Exide, Porter Ranch: A Double Standard

January 14, 2016 by · 1 Comment 

The complaints of headaches, bloody noses and asthma by Porter Ranch residents sound all to familiar to eastside activists who’ve spent years fighting their own large scale local environmental health hazard.

So are the demands for government officials to immediately shut down Southern California Gas Co.’s natural gas storage facilities near Porter Ranch that residents blame for their health crisis.

Lea este artículo en Español: Exide, Porter Ranch; Un Doble Estándar

Strikingly different, however, has been the response from state regulators and elected officials – including Gov. Jerry Brown –who for years failed to take the same level of bold action to stop Vernon-based Exide Technologies from putting the lives of thousands of east and southeast working class, predominately Latino residents at risk.

Money, race and political power are at the root of the inequity, activists claim.

Armed with high-powered attorneys, residents in Porter Ranch are demanding the closure of SoCal Gas’ Aliso Canyon facility where a leak was discovered Oct. 23, leading to hundreds of complaints from residents about negative health effects and demands for the utility company to pay to relocate residents in the impacted area. In less than three months more than 2,000 residents have been relocated, schools have been shut down, students were moved and the company is expected to pay for the housing of pets and additional policing.

Residents from Boyle Heights to Commerce angrily protest Governor Brown’s silence on the Exide Technology pollution scandal during a red ribbon cutting ceremony he attended in November not far from the Vernon battery recycling plant. (EGP photo by Fred Zermeno)

Residents from Boyle Heights to Commerce angrily protest Governor Brown’s silence on the Exide Technology pollution scandal during a red ribbon cutting ceremony he attended in November not far from the Vernon battery recycling plant. (EGP photo by Fred Zermeno)

No one denies the seriousness of the problem in Porter Ranch, but east and southeast area residents and activists can’t help feeling there’s a double standard at play, especially when it comes to Gov. Brown who last week declared a State of Emergency in Porter Ranch after touring the Aliso Canyon facility and meeting with affected residents, something he’s failed to do in the Exide case.

His declaration allows the state to mobilize the necessary state personnel, equipment and facilities, and to waive any laws or regulations in place to deal with the environmental issue. It also gives the governor power to allocate emergency funding to fix the leak, which is expected to take three to four months to repair.

Boyle Heights resident Doelorez Mejia was pleased to see the quick call to action by the governor and state officials in Porter Ranch, but couldn’t help feeling the injustice of the situation.

“I’m disappointed our community was not considered as worthy for such swift protection,” she told EGP. “But sadly, I’m not surprised.”

She was referring to the years that pleas from residents living near the Exide acid-lead battery recycling plant were ignored. And the dozens of meetings where residents testified about the people – young and old – in their families with cancer, children with learning disabilities and other illnesses they say can be blamed on years of breathing in the toxic chemicals spewing from the Exide plant.

In 2013, air quality officials reported that Exide had violated toxic chemical emissions putting more than 110,000 east and southeast area residents at a higher-risk of cancer. Lead and arsenic had been found in the soil at nearby homes and at least one park.

It wasn’t the first time Exide had violated state standards on toxic emissions, nor would it be the last.
But unlike in Porter Ranch, demands around Exide went unheeded. Residents were not relocated, classes were not cancelled and the facility could not be closed despite operating for decades on a temporary permit issued by the California Department of Toxic Substance Control (DTSC).

Public outcry during dozens of community meetings, hearings and protest marches over their exposure to toxic levels of arsenic and lead – known to cause permanent neurological damage to children and pregnant woman – failed to force the closure of the facility. In fact, it took the U.S. Attorney’s Office stepping in and strong-arming Exide – with the threat of federal criminal charges – to agree to a negotiated permanent shut down in April 2015.

Testing and air emission modeling in the area now show that as many as two million people may be at an elevated risk for cancer and other health issues due to years of exposure to lead from the Exide plant. State toxic regulators now believe that upwards of 10,000 properties may need to be tested and decontaminated. So far, only 184 contaminated properties have been cleaned.

Exide was allowed to open adjacent to homes that had been in the area for generations. In Porter Ranch, city planners had allowed developers to build on vacant land next the Aliso Canyon facility, which had been there for decades.

Residentes afectados por Exide protestaron durante una ceremonia en noviembre donde asistió el gobernador Jerry Brown, quien no se ha pronunciado al respecto. (EGP foto por Fred Zermeno)

An appearance by Gov. Jerry Brown at the opening of a new hotel in Bell Gardens two months ago drew loud protests from activists angry that he has yet to speak out on the Exide Technologies pollution scandal. (Photo courtesy of East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice)

Boyle Heights resident Teresa Marquez acknowledges that both the Porter Ranch and Exide environmental hazards pose a threat to public health, but says she knew the response would be drastically different in Porter Ranch,  since even at the local level public officials have been more active in the Valley.

Boyle Heights is a neighborhood in the city of Los Angeles, Marquez pointed out, yet Mayor Eric Garcetti has not made an appearance at an Exide meeting or made public statements calling for a prompt response the way he has about the gas leak, she said disappointingly. Where’s the city attorney, who is now filing lawsuits to protect Porter Ranch residents?

“The key difference is money and white,” she said frankly. “And we’re just poor Latinos.”

Porter Ranch is a more affluent Los Angeles neighborhood located at the northwest edge of the San Fernando Valley. Its residents are mostly white, with a medium household income of over $120,000. In contrast, Exide’s contamination impacts the highly dense communities of Bell, Boyle Heights, Commerce, unincorporated East Los Angeles, Huntington Park, Maywood and Vernon; all home to mostly working class Latinos.

“I can’t help but wonder why the horrible disaster at Porter Ranch has captured so much attention, while the equally horrible disaster at Exide has captured so little,” Los Angeles County Board Supervisor Chair Hilda L. Solis told EGP in an emailed statement.

It was not until the facility was forced to close that eastside residents began to see elected officials take notice of their concerns, said Marquez. But even as they celebrated that victory many residents knew the challenge ahead was cleaning up the lead from dirt that to this day prevent children from playing in their own backyards.

“They wouldn’t dare relocate [Porter Ranch] families into our communities,” said Mark Lopez, executive director of East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice.

He told EGP their anger is not at Porter Ranch or its residents, but at the state and governor “who can be responsive but chose not to respond.”

“The gas leak should have been shut down last month, that being said, Exide should have been shut down decades ago.”

Late last year Brown attended a hotel opening in Bell Gardens, not far from Exide. Lopez and other eastside residents were also there, outside angrily protesting the governor’s silence on Exide. They carried signs and a 10-foot paper-mache effigy of Brown. Unlike in Porter Ranch, the governor has yet to visit communities impacted by Exide or publicly comment on the long-playing Exide environmental crisis, despite it now being called one of the largest public health disasters in the state’s history.

Gladys Limon, staff attorney for Communities for a Better Environment told EGP the governor’s and state agencies’ responses to the Porter Ranch catastrophe reveal a stark racial disparity in efforts to protect communities from health and safety risks caused by industrial operations.

“The state neglected the thousands of families in Southeast and East L.A. for decades, and the Governor to this day has failed to personally acknowledge the Exide health emergency and to meet with residents,” she said.

Former County Supervisor Gloria Molina told EGP that she continuously called the governor’s office to get him to take action, but never got a call back.

“The governor is totally uninterested,” she said, adding it may have something to do with the low number of registered voters in the area.

“He takes pride in being the environmental governor but he seems more interested in protecting trees than people,” Molina said.

Some environmental activists say they believe the governor’s response to the Aliso Canyon gas leak may be more in line with his commitment to be the world’s leader in reducing greenhouse emissions, than about health concerns.

Marquez said she was surprised to hear Brown had met with Porter Ranch residents.

“He hasn’t spoken to us,” she said. “I don’t know why he hasn’t taken similar action … he just simply doesn’t care about our community.”

EGP reached out to the governor to get his response to concerns by eastside residents that he has been indifferent to their plight, but, in keeping with the criticism from the community and elected officials, Brown again failed to personally comment on the situation. Instead he passed off our request to the Department of Toxic Substance Control, the state regulatory agency in charge of the cleanup, which has for years been strongly criticized for its handling of Exide.

“Protecting the community around the Exide Technologies facility in Vernon is a high priority for the Administration,” reads the response from DTSC spokesman Sandy Nax, who credited the governor for providing additional funding for the residential sampling and cleanups currently underway.

Bell Councilman Nestor Valencia told EGP he and other area residents have criticized DTSC for moving too slowly with soil sample tests and the clean up of properties.

“It goes to show the disparity of the southeast and East Los Angeles communities [compared] to other communities,” he said.

Residents just want the same response they saw in the Valley, Huntington Park Mayor Karina Macias told EGP. They want the same protocols for all communities, she said.

“Nobody should have to live under circumstances like that – where their health is impacted,” said Macias. “No offense to Porter Ranch but it’s unfortunate for us to not see such a response when we are talking about a toxic substance.”
Instead of hope, Mejia says the response by elected officials to the Porter Ranch disaster reaffirms what she already knew.

“They don’t care so much about our inner-city people. They don’t care about the industrial neighborhoods or the workers the way they do about wealthier communities.”


Twitter @nancyreporting



A version of this article was published by Eastern Group Publications in the January 14, 2016 print editions.

[Update 1:30p.m:] Added additional comments by residents.

Commerce Opts-In for the 2016 Homeless Count

January 7, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

The Commerce City Council on Tuesday approved a resolution to participate in the 2016 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count taking place Jan. 26 to Jan. 28.

The Los Angeles Homeless Service Authority (LAHSA)—a City and County of Los Angeles joint power authority formed to address homelessness—is diligently working on its annual homeless count in the City and County of Los Angeles.

Lea este artículo en Español: Commerce Opta por Inclusión en Conteo de Personas Sin Hogar 2016

In 2009, LAHSA expanded its Opt-In provision to allow more local cities and communities to coordinate homeless counts within their borders using local volunteers from public and private agencies. In 2015, 248 cities and communities—including neighborhood councils—enumerated all of their census tracts.

This year, about 126 cities and communities —including Bell Gardens, Monterey Park, East Los Angeles, Boyle Heights and Northeast Los Angeles — have signed up to take part, according to Kimberly Barnette, LAHSA regional coordinator.

She told EGP they are still working on getting the cities of Montebello and Vernon to join the massive effort.

The Opt-In Program makes it possible for LAHSA, with a high level of confidence, to obtain specific data and totals on the homeless population in every census tract in a city or neighborhood, according to LAHSA spokesperson Naomi Goldman.

“Participation allows jurisdictions to access the methodology of the 2016 Homeless Count to obtain a Point-In-Time Count estimate of the sheltered and unsheltered homeless population,” she told EGP via email. “Opting-in allows cities, neighborhoods and communities to understand the situation, bring resources to local communities and drive civic engagement.”

Barnette—who made a power presentation about LAHSA’s homeless count to the Commerce Council Tuesday—said they have already identified hot spots for homelessness, some of those areas are near Rosewood Park and Atlantic and Washington Boulevards.

Locaciones identificadas donde se congregan desamparados en Commerce y ciudades vecinas. (LAHSA)

Locaciones identificadas donde se congregan desamparados en Commerce y ciudades vecinas. (LAHSA)

In 2015, LAHSA identified over 44,000 homeless living in the Los Angeles regions. Those numbers do not include Long Beach, Pasadena or Glendale.

During the last homeless count, LAHSA identified 52 homeless in Commerce, all of them adults; 20 living in campers, 15 in vans and cars, 9 on the street, 6 in encampments and 2 living in tents.

Over the past two years, Commerce has made assisting the homeless a priority, said Matthew Rodriguez, director of public safety and community services with Commerce.

“We have reached out to as many as possible and have had success with placement in local shelters,” he told EGP, explaining that outreach is conducted through the city’s Social Services Department.

According to Rodriguez, staff refers the city’s homeless to the Salvation Army’s 70-bed shelter in nearby Bell or connect them to the People Assisting the Homeless (PATH) agency in Los Angeles.

Councilwoman Tina Baca del Rio, however, said she is worried that the homeless people in Commerce may not want help because they have found a way of living by earning easy money.

“Panhandling has become a way of life [in Commerce]…[homeless people] say they get a lot of money from people that go to casinos,” she said, asking Barnette to have LAHSA look into that issue.

“Maybe they can get more services instead of relying on panhandling,” she said.

By opting in, Commerce will be responsible for counting all the unsheltered homeless people in the agreed-upon census tracts. They also need to find a deployment site, select a site coordinator and recruit volunteers.

Rodriguez told EGP Commerce has already taken care of almost everything, but are still in need of more volunteers. He said Commerce residents interested in helping can sign up with the Public Safety and Community Services Department located inside City Hall.

Along with volunteers, about 15 city staff and Sheriff deputies will take part in the count, said Rodriguez.

“There are some areas where we don’t want to send volunteers, so it’s better if the officers go there,” he added.

While Commerce has participated the past three years in the homeless count, this time is different, City Administrator Jorge Rifa told EGP.

“Previously, this was under the aegis of the regional Gateway Council of Governments (COG),” a more local and informal count, he said. “During this time period the process has become more formalized and at least for Commerce a much more accurate and thorough process.”

LAHSA expects to deploy about 6,000 volunteers during the three-day count in the city and county.

Since 2005, LAHSA has coordinated six biennial homeless counts, however, starting 2016 the count will occur annually, according to the agency’s website.

For those interested in volunteering or to obtain more information about the 2016 homeless count visit, www.theycountwillyou.com.


Twitter @jackiereporter


Preparing for El Niño Power

December 10, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

When El Niño weather conditions hit Southern California during the 1980s and 90s, freeways were jammed, neighborhoods flooded, power lines toppled and homes were damaged by the deluge of rain pounding the Southland for days without end.
Now, with the strong probability of an El Niño repeat performance this winter, federal, state and local officials are preparing for the “worst case scenario.”
On Wednesday, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Region 9 office released a Severe El Niño Disaster Response Plan for California, Arizona and Nevada. The agency also announced creation of a task force to identify issues, gaps and shortfalls to enhance the plan.

Lea este artículo en Español: Preparándose para la Fuerte Tormenta de El Niño

FEMA’s release states that one in five Californians lives in an area at risk of flooding. “All 58 counties in California have experienced at least one major flood event in the last 20 years.”
“Utilizing a ‘whole community’ approach to emergency management reinforces the fact that FEMA is only one part of our nation’s emergency management teams,” said Bob Fenton, FEMA Region 9 Administrator. “The exercise gives us an opportunity to learn from each other, and from experts in the areas where solutions will come from.”
As the federal agency is preparing for increased rainfall, heavy snow and high tides caused by unusually warm temperatures near the equator, local municipalities are also making preparations of their own for the strong El Niño weather expected to hit in the coming months.


The Los Angeles River may not be as empty in the coming months as scientists predict California and other states will be impacted by El Niño weather. (Photo by Fred Zermeno)

The Los Angeles River may not be as empty in the coming months as scientists predict California and other states will be impacted by El Niño weather. (Photo by Fred Zermeno)

Bell Gardens
The relatively flat city of Bell Gardens does not have to worry about landslides however the possibility of flooding has city officials concerned.
Like in most cities in Los Angeles County residents can pick up sandbags at the city yard and at the local Los Angeles County Fire department.
One area the city will be vigilant in particular is the lake at Ford Park. Though Public Works Director Chau L. Vu says the city has not had any issues with flooding at the location the department plans to continue staffing personnel to monitor the lake and other areas of concern following a storm.
“We canvass and patrol neighborhoods after rain to check on trees and branches that may have been taken down by the wind,” Vu explained.
Vu says Bell Gardens has been proactive year-round and kept up with the maintenance of storm water drains. The ongoing attention has paid off, as there has not been a sewer break in recent years.
Vu told EGP she is surprised that her office has not received calls from residents or business concerned with the possible winter storm.
“I think people may be skeptical about El Niño,” she said.
But according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Weather Administration there is a 95 percent chance California will experience El Niño weather conditions this winter.
Vu plans to send out a list to residents with tips on what homeowners can do to reduce the chance of flooding including clearing out gutters.
“We plan on beefing up our patrolling during this wet weather.”

The city of Vernon’s Fire, Public Health and Public Works department also sent out its own list of storm recommendations to the city’s 1,800 business and all residential households. The mailer was accompanied by the county’s brochure on El Niño.
Vernon’s Public Works Director Kevin Wilson told EGP the city has good drainage on its streets and the Department has been consistently cleaning its entire inventory of city-owned and county-owned catch basins to reduce the potential of flooding during torrential rain events, he added.
“We typically only have some minor localized flooding during major rainfall events,” he said.
The almost exclusively industrial city wants its unique businesses community to be prepared. For businesses that may need an extra level of protection to their property in the event of rising water during winter rainstorms the city is providing sand and bags needed to make sandbags at the city’s fire stations and public works yards.
One of many things businesses must do is make sure they clean their roof sappers, emphasized Wilson.
If they don’t have their drainers cleaned that can lead to their roof collapsing which bring down sprinklers and ruins inventory, he explained.
“We need to be vigilant of that because that is always our number one problem,” said Wilson.
The close proximity to the Los Angeles River is something that Vernon must also consider.
Although Vernon Fire Chief Michael Wilson says the river has never overflowed the department has trained extensively every winter on swift water rescue.
The group of firefighters that compromise Vernon’s Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) squad is rated Type 1 Heavy Rescue, the highest certification awarded for USAR by the State of California Emergency Management Agency (CAL EMA). USAR is a multi hazard disciple utilized for a variety of emergencies or disasters including earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, terrorist activities and hazardous material releases.
The squad has seen all kinds of strange things come down the river that starts in Glendale including trucks, dogs and people, he added.
But the Fire Chief tells EGP he has yet to see the river overflow in the last 28 year he’s been with the city.
He also points out that the river is also crucial to getting the excess water out of the city.
“During the 97 El Niño it got high but never got over the bridge, it was definitely running extremely fast.”

El Niño is expected to bring heavy levels of snow to Southern California Mountains (EGP Photo by Fred Zermeno)

El Niño is expected to bring heavy levels of snow to Southern California Mountains (EGP Photo by Fred Zermeno)

Torrential rains have in the past caused flooding in Commerce, causing traffic nightmares for commuters near some of the region’s busiest freeways, the 5 and the 710, and along railway overpasses.
Over the last few weeks, the city has been holding meetings to address potential trouble spots before the rain begins.
Sump pump stations have been installed in four major areas prone to flooding: Garfield Avenue and Ferguson Street; Washington Boulevard and I-5 freeway; Atlantic Boulevard and Sheila Street; and Eastern Avenue and South of Commerce Way.
“The sump pumps collect the water and then send it away to the storm drain,” explained Matthew Rodriguez, director of safety and community services.
“We ordered 48 additional barricades and 18 ‘flooded’ signs” to be placed in flood areas once they are targeted, he added.
Rodriguez said the city’s public works department has already inspected the roofs of all city-owned buildings to make sure they can withstand the heavy rains and found the Bristow Park center and library to be in need of immediate repair.
Public works Director Maryam Babaki told EGP completely replacing the roof will cost half a million dollars, noting that funding has not yet been committed. In the meantime, she said, the most damaged areas will be patched to get the facility through the rainy season and until funding can be secured.
According to Rodriguez, Commerce will refer the estimated 60 homeless people in the city to the Salvation Army’s 70-bed shelter in nearby Bell or connect them with the People Assisting the Homeless (PATH) agency in Los Angeles.
The city has also urged residents to clean rain gutters and drains to avoid roof collapses and flooding. Other precautions include the distribution of as many as 5,000 sandbags, 10 per address by January.
There were 1,000 sandbags given out last week alone, according to Ernie Fierro, assistant emergency preparedness officer at Commerce’s Lucille Roybal-Allard Emergency Operations Center. Additional distributions will take place Dec. 14, 16 and 19.
The City has also made the County’s emergency preparedness pamphlets available at all public counters and council chambers, according to Rodriguez.
The pamphlets include important information on what to do in an emergency, putting together an emergency kit and where to get help.
Commerce’s state-of-the-art Emergency Operations Center, opened in October 2014, is expected to play a vital role in the regional response to any El Nino related disasters.
The “state of the art” facility is equipped with an auxiliary power source, a back-up generator, additional needed space to execute EOC operations and functions.
Residents and stakeholders are also being encouraged to register with Blackboard Connect to receive free emergency alerts via cell phone. During emergencies, the City will send important messages, in English and Spanish, to registered phone numbers. People can register by calling the Public Safety and Community Services Department at (323) 887-4460.

Saying the city does not want to alarm residents, Montebello Public Works Director Danilo Batson told EGP at this point the city has no plans to conduct El Niño-specific meetings or send out emergency information to city residents.
In contrast to neighboring cities, Montebello’s website has no El Niño emergency information or safety tips.
“It’s not that we’re not concerned,” emphasized Batson, pointing out that projections for El Niño show the heaviest rains coming in late winter. “The County is already providing a lot of information and we don’t want to duplicate it,” he said, adding that the county’s emergency information is available at City Hall.
“We don’t want to alarm residents,” he cautioned.
“The only questions we get are about sandbags,” Batson explained.
The city is distributing sandbags twice a day, Monday through Thursday, at the city yard located at 311 S. Greenwood Ave. Distributions are between 12-12:30 p.m. and 2-2:30 p.m.
According to Batson, there has been a big turnout, especially on days when there is threat of rain.
Some streets in the industrial sections of South Montebello are more prone to flooding, according to the public works director. In anticipation of heavy rains, the department has contacted county officials to urge them to quickly deal with backed up drains, like those on Olympic Boulevard that caused flooding during the last heavy rainstorm.
Concerns about potential landslides in the fire damaged Montebello Hills has also been addressed, Batson said.
He told EGP that the developer of the privately-owned property, Cook Hill Properties, has power-sprayed the burnt hillside with seeds in an attempt to grow some vegetation on the land ahead of coming rains.
An El Niño related presentation may be held sometime next year, according to Baston, but nothing official has been planned.

Next week EGP looks at El Niño  preparedness  in the city of Los Angeles and tips on how to prepare for a severe storm.


Twitter @jackiereporter




Audit: Central Basin Municipal Water District ‘Mismanaged’

December 10, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

A new state audit finds that poor leadership, a lack of planning and widespread mismanagement have threatened the long-term financial health of the Central Basin Municipal Water District, which serves 2 million people in southeast Los Angeles County, it was reported Friday.
The report released Thursday by the California state auditor revealed that the district avoided competitive bidding for contracts, had six general managers in five years and spent thousands of dollars on potentially illegal gifts of public funds to support community events, the Los Angeles Times reported.
“They have had poor leadership on the board and instability at the top executive levels for many years. The role of the financial director has been unstable as well,” Margarita Fernandez, the state auditor’s chief of public affairs, said in remarks reported by The Times. “This makes it difficult to put an effective structure in place to provide for the agency’s financial viability.”
The Central Basin Municipal Water District, which was established in 1952, serves 24 cities and six unincorporated areas throughout southeast Los Angeles County. It has a five-member board of directors elected by the public.
Auditors found that the agency repeatedly failed to earn enough revenue to cover costs and that its board improperly set up a trust fund to pay for a project’s environmental review without adequate public meetings or safeguards to ensure that expenditures of $2.75 million from the fund were appropriate.
According the state report, the district spent $500,000 to investigate those expenditures and to deal with a lawsuit filed by a board member who sought to recover for the agency some of the money transferred to the fund.
District officials said the audit provides valuable insights and that the agency is addressing the state’s recommendations, some of which have already been implemented, The Times reported. The completed changes include developing a strategic plan, establishing an ethics policy and strengthening financial controls.

Buscan a Implicados en Carrera Callejera que Dejó Tres Muertos en Commerce

December 3, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

Investigadores arrestaron a un joven acusado de una carrera callejera ilegal en Commerce que resultó en un accidente que causó la muerte de tres personas e hirió de gravedad a otras dos. Dos conductores más están siendo buscados, informaron las autoridades la semana pasada.

El accidente ocurrió el 14 de noviembre alrededor de la 1:10am en la cuadra 2600 de South Malt Avenue. Los muertos fueron Oscar Sánchez, 15, de South Gate; Guillermo Gutiérrez, de 29 años, de Los Ángeles; y Oscar Sabino, de 27 años, también de Los Ángeles.

El 16 de noviembre, investigadores arrestaron a Bryan Morales, de 18 años, de Pacoima en sospecha de homicidio vehicular, informó la oficina del Alguacil.

Morales fue puesto en libertad al día siguiente bajo una fianza de $50,000 dólares.

De acuerdo con la oficina del alguacil, Morales conducía un Dodge Charger en una carrera con otro vehículo cuando el Dodge chocó contra un Ford Mustang cuyo conductor estaba haciendo un “quemando llantas” en el camino de los dos vehículos en carreras.

“La fuerza de la colisión causó que el Dodge (golpeara) una camioneta Chevrolet estacionada cerca de la acera”, según la declaración de un oficial del alguacil.

Alrededor de 80 personas estaban reunidas en el lugar, y al menos cinco de ellas estaban de pie cerca de la Chevrolet estacionada, informó la oficina del alguacil.

La fuerza del impacto causó que al menos cinco personas volaran a más de 30 pies de distancia.

Tres de esas personas murieron, y otros dos fueron trasladados a un hospital en estado crítico.

Cualquier persona con información sobre la identidad del segundo conductor de carreras, o la identidad del conductor del Mustang se le pide que llame al investigador Juan Huerta al (323) 981-5014; o al sargento. T.J. Smith al (323) 981-5020.

Council Delays Action on Bristow Park

November 25, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

It’s been almost a year since a homicide in East Los Angeles committed by a juvenile from the Bristow Park area of Commerce rattled the nerves of people living in the neighborhood amid fears that there could be a surge in gang activity or gang retaliation.

Since the juvenile was charged with murder and his family moved out of the area, fears seem to have calmed and activities appear to be back to normal, yet there is still talk of stepping up police presence in the neighborhood, perhaps by relocating a Sheriff’s substation to the area.

Lea este artículo en Español: Ayuntamiento Aplaza la Acción para el Parque Bristow

There’s not a problem anymore, said Commerce resident Jose Ledesma Monday morning on his way to play handball at Bristow Park.

“I come here in the mornings and I never see anything dangerous,” he told EGP in Spanish. He said he’s not sure about nighttime activity, but he doesn’t see gang members congregating or suspicious people hanging around during daylight hours.

His statement coincides with information in the Bristow Park Public Safety and Capital Project Update report given by the East Los Angeles Sheriff’s Station and city staff to the Commerce City Council during its Nov. 17 meeting.

Commerce contracts with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department for its law enforcement needs. Deputies assigned to patrol the city are assigned and report to the East L.A. station.

“Our parks are safe,” Sheriff’s Capt. Steve Biagini told the council, noting that only one crime at a local park was reported between Jan. 1 and Nov. 16, 2015.

A person was shot in September and the case is still ongoing, Biagini told EGP. “The victim survived.”

According to Biagini, a 2013 Sheriff’s Department survey in Commerce found that 43% of the people surveyed were concerned about gang loitering, but 81% said they felt safe overall.

Bristow Park in the City of Commerce under safety review. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

Bristow Park in the City of Commerce under safety review. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

A Town Hall Meeting focused on public safety in and around the Bristow Park area was held in February this year. Concerns raised by residents at the meeting resulted in the city authorizing an additional car being assigned to patrol the neighborhood seven days a week, using funds from Commerce’s annual allocation of the COPS Grant; about $125,000 to date.

Councilwoman Oralia Rebollo told the council that she works in the Bristow Park area and she can confirm that there has been more patrol presence.

“Yes, the park is safe,” she said.

Councilman Hugo Argumedo said Bristow Park is not the only park in Commerce that the city should be looking at, telling his colleagues “the other [City] parks need to be addressed.”

According to Biagini, the Sheriff’s Department deploys between 25 and 27 deputies to patrol the city and they often visit Commerce’s other parks—Bandini, Veterans and Rosewood.

East Los Angeles resident Cesar Rosas visits Bristow Park and told EGP he thinks the park is clean and he hasn’t seen any gang activity.

“A patrol car comes here very often and stays here for a while,” he said in Spanish.

“They even have cameras in the park so if they see something or someone suspicious they approach them,” he added.

When he compares Bristow Park with others, such as Oregon Park in East Los Angeles, Ledesma said he feels Bristow Park is much more welcoming.

“At Oregon Park you often see gang members congregating,” he said, telling EGP that he once witnessed a group of men with guns looking for other “possible gang members.”

Lorenzo Ochoa was at Bristow Park Monday morning to play soccer. He’s not a regular at the park, but he considers it very safe.

“I usually go to Ruben Salazar Park” in East Los Angeles where I live, said Ochoa, telling EGP he was unaware two men had been gunned down in broad daylight the day before at the eastside park.

“I didn’t know about that, but is a worrying situation,” he said.

Following the report, the city council directed staff to come back to the next council meeting with options for future deputy deployment and the costs associated with each, according to Matthew Rodriguez, director of public safety and community services.

Among the options to be considered is moving the Commerce City COPS Team from City Hall to a new permanent location in Bristow Park. The action would require moving the daycare program to another area of the park. There’s also talk of possibly building a community kitchen.

The goal of city officials and the public safety department is to continue to improve the quality of life “for all residents and guests who live, work, and visit the City of Commerce,” Rodriguez said.

Also, in preparation for El Niño rains, a follow up assessment was directed to all City facilities.

“It has been determined that the Bristow Park roof is in need of immediate attention and repair,” said Rodriguez.

Bristow Park Library staff also confirmed that several leaks have been detected in the library and Community Center.

City staff is scheduled to report back at the Dec. 1 City Council meeting.


Twitter @jackiereporter


Activists Protest Governor’s Silence on Exide at Hotel Opening

November 19, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

An appearance by Gov. Jerry Brown Wednesday at the opening of a new Bell Gardens hotel drew loud protests from activists angry that he has yet to speak out on the Exide Technologies pollution scandal.

Carrying a 10-foot tall paper maché effigy of the governor, dozens of protesters rallied outside the Bicycle Casino where Brown was headlining the grand opening celebration for the casino’s new hotel: his second appearance on behalf of the project.

“Governor Brown comes to Bell Gardens to acknowledge the expansion of the Bicycle Casino but has not acknowledged the contamination of Exide Technologies,” said Mark Lopez, director of East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice.

Dozens of protesters rallied outside the Bicycle Casino to confront Gov. Jerry Brown who has yet to speak out on the ExideTechnologies pollution scandal. (East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice)

Dozens of protesters rallied outside the Bicycle Casino to confront Gov. Jerry Brown who has yet to speak out on the ExideTechnologies pollution scandal. (East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice)

Lopez was referring to the now shuttered Vernon plant’s illegal emissions of arsenic and lead and other toxic chemicals that have put more than 100,000 east and southeast area residents at a higher risk of cancer and other illnesses.

State toxic control regulators allowed Exide to operate for decades on an interim permit, despite dozens of handling of hazardous waste and emissions violations.

“We are calling on Gov. Brown to meet with community leaders and to commit the necessary funds to clean up the contamination the state allowed Exide to create,” Lopez said.

The governor did not acknowledge the protesters, according to organizers.

Alcaldes de Ciudades del Sureste Apoyan Iniciativa ‘Verde’

November 19, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

Los alcaldes de South Gate, Commerce, Maywood, Bell y Compton, y representantes de la empresa Waste Management (WM), el Distrito de Gestión de Calidad del Aire de la Costa Sur (SCAQMD) y Southern California Gas Company (SoCalGas).

“Queremos animar a los propietarios y operadores de los camiones de carga pesada para cambiar sus camiones por vehículos de energía más limpia”, el alcalde de Maywood Eddie de la Riva le dijo a EGP.

Lea artículo completo en Inglés: ‘710 Freeway Mayors’ Back Change to Cleaner Trucks

Dijo que un estudio del condado de Los Ángeles reveló que los residentes de Maywood sufren de algunas de las tasas más altas de asma, cáncer y otras enfermedades respiratorias.

“Es muy importante para mí, ya que es algo que afecta a mi comunidad y mis vecinos”, explicó.

En 2013, un estudio que analizó el tráfico de camiones en las calles más transitadas de Commerce encontró que aproximadamente 47.000 camiones diesel recorren la autopista 710 al día, exponiendo a residentes y trabajadores de Commerce a grandes cantidades de diesel, lo que lleva a las mismas enfermedades que en Maywood.

El alcalde de South Gate Jorge Morales dijo que es importante seguir el movimiento verde. “Tenemos toda la tecnología en este momento, tenemos vehículos de gas natural aquí y podemos hacer una gran diferencia en la calidad del aire de nuestras comunidades”.

 (Southern California Gas Co.)

(Southern California Gas Co.)


Para obtener más información acerca de este movimiento, visite CleanerAirAhead.org.


Twitter @jackiereporter


323 Bistro Offers Fresh California Cuisine

November 19, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

The City of Commerce has a nice new place where residents and visitors to the city can spend time with family and friends while enjoying simple but tasty dishes.

Since opening last month, 323 Bistro at the Crowne Plaza Hotel Los Angeles-Commerce Casino is quickly becoming a popular hangout for people who live, work or visit the community. Its varied menu includes sandwiches, salads, soups, and a variety of other choices.

The restaurant offers breakfast, lunch and dinner and room service to guests staying at the Crowne Plaza Hotel: a smaller menu is offered between 1 a.m. and 6 a.m.

Mayor Leila Leon was among many guests taking part in the October grand opening of 323 Bistro at the Crowne Plaza Hotel-Commerce Casino. (The City of Commerce)

Commerce Mayor Leila Leon was among the many guests taking part in the October grand opening of 323 Bistro at the Crowne Plaza Hotel-Commerce Casino. (The City of Commerce)

Marie Blomquist, director of food and beverage at the Crown Plaza Los Angeles-Commerce Casino, noted that the previous restaurant at the location offered Asian cuisine. But when the hotel took charge of the place the restaurant underwent a change “to a California [cuisine] menu of fresh and varied food,” Blomquist said.

The quality and freshness of the ingredients used  in 323 Bistro’s dishes can’t be overstated. It’s what guides every meal creation:

      “Say yes to fresh and raw ingredients and a fusion of flavors inspired by cultures across the earth. Real food is grown, prepared,  and plated with love–and eaten with joy,” boasts the 323 Bistro website.

The restaurant, according to Blomquist, is off to a good start, with a steady flow of customers, especially in the afternoon. In addition to its eat-in restaurant, 323 Bistro has meeting space available that can accommodate up to 100 people.

“The casino customers and hotel guests have started to notice the presence of the new outlet and have come to check us out,” Blomquist said.

Commerce Mayor Lilia Leon said that the opening of Bistro 323 is an option for those who want to enjoy something other than Asian cuisine.

“Customers will have the opportunity to enjoy a variety of foods rather than the only option they had with the Chinese restaurant,” said Leon, who attended the restaurant’s grand opening in October.

“Any new restaurant will do very well [in Commerce] because we have limited places to go to eat in the area,” said Leon, adding she’s happy that 323 Bistro offers parking validation to customers.

During the Thanksgiving holiday, the restaurant will offer traditional Thanksgiving dishes on Thursday and Friday, from 11 am to 10 pm. Plans are to offer similar service during the Christmas holiday, but the menu has not yet been set.

In addition to offering a new local dining experience, 323 Bistro has also become a source of employment for residents of the City of Commerce, Los Angeles and Orange County. The restaurant employs about 26 people, 90 percent of them Latino.

323 Bistro is located at the Crown Plaza Hotel – Casino Commerce:  6121 E. Telegraph Rd. in Commerce. It is open daily from 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. For more information, visit  http://323bistro.com/ or call (323) 832-4311. 

 Updated: 4:03 p.m.

Commerce Health Fair is Back

October 8, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

Growing up with a cousin with Down syndrome helped Commerce Councilwoman Oralia Rebollo understand the many challenges people with disabilities face.

Mayor Pro Tem Tina Baca del Rio watched as close family members lost their fight against cancer, making her an advocate for cancer awareness.

Commerce’s mayor, Lilia Leon works closely with women who have suffered domestic violence, helping to empower them to make the transition to independence.

Lea este artículo en Español: Regresa la Feria de Salud de Commerce

Three different causes, all recognized in the same month. October is Down Syndrome, Breast Cancer and Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

For the three women on Commerce’s City Council the issues are close to their heart and part of the reason they voted with council colleagues to allocate funding to bring back the Commerce Health Fair taking place this Saturday at Rosewood Park after a seven-year hiatus.

The city’s once annual health fair was cut in 2008 due to budget restraints, according to Commerce Media Specialist Herlinda Chico.

“Before, it was a large fair with prizes, raffles and a petting zoo,” said Chico, but this year the public event will have a larger focus on activities and resources focused on breast cancer, Down syndrome and domestic violence.

The city is collaborating with several local organizations to offer a variety of services, including flu shots, mammograms, Zumba, health information, healthy snacks and craft tables. Some of the services require health insurance information but could under certain guidelines be free.

Commerce Health Fair will provide information about Down Syndrome, Breast Cancer and Domestic Violence. (Commerce)

Commerce Health Fair will provide information about Down Syndrome, Breast Cancer and Domestic Violence. (Commerce)

The city council approved $3,500 to help pay for the health fair, according to the city’s finance director, Vilko Domic.

Kicking off the event will be the Abilities Walk—a 30-minute walk around the Rosewood Park starting at 8:30am. The walk is open to everyone, not just those with Down syndrome, according to Eduardo Saucedo, Commerce’s social services coordinator and event organizer.

“We want to focus on the ability and not the disability of an individual,” he said.

According to the National Down Syndrome Society, one in every 691 babies in the U.S. is born with Down syndrome, making it the most common genetic condition.

With proper help, however, people with Down syndrome are living longer and are more integrated into society. In 1910, children with Down syndrome were only expected to survive to about age 9, but now, with all advances in clinical treatment, up to 80% of people with Down syndrome reach the age of 60; some live even longer.

Schools in Commerce are operated by the Montebello Unified School District. According to the District, in 2013-2014 nearly 3,200 students in grades Kindergarten to 12 had some type of disability.

During her 2014 election campaign and since, Rebollo, who works in early education, has said she wants Commerce to collaborate more with agencies that provide programs and services to residents with special needs.

Under her leadership, she told EGP, the city has expanded the number of hours for Adaptive Swimming lessons. “Water therapy is one of the best forms of exercise and activities for most children and adults with special needs,” Rebollo said.

In July, Commerce sent two buses of residents to the Special Olympics World Games hosted by Los Angeles. The councilwoman said she was “incredibly proud” of the community for their sportsmanship and support of special needs athletes.

“My ultimate goal is to establish a citizens’ advisory commission on disabilities. Ideally, we will select residents with special needs or who are involved with the special needs community,” she told EGP in an email.

Breast cancer awareness will be heavily promoted during Saturday’s health fair with information and early detection exams. Commerce has secured a mobile mammogram unit to provide free mammograms to women over 40 who register in advance. An experienced physician’s assistant will be on hand to oversee the process and to answer questions.

“Exams are free for those who qualify” under the state-funded Every Woman Counts program eligibility guidelines, said Chico. The city has also secured a $1,000 donation from the Commerce Hotel and Casino to pay for the exam for women who do not qualify for the state program, but cannot afford the $100 cost of the service.

If anything is found during the exam, a free follow up consultation will be provided, Chico said.

Every year, over 200,000 American women are diagnosed with breast cancer. It is the most common cause of cancer-related death among Latinas, according to the American Cancer Society. Breast cancer can be cured more than 95% of the time with early detection, which is why mammograms are so critical, the American Cancer Society states.

Domestic violence education and awareness are equally important, says Mayor Leon, not just for the victims, but also to help the public understand the issue and to spread the word that help is available.

“People will see the pamphlets and sometimes it is not even for them, but for a family member, a friend or a neighbor,” said Leon.

She told EGP she got involved with the issue in the late 1980s while working at Centro Mental Health, where she met people suffering from different forms of domestic violence and abuse.

“[Domestic violence] doesn’t have to be physical, it’s also mental,” she said. “There’s some men, and in cases women, who think ‘I can do whatever I want with you’ and mistreat their significant other,” Leon explained.

Abuse is a repetitive pattern of behaviors to maintain power and control over an intimate partner, according to the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

These behaviors cause physical harm, arouse fear, prevent a partner from doing what he or she wish or force the person to behave in ways they do not want.

The city hopes the health fair will help educate and get people talking about how to prevent domestic violence, which also claims the elderly and children among its victims.

Commerce’s Public Safety and Community Services Department will be offering services to those experiencing domestic violence, pointed out Leon.

In partnership with East Los Angeles Women’s Shelter, the city will collect makeup and toiletries, such as shampoo, body wash and toothpaste, throughout the month of October to donate to survivors of domestic violence. Donations can be brought to the health fair or dropped off in collection bins at the city’s four libraries, park facilities, city hall and the senior center.

Participating organizations include Club 51, a support group for parents with children with Down syndrome; ENKI, providing mental health services; the American Cancer Society; Victims Assistance which helps anyone who may be in danger of domestic violence; and Walgreens, which will be administering immunizations to anyone with health insurance: some people may qualify for a free flu shot.

People are encouraged to wear the colors associated with the various causes: pink to support breast cancer, purple for domestic violence and yellow and blue for Down syndrome. The health fair will run from rom 9 a.m. to Noon at Rosewood Park, located at 5600 Harbor St.

To pre-register for a mammogram, call Herlinda Chico at (323) 722-4805 ext. 2370. For more information about the health fair, call (323) 887-4460. 


Twitter @jackieguzman


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