L.A. Council Votes to Rename Street After Vin Scully

January 29, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

A street leading into Dodger Stadium will be named after the team’s longtime play-by-play announcer Vin Scully, who plans to retire after 67 seasons with the Dodgers.

The council voted 12-0 to begin the process for renaming Elysian Park Avenue between Sunset Boulevard and Stadium Way as “Vin Scully Avenue.”

“Now we’re going to say, ‘Hey, go up Sunset and make a right on Scully Avenue’ – that’s going to be the new directions to get to Dodger Stadium,” said Councilman Gil Cedillo, who proposed the street name change.

Cedillo called Scully “the voice and symbol of baseball, not just for the Dodgers but the entire nation.”

“I remember growing up in the city, and I couldn’t always afford to go to the games,” Cedillo said. “We had a little radio, as all young boys and girls did in that time period. While you may not have been able to afford the games, you could turn on the radio, and with that you can see the Dodgers, each and every pitch, each and every play…just amazing storytelling that was
unparalleled.”

Councilman Paul Krekorian said the recognition “is a few decades overdue.”

“I’m so glad Mr. Scully has finally consented to our doing this,” he said. “He’s a man of great humility who has resisted this kind of recognition, but it’s so important that we do so.”

Dodger manager Dave Roberts told the council that “on behalf of the players, the organization, we’re deeply honored, as Vin has called many great monumental moments” in Dodger history.

Former Dodger stars Orel Hershiser, Maury Wills and others were on hand for the vote, as were several active players.

The visit by the Dodger contingent to City Hall is part of their week of service tour in the Los Angeles area, dubbed by the team as the “Dodgers Love L.A. Tour.”

The 88-year-old Bronx-born Scully has announced Dodger games since 1950, when the team played in Brooklyn. He said in August that the 2016 season likely will be his last.

Scully has been an announcer longer than anyone else in sports history.

A ranking system devised by author Curt Smith for his 2005 book “Voices of the Game” determined that Scully was baseball’s greatest announcer, giving him a perfect score of 100, based on such factors as longevity, language, popularity and persona.

When Mayor Eric Garcetti made a similar street-naming proposal in 2013 in response to a viewer question on a public affairs television program, Scully said he would prefer for a street near Dodger Stadium to be renamed after Walter O’Malley, who brought the team to Los Angeles from Brooklyn, or his son Peter, instead of himself.

The mayor of Los Angeles has a great deal more important things to do than name a street after me,” Scully said at the time. “And if he is considering that idea, better the street should be named after Walter or Peter O’Malley than myself.”

Peter O’Malley succeeded his father as the team’s chairman of the board upon the elder O’Malley’s death in 1979. The O’Malley family continued to own the Dodgers until their sale to the Fox Group in 1997.

In 2013, when Scully announced he would be returning for the 2014 season, Garcetti said that “Vin Scully is more than the voice of the Dodgers.” He went on: “L.A. Little Leaguers hear his voice when swinging for the fences and as adults, we hear his voice during those big moments in our lives. Vin Scully transcends L.A.’s ever-changing ‘A List.’ In his seventh decade here, he is an
icon to grandparents, parents and our kids and earns new fans with each new child who tunes in to their first Dodgers game.”

Court Overturns Alarcon’s Conviction

January 21, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

A state appeals court panel Wednesday reversed the convictions of former Los Angeles City Councilman Richard Alarcon and his wife, Flora, who were charged with fraudulent voting and perjury by declaration.

A three-justice panel from California’s 2nd District Court of Appeal cited a jury instruction given during the Alarcons’ trial in ordering the case against the couple to be sent back to the trial court.

“My wife and I are extremely pleased,” Alarcon told City News Service.

“This is a tremendous victory. We still have to wait. The decision was remanded back to the court. It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.”

But he added, “We never felt we did anything wrong.”

“I have a consulting business,” Alarcon said. “I don’t have any plans to run for office, for example. It really is a personal victory because, as I said, the worst you can accuse a politician of is lying and there are probably some other things, but that is one of the worst things you can accuse a politician of.”

Alarcon was at City Hall Wednesday to represent his client Hillview Mental Health, in Pacoima, at a Housing Committee hearing on Councilman Gil Cedillo’s House L.A. initiatives. He said he is also interested in efforts to create more affordable housing and to help the homeless because he has a son who is homeless.

One of the Alarcons’ appellate attorneys, Amy Jacks, said she was “pretty confident there had been a serious error in the jury instructions.”

She added that she was also “confident that the Court of Appeal would see the same error.”

In their appeal, defense attorneys contended that Los Angeles Superior Court Judge George G.

Lomeli erred by giving the jury an instruction on domicile during the Alarcons’ trial regarding allegations that they had lived outside the district he was elected to represent.

In a 15-page opinion, the appellate court panel ruled that the jury instruction required jurors to determine whether the Alarcons had physically resided at the home inside his City Council district.

“Once the jurors found that defendants had not done so, the mandatory presumption of (the jury instruction) required them to find that home was not defendants’ legal domicile,” the justices wrote.

The panel found that it “cannot conclude that the instructional error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.”

The California Attorney General’s Office could ask the California Supreme Court to review the ruling before the case is sent back to the trial court.

Richard Alarcon was convicted in July 2014 of three counts of fraudulent voting and one count of perjury by declaration, but was acquitted of a dozen other felony counts.

The charges on which he was convicted involved fraudulent voting in the November 2008 and the March and May elections in 2009, and perjury by declaration involving his November 2008 declaration of intent to become a city council candidate.

He was sentenced in October 2014 to a 120-day jail term, along with 600 hours of community service, five years probation and barred from holding public office.

He surrendered in December 2014 to begin serving the jail term and was sent home after being fitted with an electronic monitoring device.

Alarcon’s wife was convicted of two counts of fraudulent voting in the March 2009 and May 2009 elections, and one count of perjury by declaration involving a provisional ballot in November 2008, and acquitted of two other counts. She was sentenced to 400 hours of community service and five years probation.

Deputy District Attorney Michele Gilmer told jurors that the evidence proved the couple lied about living at a home in Panorama City, which was within Alarcon’s city council district.

The longtime legislator — who served two separate terms on the city council along with stints in the state Senate and Assembly — insisted that he began living at the Panorama City home within the council district in November 2006.

Shortly after a search warrant was served, he told reporters that an intruder had caused significant damage to the Panorama City home during an October 2009 break-in and that he had returned to the house several times to try to repair the damage. He said then that he and his wife were temporarily staying at a house in an adjacent council district.

In July 2010, just before a grand jury indicted Alarcon and his wife, he said: “Because my wife owns two homes and we have stayed in both of them during the last four years, I can understand the confusion, but my permanent home has always been on Nordhoff Street (in Panorama City), regardless of where I may stay.”

A spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office could not be reached for immediate comment on the appellate court panel’s ruling.

Shrinking Debs Pond Worries Park Visitors

January 14, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

What started as a routine maintenance check up at Ernest E. Debs Park in Montecito Heights turned into a worrying issue for area residents and frequent park visitors who noticed a large pond at the park was rapidly losing water, endangering the fish and turtles living there.

The pond is man-made and gets it water through pipes connected to it rather than natural sources.

Former Montecito Heights resident Rosalio Munoz told EGP he started seeing the evaporation back in December and brought it to the attention of local Councilman Gil Cedillo, after getting no response from park staff.

Munoz told EGP he estimated the pond’s water level had dropped about four feet, noting that in addition to being a habitat for aquatic life, the pond also serves as an important water source in the event of a fire.

“I was told by a workman on clean up duty that a pipe had broken and I became alarmed,” he wrote in his letter dated Dec. 4 to the councilman. “I thought a major job needed to be done and was worried about the fish and turtles there…”
A month passed and Munoz said he didn’t see any repair work going on.

Reyes Rosales watches his children as they play along the lakeside, which has lost a significant amount of water. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

Reyes Rosales watches his children as they play along the lakeside, which has lost a significant amount of water. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

Last Friday, however, Montecito Heights resident Helen Driscoll told EGP she saw “about three trucks dumping water” in the pond, but the water was still down, significantly shrinking the size of the pond.

Recent rains have only raised the water level about two-inches, according to Munoz.

Reyes Rosales was out hiking last Friday with his children and stopped by the pond to play. Even with the water delivered earlier the pond still seemed very low, said the East LA resident.

“The drop in water goes back more than a month,” he told EGP in Spanish. “I think it will become dangerous for the animals, they may die.”

Cedillo Chief of Staff Arturo Chavez told EGP the problem started with the rupture of a valve that provides water pressure to a fire hydrant at the park.

“City plumbers noticed it and they closed the fire hydrants to do repairs,” he told EGP. “They also notified the local fire department station” about the situation, he said.

Although, people love the man-made pond and are worried about the wildlife, Chavez said the pond is really a reservoir that works with the irrigation system to the park, which he speculated could have contributed to the pond’s lower water level.

Park visitors worried that the pond was drying up started calling the park and elected officials.

In an effort to respond to their concerns, maintenance staff turned on the pipe to fill the pond and it broke another valve, Chavez explained.

Recreation and Parks staff would not comment on whether fire hydrants at the park had been impacted, but said “it is a complicated issue” and they are working on it.

“The pipes that are feeding the lake are old and ruptured,” Abel Perez, senior park maintenance supervisor told EGP via email.

According to Cedillo spokesperson Fredy Ceja, city crews started cutting asphalt Tuesday in search of the broken pipe disrupting the water flow.

“They will continue to cut asphalt until they find the broken pipe and fix it immediately, which should fix the problem,” he said.

Chavez told EGP the delay in getting to work on the broken water pipes could have been due to the holiday and staff shortages. He confirmed that the fire department is aware of the issue and has made plans for an alternate source of water if there is a fire emergency, either bringing in a water tank or using other fire hydrants.

City staff hopes to have the problem fixed by Friday.

—-

Twitter @jackierporter

jgarcia@egpnews.com

Refugio de Invierno Abre sus Puertas en Highland Park

December 17, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

Cuando tres hermanas indigentes escucharon que una iglesia en Highland Park pronto abriría un refugio por las noches, rápidamente fueron a comprobarlo. Después de todo, su única opción era continuar durmiendo en el piso de un baño público del parque Sycamore Grove.

Las bancas de la Iglesia All Saints Episcopal les dio la bienvenida con un saco de dormir, una almohada y algunos artículos de aseo.

La pequeña cocina improvisada les ofrece comida caliente mientras que ven películas en el proyector de la iglesia.

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Han pasado más de dos semanas desde que las hermanas comenzaron su ritual nocturno para conseguir una banca en la iglesia—una mejora ante el aire libre y el piso de un baño.

“Es mucho mejor que dormir en el frío”, dice Hope, quien no quiso dar su apellido, de 56 años de edad. Las hermanas fueron de las primeras seis personas en obtener la admisión al refugio de la iglesia cuando se abrió el primero de diciembre.

En pocos días, el Centro de Acceso de Invierno estaba completamente lleno y algunas personas han sido rechazadas, dijo Rebecca Prine, directora voluntaria de Recycled Resources for the Homeless una organización sin fines de lucro de beneficencia pública en el noreste de Los Ángeles.

“Todo ha ido muy bien y nuestra pequeña comunidad está prosperando”, Prine le dijo a EGP. “Confiamos en la generosidad de otros en la comunidad”.

En septiembre, el alcalde Garcetti y los miembros del consejo de la ciudad declararon “estado de emergencia en la falta de vivienda” y comprometieron $100 millones para proporcionar vivienda permanente y transitoria a los necesitados.

Han pasado meses y activistas a favor de los indigentes se han impacientado ante la lenta respuesta de la ciudad.

Las temperaturas están bajando y las tormentas de El Niño están en camino, dijo Prine, explicando que Recycled Resources tuvo que intervenir después de no ver ninguna acción por parte del Consejo de la Ciudad.

El refugio de la iglesia en Highland Park abrió sus puertas el primero de diciembre. (EGP foto por Jacqueline García)

El refugio de la iglesia en Highland Park abrió sus puertas el primero de diciembre. (EGP foto por Jacqueline García)

Los consejos vecinales locales, negocios y voluntarios colaboraron para encontrar un lugar para sus vecinos indigentes. El  reverendo W. Clarke Prescott de la Iglesia All Saints Episcopal aceptó abrir la iglesia como un refugio temporal de invierno.

La iglesia cuenta con espacio para 30 personas por noche. Hay un pequeño espacio en el segundo piso para las personas con niños. Las mascotas también son bienvenidas.

Pero se necesita más ayuda, dijo Prine, criticando a las autoridades municipales por no actuar.

Representantes de la Agencia de Servicios para Desamparados de Los Ángeles (LAHSA) visitaron el refugio para evaluar su elegibilidad para fondos financieros.

En el conteo del 2015, LAHSA identificó más de 25.000 indigentes en la ciudad de Los Ángeles. En todo el Condado, la indigencia ha aumentado un 12% desde el conteo de 2013, de 39.461 a 44.359.

El lunes, la portavoz de LAHSA Kelli Pezzelle le dijo a EGP que la iglesia no cumple con los requisitos de las normas de seguridad de la agencia. Entre los problemas, las bancas son demasiado estrechas para ser utilizadas como camas y no hay extinguidores, dijo Pezzelle.

La agencia rechazó esta semana la solicitud de financiamiento para el Centro de Acceso del invierno, pero revirtió su decision el miércoles.

Según el portavoz del concejal Cedillo Fredy Ceja, su jefe envió una carta a LAHSA instando a la agencia a que reconsidere su decisión “dada la urgente necesidad de un refugio inmediato”.

La carta de Cedillo señaló que la iglesia “es el único refugio actualmente disponible para los indigentes del noreste de LA y el apoyo de LAHSA en este sitio ampliará el alcance de los servicios disponibles en la zona”.

Despues de la reversión de LAHSA, Cedillo dijo que “inmediatamente presentó una moción para poner el centro en la lista de refugios de invierno, asegurando protecciones bajo la crisis de refugios. Esto les permitirá obtener fondos de LAHSA y operar durante la temporada de invierno”, dijo el concejal en un comunicado de prensa.

El concejal José Huizar también intervino para apoyar el centro, obteniendo la aprobación del consejo que le permite transferir $20.000 en fondos discrecionales de su oficina para el refugio.

El miércoles el consejo de la ciudad también aprobó la moción que Cedillo introdujo el martes pidiendo al Departamento de Recreación y Parques que abra inmediatamente la Armería Bridewell en Highland Park—que se encuentra vacante—para servir como un refugio de invierno.

La petición de Cedillo se produce después de la aprobación del consejo de la moción del concejal José Huizar para asignar $12.5 millones de “ayuda inmediata para los indigentes, rápido realojamiento y refugios de invierno” en toda la ciudad.

El financiamiento incluye $10 millones para subsidios de “Realojamiento Rápido” para casi 1.000 indigentes para ayudarles con el alquiler o los costos de la mudanza. Los fondos restantes incrementarán camas en albergues en este invierno en más de un 50%—a un total de 1.300. Estas camas se destinarán a los que viven a orillas del río de Los Ángeles en Tujunga y Arroyo Seco.

“Mientras que parte de este dinero ayuda a preparar la infraestructura a largo plazo para hacer frente a la falta de vivienda, la mayor parte del dinero es para acciones inmediatas para ayudar a la gente a que no estén en las calles”, dijo Huizar.

El refugio se ha mantenido abierto con el apoyo de la comunidad. Los Consejos Vecinales de Highland Park y Eagle Rock han aprobado fondos para el centro: $1.000 y $4.000, respectivamente.

Aunque todo el mundo en el noreste de Los Ángeles está hablando de la falta de vivienda, nadie está haciendo nada al respecto, explicó el presidente del Consejo Vecinal de Eagle Rock, David Greene.

“Las Juntas Vecinales pueden y se deben ir a la vanguardia en temas que son demasiado políticos o demasiado locales para que el ayuntamiento y el alcalde los enfrenten de una manera oportuna”, le dijo a EGP. “Entonces, mientras que la ciudad de Los Ángeles busca cómo encontrar y gastar los millones de dólares en su ‘guerra contra la falta de vivienda’, el ERNC vio una manera de hacer algo acerca de la situación inmediatamente en el noreste de LA”.

Las personas donan comida caliente, ropa, libros y alimentos para mascotas; voluntarios manejan el refugio que esta abierto de 7pm a 8am.

Nereida Vazquez (der.) junto a su mamá y a su hija en la apertura del refugio en la iglesia de Highland Park. Vazquez se enorgullece que su hija sea voluntaria en algunas ocasiones. (EGP foto por Jacqueline García)

Nereida Vazquez (der.) junto a su mamá y a su hija en la apertura del refugio en la iglesia de Highland Park. Vazquez se enorgullece que su hija sea voluntaria en algunas ocasiones. (EGP foto por Jacqueline García)

Para los afortunados en conseguir un sitio para pasar la noche en la iglesia, este se convierte en un refugio seguro y cálido del frío invierno.

Cada noche, la voluntaria Nereida Vázquez da la bienvenida a los residentes del refugio y a veces pasa la noche como auxiliar. Como ex drogadicta y víctima de violencia doméstica, Vásquez dice que sabe de primera mano el valor de tener un lugar para dormir, ya que ella fue indigente y el departamento de servicios a  familias le quito a sus hijos para dárselos a su madre.

Se siente muy bien estar ahora en un lugar donde se ayuda a los necesitados, le dijo a EGP.

Recycled Resources espera vincular a los participantes a los servicios de apoyo que necesitan para mejorar su situación antes de que el refugio temporal cierre en marzo.

Mónica Alcaraz, voluntaria con Recycled Resources y presidente de la junta vecinal de Highland Park, le dijo a EGP que evalúan la situación de cada visitante al refugio y le recomiendan la asistencia adecuada.

“Los casos son diferentes, algunos de ellos quieren solicitar una vivienda, otros necesitan documentación básica como una [identificación] o la tarjeta del seguro social”, dijo.

“Estoy orgullosa del trabajo que hemos sido capaces de hacer como comunidad y para nuestra comunidad”, dijo Prine.

Según Hope, Recycled Resources la ha ayudado a ella y a sus hermanas a solicitar para la vivienda de Sección 8 y esperan ser aceptadas antes del cierre del refugio.

“No somos malas personas, simplemente vivimos en las calles y necesitamos ayuda”, dijo con sentimiento de tristeza.

“Pero sé que pronto voy a salir de esta situación”.

Para saber más acerca del refugio y como ayudar visite www.recycledresources.org.

—-

Twitter @jackiereporter

jgarcia@egpnews.com

Help Starts With A Home

November 12, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

Juan Ortiz walked through the crowd Monday morning feeling emotional and grateful to be part of the ceremony opening of Teague Terrace, a new permanent supportive housing project.

Most of all, he was glad to have a place to call home.

Ortiz lives in one of 56 apartment units in the new housing complex in the border of Glassell Park and Eagle Rock, which actually opened its doors in August.

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Ortiz told EGP depression and other illnesses caused him to lose his home, bakery business and his family. He spent more than two years living on the streets of Long Beach, until a social worker helped him get back on his feet.

The approximately $18 million Teague Terrace is the second Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) community built by nonprofit developer Women Organizing Resources, Knowledge and Services (WORKS). The nonprofit partners with other groups to make sure people not only have a roof over their heads, but also receive the services they need to make the transition from homelessness to tenant.

 

Councilman Cedillo tours the new apartment of Ricky Shapley at Teague Terrace in Glassel Park. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

Councilman Cedillo tours the new apartment of Ricky Shapley at Teague Terrace in Glassel Park. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

“We are delighted that this permanent supportive housing is now doing what it was developed to do, house formerly homeless persons and other special needs populations, especially in a neighborhood that has seen the unprecedented impact of gentrification on all income categories,” said WORKS President Channa Grace Monday.

For Kathryne Church and Ricky Shapley, getting the keys to their fourth floor apartment has been  “unbelievable.” The couple said they had been living in their car for over a year before moving into Teague Terrace.

“I still can’t believe I have an apartment,” Church told EGP with a big smile. “We are very happy to have our home,” added Shapley.

Each of the apartments is furnished with a bed, sofa, refrigerator and stove. Tenants also received some pots and pans, toiletries and other basic amenities that people living on the streets often go without.

“It’s well said that the real works starts when somebody gets a house,” said Cesar Lopez, a team leader with Housing Works, a social service agency partnering with WORKS to provide on-site supportive and enrichment services.

From the moment people move in they need help with everything, from furniture to groceries, he explained. We teach them what to buy and what not to buy, Lopez said.

Most tenants receive some type of government aid or benefit, such as social security, disability insurance, Section 8 Housing Voucher or other stipend to help pay for their rent, he said.

As part of the transition from homeless to housed, social workers teach the new tenants how to manage their money, pay their rent and what they need to do tp keep their housing.

“They can live at Teague Terrace for as long as they like, as long as they abide by their lease agreement and stay current with updating their paperwork yearly with the Housing Authority,” Lopez explained.

Both Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis and L.A. City Councilman Gil Cedillo represent Northeast LA and both were on hand Monday for the development’s official opening blessing and ceremony.

Cedillo called the housing project elegant, well-built and something tenants can have pride in.

“I’m so excited to know that people are not only getting a roof over their heads but also of the quality of the commitment from nonprofits and social services to help [residents],” he said.

“We really need to call homelessness a state of emergency and stop acting as if it is a business,” said Cedillo, who back in September joined Mayor Eric Garcetti and six fellow council members to announce the city’s plan to dedicate $100 million to help reduce the number of homeless on city streets.

The homeless population in LA city and county has risen 12% since 2013, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority.

“Homelessness has become a very important word in our vocabulary,” Sup. Solis told the crowd. “But we want to make affordable housing available for all people that need it in LA County.”

There’s a need for over 500 thousand affordable units in the county, including over 80 thousand needed to house the homeless, Solis said.

Permanent supportive housing projects like Teague Terrace are making a small but important dent in that number.

The facility houses 39 formerly homeless people including some veterans, people with developmental disabilities and people who are being helped by the Dept. of Health Services. The other sixteen residents are either low-income seniors or small families whose income is at or falls below he Area Median Income, which is $1,300 per month for a single individual, said Lopez.

Fifty-eight-year-old Ortiz told EGP he’s working on recovering from his depression and to be OK again.

“I’m very happy, there’s a lot of good people that help me.”

—-

Twitter @jackiereporter

jgarcia@egpnews.com

Man Pleads in Hit-and-Run Death of Bicyclist

October 8, 2015 by · 2 Comments 

A 21-year-old Los Angeles man pleaded no contest Monday to gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated for a crash that killed a bicyclist who was in a marked crosswalk in Highland Park.

Alexis Virto is set to be sentenced Nov. 5. Under the negotiated plea deal, additional counts of driving under the influence of an alcoholic beverage causing injury, driving with a 0.08 percent blood-alcohol content causing injury and hit-and-run driving resulting in death or serious injury to another person are expected to be dismissed.

The June 26 pre-dawn collision killed 33-year-old cyclist Jose Luna

Investigators believe that Virto was driving between 60 mph and 80 mph, and said the impact of the 3 a.m. crash severed one of Luna’s legs. The defendant drove away with the victim on the vehicle’s hood for about 200 yards and later abandoned the car.

Police said Virto was still intoxicated at the time of his arrest several hours later. He was found sleeping on a bed with his girlfriend at a home about six blocks from the crash scene and had injuries consistent with the collision and windshield debris in his hair, according to investigators.

Hit-and-Runs Raise Street Safety Concerns

October 1, 2015 by · 3 Comments 

A new bill signed by Gov. Jerry Brown Monday could help solve many hit-and-run cases in California.

AB 8, authored by Assemblyman Mike Gatto, calls for “yellow alerts” showing details about a fleeing vehicle — such as color, make, model and license plate number — to be displayed on digital freeway and street signs. Such alerts are already used during kidnappings.

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The practice could have been of use during two recent hit-and-runs in Highland Park where the suspects are still at large.

On Sunday around 1:30 a.m., a motorist crashed into the Highland Café on York Boulevard near Avenue 50. There were no injuries, but the café is still closed due to the extensive damage caused by the driver who managed to back his truck out of the building and flee the scene.

Participants at a vigil and march Friday - at the same crosswalk in Highland Park where a woman was struck and killed by a hit-and-run vehicle – demand justice and safer streets. (EGP photo by Jaccqueline Garcia)

Participants at a vigil and march Friday – at the same crosswalk in Highland Park where a woman was struck and killed by a hit-and-run vehicle – demand justice and safer streets. (EGP photo by Jaccqueline Garcia)

On Sept. 18, a woman was hit by a car while walking in a marked crosswalk on Figueroa Street at Avenue 54. The driver took off without stopping to render aid.

Fifty one-year old Yolanda Espinoza-Lugo died from her injuries two days later.

In some neighborhoods, people blame incidents like these on street conditions they claim are unsafe and allow people to speed. Slowing traffic will save lives, they say. Others claim too many hit-and-run drivers are never caught, making more people willing to risk trying to get away with their crime. They say you can’t blame street conditions for people deciding to speed, drive while intoxicated or not stopping if they hit someone.

Mobility is a hot button issue in Los Angeles. There are countless transportation studies and plans aimed at making streets safer for pedestrians, bicyclists and autos. They include encouraging people to reduce driving speeds, moving people out of cars and on to public transportation, and making walking and cycling safer and user-friendly.

Every plan to improve traffic flow, reduce congestion or to allow more room for bicyclists has supporters and detractors that are passionate, and often unyielding, in their positions.

At a vigil and protest march last Friday marking the hit-and-run death of Espinoza-Lugo, Highland Park residents said they no longer just have to worry about gangs in the neighborhood, but more reckless drivers.

“Our streets are not at all safe,” said protesters gathered at the crosswalk where Espinoza-Lugo was struck.

“We want justice … they need to catch the man responsible,” Susana Salgado, friend of Espinoza-Lugo told EGP in Spanish.

Ricardo Rodriguez, a former co-worker of Espinoza-Lugo, called on the city to make improvements that will make streets safer for pedestrians. “We need flashing lights in the crosswalks, like the ones installed in more affluent areas like Glendale and Pasadena,” Rodriguez said.

Historic Highland Park Neighborhood Council (HHPNC) President Monica Alcaraz told EGP the board has sent letters to the area’s councilman, Gil Cedillo, requesting safety improvements.

In June 2014, the HHPNC supported plans calls for installing bike lanes on Figueroa Street as part of the City’s Complete Streets proposal to improve transportation and “create safer, more accessible streets for all users, including pedestrians, cyclists and public transportation passengers.”

Complete Streets calls for “road diets” that reduce the number of lanes available to drivers to make room for bike lanes.

In August, the neighborhood council voted to support the city council approved Mobility Plan 2035, a controversial transportation plan that calls for major changes to streets and transportation routes across the city. Proponents say the plan will improve traffic flow throughout the city and make streets safer and more attractive to people that want to commute on foot or by bike.

Both plans are facing challenges. The road diet part of the Complete Streets plan has been placed on hold and the Mobility Plan 2035 is facing a lawsuit by the Fix the City group which says the plan will add more pollution and cause more traffic.

Opponents to implementing a “road diet” along Figueroa in Highland Park and Cypress Park say it will make traffic in the area worse. Instead, they have proposed moving the bike lanes to adjacent streets with less traffic, a suggestion that has angered bike lane advocates.

According to data from the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), traffic collisions involving pedestrians in the Northeast area have actually decreased this year, with 98 so far compared to 107 for the same period in 2014. The number of traffic collisions involving cyclists has also dropped, with year to date statistics showing a decrease from 96 in 2014 to 88 for the same timeframe in 2015.

The Highland Café has been closed since Sunday wheb a hit-and-run driver crashed into the building. (EGp photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

The Highland Café has been closed since Sunday wheb a hit-and-run driver crashed into the building. (EGp photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

The data is little comfort to people mourning the death of Espinoza-Lugo and a cyclist killed by a drunk driver on the corner of Pasadena Avenue and Figueroa Street back in June. The alleged drunk driver was caught hours later, at home, asleep in his bed. Three months later, Espinoza-Lugo died after being struck and carried 50 feet on the hood of a white 2003 Mitsubishi Lancer before she fell off as the driver steered around her and fled the scene. The driver is still at large.

Prosecuting hit-and-run cases is also challenging, according to Det. Felix Padilla with LAPD’s Central Traffic Division. In order to get a conviction, authorities must prove that the suspect was behind the wheel at the time of the incident, Padilla said, referring to cases where the driver flees the scene.

Padilla said having the vehicle’s license plate number can lead police to the car’s owner but it doesn’t prove who was behind the wheel at the time if the accident. “We [have to verify] with DNA tests or with the help of witnesses who saw the person driving the vehicle,” the detective said.

The Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT) is working with local authorities on a study targeting corridors across L.A. with high collision numbers, including North Figueroa Street. The Vision Zero Program is looking for ways to reduce injuries and death from collisions down to zero, LADOT spokesperson Lisa Martellaro-Palmer told EGP.

The goal of the Vision Zero program is to promote smart behaviors and roadway design that anticipates mistakes so that collisions do not result in severe injury or death.

The plan is to eliminate traffic deaths in the city by 2025, Martellaro-Palmer said.

Earlier this year, the city council approved increasing standing rewards from $1,000 to $50,000 to generate leads to capture hit-and-run drivers.

“We shouldn’t have to put up $50,000 rewards to try to catch somebody,” said Assemblyman Mike Gatto during a Monday press conference where he urged the governor to sign his “yellow alert” legislation. “We should give law enforcement tools to try to catch somebody by crowd-sourcing it, if you will.”

Councilman Cedillo, who has earned the wrath of bike lane advocates for halting plans to install bike lanes on Figueroa, has obtained funding for two crosswalk beacons along the Figueroa corridor in Highland Park. One will be placed on Avenue 60 and cost $65,000; the other will be placed on Avenue 55 and cost $85,000, according to Cedillo spokesman Fredy Ceja.

The funds are from Highway Safety Improvement program, which approved grants for 46 projects, including the two in Highland Park and two more in the Eagle Rock area, Ceja told EGP via email.

Funding for a full traffic signal at Avenue 51 and Figueroa, costing $300,000, has also been identified and should be received by January, said Ceja.

 

Today, Thursday at 7pm, the Highland Park neighborhood council will meet with LADOT representatives to discuss transportation issues along North Figueroa, specifically Avenue 51, 55, 56 and 59. The meeting will be held at the Highland Park Senior Center.

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Twitter @jackieguzman

jgarcia@egpnews.com

Cedillo Visits Lincoln Heights Seniors

September 24, 2015 by · 2 Comments 

It was billed as the unveiling of sidewalk repairs outside the Lincoln Heights Senior Center, but for seniors at the facility, Monday’s event was a chance to catch up with their local councilman, Gil Cedillo, and for the councilman to give seniors an unexpected gift.

“Viva Cedillo” read some of the large signs strategically placed around the center; words that were echoed in the seniors’ cheers welcoming the councilman to their regular hangout.

“My tio” (my uncle),  “My primo” (my cousin), Cedillo greeted seniors enthusiastically. The councilman says he feels at home when he’s there because some of the patrons remind him of his parents who recently passed away.

Cedillo told the audience he was “very excited to have the new sidewalk” completed because he knows how important it is to preventing accidents to seniors and children who use the walkway. Sidewalks can serve as a barrier from vehicles, he told the audience.

Councilman Cedillo surprises the seniors at the Lincoln Heights Senior Center Monday presenting them with a new 65-inch HD Television. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

Councilman Cedillo surprises the seniors at the Lincoln Heights Senior Center Monday presenting them with a new 65-inch HD Television. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

The repairs to the sidewalk, running from the Center’s northeast property line, south to Workman Street, wrapping around the facility to Daly Street, cost about $123,000, according to Yoo Bin Kim with the City’s Dept. of Engineering.

Cedillo told seniors the city has allocated $9.1 million in its 2015-2016 Fiscal Budget for repairs to sidewalk adjacent to city-owned facilities and his office has identified about $1.6 million in projects for the first district that he said would reduce safety hazards caused by overgrown tree roots, buckled sidewalks and uneven pavement.

While seniors praised the councilman for his work, they reminded him that there’s a lot more to do.

“The city is very dirty,” a woman said in Spanish. “People throw mattresses and big furniture outside and they are there for days, sometimes weeks,” she complained.

Agreeing more needs to be done, the councilman said he hopes the Bureau of Sanitation will soon start cleaning the entire city, “not only the Westside.”

“We are not satisfied with [Bureau of Sanitation], we brought the director [to] a hearing last week as we continue to push them to clean more,” Cedillo told EGP after the meeting, noting that the department had received an extra $15 million for street cleaning this year.

Some progress has been made, it is not enough, but we are on the right track, he added.

Seniors told the councilman the park and Senior Center need new exercise equipment; reserved for seniors parking signs; more trashcans and a fresh coat of paint.

It’s not Christmas yet, but I have a surprise for you, Cedillo said before leaving. His gift? A new large screen 62-inch HD television. “People won’t have to struggle anymore with that old TV,” said the councilman, pointing to an old, small screen TV in a corner of the room.

Cedillo said an Atwater area merchant had given his office a “good discount” and we were able to fulfill our commitment to get a new TV for the Center.

Government Projects Gone Awry? Blame Technology

September 3, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

Traveling to and from our old office in Highland Park and our new space in Lincoln Heights, we could not help but notice how the trash, graffiti and dilapidated autos are again starting to build up.

What is it about governments, whether local, state or federal, that keeps them from paying proper attention to quality of life issues, and to so easily put aside initiatives to improve the same unless they’re being hammered?

It wasn’t too long ago that Los Angeles Councilmember Gil Cedillo expended a hefty sum from his office holder account to haul away tons of trash in his 1st district. At the time, he told residents that Bureau of Sanitation workers would no longer just pick up items called in for pick up, but also any other illegally dumped items nearby. He spearheaded a trash collection pilot program to haul away bulky items from inside residents’ homes.

Now we learn from residents that the bureaucracy – as it often does – is doing what it pleases, not what’s it’s promised.

For sometime, failures were blamed on not having enough money. (OK, they still do that).

These days, however, there is a growing trend to blame administrative and institutional failures on faulty technology.

Meanwhile, graffiti is not removed; trash and discarded sofas, mattresses and broken bookshelves pile up. And of course, there are the mounds of trash accumulating in many – mostly low-income neighborhoods in the city’s east, northeast and south area neighborhoods.

Yet, no one seems to be able to give a definitive answer as to why some areas are cleaned but not others. Why some neighborhoods have a 98% response rate and other calls for service languish for months, even years.

The technology is to blame – not humans – we’re repeatedly told.

From misreported fire department response times to police crime figure miscalculations: technology was to blame,

When students at Jordan High School in 2014 could not get their classes, wasting valuable days of schooling: technology was to blame.

When the DWP overbilled ratepayers by millions of dollars: technology was to blame.

And all the while, taxpayers are being asked to foot more money for road repairs, for new water mains to replace deteriorating pipes that spill thousands of gallons of water as residents struggle to conserve.

Technological analyses show where the money would be best spent. Really?

In the end, people choose and operate the technology. It’s their job to make sure that the systems operate properly before unleashing them on the public.

Maybe it’s time for more of these workers to take their eyes off their computer screens and start looking at the neighborhoods around them. It may not be state-of-the-art, but it may just work.

 

‘Ideas’ Could Spur More Affordable Housing

August 27, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

Los Angeles Councilman Gil Cedillo Tuesday proposed a series of ideas intended to boost the amount of affordable housing in Los Angeles, including allowing micro-apartments.

Cedillo introduced six motions aimed at quickening the pace at which affordable housing is built, pointed to a recent study that found the city needs 82,000 new units, which includes 57 percent that need to be affordable to people who are very-low and low-income.

This means that 10,250 units need to be built per year, with about half affordable, Cedillo said. However, city agencies in recent history have only been able to finance 1,200 affordable housing units annually during peak years, and are expected to only be able to finance about 500 units a year in the next five years, he said.

The six motions were introduced ahead of today’s Housing L.A. conference organized by the Building Industry Association of Southern California that includes panels on tackling the city’s “housing crisis,” and features Cedillo and Mayor Eric Garcetti as speakers.

In one motion, Cedillo is calling for a program that allows “micro- units” about 300 square feet to 500 square feet in size to be build in some parts of the city. Such units have a lower cost and could potentially be better for the environment, Cedillo’s motion said.

Another Cedillo motion calls for the city to look into preserving unapproved second units on single-family homes, also known as accessory dwelling units, and to research programs adopted in cities like Seattle, Portland, Oregon, Denver and Santa Cruz.

A third motion proposes to reducing the number of parking spaces developers are required to build if their projects is near public transit, suggesting that four parking spots be replaced with one shared parking space.

Cedillo also wants to identify city properties that can be used for building affordable housing, defer the payment of building fees and take steps to speed up the project approval process.

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