Fast Growing Futsal Sport Coming to Bell Gardens

February 27, 2014 by · 2 Comments 

In a city that can’t get enough soccer, a decision to expand the city’s sports program to include a type of soccer played on a smaller court with fewer players is being met with approval by local residents.

A $50,000 grant from the Bicycle Casino Community Foundation will help pay for the new Futsal court at Veterans Park, approved Monday by the city council.

Construction has already commenced at Veterans Park where a demolished handball court is making way for the futsal court. Futsal is played on a hard, flat surface instead of grass or turf. The field is also noticeably smaller; teams only field five players.

The handball courts at Bell Gardens Veterans Park, pictured, were demolished last week to make way for a brand new futsal court.  (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

The handball courts at Bell Gardens Veterans Park, pictured, were demolished last week to make way for a brand new futsal court. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Chris Daste, Bell Gardens Recreation and Community Service director, told the council Monday that the sport is growing in popularity and requires a great deal of physical activity despite its very confined space.

“What makes futsal unique is that the ball used is very heavy so it develops dribbling skills and ball handling skills,” said Daste.

Bell Gardens, which in a study on obesity was shown to have one of the highest rates of childhood obesity, has in recent years invested heavily in soccer fields to encourage physical activity in the predominately Latino community, signing up over 2,500 children in soccer leagues.

The city went with the project because of the sport’s capability of building a foundation for soccer, said City Manager Phil Wagner. The closest futsal court is located in the city of La Habra, said Daste.

“In this community there isn’t enough room for soccer,” Wagner said. “This [court] gives an opportunity to some of the youth in the community who would not normally play on these leagues.”

The city submitted the proposal for the futsal court under the Bell Gardens Healthy Kids Initiate and was awarded over $45,180 by The Bicycle Casino Community Foundation to build the court, and an additional $7,000 for recreational programming.

Daste noted that the city will make sure that all the court’s time is “not dominated for programming,” so people not interested in the programs also have access.

“We were looking at doing something that would benefit more of the community and allow more opportunity for kids to play [soccer],” Wagner told the council. “If you go to the handball court most anytime of the day you wouldn’t see anybody, aside from people sitting down.”

Veronica Gonzalez, a Bell Gardens resident whose children use the park facilities, seems to agree. She told EGP that the handball courts were often not used by residents but instead attracted   loiterers.

“I didn’t feel safe with it [handball court] there,” Gonzalez. “I’m grateful they’re making changes to the park.”

The handball courts were demolished last week to make room for the 8,200 square foot concrete futsal field. It’s similar in size to a tennis court, said Daste. The project calls for the installation of light fixtures and a fence around the court; most of the work will be done by city staff.

Electrical work temporarily shut power off to adjacent basketball courts, to the annoyance of Rudy Ramirez who told the council that every week for the past 35 years he and his friends have played basketball at Veterans Park.

The recent demolition did temporarily cut off lights at the basketball courts, acknowledged Wagner, who said lights should now be back on.

Cudahy resident Lisa Perez has been taking her children to Bell Gardens parks for years, and told EGP she looks forward to the futsal courts providing the opportunity for smaller children to start playing soccer.

“My city doesn’t provide it so I normally have to go to another city that does provide it,” she said. “That’s a benefit for the city because that means revenue from outside residents.”

Non-residents pay a higher fee to use Bell Gardens facilities.

Mayor Daniel Crespo said he used to enjoy playing handball and wondered if there are more residents who will miss the courts.

“This is new to me. I was not aware that there was modifications being done to the park,” he said. “I wish we would have known so that we could also survey to see if that is what the community wants.”

Wagner told EGP the handball courts were used very little according to city surveys. He said the council had previously received reports on the proposed modifications, but the confusion could be due to staff’s decision to move quickly on the project once it learned it had the funds to move forward.

“Anything that has to do with sports is always good for the community,” says Gonzalez. “It gives Bell Gardens more opportunities to keep us here so we don’t have to go somewhere else.”

The futsal court should be completed by April, according to city staff.

Time Running Out for Boyle Heights High School

February 27, 2014 by · 6 Comments 

A group of angry students and parents protested outside Los Angeles Unified School District headquarters Tuesday to demand that their small school stay open at its current site next year.

Following a one-year reprieve, the Academy of Environmental and Social Policy (ESP) High School in Boyle Heights is once again facing the prospect of being shut down or relocated to another campus.

One of 7 schools originally operated by the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools (PLAS) at Roosevelt High School, ESP is now one of three schools following a cost cutting reorganization last year. It is the only school located off-site.

Following numerous meetings and an outpouring of public support for keeping the school intact, it was agreed that ESP could remain at its off-campus site for one more year to give the school time to apply for magnet school status, increase enrollment and reduce operating costs. ESP was told that neither LAUSD nor the Partnership would pay to lease the site after this school year.

Students, parents and advocates protest in front  of LAUSD headquarters to keep the doors of their Boyle Heights school open. (Photo courtesy of Ana Rentería)

Students, parents and advocates protest in front of LAUSD headquarters to keep the doors of their Boyle Heights school open. (Photo courtesy of Ana Rentería)

In a letter dated Feb. 20, Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent John E. Deasy informed ESP its time at the East LA Skill Center had run out.

Deasy’s letter outlines three options for the school going forward: move back to Roosevelt’s main campus as a linked learning pathway; move to Lincoln High School and continue as a small school while pursuing magnet school status, or disband. He said the Partnership supports the school moving to Roosevelt and gave the school until yesterday, Feb. 26 to respond.

Both LAUSD and the Partnership declined EGP’s request for comment.


Lea este artículo en español: Se Termina el Tiempo papra Una Preparatoria de Boyle Heights


At a strategy-planning meeting Monday at the school, students and parents told EGP Deasy’s letter caught them by surprise, especially the superintendent’s stated reasons:

“The space does not allow ESP to grow its enrollment to the size needed to be fiscally viable and transportation and recreation/PE facilities are ongoing issues,” Deasy’s letter states.

Parents said LAUSD says the school needs 400 enrolled students to be financially viable and to continue to operate as a separate school. In their “talking points” ESP contends they “can comfortably teach 360-480 students” by dividing two of its large rooms into four.

ESP was opened in 2007 to help alleviate overcrowding at Roosevelt. It currently enrolls about 260 students, many who take AP level classes. Most of the students live in or near Boyle Heights. In 2011, the school’s CTS scores showed the third highest gains in the LAUSD, which advocates for the school point to as a reason to allow the school to continue to operate as a separate small school, and apart from the larger schools like Roosevelt and Lincoln.

In accordance with the earlier agreement, ESP applied to become a magnet school but in July, 2013 their petition was denied for the 2014-2015 school year. The school resubmitted the application earlier this month for the 2015-2016 school year, but given Deasy’s letter, there may not be enough time for it to be processed.

According to ESP, in January of this year Deasy expressed support for growing the small school and there “was even talk of expediting our Magnet application for the coming year.”

“We were offered transportation if we moved to Belmont High School and the idea of expedited Magnet status was shared,” ESP Principal Brendan Schallert told EGP.

The school says all of the options offered by Deasy will “effectively close our successful school.” They say moving to Lincoln High School, while geographically close, raises “serious safety issues” for students who would be “traveling into rival gang territory.”

On Monday, the school responded to Deasy’s letter:  “Our success with students at ESP compels us to reject your offer and to risk our personal security for the future of our students and our program,” writes Principal Schallert on behalf of ESP’s staff.

Some of the school’s parents and students think money is the real reason the District wants to shut them down.

“We believe the reason this is happening is because this school is taking money away from Roosevelt,” said 11th grader Kimberly Velazquez.

Parents argue the District unfairly excluded them from discussions about the school’s future. “It’s kind of underhanded,” Dolores Flores, mother of an ESP 11th grader told EGP.

The 50 or so students and parents who protested Tuesday at the LAUSD were hoping to give their petition and letter supporting the school staying open directly to Deasy, but he refused to take them, EGP was told.

The petition was clear, said ESP junior Ana Renteria, explaining they asked LAUSD to allow the school to stay open next year and for the magnet application process to continue.

Parents say they feel very comfortable with the space that houses the school and that its small size allows teachers to give students more attention.

“My son is in AP classes, which at Roosevelt has a very long list to get there,” said junior parent Carol Perrelo. At ESP, “he was accepted from day one,” she told EGP. “It’s a smaller school, the teachers are involved, the parents are involved and this is the best place.”

While the principal and staff support keeping the school open, they said they could not fully participate in the protest because they are LAUSD employees. “I’m an employee of the District, the teachers are employees of the District, but the students have heard about this and they want to do something about it,” said Schallert.

Parents and students say they are disappointed Deasy wants to close a school he “has not even visited.”

“He is not being affected, students and parents are,” said Renteria.

ESP’s letter, resent on Wednesday, states the school is “open to discussions as to the most appropriate way to move forward,” but they cannot do it under such a short deadline “with the threat of the school being disbanded.”


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Former Franklin High Teacher Charged With Sexually Molesting Students

February 27, 2014 by · 1 Comment 

A high school drama teacher was charged Tuesday with sex-related crimes involving two teenage boys, dating back as far as 1999.

Peter Christoph Gomez, who taught at Benjamin Franklin High School in Highland Park, pleaded not guilty Tuesday at the downtown Los Angeles courthouse to 26 felony counts.

Gomez is charged with eight counts of oral copulation of a person under 16, six counts of oral copulation of a person under 18, five counts of sodomy of a person under 16, three counts of sodomy of a person under 18 and four counts of lewd act upon a child.

The criminal complaint alleges that the crimes occurred between June 1999 and September 2003 and involved two boys who attended Franklin High School at the time.

Gomez, 46, of La Habra, was arrested last Friday by the Los Angeles Police Department’s Northeast Sexual Assault Detail. Police said he was most recently assigned to Bell High School as a drama and history teacher.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Renee Korn ordered Gomez to remain jailed in lieu of $1.5 million bail and set a March 7 bail review hearing. A date is also expected to be set then for a preliminary hearing that will determine if there is enough evidence to require him to stand trial.

If convicted as charged, he faces up to 20 years in state prison, according to the District Attorney’s Office.

Conviction In Montebello Murder Upheld

February 27, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

The California Supreme Court has upheld a woman’s first-degree murder conviction and death sentence for poisoning her new husband with antifreeze-spiked Gatorade at their Montebello home in an effort to collect $250,000 in life insurance.

The state’s highest court unanimously rejected an automatic appeal filed on behalf of Angelina Rodriguez, who was sentenced a decade ago to death for the Sept. 9, 2000, killing of 41-year-old Jose Francisco Rodriguez.



Tagger Shot in Boyle Heights

February 27, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

A 26-year-old man was shot in the back while spray-painting graffiti on the wall of a Boyle Heights apartment building, a police sergeant said Sunday.

The shooting occurred just after 9 p.m. Saturday at Michigan Avenue and Soto Street, said Sgt. John Porras of the Los Angeles Police Department’s Hollenbeck Station.

“The victim was shot in the back while tagging the wall with spray paint. He was in critical but stable condition after surgery,” Porras said. “We don’t have suspect information because the victim refused to provide details.”



Mount Washington Fire Claims Life of World War II Vet

February 27, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

The body of a man found in a house on the slopes of Mount Washington was identified by relatives Saturday as an 89-year-old World War II Purple Heart recipient.

Francisco Hernandez took park in the Normandy invasion in World War II, staying in a foxhole for a week after coming ashore. He was awarded a Purple Heart for suffering a gunshot wound to his leg, Maya Hoo, Hernandez’s niece, told The Los Angeles Times.

Hernandez was found after firefighters had extinguished the blaze on the 500 block of West Avenue 44, said Brian Humphrey of the Los Angeles Fire Department.

The fire in the 625-square foot house was reported around 9:50 p.m. Friday and took 48 firefighters 40 minutes to knock down, Humphrey said.

Erik Scott of the Los Angeles City Fire Department told The Times that investigators were looking into whether Hernandez had a working smoke alarm. Hoo told The Times that she brought up a smoke alarm with her uncle, but that he refused to install one into the tiny cottage he lived in for the last 40 years.

ELAC Captures Men’s Basketball Conference Title

February 27, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

The East Los Angeles College men’s basketball team has won it’s first conference championship title in 42 years and moves on to the State Southern California Region playoffs this Friday where they will take on 11th seed Citrus College.

The Huskies defeated visiting Mt. San Antonio College, 79-63 last Friday in front of a capacity-filled gymnasium to win the South Coast Conference North Division championship outright.

The Huskies won six of their final eight games and three straight to finish at the top of the standings with a 9-5 conference record.

ELAC forward Aaron Cheatum (20) drives the baseline in last Friday’s conference-title clinching victory over Mt. San Antonio College.  (Photo by Mario Villegas)

ELAC forward Aaron Cheatum (20) drives the baseline in last Friday’s conference-title clinching victory over Mt. San Antonio College. (Photo by Mario Villegas)

It was one of the most competitive seasons in South Coast Conference history, according to ELAC. Six different teams nearly won a share of the two conference titles as South Coast play came to an end last Friday. Cerritos, Long Beach and Los Angeles Harbor finished in a three-way tie in the South Division.

The championship is East L.A.’s first since 1971-72, when the Huskies captured the Southern California Conference under the late Gordon “Bud” Naslund and were led by All-State forward Ken Gray and all-conference guard Kenny Tyler.

The sixth-seeded Huskies (20-8) play 11th seed Citrus College (15-8) Friday night at home. Tipoff is at 7.

It will be the first meeting between the teams since the Huskies stunned the Owls, 85-84, in the opening round of Citrus’ own tournament Nov. 23, 2012.

Second-year Coach John Mosley has continued to push the Huskies into the school’s record books, last season becoming the first men’s basketball team to win a playoff game last Friday becoming the first team to have consecutive 20-win seasons.

Freshman guard Te’shon Burton (Leuzinger High School) scored 19 points and had 12 rebounds to lead the Huskies past Mt. San Antonio last Friday. Sophomore forward Aaron Cheatum (Rancho Verde HS) put in 18 points and grabbed nine rebounds, and sophomore forward Zach Hinton (Franklin HS) had 16 points and also had nine rebounds.

The Huskies also got nine points from freshman guard Marcus Romain (Progressive Christian HS, Brooklyn, N.Y.) and eight points from Primitivo Gomez (Arroyo HS). Davian Wilson (Jordan HS) dished off seven assists.

Local Groups Call for More Investment on City’s Eastside

February 27, 2014 by · 1 Comment 

Eastside community activists acknowledge improvements in policing and schools in recent years, but say city officials need to do more to improve the quality of life in Boyle Heights and other neighborhoods east of the Los Angeles River.

“The conditions of housing and the lack of economic opportunities for our families is a continuing problem,” Maria Cabildo of the East Los Angeles Community Corp. said at a news conference Tuesday morning at Mariachi Plaza in Los Angeles.

“ … It has not seen significant attention and that needs to change dramatically.”

Community activists gathered in front of the Mariachi Plaza in Boyle Heights to demand more investment in the eastside.(EGP photo by Jacqueline García)

Community activists gathered in front of the Mariachi Plaza in Boyle Heights to demand more investment in the eastside.(EGP photo by Jacqueline García)

In recent years, the Eastside has gotten a new police station and a local “city hall,” Cabildo said. She added that several new schools also have opened in the area, and the eastward extension of the Gold Line helped improve public transportation.

But activist Delmira Gonzalez of Boyle Heights said she feels her neighborhood is still being left out.

“For over 25 years I have worked with my neighbors to make Boyle Heights a better place for my kids and now my grandkids, and I am disappointed that with so much momentum our elected leadership has not stood up to voice concern of us being left out,” Gonzalez said.

Cynthia Sanchez, executive director of Proyecto Pastoral, called on city officials, including Mayor Eric Garcetti, to work with Eastside residents to improve the community.

“We have built strong resident and organizational capacity to implement plans developed with community residents,” Sanchez said. “And now we need the city and our elected leaders to work with us to accelerate the vision.”

In 2011, Proyecto Pastoral was one of 21 organizations nationwide to receive a Promise Neighborhoods Planning Grant. They worked with dozens of local groups and agencies to develop a comprehensive plan to improve the health, housing and education of the approximately 19,000 people living in Boyle Heights.

To implement the plan, however, the group needed more money. So, with the support of several state and local officials, the collaborative applied for highly competitive U.S. Department of Education Promise Neighborhood Grants, ranging from $4 million to $6 million, but was not selected.

The group pledged to implement the plan with or without federal funding to implement the plan’s objectives, including improving the local housing stock and opportunities for better paying jobs.

The groups did not outline many specifics Tuesday, but advocates did call on state and federal legislators to pass legislation they believe could lead to increased funding for jobs and housing in eastside neighborhoods.

In particular, they are backing passage of SB 391, the California Homes and Jobs Act of 2013. Among other things, the bill would require counties, with some exceptions, to collect a fee of $75 on all real estate transactions and filings, which would be deposited in the California Homes and Jobs Trust Fund to pay for affordable housing.

If approved, SB 391 would also “require the Department of Industrial Relations to monitor and enforce prevailing wage requirements for construction contracts for certain public works projects over $1,000,000.”

The change is needed to turn the tide of generational poverty, according to Maria Brenes, executive director of InnerCity Struggle.

“Our youth and families need more to make these strides come full circle,” Brenes said.

Information from City News Service was used in this report.

LAUSD Kicks Off Arts Fest In Eagle Rock

February 27, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

A two-week, district-wide celebration of the arts will get underway Saturday at Eagle Rock High School, the Los Angeles Unified School District has announced.

LAUSD Arts Fest 2014, the first of its kind in the school district, will showcase student art across a variety of platforms, including music, dance, film, theater and visual arts, according to LAUSD.

Arts Fest runs from March 1 to March 14 as part of Arts Education Month “to raise awareness about the importance of arts education” and to raise funds to support school-based and district-wide arts program, according to LAUSD’s announcement.

Arts Fest is the brainchild of Hamilton High School student Jordyn Sacino who responded to a LAUSD’s “My Bright Idea” Challenge by proposing,  “Why not use art to save art.” Sancino.

The first of several events takes place this Saturday, March 1 at Eagle Rock High School (1750 Yosemite Dr. LA). The 3rd Annual East Side Arts Festival runs from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., and will feature numerous performances, student films and art workshops.

Arts Fest’s grand finale takes place March 15 at LA County’s Grand Park in Downtown Los Angeles. More than 2,000 students are scheduled to perform throughout the day. Program includes live student performances; artist market; screening of student short films; creativity zone; a mass performance to Pete Seeger’s “Turn, Turn, Turn”; vendor booths, celebrities, food trucks and giveaways.

Other local schools holding events prior to the finale include:

—Esteban Torres High School’s “2014 Choreographer’s Showcase,” featuring the East LA Performing Arts Academy Dance Company and Torres High Dance Team, on Thursday, March 6 at 6 p.m. in the school auditorium: 4211 Dozier ST., L.A. Admission is $1.

—Florence Nightingale Middle School’s “5th Annual Talent Showcase” on March 13, from 3 to 4p.m. School’s address is 3311 N. Figueroa St. in Cypress Park. Admission is $3.

3:00-4:30 PM, School Auditorium

— Sotomayor School of History and Dramatic Arts “Coffee House” Talent Showcase On March 13, 4-6p.m., in the Multipurpose Room: 2050 San Fernando Rd, LA. Admission is $4.

For more information and a complete list of Arts Fest sites, go to

Free Service Makes Tax Prep Less ‘Taxing’ for Older Californians

February 27, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

The income tax filing deadline is now less than two months away, but the return preparation process can be less taxing for those 60 and older. AARP’s Tax-Aide program helps middle- and lower-income older Californians prepare basic federal and state income tax returns, for free.

According to Charee Gillins with AARP California, they have 3000 volunteer tax preparers ready to help at hundreds of sites across California.

“They’re there to walk the taxpayers through the various questions that they have and to, you know, get some money back into their hands,” she said.

The program was started in 1968. Gillins said that last year they helped Californians secure $92 million in income tax refunds.

While the tax help program is aimed primarily at those 60 and older, it’s open to everyone, and AARP membership is not required to take advantage of it. Gillins said the volunteers are well prepared for what they do.

“They’re trained on the type of tax questions that come from AARP members and retirees,” she said. “Sometimes there’s new provisions and forms that are relevant to them,” she said. “Or sometimes there’s a spouse who doesn’t know how to proceed because, you know, their spouse is gone.””

Gillins said walk-ins are welcome, but appointments are encouraged at Tax-Aide sites.

“They can go to, or they can call 888-227-7669. Either of those places will help you locate a site in your community. There’s over 465 sites in California alone,” she said.”

It’s important for those seeking tax help to bring all of their tax documents, including last year’s tax returns, Social Security cards, or other official documentation for the filer and dependents.



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