Civic Engagement Goes Web-Social

October 8, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

A local city councilman Monday answered questions from constituents during what was billed as a first of its kind social media dialogue.

At the invitation of the Historic Highland Park Neighborhood Council, Los Angeles Councilman Jose Huizar responded to inquiries posted on the popular web-based social media platform Facebook.

For nearly an hour, Huizar replied to a wide range of questions and comments posted on his Facebook page, creating the feeling of a live dialogue.

Several of the 40 or so questions posted focused on issues garnering lots of attention in the northeast L.A. neighborhood: gentrification, education, transportation, safety, homelessness and projects specific to Highland Park.

Irving Grey Angeles asked Huizar: “How can we preserve the Latino culture when money seems to be the deciding factor in every development?”

Councilman Huizar answering questions from residents and stakeholders of Highland Park. (HHPNC)

Councilman Huizar answering questions from residents and stakeholders of Highland Park. (HHPNC)

There’s a need to continue to support more affordable housing and developments for mixed income levels, Huizar replied.

“And the community’s voice must be heard when taking on these projects. I would venture to guess that there [has] been more affordable housing built in CD14 than anywhere else in the city, since I’ve been Councilmember.” Huizar said. “We as a City have to do more to increase affordable housing options … we need to protect rent-controlled units.”

Despite the 19 “Likes” her question generated, Huizar did not respond to Jo Nañez who asked what he is doing about people being displaced in Highland Park.

He also did not respond to questions posted from other areas of his district, such as El Sereno and Eagle Rock. Instead, those constituents were referred to the councilman’s local field office, because according to Huizar spokesman Rick Coca, the session was being held at the invitation of the Highland Park Neighborhood Council.

“It was the first time any Neighborhood Council has done a Facebook Q & A with any elected [official],” Coca explained. “He would absolutely consider an invite from other neighborhood councils to do the same.”

HHPNC President Monica Alcaraz told EGP that the social media exchange was the idea of the neighborhood council’s digital and social media committee which had been tasked with the job of finding new and innovative ways to engage the community and bring local government closer to stakeholders.

Resident Suzanne Smith asked Huizar if it’s possible to a services access center or at least an emergency winter shelter for the homeless in Highland Park.

“After decades of concentrating homeless services in Skid Row, there are very few resources to serve our homeless neighbors in other parts of the City,” answered Huizar. “I don’t know if we’ll be able to find a space that works for temporary shelter before El Nino hits, but we are working on it,” he added.

Gabriela Vazquez wanted to know “How many liquor licenses do we have/have been approved in the past 3 years for York Blvd?”

The councilman said there are approximately 30 licenses at grocery stores, restaurants, bars and small markets along York Boulevard, between Eagle Rock Boulevard and the 110 Freeway.

Northeast residents took to Facebook Monday to ask Councilman Jose Huizar questions about district services in Highland Park. (Facebook)

Northeast residents took to Facebook Monday to ask Councilman Jose Huizar questions about district services in Highland Park. (Facebook)

“In the past three years, my office and the neighborhood council have reviewed about 10 applications and have denied 4,” he said. “In each instance, my office relies heavily on the input from the Highland Park Neighborhood Council and LAPD Vice Units in Northeast LA.”

Veteran Ivan Gutierrez told Huizar he has asked several times for a missing ADA (wheelchair) ramp by York Park to be installed but no one has done anything.

“As a community member I’ve asked you to have it built. As a Combat Veteran I demand you build it. It would pain me to see a fellow veteran struggle if they were bound to a wheelchair,” he said.

Huizar said he has asked the Bureau of Lighting and Department of Water and Power several times to build the ramp. “The issue is there is a gas line at the corner and utility poles that must be relocated, so the design is challenging. Safety is our first concern,” he said. “Believe me- I’m pushing them as hard as I can!”

Not all the posts were questions or criticisms. Several people used the session to post comments cheering his work.

Several people called on the councilman to do more for Highland Park, such as installing street and traffic lights, crosswalks and stop signs, and safety transportation measures for bikes. There was even a call to update textbooks at Franklin High School.

“Did you know that a lot of the books used are from the early 2000’s?” asked Eunisses Hernandez.

Huizar explained textbooks are under the jurisdiction of the local LAUSD board member, Ref Rodriguez, but his office is willing to assist any similar effort if needed.

Huizar told the Facebook community that a new traffic light will soon be installed on York Boulevard and Avenue 63.

Huizar told EGP via email that he regularly communicates with constituents on Facebook and Twitter and views it as his social media office hours. It’s unclear how many people were actually engaged Monday.

“I thoroughly enjoyed the experience,” he said. “There were a lot of thoughtful questions and comments, which shows Highland Park residents and stakeholders are very much engaged in their neighborhood’s well being.”

“I look forward to more in the future,” he concluded.


Twitter @jackieguzman

Addressing Homeless Problems in Northeast L.A.

February 26, 2015 by · 1 Comment 

Representatives of various city and county housing and mental health agencies, elected officials, law enforcement, nonprofit groups, residents and the homeless gathered Tuesday night for a town hall meeting on issues of homelessness in Northeast Los Angeles. While some complained about trash, illegal camping and public safety, others defended the rights of the homeless and called for policies that go beyond “sweeping the problem away.”

The meeting was held at Ramona Hall, a parks and recreation facility adjacent to Sycamore Grove Park on Figueroa Street.

There’s been an ongoing problem with litter and illegal dumping in the area. Residents and a local school have repeatedly complained sidewalks are being taken over by the homeless and their possessions. They fear using the park for recreational activities, despite the city on more than one occasion sending in crews to clean up the area.

Much of the discussion focused on the rights of the homeless and the need for more services to help them. Panelists answered questions about what can be done to lessen the impact on local neighborhoods like Eagle Rock, Highland Park, Montecito Heights and Cypress Park.

A representative of a housing complex demands more housing for homeless people and more efficient application process. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

A representative of a housing complex demands more housing for homeless people and more efficient application process. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

They were asked about the process for dealing with the seemingly ever-growing number of homeless encampments along the Arroyo Seco Parkway and in public spaces like the 200-acre Debs Park in Montecito Heights; panelists repeatedly responded that the homeless have rights too and need more services to assist them. “When you move them from one corner, they just wind up on another corner,” pointed out one of the speakers. That’s not the solution.

Someone in the audience asked why the city isn’t looking into designating campgrounds where they can live in Northeast L.A..

Senior lead officers from the LAPD’S Hollenbeck and Northeast police divisions said their goal is to not to arrest unless there is a real danger, but to try to encourage the homeless to get services; an approach shared by neighborhood prosecutors for Hollenbeck and Northeast who said they try to deescalate situations rather than prosecute the homeless.

Several panelists pointed out that many of the homeless have deep roots and ties to the neighborhoods.

“They are locals, moving out of the area is not an option for them,” said John Urquiza, a member of the Northeast Alliance.

There are not enough beds, transitional housing or wrap-around services available in the northeast area and they do not want to go to shelters in Skid Row or El Monte, speakers said. They’d rather live on the street, it’s a lifestyle said one of the speakers.

Everybody would like an apartment, countered Rebecca Prine with the Homeless Coalition and Recycled Resources, which does outreach to and collects data on the homeless in Northeast L.A.

They feel safe living along the Arroyo because at some point they were residents somewhere nearby, she said. Some of her clients have families in the area, she said.

In 2011, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) estimated there are 68,000 homeless people in Los Angeles County. Out of those, more than 31,000 suffer of a physical or mental illness such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, psychotic disorder, anxiety, etc. Today, there are an estimated 44,000 homeless people in Los Angeles County.

Urquiza said that Highland Park has become one of the most expensive areas to live, with rent averaging $1,800 a month. “Nobody talks about housing, they all talk about revitalization,” he said.

First District Councilman Gil Cedillo’s Field Deputy Sylvia Robledo told the audience her boss has made affordable housing one of his top priorities and on Wednesday would introduce a motion calling on the city administrator to comprehensively study how the city is using it’s $9 billion in federal funds to provide transitional housing.

The issue is complex, there is not one single solution, said Martin Schlagetev, Councilman Jose Huizar’s aid in charge of homeless issues. He discussed how the councilman’s office is working comprehensively on the issue, from cleaning streets to bringing in county social workers to work with the homeless simultaneously.

Ron is homeless and attended Tuesday’s town hall. He said the homeless feel harassed by the police and park rangers. He accused them of pushing him out of his camp and to the riverbed.

He said there are too many rules and it takes too long to get services. “Go get a TB check, go fill out a survey, do something” and you’re still waiting six months later.

Richard Renteria counsels the homeless and said most of those he’s interviewed are afraid to  live in Skid Row shelters.

“The majority of people here are one check away from being homeless and if I became homeless, I’d rather live here in the Arroyo than in the shelters that I serve,” he said.

For nearly two hours, several residents sat quietly waiting for a chance to discuss their concerns, growing increasingly frustrated, and in some cases angry, that nothing was being said about their right to feel safe in their homes and neighborhoods.

Minutes before the meeting was to end, Edward Carreon finally had a chance to speak. He said he understands homelessness cannot be addressed in one day, that more affordable housing and services for the homeless are needed, but he wants the city and police to do something to protect his and his family’s rights.

“Not all the homeless are good people like it’s been said here,” he said. A lot of them are really bad characters. They are selling and shooting up heroine, and there’s a chop shop where they sell stolen bikes. You come across them having sex in the bushes at Debbs Park, Carreon said. “I can’t even take my daughter out anymore, I don’t feel safe.”

The city needs to step up police patrols to protect residents in the area, he said, before being cut off by the meeting moderator who said they were out of time and had to adjourn.

Immediately following the meeting, several residents said they attended the meeting because they were worried about the growing number of homeless in their neighborhoods and how aggressive some have become.

Kim Hepner has lived in Montecito Heights since 2002 and said she was frustrated that people like her who had followed the rules and waited quietly to ask questions were never given a chance to speak. The meeting was all about the rights of he homeless, she said.

“What about those of us who want to use the park to exercise? There’s a big problem with obesity in this area and people need the park,” she said. “People are afraid, I can’t even walk my dog in the park anymore, she said.

“We used to have gang problems” when I first moved to Montecito Heights, but that got better. Now it’s the homeless and it’s “very unsafe out there,” she told EGP.

She said thanks to the Next Door mobile app she is able to discuss the issues with people living in her neighborhood.

“There are a lot of us on there and we talk about how we can protect each other,” she said. “We watch out for each other” and talk about the illegal homeless encampments, dumping and other illegal activities in the park, Hepner said.

Speaking after the meeting, the residents said they understand the frustration of the homeless, but someone needs to understand them and their safety concerns.

Officer Craig Orange with the Los Angeles Police Department Northeast division told the audience that it is not a crime to be homeless, but more resources are needed to address the issue. “We can’t assume that just clean ups are the solution, or mental health help or housing, it is a combination of all” these things, he said.


EGP Editor Gloria Alvarez contributed to this story.

Vivienda es Tema de Prioridad en Debate de Candidatos en Boyle Heights

February 12, 2015 by · 1 Comment 

El ayuntamiento de Boyle Heights estaba repleto el sábado por la mañana durante el primero de varios debates entre los candidatos que compiten por el asiento número 14 del consejo de Los Ángeles.

Cuatro de los cinco candidatos –el Concejal titular José Huizar, la ex Supervisora del Condado de Los Ángeles Gloria Molina, la Trabajadors Social Nadine Díaz y el Activista Comunitario Mario Chávez—participaron en el foro organizado por el Pulso de Boyle Heights, un periódico bilingüe escrito por estudiantes de preparatoria. El Consultor Político John O’Neill no participó.

Read this article in English: Housing Center Stage at Eastside Debate

Este puesto en el consejo que cubre el lado este también abarca la mayor parte de los barrios del centro de LA y noreste como Highland Park y Eagle Rock.

El sábado, la atención del debate se centró en Boyle Heights, uno de los barrios más densamente poblados de la ciudad donde el 94% de los residentes son latinos – 54% de ellos extranjeros. Aproximadamente el 75% de los residentes son de clase trabajadora en viviendas de alquiler en lugar de ser dueños de sus propios hogares y con el ingreso promedio de $20,000 menos de un año que el ingreso medio en toda la ciudad. Boyle Heights es también una plaza fuerte para el activismo político sobre cuestiones que van desde la contaminación a la educación.

Como era de esperarse, el foro se centró en cuestiones candentes como la vivienda, gentrificación, la legalización de vendedores ambulantes, inmigración, reparación de aceras y servicios de la ciudad como recolección de basura.

Molina, quien fue por 24 años supervisora del condado, dijo que está corriendo porque el distrito 14 necesita un miembro del consejo que preste más atención a la zona este y está dispuesta a trabajar en temas tan básicos como la fijación de las aceras y la limpieza de basura y muebles abandonados.

“Necesitas ser un líder desde el primer día” … no sólo cuando se acercan las elecciones, dijo Molina.

Residentes de Boyle Heights tuvieron la oportunidad de hacer preguntas a los candidatos. (EGP foto por Nancy Martínez)

Residentes de Boyle Heights tuvieron la oportunidad de hacer preguntas a los candidatos. (EGP foto por Nancy Martínez)

Huizar, quien busca su tercer y último término de cuatro años, contradijo la acusación de Molina diciendo que su Iniciativa de Comunidades Limpias está mejorando y que su oficina ha asegurado millones de dólares en mejoras a las instalaciones de parques locales, la fijación de las calles y aceras, así como la creación de viviendas asequibles para veteranos y personas mayores. También promocionó la apertura del primer Centro de Búsqueda de Trabajo en el área para ayudar a los residentes a mejorar sus habilidades y encontrar empleo. Él no cree que ha habido un momento en la historia de Boyle Heights que ha visto tantas mejoras, dijo.

El debate giró varias veces ante los problemas de vivienda. Los barrios cerca del Centro de Los Ángeles se han convertido en un objetivo prioritario de los desarrolladores, tanto que algunas personas temen que Boyle Heights pueda llegar a ser inasequible para sus residentes de bajos ingresos.

Uno de los problemas de vivienda más polémicos en la historia reciente es el proyecto propuesto de los Apartamentos Wyvernwood Gardens, un complejo de uso mixto de reurbanización, que espera demoler y reemplazar 1,187 unidades de apartamentos de la era de la Segunda Guerra Mundial, que se encuentran en 70 acres justo al lado del Bulevar Olympic East, con 4.400 unidades de alquiler y condominios en varios edificios nuevos con alturas hasta de 18 pisos.

El apoyo en la comunidad ha sido desigual, unos pocos ven el proyecto como una medida para forzar la salida de las familias de bajos ingresos y otros creen que el proyecto creará vivienda necesaria y puestos de trabajo.

El sábado, Huizar reiteró que el proyecto según la propuesta actual es demasiado densa para la zona y que el envejecimiento infraestructural de la zona no puede soportar una gran evolución. Dos veces instó a Molina para tomar una posición sobre el tema.

Si bien ella no respondió a la pregunta directamente, Molina dijo que cree que ya hay demasiados inquilinos de la zona. “Tenemos que tener más propietarios de viviendas” en Boyle Heights, dijo. “No debemos permitir a que los desarrolladores [sólo] hagan sus proyectos”.

Díaz acordó que la vivienda es un tema crítico y dijo que los residentes de Wyvernwood deben tener “un lugar en la mesa”. Ella dijo que la línea roja (que más tarde se convirtió en la línea Dorada al este) “empujó familias afuera”. Eso no puede volver a ocurrir, dijo el residente de Boyle Heights. “Tenemos el derecho a permanecer y a quedarnos …”

Chávez dijo que la mayor participación de la comunidad requiere que las reuniones y audiencias sean más accesibles para los residentes. Dijo que las reuniones de la comisión de vivienda económica del Ayuntamiento se llevaban a cabo los miércoles a las 12pm, por lo que era inconveniente para los residentes de la clase trabajadora asistir, por lo tanto eran excluidos en cualquier cosa que quisieran decir. “La gentrificación esta quitando a los pobres por los ricos”, dijo Chávez.

Cuando el tema volvió a la delincuencia, Huizar dijo que la tasa de criminalidad en Boyle Heights es la más baja desde hace muchos años, dando crédito a la policía de Los Ángeles y a más programas para ayudar a mantener a los jóvenes fuera de problemas.

Se necesita hacer más todavía, replicó Molina. “Tenemos que eliminar el graffiti y rayones en un periodo de 48 horas, necesitamos una posición más agresiva por parte del consejo”, dijo ella.

Chávez dijo que un grafitero es un “artista frustrado que no tiene los recursos” necesarios. “Tenemos que aumentar los fondos para nuestros servicios para la juventud”, dijo.

En lo que respecta a la creación de empleo, Molina dijo que apoya los esfuerzos para revitalizar los negocios en áreas zonificadas para la actividad comercial. Agregó que el permitir a la gente que solamente pongan “mesas de barbacoa enfrente de sus casas” y empiecen a vender es un enfoque equivocado. “Tenemos que respetar” las zonas residenciales, dijo.

Huizar dijo que el Centro de negocios de Los Ángeles ha ayudado a nuevos negocios como La 1st Street Taqueria y la Panadería La Monarca a obtener los recursos y la ayuda financiera que necesitan para abrir cerca de Plaza del Mariachi en Boyle Heights. CD-14 está alentando el crecimiento de las empresas locales, dijo Huizar.

Tras el foro, varios de los asistentes le dijeron a EGP que estaban satisfechos con lo que escucharon y esperan quien resulte electo el 3 de marzo preste mucha atención a los problemas del vecindario.

“Queremos que la próxima generación pueda tener oportunidades para el éxito”, dijo Concepción Hernández, señalando que después de graduarse de la universidad, su hijo regresó a Boyle Heights para trabajar como maestro.

Juaquín Castellanos sintió que el foro fue informativo, pero dijo que le hubiera gustado escuchar más detalles acerca de cómo los candidatos mejorarían los servicios públicos en la zona del este.

Agregó que los candidatos deberían empezar a pensar en la creación de más recursos para jóvenes educados, nativos de Boyle Heights que quieren volver a la comunidad, pero que quieren mejores opciones de vivienda como nuevos condominios.

Los candidatos estuvieron programados para enfrentarse de nuevo ayer por la noche en el centro de Los Ángeles. Un tercer debate está programado para llevarse a cabo en la escuela intermedia Luther Burbank en Highland Park a las 6pm y otro en el Centro de Personas Mayores de El Sereno el viernes a las 6pm.


Twitter @jackieguzman

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