County Backs State Bill on Mandatory Lead Screening

August 10, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

The Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to back a state bill that would expand childhood screening for lead contamination.

Supervisors Hilda Solis and Kathryn Barger joined in asking colleagues to send a letter to Gov. Jerry Brown and state legislators in support of AB 1316, sponsored by Assemblyman Bill Quirk, D-Hayward.

“Throughout the country, but especially in low-income communities, children are frequently exposed to lead in paint, dust, soil and water and far too often go untested — leaving them at a high risk for untreated lead poisoning,” Solis said. “Unfortunately, many children are not being screened early enough, and AB 1316 would help remedy this sad public health emergency.”

Solis cited lead contamination from the former Exide battery recycling plant in Vernon as an example of the threat.

As amended, the Assembly bill would mandate the state health department look at the following risk factors, among others, when considering whether to test for lead poisoning:
— time spent in a home, school or building built before 1978;
— proximity to a former lead or steel smelter or other industrial facility that emitted lead; and
— proximity to a freeway or heavily traveled roadway.
The county offers free blood-lead tests. Residents can call (844) 888-2290 for more information.

 

Eastside Nonprofits Get Funding Boost from County

August 3, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

The Board of Supervisors approved $450,000 in funding Tuesday for community organizations in East Los Angeles.

Supervisor Hilda Solis proposed allocating money to two nonprofits: InnerCity Struggle and El Proyecto del Barrio.

“Our community-based organizations offer tremendous support, dedicated staff and critical resources for our residents,” Solis said in a statement issued after the board vote. “These organizations have formed longstanding relationships with our communities.”

El Proyecto del Barrio will receive $200,000 to update its East Los Angeles Early Education Center for preschoolers ages 3 and 4. The money will be spent on educational materials and new playground equipment, some of which will be designed for special needs children.

InnerCity Struggle will use $250,000 in county funding to make general improvements to its Boyle Heights headquarters, Solis said.

“We have been serving our Eastside communities since 1994 by engaging our youth and families through leadership promoting safe and healthy neighborhoods,” said InnerCity Struggle Executive Director Maria Brenes.
 

Over Residents’ Protests, Sups Approve East L.A. Housing Project

July 27, 2017 by · 2 Comments 

The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday turned down an appeal by East Los Angeles residents to block the development of affordable rental units at Whittier Boulevard and South Downey Road, pushing forward with plans to fight homelessness.

Supervisor Hilda Solis said such developments are sorely needed to keep more people from losing their homes.

“Were not even scratching the surface,” Solis said, noting that the county’s housing gap between supply and demand amounts to more than half a million units.

Corner of Whittier Boulevard and South Downey Road in East Los Angeles where one of two affordable housing sites approved by County supervisors will be built. (EGP photo by Carlos Alvarez- July 27, 2017)

Corner of Whittier Boulevard and South Downey Road in East Los Angeles where one of two affordable housing sites approved by County supervisors will be built. (EGP photo by Carlos Alvarez- July 27, 2017)

The two-building complex, to be built on two sites across from Calvary Cemetery, will replace vacant commercial buildings.

Downey I — a three-story, 42-unit, garden-style apartment building — will include 1,161 square feet of retail and parking space on the northwest corner of the intersection. Downey II will be four stories with 71 units and 3,208 square feet of retail and parking.

All but two manager’s units will be for low-income residents and 15 percent will include features for renters with special needs.

More than 100 residents signed a letter opposing the project, raising concerns about traffic, parking and the scale of the development in an area of single-family homes and duplexes.

“We acknowledge (that) some form of development on these land parcels is desirable,” the letter reads. “All we humbly ask is that … consideration be given to projects that the community actually wants and that enhance the quality of life for those who already live in this community.”

Many turned out to try and persuade the board, in both English and Spanish, not to move forward.

“There’s already impossible traffic … and I don’t understand how over 400 more residents are going to fit in this community,” said Estela Donlucas, telling the board that her family had lived in the neighborhood for more than 45 years.

Others worried about hazardous contaminants like lead and arsenic.

Soil samples showed “no significant concentration of lead,” but elevated levels of arsenic were found in two areas, one on each site, according to a county fire official in the department’s hazardous materials division.

The developer, Meta Housing, has agreed to handle environmental cleanup before beginning grading on the sites. Asbestos and lead-based paint in the buildings set for demolition will be managed through the permitting process.

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Many residents remained unsatisfied.

“Our houses will be very affected by all these toxins,” Enedina Paz told the board. “I believe you have children and grandchildren and you wouldn’t like for them to be inhaling toxins.”

Voters approved Measure H, a quarter-cent sales tax to fund the fight against homelessness, by nearly 70 percent. However, residents in many communities have pushed back against affordable housing development in their own neighborhoods.

Some Angelenos offered their support.

Fanny Ortiz, a Boyle Heights resident and single mother of five children, including one with special needs who requires 24-hour nursing, said access to affordable housing changed her life.

“I believe housing is a basic human right. We are in a housing crisis and development of affordable housing is an equitable solution,” Ortiz told the board, adding that she once lived in the neighborhood in question.

As a “transit priority project,” the proposed development was granted a California Environmental Quality Act exemption, which means it will not have to report on traffic impacts on global warming or the regional transportation network.

Solis defended the board’s decision, noting that poverty rates in the county have risen above 25 percent. The lowest income renters right now spend more than 70 percent of their income on rent, Solis noted, citing data from the Public Policy Institute of California.

Immediately following the board vote, Solis issued a statement.

“It is evident that both the community and Meta Housing are deeply passionate about quality of life of our residents. Every testimony we heard at the board today had one thing in common: the community and its well-being,” she said.

“I work every day to keep the safety, quality of life and environmental health of our neighborhoods at the highest quality possible, and those values are reflected by our vote to deny today’s appeal,” Solis said. “My colleagues and I agree that Meta Housing has met all requirements to develop this project, including a number of measures designed to meet the communities’ environmental health and safety concerns.”

Supervisors Want More Diversity Among County Doctors

July 20, 2017 by · 1 Comment 

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to diversify the pool of doctors working at county hospitals, trauma centers and health care facilities.

Supervisor Hilda Solis proposed coordinating with labor unions to recruit more “culturally and linguistically competent physicians” to staff the second largest municipal health care system in the nation.

“By ensuring that our physicians are as diverse as the patients they see, we place a strong emphasis on effective and culturally appropriate services,” Solis said. “This is about hiring and equipping our local working men and women with the leadership, training and skills needed to best serve the needs of our diverse communities.”

The board also hopes to reduce the number of contract physicians and become the employer of choice for medical residents in training at county facilities.

Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, who co-authored the motion, said the county employs more than 4,000 doctors and offers one of the largest physician training programs nationwide.

“It is important that we review our hiring practices to ensure that our hospitals and clinics can continue to effectively compete for the best doctors, and that the many physicians we train will choose to stay here,” Kuehl said.

The motion drew union support.

“Union of American Physicians and Dentists doctors appreciate that Supervisors Solis and Kuehl are taking steps to ensure that there are enough county doctors to serve the needs of all Los Angeles residents,” said UAPD President Stuart Bussey. “What they are proposing here should be a model for other counties, most of which are facing similar recruitment challenges.”

 

L.A. County Votes to Create Foster Youth ‘Bill of Rights’

July 20, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

The Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to create a “bill of rights” for foster youth that lays out rights, resources and services available to kids and their foster parents.

California has its own such bill, but county officials said it’s outdated and doesn’t include county programs.

Supervisor Janice Hahn championed the move.

“The former foster youth who spoke at (Tuesday’s) meeting told us how frustrating it can be maneuvering the foster care system when you do not know your own rights or the resources available to you,” Hahn said. “This bill of rights will be a way for both foster youth and foster parents to know every tool, service and program that has been created to support them.”

Examples include a policy that allows social workers to act in lieu of a parent to help a foster child get a driver’s license and the fact that foster youth have access to MediCal until age 26.

Six current and former foster youth will join the bill of rights working group. Hahn had originally proposed two representatives but upped the total based on feedback at the board meeting.

The group, to be led by the Department of Children and Family Services, is also expected to include county lawyers, mental health workers, probation officers, health care professionals and representatives of various community- based organizations.

Advocates said that concerns about navigating the foster care system deter some potential foster parents at a time when the need is great.

Others noted the complexities of the foster care system.

“I’m a 40-something-year-old woman, a lawyer and a mom. I’ve worked and volunteered in the child welfare system for over 15 years and I still struggle to keep up with what the laws are,” Wende Nichols-Julien told the board. “The people within the system, the people affected by these laws deserve to know what the laws say.”

In Nichols-Julien’s case, understanding the laws helped a girl she was mentoring avoid moving into a group home while she was working to reunite with her family.

A state effort to reform foster care requires that foster youth have access to specialized mental health treatment, transitional support as they move from foster to permanent home placement, connections with siblings and extended family members and transportation to school.

Roughly 35,000 children and young adults receive child welfare services from the Department of Children and Family Services. A little less than half live outside their homes in a foster care or group home.

A report back is expected in 120 days.

Supervisors Order Review of Alleged ‘Abuse’ of Juveniles in Jail

August 4, 2016 by · 1 Comment 

Spurred by allegations of abuse in county juvenile halls and camps, the Board of Supervisors called Tuesday for a detailed report on three years of incidents and a review of policies and protocols.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas recommended the review based on “recent allegations that we cannot and will not ignore.”

“Reforming our juvenile justice system remains a big, big challenge for the county of Los Angeles,” Ridley-Thomas said.

A report of four probation officers allegedly caught beating a 17-year-old at a Sylmar juvenile hall on April 24 prompted the move.

The District Attorney’s Office is reviewing the Sylmar encounter — captured on video and subsequently reported by the blog WitnessLA — but has not yet made a decision on whether to file charges, according to D.A.’s spokeswoman Jane Robison.

WitnessLA did not make the video itself available, explaining that it involved a minor, but posted still photos with the boy’s face blurred. It reported that an officer slammed the 17-year-old onto a cot that amounts to a rectangular concrete block and then others piled on to knee, hold or punch the teen.

A supervisor entered the room at one point while the alleged beating was in progress and then turned around and left, according to WitnessLA.

On May 31, Los Angeles police were called to Central Juvenile Hall, east of downtown, to respond to a report that a youth was assaulted by a probation officer who pulled the handcuffed boy up by his sweatshirt, choking him with the garment, when the juvenile repeatedly used a racial slur, WitnessLA reported.

None of the members of the board mentioned either of those alleged incidents or any other specific abuses before voting unanimously in favor of the three-year report and a review of protocols covering reporting of incidents and a discussion of how staff are held accountable

The Probation Department is responsible for managing 13 probation camps and three juvenile halls and has long struggled to protect the youth in its care.

The Department of Justice monitored the county’s juvenile facilities for six years, with a final report issued this past February.

The Board of Supervisors has since considered broader reforms, including restructuring the Probation Department, potentially splitting units responsible for adults and minors and closing some facilities.

The board has already committed to rebuild Camp Kilpatrick — a penitentiary-style boys camp with large dorms — as a smaller-scale, therapeutic model with boys housed in cottages of 12. It is also evaluating whether Camp Scott could be converted into a similar small-group model for girls.

“Stay tuned,” Ridley-Thomas said Tuesday.

County to Push for Tax on the ‘Rich’

May 19, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

The County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to press for a change to state law that would allow the county to put a “millionaire’s tax” on the November ballot to fund the fight against homelessness.

Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Sheila Kuehl proposed the legislative push last week, but were denied the three votes needed for passage when Supervisor Hilda Solis chose to abstain.

On Tuesday, Solis opened the board’s meeting by saying, “We have resolved our differences and we have agreed to move ahead.”

The board also approved a related proposal by Solis and Supervisor Don Knabe, directing the CEO’s office to take a harder look at spending on homelessness, with an emphasis on how to more effectively serve single homeless adults.

A 34-page study by the CEO’s office in January found that the county spent nearly $1 billion on roughly 150,000 people who were homeless at one point or another between July 2014 and June 2015.

Services provided included health care, mental health care, welfare, law enforcement and probation services, with the study estimating that about 40 percent of those dollars were spent on just 5 percent of homeless single adults.

“The vast majority of these services are mainstream services,” said Phil Ansell, director of the county’s Homeless Initiative, meaning that the services are not designed specifically for homeless people or to directly combat homelessness.

However, homeless individuals end up using a disproportionate share of those services and the chronically homeless use even more, with the county spending an average of more than $50,000 per person on the most costly 5 percent.

Supervisor Michael Antonovich argued that the problem of homelessness cannot be solved “until the state changes the law that limits 72-hour holds” for mentally ill individuals and treatment for mental health problems is mandated.

Tuesday’s vote clears the way for the county to submit a trailer budget bill to state legislators asking for the authority to put the so-called “millionaire’s tax” on the November ballot.

If a majority of legislators support the bill by June 15 and if Gov. Jerry Brown signs it into law by June 30, then the board will have to decide whether to actually back a ballot measure that would require two-thirds voter approval for passage.

Pollsters commissioned by the county were confident about voters’ positive response to such a measure. A preliminary poll showed 76 percent support for such a tax, even in light of several other potential ballot proposals for new taxes or fees.

Ridley-Thomas said the board should pursue every option to fund its fight against increasing levels of homelessness, with more and more people living on the street in makeshift encampments.

“It is the most compelling issue confronting us at this time,” Ridley-Thomas said. “It is a crisis, no one can deny that.”

More than 100 community leaders and activists spoke out about the issue, most advocating for those who are homeless and many applauding the effort to review current spending.

“Some areas of Los Angeles County look like a bomb has hit,” community activist Glenna Wilson told the board.
County CEO Sachi Hamai has estimated that the county needs to raise about $500 million in ongoing revenue to effectively address the problem.

County staffers and pollsters considered several ways of raising that money, including a half-percent increase in sales tax, a parcel tax, redirection of Measure B revenues — designed to support trauma centers — and a marijuana tax.

The idea of a half-percent tax on personal income in excess of $1 million garnered the highest support, with 76 percent of voters polled in favor.

The board has the ability to raise local sales taxes on its own, but needs the state to give it the authority to place the “millionaire’s tax” on the ballot.

A half-percent bump in the sales tax would raise three times as much money — an estimated $746 million versus $243 million according to board documents — than the so-called millionaire’s tax. However, support for a sales tax increase polled at 68 percent — within the margin of error of the two-thirds of voters needed to pass any such measure.

Antonovich warned that a county millionaire’s tax would drive businesses away.

“Making the tax higher is taking those dollars from the job creators,” he said.

Solis said she wanted to increase funding options that didn’t rely on a tax increase, leaving open the question of whether she would ultimately support putting the millionaire’s tax on the ballot.

California millionaires are already paying a 1 percent tax on income in excess of $1 million, as mandated by Proposition 63, passed in 2004 as the Mental Health Services Act.

Last week, Brown endorsed a plan to issue $2 billion in bonds to finance the construction of housing for homeless individuals. paid for with Prop. 63 funds. The governor’s May Revision to the budget proposed $267 million in first-year funding statewide, which would fall far short of either a new local millionaire’s tax or a sales tax increase in terms of Los Angeles County revenues.

County Delays Decision on Possible ‘Millionaire Tax’

May 12, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

The Board of Supervisors delayed a decision Tuesday on whether to press for a change to state law that would allow the county to put a “millionaire’s tax” on the November ballot to fund the fight against homelessness.

Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Sheila Kuehl proposed the legislative push.

“One-time commitments will not address the crisis of homelessness in Los Angeles,” Ridley-Thomas said.

County Chief Executive Officer Sachi Hamai said the county needed to raise about $500 million in ongoing revenue to effectively address the problem.

Kuehl recalled a recent trip to Washington, D.C., with other members of the board.

“Everywhere we went, in every office, homelessness was the issue that was raised again and again and again,” Kuehl said. “And the question, ‘What are you going to do’”

Hamai said a vote in favor would “give the county an option,” and the board would decide later whether to pursue a ballot measure.

In order to have a shot at that option, the county must submit a proposal for a budget trailer bill by June 15, to be approved and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown by June 30.

Despite the short deadline, Supervisors Don Knabe and Hilda Solis successfully pushed to postpone the decision.

Knabe warned about the unintended consequences of a legislative change, which he said would set a precedent for the state to refuse to fund other county needs.

In the future, state officials might tell the county, “Whatever you need, you tax your residents,” Knabe said.

Solis raised concerns about an analysis of homelessness in her district and how it would affect the allocation of revenues. She said the data was provided at the last minute and taking more time to analyze it would allow the board to make a stronger case to state legislators.

The board ultimately voted 2-2-1, with Knabe and Supervisor Michael Antonovich dissenting and Solis abstaining. The board will reconsider the matter next week.

The board has the ability to raise local sales taxes on its own, but needs the state to give it the authority to place the so-called “millionaire’s tax” on the ballot.

A half-percent increase in county sales taxes was one of several other options county staffers and pollsters considered as a means of raising money to combat homelessness. A parcel tax, redirection of Measure B revenues — designed to support trauma centers — and a marijuana tax were other possibilities.

The idea of a half-percent tax on personal income in excess of $1 million garnered the highest support from voters polled, with 76 percent in favor.

Support for a sales tax increase polled at 69 percent — within the margin of error of the two-thirds of voters needed to pass any such measure.

Antonovich expressed skepticism about polls showing broad support for the tax given all the other taxes that may be on the November ballot.

“To have people come out and say they’ll vote yes on four, five, six different taxes is not logical,” Antonovich said. “There’s a problem with the credibility of the poll.”

Pollsters said a homelessness measure would have “no negative impacts” on other measures being considered, including the proposed transportation Measure R2, a potential parcel tax to fund county parks and the possible extension of Proposition 30, a “temporary” statewide tax to fund education.

Phil Ansell, director of the county’s homeless initiative, defended the polling methodology and told the board that voters view homelessness as the second most significant issue facing the county, behind only jobs and the economy.

Ridley-Thomas said the polling reflected voters’ compassion.

“It’s related to a sense of sadness and also anger,” he said.

California millionaires are already paying a 1 percent tax on income in excess of $1 million, as mandated by Proposition 63, passed in 2004 as the Mental Health Services Act. The MHSA is estimated to generate about $1.4 billion in 2015-16 and as much as $1.8 billion by 2018-19 to fund mental health programs, including housing for mentally ill individuals.

The new tax now under consideration by the board would not be restricted to helping those who are mentally ill.

Dozens of advocates urged the board to back the so-called millionaire’s tax, arguing that without the money, the homeless population would only grow.

“We will see more people living in boxes,” said Anne Miskey, CEO of the Downtown Women’s Center.

Homelessness in Los Angeles County increased by roughly 6 percent this year to 46,874 people, according to a recent report by the Los Angeles County Homeless Services Authority.

However, the number of homeless veterans decreased by 30 percent and the number of homeless families was down by 18 percent, which Ansell cited as evidence that county efforts to house homeless veterans and families are working.

“Homelessness persists and has worsened,” Ansell said, but “dedicated resources and focused systemwide attention gets results.”

Antonovich said the problem was not the lack of a tax, but the state’s allocation of the taxes it raises, and argued that higher taxes would drive entrepreneurs and jobs out of the county.

Though it was clear that Antonovich would not support a legislative change and Knabe seemed set on a delay, Ridley-Thomas made an impassioned plea for Solis to join him in voting in favor.

“Do we have the stamina, do we have the resolve, do we have the commitment to step up to our responsibilities?” Ridley-Thomas asked, before making a direct appeal to Solis to act now.

Solis abstained after arguing that a week’s delay wouldn’t significantly hurt the process.

More millionaires — an estimated 772,555 households — live in California than any other state, according to a 2015 study of high-net worth individuals by Phoenix Marketing International. And nearly one-quarter of America’s billionaires live in the state, according to Forbes magazine.

Sups. to Re-Evaluate Anti-Gang Tactics

April 28, 2016 by · 1 Comment 

The Board of Supervisors Tuesday directed county staffers to re-evaluate anti-gang tactics employed over the last two decades under a partnership with the Los Angeles Police Department.

Supervisors Hilda Solis and Sheila Kuehl proposed taking a second look at the Community Law Enforcement and Recovery program, known as CLEAR.

“We need to have more inclusivity,” Solis said.

Kuehl said she was reminded of outdated efforts to solve student truancy by handing out tickets to offenders, rather than looking at the underlying issues driving absences.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said the multi-agency program – aimed at “recovery of gang-infested communities” – was adopted in 1997, when he was a Los Angeles City Council member.

But based on a recent rise in gang violence and the fact that more than half of the city’s homicides are believed to be gang-related, Ridley-Thomas said it was time to reconsider whether CLEAR was working.

“The default (of CLEAR) is not prevention. The default is not intervention. The default is not re-entry. It’s suppression,” Ridley-Thomas said, adding that the funds might be better used for intervention or restorative justice programs.

Under the program, police presence in gang neighborhoods was stepped up and officers focused on arresting gang members. Armed probation officers ride along and participate in search and seizures and special operations targeting gang members.

The agencies share gang intelligence.

Supervisor Don Knabe asked why none of the CLEAR units, which sit in nine LAPD divisions, are based out of sheriff’s stations.

As discussion ensued, it seemed Knabe knew the answer.

“There was a different chief and a different sheriff that were having a little battle at the time,” Knabe said.

Sherman Block was sheriff at the time the program was initiated and was succeeded the following year by Lee Baca. Former LAPD Chief Willie Williams left his post in May 1997 and was replaced by Bernard Parks before the year was out.

The county currently receives $267,000 in federal and city funding for CLEAR, which offsets 15 percent of the department’s cost, according to interim Probation Chief Cal Remington.

Staffers were directed to look at how CLEAR sites were chosen, analyze the results and assess whether the program is consistent with the most recent research on effective gang intervention.
CLEAR is one of many programs aimed at reducing gang violence in Southern California.

Youth Group Call for ‘Jobs Not Jail’ Spending

April 28, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

About 200 young adults rallied outside the Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday, hoping to convince the county to support a youth jobs and development program.

Waving signs reading “Jobs Not Jails” and wearing T-shirts with the word “Unstoppable,” the exuberant crowd marched from Pershing Square as part of Global YouthBuild Day.

YouthBuild is a national community-based youth development program that offers low-income 16- 24-year-olds the chance to finish their high school diploma, train for jobs — often in construction — and ultimately become community leaders.

The organization gets federal funding and Supervisor Hilda Solis, who oversaw the program during her tenure as labor secretary for the Obama administration, stepped out of the board’s meeting to show her support.

“It’s great to see such a large and engaged group drawing attention to the urgent need in America for opportunity for our youth,” Solis said later. “I have seen firsthand how YouthBuild has helped create pathways to opportunity.”

The group’s organizers say it’s time for the county to step up with financial support. They are asking for $15 million to help fund 21 programs countywide.

“We can help the county rebuild the community,” Rossie Johnson, chair of the Los Angeles Region YouthBuild Collaborative, told City News Service on the steps of the Hall of Administration.

Johnson said YouthBuild’s programs can provide solutions to multiple county problems, including the need for affordable housing. At a time when the county is re-evaluating its youth justice efforts, YouthBuild also gives young adults leaving jail or juvenile detention the skills they need to succeed in the community.

“We’re very good with re-entry populations,” Johnson said, boasting of a 1 percent recidivism rate on a recent grant program.

Later, inside the board’s hearing room, one of the YouthBuild enrollees called the organization “a home for redemption,” telling the supervisors that walking past homeless encampments this afternoon was a reminder of what might have been.

Another, Marco Antonio Vivar, said that without YouthBuild he would have “been in a jail cell or I would have been in a casket,” but instead is part of the organization’s leadership and set to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in computer science and engineering.

Statewide, 13.8 percent of 16- to 24-year-olds are out of school and out of work, according to YouthBuild, but Johnson says things are picking up in the construction trade.

“We want our young folks to be in those jobs” and end up as “productive, tax-paying citizens,” he said.

Nationally, YouthBuild reports that 77 percent of enrollees attain a diploma or industry-recognized certificate and 61 percent get a job placement or go on to college.

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