For nearly three decades, legislators across the state of California have been recognizing women who have made a difference in their district.
Last Friday, Assemblywomen Cristina Garcia recognized nine women from the 58th district, which spans through the cities of Artesia, Bellflower, Bell Gardens, Cerritos, Commerce, Downey, Norwalk and Pico Rivera.
Celebrated in the month of March as part of Women’s History Month, the tradition dates back to 1987 when the California Legislative Women’s Caucus presented the first Women of the Year awards. All state legislators now take part in highlighting the accomplishments of women from a variety of backgrounds, from teachers and pharmacist, to city employees and business owners.
“We should be celebrating” women all year, said Garcia during the event held at the Southern California Edison headquarters in Downey.
Among the nine honorees were three local women: Marilyn Thompson from Bell Gardens, Carmen Marquez of Commerce and Shushma Patel of Montebello.
Thompson is a teacher at Bell Gardens Intermediate, Garcia’s alma mater. She was recognized for her work in the classroom and coordinating efforts to organize leadership camps and trips to the state capital for her students.
Thomson said humbly she considers what she does a part of the job.
Marquez, a retired teacher with over 35 years working for the Montebello Unified School District, was recognized for her past work on various committees in the city of Commerce and with groups such as the California Association of Bilingual Educators.
“We don’t do everything alone, we are all connected,” said Marquez at the event. “I brought my village with me,” she added, before recognizing the people who have helped her feel confident about what she does.
Patel owns an independent community pharmacy and serves as the chairperson for the Indian Pharmacists Association of California Advisory, serves on the board of the Montebello Rotary Club and routinely provides free counseling to the community. After receiving the award, she told the audience she enjoys giving back.
Other honorees included: Veronica Bloomfield (a historian) of Artesia; Sandra Espinoza-Perry (owner of a child care center) of Bellflower; Mae Lovgren (president of PTA) of Cerritos; Alison Elaine Kirby (English teacher) of Downey; Dr. Linda Lacy (president of Cerritos College) of Norwalk; and Lizet Olmos (city employee) of Pico Rivera.
When 15-year-old Shantell Gomez found out she was pregnant, she was scared. She felt lost and all alone.
“How am I going to do it? How am I going to finish school? How will I provide for my baby?” she asked herself.
Fast-forward two and a half years and Gomez is now the recipient of a $60,000 academic scholarship to attend Mount Saint Mary’s University in Los Angeles this fall where she will pursue a nursing degree.
Despite the many obstacles young girls in her situation face, Gomez is proof that being a teen mother does not have to mean your dreams are over or academic success out of reach.
She is on track to graduate on time with a 3.5 grade point average, and will be the first person in her family and the first graduate of Bell Garden’s teen parent program to attend a four-year college.
“I never thought it was possible to go college,” said Gomez Monday, still in disbelief.
The road to where she is today has not been easy. In fact, it’s been very hard.
Both of Gomez’ parents work so the luxury of free, grandparent provided childcare while she continued high school was not an option, and the grandmother she and her son now live with is too elderly to be a full-time caretaker.
“Some mothers get help at home, but some just don’t get [any] help at all,” explains Carmen Herrera, a counselor with Bell Gardens High School’s program for pregnant teens.
That’s when special programs like Montebello Unified’s California School Age Families (CAL-SAFE) program at Bell Gardens High School can make a difference.
For Gomez, the program has been her savior.
Like many teen mothers lacking resources, support and guidance, she quickly fell behind at school. Figuring out how to stay in school and care for a baby at the same time was complicated, she said.
Then there was the stigma that comes with being a teen mother.
“…People assume that we are not going to graduate,” says 18-year-old Karla Fuentes, another of the teen-aged mothers in the program.
But Gomez wanted to graduate and enrolled in the CAL-SAFE program, which provides childcare for her son Aiden, now two years old, while she attends class. Started in the 1990s, the state program – also available at Montebello High School – offers free childcare, parenting classes, counseling and encourages the minors to graduate from high school.
“The struggle is balancing being a mom and being a student,” says Herrera.
On average, the program enrolls 50 teens a year, including several young fathers. The program has helped many young mothers from Bell Gardens, “… a city with great need,” says Jennifer Gonzalez, a three-year program instructor.
Bell Gardens’ teen pregnancy rate has been high for years, at one time the highest in the country.
Fuentes told EGP that when she was pregnant she felt “everybody was getting pregnant. I see a lot more teen moms now,” she observes.
When Fuentes started her junior year after delivering her baby, she only had 30 class credits, the equivalent of a freshman.
She said before getting pregnant she didn’t care about school and often ditched class. That changed after her child was born, and she is on track to graduate on time.
“I feel getting pregnant was a good thing for me,” it changed my priorities, says Fuentes. “I see the world in a different way because I’m a mom,” she said.
For some of the girls it’s like a light bulb went on, says Herrera. “They become self-driven.”
CAL-SAFE offers an independent studies track that allows the teens to take extra classes to catch up.
Graduating high school is important, but getting them into college is the real goal, says Gonzalez.
Most of the teen mothers are taking the technical studies pathway that could lead to better employment opportunities, she said. Although none of last year’s graduates went on to college, many of this year’s seniors plan to attend community college, she said.
Since having Aidan, Gomez strives to be above average. She is enrolled in the nursing pathway, takes honors classes and interns two days a week at Beverly Hospital in Montebello. The former “C” average student now wants nothing less than an “A.”
“Some of my classmates are surprised when they find out I’m a mom” and still doing well in class, she said.
In 2014, Generation Her, a non-profit dedicated to promoting support and motivation to teen mothers, named her Teen Mom of the Year.
“She’s definitely self-driven,” Herrera said. “More than just doing it for her child, she is doing it for herself.”
The counselor said being a teen mother forces them to grow up quickly and to “deal with the lack of support, feelings of isolation and changes in routine.”
“They can’t relate to other students,” adds Gonzalez.
Other students have a whole afternoon and evening to get assignments done, but Gomez must spend much of that time caring for her child, waiting until the energetic toddler falls asleep to crack open her books.
“I’m always so tired,” says Gomez, who does everything on her own. “Sometimes I just want to go to sleep, but I know I can’t.”
She can’t help but laugh to herself when she hears her fellow classmates complain that an assignment kept them up late. “I think to myself ‘I do that every night,’” she said. “They don’t know how much easier it is for them.”
Fuentes, on the other hand, has the support of her family and says she never felt alone. She is still with her baby’s father and has his support, unlike 80% of the girls in the program.
“I feel really bad for some of the girls who talk about how their ‘baby daddy’ doesn’t want to help out. I can’t imagine the stress they go through and how hard it is not to have support,” she said.
Having childcare is a major benefit, but there are times when a sick child or doctor’s appointments will disrupt the school day, forcing the teen parents to miss class.
“The biggest trouble for our students is attendance,” acknowledges Herrera. “But don’t think they get special treatment…they still have deadlines like everybody else.”
“Do you get the looks and stares… yes,” says Fuentes, who explains she lost many friends after becoming pregnant, but adds for the most part her fellow students make it a point to not treat the teen mothers differently.
As one of the younger mothers, Gomez says it is harder for teens like her. Looking back at her struggles to raise her child and her grades, the 17-year old understands the significance of the example she has set for others in the same position.
“I feel very proud of myself,” Gomez admits. “It makes me feel good that people are acknowledging my accomplishment.”
Four southeast cities are joining forces to encourage residents to contribute ideas to the development of a master bike plan for their region.
But rather than holding the usual round of in-door meetings, Bell Gardens, Commerce, Cudahy and Vernon are holding free, informal bike rides in April and May to gather feedback from area residents on how to make streets safer and travelable for cyclists and pedestrians.
The cities have some of the most heavily traveled roadways in the region and hope to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by decreasing the number of cars on local streets and increasing the number of people riding bicycles and walking, goals set forth in the Active Transportation Program (ATP).
Bell Gardens is spearheading the initiative that will also look at connecting bike and pedestrian routes between the cities.
Each ride will be about six-miles long with stops along the way to allow for discussion and refreshments.
Participating cyclists are required to wear a helmet.
Data collected during the rides will be used by the cities to apply for ATP grants to pay for enhanced safety measures in their respective cities.
The first of the three information gathering cycling events was held last week in Cudahy and focused on how to improve access from the southeast communities to the Los Angeles River and Downtown Los Angeles.
The next bike rides will be held:
—Thursday, Apr. 9: Riders will meet at Bell Gardens High School (6119 Agra Street) at 1p.m. The topic will be: “How can walking and biking support the bigger goal of creating healthier, safer and more livable southern region?
—Saturday, May 23; Riders will meet at John Anson Ford Park (8000 Park Lane) in Bell Gardens at 10a.m. Topic: “How can walking and biking connect the people and places that make our neighborhoods unique?”
For more information, contact Bell Gardens Director of Public Works Chau Vu at (562) 334-1790.
It was a rare rainy night but the Bell Gardens City Council Chamber was jammed packed. Representatives of local elected officials, business owners, city employees, friends and family had shown up to watch a new member of the council be sworn in along with two newly reelected members.
In many ways the meeting marked the start of a new era, taking place just months after the death of longtime councilman and Mayor Daniel Crespo, who was fatally shot by his wife last September.
Toward the back of the chambers sat a large group of residents, many wearing translation devices to help them understand the speeches and accolades being handed out. An attractive woman, her sandy blonde hair conservatively pulled back, stood at the end of one of the aisles, gesturing and quietly explaining in Spanish what was going on. She pointed out the city attorney and city manager, explaining what they do in the city. Following the meeting, she called over the representatives of Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard and Supervisor Hilda Solis, and told her audience “this is who you have to call if you have a problem with …”
From Boyle Heights to Bell Gardens, Mary Lou Trevis has made it her life’s mission to empower her community, reduce crime and educate residents. In Bell Gardens, she does it through the city’s Neighborhood Watch program.
If not walking the streets of Bell Gardens, teaching English to residents or hosting Neighborhood Watch events, Trevis is answering phone calls from residents who under her leadership are now taking an active role in fighting crime in their city.
“To me, education is the key to success,” but not speaking English can be a real barrier to getting information for many Latinos, says Trevis. Understanding how your city or schools work, or who to go to when there is a problem can make a big difference in your life, she said, explaining why she takes the time to give “civics lessons” to local residents.
Trevis has been the Bell Gardens Neighborhood Watch program coordinator for over a decade. In recent years the city has seen a significant drop in crime, and gang-related activity in particular. She credits residents and the Bell Gardens Police Department working together to make their neighborhoods safer.
Bell Gardens Police Chief Robert E. Barnes says it’s Trevis who deserves much of the credit. “Mary Lou is the key to our success in developing stronger relationships with our community,” he told EGP.
Since being hired in 2003, Trevis has recruited 300 people — nearly all them Spanish-speaking women – to the program, which encourages residents to be on the lookout for crime and to report it to police.
Over time members have grown more confident, calling her any time of the day or night to report suspicious activity, she said. “I have had people call me three times a day,” she laughs proudly.
Lt. Jose Carlos oversees the program for the police department and works closely with Trevis. “She loves what she does and you can tell,” he told EGP
Together they started an English class to help the predominately Spanish-speaking working class residents communicate with police and every year they bring residents and police together for National Night Out, a national movement “to take back the night from crime.” The program has grown from 200 residents the first year to more than 3,000 people attending a carnival-style event at Ford Park in recent years.
“She gets them energized,” boasted Carlos about Trevis’ relationship to the community.
Her desire to empower people has deep roots. Growing up in Boyle Heights, Trevis and her mother would help feed the homeless. As a teen she knew there was more to life than what was available in Boyle Heights and East Los Angeles — she’d seen it on TV — and started “Adelfo’s Club” to expose Latinos to activities like surfing and skiing, unusual in the largely immigrant community.
“As youth we wanted to be the same [as people on TV] but the resources weren’t there,” she said.
Looking back, Trevis thinks she was always being pulled toward law enforcement. Even the band she played with, “Latin Sounds,” was recruited by the County Sheriff’s Department to perform in the jails and to talk to the young inmates.
“I wasn’t scared,” she recalls, “I just saw it as a chance to sing.”
Trevis attended East Los Angeles College and was later hired as the dean of discipline at St. Anthony School in San Gabriel. During those years she says she attended too many funerals of young people whose lives were cut short by gang violence.
“I thought, ‘something has to be done.’ We can’t have an officer on every block but as citizens we can help out by being their eyes and ears,” she said.
Sgt. Mike Barrela was at the time a senior lead officer with LAPD’s Hollenbeck Division and he encouraged her to join the police advisory committee to organize residents, much like block captains do with Neighborhood Watch.
But it wasn’t enough, so she helped found Mothers of East L.A., which successfully stopped a prison from being built in their neighborhood and closed down some of the bars popping up all over making the community safer.
She pushed absentee landlords to ensure their vacant lots did not become havens for gang activity.
“I wanted to bring resources to a community that had been abandoned,” she told EGP. “Nobody really cared there.”
As a young activist, Trevis looked to woman who fought for the rights of others, especially Latinas like Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard and former county supervisor Gloria Molina, for direction.
Now it’s Trevis who has been recognized countless times by political figures and organizations, and who new generations of young people and immigrants look to for leadership.
She appreciates the recognition, but thinks what she does is no big deal. It’s our civic duty to do these things, she explains.
Today, “the woman in Bell Gardens that have made a difference” are who inspire her, she told EGP.
But Lt. Carlos says the same thing can be said about Trevis.
“There is something that Mary does that is inspiring, you can see it in the faces of the women,” he said. “They believe in her.”
So do many of their children, who as adults are now taking part in the program.
When asked whether she’s ever afraid of becoming a victim of the crime and violence she is trying to stop, her answer is “No.”
“I have to be the example,” to give courage and support to those who fear reporting crime, she says without hesitation.
Someday, when I leave Bell Gardens, I hope I will “have had made a difference in the quality of life here.”
[Update Feb. 20: The freeway closures planed for this weekend have been cancelled due to weather, the department of transportation announced Thursday evening.]
The Long Beach (710) Freeway will be closed two nights per weekend, starting Friday, as a major reconstruction project continues in southeastern Los Angeles County.
The 710 Freeway will be closed in both directions between Florence Avenue and Washington Boulevard late Friday night and Sunday nights for the next three weekends. That area is several miles south of the Santa Ana (5) Freeway, and north of the 105 Freeway.
Although the 710 Freeway will reopen on the following mornings, through traffic lanes will be significantly reduced all day on Saturdays, all night Saturday nights, and also closed continuing through Sundays and into the nights.
Caltrans engineers said they hope to finish the work in three weekends, but it could take six weekends of closures to get the work done.
Full freeway closures on the 710 will begin at 11:59 p.m. Friday nights, with the freeway reopening with significant lane closures at 6 a.m. Saturdays. Then again on Sunday nights, at 11 p.m., both directions of the 710 will be closed, to reopen at 5 a.m. Mondays with all lanes open.
Ramps in the Bell Gardens area will be closed, at Florence Avenue and Atlantic Boulevard.
Caltrans officials urged motorists to avoid the 710 between the 60 and 105 freeways if at all possible on the next three to six weekends. They suggested using the 110 or 605 freeways.
The closure pattern will free up about half of the freeway at a time, and workers will use the 55 hours each weekend to replace concrete slabs, upgrade the wooden median guardrail to concrete and build pullouts for maintenance trucks.
Shimmick/Myers and Sons is the contractor for the $120 million reconstruction of the 55-year-old freeway, a project that started in 2012 and will end in 2016.
Vote-by-Mail applications for the March 3 Primary Election are now available and Bell Gardens Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia is reminding voters of an important change in California law that now requires all applications to be mailed directly to the County Registrar or local Elections Official for processing.
Prior to the change, Vote-by-Mail applications could be mailed or handed over to a third party for processing. Political campaigns in particular would pass out the applications and put the campaign’s return address as the place to mail or drop off the application, Garcia’s office explained in an email.
The practice proved an easy and valuable tool for campaigns to keep track of voters.
The potential for fraud or voters not receiving their ballots in a timely manner was high, said Garcia.
A constituent suggested the change in law last year during the assemblywoman’s “There Oughta Be a Law” contest.
The suggestion prompted Garcia’s office to work with the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk to determine if the old process really was a problem and they found that the number of reports alleging tampering and interference with Vote-by-Mail applications was on the rise.
There was no way for the voter to make sure that the application was in fact submitted on time, said Garcia.
“A voter should be guaranteed that the application will reach the County Registrar or Elections Official in a timely manner, without delay.”
The city of Los Angeles began accepting Vote-by-Mail applications on Monday. The city’s election Division must receive the application request by 5 p.m. on Feb. 24 for it to be processed in time for the March 3 election. Applications can be found on the back of the Official Sample Ballot mailed to registered voters and mailed to Office of the City Clerk – Election Division, 555 Ramirez Street, Space 300, Los Angeles, CA 90012, or faxed to (213) 978-0612.
For additional information call (213) 978-0376.
Bell Gardens Councilwoman Priscilla Flores was recognized for her service as Mayor Pro Tem during a difficult year for the city during the annual reorganization of council appointments on Monday.
Usually a festive event, the mood in the packed council meeting chambers was somber.
Alluding to the unexpected death of Mayor Daniel Crespo in September, several speakers thanked Flores for stepping in to perform his duties during “a very trying time” in the city.
Flores was presented with certificates of recognition from Sen. Ricardo Lara, Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard, Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia and Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis.
“The city of Bell Gardens is a better city because of you,” said Garcia’s representative.
Flores, who seemed uncomfortable with the accolades, said she was accepting the recognitions on behalf of Crespo, who she said fulfilled the duties of mayor for most of the year, drawing applause from the audience.
During the brief meeting, Jennifer Rodriguez was voted in as mayor and Pedro Aceituno was chosen to serve as mayor pro tem. Both have been on the council for more than a decade.
Newly appointed Councilwoman Maria Pulido was also publically administered the oath of office.
Though no honors were posthumously presented to Crespo, the council made sure to recognize the legacy he left behind.
“I’m glad Mr. Crespo got to serve as mayor, I probably would have selected him again,” said Flores. “He did a lot for our community, there’s always going to be a piece of him in Bell Gardens.”
An emotional Rodriguez said the city got a lot done in the past year and though he is no longer around she continues to feel Crespo’s influence and presence.
“Though this has been a year of progress, tragedy…it has made us stronger.”
Authorities have identified a man killed in a gang-related shooting in the parking lot of a Cudahy Laundromat as Alfonso Ortiz, 34, of Bell Gardens.
The shooting occurred Jan. 21 about 9:55 p.m. in the 8000 block of Wilcox Avenue, Los Angeles County sheriff’s Deputy Trina Schrader said.
Ortiz died at the scene, coroner’s Assistant Chief Ed Winter said.
Ortiz was walking through the laundromat parking lot when a vehicle approached him, the front passenger exited and pulled a handgun,” Schrader said.
“The suspect shot the victim and fled the scene heading westbound on Santa Ana Street,” she said
Detailed descriptions of the male suspects were not released and Schrader did not disclose why investigators believe the shooting was gang-related.
A judge on Jan. 28 is expected to decide whether the attorney for the mother of Bell Gardens Mayor Daniel Crespo, whose wife is accused of fatally shooting him at their home, will get copies of the homicide investigation report he says he needs to get his client’s case ready for trial.
Otilia Santos’ attorney, James Devitt, filed court papers Dec. 31 in Los Angeles Superior Court asking a judge to order the Bell Gardens Police Department to turn over the police report and all documents related to the death of her son.
“The report will be needed by plaintiff’s experts to prepare for trial,” Devitt wrote. “It is obviously material and there is good cause for its production since it may relate to the defenses in this case, as well. There is no alternative way to procure it.”
In court papers filed Jan. 14, lawyers for the Police Department said they will only turn over the records sought by Devitt if ordered by a judge to do so. The department handed over the investigation into Crespo’s death to the Sheriff’s Department shortly after the mayor was killed, according to the BGPD attorneys’ court papers.
Both the Sheriff’s Department and the District Attorney’s Office believe that the records sought by Santos’ attorney are privileged because the investigation into the death of the plaintiff’s son is still ongoing, according to the court papers of the Police Department lawyers.
The public interest in prosecuting a homicide is more important than a plaintiff’s ability to pursue a civil suit, according to the court papers of the attorneys for the BGPD.
Santos filed suit Oct. 20 against daughter-in-law Lyvette Crespo over the death of Daniel Crespo, 45, who was shot Sept. 30.
Sheriff’s investigators said he and his wife were arguing when their 19-year-old son, Daniel Crespo Jr., intervened, leading to a struggle between father and son. Lyvette Crespo allegedly grabbed a gun and shot her husband, who had punched their son in the face.
Santos alleges her son was shot in cold blood. The lawsuit alleges his wife picked a fight with him knowing that their son would intervene, then Crespo opened a safe, grabbed a gun and killed her husband “with malice and in cold blood.”
Lyvette Crespo, 43, was not arrested. Sheriff’s officials forwarded their investigation to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, which will decide whether any charges should be filed.
Lyvette Crespo’s attorney contends she was a longtime victim of domestic violence. Crespo’s brother, William, has denied the allegation, but hinted the mayor had an extramarital affair.
Un servicio fúnebre público se llevará a cabo hoy lunes en honor al alcalde de Bell Gardens Daniel Crespo, quien fue baleado fatalmente en su casa, presuntamente a manos de su esposa.
Crespo, de 45 años, fue asesinado el 30 de septiembre. Oficiales del alguacil dijeron que su esposa Lyvette Crespo de 43 años de edad, hizo los disparos fatales durante una pelea familiar. Ella fue entrevistada pero no fue detenida. La Fiscalía del Distrito decidirá si se presentarán cargos en su contra.
El servicio funeral público para el alcalde se llevará a cabo el lunes a las 5pm en Rose Hills Memorial Chapel, 3888 Workman Mill Road en Whittier.
Un servicio privado se llevará a cabo el martes para los invitados y familiares.