Bell Gardens Expected to Cancel City Council Election

August 13, 2015 by · 1 Comment 

For the first time in decades, a city known for its tough political rivalries may cancel its upcoming city council election because no one has filed to run against the two incumbents up for reelection.

On Monday, the city clerk’s office announced Mayor Jennifer Rodriguez and Mayor Pro Tem Pedro Aceituno were the only two candidates to turn in paperwork before the nomination period closed Friday, Aug. 7.

It’s a surprising turn of events considering Rodriguez, and Aceituno to a lesser extent, have in recent years been involved in some of the city’s most volatile elections. The difference this year could be the absence of former Mayor Daniel Crespo, who until shortly before his shooting death last year, was a vocal and often aggressive opponent of the two incumbents.

“In past elections there are usually no shortage of challengers, but I can only assume that residents are pleased with the job their representatives are doing on the city council,” said City Manager Phil Wagner.

Under the city’s election code, if there are no more candidates than offices to be elected, in this case two city council seats, the city council at its discretion can appoint those who turned in their required paperwork before the deadline and cancel the election. The city council also has available to it the option to appoint an eligible voter in the city to the seat, or still hold an election.

“Given that we have two qualified nominations the city council will most likely choose option one and not hold an election,” said new City Clerk Kristina Santana.

Canceling the election will save Bell Gardens $90,000, the amount it would have paid the County for election services, Santana said.

As long time members of the council, Rodriguez and Aceituno are expected to be appointed to new four-year terms when the council meets to consider the issue at City Hall, Wednesday, Aug. 19 at 5 p.m.

Rodriguez and Aceituno will serve exactly as if elected during an election, according to the City Clerk’s office.

Rodriguez has served on the council since 2003. She works as a social worker and director of admissions at a local healthcare facility. Aceituno was first elected in 1999 and was one of the youngest elected officials to serve as Mayor in Los Angeles County.

Bell Gardens All-Stars: They’re Girls

July 16, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

Across the country this week, baseball fans were focused on Major League Baseball’s All Star Game played Tuesday and the L.A. (of Anaheim) Angel’s Mike Trout’s second consecutive game MVP, but in working class and mostly immigrant Bell Gardens, passion for the national pastime is focused on a preteen girls’ softball team on the cusp of making local history.

Lea este artículo en Español: All Stars de Bell Gardens: Son Niñas

The Bell Gardens All-Stars will head to San Diego this weekend to compete in a regional softball tournament, marking the first time a city-based fast pitch traveling team competes at this level of competition, according to the team’s founder and coach, Alberto Lucero.

Placing second in the LA/South Bay district and fifth in the State qualified Bell Gardens’ 10 and under softball team to compete in the California State Games tournament, a competition that draws highly competitive teams from as far away as Nevada.

The Bell Gardens All Star 10U Fastpitch Softball Team pose for a photo with their coaches after placing second in LA/South Bay district competition. (Courtesy of Alberto Lucero)

The Bell Gardens All Star 10U Fastpitch Softball Team pose for a photo with their coaches after placing second in LA/South Bay district competition. (Courtesy of Alberto Lucero)

According to Lucero, he started the league three years ago to give young Bell Gardens softball players like his daughters, twins Samantha and Tabatha, the chance to represent their city in a more competitive atmosphere.

“We’re trying to keep the talent here in Bell Gardens,” explained Lucero. The team practices at Veterans and Ford parks.

“There has never been a team from the city that has won State or placed in the district, we’ve done both.”

At practice Monday, the girls were focused on the tough competition they will face on and off the field in San Diego.

We’re the “underdogs,” remarked some of the parents, noting the team will face players from more affluent communities who not only don’t look like them, but also will have top-of-the-line equipment and be decked out head-to-toe in the latest sports gear.

The Bell Gardens girls on the other hand like to personalize their gray and burgundy uniforms – a homage to Bell Gardens High School – with different shoes, bags and helmets.

And when it comes down to it, the team says they’ll let their skills on the field do their talking.

“Other teams see us as the underdogs but after the first inning, they wake up,” Sonia Guerra, the mother of one of the players proudly told EGP.

“It’s been game after game, practice after practice, but we’re really excited and proud of our girls,” said Angie Lucero, the mother of two players on the team.

Ten-year old Gianna Gachupin plays second base told EGP she will step up her play this weekend.

“I’ve always been good at softball,” she said beaming with confidence.

“Our team is good! I like our spirit and we always cheer each other on,” echoed 11-year-old teammate Araceli Trout.

There are 14 players on the All-Stars team, which is part of the Bell Gardens Softball League, an amateur softball association separate from the city’s parks and recreation program. League rules dictate that players must be 10 or under when the season starts; some of the players have since had birthdays and are now eleven-years-old.

Competitive sports can be expensive, particularly in the world of traveling teams, which tend to have the most talent, and often train and play year-round.

It’s especially true for new teams like the Bell Gardens All Stars, which has yet to attract sponsors in spite of their winning streak.

“It’s Bell Gardens, unfortunately our parents don’t have that kind of money,” explained Lucero.

Most parents aren’t even sure how much they spend each season to pay for bats, bags, helmets, uniforms, socks, and cleats, but they know expenses can reach into the thousands of dollars when tournament entry fees, gas, food and hotels are calculated into the cost.

“What’s helped is the fundraising we do,” said Guerra. “If it weren’t for that it would be tough for all the parents.”

Parents said they are constantly in fundraising mode. They’ve raised money through casino trips, raffles, car washes and by selling candy. Otherwise, they said, the cost would be a deal breaker for most parents in the city.

Bell Gardens All-Stars player Natalie Bracken, pictured left, gets ready to swing during batting practice Monday. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Bell Gardens All-Stars player Natalie Bracken, pictured left, gets ready to swing during batting practice Monday. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

They told EGP they are vigilant about looking for deals, which may mean their players use second-hand gear rather than the latest and most expensive equipment.

Bats, for example, can range from $200 to $450, said Anabel Mendez, who explained she can only afford to buy her daughter one item at a time.

“We just bought her a bat, next time we’ll buy her something else.”

So far, the team has each season raised enough money to pay the $500 it costs to compete in each tournament they play. The All-Star’s winning record has qualified the team for more tournaments and while that’s a good thing, the longer season has lead to more expenses than parents anticipated.

Still they push on, motivated by the determination and the love the girls have for the sport. “I’ve always wanted to play softball and I hope I one day get to play for UCLA,” said ten-year old outfielder Natalie Carbajal.

Priscilla Escalera, 11, dreams of making it big and one day playing softball at the Olympics.

“Sometimes practicing 6 days a week is hard, but … I want to be like [U.S. Olympian and world record-holder pitcher] Monica Abbott,” Escalera said excitedly.

It takes sacrifice, said one of the player’s mother, explaining how players have skipped out on their own parties to make it to a game.

Players say they are like a family.

“… I love knowing I have 13 other sisters,” said Natalie Bracken.

The three-day tournament in San Diego begins Friday. Money is tight and the team is hoping for more donations from the community to help offset the cost. Either way, they’re ready to play.

“We clawed our way up,” Lucero said. “Getting this far speaks to their dedication and the work they’ve put in.”


Twitter @nancyreporting

Bell Gardens Barricade Ends In Arrest

July 9, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

An alleged gang member wanted for attempted murder in a shooting that left two people in Bell Gardens wounded last week was arrested Monday following a five-hour long standoff with police.

Jose Navarro, 31, was set to appear in court Wednesday for arraignment facing a total of four felony charges. He is being charged with two counts of attempted murder, one count for shooting from a motored vehicle and one count for possession of a firearm by a previously convicted felon, according to the Los Angeles County District’s Attorney’s office. It is not clear if Navarro will face additional charges in relation to the barricade.

Lea este artículo en Español: Hombre Atrincherado en Bell Gardens es Arrestado

At about 4 a.m. Monday, Bell Gardens police were serving an arrest warrant on Navarro when he barricaded himself in his home on the 6000 block of Live Oak Avenue, according to Bell Gardens Police Sgt. Dennis Timmons. When the suspect refused to exit the home, the County Sheriff Department’s Special Enforcement Bureau (SEB) — often referred to as SWAT — was called in, said Timmons. Several people in the home at the time exited, but a child who was possibly related to the suspect remained inside, according to police.

Bell Gardens Police closed off streets near the 6000 block of Live Oak Avenue where a previously convicted felon barricaded himself.  (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Bell Gardens Police closed off streets near the 6000 block of Live Oak Avenue where a previously convicted felon barricaded himself. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)


A neighbor said she woke to the sound of a helicopter circling overhead and a loud voice ordering Navarro to surrender.

“I realized how dangerous the situation was when I saw a large SWAT vehicle parked near my window,” said the woman who asked that her named not be used.

According to police, Navarro allegedly shot and injured two men early in the morning July 1 as they stood on the 5800 block of Quinn Street, not far from where Navarro was barricaded. The two men are in stable condition, police said.

Three hours into the standoff Monday, around 7 a.m., the 11-year-old boy still inside the house with Navarro emerged and was immediately escorted from the scene by SWAT officers. The child had answered a phone call made to the residence before walking to safety, Timmons said.

A little after 9 a.m., SWAT launched tear gas into the home, forcing the suspect to come outside, where he was taken down by K9 dogs, said police. Navarro was taken into custody and treated for injuries sustained from the dog bites, according to Bell Gardens Police Sgt. Paul Camacho.

It was not clear whether weapons were located at the residence following the barricade.

As is often the case in these types of situations, neighbors were shocked by the incident in their neighborhood.

“They seemed like very calm people,” the female neighbor told EGP. “I had never seen anything chaotic on this block.”

But according to other neighbors, there had been rumors of drug activity at the home on Live Oak Street.

Navarro is being held on $2 million bail. His next court date is July 29.


Twitter @nancyreporting

Attempted Murder Suspect In Custody Following SWAT Standoff

July 6, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

An attempted murder suspect who was barricaded for several hours inside his residence in Bell Gardens was taken into custody by a SWAT team, authorities said.

Officers went to the 6000 block of Live Oak Street about 4 a.m. Monday to serve a warrant on Jose Navarro Jr., who was wanted in connection with a shooting last Wednesday that left two people wounded, according to Bell Gardens police Sgt. Dennis Timmons.

Authorities closed off streets and evacuated residents near the 6000 block of Live Oak Avenue in Bell Gardens, where a suspected barricaded himself for hours. (EGP Photo by Nancy Martinez)

Authorities closed off streets and evacuated residents near the 6000 block of Live Oak Avenue in Bell Gardens, where a suspected barricaded himself for hours. (EGP Photo by Nancy Martinez)

The sheriff’s SWAT team was dispatched to help Bell Gardens police after the man refused to come out, Timmons said.

An 11-year-old boy, possibly the man’s brother, was seen leaving the residence about 7 a.m., according to reports from the scene.

About 9:30 a.m., authorities fired tear gas into the residence and Navarro, 31, was taken into custody with the assistance of a police dog and was treated for dog bites,  Timmons said.

‘No Idling’ Regs Coming to Commerce

June 25, 2015 by · 4 Comments 

Diesel burning trucks idling for long periods is a problem in the City of Commerce. On Tuesday, city officials, residents and local environmental groups unveiled the city’s latest effort to try to curtail the practice: 20 new “No Idling” signs to be installed in areas where truck drivers tend to stop off for a while but keep their engines running.

The new signs were created in partnership with East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice, the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) and the California Environmental Protection Agency, (CalEPA) and  meet the new regulations set by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) regarding the idling of commercial vehicles.

The new regulations require “No Idling” signs to be placed at locations where significant numbers of idling trucks have been found.

“We established a policy that protects climate change and to inform mobile sources—trucks, cars, ships, railroads—because they are the primary source of air pollution in south coast basins,” CARB Board Member Judy Mitchell told EGP.

A group of community activists and elected officials unveil the ‘No Idling’ signs that will be placed around Commerce. (EGP photo by Jaqueline Garcia)

A group of community activists and elected officials unveil the ‘No Idling’ signs that will be placed around Commerce. (EGP photo by Jaqueline Garcia)

In 2013, East Yards and their student led group at Bell Gardens High School, Youth in Action, conducted a study to determine how many trucks are on Commerce streets on any given day. “Truck Truthing” study volunteers biked and walked the city’s major corridors of Atlantic, Washington and Slauson Boulevards, and counted the number of trucks on the road.

“We chose those locations because they are closest to the 710 or 5 freeways, and very close to residential areas, homes or churches,” Hugo Lujan of East Yards told EGP.

Noel Pimentel, 14, is a Youth in Action member. He told EGP that volunteers would stand on corners every day for an hour, using a clicker to count how many trucks go by.

“In an hour, close to 1,000 trucks came by,” he said, adding that volunteers wanted to stay longer but couldn’t “because we would start having headaches from all the fumes.”

The study found that approximately 47,000 diesel trucks travel the 710 freeway daily, exposing Commerce residents and workers to large amounts of diesel, increasing their risk of cancer, asthma and other respiratory illnesses.

Pimentel said one day he approached a truck driver and asked him why he left his engine running. “Because I don’t want the engine to burn out, because it takes forever to turn on,” he responded.

The results of the Truck Truthing exercise were turned over to the city to help inform officials about the importance of placing “No Idle” signs along heavy traffic corridors, the study states.

Commerce has started an outreach campaign to inform truck drivers about the new “No Idling” signage and policy, including enforcement. “The city has been working with local businesses to distribute letters explaining the new policy” before the signs go up, said public works Director Maryam Babaki.

She said the city will not begin enforcing the ordinance until businesses and drivers have had a “sufficient amount of time” to become familiar with the signs and policy chance. Enforcement could include fines, she said.

This new regulations apply to diesel-fueled commercial vehicles weighing more than 10,000 pounds operating in California, regardless of where they are registered. School buses are prohibited from idling within 100 feet of a school, and drivers may not start engines more than 30 seconds before they start driving.

Mayor Lilia Leon told EGP that the change is a work in progress. “Trucks will have to get used to the signs and what we are trying to do is improve the quality of air in the city of Commerce,” she said.

Twitter @jackieguzman

Suspects In Street Vendor Murder In Custody

June 25, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

 Two suspects were in custody Tuesday in connection with the shooting death of a vendor at a makeshift food stand in the South Park section of South Los Angeles.

Police declined to provide details of the arrests or the names of the suspects. Los Angeles police Officer Norma Eisenman said the suspects have not yet been booked.

According to police and the coroner’s office, 30-year-old Alvaro Mata-Rizo of Bell Gardens was approached by several suspects around 11 p.m. Friday at the intersection of East 51st Street and McKinley Avenue, and one of them fired a single shot.

Investigators believe robbery may have been the motive behind the shooting.

Mata-Rizo was married with a 2-year-old son, and worked six days a week, sometimes giving free food to people who could not pay, ABC7 reported.

Slain Mayor’s Mother Wins Access to Police Reports

June 25, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

A judge has reversed himself and ruled that an attorney for the mother of slain Bell Gardens Mayor Daniel Crespo — whose wife is accused of shooting him — can have access to the police report he says he needs to get his client’s civil case ready for trial.

Otilia Santos’ attorney, James Devitt, filed court papers 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, Daniel Crespo.

On April 17, Judge Michael Raphael denied Devitt’s motion, noting that the police investigation was still in progress. But Raphael said June 18 that in light of a grand jury indictment of Lyvette Crespo for voluntary manslaughter and her subsequent plea of not guilty, no legal grounds remain for withholding the information.

“This is precisely the sort of new fact or circumstance that warrants reconsideration,” Raphael wrote in his two-page ruling.

Raphael said he is not requiring the BGPD to turn over photos of the decedent. He also said Devitt cannot disseminate the report to the public unless he also obtains a copy from another source.

In court papers filed before Lyvette Crespo’s indictment, lawyers for the BGPD said they would only turn over the records 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.

Devitt said after the hearing that the Bell Gardens report is five pages long. He said he still has not seen the Sheriff’s Department report and may have to make a similar motion to obtain it.

Santos filed suit last Oct. 20, exactly a month after her 45-year-old son was shot. Sheriff’s investigators said Daniel Crespo 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 opened a safe, grabbed a gun and killed her husband “with malice and in cold blood.”

Eber Bayona, the attorney for 43-year-old Lyvette Crespo, contends his client was a longtime victim of domestic violence. Transcripts from the grand jury indictment contend Daniel Crespo had multiple affairs and physically abused his family members for years.

Bayona opposed the release of the Bell Gardens report pending the outcome of his motion to stay the civil case until the criminal proceedings against his client are over. He said his client would not be able to give a deposition in the lawsuit because what she said could be used against her in the criminal case.

Bayona also said in court that Devitt offered to drop the lawsuit if he could obtain the rights from Lyvette Crespo to make a movie about her life.

However, Devitt said he told Bayona that there may be some value in such a film but that he did not offer to drop the suit in exchange for any movie rights.

Bell Gardens ‘Betting’ on Casino’s Hotel

June 11, 2015 by · 2 Comments 

An increase in revenue coming from the opening later this year of a highly anticipated seven-story, 100-room hotel at The Bicycle Casino, could just be the winning hand Bell Gardens needs to keep its budget on the plus side.

On Monday, the city council approved a $27.9 million budget that includes a $211,000 surplus, most of which can be attributed to tax revenue the city receives from the Casino.

Lea este artículo en Español: Bell Gardens ‘Apuesta’ al Hotel del Casino

The Bicycle Casino is a  “major revenue source” for the city, says Finance Director Will Kaholokula.

He said Bell Gardens receives a percentage of the Casino’s take from table games and poker tournaments, which should come to just over $11 million for the 2015-16 Fiscal Year; $1 million more than last year.

The higher revenues in the new budget are based on the “Casino’s strong performance in the 2014-2015 fiscal year and the anticipated completion of the casino’s hotel,” Kaholokula said.

A $47 million hotel expected to generate millions in revenue, is currently under construction at The Bicycle Casino in Bell Gardens.  (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

A $47 million hotel expected to generate millions in revenue, is currently under construction at The Bicycle Casino in Bell Gardens. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

While the city has for years depended heavily on revenue from the Casino to fund city services like police, parks, and street maintenance, that reliance has been decreasing steadily in recent years, dropping to 40% today compared to 50% in years past.

Bell Gardens Chamber of Commerce Director Mike Salazar, however, told EGP he still thinks the city is “depending on the casino way too much.” He is worried a period of poor performance could put the city’s finances at risk, as it has in the past.

His concern is not with the new hotel’s financial viability, because he does believe it will do well, Salazar clarified  Thursday. He just thinks the city could improve how it supports other Bell Gardens businesses to make them more successful.

Hotel revenues peaked at $13 million in 2008 before bottoming out in 2012, dropping to $9 million during the widespread economic downturn. As a result, the city’s finances also hit rock bottom, forcing Bell Gardens to cut back on services and froze staff positions to deal with its more than $1 million deficit.

City Manager Phil Wagner told EGP he’s not worried about the Casino hotel failing. He said the city’s estimated revenue from the hotel is on the “conservative side.”

Even with construction going on, “people have continued to make their way to the Casino,” Wagner pointed out. Casino revenues are still increasing, he said.

“We can only expect positive results from the hotel.”

The $45 million privately-funded hotel, which will open its doors in the fall, is expected to generate $160,000 of the city’s $470,000 in “Other Revenues.” The money will come from a Transient Occupancy, or bed tax.

Adding in the bed tax puts revenue from the Casino back over 40%, says the Chambers’ Salazar, and to him that’s a concern.

But Wagner defends the city’s reliance on Casino revenue. Bell Gardens is not like its neighbors, he said.

“Other cities have various manufacturers, car dealerships and other sources of revenue, our major source happens to be a casino,” he said.

Salazar says he would like to see the city diversify its general fund revenues and do more to help local small businesses be more successful.

Bell Gardens’ community development director, Abel Avalos, thinks the city is making progress in that direction. He told EGP that 55 new businesses have opened in Bell Gardens this year alone, bringing new revenue with them to the southeast city.

Wagner points out that while their contributions to city coffers might not be as large as the Casino’s, local retailers Toys R Us, Marshall’s and Ross are among “the highest producing [stores] in their chain.”

The city has been renovating shopping centers located near the Bicycle Casino. There are rumors that restaurants and eateries such as Dunkin Donuts will be opening soon in those areas.

Wagner points out that there are no big vacant lots in the 2.4 square mile city. “We’re built out, we don’t have space,” he said. “The only thing we can do is look at what we have and how can we improve them.”

Wagner is confident that the hotel will be an attractive addition to people who normally play at the Casino. He said the city is making the area surrounding the Casino more attractive in hopes of getting Casino guests to spend their dollars or winnings within the city.

The hotel will add 230,000 square-feet to the Casino footprint, creating a resort-like venue conveniently located near the 710 Freeway. Once complete, it will be one of only a few luxury hotel and casino resorts in the southeast area.

The Bicycle Casino remains the city’s largest employer, and the hotel project has added 300 construction jobs and will create 250 full-time, hotel-related jobs when it opens. That’s good news in a city where the unemployment rate stands at 8.2%, two to three points higher than the unemployment rate for all of Los Angeles County.

During the recession, the city’s unemployment rate climbed to nearly 20%.

Overall, revenues in the city are up $2.3 million over last year, but the increase is offset by $2.4 million more in anticipated expenditures, most of which can be attributed to a rise in employee-related costs for CALPERS contributions, salaries, health insurance and liability insurance.

$200,000 will be added to the city’s $2.3 million reserve or “rainy day” fund, money set aside to pay for unexpected expenses like a water main break, Wagner said.

As in years past, the city-owned water utility continues to run a deficit, with fees falling below the actual cost of operating and maintaining the aging water system. The city has not raised customer’s water rates since 1994, and the city council has been reluctant to either increase rates or sell off the city’s water rights as recommended by city staff.

“Some decisions we have brought before the council in the past will have to be addressed soon,” Wagner told the council, referring to the utility’s estimated $1 million dollar deficit.

Public Works Director Chau L Vu said the city has nearly $5 million in proposed capital improvement projects next year. Projects include floor replacements at gyms, roof replacements, citywide traffic safety enhancements and illuminated street signs.

Grants and bonds and other monies not from the general fund will pay for the projects.

“I remember thinking it can only get so bad before it can get better,” said Councilwoman Priscilla Flores. “Now that we’re moving in the right direction I would like to see some things come back,” she said, referring to services and festivals cut during the lean years.

“We are slowly emerging from the recession but we need to be cautiously optimistic because it will take some time before we see the same level of tax revenues that were generated in the past,” Wagner responded. “We’ve achieved some short-term fiscal stability, but we need to remain frugal.”

Twitter @nancyreporting

[Update 3:02 p.m.] Adds information to clarify Bell Gardens Chamber Executive Director Mike Salazar’s statement on Bicycle Casino Hotel.

Bell Gardens Parents ‘Focus Lens’ on Child Nutrition

May 28, 2015 by · 2 Comments 

For years, pan dulce and milk was breakfast in Areli Lopez’s home, but now the Bell Gardens mother makes sure to fill her daughters’ plates with fruits and vegetables.

Lopez said she made the change after learning about the high obesity rate among children, some as young as her daughters.

According to data from the 2010 California Department of Education Physical Fitness Testing report, nearly 36% of the children in Bell Gardens are obese. A 2011 analysis by the Los Angeles Times ranked Bell Gardens number one in Los Angeles County for childhood obesity.

Lopez says parents are to blame for the health crisis.

Areli Lopez talks to her 5-year old daughter about eating fruits and vegetables.  (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Areli Lopez talks to her 5-year old daughter about eating fruits and vegetables. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

“Sometimes parents don’t know how to provide proper nutrition to their children,” says Lopez, admitting she too has been guilty of making bad food choices.

“I always thought I was giving my girls decent food but I didn’t know how bad I was feeding them” until I started to get more information, she said in Spanish.

Lopez says too many mothers will give their children sugary or fatty foods to try and quiet them down when they act up, reinforcing bad behavior.

Others, she said, “think they don’t have time to cook and turn to what’s convenient and cheap.”

A family history of diabetes and concerns for her children’s health led Lopez to the Choose Health LA Kids Parent Collaborative, a nutrition-focused group that meets monthly at Bell Gardens Preschool Academy.

“Parents wanted to learn more about nutrition,” explained Mayra Ramirez, site supervisor at the preschool about why they started the program. Now, “I see more parents who are finding resources and taking advantage of them.”

But Ramirez also points out that in Bell Gardens’ predominately Latino community, home to a large population of immigrants, many parents have costumbres (habits) that involve food and many of those habits are unhealthy.


Many of the families Ramirez works with are low-income. “When it costs more to buy a salad at McDonalds, what are you supposed to do?

“They take the easy way out.”

There are currently 15 parents in the collaborative that among other things tries to educate them about the role product marketing has on their food buying decisions. They have been paying special attention to products aimed at children and last November started photographing examples in the city of unhealthy food and beverages marketing targeted at children.

The images captured by their cameras — the large colorful arrays of food and drinks with little nutritional value they are exposed to daily —caught many of the parents by surprise.

Starting June 10, they will display the photos in an exhibit opening at the preschool.

“I realized that marketing is really powerful,” say Lopez, admitting it shocked her to realize how unaware she was before she started taking pictures.

“Unhealthy food is not just found at fast food places, it’s also at the grocery store.”

According to a 2011 Los Angeles County Survey by the Office of Health Assessment and Epidemiology, 55 percent of children consume fast food at least once a week and over 40 percent of children consume at least one soda or sweetened beverage every day.

Advertising for food loaded with sugar or with no nutritional value is everywhere our children turn, the group says.

“I never paid attention to all the colorful, loud, attractive marketing used at grocery stores,” said Luz Martinez, mother of three. “The use of mascots to entice my kids really caught my attention.”

Lopez photographed containers of colorful candies located in the produce section at her local grocery store.

“Placing candies or sweets in front of fruits and vegetables is not amusing, rather it is worrisome,” reads the caption on her exhibit photo.

A few parents focused their lenses on displays near cash registers and the mascots that grace the covers of sugary products used to attract the attention of children.

Another photo focuses on pricing gimmicks to spur buying: “Buy two get two free” may sound enticing, but according to the mother who snapped the photo, a low-price doesn’t always add up to quality or value.

For Martinez, getting her family to switch to a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and wheat-based products hasn’t been easy.

“My children are still reluctant, they still don’t understand what is good for them,” she said, acknowledging change has been slow, but she’ll keep trying.

For Lopez, however, it’s been a piece of cake, or rather a piece of fruit that her children are reaching for nowadays.

“We all feel healthier, it is no longer forced,” she said. Eating healthy is “our new habit.”

Wednesday, June 10

5:30pm–Parent Photo Exhibit at Bell Gardens Preschool Academy. Exhibit will focus on the marketing of unhealthy food and beverages found throughout the city. The free event will feature food, prizes, raffles and more. Academy is located at 6430 Colmar Ave. For more information, contact Yenni Arias at (562) 806-5400 ext. 251.


Congresswoman Recognizes Artists

May 18, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard honored five young female artists this week during her 22nd Annual Student Art Competition.

“Every year, I eagerly look forward to this Art Competition,” said Roybal-Allard. “It’s such a wonderful way for our local youth to share their creativity and talent with the community. It also reminds us of the positive impact that art and art education can have on students’ academic performance, self-esteem, and confidence.”

(Office of Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard)

(Office of Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard)

The winners received scholarships and money for art supplies. The first place winner Justine Muñoz will have her artwork displayed in the U.S. Capitol.

All submitted entries will be on display to the public through June 5 in the lobby of the Citadel Outlets in Commerce.

Pictured: (Left to right) 1st Place winner Justine Muñoz, People’s Choice Award winner Batoul Akil, Congresswoman Roybal-Allard, 3rd Place winner Lelilani Gonzalez, 2nd Place winner Sabrina Claros, and Honorable Mention winner Karla Maria Jacome.


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