyamas passed away, in 2006 and 2007, the court and store were closed and boarded up. In 2008, Perez and the Historical Society undertook efforts “to restore the court and store for community residents to appreciate, use, and learn about an important part of their neighborhood’s history,” according to the Los Angeles Conservancy.

Today, Perez says she personally wants the site to be used as a place where children can learn to play handball, and as a community center where local residents can go for other activities, such as bingo for seniors.

“Michi would have loved that, she was totally community involved and her heart was in the right place,” Perez said.

The Maravilla Handball Courts, market and residence were recently listed for sale by Century 21, West Coast Brokers of Arcadia for $290,000. Real estate agent Joseph Nung declined to comment on the sale. The current property owner could not be reached for comment on the property’s new historical status by time of publication.

The Los Angeles Conservancy supports any adaptive reuse of the site, according to Communications Coordinator Shannon Ryan, who noted that as a historic resource, any proposed development would trigger environmental review.

Perez, said the historical society wants to purchase the property and has been negotiating with the owner: “He’ s been working with us and has been extremely supportive,” she said, but added they do not want to hold back a sale of the property if a buyer comes forward.

Perez said landmark status means it is unlikely the site will be knocked down, adding that it will be preserved as a place where for young people can be empowered by their history and understand their future.

Preserving the handball courts will give East LA youth self-esteem and hope “that things can be done,” she said.

Perez said the historical society’s goals also include formally becoming a non-profit organization and applying for grant funding for programming.

Small events are currently held at the handball courts; donations are used to pay for bills such as lighting and maintenance, she said.

The El Centro market was damaged in an electrical fire in December.

For more information on the site visit the LA Conservancy web page or visit the Maravilla Historical Society website at

Community Partners with Northeast Los Angeles Police to Fight Crime

August 9, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

Northeast Los Angeles residents gathered Tuesday at the Eagle Rock Plaza for the annual National Night Out event where they met their neighbors and engaged in improving the community’s partnership with police in their ongoing efforts to reduce crime.

Los Angeles Police Department Northeast Division Captains William Murphy and Brian Pratt were among the speakers; both noted the low levels of crime compared to decades past.
“We’ve seen explosive reductions in crime in the last five years, violent crime especially, a lot of that had to do with the partnerships we have formed,” Capt. Murphy said, praising the the Eagle Rock Plaza and Target for their hosting of the National Night Out event year after year.

Capt. Pratt recalled the Northeast Division once had 30, 40 and 50 homicides a year, “now it’s single digits,” he said.

He also said it was not too long ago that there was something akin to a physical barrier between the police and the community that was an obstacle for communication. The improved relationship between law enforcement and communities has created trust and led to the sharing of information—the result is continued reductions in crime, he said.

Northeast Los Angeles residents and their families celebrate National Night Out with the LAPD at Eagle Rock Park. (EGP photo by Gloria Angelina Castillo)

Los Angeles Councilman Jose Huizar, who represents Eagle Rock, said Los Angeles has the lowest crime rates since the 1950s and the trend in Eagle Rock continues in that direction.

“I think, throughout the city, one of the biggest differences I’ve seen is really a change in attitude. A change in attitude from the residents who feel they can work with their senior lead officers… that attitude has made a big difference in the reason why we have low crime rates and that is what National Night Out is all about: to continue to promote that relationship, to continue to help one another, and to be part of the solution to have safer communities,” he said.

Only about 75 people attended the event that took place in the same vicinity where Los Angeles Police Department Northeast Division officers on Aug. 2 arrested a suspected Highland Park gang member believed to be the shot-caller for a Grand Theft Auto fraud ring. The suspect, in his early 30s and a non-violent parolee, was released early from his sentence under the state’s Criminal Justice Realignment – early release law, Officer Gabriel Nily told EGP before the event on Tuesday. Nily said a lot of car thefts are related to these types of parolees, many of whom have been rearrested, he said.

The LAPD Northeast Division polices Eagle Rock, Highland Park, Mt. Washington, Glassell Park, Cypress Park as well as Los Feliz, Atwater Village, Echo Park and communities stretching to East Hollywood.

But while many categories of crime are down, so far this year, communities patrolled by LAPD’s Northeast Division have experienced a 40 percent increase in homicides in the last year. There have been 7 homicides as of July 18 of this year, compared to five during the same time period in 2011. Homicides, however, are up 75 percent compared to 2010, when there were only four.

Aggravated assaults are up 25 percent compared to last year; but down 17 percent compared to 2010.

Grant Theft Auto is up 16 percent so far this year, with 80 more car thefts than last year. During the last two years there has been a 12 percent increase in car thefts, according to the stations’ CompStat report.

Senior Lead Officer Craig Orange on Tuesday night was the main attraction, sitting in a dunk tank as a long line of children took turns throwing a ball for a chance to send him falling into a tank of water.

Orange told EGP earlier that day that Highland Park has experienced an increase in gang activity over the last few weeks and several arrests have been made. The arrests resulted from traffic stops and calls generated by community members, he said.

Most of the gang related homicides in the Northeast area so far this year have been in Highland Park and Glassell Park, he said.

On Aug. 2, the same day the car theft shot-caller was arrested at Eagle Rock Plaza, a community meeting on crime in Highland Park was getting underway. Helicopters were buzzing a few blocks away over Avenue 61 and Piedmont Street as police searched for and arrested two men who were reportedly seen with a gun.

In response to an up-tick in shootings in Highland Park last month, the Northeast Station has deployed additional officers to patrol the area and adopted a “zero tolerance policy,” Orange said.

“Anybody hanging out … if they are gang members, whether they have an injunction, are drinking in public, loitering, or if it’s a driving violation, we will cite you. If you have a warrant [for your arrest], you’ll probably be arrested as well,” he said.

The lion’s share of shootings and gang activity in Highland Park has taken place on Monte Vista Street, between Avenue 52 and Avenue 60, according to Officer Adam Mezquita.
The Northeast Division is using social media to keep the community informed about recent crimes, an effort Huizar credits to Capt. Murphy’s leadership. However, the gang activity has already spilled onto the “Northeast Area LAPD” Facebook page.

Earlier this month, a gang member used the social media site to mock recent arrests, saying “you can’t stop us” and using derogatory terms for rival gangs, according to Officer Curtis Davis, a crime analyst who manages the Facebook page.

Davis said they were aware this could happen at some point and had already set up a filter to censor any posts with profanities. The gang member did not make any threats, and has been banned from the page, Davis said. “Given this activity and what we are trying to do, we thought it was important to nip it in the bud,” he said.

Phil Duplag, who attended the National Night Out event with his wife and four-year-old daughter, recently moved to Highland Park. He said his family attended the event in order to build unity and camaraderie with the community and local businesses, as well as to meet the councilmember. The Duplag family previously lived in Eagle Rock for eight years but visit Eagle Rock almost on a daily basis.

Duplag and Orange both noted the increase in homeownership in Highland Park. Orange said gentrification in the last 5 to 7 years has cleaned up the community, but there are still certain areas and streets that have gang ties, with gang members either living there or frequenting the area.

“Some of them have been eradicated, based on laws, injunctions, stronger prison sentences… but you still have juveniles trying to put work in to build a name for themselves,” Orange said.

Duplag said he hoped an increase in family-oriented residents would also change the climate.

“I hope Highland Park would be the same way as Eagle Rock because right now we are actively putting our children in Eagle Rock, rather than Highland Park… that’s really a shame,” he said.

Speakers at the National Night Out event emphasized that community participation, such as joining organizations adds to the sense of community and contributes to public safety.

“Let’s keep looking out for one another, let’s look out for our families and let’s take care of ourselves,” Huizar said.

Judge Kills Contentious Montebello Trash Contract

August 9, 2012 by · 1 Comment 

A judge last month quietly voided a controversial Montebello trash contract, one that four years ago prompted bitter political fights and culminated in a referendum attempt, a recall and potentially costly lawsuits.

Judge James C. Chalfant ruled on July 26 that the city’s contract with Athens Services, also known as Arakelian Enterprises, violates Proposition 218, which restricts the imposition of taxes, assessments, fees or charges by a city on individuals based on their ownership of residential property ownership. He rejected claims that the contract violated competitive bidding and non-exclusivity requirements as grounds for voiding the contract, claims that nevertheless served as popular criticisms of the contract when the city council approved it.

Waste hauling companies piled their trucks into the Montebello city parking lot back in 2008 to protest the Athen contract. (EGP photo by Elizabeth Hsing-Huei Chou)

The ruling is a victory for Montebello resident Mike Torres, who sued the city in 2009 over the contract. “The petition for writ of mandate was granted and the Athens Contract is void,” Torres’ attorney Stephen Miles told EGPNews Wednesday.

The Montebello city council in 2008 approved a waste-hauling contract that granted Athens Services an evergreen, exclusive rights to service commercial properties, including multi-unit residential rental properties. A coalition of commercial waste hauling companies that would no longer be allowed to do business in Montebello helped fund a campaign against the contract and those who approved it. In 2009, Torres filed to get a write of mandate to stop the contract from going into effect.

According to the ruling, the city will be ordered to suspend its contract with Athens Services. Athens can appeal the ruling.

Mere days before Chalfant’s ruling voiding the trash contract, the city of Montebello filed a lawsuit claiming three former city council members received campaign donations in return for approving the Athens contract. The council members named were Robert Urteaga, Rosemarie Vasquez and Kathy Salazar.

LAUSD Negotiate Revisions to Teacher Evaluations

August 9, 2012 by · 1 Comment 

By Dec. 4, teachers and principals in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) will face revised performance evaluation criteria to comply with the California Stull Act that requires student progress data be used as part of the evaluation process.

While the exact method of using student data, and which data to use, is currently being debated by LAUSD officials, the Unified Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) and the Associated Administrators of Los Angeles (AALA), the parties only have until Sept. 4 to give Judge James C. Chalfant of the Los Angeles County Superior Court a progress report on their collective bargaining negotiations, and until Dec. 4 to implement the new evaluation process, according to his ruling.

The current negotiations are the result of Doe v. Deasy, a lawsuit filed last year by nine parents — with legal help from EdVoice, a nonprofit grassroots network that claims over 50,000 parent members across the state— against LAUSD and Superintendent John E. Deasy, challenging the effectiveness of teachers and the school district’s evaluation process.
EdVoice found evidence to suggest that LAUSD had not been complying with the Stull Act for over forty years, according to the group’s president, Bill Lucia.

In early June, Judge Chalfant tentatively ruled that LAUSD was not in compliance with the Stull Act and that “the District is not required to directly consider pupil progress in these evaluations, but there must be a nexus between pupil progress and the evaluations.” Chalfant described this nexus as requiring evaluators to have information on student progress; properly training the evaluators to know how to incorporate the student data; and ensuring that the evaluator’s determination of the teacher’s impact on student writing is in written form.

Collective bargaining should be used to establish a uniform process for teacher and principal/assistant principal evaluations, but ultimately the process is at the discretion of the District, stated Chalfant.

Negotiations between the District and its bargaining units to reach that “nexus” are currently underway. Concerns range from the practicality of using student data in evaluations to which data to use and how.

During the lawsuit, LAUSD argued that it was already using student progress data a part of the evaluation process.

“Prior to the Doe v. Deasy rule, LAUSD was on a path toward multiple-measure performance reviews for our educators, including the use of student outcomes data,” stated LAUSD’s legal department in an email to EGP.

The District said it was using trends from periodic testing and grading collected in year-end reports to help teachers develop their goals to improve subsequent student performance.
However, in his tentative ruling, the judge claimed “this argument is simply a restatement of the tautology that as teachers teach, students will learn.” He said it is now up to the District to develop a uniform method that better complies with the Stull Act.

“We look forward to complying with the Court’s order and working with our labor partners to achieve that goal,” LAUSD Board of Education President Monica Garcia told EGP via email.
UTLA’s response to the judge’s ruling is far more mixed. Shortly after the decision, UTLA President Warren Fletcher released a statement saying “Teachers welcome accountability.

“We want an evaluation system that makes sense for both teachers and students and helps teachers grow and improve.”

However, in a statement released last week, Fletcher said UTLA has concerns about using Achievement Growth over Time (AGT) or “value-added” measures in the evaluation process. They are worried the District will want to increase the use of AGT, a measure of job performance represented by a score, summarizing individual student test scores, which some studies have debated the fairness of due to its numerous error factors and because it excludes teaching characteristics.

“Any evaluation system that purports to reduce the complexity of teaching to a ‘score’ (as if our work could be rated the way the Health Department rates restaurant cleanliness) is a step toward deprofessionalization that UTLA must resist,” Fletcher wrote.

“As educators we want an effective evaluation system that fairly assesses our performance and supports our growth as professionals.”

LAUSD Board Member Steve Zimmer, in a press release following the ruling, agreed with UTLA that the current AGT trial method is inadequate. But he also said that it is a far better measure than the Academic Performance Index and “it should continue to be used for school-wide data, but it is clear we need more inclusive and more accurate measurements as we consider the full picture of teacher performance.”

Another concern is whether the District should use California state test scores from last year in their revised evaluations given that the new process must be put into practice in December.

Principals and assistant principals, on the other hand, are more concerned with how student data will play into their own evaluations and how it will alter their own method of evaluating their teaching staff, Judith Perez, president of AALA told EGP.

“In the past the primary focus of teacher evaluations from the point of view of principals or assistant principal was observation of teachers in the classroom,” Perez said.
She added that prior to the Doe V. Deasy case, AALA had been working with the District on improving this observational method of making evaluations, but that the case has added the use of student data into their negotiations.

She said that AALA has “every intent of reaching an agreement with the district” and that they are “bargaining in good faith.”

Meanwhile, EdVoice President Bill Lucia told EGP that the nonprofit will continue to monitor the negotiations, ensuring that the deadlines are met and progress is made for the sake of parents and their children.

“The outcome the parents care about is how are their kids doing and the extent it leads to, in some level, is the notion that the performance of students and how they are doing over time be incorporated as an accountability measure of job performance, because that’s what the whole school system is about,” Lucia said.

He added that he hopes the negotiations will provide a process by which teachers who are struggling within the system get the help they need and a space for open dialogue with evaluators so they may better understand what they need to improve in the long run.

“I hope it’ll open up a conversation among teachers, and between teachers and principals, not just on the question of the issue of job performance evaluation, but over the course of the entire school year conversations about how are things going, how are the kids doing, how are you doing, do you have all the help that you need to get the results that you’re hoping for, so on and so forth,” Lucia said.

USCIS Releases New ‘Deferred Action’ Guidelines

August 9, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

Immigration officials on Aug. 3 released updated information on the July 15 announcement of new guidelines on the deferred action portion of the Exercising Prosecutorial Discretion with Respect to Individuals Who Came to the United States as Children directive. The announcement came in preparation for the Aug. 15 implementation date.

Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano on July 15 announced that some immigrants, who came to the US as children and met other requirements, could be eligible to receive deferred action for being in the country illegally, a decision that could allow them to stay in the country illegally without the threat of deportation.

The announcement garnered applause from undocumented immigrants and their supporters who see it as a path to legal residency, work permits and driver’s licenses in California.

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is finalizing the details and is scheduled to make all forms, instructions and additional information available on Aug. 15, according to a press release. At that time, USCIS will begin to accept applications online.

According to the new guidelines:

–Requestors – those in removal proceedings, those with final orders, and those who have never been in removal proceedings – will be able to affirmatively request consideration of deferred action for childhood arrivals with USCIS.
–Requestors will use a form developed for this specific purpose.
–Requestors will mail their deferred action request together with an application for an employment authorization document and all applicable fees to the USCIS lockbox.
–All requestors must provide biometrics and undergo background checks.
–Fee waivers cannot be requested for the application for employment authorization and biometric collection. However, fee exemptions will be available in limited circumstances.
–The four USCIS Service Centers will review requests.

More information will be available on Aug. 15 at Requests submitted before August 15, 2012 will be rejected.

Wary of the potential for scam artists to take advantage of and defraud potentially eligible applicants, immigrant rights groups and elected officials on Tuesday held a press conference to warn the undocumented youth to only seek assistance from reputable groups.

“It’s time to make the dream come true. So eligible youth must take every precaution in the application process to do it right and to avoid fraudulent service providers,” said Congressman Xavier Becerra (CA-31). “Immigrant youth should seek assistance from trusted organizations in our communities to walk them through the application process,” he said.

“I’m pleased that USCIS is taking the necessary steps to implement President Obama’s deferred action policy which gives our youth the opportunity to put their education to work for the country they love and call home.”

EDITORIAL: 710 Extension Nightmare Reaches Highland Park

August 9, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

For half a century we have been debating if or how the I-710 should be extended to connect to the 210 Freeway. And for 50 years the opponents for the most part had not changed, they were the communities populating the corridor between the two freeways; El Sereno, Alhambra, Monterey Park, and South Pasadena.

But a change in the scope of the possible expansion to include a much wider area then previously proposed, adding in the communities where the 5, 134 and 2 freeways meet, now also has Northeast Los Angeles area residents in an uproar.

Caltrans and Metro have complicated matters even more by including possible routes through the neighborhoods of Highland Park and Garvanza among the alternatives under consideration. For decades the project focused on filling the gap between the 710 and the 210 freeways, with the most direct route always thought to be from El Sereno to So. Pasadena. That has not changed.

But now, according to Caltrans and Metro, the project is no longer just about filling that gap, but the “best way to alleviate traffic in the region.”

Years of environmental studies have been completed, dozens of properties bought for the original proposed extension, which today still remains the most direct route. The legislative maneuvering to require that a tunnel be built if that route is used has caused the price to soar, perhaps causing the transportation agencies to look elsewhere, even if it means a circuitous route.

While there is still a ways to go in the planning and decision process, we are having a hard time coming up with a reason not to stick to the original route or forget the whole thing.

After all, aren’t the residents of Alhambra and nearby El Sereno already use to choking on the pollution caused by idling cars, and the traffic jams they cause? And don’t the residents of the more affluent communities of So. Pasadena and San Marino deserve to be spared from the disruption that a freeway through their community would cause?

The truth is that no matter how you look at it, air pollution refuses to be confined to one area, and affects people not in the direct path of cause.

And while keeping communities in tact is a worthwhile goal — let’s face it, no one wants it to be there home or business that is taken to make way for a new freeway — every major freeway built has caused people to be displaced.

It’s easy to say people should use public transportation more, carpool, or that we should change how are consumer products are transported. What’s hard is accepting that none of those suggestions represent the entire solution to our transportation and traffic woes.

Shortcut to Nowhere

August 9, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

It seemed that Joseph Holman, a 51-year-old redhead from Brooklyn, had climbed into the middle class the old-fashioned way: by the sweat of his brow.

Two decades ago, Holman moved to California and settled down in Hayward, a working class city about 10 miles south of Oakland. He soon found work as a union laborer, earning $25 an hour plus benefits. Along the way, he married, had two sons, and purchased a spacious house in a quiet neighborhood — complete with flowers out front and a pool in the backyard.

What took 16 years to accomplish, however, the Great Recession quickly unraveled. Work at the union hall slowed to a trickle, then stopped. Last year, his unemployment ran out. Holman sent off countless job applications, but no one was hiring. Out of options, he recently turned to Labor Ready, the country’s largest blue-collar temp agency, where most jobs pay the minimum wage.

“They’re about to put a padlock on the door of my house,” Holman said, waiting in front of Labor Ready’s Hayward storefront. Facing imminent foreclosure, he’s moved all his furniture to his in-laws’ house. “We’ve got enough food in the fridge for a few days.”

Holman faces an emergency, but he’s far from alone. While the number of temp workers has increased sevenfold over the past four decades — ballooning to 2.5 million people today — the most dramatic increase has been among blue-collar workers. In 1989, for example, only 1 in 43 manufacturing jobs was temporary. By 2006, 1 in 11 was. “All I need is a real job,” he told me. “But now it seems everyone only wants temps.”

The temp boom has upended Holman’s life, but it is welcome news for companies like Labor Ready, which operates 600 offices and boasts a workforce of 400,000 — more employees than Target or Home Depot. Labor Ready’s parent company, TrueBlue, saw its profits rise 55 percent last year, to $31 million. TrueBlue CEO Steve Cooper, who took home nearly $2 million last year, predicts “a bright future ahead.”

But as I learned during a two-week stint working for Labor Ready, that “bright future” for investors and executives doesn’t apply to the company’s army of temps, who often spend hours each day in dispatch offices waiting for jobs paying poverty wages. Even worse, on multiple occasions I witnessed Labor Ready employees ordering temps to show up 30 minutes before a shift began, time for which they weren’t compensated. That amounts to wage theft.

Of course, one could argue that companies like Labor Ready simply provide a steppingstone to full-time employment. Unfortunately, data suggests otherwise. A 2010 study by economists David Autor of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Susan Houseman of the Upjohn Institute for Employment Research found that low-wage temp jobs play a negligible — even negative — role in boosting people’s earnings.

Tracking the earnings of nearly 40,000 welfare-to-work participants in Detroit, the authors discovered that people placed in permanent jobs enjoyed significant and lasting economic benefits. But after a short spike in earnings, those placed in temp jobs eventually saw a net decrease in income and employment, even when compared to workers who’d had no help securing work.

Looking at the data, the economists determined that providing low-skill workers with a temp job “is no more effective than providing no job placements at all.”

Any real recovery will have to provide stable employment to blue-collar workers, not short-lived temp jobs paying poverty wages. The trend of outsourcing blue-collar work to temps benefits giant corporations like Walmart — which frequently uses Labor Ready temps — while lining the pockets of executives running labor agencies. But for desperate workers who turn to temp agencies for a step up, too often they find only quicksand.

Gabriel Thompson, the author of the books Working in the Shadows, There’s No José Here, and Calling All Radicals, wrote a longer version of this commentary for the Economic Hardship Reporting Project. Distributed via

It’s Time to End the Apple and GE Offshore Tax Loopholes

August 9, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

While attention focuses on congressional action on the Bush tax cuts, another tax bill is quietly tiptoeing through the Senate. The Senate Finance Committee has reported out the corporate tax extenders bill, a collection of dozens of tax breaks, many targeting industries whose lobbyists have filled campaign larders with cash. These tax breaks all expired at the end of last year, and are on track to be renewed for another year with little debate or scrutiny.

In today’s climate of tight budgets and growing public outrage over tax laws that create incentives to move jobs and investments offshore, it is time to permanently close two of the gaping loopholes in the extenders bill which reward that very behavior.

The General Electric offshore tax loophole – known on Capitol Hill as the “Active Financing Exception” – was repealed as part of the 1986 reform efforts to make the tax code fairer. But it came back in 1997 after a fierce lobbying effort led by General Electric as a one-year temporary measure. It has been dutifully renewed six times since.

The U.S. tax code requires companies to count “passive income” from things like financing customer purchases as U.S. income regardless of where in the world these transactions take place. This is because these financial transactions are easy to manipulate and make it look like domestic income is being earned offshore.

The GE offshore tax loophole is, as the official name says, an exception to the rule. It blesses the very sort of manipulations that the tax code seeks to avoid. It is one of the principle reasons General Electric reported an effective tax rate of just 1.8 percent over the last decade, according to Citizens for Tax Justice. When one of our nation’s most powerful corporations pays an effective tax rate of less than 2 percent, you know our Treasury has a giant hole in it.

The “Active Financing Exception” is also widely used by banks and is one of the reasons the banking industry has one of the lowest effective tax rates among all industry groups. There is no excuse for extending a loophole that allows banks to pay lower effective tax rates than small businesses and working Americans who bailed out the banking industry.

The Apple offshore tax loophole also creates an exception to the normal tax rules. Known formally inside the Beltway as the “CFC Look-Through Rule”, this loophole allows companies like Apple to indefinitely defer payment of taxes on things like patents, royalties and licenses, if earnings from these transactions are passed between offshore entities of the corporation.

When a consumer purchases a song recorded by an American artist in a Los Angeles studio from iTunes, that transaction most likely is booked in Ireland, before the funds make their way to another tax haven country like Luxembourg after a brief stop in The Netherlands. This loophole allows Apple to have amassed more than $23 billion in offshore accounts, all of which is untaxed in the U.S.

Technology and pharmaceutical companies commonly use this loophole to strip earnings from their domestic operations and through accounting acrobatics shift them to offshore subsidiaries where the “foreign profits” are free from U.S. taxation.

These two loopholes alone cost the U.S. Treasury more than $5 billion a year. To put that amount in perspective, it’s more than the budget of the Small Business Administration.

These loopholes distort the playing field between multinational corporations and small businesses. When big corporations dodge their taxes, it gives them a competitive advantage over small businesses and undermines our economy. Ninety-one percent of small business owners said that U.S. multinational corporations using accounting loopholes to shift U.S. profits offshore is a problem in a recent national survey. Moreover, 75 percent said their businesses are personally harmed when big corporations use loopholes to avoid taxes.

It’s never right to give tax giveaways to prosperous corporations that reward them for using clever accounting gimmicks to ship jobs and investments offshore. It’s even more irresponsible at a time when millions of Americans need jobs and we are cutting government budgets for education, public safety, transportation infrastructure, research and other services and investments we need for a strong economy.

It’s time to end the exceptions, close the loopholes and have big corporations pay their fair share.

Scott Klinger is the Tax Policy Director of Business for Shared Prosperity. Distributed by American Forum.

Elected or Appointed Assessor? Voters to Decide in November

August 9, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Tuesday adopted a resolution to ask voters if they support changing the state constitution to make the job of assessor an appointed, rather than elected, position.

Supervisor Michael Antonovich championed the issue. The District Attorney’s Office is investigating allegations that employees of the county assessor’s office worked hand-in-hand with tax agents to reduce property valuations in exchange for campaign contributions.

County Assessor John Noguez, who has claimed no wrongdoing, is on an indefinite leave.

A former appraiser, Scott Schenter – who allegedly dropped property values in Beverly Hills, Brentwood and Pacific Palisades by about $172 million — was arrested in May. Schenter told the Los Angeles Times that Noguez had promised him a promotion and pressured him to extract campaign contributions. Schenter then unilaterally dropped the recorded values of some properties in order to help spur donations, he told the newspaper.

Schenter’s alleged illegal activities may have been going on for nearly a decade – well before Noguez won election in November 2010.

On July 31, appraisers in the assessor’s office offered a union vote of “no confidence” in Noguez. About one-third of the 387 members represented by the California Association of Professional Employees returned ballots, and 92 percent of those voting favored Noguez’ resignation, according to CAPE.

The California Constitution and the Los Angeles County charter would both need to be changed in order to give the Board of Supervisors the authority to appoint future assessors.

In a statewide vote in 1986, about 85 percent of voters favored elections as a means of selecting county assessors.

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