Bell Gardens Finances Continue to Improve

June 23, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

The opening of the highly anticipated hotel at The Bicycle Casino turned into a $1 million jackpot for the city of Bell Gardens, which wagered on the success of the project to increase city revenue.

It was only a couple years ago that the city faced a $1 million budget deficit resulting from the economic recession and state closure of its redevelopment agency (RDA), which had contributed millions of dollars to rehabilitate the city’s blighted areas.

Bell Gardens’ luck has since turned around and the city is anticipating a $1 million dollar surplus in its 2016-2017 Fiscal Year Budget of $29.7 million. $200,000 of the surplus will go to the city’s reserves – a fund set aside for emergencies or unexpected expenses.

Mayor Pro Tem Pedro Aceituno credits the surplus to staff being frugal and holding the line during troubled times.

“We didn’t overspend,” Aceituno said.

Bicycle Casino profits continue to play a major role in the predominately Latino blue-collar community’s financial health, with nearly half of the city’s general fund revenue coming from Casino fees.

The Bicycle Casino is expected to generate $13 million in revenue this year. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

The Bicycle Casino is expected to generate $13 million in revenue this year. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

In 2012, Casino revenue dwindled to an all-time low of $9.3 million, sparking a budget deficit that year. Now on the rebound, Casino revenue is expected to reach $13 million this year, $1.8 million more than in 2015-2016 and $170,000 more than its peak in 2008.

“For years, we were losing players to other casinos with hotels, [but] now we are able to keep them here,” City Manager Phil Wagner told EGP, referring to the opening of the Casino’s new hotel.

However, “It’s not just the economy doing better or hotel improvements, but a lot of it was that we managed our money very well,” he said.

The added revenue will offset $234,000 in lease revenue lost when the city was forced to sell of two city-owned shopping centers, as part of a settlement with the state over the closing of its redevelopment agency. Wagner believes the city is in the “9th inning” of the RDA ordeal, “it’s over when the state says it’s over,” he added.

“The key thing is the loss from the RDA negotiations could have been much bigger.”
Staff worked hard to minimize the damage, which could have reached up to $4 million, said Director of Finance Will Kaholokula.

Mayor Jennifer Rodriguez also credits city staff and elected officials for Bell Gardens’ “thriving” economy. “We’re one of the cities that had a plan to get us through rough times,” she told EGP.

Unlike some neighboring cities, “we have worked efficiently together without worrying about the politics,” she pointed out.

That’s a major step forward from years past when Bell Gardens City Council meetings were often the scene of loud political bickering. Rodriguez and Aceituno, both longtime councilmembers, believe the lack of political turmoil is why food retailers like Dunkin Donuts and Chipotle are now flocking to the city, despite its predominately Latino, working-class demographics and being only 2.4-square-miles in size, factors that have been deterrents to investments in other cities.

As a result, sales tax revenue is up and unemployment is down.

Like neighboring Montebello, the Bell Gardens City Council will continue to grapple with its aging and money losing water system.

After years of putting off a decision, plans are in the works to hold workshops and public hearings on the water utility’s future. Experts say the 50 year old infrastructure needs costly long term repairs, but the utility does not generate enough revenue to even cover current operating expenses. Purchased in 1991, the Bell Gardens water system services about 30% of city residents. Rates have not been raised in over 20 years.

Dunkin Donuts and Chipotle are two of the newest retailers opening its doors in Bell Gardens. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Dunkin Donuts and Chipotle are two of the newest retailers opening its doors in Bell Gardens. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

The city can continue to offer the low rates but it will require long term planning, according to Wagner. “The city council will have to decide whether they want to maintain the system, sell the system or increase water rates,” he explained.

Another bright note in city finances has been the significant reduction in golf course related losses, from a deficit of $90,000 per year to $18,000 after turning the facility over to an outside management company.

“We do a lot that doesn’t make money but we want to be able to make enough to cover the costs,” said Wagner.

The rising cost of California Public Employees’ Retirement (PERS) obligations will continue to challenge the city, but Wagener says there’s not much the city can do except save up. City staff has proposed starting an irrevocable trust fund to cover future pension obligations as part of a long-term solution.

Like most southeast communities, Wagner says Bell Gardens must address infrastructure and general capital improvement projects including streets, alleys and parks.

Turf on the soccer field at Ford Park needs be replaced at a cost of $1 million, notes Assistant Manager John Oropeza.

“Now that we have a little surplus we can make sure that comes back to our residents,” said Aceituno who would like to see some previously cut programs return.

But Rodriguez believes a surplus does not translate to a party.

“We can’t start splurging just because there’s a surplus,” she told EGP. “Before we even touch the money we have to exhaust all other options and continue to plan ahead.”

Bell Gardens Students Receive Prestigious College Scholarships

May 26, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Four Bell Gardens students will be pursuing their dreams this fall at prestigious universities across the country, all at nearly no cost to them or their families.

Erik Herrera, Leslie Luqueno, Omar Morales and Ainslee Preciado received hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarships to attend college from the universities themselves, the California Association of Latino Superintendents and Administrators and special scholarships including the Dell Scholar and the prestigious Gates Millennium Scholar program.

“These four Bell Gardens High students, along with their peers across the District, represent the high-quality education offered and received at Montebello Unified,” MUSD Superintendent Susanna Contreras Smith said.

(Left to right): Bell Gardens High School students Omar Morales, Ainslee Preciado , Leslie Luqueno and Erik Herrera. (Photo courtesy Jesse Melgar)

(Left to right): Bell Gardens High School students Omar Morales, Ainslee Preciado , Leslie Luqueno and Erik Herrera. (Photo courtesy Jesse Melgar)

Herrera, who will serve as class valedictorian during next month’s graduation, will attend California Institution of Technology where he will study mathematics and music theory. He boasts a 4.37 GPA and serves as Bell Gardens drum major. Herrera received a scholarship from CalTech, which is expected to cover nearly all his tuition.

Preciado plans to attend UCLA this fall and will have her entire undergraduate and graduate school costs covered after being selected as a Gates Millennium Scholar. This is the second consecutive year that a Bell Gardens high school student is a recipient of the unique scholarship. Preciado is interested in pursuing law after attending the Yale Young Global Scholars program last summer. She is a singer, violinist and active member of her church youth group and is poised to graduate with a 4.02 GPA.

Morales will attend the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor on a full-ride scholarship from the California Association of Latino Superintendents and Administrators. He hopes to study aerospace engineering. Morales has a 4.23 GPA and is an active member of the cross country and track and field teams.

Luqueno is one of 350 Dell Scholars selected in the country. She will be attending Haverford College in Pennsylvania this fall to pursue her interest in political science. As a Dell Scholar, she was awarded a $20,000 scholarship, a laptop, textbook gift cards and support throughout her academic career. Luqueno serves as editor in chief of Bell Gardens high school’s Lancer Scroll and has a 4.11 GPA.

CA Sen. Lara Urges Undocumented Parents to Sign Kids Up For Health Care

May 19, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

New America Media – Kicking off his statewide tour to promote California’s Health for All Kids program, the new law’s author, State Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, said undocumented parents should set their fears aside and enroll their children in the program. The legislation would expand the state’s health insurance program for low-income people.

“There’s a misconception among immigrants,” Lara said, that asking for government help could land them in trouble. He made this observation during a May 12 media presentation at San Francisco’s Mission Neighborhood Health Center.

Mindful of this, the Health for All Kids program – which launched on Tuesday — was designed so children who currently have limited access to health care through the Emergency Medi-Cal, Healthy San Francisco or Healthy Kids programs would “seamlessly transition” into full-scope Medi-Cal (California’s version of Medicaid), said Lara. He was flanked on the podium by State Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, and Democrat Assemblymembers Phil Tang and David Chiu.

Representatives of such health advocacy groups as Children Now, Health Access, California Pan-Ethnic Health Network, Asians Advancing Justice and California Immigrant Policy Center also spoke at the media briefing.

 California State Sen. Lara at a press conference promoting the California Health for All Kids program. Photo courtesy Jesse Melgar)

California State Sen. Lara at a press conference promoting the California Health for All Kids program. Photo courtesy Jesse Melgar)

170,000 California Children Eligible
An estimated 170,000 undocumented children are eligible to enroll in the state-funded program, expected to cost $40 million in the first year of its operation, and $137 million annually “in perpetuity,” Lara said.

Lara drew on his experience growing up in the United States as the child of poor undocumented immigrants from Mexico to emphasize why it’s important to have children enrolled in health insurance.

“Children shouldn’t have to worry about how their parents are going to pay for a broken arm or for a dentist,” the lawmaker said.
Leno, who chairs the Senate Budget Committee, said the importance of the Health For All Kids program can not be overemphasized because illnesses make no distinction between documented and undocumented people.

“Our bodies, viruses, bacteria don’t know what our immigration status is,” Leno said. He noted that dental problems alone results in around 500,000 children in California missing school each year.

He also observed, “Without a high school diploma, a child is more likely to find his way into the criminal justice system.”

‘Get a Clue, Donald Trump’
Leno’s elicited laughter when he quipped, “Get a clue, Donald Trump.” He was referring to the Republican presidential presumptive GOP nominee’s vow to upend the Affordable Care Act (ACA) should he become president.

Undocumented Bay Area resident Teresa Lopez, a mother of four children, said she would be relieved to see her Mexico-born daughter, Litzy, age 15, enroll in the full-scope Medi-Cal program and enjoy accessing health care the way her two U.S.-born children currently do.
“Having to make copayments for every visit, and for medications is taking a toll on my family,” said Lopez, speaking in Spanish, through an interpreter. “It will be nice when all my children have the same kind of health care benefits.”

Lara noted earlier this week that the California Department of Health Care Services, which operates Medi-Cal, has said it is ready for the influx of thousands of children when the Health For All Kids program begins next week.

Lara is hopeful that Gov. Jerry Brown will sign his second bill, SB 10, which is currently making its way through the Legislature. It would allow the state’s undocumented adults to buy unsubsidized health insurance on Covered California, the online marketplace set up under ACA, with their own money. More than 2 million people currently have no access to health care, Lara said.

California has sought a federal waiver to allow its undocumented population to purchase health insurance on the marketplace.

“We hope we get the waiver before the administration in Washington changes,” Lara said, suggesting that the next U.S. president might either dismantle ACA or make drastic changes to it.

Teresa Lopez with her U.S.-born child, said she hopes to enroll her Mexico-born daughter, age 15, into the new Health For All Kids Program.  (Photo courtesy Jesse Melgar)

Teresa Lopez with her U.S.-born child, said she hopes to enroll her Mexico-born daughter, age 15, into the new Health For All Kids Program. (Photo courtesy Jesse Melgar)

Medi-Cal Provider Shortage
In the wake of the new Health For All Kids program, Lara was asked how the state could cope with the large influx of new Medi-Cal enrollees when there is already a shortage of doctors and dentists in the Medi-Cal network.

He said that said he hopes lawmakers would make the program more attractive to health care providers by increasing reimbursement rates, currently among the lowest in the nation.

“We are going to keep pushing for this,” Lara said.

Longtime Bell Gardens Activist Remembered

May 12, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Holding back tears, for a brief moment Mayor Jennifer Rodriguez found it difficult to muster the words to adequately honor a local man who had spent years of his life as an activist and volunteer in Bell Gardens.

“Ron Hoyt was an honorable man,” said Rodriguez, a tissue in her hand. “He was a man that was very involved with our community and who did what he thought was right,” she said during the City Council meeting Monday.

William “Ron” Hoyt died April 29 in his Bell Gardens home after a long battle with lymphoma. He was 89.

Lea este artículo en Español: Bell Gardens Recuerda a Activista, Comisionado

He was remembered at the same meeting where his widow Sally Hoyt was recognized as the Bell Gardens’ Older American of the Year. Sally, like her husband, is a longtime city activist and volunteer.

“Ron loved the city of Bell Gardens and he wanted the best for it,” said Sally about her late husband.

“He was the greatest man on earth. He was genuine,” she told the people gathered at City Hall.

Mr. Hoyt was born on March 17, 1927 in Kansas City, Missouri. He attended high school in Wichita, Kansas and earned a Bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Wichita. In 1950, he moved to California and obtained an Associate Arts degree in chemistry from El Camino College.

Sally Hoyt (center) accepts posthumous recognition from Bell Gardens City Council for her late husband Ron during Monday’s meeting. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Sally Hoyt (center) accepts posthumous recognition from Bell Gardens City Council for her late husband Ron during Monday’s meeting. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Mr. Hoyt worked in the metal finishing industry for 47 years as a chemist, production manager, vice president of production, process design engineer and following his retirement as a consultant.

The Hoyts met in nearby Commerce while working at a metal finishing facility that specialized in the aerospace industry.

“He was my boss,” Mrs. Hoyt told EGP, a coy smile crossing her lips. They were married for 55 years.

The couple was very involved in their local community. Together they attended nearly every council meeting since the early 1970s. They worked on many political campaigns, were members of the Friends of the Library and belonged to three senior clubs.

“They were inseparable,” reflected longtime friend Rosie Vasquez, a former Montebello councilwoman and Bell Gardens employee. “They were both dedicated to the city.”

The late Mr. Hoyt served 12 years as chairman of the Bell Gardens Planning Commission. According to City Planner Carmen Morales he took his role very seriously.

“He did not want the commission to be perceived as a rubber stamp,” Morales explained. “He would read every line, looked at every dimension, caught misprints and had plenty of questions,” Morales recalled.

As a planning commissioner, Mr. Hoyt played a role in many of the major developments that have since financially benefited the city, including the Los Jardines Shopping Center, The Bicycle Casino and Hotel and the Village Square shopping center.

He was not a member of the city council, but his contributions on the planning commission helped keep the city financially stable, Vasquez said.

Ron Hoyt, left, died in his Bell Gardens home April 29. (Courtesy of Sally Hoyt)

Ron Hoyt, left, died in his Bell Gardens home April 29. (Courtesy of Sally Hoyt)

“He wanted Bell Gardens to be a better place because it was our home,” recalled his wife.

“He was a very quiet sincere intelligent man who cared about people, about his city and was willing to work for it to make it a better place,” added longtime friend Eddie Vasquez.

In 2014, the Hoyts were the inspiration behind legislation introduced by Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia: Assembly Bill 1596 required all vote-by-mail applications, when completed, to be mailed directly to the county registrar’s office and not to middlemen or political campaign organizations. AB 1596 became law in 2015.

A celebration of life is still in the planning stage, according to his wife, who explained her late husband chose to donate his body to science.

“That’s the type of person he was,” she said. “Even in his death he thought about other people.”

Ron Hoyt is survived by his wife, 7 children, 32 grandchildren, 38 great-grandchildren and 5 great-great grandchildren.

“He will be a great loss to our community,” said Rodriguez. “He did a lot for our community, but all of us who knew him, knew him for the person he was not for what he accomplished.”

Special Needs Youth ‘STAR’ In Bell Gardens

April 21, 2016 by · 1 Comment 

In a wheelchair, only able to control his eyes, mouth, and fingers, Ruben Martinez felt alone and misunderstood for most of his life. In desperation, he would day after day lock himself in his bedroom.

“You cant give up, you have to move forward,” Ruben’s mother Antonia Perez would tell her son.

Lea este artículo en Español: Jóvenes con Necesidades Especiales Conviven en Bell Gardens

Now 32-years-old, Ruben has come out of his shell, Perez says proudly, crediting a Bell Gardens program she helped create for his turn-around.

He used to be so shy and embarrassed he could not even order a meal at McDonalds, now he is working on his master’s degree, she told EGP Friday.

Sandra Leyva, right, coordinator for the Special Time for Adaptive Recreation (STAR) program, enjoys a game of bingo with STAR participants at the Bell Gardens Veterans Park Senior Center. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Sandra Leyva, right, coordinator for the Special Time for Adaptive Recreation (STAR) program, enjoys a game of bingo with STAR participants at the Bell Gardens Veterans Park Senior Center. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Perez said she did not want her son’s muscular dystrophy to define him, recalling how she made it a point to try and instill in him that he was not less than anyone else just because he suffered from a muscle disease that hindered his movement and weakened his musculoskeletal system.

But he needed more, she said.

The city offered recreational youth programs like soccer and football, but none specifically catered to children with special needs, the Bell Gardens residents said.

“It was like nobody cared about our children,” Perez said in Spanish, telling EGP that’s when she started advocating for Bell Gardens’ special needs community, eventually convincing the city council to support creation of a program for children with disabilities.

It’s been 20 years and the Special Time for Adaptive Recreation (STAR) program is still serving special needs children, teen and adults by giving them a place where they can take part in activities in an environment that encourages acceptance.

“Their condition shouldn’t matter, everyone should just see them as people,” Perez told EGP Friday during the group’s weekly program.

Participants of the Special Time for Adaptive Recreation (STAR) program meet every Friday at 4:30p.m. at the Bell Gardens Veterans Park Senior Center. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Participants of the Special Time for Adaptive Recreation (STAR) program meet every Friday at 4:30p.m. at the Bell Gardens Veterans Park Senior Center. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

STAR is handled like any other program offered by the city’s recreation department, explains Program Coordinator Sandra Leyva. The city uses the same staff that works on other park programs, but while no special training is required, everyone working with STAR is handpicked, according to Leyva.

There are currently about 17 or so special needs youth in the program, ranging from 9- to 32-year of age; Ruben is the oldest participant.

“It’s a unique program because it gives participants space to be themselves, they make friends and they learn to interact and socialize,” says Leyva.

“It has also serves as a support group for parents and participants,” she added.

Ruben witnessed that first hand, watching his mother take advantage of the opportunity to relax and unwind while he learned to relate to others and improve his self esteem.

“I feel like a mentor now,” Ruben told EGP, lightly holding the knob that controls his power wheelchair. “I feel like an inspiration for the younger kids to look up to.”

Like Ruben, 21-year-old Juan Torres also suffers from muscular dystrophy and by age 10 could no longer walk.

“I learned I’m not the only one with this condition,” said Juan as he looks around at the friends he has made since joining STAR. “I thought that for a very long time,” he said Friday, no longer believing his life revolves around his condition.

Last Friday, his focus was on playing Bingo. Sitting next to him was 12-year-old Antonio Franco, paying close attention to the numbers on the card in front of him.

“Bingo!” Antonio suddenly yelled excitedly.

Josefina Blancas, left, and her husband Epifanio Sanchez take their son Fredy Sanchez, center, to the STAR program offered in Bell Gardens. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez )

Josefina Blancas, left, and her husband Epifanio Sanchez take their son Fredy Sanchez, center, to the STAR program offered in Bell Gardens. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez )

“I love coming here,” he said, I’ve been coming since I was a little 1-year-old,” Antonio said as he put on the red Chivas hat he claimed as his prize.

“I made friends … I like this place … I like the people!”

Sitting next to her son, making sure he did not miss a number, Antonio’s mother Maria Mireles said the STAR program has helped her deal with raising a son with cerebral palsy, a permanent movement disorders that causes difficulty with sensation, vision, hearing, swallowing and speaking.

“Our children come together while we parents come to share” our experience, she said in Spanish, explaining the dual benefits of the program.

Nearby, some of the parents huddled together to give each other support and advice on raising a child with challenges other children may not have.

“We laugh, we cry, it’s like therapy because we’re all in the same boat,” says Angelica Cardenas, whose son has spinal bifida, a birth defect that prevents the child’s spinal cord from developing properly.

“The truth is we don’t know anything when we become mothers, but we have learned from each other,” she said.

Cardenas said she learned about the STAR program when her son was only a couple of months old and in the hospital. She recalled seeing a young girl with special needs who looked lonely and sad, and telling herself she never wanted her son to feel that way.

“Even though he was still very young, I wanted to learn from the moms and I wanted my son to be around children with different levels so he could see he can be different surrounded by others.”

Even though Fredy Sanchez was born with Down syndrome, a genetic disorder that causes developmental and intellectual delays, his mother Josefina Blancas and her husband Epifanio Sanchez treated him like any other boy growing up.

“He plays basketball in Montebello, baseball in Downey and dances in Plaza Mexico,” his proud mother boasted as Fredy, 25, colored nearby.

The mothers help guide each other through the school system, ensuring their children receive the services they deserve. They share their experiences with programs like Make-a-Wish and The Starlight Foundation that provide special experiences for chronically ill children.

Most importantly, the group has become a second family.

“Our kids learn to love themselves, there is no discrimination, no bullying,” Cardenas said.

“There is a friendship, they invite each other to birthdays and learn to miss each other.”

The mother of a son with severe autism, who is non-verbal, told EGP he somehow knows Friday is a special day.

“As soon he sees us driving past a particular street, he gets emotional and excited,” she confided.

Some kids may at first feel out of their element, not knowing anyone, but that changes and most find STAR has had a lasting impact on their lives.

To outsiders, 15-year-old Jason Cruz looks like a typical teen, wearing punk rock t-shirt and a vest covered in pins and patches. Before joining STAR, Jason’s autism kept him from interacting with people. Now he plays upright bass and is in a psychobilly band.

“I got to meet new people,” Jason said Friday. “[STAR] helped me be the person I am today.”
Jocelyn Camacho also has autism. During a special Christmas program last year, dressed as Mrs. Claus and singing a song she wrote herself, the 14-year-old perfectly summed up why everyone likes the “very special program with very nice people.”

“They love me… they see I’m beautiful inside and out,” sang Camacho. “And I don’t even wear makeup.”

The STAR program meets every Friday from 4:30-6:30p.m at Bell Gardens Veterans Park. For more information, call (562) 334-1779.

Mentally Disabled Man Located

April 14, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

A mentally disabled 18-year-old man was located safe after he went missing while on a school field trip in Bell Gardens today.

Victor Delgado had last been seen about 11:25 a.m. in a shopping center at 5800 E. Florence Ave. that includes a Ross Dress for Less store, according to Bell Gardens police.

Someone who saw news reports about the case spotted Delgado in Hawaiian Gardens and called sheriff’s deputies, police said.

It’s unclear how he made his way to Hawaiian Gardens.

Jury Reaches Mixed Verdict in Bell Gardens ‘Wife Kidnap’ Case

March 4, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

A Bell Gardens man who was accused of abducting his former live-in girlfriend’s teenage daughter in Santa Ana and sexually assaulting her over 10 years, ultimately impregnating her, was acquitted Friday of kidnapping but convicted of committing lewd acts on a child.

The Fullerton jury deadlocked 9-3 in favor of guilt on a rape charge against Isidro Medrano Garcia, 42, prompting prosecutors to drop that count.

Medrano will be sentenced April 15.

Garcia’s alleged victim, then 15, was reported missing in August 2004 by her mother, who suspected Garcia, her one-time live-in boyfriend, of abducting her daughter.

The mother also suspected at that time that Garcia had been sexually abusing the teen for about two months, according to police investigators.

Garcia met the girl in February 2004 and would buy her gifts and take her side when the teen quarreled with her mother, according to prosecutors.

Garcia is accused of molesting and kissing the girl between June and August 2004. He sexually assaulted the girl three different times and raped her once, prosecutors allege.

Garcia is accused of forcing his captive into marriage in 2007 and had a child with her in 2012.

His attorney contended that the girl had multiple chances to leave the defendant over the course of 10 years and go to authorities, but failed to do so.

The girl contacted her sister through Facebook on her birthday in April 2014, marking the first time her family had heard from her in years. A domestic dispute involving her and Garcia in Bell Gardens led to the suspect’s arrest, police said.

During the trial last month, Orange County Superior Court Judge Michael Leversen refused to grant the prosecution’s request to have former kidnapping victim Elizabeth Smart-Gilmour testify as an expert witness.

Senior Deputy District Attorney Whitney Bokosky argued that Smart’s abduction in Utah bore similarities to the alleged kidnapping in Garcia’s case. He argued that in both cases, the victims did not take advantage of multiple opportunities to escape their captors because of threats.

Defense attorney Seth Bank argued that Smart’s fear of the consequences of escaping were far more considerable. Smart testified that her abductors consistently threatened to kill her and her family if she tried to get away.

Smart’s story became the subject of a made-for-TV movie and she co-wrote a best-selling book about her experiences.

Smart said her experience was much like the alleged victim in Garcia’s case.

“She was being manipulated and held hostage by verbal chains as opposed to physical chains,” Smart testified out of the presence of the jury.

The threat of deportation and then later the fear of losing custody of her child were the prime discouragement from seeking escape, Smart testified.

Gateway Cities Want ‘Much Needed’ Light Rail

February 25, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Even though there is no station in Bell Gardens currently proposed for a light rail project that would connect riders from Downtown Los Angeles to Artesia, Mayor Pro Tem Pedro Aceituno recognizes the impact access to regional transit would have for a community that has far too long been isolated from the rest of the county.

His words came last week during a legislative briefing in Paramount where elected officials from across the southeast region pushed for funding a light rail project proposed by Eco-Rapid Transit, a joint powers authority made up of twelve cities and the Bob Hope Airport Authority.

“It is going to open doors,” Aceituno noted, pointing out the economic opportunities for his constituents. “This gives folks an opportunity to apply for jobs further away,” that otherwise they could not reach, he said.
Eco-Rapid’s rail system would run from Union Station to Artesia with stops in Vernon, Huntington Park, Bell, South Gate, Downey, Paramount and Bellflower.

“The current [transit] system has for far too long avoided the southeast,” said Assembly Speaker-Elect Anthony Rendon, whose 63rd district includes many southeast cities.

“The region is desperately in need of a rail service,” Rendon urged.

The communities along the proposed rail route are some of the densest areas in the region and would benefit greatly from the rail line being built, said representatives from the area one after the other.

Edgar Cisneros, who serves as a board member for the Montebello Unified School Board and as city manager for the city of Huntington Park, told EGP even the cities without a station within its borders would benefit. MUSD has schools in the cities of Bell Gardens, Commerce, East Los Angeles, Montebello, Monterey Park and Pico Rivera.

“Many kids aren’t walking to school, they have to rely on school buses,” he said. Regional transit is a “convenient and cheap way that allow parents to ride with their children.”

The southeast has not seen any new transit projects since 1995 when the Green Line opened. After decades on the shelf, Sen. Tony Mendoza said it’s time to make the rail project a reality.

“For many, the bus is the only means of transportation and this project will help families travel to the rest of the county,” Mendoza told EGP.

The proposed rail project would run from Union Station to the city of Artesia. (Eco Rapid Transit)

The proposed rail project would run from Union Station to the city of Artesia. (Eco Rapid Transit)

A recent Metro study found the proposed project would connect 4 million residents to regional transportation and have an estimated daily ridership of up to 80,000 people – more than any current or proposed light rail line in the Los Angeles area. If built, the Eco-Rapid rail project could create thousands of jobs for a region where the unemployment rate is a high as 16 percent in some areas, supporters said.

“The project will create economic development opportunities in and around each station,” Mendoza emphasized.
Diane Dubois, Director of Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) and councilwoman for the city of Lakewood, however, noted that finding funding could be a problem. With a price tag of $4 billion, it will take a lot more than the $240 million the agency has secured in Measure R funds.

Extending the voter-approved Measure R half-cent sales tax and new sales taxes is key to funding the project, said Metro CEO Phillip A. Washington. Gov. Brown recently approved a bill allowing Metro to ask voters for a tax increase, which could generate as much as a $120 billion.

On Thursday Metro approved $18 million of Measure R funding for the pre-development and planning of the light rail line.

“This investment of resources brings us closer to ensuring that the necessary funds are available to develop and build the light rail to completion,” Mendoza said in statement.

Mass transit projects ease the number of cars on the road, reducing the amount of road maintenance required over the years, pointed out Sen. James T. Bell, who serves as chair of the California State Senate Committee on Transportation and Housing. He told local elected officials to consider what the direct impact would be to each of the municipality’s general fund.

The longer Los Angeles County residents wait to address mass transit projects, the higher the cost will be, Bell said. “If we don’t act it doesn’t keep things the same, it makes it worse,” he said.

Mendoza asked the city leaders to begin educating their constituents on the need to pass a transit tax.
Using the Gold Line Extension as an example, Rendon described how the rail system helped connect eastside communities along the route to downtown.

As proposed, the southeast rail project would use the abandoned West Santa Ana Branch right-of-way. The goal is to complete the project by 2027, with subsequent links to Santa Clarita and possibly the High Speed Rail lines in Norwalk.

“This project will dramatically change mobility for an area that has waited for decades,” said Dubois.

Update: Feb. 26 11:40 a.m. included new funding approved by Metro; statement from Sen. Tony Mendoza.

Bell Gardens Shooting Victim ID’d

February 18, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Authorities Monday released the name of a man shot to death on a street in Bell Gardens.
He was 39-year-old Ivan Covarrubias, according to the coroner’s office.

The shooting in the 6300 block of Specht Avenue took place about 12:05 a.m. Tuesday, said sheriff’s Deputy Tony Moore.

The victim now identified as Covarrubias was transported to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead, Moore added.

A motive for the killing was unknown. The sheriff’s department was assisting the Bell Gardens police in the investigation, Moore said.

Man Fatally Shot in Bell Gardens

February 9, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

A man was shot to death on a street in Bell Gardens this morning, authorities said.

The shooting in the 6300 block of Specht Avenue took place about 12:05 a.m. Tuesday, said sheriff’s Deputy Tony Moore.

The victim was transported to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead, Moore added. His name was withheld pending the notification of next of kin.

A motive for this killing was unknown. The sheriff’s department was assisting the Bell Gardens police in the investigation, Moore said.

The shooter remained at large. No suspect information was immediately available.

Anyone with information on this homicide was asked to call the sheriff’s homicide bureau at (323) 890-5500. All tips can be submitted anonymously.

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