Gold Line Extension ‘Divides’ Eastside

March 31, 2016 by · 1 Comment 

Variations in the plan to extend Metro’s Gold Line Light Rail down two of the busiest streets in East Los Angeles would further divide a community that has for decades already shouldered more than its share of transportation projects in the region, eastside residents told Metro officials Tuesday.

“Every community must share the burden of traffic,” said Martha Hernandez, who last year advocated against a light rail being included in plans to alleviate traffic congestion between the 710 Long Beach and 210 freeways, from East Los Angeles to South Pasadena.

“East L.A. has no more land to share,” Hernandez said firmly.

Lea este artículo en Español: Línea Dorada ‘Divide’ al Este de Los Ángeles

The Eastside Transit Corridor Phase 2 project aims to extend the Gold Line east from where it currently ends at Atlantic Boulevard in East Los Angeles. The two alternatives Metro is considering include a light rail line along the SR-60 Pomona Freeway that ends in South El Monte, or a north-south connection to Washington Boulevard, which would then travel east with a final stop in the city of Whittier.

Both proposals are similar to the alternatives presented nearly two years ago to residents and the business community, but have now been tweaked to reflect comments received from the community and regulatory agencies, according to Eastside Phase 2 Project Manager Eugene Kim.

The SR-60 NSDV alternative would travel for 6.9 miles along the southern edge of the Pomona Freeway, transitioning briefly to the north side of the freeway, stopping at the Shops of Montebello before continuing on to its final stop on Peck

Road in the city of South El Monte. The cost for this plan is estimated at $1.3 billion.

The Washington Boulevard alternative now includes Arizona Avenue, Atlantic Boulevard and Garfield Avenue, three variations for the north-side connection to Washington Boulevard in the city of Commerce, with a potential stop at the Citadel Outlets. The route would travel 9.5 miles and is estimated to cost up to $1.7 billion.

Metro officials pointed out that unlike two years ago when an aerial rail line was proposed, an underground subway would be used for the new Garfield route.

Kim stressed that no determination has been made on whether the light rail would travel at grade, above grade or below ground in the Arizona and Atlantic variations.

Metro has hosted public meetings on the revised plans in East Los Angeles, Montebello and Whittier. An additional meeting will be held Thursday at the South El Monte Senior Center at 6pm.

On Tuesday, the Washington Boulevard alternative proved to be the most controversial for attendees at the meeting at the East Los Angeles Library. Many of the participants recalled how business suffered when the Gold Line was first extended to the eastside along 3rd Street.

To this day, many in the community to this day say the community and businesses have still not recovered.

“Our businesses will suffer, our kids will suffer while Montebello or Commerce benefit,” complained East L.A. resident Raul Daniel Rubalcaba.

Meeting participants, from East L.A., South El Monte, Montebello, Pico Rivera and other areas were broken up into small groups where they discussed possible benefits and their concerns for each of the alternatives.

A Gold Line light rail train arrives at the Atlantic Station in East Los Angeles. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

A Gold Line light rail train arrives at the Atlantic Station in East Los Angeles. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

What came across loud and clear Tuesday, was East L.A. residents do not want a light rail that travels above ground.

“If a subway is good enough for the people on the Westside, it’s good enough for us,” said Clara Solis.

Most cited the loss of business among their greatest concern.

“We don’t want to transport our customers to the Citadel or The Shops at Montebello,” said Eddie Torres, the owner of a sign company and member of the East Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce.

If the Washington Alternative moves forward, argued Torres, the Citadel and Commerce Casino  would be the winners in the long-run, while eastside residents, forced to live through the construction, traffic and noise would be negatively impacted for the rest of their lives.

“I’ll be dammed if I help send business their way on my grass,” Torres said.
Ben Cardenas, president of the Montebello Unified School District and assistant city manager for the city of Pico Rivera, told residents at his table that the community should really be advocating for both alternatives, something Metro is also considering.

“The goal is to bring mass transit” to the area, said Cardenas. “The bottom line is, are we willing to compromise short term for a long term benefit?”

He said another light rail could bring a new tax base to the eastside community, but only if riders get off and shop.

“These streets are already congested, the alternatives would just kill business,” countered Lily Hernandez.

Opponents of the SR-60 alternative pointed out the list of regulatory agencies that could complicate efforts to move forward. The SR-60 alternative travels near the EPA Superfund site, Southern California Edison transmission lines and near a flood control basin at Whittier Narrows. The north side variation could prevent any plans for widening the Pomona Freeway in the future, they argued.
Nothing has been set in stone, representatives for Sup. Hilda Solis and Metro assured residents.

“Before recommitting to an environmental process we want to get feedback from the community again,” Kim explained.

Kim told EGP the agency has allocated $1.7 billion in Measure R funds for the project. He said the board is looking to allocate additional funds if voters approve a new transit sales tax in November.

Rubalcaba pointed out that when the Montebello residents and business owners complained two years ago that an above grade or at grade route would devastate their community, Metro listened and came back with a less intrusive option. He told the East L.A. residents in the room it was their turn to unite and demand what they want instead of allowing transportation projects to divide their community any further.

“Our grandparents may have let it go, our parents were too busy raising us, but this is where we draw the line.”

—-

Twitter @nancyreporting

nmartinez@egpnews.com

Policing Dialogue Focuses on Eastside Youth

February 25, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Schools and law-enforcement need to address the issue of gangs more openly, 16-year old Saul Soto told area residents and police gathered at the Puente Learning Center in Boyle Heights last week.

“We need representatives going to schools, meeting with parents, talking to students,” the 10th grader said.
“We need to work together to address this issue of young men with weapons shooting at each other,” said Capt. Martin Baeza, who heads the Los Angeles Police Department’s Hollenbeck Division.

The remarks were made during “Days of Dialogue on the Future of Policing,” one of several workshops taking place across Los Angeles County organized by the Institute of Nonviolence.

The dialogue series, which kicked off in August 2015, marks the 50th Anniversary of the Watts Rebellion (or Watts riots) in 1965 and aims to ensure constructive civic engagement around the issue of police violence.

About 100 people attended the Feb. 18 workshop hosted by the Los Angeles Police Dept., Hollenbeck Division, which covers Lincoln Heights, El Sereno, Northeast LA, and Boyle Height among other areas. The event included a buffet style dinner followed by small roundtable discussions where residents shared with police their opinions on the state of policing in their neighborhoods.

Talking in real terms, Hollenbeck Capt. Martin Baeza discussed the rash of violence sweeping the area since January. Over 40 gun-related incidents have already been reported this year, he said. Sixteen people have been injured and four have been killed, a large uptick from the same period in 2015 when 16 shootings left nine people injured and one person dead, Baeza said.

Participants dialogue with Hollenbeck police officers during a workshop in Boyle Heights. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

Participants dialogue with Hollenbeck police officers during a workshop in Boyle Heights. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

“One homicide is too much already,” Baeza told the audience, adding that the community and police have to work together.

Like Baeza, Soto agrees more needs to be done to keep young people out of gangs but he said he hasn’t seen much action getting it done.

“Schools talk about sex, they talk about drugs, but they never really talk about the problem with gangs,” Soto told EGP following the workshop. “Maybe teachers are afraid because they think that if they talk about the issue, [gang members] may slash or wreck their cars” or harm them, the teen speculated.

Gangs are a big problem and do much harm in the community, acknowledged Baeza. There are about 35 gangs in the division and about two-thirds are generational, “grandfather, father and sons,” he said, explaining the deep roots they have in the community.

Some of the officers under his command also have local roots, pointed out Baeza, adding that a recent survey found that 55 of the 300 officers assigned to Hollenbeck either grew up or have some type of connection to the eastside community.

They want to help their community, Baeza said.

That doesn’t mean, however, that they can let their guard down when it comes to serious problems such as stopping an armed suspect, cautioned the captain.

“A young person pointing at an officer [with a gun] is absolute disaster,” Baeza said. He was referencing a Feb. 6 police-involved shooting that left 16-year-old Jose Mendez dead. According to police, Mendez pointed a sawed-off shotgun at officers and was fatally shot.

Kimberly Bellasol, 17, thinks the news media and social media play a big role in how law-enforcement is portrayed. She told EGP the media should use more care when reporting tragic events.

“[The media always] shows a negative side of the police,” but they never focus on the good they do, she said. “For example, I saw a story about two police officers helping a boy get ready for an interview,” it would be amazing to see more stories like that, Bellasol said.

Law-enforcement needs to engage the community more, echoed El Sereno resident Ray Rios.
Likewise, the community should to be more involved in policy making and creating resources to help teenagers gain the skills they’ll need as adults, Rios told EGP.

“Not everybody is made to attend college,” he explained. “When [young people] don’t have skills they find that their only alternative is a gang. We need to show them options,” he added.

If you want to be more engaged, start by getting to know the captain and senior lead officers in your area, urged Baeza.

Street Improvement Projects in Eagle Rock, Boyle Heights Earmarked

February 11, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Street improvement projects in Eagle Rock and the Boyle Heights area were recently earmarked for almost $18 million in state and other funds, City Councilman Jose Huizar announced.

The funds will go toward “complete street” initiatives “that prioritize pedestrians and bicyclists as   much as automobiles, while also helping drive foot traffic to our main corridors,” Huizar said.

“I am extremely happy about the nearly $18 million we’ve recently secured,” he said. “I look forward to pursuing other funds to bring even more improvements to Council District 14.”

Eagle Rock is getting about $12 million, including a $9.8 million grant from the California Transportation Commission for a number of upgrades along Colorado Boulevard: pedestrian lighting between College View Avenue and Eagle Vista Avenue; curb extensions at 21 sites, including Townsend, Argus and Maywood; a flashing crosswalk at Eagle Rock Boulevard and Merton Avenue; a new sidewalk next to College View Avenue; street furniture; and bicycle striping.

A $2 million grant from the state’s Active Transportation Program was awarded to the Eagle Rock area, and will pay for medial islands on the westside of Eagle Rock Boulevard, a pair of new traffic signals at La Roda Avenue and Hermosa Avenue, and bus stop lighting.

Boyle Heights is receiving $6 million, including $5 million in Active Transportation Program grants for sidewalk work, pedestrian lighting between Pico Gardens housing and Sixth Street Bridge East Park, and a new signal at Fourth and Clarence streets.

Whittier Boulevard also will get $1 million in redevelopment funds for sidewalk repairs, though more funding is being identified.

In addition to the funding announced today, Boyle Heights had already received $2.55 million last year to build new sidewalks and bicycle amenities along Mission Road, from the Sixth Street Bridge to Seventh Street, and a roundabout.

These projects are set to begin construction early next year.

Fugitive Eastside Murder Suspect Returned to L.A.

December 10, 2015 by · 1 Comment 

A 28-year-old man suspected in the beating death of his 21-year-old girlfriend, whose body was found next to a cemetery and freeway in East Los Angeles, was taken into custody in Mexico and has been extradited to Los Angeles, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department announced today.

Antonio Medina, 28, was sought in the death of Kassandra Ochoa, whose body was found about 1 a.m. Nov. 21 in the 400 block of South Sydney Drive, between the Long Beach (710) Freeway and New Calvary Cemetery, according to the sheriff’s department.

U.S. Marshals and Mexican authorities took Medina into custody on Wednesday in the western Mexico state of Nayarit, Deputy Sara Rodriguez of the Sheriff’s Information Bureau said.

Medina was located as a result of a tip received after media reports of the killing, Rodriguez said.

He was taken back to California and booked at the sheriff’s San Dimas Station on suspicion of murder. He was also the subject of a no-bail warrant for a probation violation, Rodriguez said.

“Medina … was seen fleeing the scene after he was heard arguing with the victim, according to witness accounts,” a previous sheriff’s statement said.

Medina was being held without bail at the Inmate Reception Center in downtown Los Angeles and is due in court on Friday, according to sheriff’s online inmate records.

 

 

‘East LA Interchange’ Film Documents Boyle Heights’ Evolution

July 23, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

You’ve probably heard the old adage, “All roads lead to Rome.”

In Los Angeles, “All freeways lead to East Los Angeles.”

That’s the foundation behind a full-length documentary making its world preview Sunday at the Downtown Film Festival L.A.

Located at the intersection of the 101 Hollywood, 5 Santa Ana, 5 Golden State, 10 San Bernardino and 60 Pomona freeways, Boyle Heights is just east of Downtown Los Angeles.

Eight years in the making, “East LA Interchange” a new documentary from Bluewater Media, chronicles the working-class area’s change from a multiethnic Los Angeles neighborhood to one that is predominately Latino and its thrust into becoming the center of Mexican-American culture and political activism in the United States in order to survive.

Boyle Heights was once home to Japanese, Russians, Jews, Italians and other ethnic groups, many of them immigrants, as well as long-established Mexican American families. There was a harmony to their co-existence; remnants of which can still be found in the buildings, landmarks and the people who left, but continue to return to this day.

People like will.i.am of The Black Eyed Peas.

“I came back because I am who I am because of the community I grew up in,” says the musical performer whose nonprofit foundation supports a variety of programs in Boyle Height.

Xavi Moreno is featured in East LA Interchange, a new documentary directed by Betsy Kahlin, making its world premier July 26 at the Downtown Film Festival Los Angeles.  (© 2015 Chris Chew/Bluewater Media)

Xavi Moreno is featured in East LA Interchange, a new documentary directed by Betsy Kahlin, making its world premier July 26 at the Downtown Film Festival Los Angeles. (© 2015 Chris Chew/Bluewater Media)

But few things can escape the ravages of time unscathed. Survival takes dedication and action.

That’s been the history of Boyle Heights and the story documented in East LA Interchange.

Using old video footage, photographs, headlines from newspapers like the Eastside Sun and on-screen interviews, the film examines how the Boyle Heights neighborhood found its political voice in its fight against the building of the largest freeway interchange system in the nation: A system that bisected the neighborhood’s physical landscape but not its sense of community.

The documentary also examines how residents are continuing their political struggle today, organizing against a new era of issues, speaking out for their rights as a predominately Latino, working-class, immigrant, community.

But with the higher cost of living and pressure on land values, the question remains: Can Boyle Heights survive the next round of challenges from environmental pollution, industrialization, development and gentrification?

It’s a scenario being played out in urban areas all across the country.

“East LA Interchange provides a compelling look at what the future of what America can be if communities like Boyle Heights work together to secure our nation’s pledge of providing justice for all,” say the film’s producers.

The film, executive produced and directed by Betsy Kahlin, features narration by actor Danny Trejo (Machete) and interviews with will.i.am (The Black Eyed Peas), Father Greg Boyle (Homeboy Industries), and actress and author Josefina López (Real Women Have Curves), as well as an original song by Raul Pacheco (Ozomatli).

“Boyle Heights stands for what we could become if we stood against forgetting that we belong to each other,” says Father Greg Boyle of Homeboy Industries

East LA Interchange premiers this Sunday, July 26 during the Downtown Film Festival L.A. www.dffla.org/. It will screen at 3 p.m. at the Regent Theater: 448 S. Main Street, Los Angeles 90013.

Watch the Trailer featuring will.i.am: https://youtu.be/9Z2FYuL0Zgg

 

 

Beverage Companies Back Plan to ‘Cut Sugar’ Consumption in Eastide

May 21, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

The soda industry and an anti-obesity nonprofit are joining forces to help people in four Los Angeles neighborhoods cut back on the amount of calories they consume through drinking

soft drinks, juices and other beverages.

The Alliance for a Healthier Generation will work with The Coca-Cola Company, Dr Pepper Snapple Group, PepsiCo and the American Beverage Association to cut the beverage calories consumed by residents of East Los Angeles, Boyle Heights, Lincoln Heights and El Sereno, the group has announced.

The bottling companies have agreed to stock markets with drinks that have fewer calories are smaller portions, offer incentives to consumers to opt for these products and to display marketing messages that make consumers more aware of calories. These methods to reduce the amount of calories consumed will be tested in the four communities and could be used more widely.

“Our companies are going to work in a very focused, deliberate manner with these communities to create interest in beverage options that can help them cut their calories,” Susan Neely, president of the American Beverage Association, said.

“This begins by offering more no- and low-calorie as well as smaller- portion choices, but also finding innovative ways to encourage consumers to try these products,” Neely said. “We are going to test and learn so we can truly transform the beverage landscape through solutions that work.”

“Reducing the number of calories consumed from beverages is critical to helping curb obesity and improve health in the United States,” Alliance CEO Howell Wechsler said. “We applaud the beverage industry for focusing on these community interventions and will work closely with them to track and evaluate the impact of this work.”

The Alliance’s goal is to reduce beverage calories per person by 20 percent by 2025, and their progress will be monitored by an independent party.

The nonprofit was founded by the American Heart Association and the Clinton Foundation.

The collaboration is also taking place in Little Rock, Arkansas, and eventually will spread to 10 cities.

Housing Center Stage at Eastside Debate

February 12, 2015 by · 1 Comment 

Boyle Heights City Hall was packed Saturday for the first of several debates between candidates vying for the 14th district council seat in Los Angeles.

Four of the five candidates – incumbent Councilman Jose Huizar, former L.A. County Supervisor Gloria Molina, social worker Nadine Diaz and community activist Mario Chavez – took part in the forum hosted by Boyle Heights Beat, a bilingual newspaper written by local high school students. Political consultant John O’Neill did not take part.

Despite being more ethnically and economically diverse today due to redistricting, the eastside council district — which also encompasses much of downtown L.A. and northeast neighborhoods such as Highland Park and Eagle Rock — is one of the most coveted seats among Latino politicians who see it as the heart of the Chicano movement and Latino empowerment. It is also tends to be among the most competitive races in the city, this year being no exception.

(Left to right): Jose Huizar, Nadine Diaz, Mario Chavez and Gloria Molina during a candidate debate Saturday. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

(Left to right): Jose Huizar, Nadine Diaz, Mario Chavez and Gloria Molina during a candidate debate Saturday. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

On Saturday, the focus was on Boyle Heights, one of the city’s most densely populated neighborhoods where 94% of residents are Latino – 54% of them foreign born. Approximately 75% of the area’s working-class residents rent rather than own their own homes and the median income is $20,000 less a year than the median income citywide. Boyle Heights is also a stronghold for political activism on issues ranging from pollution to education.

As expected, the forum focused on hot button issues such as housing and gentrification, legalization of street venders, immigration, sidewalk repair, city services like trash pick up.

Molina, who spent 24 years as a county supervisor before being forced out by term limits, taking a jab at Huizar, said she’s running because the district needs a council member who pays more attention to the eastside and is willing to work on basic issues such as fixing sidewalks and cleaning up trash and abandoned furniture.

“You need to be a leader from day one”…not only when elections are approaching, she said.

Lea este artículo en Español: Vivienda es Tema de Prioridad en Debate de Candidatos en Boyle Heights

Huizar is seeking his third and final four-year term and countered Molina’s accusation saying his Clean Communities Initiative is improving conditions and that his office has secured millions of dollars in improvements to local park facilities, for fixing streets and sidewalks and to create more affordable, veteran and senior housing. He also touted the opening of the area’s first WorkSource Center to help residents improve job skills and find employment. He doesn’t think there’s been a time in Boyle Heights history that has seen so many improvements, he said.

The debate repeatedly turned to housing issues. The neighborhoods close proximity to downtown L.A. has made it a prime target of developers, which some people fear could make Boyle Heights unaffordable for its low-income residents.

One of the more controversial housing issues in recent history is the proposed Wyvernwood Garden Apartment complex mixed-use redevelopment project, which would demolish and replace 1,187 World War II era apartment units, located on 70 acres just off East Olympic Boulevard, with 4,400 rental units and condominiums in several new buildings as tall as 18 stories.

Support in the community has been mixed, with some seeing the project as a move to force out low-income families and others contending the project will create needed housing and jobs.

On Saturday, Huizar reiterated that he believes the project as currently proposed is too dense for the area and that the area’s aging infrastructure cannot support such a big development. Twice he pushed Molina to take a position on the issue.

While she did not answer the question directly, Molina did say she believes there are already too many renters in the area. “We need to have more homeowners” in Boyle Heights, she said. “We shouldn’t allow developers to [just] do their projects.”

Residents question candidates running for Los Angeles city council during a forum at Boyle Heights City Hall.  (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Residents question candidates running for Los Angeles city council during a forum at Boyle Heights City Hall. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Diaz agreed that housing is a critical issue and said the community should have a say in local developments. She said Wyvernwood residents should have “a place at the table.” She said the Red Line (which later became the Gold Line Eastside Extension) “pushed out families.” That cannot happen again, said the Boyle Heights resident. “We have the right to stay and remain…”

Chavez said greater community participation requires making meetings and hearings more accessible to residents. He said meetings of the city council’s affordable housing commission were held Wednesdays at 12 pm, making them inconvenient for working-class residents, thereby excluding them from having a say. “Gentrification is taking out the poor by the rich people,” Chavez said.

When the topic turned to crime, Huizar said Boyle Heights’ crime rate the lowest it’s been in many years, giving credit to Los Angeles police and more programs to help keep young people out of trouble.

More still needs to be done, retorted Molina. “We need to remove graffiti and tagging within 48 hours, we need a more aggressive position from the council,” she said.

Chavez said a tagger is a “frustrated artist that doesn’t have the resources” and more youth programs are needed. “We need to increase the funding for our youth services,” he said.

In regards to job creation, Molina said she supports efforts to revitalize business in areas zoned for commercial activity. She said allowing people to just set up “barbecue tables in front of their house” and start selling is the wrong approach. “We need to respect” residential zoning, she said.

Huizar said the Los Angeles Business Center has helped new businesses like La 1st Street Taqueria and La Monarca Bakery get the resources and financial help they needed to open near Mariachi Plaza in Boyle Heights. CD-14 is encouraging the growth of local businesses, Huizar said.

Following the forum, several attendees told EGP they were for the most part satisfied with what they heard and hope whoever is elected March 3 pays close attention to the issues in their neighborhood.

“We want the next generation to have opportunities to succeed,” said Concepcion Hernandez, pointing out that after graduating from college his son returned to Boyle Heights to teach.

Juaquin Castellanos felt the forum was informative but said he would have liked to hear more details about how the candidates would improve services in the eastside neighborhood.

He said the candidates should start thinking about creating more resources for young, educated Boyle Heights natives who want to return to the community, but want better housing options such as new condominiums.

The candidates were scheduled to face off again last night in downtown L.A. A third debate is scheduled to take place at 6 p.m. tonight in Highland Park at Luther Burbank Middle School and another at 6 p.m. Friday at the El Sereno Senior Center.

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Twitter @jackieguzman

jgarcia@egpnews.com

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