Montebello City Council To Consider Full Trench Resolution

February 3, 2011 by · 2 Comments 

The Montebello City Council came to some consensus at a recent council meeting over a grade separation project to alleviate traffic, safety and environmental issues associated with the Union Pacific railroad tracks, but the final outcome of the debate surrounding it remains to be seen.

Most agree lowering the train tracks out of the way of Montebello commuters and pedestrians is the most desireable option, but some are unsure there will be funds for it and are looking toward a partial lowering. EGP photo by Fred Zermeno

Most agree lowering the train tracks out of the way of Montebello commuters and pedestrians is the most desireable option, but some are unsure there will be funds for it and are looking toward a partial lowering. EGP photo by Fred Zermeno

Councilman Bill Molinari believes the city should be pushing the Alameda Corridor-East Construction Authority, ACE, much harder to get tracks running through the entire city lowered into a trench. He asked fellow council members at the Jan. 26 council meeting to take a stand by committing to that option as a priority. 

While the council voted unanimously to bring a resolution back for discussion on the issue at a later date, they still have some fundamental disagreements about the likelihood of a full trench project.

Molinari’s request came after U.S. Rep. Grace Napolitano (D-Norwalk) personally attended the Jan. 12 city council meeting and told the council that lowering the railroad tracks through the entire city is just not possible given the lack of funding and the political climate at the federal level. “I’d love to have it for you too, but it’s not going to be feasible,” she said.

She said the city might lose out if it holds out for a full trench version of the project. “We need something there in Montebello. It would be a failure if the money goes to another city,” she said.

But the Montebello community has long spoken overwhelmingly in favor of lowering the train tracks through the city, an option that would have the least impact on Montebello businesses and residents, and say that officials are settling for a lesser project and not fighting hard enough for what they want.

Michael Scipione, president of a local homeowners association, said he prefers the full trench option. “I’m not afraid of not getting anything. Something is not better than nothing,” he said.

Meanwhile businesswoman Noretta Morales of Foreign Affairs Auto Repair is fearful of the impact those projects could have on her business. “This is business, and it’s people’s homes, their property values and it’s the same story all over again, just with new faces,” she said, referring to the first time ACE proposed grade separation projects in 2000. 

“Listen to the people of your community and do what’s best for your community,” she told the council. 

Molinari’s stance, while popular with the public, has not been well received by some fellow city council members who feel he is being divisive by being seemingly unwilling to consider any option other than the full trench.

 Others on council are asking that the city look at less expensive measures such as only lowering the tracks through part of the city. The partial lowering option would go through Montebello and Greenwood Boulevards, while the tracks will remain street level on Vail and Maple Avenues.

Other options include diverting street traffic when a train goes by, creating an underpass so street traffic can go below the existing railroad tracks, and constructing a flyover to take street traffic over the tracks.

A full trench project would cost $363 million, according to Mayor Pro Tem Frank Gomez, who sits on the ACE board with representatives from other cities impacted by the railroad tracks. 

“ACE has approximately $300 million in MTA Measure R funds to finish six projects, one of which is the Montebello project,” he said. “This is not enough money to finish all of the projects. Furthermore this is less than the cost of the [full] railroad lowering [in Montebello] alone.”

He said the ACE board does not just represent Montebello, but rather a coalition of 12 cities. He said a full trench is being built in San Gabriel, not because of preferential treatment, but because the historical status of the streets there made it absolutely necessary.

Gomez has said it would be “tragic” if Montebello lost out on funding to do any project at all. It lost out on funding in 2000 when the projects were first proposed, and he fears with ACE expected to dissolve in a couple of year, the city may lose out forever.

Gomez said it is not likely that Union Pacific Railroad would put up any money for the trenching, a funding option Molinari has suggested in the past.

Union Pacific has final say about the projects and may not have an interest in doing a full trench, according to Gomez. “None of these options have been presented to Union Pacific. UP may not accept the project due to significant risk to their operations throughout construction…” he said.

He added if the city were to insist on a full trench it must also think about how it would pay for the maintenance and repair of the trench through “perpetuity.”

Molinari defended himself against accusations that he is being divisive. He said ACE has been disingenuous, potentially inflating the cost estimate for the full trench option.

While other project cost estimates have gone up only 25 percent since 2000 when they were first proposed, the cost estimate for the full trench project has gone up as much as 50 percent, Molinari said.

As part of Molinari’s proposed resolution, which is expected to come back to the city council, the city might at some point decide to do an independent financial engineering analysis to make sure the cost is accurate. 

Councilman Alberto Perez agreed with this provision, saying,  “the numbers do change quite a bit.”

Gomez said his job as a leader is to keep an open mind about the potential grade separation project. “The ACE will never… shove down the throat of the people of Montebello any bridge, tunnel, overpass, underpass what have you, whatever you want to call it, that this council with the agreement of the community does not want,” he said.

Mayor Art Barajas who lives south of the train tracks and must cross them “six times to a dozen times a day,” said he would be “worried in the sense of not getting anything.” He also asked that Molinari and the community take a look at the other options.

Several council members emphasized that the council as a whole has already rejected an underpass, also known as the tunnel, option on Montebello Boulevard, even though it keeps getting brought up.

ACE will be holding a town hall meeting on the different project options for Montebello on Feb. 24, at 5:30 the Montebello Senior Citizens Center.

A Second Life for Highland Park ‘Heritage Mural’

February 3, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Volunteers rolled up their sleeves and tackled a layer of protective coating and years of graffiti on a historically significant mural on the corner of Avenue 56 and Meridian Way in Highland Park on Jan. 27. 

The mural, titled the “History of Highland Park,” was painted in 1977 and is considered part of the Chicano Movement of Muralism. 
Well-known and respected muralist Judy Baca, with assistance from artists Joe Bravo, Arnold Ramirez, Sonya Fe and Pedro Aguilar, painted the 250-foot-long mural. 
“It is one of my earliest works. I was a budding young muralist at the time and it is a work that was supported by the local Pac Bell at the time and the local community, and it was actually celebrating the uniqueness of Highland Park,” Judy Baca told EGP. 
It depicts the architecture of the area, stones from the Arroyo Seco, notable characters from the region, as well as kids from the “barrio” hanging out in front of a “low-rider.” 
“It’s a celebration of what was unique and beautiful about this region,” Baca said. 
Carmela Gomes, of the Highland Park Heritage Trust is one of many community members who fought for the mural to be restored. She told EGP that she hopes the mural will not be defaced again with graffiti once it is restored. She expressed confidence that the mural is being properly treated to resist future deterioration. 
The Highland Park Heritage Trust has been instrumental in establishing the largest historic overlay zone in Los Angeles, with over 2,500 structures.
Volunteers used biodegradable solvents, sponges and mops to release the bond between the protective coating and the murals’ acrylic paint, according to Carlos Rogel, project manager for the Social and Public Art Resource Center (SPARC) which is leading the restoration.
Many of the volunteers scrubbing down the walls are students in the “Beyond the Mexican Mural” course offered through the UCLA Cesar Chavez Digital Lab, he said. 
Once the mural is given a fresh coat of paint by Judy Baca and the other original artists, it will be coated with an anti-graffiti product and periodically maintained. 
Because Los Angeles was once known as the mural capital of the world, and is the place where the mural movement started before moving out across the country, murals must be preserved and more should be created, Councilmember Jose Huizar said during the reception to initiate the mural’s restoration. “When we allow that to be destroyed, our local community is destroyed,” Huizar said. 
The mural’s restoration is funded by a $78,000 grant from AT&T and comes after years of grassroots efforts to secure financing and sort out legal, financial, and artistic issues in order to restore the mural. 
Pacific Bell, now AT&T, commissioned Barrio Planners Inc. to create the mural during the 1970s as part of a modernization program in which the building was refaced, and all the building’s windows were covered over and the building was seismically retrofitted, according to Frank Villalobos, president of Barrio Planners.
“At the time it was unheard of that a mural this big would be done. We hired Judy Baca and sent her to Cuernavaca [Mexico] to learn—because we had an obligation to guarantee that it would not fade with the sun’s ultraviolet rays,” he said, noting that she brought ocres, sienna and yellow paints back to be tested locally to ensure they would not fade. “And that’s why it’s lasted this long,” he said.
The designing of the mural—which intertwines “today” and yesteryear—actually began two years prior to it being painted on the building, he said. 
While Barrio Planners oversaw the designing and painting of the mural, they no longer have legal claim to its future. It is still their’s, nonetheless, says Villalobos.
“I think art is not something you can give up claim to,” Villalobos said. “The inception of the idea that’s there, belongs to Barrio Planners forever, we have that in our hearts. 
“We actually brought something here 35 years ago. 1975 is when we designed the mural.
We hired Judy because she was the best qualified at the time…” One of the highest qualifications is that they are doing it for the sake of the public, he said. 
Barrio Planners is responsible for many public art projects including the iconic Whittier Boulevard Arc, Lincoln Park’s “Parque de Mexico,” the murals in front of the Telacu building (painted by Joe Gonzales), and the artwork at the Gold Line Civic Center Station.
Barrio Planners was the chief architect for the Gold Line Eastside Extension.
“We consider ourselves artists. As architects and urban planners we have a strong sense of identity and how strong the identity can made better throughout art,” he said.

Mayor Hopes to Hold Line On LAPD Presence

February 3, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

While Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the Los Angeles Police Department may have their critics, you would have been hard pressed to find them among the people who attended the mayor’s East Area Public Safety Town Hall meeting on Jan. 27. 

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (far center) listens to a comment from Aída Cerda of the Children's Hospital of Los Angeles. EGP Photo by Gloria Angelina Castillo



During the hour-long meeting held at Goodwill Industries in Lincoln Heights, the only seemingly angry words came from someone who said more money is needed to pay for police overtime, to which the mayor responded, “You’re singing my song.” 

Villaraigosa said the drop in crime across Los Angeles is due in great part to an increase in the number of police officers in LAPD—an issue he has ardently pushed since taking office and that has been funded in part by increased trash fees.

Villaraigosa said he does not have the city councils’ support to continue hiring more LAPD officers, but wants to at least hold the line at 9,963 officers in the department. 

EGP photo by Gloria Angelina Castillo


When Villaraigosa took office, the LAPD had 9,100 patrol officers and the city was the most under policed big city in the nation, according to his office. Since taking office, violent crime has dropped significantly. 2010 had the lowest crime rate per capita since 1952—a year before he was born, Villaraigosa said. 

“It took us five years to get 800 [more] officers, in one year we’ll loose 300 if we stop hiring. Once we loose 300 it will take three years to get them back,” Villaraigosa said responding to a question from Monica Harmon, a longtime volunteer at the Hollenbeck Police Station. Harmon asked the mayor if it would not make more sense to pay officers overtime, rather than assigning them to desk duty because of the department’s civilian hiring freeze? 

The mayor said he is continuing to negotiate the issue of “cash overtime” with the police union, but for now, he hopes to at least keep pace with attrition in the department, if not increase the number of officers on patrol.

The mayor said former Police Chief William Bratton and current Chief Charlie Beck’s community policing strategy — through groups such as Neighborhood Watch and Community Police Advisory Boards (CPABs), as well as his own Gang Reduction Youth Development (GRYD) program— has engaged the community in efforts to reduce crime.

He said that reducing crime, however, is not just about putting more cops on the street, but other strategies as well.

 “We’re not just putting resources in cops, we’re putting resources in… opening our parks, on providing a safety net of services for kids who are at risk for getting in gangs, and kids who are in gangs and want to get out,” he said. “We’re safer today because we’ve made public safety our priority.” 

Councilmember Ed P. Reyes (CD-1) praised the attendees for contributing to the drop in crime statistics, but added that more people need to get active in their communities if crime is to stay down. 

“It makes a difference when we have people who grew up in these communities, who are stakeholders in every sense of the word, galvanize and focus on asking the questions: What is best for our kids? What is best for our family? And actually act upon it,” Reyes said. “I see many of you out there in your struggles, I’ve seen you work with the youth, the parents, I see you engage the school district, I see you making the difference that it takes to reach these types of statistics.” 

A Montecito Heights resident asked the mayor why the Northeast LAPD Station’s gang detective unit was being “dismantled.” Villaraigosa responded that the unit is not being disbanded by choice, but that a number of detectives have decided to leave the unit rather than comply with a controversial department policy that requires officers in those units to disclose their finances. The intent of the policy is to deter corruption among officers who routinely handle large amounts of confiscated cash and drugs, according to LAPD.

 “I think you’re going to see, I’m not going to give a number because we don’t want the bad guys to know, but I can tell you this, the vast majority of officers are going to re-sign up even with the financial disclosure… those who don’t, we’ll replace them,” Villaraigosa said.

The Los Angeles Times reported Wednesday that LAPD officials had confirmed that all but one of about 80 gang unit officers assigned to the “department’s Southeast, 77th, Northeast and Hollenbeck divisions—areas that are home to some of the city’s most violent and active gangs — refused” to comply with the policy. 

Some in the audience called for more gang intervention programs as a way to keep crime down. In particular they noted a need to work closely with the Los Angeles Unified School District to deliver services, and questioned why that is not happening now. 

Joe Carmona, youth advocate and former Los Angeles Unified School District educator, wanted to know why it is so difficult to get some of the gang prevention/intervention programs—like his Peace Warrior youth group—into local schools like Luther Burbank? 

In response, Villaraigosa said he hopes to raise more money for effective gang intervention programs, like his GYRD program in the future. 

Guillermo Cespedes, GRYD Program Director, clarified that Carmona was not asking for more resources per se, but a Memoranda of Understanding between LAUSD and gang interventionists to work together at school sites.

Echoing Cespedes and Carmona, Aida Cerda, director of Youth Violence and Gang Prevention at the Division of Adolescent Medicine for the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles said it took them a year and a half to get a service application for school-site counseling for the at-risk children they serve. 

Villaraigosa said he would work on getting the LAUSD and the city’s gang intervention programs working more closely together. 

First Ever ‘Fred Korematsu Day’ Recalls World War II Internments

February 3, 2011 by · 1 Comment 

A Japanese American welder who resisted internment during World War II was honored on the first ever Fred Korematsu Day this past Sunday.

Fred Toyosabura Korematsu, who passed away in 2005 at the age of 86, had been known for a long time in the Japanese American community as a civil rights hero. He is the first Asian American in the United States to have a day named in his honor.

Korematsu with fellow civil rights icon Rosa Parks. Photo by Shirley Nakao, courtesy of the Korematsu Institute

The state bill to establish the holiday, set every year on Jan. 30, Korematsu’s birthday, was co-authored by Assemblymembers Warren Furutani (D-South Los Angeles County) and Marty Block (D-San Diego) and signed into state law by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger last October.

Korematsu was born in Oakland, California on Jan. 30, 1919. He felt the stings of anti-Japanese sentiment even before Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942, allowing for 120,000 people of Japanese descent to be rounded up and taken to prison camps around the country.

 Korematsu was turned away due to his Japanese ancestry when he tried to enlist in the U.S. National Guard and the U.S. Coast Guard. He then trained to become a welder, eventually rising to the rank of a foreman before he was suddenly fired from his job, also because of his Japanese ancestry.

When Executive Order 9066 was issued, Korematsu defied the internment orders that affected all people of Japanese descent in America. He went as far as having surgery on his eyes, changing his name, and identifying himself as being of Spanish and Hawaiian descent.

“I didn’t think the government would go as far as to include American citizens to be interned, without a hearing. And then later they changed my draft card to 4-C, enemy alien… you’re not an American, and I thought that was wrong,” Korematsu once said.

Korematsu was eventually arrested for his defiance, but he appealed right up to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1944. Historians say the subsequent trial served as a stand-in for the trial that Japanese Americans who were interned never got.

But Korematsu lost his U.S. Supreme Court case. When President Clinton presented Korematsu in 1998 with a Medal of Freedom, he compared Korematsu to Rosa Parks and ranked him with figures like Plessy and Brown whose roles in legal history stood in for the wider civil rights cause of their time.

The decision that came down from the U.S. Supreme Court in Korematsu’s case is widely condemned as one of the darkest moments in America’s legal history.

Korematsu lived for four decades with a “disloyalty” conviction that kept him from getting a full-time job. Finally with the help of a legal historian, Korematsu was able to file a suit to reopen his case. This time he succeeded in clearing his name and got his conviction overturned in 1983.

That decision proved to be a turning point, leading to the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which brought redress in the form of $20,000 to each Japanese American incarcerated in internments camps around the country.

Even though there were no major Fred Korematsu Day celebrations in Los Angeles this year, Chris Komai, spokesperson for the Japanese American National Museum, JANM, believes “this is just the beginning.”

There were more organized celebrations and observances in Northern California, where Korematsu was born and raised, and one in San Diego this past week. “Even if people know of him in the Japanese American community, he’s not well known,” Komai said.

The internments “changed the demographics of all of Southern California,” he said.

The absence of a more prominent Japanese American community in the East Los Angeles area is a reflection of the “detrimental effect” the “mass incarceration” had, which “was the loss of property by Japanese Americans,” Komai said. 

In East Los Angeles communities, including in now suburban cities like Montebello, Commerce, Monterey Park and Bell Gardens, “Japanese Americans were among those who ran small farms and worked in the floral and produce industry,” he said. “When they were removed, many never returned since they had lost all of their property.”

Many prominent Japanese Americans have roots in East Los Angeles, including actor George Takei who grew up there, and JANM’s founder Bruce Kaji, who was attending Roosevelt High School when his family was ordered to report to an internment camp, Komai said.

Fred Korematsu Day marks the beginning of a “long-term education process,” Komai said, adding that the relevance of Korematsu’s experience goes beyond the Japanese American community.

“Fred Korematsu Day is to make more people aware that the Constitution can fail at times, as it did for Japanese Americans during World War II. The best protection is an educated, vigilant citizenry,” he said.

The new “special day of significance” bears the full name of “Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution” reflecting an emphasis by the Korematsu Institute, formed by Korematsu’s daughter Karen, and the authors of the bill, to make this holiday about the wider cause of civil rights.

“It is Korematsu’s story, and the stories of other unnamed American heroes, that demonstrates the importance of continuing to fight for the freedoms guaranteed to us by the Constitution in the hopes that it will be extended to others, no matter the extenuating circumstances,” said Furutani.

Garfield Leaving Pack Behind In Eastern League Title Race

February 3, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

It comes as no surprise that you’ll find Bulldogs at the top of the Eastern League boys’ basketball standings.

What is surprising, however, is that it’s not the Jordan Bulldogs. It’s the Garfield High School Bulldogs.

Garfield High School’s David Laroue, left, drives the baseline as he’s pressured by Roosevelt’s Eduardo Andrade during last Friday’s game. EGP Photo by Mario Villegas

Garfield is 8-0 in league and has won 11 straight games. The Bulldogs raised their overall record to 15-5 Monday with a 64-40 victory against South East.

Garfield’s run to the top has put Jordan’s streak of six consecutive league titles in jeopardy. Jordan and the rest of the league have less than two weeks to catch up and Garfield needs only to win two of its last four games to take the title.

South East (6-14, 1-8) was no match for Garfield Monday, as the Bulldogs started a rugged stretch in which they will play three games in five days, including games with Bell (9-9, 5-3) and Jordan (5-8, 4-3), their two closest pursuers in the standings.

The Bulldogs have taken the Eastern League by surprise to become one of the teams to watch in the City Section. As Coach Ricardo Rivas notes, Garfield had to replace the top eight players from last season’s 15-6 (7-4 in league) squad.

“We didn’t have very many returning players,” Rivas said. “It’s like a whole new team. But I knew we would compete, and these guys have really put in the work to become successful. They have really come through.”

The team’s biggest win, arguably, came Jan. 19 at Jordan, 77-69. It ended Jordan’s streak of 31 consecutive Eastern League victories and was Garfield’s first win against Jordan since 2003.

The victory came during a demanding stretch of three games in four days that started with a tiring 66-61 overtime victory at Bell and ended with a 57-38 defeat of Huntington Park.

“Bell was favored to win the league this year and to beat them in overtime at their place, and then win at Jordan the next day, really gave us a lot of confidence,” Rivas said.

Garfield is led by center Joe Joaquin, forward Julian Sandoval and guard David Laroue. Joaquin scored 22 points in Monday’s game against South East. Laroue had 12.

The Bulldogs defeated Eastside rival Roosevelt, 69-52, last Friday in a hot, steamy and packed gym at Roosevelt.

As expected the game was tightly contested, but Garfield began to pull away in the second quarter and broke the game open in the third. The Bulldogs led 27-18 at halftime and took a 19-point lead into the fourth quarter. They led by as many as 24 in the final period and won it going away.

Joaquin scored 17 points to lead the way and Garfield also got 10 points from Frankie Aguilar and nine points from Nato Munoz. Laroue finished with eight points.

Guard Angel Garcia came off the bench to contribute 11 points and some aggressive defense that helped jump start the Bulldogs in the second quarter.

“We got a run started by the second unit,” Rivas noted. “They really did a good job while playing in a hostile environment. It was really nice to get out of there with a win.”

Alan Ramirez scored a game-high 20 points before fouling out to lead Roosevelt (11-11, 2-5). Angel Vargas added 11 points.

Late Puberty Increases Risk of Osteoporosis

February 3, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 


Later puberty results in lower bone mass and increases the risk of fractures and osteoporosis, researchers at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles announced Jan. 28.
A team of researchers led by Dr. Vicente Gilsanz, director of Clinical Imaging at The Saban Research Institute of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, determined that the onset of puberty was the primary influence on adult bone mineral density, or bone strength.
Length of puberty was not found to affect bone density.
Reduced bone mineral density leads to osteoporosis, resulting in bones becoming increasingly brittle and at risk for fracture.
Osteoporosis is a significant public health issue, with the cost of treatment in 2010 estimated at $10 billion. The condition affects 55 percent of Americans aged 50 and older.
The Bone Mineral Density in Childhood Study is an ongoing multicenter study examining bone development in healthy children and teenagers of both sexes in the United States.
For this analysis, the investigators studied 78 girls and 84 boys who had just entered puberty, until they reached sexual maturity.
“Puberty has a significant role in bone development,” Gilanz said. “During this time, bones lengthen and increase in density. At the end of puberty, the epiphyseal plates close, terminating the ability of the bones to lengthen.
“When this occurs, the teenager has reached their maximum adult height and peak bone mass. We found that early puberty was associated with greater bone mass while later puberty resulted in less.”
Short children sometimes undergo medical intervention to delay puberty in an effort to achieve greater height. This study indicates that prolonging the growth period by delaying puberty may have unexpected consequences in later life, Gilanz said.
Given that the rate of decline of bone mass in adulthood is about 1 percent to 2 percent a year, a 10 percent to 20 percent increase in bone density resulting from a natural early puberty corresponds to an additional 10 to 20 years of protection against the normal age-related decline in bone strength.

Are CRA and City Plans Correct? It’s Time You Find Out

February 3, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Today at 9:30 a.m. a coalition of Los Angeles groups will be attending the Community Redevelopment Agency’s (CRA) bi-monthly meeting. 

They want to seek answers as to why the City of Los Angeles plans to expropriate $1 billion in defiance of Governor Jerry Brown’s plans to close down the state’s CRA and use the funds held by the state’s CRA’s to help balance the state’s budget deficit now at $25 billion. 

The coalition feels that the funds could be put to better use in helping to offset the cut backs to state programs. 

The coalition cites what they believe is the overuse of blight designations in South and East Los Angeles communities as one of the main reasons for their position. 

They say CRA funds would be better spent on keeping people from becoming homeless or improving city residents lives, rather than just building new parking garages for wealthy landowners. 

It is unfortunate that until now there has been little reaction from the general public to the governor’s plans to abolish redevelopment agencies. 

So far, it has been city and county officials and bureaucrats around the state who have been reacting speaking out in opposition to the governor’s proposal. It is time for citizens to start thinking and talking about how they want their taxes spent. What should our priorities be, particularly at this time of fiscal crisis?

Though today’s meeting starts at 9:30 a.m., that does not preclude the public from seeking to get information on whether the governor’s plan makes sense or not. 

On January 14, 2011, the Commission, in a special 24-hour notice approved negotiating with the city to protect CRA funding from the state. We hardly call this adequate Public Notice that meets the Public’s Right to Know. 

The January 14 meeting, was challenged on grounds of being in violation of the state open meeting law; thus today’s meeting. 

Those wishing to get further information on the CRA’s plans can contact the CRA at 1200 W. 7th Street, Los Angeles, Ca 90017 or call (213) 613-5050.

Ripping off Newspaper Websites Shortchanges Democracy

February 3, 2011 by · 4 Comments 

There’s a feast raging on the Internet. Websites and bloggers are helping themselves to huge servings of whatever newspapers offer online.

People who run content-starved outlets steal articles from newspapers’ websites and post them on their own sites, without payment.

Who cares, you might say. Most newspapers post all their articles on their websites, free for anyone to read, whether they’ve got a subscription or not.

But many newspapers definitely care, because they make money when people visit their websites to read articles. Web advertisements are an increasingly important part of newspapers’ shrinking revenue stream.

When an entire article is copied from a newspaper’s website and posted on another website, fewer people go to the newspaper’s website to view the original article, and the paper makes less money.

Some newspapers are trying to protect their articles from being stolen. They’re trying to develop clearer “ fair-use” policies, specifying for example how much of an article can be copied by a blog or website without violating the newspaper’s copyright.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal has gone further. Its parent company, Stephens Media, has helped grubstake a law firm called Righthaven, which is suing Internet entities that post articles from the paper without proper authorization.

Righthaven buys the copyright to a specific newspaper article and then sues the website or blog that posts all or even part of it, typically for $150,000 and the rights to the domain name of website that allegedly commits the offense. Most of the approximately 200 lawsuits filed against organizations, ranging from the Democratic Party of Nevada to GOP Senate candidate Sharron Angle, have been settled out of court.

In December, on behalf of MediaNews, owner of The Denver Post, Righthaven sued the Drudge Report for allegedly publishing The Post’s content in violation of copyright law.

Critics, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation, say Righthaven is abusing copyright law by buying copyrights to articles it will never use and by demanding excessive damages, particularly from small-time bloggers who can’t afford to defend themselves.

Critics also don’t like Righthaven’s tactic of filing lawsuits without sending a warning letter first. These warnings, referred to as “takedown” or “ cease-and-desist” letters, would give a website owner the chance to remove the offending content to avoid a lawsuit.

Courts in Nevada are sorting out the complexities of whether a website’s copying of a newspaper article—even if it’s used in its entirety and deprives a newspaper of potential revenue—can be justified under “fair-use” doctrine. Critics say the doctrine is more complicated than the Righthaven legal briefs would have you believe.

These critics have a point, but in the bigger picture, the newspaper industry’s cause is just.

The Righthaven approach, imperfect as it is, gets to the heart of one of the most important questions in journalism: How do newspapers protect online content?

Organizations shouldn’t post entire news stories on their websites, and bloggers shouldn’t reproduce newspaper articles in their online diaries.

Here’s why: News articles are written by journalists, who need to be paid. And most of their salaries come from advertisements. (There are exceptions of course, including OtherWords, the non-profit editorial service that happens to be distributing my op-ed to newspapers and new media.)

Newspapers’ advertising revenue has tanked in recent years. For journalism to survive, newspaper websites must sell more ads.

The routine looting and scattering of a publication’s website content across the blogosphere, where newspapers have no prayer of reaping any profit, amounts to one more nail in the coffin of journalism. Advertising dollars will then flow to any online outfit that posts stolen news stories.

That’s not only unfair, but it’s bad for our democracy. We need journalists to play a watchdog role now more than ever.

Sure, Righthaven is unseemly in the way it’s suing people, including “ little” people. But if you have a better idea on how newspapers should safeguard their online content, lay it on me.

 A former media critic for the Rocky Mountain News, Jason Salzman is board chair of Rocky Mountain Media Watch and author of Making the News: A Guide for Activists and Nonprofits.

Squeezing Ordinary Californians and New Yorkers

February 3, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Governors Cuomo and Brown seem hell-bent on delivering a knockout blow to the mass middle class.

Following World War II, the United States produced something the world had never seen: a mass middle class. For the first time, a majority of a major nation’s people had real money left over after paying for basic food and shelter.

New York and California served as geographic bookends to this colossal achievement. They offered ordinary citizens lives unimaginable only a few short years before. Activist government policies made those lives possible. Government-subsidized loans raised new middle-class suburbs from potato fields and sugar beet acres. Tax dollars funded new roads, schools, and parks.

“California’s children, swarming on all those new playgrounds, seemed healthier, happier, taller,” as Atlantic editor Benjamin Schwarz has noted. “A sweet, vivacious time.”

That time may be gone for good. The new governors of New York and California, both Democrats, have essentially declared America’s mass middle class ancient history.

Andrew Cuomo in New York and Jerry Brown in California are pushing a fundamental “realignment” that goes beyond the budget cutbacks that have become a grim annual routine in state capitals.

Brown and Cuomo are attacking the foundational core of America’s middle class: the notion that public policies can improve ordinary people’s lives. Instead, they’re squeezing public employees and the public goods and services they provide.

Consider what’s happened to higher education in California. Fifty years ago, every California high school grad had access to free community college. High-achievers paid rock-bottom rates to attend some of the world’s finest universities. Today, under Jerry Brown’s new fiscal game plan, revenue from student fees will exceed the state government’s contribution to higher education for the first time in California history.

Brown says he has no alternative.

“This is the world we live in,” Brown has pronounced. “You can’t manufacture money.”

But governments can raise revenue by taxing their most affluent. Back in America’s middle class golden age, that’s what happened.

Brown refuses to go down that road. The temporary California tax hikes that he wants to preserve—a 1 percent boost in state sales tax, a 0.25 percent increase across the board on the state income tax, among others—all fall heavier on middle-income Californians.

In New York, Andrew Cuomo isn’t willing to raise taxes on the rich at all. His rationale for that refusal?

“The working families of New York,” Cuomo says, “cannot afford tax increases.”

Cuomo defines “working families” to include the wealthy. “They work, too,” he explains. Indeed they do. But under current law New York’s wealthy actually spend less of their income in state and local taxes than ordinary New Yorkers.

New Yorkers making between $33,000 and $95,000, analysts Chloe Tribich, Sunshine Ludder, and Ron Deutsch recently pointed out, pay 11 percent of their incomes in state and local tax. New York’s richest 1 percent—taxpayers making over $633,000—only pay 7 percent.

In the middle class’s heyday, New York’s wealthy faced a far heavier tax burden. In fact, since 1980, the top state tax rate on New York’s highest incomes has dropped by half.

So has the top federal tax rate, from 70 to 35 percent.

New York and California alone have more taxpayers making over $200,000 than all 22 states that John McCain carried in the 2008 Presidential election combined, according to David Callahan, a senior fellow at the think tank Demos.

Without the recent tax deal Obama brokered with the GOP, Callahan notes, these affluent would be paying federal taxes, this year and next, at a 39.6 percent top rate. So why not, he asks, raise top state income tax rates—from 10.5 to 15 percent in California and from 8.97 percent to 13.5 percent in New York—to take back what the rich are saving at the federal level?

Don’t hold your breath. Neither Brown nor Cuomo sees any reason to inconvenience the financially fortunate. We’re just “going to have to reduce government spending,” Cuomo insists.

For the awesomely affluent, that makes sense. Rich people, after all, don’t require public schools and parks and libraries. They feel they don’t need government spending. Only the little people do.

 Sam Pizzigati edits Too Much, the online weekly newsletter on excess and inequality published by the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Policy Studies, from which this op-ed is adapted.

Gallup Poll: 1 in 4 Unemployed Adults In Financial Distress

February 3, 2011 by · 1 Comment 

Keeping up with the rising cost of gas, food and other commodities is challenging for many these days. But if you are among the 9.4 percent of Americans unemployed, or the large number of people working less than full time, that strain is even more difficult, according to a national Gallup poll released last week.

Bucking the national trend of slightly lower unemployment numbers, California’s unemployment rate climbed to 12.5 percent in December, and 13 percent in Los Angeles County.

While fewer than three in ten unemployed Americans say they are able to meet expenses without any difficulty, 40 percent of unemployed adults say they are just barely managing to pay their bills. About 26 percent, or one in four report they are either falling behind on their bills or facing more serious financial difficulties such as bankruptcy or foreclosure, according to Gallup.

For many, having a job was no guarantee of financial stability. 21 percent of those surveyed who identified themselves as underemployed, told pollsters that they are under financial distress. Eight percent of those who said they are fully employed said they are having financial problems.

The results are based on a USA Today/Gallup poll conducted as part of Gallup Daily tracking between Dec. 21, 2010 and Jan. 9, 2011.

The poll showed that unemployed adults between the ages of 30 and 49 have been hit harder financially than those younger or older. While the reasons are unclear, it may be that they are old enough to have acquired significant expenses such as mortgages, car payments, and children, but are not old enough to have accumulated the financial reserves necessary to carry them in bad times, according to Gallup.

Overall, unemployed men seem to be fairing better financially than unemployed women, though they are slightly more likely to be facing “serious financial problems.”

Underemployed Americans — those working part time but wanting full time work — are only marginally better off financially than the unemployed, both in terms of their finances and their experience with significant personal problems resulting from lack of work, according to Gallup.

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