Former Nonprofit Execs Plead Guilty to Embezzling Millions

August 17, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Three former executives of a once highly respected nonprofit group that provided counseling, job-training and placement to the homeless, unemployed and victims of domestic violence pleaded guilty Tuesday to embezzling millions of dollars from the organization that received varying amounts of financial support over the years from the city and county of Los Angeles.

Sophia Esparza, 65, the former CEO of the Chicana Service Action Center, faces the stiffest penalties under a plea deal with prosecutors. She pleaded guilty to five counts of misappropriating public funds, four counts of embezzlement, two counts of preparing false documentary evidence and one count of filing a false tax return.

Prosecutors said she operated the nearly five-decade-old nonprofit with a bogus board of directors and used embezzled funds for items such as luxury apartments, sports cars, a yacht cruise and season tickets to the Dodgers and Clippers. She is facing six years in prison when she is sentenced Oct. 25.

Meanwhile, Silvia Gutierrez, 71, the former chief financial officer for the group, pleaded guilty to six counts of embezzlement, four counts of misappropriation of public funds and two counts of preparing false documentary evidence. Thomas Baiz, 62, a former vice president of the nonprofit, pleaded guilty to three counts of embezzlement, two counts of misappropriation of public funds and one count of conspiracy to misappropriate public funds.

All three former executives were charged in 2015.

Chicana Service Action Center

A fourth defendant, former employee Michael Lorenzo Tompkins, was charged earlier this year and pleaded no contest to one count of embezzlement, according to the District Attorney’s Office.

Collectively, the four defendants will be ordered to pay $9 million to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Social Services and Community Senior Services, and $1.4  million to the city’s Economic and Workforce Development Department.

Esparza will also have to pay $103,000 to the state Franchise Tax Board, prosecutors said.

Gutierrez is expected to receive a four-year suspended sentence and spend a year on house arrest and five years on probation when she is sentenced Oct. 25. Baiz is facing a three-year suspended sentence, one year in jail and five years probation, along with 500 hours of community service.

Tompkins is facing three years in prison. Baiz and Tompkins are scheduled to be sentenced Oct. 26.

According to prosecutors, Gutierrez used embezzled funds to for personal bonuses, life insurance and personal expenses, while Baiz used the money for loans, vehicles and meals.

In the 1970s, the Chicana Service Action Center empowered women who “had not yet found our voice,” former supervisor Gloria Molina said in 2013, hoping to get her then board colleagues to continue contracting with the nonprofit after it was defunded over billing irregularities, which was said to have been corrected, and all monies owed to the County repaid.

“If they disappear, so will the empowerment of many, many young women,” Molina said at the time. Her motion failed to get a second and died without a vote.

Despite the county’s action, the City of Los Angeles continued to contract with the center for job placement and training services.

In January of this year, Los Angeles City Controller Ron Galperin issued a report strongly criticizing Economic and Workforce Development Department officials for failing to report the questionable activities involving the nonprofit, and for failing to provide adequate oversight going as far back as 2010. The city, which had contracted with the Chicana Service Action Center for over 25 years, awarded the center a new contract in 2014 to operate its WorkSource Center in Boyle Heights, one of 17 such centers in the city.

The charges shocked and saddened many in the community who had long held the organization in high esteem for its pioneering work to empower Latinas.

A 2015 editorial in this newspaper, called the then allegations “particularly devastating news to the women still alive who decades ago struggled mightily to get the organization off the ground so it could help empower Latinas by giving them job training and other resources as a way out of poverty and sometimes an escape from domestic abuse.”

Multiple readers responded with equal consternation, recounting how years earlier they had benefitted from services offered at the center.

EGP staff writers contributed to this story.

 

East L.A. Charter Is LAUSD’s Only 2015 Blue Ribbon School

February 25, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

It was a banner day for students, families and teachers at an East Los Angeles area charter school Tuesday.
They were celebrating KIPP Raíces Academy being named a 2015 National Blue Ribbon School award by the U.S. Department of Education (DOE).

Located in a predominately low-income Latino neighborhood, KIPP Raíces Academy is one of only 33 schools in California, and the only Los Angeles Unified School District school to receive the Blue Ribbon designation.

The East Los Angeles elementary school was chosen as an “Exemplary High Performing School” based on its achievement on state assessments. In 2015, KIPP Raíces students exceeded the averages for both the district and the state on the state assessment exam, with 82 percent of the school’s students meeting or exceeding the standards in math and 78 percent meeting or exceeding the standards in English Language Arts.

(L to R): Marcia Aaron, executive director of KIPP LA Schools, Amber Young Medina, managing director of schools for KIPP LA Schools, Chelsea Zegarski, principal of KIPP Raices Academy, Monica Garcia, LAUSD board bember, Gloria Molina, former LA County Supervisor, and Ref Rodriguez, LAUSD board member. (Courtesy of KIPP)

(L to R): Marcia Aaron, executive director of KIPP LA Schools, Amber Young Medina, managing director of schools for KIPP LA Schools, Chelsea Zegarski, principal of KIPP Raices Academy, Monica Garcia, LAUSD board bember, Gloria Molina, former LA County Supervisor, and Ref Rodriguez, LAUSD board member. (Courtesy of KIPP)

“KIPP Raíces Academy has shown what is possible for public education in East LA,” said L.A. Unified Board Member Mónica García. “It is clear that this community of dedicated educators and students has raised the bar, and I am thrilled to have the opportunity to be here today to celebrate this very bright spot in our community.”

Founded in 2008, the school currently enrolls 545 students in grades K-4 — 85 percent of who are from low-income families and 96 percent of who are Latino.

“This award is a testament to what can happen in East LA when a public school is seen as a joyful place, where learning is celebrated and possibilities are endless,” said current KIPP Raíces Academy school leader Chelsea Zegarski. “I am so proud of our students, families, and staff for the work that they do every day to make this vision a reality.”

KIPP Raíces is a part of KIPP LA, a network of six middle schools and seven elementary schools serving over 6,000 students and alumni throughout South and East Los Angeles.

Exide, Porter Ranch: A Double Standard

January 14, 2016 by · 1 Comment 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—-

Twitter @nancyreporting

nmartinez@egpnews.com

 

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

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

L.A. City Council Incumbents Make Strong Showing

March 5, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

City Councilman Jose Huizar fended off a spirited challenge from former Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina to retain his 14th District seat, headlining a winning night for council incumbents.

“We did it!” Huizar shouted at his election-night party Tuesday night at Salesian High School, drawing cheers from the crowd.

Huizar’s battle with Molina – billed a heavyweight bout between two Eastside political veterans – turned out to be a largely one-sided affair. Huizar grabbed a commanding lead when vote-by-mail ballots were tallied, and he never looked back.

As a former county supervisor, city councilwoman and assemblywoman, Molina was the best known of the four challengers attempting to unseat Huizar, who will return for his third and final term representing the district that stretches from downtown Los Angeles to Eagle Rock.

Huizar — whose most recent term was marred by sexual harassment allegations — insisted the 14th District has seen improvements thanks to his efforts to secure funding for graffiti removal, repair work on a City Hall building in Eagle Rock, initiatives to help the homeless and other programs to address local needs.

“Last night’s results are a testament to the great work that we have accomplished together over the last 9 years,” Huizar said in a statement posted Wednesday on his campaign’s facebook page.

“We move forward with a commitment to prioritize basic services in the city budget and improve their systematic and procedural delivery,” his post said.

He went on to say that more needs to be done to “ensure that working and middle-income families have housing options” and the city implements new affordable-housing policies and deals with its  “disgraceful lack of an approach to homelessness.”

In the eastern San Fernando Valley’s 6th District, incumbent Nury Martinez emerged victorious in a rematch with former Assemblywoman Cindy Montanez.

Montanez was the top vote-getter in the 2013 primary election to complete Tony Cardenas’ unexpired term, but she lost to Martinez in an upset in the runoff election. Martinez said during her more than 18 months on the job, she has fought prostitution and human trafficking crimes, brought in economic opportunities and jobs, and worked to clear up blight.

Herb Wesson, who represents the 10th Council District, cruised to victory over Koreatown activist Grace Yoo, who last clashed with the powerful council president during contentious proceedings to redraw district lines in the Koreatown area.

Councilman Paul Krekorian also held onto his early lead in his bid for a second term representing the 2nd District — which includes North Hollywood, Studio City, Valley Village and Van Nuys, against challenger Eric Preven, a television writer who is a regular gadfly at City Council and County Board of Supervisor meetings.

Councilman Mitch Englander ran unopposed in the 12th District, which includes Reseda, North Hills, Northridge, Chatsworth and Porter Ranch.

In the 8th District, Marqueece Harris-Dawson, a former executive director of a nonprofit founded by Rep. Karen Bass to improve economic conditions in South Los Angeles communities, defeated three other candidates to replace termed-out Councilman Bernard Parks.

The race to replace termed-out Tom LaBonge in the 4th District will move to a May 19 runoff election, with 14 candidates splitting the vote and preventing any candidate from earning the more than 50 percent needed to win the seat outright.

The council members elected today will serve 5 1/2-year terms. The passage of Charter Amendment 1 will mean a one-time lengthening of the terms of city and school board officials elected in the 2015 and 2017 elections, with future elections being held in even-numbered years.

March 3, 2015 Election Preliminary Results

March 5, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

Los Angeles Unified School District

Member of the Board of Education 

District 5

**Bennett Kayser 1,558 (39.5%)

**Ref Rodriguez 1,792 (45.5%)

Andrew Thomas       593 (15%)

**Runoff

 

City of Los Angeles

City Council District 14

Mario Chavez     385 (2.3%)

Nadine Momoyo Diaz     742 (4.4%)

*Jose Huizar       11,081 (65.8%)Gloria Molina 4,033 (23.9%)

John O’Neill     612 (3.6%)

 

Charter Amendment 1 – Shall Elections Change to Even Number Years for L.A. City?

*Yes     109,948 (76.9%)

No 32,968 (23%)

 

Charter Amendment 2 – Shall Election Change to Even Number Years for LAUSD?

*Yes     114,605 (76.5%)

No       35,277 (23.5%)

 

 

City of Commerce

City council seats (2)

*Hugo Argumedo   510 (38.8%)

John Diaz360 (27.4%)

Denise Robles   440 (33.5%)

*Oralia Rebollo       499 (38%) Sonia Rodriguez   257 (19.6%)John Sonria   247 (18.8%)

 

Voter Turnout 1,313 (20.4%)

Total registered voters   6,429

 

 

Monterey Park 

City council seats (3)

Joe Ray Avila     537 (4.8%)

*Mitchell Ing 2,847 (25.5%)

*Stephan Lam   2,346 (21%)

Delario Robinson       599 (5.4%)

*Teresa Real Sebastian 2,643 (23.7%)

Anthony Wong 2,182 (19.6%)

 

Voter Turnout 4,588 (16.7%)

Total registered voters   27,474

Jose Huizar for Los Angeles City Council District 14

February 19, 2015 by · 2 Comments 

This endorsement has been one of the most difficult for EGP to make in along time.

The 14th Council District is lucky to have such a talented pool of candidates from which to choose, including two seasoned elected official who have each served residents of the district and the County well.

Many in the community have told us they too are torn, and believe that both former L.A. County Supervisor Gloria Molina and incumbent Councilman Jose Huizar each have strong records to stand on.

They say both have done an excellent job of getting things done for their constituents, of turning big ideas into big realities by breaking down the bureaucracy that often stands in the way.

We agree.

Molina deserves praise for her persistence on the Gold Line Extension to the eastside, development of the East Los Angeles Civic Center and for building transitional housing and more recently, her tough negotiations to get Grand Park in Downtown Los Angeles funded and open, and to insist on a set aside for affordable housing in the Grand Park plan.

We also respect her determination to ensure that the history and culture of Mexicans, Mexican Americans and Latinos in Los Angeles be preserved and respected, opening LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes to Angelenos and visitors.

And who can forget her battle with her former fellow supervisors over more hospital beds at the planned County USC Hospital? Or her strident resolve to fund services for the undocumented and to keep the County budget balanced through hard times, even through angry threats from County employees?

But on the Board of Supervisors she was one of five, on the Los Angeles City Council she would be one of 15, a far more difficult arena to negotiate.

Much has been made of her temperament and public dressing down of county employees, and rightly so, especially given that to date she has not yet said whether she would seek a second or third term. She will need cooperation from her peers on the council and the bureaucrats who will still be working when she leaves office, to get anything done.

Huizar also has his share of accomplishments, both as a councilman and as former member of the LA Unified school board, where he spearheaded the successful effort to build the first new high school on the eastside in 85 years.

During his term on the city council he has had to work to gain support from his fellow members of the council on funding priorities for the 14th District. We believe he has made significant gains, from preserving open space to making improvements to parks and recreation centers, building affordable housing and spurring job creation by attracting more business to CD-14.

He’s been criticized for not getting enough accomplished since taking office, but the reality is that many projects take years to come to fruition, especially when there is money to be found and public input to be obtained.

Many of the district’s commercial corridors are more vibrant and booming with activity than when Huizar took office, in our view that’s important.

Have all the streets been repaired and trees trimmed? No, but we have heard from residents that they see an improvement despite the city’s lack of sufficient funding to get the job done.

Gentrification in East and Northeast Los Angeles is happening and will continue. But not all gentrification is bad and it can be respectful of the community, acting as a conduit to improved services and opportunities and greater pride in one’s neighborhood.

Huizar’s effort to rebuild downtown has been positive for the city, bringing entertainment, shopping, jobs and art closer to east and northeast neighborhoods and preserving some of the city’s most beautiful and significant architecture for future generations.

This experience is made more accessible by improvements to our Metro rail system.

We believe Huizar has contributed to the re-vitalization of many neighborhoods in the district, where families can now enjoy working and meeting their neighbors in a safer environment.

We are, however, concerned about the councilman’s over enthusiastic support for designating streets as bike lanes suitable.

We encourage him to give more attention to those opposed, such as fire, police and emergency vehicles, and businesses that sell products and not just food and drink.

Huizar has been no stranger to controversy, and we were disappointed by his actions involving a former member of his staff who sued him for sexual harassment, though he claims it was a consensual extramarital affair, which he has apologized for. The case was settled out of court but not before city taxpayers paid $200,000 to defend the councilman.

Two of the other three candidates in the race, Nadine Diaz and Mario Chavez have been good advocates for their community and we see potential as future leaders. They are to be commended for stepping up to the challenge.

But in our view, Councilman Jose Huizar has earned another term on the council and the opportunity to continue the progress underway. Therefore, we endorse Jose Huizar in the 14th District.

Vivienda es Tema de Prioridad en Debate de Candidatos en Boyle Heights

February 12, 2015 by · 1 Comment 

El ayuntamiento de Boyle Heights estaba repleto el sábado por la mañana durante el primero de varios debates entre los candidatos que compiten por el asiento número 14 del consejo de Los Ángeles.

Cuatro de los cinco candidatos –el Concejal titular José Huizar, la ex Supervisora del Condado de Los Ángeles Gloria Molina, la Trabajadors Social Nadine Díaz y el Activista Comunitario Mario Chávez—participaron en el foro organizado por el Pulso de Boyle Heights, un periódico bilingüe escrito por estudiantes de preparatoria. El Consultor Político John O’Neill no participó.

Read this article in English: Housing Center Stage at Eastside Debate

Este puesto en el consejo que cubre el lado este también abarca la mayor parte de los barrios del centro de LA y noreste como Highland Park y Eagle Rock.

El sábado, la atención del debate se centró en Boyle Heights, uno de los barrios más densamente poblados de la ciudad donde el 94% de los residentes son latinos – 54% de ellos extranjeros. Aproximadamente el 75% de los residentes son de clase trabajadora en viviendas de alquiler en lugar de ser dueños de sus propios hogares y con el ingreso promedio de $20,000 menos de un año que el ingreso medio en toda la ciudad. Boyle Heights es también una plaza fuerte para el activismo político sobre cuestiones que van desde la contaminación a la educación.

Como era de esperarse, el foro se centró en cuestiones candentes como la vivienda, gentrificación, la legalización de vendedores ambulantes, inmigración, reparación de aceras y servicios de la ciudad como recolección de basura.

Molina, quien fue por 24 años supervisora del condado, dijo que está corriendo porque el distrito 14 necesita un miembro del consejo que preste más atención a la zona este y está dispuesta a trabajar en temas tan básicos como la fijación de las aceras y la limpieza de basura y muebles abandonados.

“Necesitas ser un líder desde el primer día” … no sólo cuando se acercan las elecciones, dijo Molina.

Residentes de Boyle Heights tuvieron la oportunidad de hacer preguntas a los candidatos. (EGP foto por Nancy Martínez)

Residentes de Boyle Heights tuvieron la oportunidad de hacer preguntas a los candidatos. (EGP foto por Nancy Martínez)

Huizar, quien busca su tercer y último término de cuatro años, contradijo la acusación de Molina diciendo que su Iniciativa de Comunidades Limpias está mejorando y que su oficina ha asegurado millones de dólares en mejoras a las instalaciones de parques locales, la fijación de las calles y aceras, así como la creación de viviendas asequibles para veteranos y personas mayores. También promocionó la apertura del primer Centro de Búsqueda de Trabajo en el área para ayudar a los residentes a mejorar sus habilidades y encontrar empleo. Él no cree que ha habido un momento en la historia de Boyle Heights que ha visto tantas mejoras, dijo.

El debate giró varias veces ante los problemas de vivienda. Los barrios cerca del Centro de Los Ángeles se han convertido en un objetivo prioritario de los desarrolladores, tanto que algunas personas temen que Boyle Heights pueda llegar a ser inasequible para sus residentes de bajos ingresos.

Uno de los problemas de vivienda más polémicos en la historia reciente es el proyecto propuesto de los Apartamentos Wyvernwood Gardens, un complejo de uso mixto de reurbanización, que espera demoler y reemplazar 1,187 unidades de apartamentos de la era de la Segunda Guerra Mundial, que se encuentran en 70 acres justo al lado del Bulevar Olympic East, con 4.400 unidades de alquiler y condominios en varios edificios nuevos con alturas hasta de 18 pisos.

El apoyo en la comunidad ha sido desigual, unos pocos ven el proyecto como una medida para forzar la salida de las familias de bajos ingresos y otros creen que el proyecto creará vivienda necesaria y puestos de trabajo.

El sábado, Huizar reiteró que el proyecto según la propuesta actual es demasiado densa para la zona y que el envejecimiento infraestructural de la zona no puede soportar una gran evolución. Dos veces instó a Molina para tomar una posición sobre el tema.

Si bien ella no respondió a la pregunta directamente, Molina dijo que cree que ya hay demasiados inquilinos de la zona. “Tenemos que tener más propietarios de viviendas” en Boyle Heights, dijo. “No debemos permitir a que los desarrolladores [sólo] hagan sus proyectos”.

Díaz acordó que la vivienda es un tema crítico y dijo que los residentes de Wyvernwood deben tener “un lugar en la mesa”. Ella dijo que la línea roja (que más tarde se convirtió en la línea Dorada al este) “empujó familias afuera”. Eso no puede volver a ocurrir, dijo el residente de Boyle Heights. “Tenemos el derecho a permanecer y a quedarnos …”

Chávez dijo que la mayor participación de la comunidad requiere que las reuniones y audiencias sean más accesibles para los residentes. Dijo que las reuniones de la comisión de vivienda económica del Ayuntamiento se llevaban a cabo los miércoles a las 12pm, por lo que era inconveniente para los residentes de la clase trabajadora asistir, por lo tanto eran excluidos en cualquier cosa que quisieran decir. “La gentrificación esta quitando a los pobres por los ricos”, dijo Chávez.

Cuando el tema volvió a la delincuencia, Huizar dijo que la tasa de criminalidad en Boyle Heights es la más baja desde hace muchos años, dando crédito a la policía de Los Ángeles y a más programas para ayudar a mantener a los jóvenes fuera de problemas.

Se necesita hacer más todavía, replicó Molina. “Tenemos que eliminar el graffiti y rayones en un periodo de 48 horas, necesitamos una posición más agresiva por parte del consejo”, dijo ella.

Chávez dijo que un grafitero es un “artista frustrado que no tiene los recursos” necesarios. “Tenemos que aumentar los fondos para nuestros servicios para la juventud”, dijo.

En lo que respecta a la creación de empleo, Molina dijo que apoya los esfuerzos para revitalizar los negocios en áreas zonificadas para la actividad comercial. Agregó que el permitir a la gente que solamente pongan “mesas de barbacoa enfrente de sus casas” y empiecen a vender es un enfoque equivocado. “Tenemos que respetar” las zonas residenciales, dijo.

Huizar dijo que el Centro de negocios de Los Ángeles ha ayudado a nuevos negocios como La 1st Street Taqueria y la Panadería La Monarca a obtener los recursos y la ayuda financiera que necesitan para abrir cerca de Plaza del Mariachi en Boyle Heights. CD-14 está alentando el crecimiento de las empresas locales, dijo Huizar.

Tras el foro, varios de los asistentes le dijeron a EGP que estaban satisfechos con lo que escucharon y esperan quien resulte electo el 3 de marzo preste mucha atención a los problemas del vecindario.

“Queremos que la próxima generación pueda tener oportunidades para el éxito”, dijo Concepción Hernández, señalando que después de graduarse de la universidad, su hijo regresó a Boyle Heights para trabajar como maestro.

Juaquín Castellanos sintió que el foro fue informativo, pero dijo que le hubiera gustado escuchar más detalles acerca de cómo los candidatos mejorarían los servicios públicos en la zona del este.

Agregó que los candidatos deberían empezar a pensar en la creación de más recursos para jóvenes educados, nativos de Boyle Heights que quieren volver a la comunidad, pero que quieren mejores opciones de vivienda como nuevos condominios.

Los candidatos estuvieron programados para enfrentarse de nuevo ayer por la noche en el centro de Los Ángeles. Un tercer debate está programado para llevarse a cabo en la escuela intermedia Luther Burbank en Highland Park a las 6pm y otro en el Centro de Personas Mayores de El Sereno el viernes a las 6pm.

—-

Twitter @jackieguzman

jgarcia@egpnews.com

Housing Center Stage at Eastside Debate

February 12, 2015 by · 1 Comment 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—-

Twitter @jackieguzman

jgarcia@egpnews.com

Gloria Molina Espera Ser Recordada como una ‘Campeona’

November 26, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

 

El 19 de febrero de 1991, Gloria Molina un tanto nerviosa asumió el cargo en la Junta de Supervisores del Condado de Los Ángeles, haciendo historia en ser la primera latina elegida en la mesa directiva de cinco personas. Un trabajo que fácilmente mantendría por los próximos 24 años, sin embargo, ese día la presión era enorme.

“Fueron nervios devastadores”, recordó Molina desde su escritorio en el edificio Kenneth Hahn Hall en una de las últimas veces que estaría ahí antes de dejar su puesto debido a límites de mandato.

Su oficina casi vacía; maquillaje recogido en una bolsita zip lock, lapiceros y lápices unidos con una liga, retratos, reconocimientos, fotos y otros recuerdos que Molina se llevará de su oficina, la cual da una vista amplia hacia el horizonte de la ciudad.

“Me siento bien al partir, es sólo una despedida con mi personal … es como tener fiesta con la familia, esa parte es difícil”, dijo la supervisora de 66 años antes de limpiarse algunas lágrimas.

Aún más difícil es dejar proyectos sin terminar.

“Denme otros seis meses”, agregó a media broma.

Gloria Molina en su oficina del centro de Los Ángeles antes de dejar el cargo de supervisora del condado. (Cortesía de oficina de Gloria Molina)

Gloria Molina en su oficina del centro de Los Ángeles antes de dejar el cargo de supervisora del condado. (Cortesía de oficina de Gloria Molina)

 

Veinticuatro Años Después—Un Recuento

Durante más de dos décadas, Molina ha representado un distrito diverso que se extiende desde algunas regiones bastante conservadoras hasta áreas no incorporadas que dependen en gran medida de sus servicios, incluyendo el Este de Los Ángeles.

Al retroceder el tiempo, había mucho en juego.

“Muchas personas no apoyaban que yo llegara aquí”, le dijo a EGP.

También estaba la comunidad latina, marginalizada, poco representada, y quienes tenían altas expectativas acerca de la primera latina en la historia en ser elegida para la Asamblea Estatal de California (1982) y como concejal del Ayuntamiento de Los Ángeles (1987) y posteriormente como supervisora.

Esas expectativas, junto a su participación en el movimiento chicano y su punto de vista feminista—los cuales ambos eran acerca de empoderar a las personas—influenciarían para la toma de sus decisiones por las siguientes dos décadas.

Dice que “ser la primera” le ayudó a abrirle las puertas a otras mujeres y a más latinos. Siempre siguiendo las palabras de su madre, “Tienes que ser el ejemplo para tus hermanos”,

“Cuando tienes estos roles de liderazgo no sólo te están viendo como una funcionaria electa o supervisora”, dijo Molina. “Eres una supervisora Latina, eres una mujer supervisora”.

Y ya sea que las personas lo reconozcan o no, es una “reflexión en todos nosotros como comunidad”, dice Molina.

Molina reconoce grandemente la ayuda de su personal, muchos quienes han estado con ella desde sus tiempos en la asamblea, le han ayudado en la transición de su puesto en el consejo de la ciudad de Los Ángeles y a la junta del condado como supervisora representando a más de dos millones de personas repartidas por diferentes ciudades y miles en territorio no incorporado del primer distrito.

En ese momento, “Mi prioridad era [tratar de ver] cómo me iba a comunicar con mis constituyentes”, dijo Molina, agregando que le tomó tres años para tener todo en orden.

En sus más de 30 años de servicio público Molina transformó su distrito, más notablemente en el lado este. Mientras estaba en la asamblea, Molina luchó junto a las Madres del Este de Los Ángeles contra la construcción de una prisión en el Este de LA. Ella ayudó a asignar $54 millones—incluyendo millones de sus fondos discrecionales—para mantener viva LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes en el centro de Los Ángeles, la cual se dedica a “cultivar la apreciación de las influencias culturales mexicanas y mexicano-americanas”.

Como supervisora, Molina ayudó a crear la Extensión de la Línea Dorada al Este, que conecta el lado este con el resto del condado de Los Ángeles; el Centro de Tránsito de El Monte, el Grand Park en el centro de LA; el Centro Comercial la Alameda, el Centro Médico LAC+USC, el Centro Wellness en el Hospital General y los $30,4 millones invertidos en la renovación del Centro Cívico del este.

Le dijo a EGP que esta muy orgullosa de su trabajo en la renovación del centro cívico, el cual incluye una biblioteca, parque y oficinas del condado.

Molina estuvo en el parque la semana pasada durante la celebración de inicio de “Winter Wonderland” donde visitó a niños en la biblioteca, en la pista de patinaje y compartió sus alegrías durante la encendida del árbol de navidad.

Un gran contraste a cuando la gente veía ese parque como “peligroso”, dijo, recordando que “no estaba bien iluminado, las pandillas se habían apoderado del parque”.

“Ahora esta abierto, es espacioso, tiene brillo. Tiene una biblioteca nueva, tiene un centro cívico … todo es bueno ahí”.

 

Los Obstáculos en el Camino

Conseguir financiación y la aceptación del resto de sus colegas en la junta no era fácil. La supervisora le dijo a EGP que la re-construcción del Hospital General del Condado fue uno de los proyectos más importantes y uno de los más difíciles para que ella consiguiera que el resto de la junta entendiera que había una necesidad enorme para poner más camas en el hospital.

“Fue uno de mis momentos más desalentadores en la junta de supervisores”, dijo. “Nunca había visto a cuatro de mis colegas darle la espalda al primer distrito, como lo hicieron”.

Obtener financiación para el Grand Park—un área de cuatro cuadras localizado entre el Music Center y el City Hall—también fue un desafío, según Molina. Igual que era convencer a la junta que ayudaran a LA Plaza. Sin embargo, el mes pasado, para asegurar el futuro de LA Plaza, Molina ganó el voto de la junta para aprobar $135 millones para desarrollo de uso mixto el cual generará fondos para apoyar a la organización en las siguientes décadas.

Los desafíos son más difíciles cuando eres mujer, según Molina. “Todavía hay una gran cantidad de sexismo en la junta, una gran cantidad de sexismo con los jefes del departamento y otros”, le dijo a EGP. “Ellos no lo quieren decir, pero es su naturaleza”.

“Pero también tiene que ver con el hecho de ser la única mexicana”, dijo, señalando que de vez en cuando tratan de ignorarla.

“Es por eso que puedo ser una…voz tan alta”, se ríe. “Pero está bien, nunca dejo que eso me debilite en lo que tengo que hacer”.

Sin embargo, agrega que algunos de sus más grandes retos en realidad han venido de los electores. Recordó la oposición de la construcción de un proyecto de vivienda para madres solteras en City Terrace a principios de los 90s. Hubo muchas protestas, dijo.

Pero “algunas veces tengo que hacer las cosas a pesar de que haya cierta oposición”, explicó.

Molina, una demócrata, dice que no le incomoda ser etiquetada como una fiscal conservadora. Dice que ajustar el presupuesto ha dado sus frutos para el condado, que resistió a la Gran Recesión mejor que muchos otros municipios, incluido el estado y la ciudad de Los Ángeles.

La Supervisora Molina patea una pelota en la inauguración de un parque en Bell Gardens. (Cortesía de oficina de Gloria Molina)

La Supervisora Molina patea una pelota en la inauguración de un parque en Bell Gardens. (Cortesía de oficina de Gloria Molina)

Al preguntarle cómo quiere que la gente recuerde su desempeño como supervisora, Molina responde que ella espera que sea como una defensora, y lo más importante, como alguien que los escuchó.

“Espero que me recuerden como una campeona porque realmente he trabajado duro para defender los derechos de todos y los derechos de mi comunidad y [solucionado algunos] problemas”, dijo.

“Mucha gente piensa que soy muy testaruda, pero yo me muevo de acuerdo a los problemas de mi comunidad”.

Pero Molina también tiene un lado más tranquilo, que incluye cocinar en casa, hacer jardinería, ver películas clásicas y coser después de un largo día de trabajo.

En algún momento pensó en tener una carrera en la moda, pero en estos días solo cose y acolcha para sacar su lado creativo.

Probablemente pocos saben que a ella le gusta escribir, dibujar caricaturas e incluso ha escrito un esquema para una comedia que involucra a latinos y que espera un día completar.

“Tengo ideas todo el tiempo y las escribo”, dice ella, rompiendo a reír cuando se da cuenta que ha revelado su sueño secreto.

Los años la han hecho más paciente, Molina le dijo a EGP. Ella admite haber prejuzgado algunas personas sólo para descubrir que estaba equivocada.

“Nunca pensé que tendría una [amistad] con Mike Antonovich”, Molina le dijo a EGP. “No estamos de acuerdo en todo, pero hemos tenido una relación sólida”.

En reunión de la junta del martes, Antonovich respaldó la candidatura de Molina para desbancar al concejal José Huizar en las elecciones de marzo del 2015.

Molina dice que correr es un desvío de la jubilación que ella pensó pasaría haciendo trabajo voluntario y cociendo.

“Eso va a tener que esperar potencialmente otros cuatro años”, dijo, tocando madera en su escritorio de la buena suerte.

El miércoles, Molina dijo adios durante su última reunión oficial como miembro de la Junta de Supervisores. Hubo discursos, elogios, abrazos, lágrimas y recuerdos en vídeo de ella y Supervisor Zev Yaroslawski, que también esta por salir de la junta.

La ex secretaria del Trabajo, Hilda Solís será juramentada para reemplazar a Molina el primero de diciembre. El consejo de Molina a Solís es hacer lo que ella hizo y desarrollar su propio estilo y enfoque para hacer las cosas.

“Quiero que ella continúe siendo una campeona, ella sabe cómo ser un campeona”, dijo Molina, quien agregó que espera que Solís hará un llamado a aquellos que han estado allí cuando necesite un consejo. “Espero que ella no crea que tiene que saberlo todo, porque a mí me tomó un largo, largo tiempo”.

El lunes, la supervisora estaba siendo valiente ante su personal de su oficina. Había sido una semana emocional para todos; dividir un equipo que incluyó a personas que habían trabajado juntos durante décadas.

“Es como si yo fuera la cabeza de este hogar tratando de ser valiente por ellos”, dijo Molina con los ojos llenos de lágrimas. “Pero por dentro, yo estoy tan nerviosa como ellos, preocupada de lo desconocido”.

—-

Twitter @nancyreporting

nmartinez@egpnews.com

Se Ordena a Exide que Pague por Limpieza Necesaria

November 13, 2014 by · 1 Comment 

La Junta de Supervisores votó el miércoles para que los abogados del condado evaluen las opciones para forzar el cierre de la planta de reciclaje de baterías Exide en Vernon y la limpieza de la contaminación en los barrios cercanos.

La Supervisora Gloria Molina sostuvo una conferencia de prensa antes de la votación, acusando al gobernador Jerry Brown y a los reguladores de lograr un “acuerdo secreto” para emitir un permiso de la instalación. Ella dijo que el acuerdo no hace lo suficiente para proteger a la comunidad.

Molina se refería al anuncio de la semana pasada por el Departamento de Controles de Sustancias Tóxicas de California (DTSC) que ha ordenado a Exide Technologies apartar millones de dólares para limpiar su sitio y las casas contaminadas cerca de su planta reciclaje de la baterías y fundición de plomo.

La orden de DTSC viene después de años de violaciónes por parte de Exide a las normas de emisión de sustancias químicas tóxicas del aire.

Read this article in English: Exide Ordered to Pay for Clean Up

La semana pasada Exide llamó el “acuerdo” un “paso adelante crucial” en su búsqueda para volver a abrir su planta, cerrada desde mediados de marzo mientras la compañía trabaja para mejorar los controles de contaminación y el cumplimiento de otros requisitos establecidos por el DTSC.

La orden del DTSC requiere que Exide ponga $38.6 millones en un fondo para cubrir los costos de limpieza si la instalación de Vernon se cierra de forma permanente. La cantidad es $27.5 millones más de lo que se requería anteriormente.

Según Stewart Black, subdirector de terrenos industriales y el programa de restauración ambiental del DTSC, los expertos que revisaron muestras de suelo tomadas de la planta de Vernon testificaron que los costos para remover la contaminación sería más que el triple del estimado original. El fondo será utilizado para pagar cosas como romper concreto, la eliminación de los materiales de construcción contaminados y remover hasta cinco pies de tierra, dijo Black.

La Directora Interina del DTSC Miriam Ingenito dijo que la orden es un paso legal fundamental y necesario para “obligar a Exide a proteger la salud de las personas de la comunidad, y proporcionar los fondos para hacer este trabajo tan importante”.

El miércoles, la junta de Supervisores de Los Ángeles votó para que abogados del condado revisen las opciones legales para obligar a Exide a cerrar permanentemente.

Trabajadores de DTSC limpian el piso contamindo de una casa cerca de Exide. (Cortesía del Departmento de Control de Substancias Tóxicas)

Trabajadores de DTSC limpian el piso contamindo de una casa cerca de Exide. (Cortesía del Departmento de Control de Substancias Tóxicas)

Los reguladores estatales aprobaron el lunes un plan de limpieza residencial que incluye el reemplazo del suelo, medidas de control de polvo, el monitoreo del aire, la restauración y limpieza del patio y del interior de las casas. Las propiedades con los más altos niveles de plomo y donde vivan mujeres embarazadas o niños menores de siete años se les dará prioridad, de acuerdo con DTSC, que comenzaron a contactarse con los dueños de propiedades previamente examinadas para discutir el proceso de limpieza esta semana.

Otros 100 propietarios cuyas casas han sido identificadas pero no han sido evaluadas se les ha comenzado a notificar esta semana, dijo la portavoz de DTSC, Sandy Nax.

“Reconocemos las preocupaciones de la comunidad y nos hemos comprometido a limpiar las propiedades residenciales y a trabajar de manera eficiente para minimizar las interrupciones a los residentes”, dijo Thomas Strang, vicepresidente de salud y seguridad ambiental en Exide.

El Concejal José Huizar, quien representa Boyle Heights, le dijo a EGP que él todavía está preocupado de que si todas las casas y propiedades que necesitan ser limpiadas, conseguirán hacerlo a tiempo.

“También es imperativo que los $9 millones no sean vistos como una tapadera. Exide tiene que pagar todos los costos de la limpieza”, Huizar  le dijo a EGP. “Si resulta que los $9 millones no son suficiente, entonces Exide debería tener que pagar hasta que se termine la limpieza. No debe haber una etiqueta de precio o tapadera en la seguridad de nuestra comunidad”.

“Hemos dicho todo el tiempo que Exide hizo este lío y debe pagar para limpiarlo”, dijo Ramya Sivasubramanian, abogada del Consejo de Defensa Nacional de Recursos.

“Queremos ver que ocurra una limpieza completa en el camino más rápido posible, para que las personas puedan sentirse seguras en sus hogares, escuelas y comunidades”, dijo Sivasubramanian.

“Si el acuerdo tiene éxito, ayudará a asegurarse de que Exide—y no los contribuyentes—se haga responsable completamente de la limpieza por la contaminación que causó”.

Sin embargo, Mike López de East Yard Communities, una organización de justicia ambiental en Commerce, dice que el acuerdo no es la respuesta que él estaba buscando. Al igual que muchos otros residentes indignados del este, López insiste en que la única solución real para la comunidad es cerrar Exide permanentemente, incluso si es a costa del contribuyente.

“La prioridad es la salud y el bienestar de la comunidad”, López le dijo a EGP. “El estado es responsable. Se le permitió a Exide hacer lo que ha hecho a causa del fracaso de DTSC”.

López dijo que está decepcionado de que la comunidad no tuvo más participación en el acuerdo final.

El Presidente del Senado Kevin De León, quien representa Boyle Heights, el Este de Los Ángeles y las comunidades sudeste de Los Ángeles en el senado del estado, le dijo a EGP que DTSC está en “extrema necesidad de una reorganización”.

“Ha habido repetidas fallas en las últimas décadas que han afectado la salud y el medio ambiente de los residentes en las comunidades que represento”, dijo en un correo electrónico.

“DTSC no puede y no debe descansar hasta que la salud de la comunidad está totalmente protegida”.

León expresó su decepción con el veto del gobernador de su proyecto de ley que hubiera llevado a cabo reformas permanentes en DTSC.

“Que no haya duda, voy a utilizar todas las herramientas a mi disposición para proteger a los residentes de Boyle Heights y áreas aledañas para reducir su exposición a la contaminación tóxica”.

Según Nax, DTSC ha estado en comunicación constante con el condado con respecto a lo que se debe hacer sobre la planta de Vernon. También dijo que han dejado claro desde el principio que Exide se hace responsable de su contaminación en los barrios de los alrededores.

Nax dice que el fondo de los $9 millones es suficiente para limpiar las 215 casas ya identificadas, pero agregó que la orden no se tapa o establece un límite en el número de propiedades que Exide debe evaluar o limpiar, ni el costo total de la limpieza.

“Incluso si [Exide] se liquida, Exide es responsable”, dijo. “Este no es el final de las órdenes de DTSC contra Exide. Anticipamos la emisión de órdenes adicionales a medida que ganamos más información sobre el impacto de la compañía en el área que la rodea”.

La compañía de residuos peligrosos también tendrá que pagar $526.000 en multas relacionadas con violaciónes de residuos peligrosos realizados desde agosto del 2013, y otros $760.000 para cubrir los costos de la agencia estatal para la supervisión de la instalación. También deben llevar a cabo más estudios para determinar si es necesario realizar limpiezas adicionales, incluyendo lugares fuera de localidades industriales.

Cuando se le preguntó por qué este tipo de acción de cumplimiento no vino antes, Igenito dijo a EGP que la agencia había estado trabajando en la resolución por algún tiempo.

“[Exide] es una compañía en bancarrota por lo que añade complicaciones”, dijo.

Exide se acogió al Capítulo 11 de bancarrota el año pasado: la empresa presentó el acuerdo con la corte de bancarrota para su aprobación el viernes pasado.

La planta con sede en Vernon ha estado operando con un permiso temporal por los últimos 33 años.

DTSC dice que la orden de ejecución no afectará la aplicación de Exide para un permiso completo, que deberá finalizar a más tardar el 31 de diciembre del 2015 para evitar cerrar.

Información de CNS fue utliziada en este reportaje.

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Twitter @nancyreporting

nmartinez@egpnews.com

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