Highland Park Neighborhood Council Supports El Super Boycott

March 26, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

The Historic Highland Park Neighborhood Council (HHPNC) approved a resolution March 19 supporting a union-backed consumer boycott of the El Super grocery chain, which has a store on York Boulevard in Highland Park.

The retail chain is locked in a labor dispute with the Southern California United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW)—which represents about 575 employees at seven of El Super’s 49 stores in California, Arizona, and Nevada.

El Super grocery stores primarily cater to Latino consumers in low-income neighborhoods.

The HHPNC is the 17th Los Angeles neighborhood council to vote to support the boycott. More than 100 community groups have also passed resolutions urging people to not shop at El Super supermarkets, according to the UFCW.

Union workers at El Super stores have been working without a contract since September 2013, when a five-year bargaining agreement ended and negotiations to renew the contract broke down over wages and working conditions.

El Super “refused to negotiate a fair contract” for employees, according to UFCW.

HPPNC Secretary Johanna Sanchez told EGP that UCFW sought out the support of the 19-member council, which represents over 60,000 Los Angeles “stakeholders who reside, own property, or conduct businesses in the neighborhood.”

Los Angeles’ system of neighborhood councils advise the city on a number of issues, ranging from land use to traffic, and are increasingly taking positions on issues not directly related to city policies, but which some councils have said are related to quality of life and larger social issues.

Highland Park’s boycott approval was made without input from El Super, but not for a lack of trying, said Sanchez.

She said she contacted El Super headquarters several times via telephone and email to get the company to weigh-in. She also spoke with Jorge Palacios, assistant manager of the Highland Park store. The night before the meeting, Community Relations Manager Frank Aguirre Jr. finally responded and requested more information, which was “sent immediately,” Sanchez said.

“I provided both men the date and time of the meeting. I emailed the agenda … and no one showed up … and no one contacted us,” she said.

HHPNC’s resolution states the group supports the “creation of good jobs in our communities that provide living wages, adequate paid sick leave, seniority protections, and enough guaranteed hours so full-time workers can earn enough to support their families,” and therefore supports the boycott.

El Super’s “last, best, and final” offer made in April 2014 does not meet these goals, according to the union.

El Super decided not to “participate [in the meeting] upon learning that it was orchestrated by the same group that has launched a misinformation campaign against our stores and our employees,” company spokesman Frank Aguirre told EGP via email.

“While we respect the right of any group to express its opinions, the misinformation campaign launched by the UFCW is part of a misguided attempt to pressure El Super to re-enter into collective bargaining negotiations that El Super considers resolved.”

The majority of El Super stores are non-unionized. The 7 represented by UFCW were formerly Gigante stores and purchased by El Super in 2008. All of the stores had a union contract, and EL Super agreed to a new five-year contract following the purchase.

Mexico-based Grupo Comercial Chedraui, the country’s third largest retailer, owns 81% of Bodega Latina Corp., which owns and operates El Super. The retailer employs about 3,000 people in L.A. County, according to Rigoberto Valdez, vice-president of UCFW Local 770.

In February 2014, UFCW, backed by several community groups, launched a campaign to call attention to what it alleges are unsanitary conditions and out of date product being sold at El Super stores. One of several press conferences was held at the retail chain’s Highland Park store.

The neighborhood council based its decision on what it heard from the union workers, according to Sanchez, who admits she used to buy her produce at El Super but never noticed anything wrong there. “It wasn’t until recently that we heard of sanitation issues” in their stores, she said.

Fermin Rodriguez told EGP he was fired in January after nine years working at El Super Store #13 in Los Angeles. He said the retailer never allowed him to work full-time, only giving him 32 hours per week and on rare occasions, 36 hours.

“[El Super] does not want to pay higher salaries, but they [do] make a lot of money,” he told EGP. It’s “thanks to our labor the company is doing so well,” he said.

According to Aguirre, the majority of El Super employees are full-time, averaging 37.7 hours a week and both full- and part-time employees enjoy a slate of competitive benefits, “including medical, dental and vision plan options, a company sponsored 401k, and sick days that exceed current state requirements, among other benefits.”

UCFW launched the consumer boycott in December 2014 and is actively soliciting support from organizations and the city’s various neighborhood councils, particularly those in areas with an El Super store.

Some of the neighborhood councils that support the boycott are Mid-City, Central Alameda, South Central, Voices of 90037, United Neighbors, Watts, West Adams and Zapata/King among others.

The Boyle Heights Neighborhood Council was scheduled to vote last night on a resolution to support the boycott.

Metro to Review CEO Candidates

March 12, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority board will hold a closed-door meeting today to consider candidates to become the agency’s next CEO.

CEO Art Leahy announced in January that he will be stepping down April 5, when his contract with Metro ends.

It’s unclear if the board will choose a new CEO during the meeting.

Metro spokesman Marc Littman said if a decision is made, it will be announced following the closed-door session, which begins at 9 a.m.

Leahy, 65, has been the CEO for six years. He grew up in Highland Park and began his career in the transportation industry as a Los Angeles bus driver in 1971. He rose through the ranks of various agencies, and served a stint as CEO of the Orange County Transportation Authority. He also managed the transportation agency in Minneapolis-St. Paul.

During his tenure as Metro CEO, the agency introduced the Silver Line express bus service from El Monte to Artesia, the Orange Line extension to Chatsworth and a $1.2 billion upgrade of the Metro Blue Line.

He also led the city through two so-called “Carmageddon” events, during which the San Diego (405) Freeway underwent weekend-long closures to accommodate work on roadway improvements and widening in the Sepulveda Pass.

Leahy earns about $325,500 a year as Metro CEO. Littman said the salary for the new CEO would be negotiated as part of contract talks, and there is no set salary range for the position.

Man Fatally Struck by Driver in Highland Park

March 12, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

(CNS) – A 24-year-old man was allegedly speeding and drunk while driving a 2015 Chevy Camaro that crossed into opposing traffic lanes in the Highland Park section of Los Angeles, killing a 68-year-old man driving a Hyundai Elantra in a head-on crash, police said Sunday.

Firefighters and paramedics were dispatched to the collision in the 4600 block of Marmion Way at 9:40 p.m. Saturday, Erik Scott of Los Angeles Fire Department said.

The Hyundai driver died at the scene. He was identified as Samir Michel of Los Angeles, coroner’s Lt. Larry Dietz said.

The suspect – a Los Angeles resident whose name was being withheld – allegedly had been driving at least 80 mph just prior to the crash and suffered head trauma and an injury to a leg.

He was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol and vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence, Los Angeles police Officer Norma Eisenman said.

Man Stabbed to Death Identified

March 5, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

Authorities Monday identified a man who was found stabbed to death in an alley in Highland Park.

The body was discovered about 9:45 p.m. Sunday near Avenue 60 and Figueroa Street. Olugbenga Oni, 34, had suffered a stab wound to the upper body, according to coroner’s Assistant Chief Ed Winter.

There were no arrests, according to the Los Angeles Police Department, which asked anyone with information about the stabbing to call police detectives Governo or Zesati at (323) 344-5731; or (877) LAPD-247.

Man Stabbed to Death In Highland Park

March 2, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

Authorities today identified a man who was found stabbed to death in an alley in Highland Park.

The body was discovered about 9:45 p.m. Sunday near Avenue 60 and Figueroa Street. Olugbenga Oni, 34, had suffered a stab wound to the upper body, according to coroner’s Assistant Chief Ed Winter.

There were no arrests, according to the Los Angeles Police Department, which asked anyone with information about the stabbing to call police detectives Governo or Zesati at (323) 344-5731; or (877) LAPD-247.

Race in 14th Council District Heats Up

February 19, 2015 by · 1 Comment 

The race to represent Los Angeles’ 14th council district heated up last week as candidates sparred over issues ranging from affordable housing, homelessness and gentrification to street repairs and bike lanes, losing much of the civil pretense of previous public encounters.

Approximately 450 people attended a Town Hall & Debate Feb. 12 at Luther Burbank Middle School in Highland Park, where three of the five candidates — incumbent Jose Huizar, social worker Nadine Diaz and former County Supervisor Gloria Molina —answered questions specific to the Northeast Los Angeles area from a three-person panel.

Candidates Mario Chavez and John O’Nell did not attend.

The district runs from downtown Los Angeles to Eagle Rock. Sponsors of the event included the neighborhood councils of Highland Park, Eagle Rock and Glassell Park, the Highland Park Heritage Trust, the Garvanza Improvement Association and UCLA Government & Community Relations.

Throughout the debate, Diaz and Molina attempted to paint Huizar as unresponsive to constituents and beholdent to special interest. Molina repeatedly expressed frustration with the “lack of leadership on the City Council” to prioritize spending and enforce existing regulations prohibiting things like “opening up a barbecue stand in your front yard.”

Diaz said she is worried Northeast L.A. residents, like those in Boyle Heights where she lives, will be “pushed out” by higher income residents and developers.

“What’s happening is that developers are coming in and incumbent [Huizar] is allowing them to build,” she said. Residents are not given a “seat at the table” where development is concerned, Diaz said.

The CD-14 debate between three of the five candidates was held last week at Luther Burbank Middle School in Highland Park . (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

The CD-14 debate between three of the five candidates was held last week at Luther Burbank Middle School in Highland Park . (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

“Unlike the incumbent,” I know when to say no, said Molina. “You can’t say yes to everything. It takes leadership to stand up to developers.”

Huizar defended his record, saying his office has brought billions of dollars in investment to improve parks, to add new parklets and a soon to open park on Avenue 59 and York, and to support open spaces like Ascot Park and Elephant Hill in El Sereno. He also touted his record on creating more affordable housing.

L.A. is fast becoming “one of the most expensive cities” in the country to live in and the solution is to consistently fund the Affordable Housing Trust Fund that makes long-term loans to create affordable rental housing for low and very low income households either through new construction of by rehabilitating existing buildings, he said.

“Let’s make sure it’s not only luxury housing but also affordable housing is available,” he said, referring to the rapid pace of development from downtown to Northeast L.A.

More low-income and affordable housing are not the only solution to L.A.’s housing crunch, said Molina. She wants to help more residents buy a home “so they can have a bigger stake in the community.”

While Molina was a supervisor, the County established a program to provide financing and silent second mortgages to help residents buy a home. It’s those types of strategies she has said she would like the City to explore.

Molina and Diaz accused Huizar of not tackling quality of life issues like trash pick up and street repairs.

Huizar countered that his office has found creative ways to bypass the city’s years-long backlog of street repair and tree trimming requests, using his office holder accounts to pay for the services rather than waiting for city street services to get to it. His office directly pays outside contractors to remove trash and pickup bulky items, he has said.

Drawing the loudest applause of the night, Huizar said his challengers’ statements show their lack of knowledge about the District and “how the city works,” adding they would know more if they had been more involved before becoming candidates.

Molina responded that “it’s too bad it’s taken an election” for the councilman to start working on these issues, and Diaz questioned his priorities for spending in the District, such as using CLARK fund revenue to pay for a staff person to oversee the Bringing Back Broadway initiative in Downtown. “That’s money that could have been spent on services, but it was used to pay for staff,” she said.

From downtown to the Arroyo Seco Parkway along the Pasadena 110 Freeway in northeast L.A. neighborhoods, homeless encampments are a growing problem. Showing her frustration with city leaders, Molina said she does not understand why they continue to be tolerated, adding they foster an “environment of intimidation” for families and children.

Diaz said she has worked extensively with the homeless and the best answer is to provide transitional housing for different groups such as single mothers, mentally ill, veterans, etc.

A more comprehensive approach that includes a variety of services is needed, she said.

Huizar said his office runs the Operation Healthy Streets program that deep cleans streets where the homeless live and simultaneously brings in county social workers to help the homeless find shelter and other resources. He said he is working with Mayor Eric Garcetti to end veterans’ homelessness by 2016.

The most contentious disagreement of the evening was over whether Huizar did enough to get input from residents and businesses about plans to install designated bike lanes on Colorado Boulevard in Eagle Rock and York Boulevard in Highland Park.

No one could find the meetings where the bike lanes were supposedly discussed, Molina said.

Huizar said his office has been working on the bike lane issue for 10 years and hundreds of meetings have been held on the subject.

“None of these candidates knew about the meetings” because they were not involved in the issue until they became candidates, Huizar said.

“ The councilmember is lying,” said Diaz, adding she has a petition from residents saying they were not told about the bike lanes. Molina told Huizar to produce the list of meetings that have occurred. He said he would.

Told to just answer yes or no, all three candidates said they support increasing the minimum wage, more funding for the fire and police departments and are against extending the 710 freeway.

Two more debates for CD-14 are set up prior to the election in March 3rd. The first one is today at Farmdale Elementary School in El Sereno and the second one in the Center for the Arts in Eagle Rock on February 25th at 7pm.

‘New Beginning’ for Southwest Museum

January 29, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

Long time supporters of the Southwest Museum in the Mount Washington area of Los Angeles are hailing last week’s naming of the 100-year-old site as a “national treasure” by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The Southwest Museum is now one of just 55 such designations across the country. What the designation means in practical terms is not yet clear, however, the news is expected to open the door to valuable resources and alliances that could aid in securing the museum’s future, and most importantly, its long term financial sustainability.

During last week’s public announcement, Barbara Pahl, Western Regional VP of the National Trust for Historic Preservation — one of the nation’s leading private historic preservation groups — said the national treasure naming recognizes “the historic, architectural and cultural values that have made the Southwest Museum site a beloved fixture in Los Angeles for the past century.”

Supporters of the Southwest Museum celebrated on Thursday the naming of the museum as a ‘national treasure.’ (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

Supporters of the Southwest Museum celebrated on Thursday the naming of the museum as a ‘national treasure.’ (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

“This is a wonderful new beginning for the future of this site,” said Mary P. Parker, a member of the Friends of the Southwest Museum coalition. The Friends group has long criticized the Autry’s management of the site, but now says it is willing to work with the Autry “to try to keep the museum open for more than one day a week,” according to Parker.

Likewise, Autry President W. Richard West Jr., reaffirmed the Autry’s commitment to work with the National Trust, Councilmember Gil Cedillo and the community as well as the growing group of interested experts of arts, philanthropy, education and native leaders in the important process and progress of the Southwest Museum.

“We at the Autry respect this site’s history, it is important to the local community and the region,” said West Jr.

The Autry had said it could not afford to operate the museum or pay the estimated $26 to $46 million cost to upgrade the Southwest to modern museum standards.

The partnership with the National Trust, however, could make the difference.

“We look forward to identifying a sustainable use that ensures that the Southwest Museum site actively contributes to the thriving
urban fabric of Los Angeles for the next 100 years,” explained Pahl.

This is “a very positive day” that has been long in coming, said several members of the community following the announcement.

Heinrich Keifer is one of those who has sought a resolution to the impasse with the Autry in hopes of seeing the museum reopened.

He says it’s no longer about whether the Autry failed to live up to its commitments, but finding the right equation “to make it a successful site” again. “This is a day to bring new partners into the scene,” Keifer said.

Pahl said the National Trust will hold public outreach meetings to gather opinions on how best to use the museum site, mostly closed since 2006, opening just one day a week on Saturdays.

According to the Autry, they have invested over $14 million since taking over. Two-thirds of the investment has gone to conserving the Southwest’s extensive collection of Native American and early California artifacts and art – which has been removed from the site – and the remainder to renovations to stabilize the museum structure.

West told EGP that it is unlikely the vast collection of art and artifacts removed from the Southwest will be returned, except for specific events such as an exhibition or educational program.

“But I don’t want to prejudge it because there are other parties in this process, not just the Autry,” said West.

A recent community-based survey showed overwhelming support for a fully functioning museum at the Mt. Washington site, and possibly a cultural community center with some commercial elements, such as a restaurant.

The National Trust will take the lead on planning and mediating the tense relationship between community stakeholders and the Autry, and could pursue government and private grant funding to support the eventual consensus on the museum’s future.

Councilman Gil Cedillo, who represents the area where the Southwest Museum is located, hailed the national treasure designation.

“I applaud the National Trust for naming the Southwest Museum, a National Treasure,” stated Cedillo in an email; he was unable to attend the official announcement due to illness.

The “announcement confirms and validates the importance of preserving our historic resources,” Cedillo stated. “I am committed to working with the community and the Autry to help protect and ensure the next 100 years of the Southwest Museum.”

She Was Brutally Attacked, Now Officers Try to Mend Her ‘Injured’ Spirit

December 25, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

When Blanca Rodriguez received the call from the Los Angeles Police Department’s Northeast Division last week that officers were on their way over to pick her up, she never imagined they would be taking her to a fire station in Highland Park where Santa Claus was waiting with gifts for her entire family.

A month ago, no one was even sure she would be alive this Christmas, the victim of a brutal and near fatal stabbing attack in her Highland Park home.

“I was very happy, it was a big surprise for me,” said the mother of three, glad to be alive.

On Nov. 20, a man knocked on Rodriguez’ door asking for her husband Jose who was at work . “Without saying anything else, he pushed the door and started stabbing me,” recalled the still shaken woman. “I asked him, ‘What did I do? Why are you hurting me?’ but he wouldn’t say anything,” she said, unable to hold back tears as she described how she tried to fight off her knife wielding assailant.

Third graders from Suva Elementary perform during their first winter concert Dec. 18. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

LAFD and LAPD officers gave Blanca Rodriguez and her family toys, food and gift certificates in Christmas. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

She was terrified; her two-year-old daughter was also in the house.

“Somehow, I was able to push him away and he ran out of the house,” said Rodriguez.

But not before he nearly killed her.

Lea este artículo en Español: Mujer a Punto de Morir Apuñalada Recibe Sorpresa Navideña

When it was all over, Rodriguez had been stabbed 12 times in the chest, neck and face. The final stab hit her heart.

Bleeding profusely, she somehow managed to get out her door and scream for help.

When the paramedics arrived at the home on Polar Street, Rodriguez was near death.

“She was in front of her apartment, unconscious and [barely] breathing,” Michael Hayes, a paramedic assigned to the LAFD Highland Park station told EGP. Right away they noticed that her vital organs were damaged.

When LAPD detectives went to the hospital to question Rodriguez about what had happened, they found her in very serious condition.

“We thought she was going to die,” Sgt. Roberto Alaniz of the Northeast Division told EGP, incredulous she had survived.

Rodriguez required open-heart surgery and spent nearly a month in the hospital before being allowed to go home, barely able to walk and wearing a colostomy bag. Recovery, physical and emotional, will take a long time.

Police and firefighters were so moved by Rodriguez’s case they felt compelled to do something to help her and her family, especially her three daughters, ages 6, 4 and the two-year-old who was at home during the attack but not harmed. If nothing else, they wanted to relieve some of their pain and maybe bring them a little good cheer during the holidays.

Northeast police officers reached out to local organizations and companies for help and last Thursday the Rodriguez family was treated to the fruits of their compassion: bicycles, school supplies, toys, food and gift certificates for the family.

“LAPD ran [the toy giveaway] and asked our [Spark of Love] toy drive personnel if they wanted to get involved,” said the fire department’s Hayes. “Obviously, the scene between then [when the attack took place] and now was very different,” he said, noting how happy Rodriguez looked with her family.

Hayes, and the other paramedics who assisted Rodriguez in the aftermath of the attack, LAPD detectives, and other donors were on hand to help celebrate Rodriguez’s survival and recovery.

The store manager of the Superior Grocers in Highland Park, Matt Kovacs, said he was asked by Sgt. Alaniz to donate food and gifts to the family, and the company’s foundation responded by donating gift cards for “a Christmas feast.” He was also able to secure donations from Coca Cola and the Bimbo bread company.

Holding a bouquet of flowers, steadied with support from a neighbor helping to care for her, Rodriguez slowly walked around the bounty of gifts, overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from her community.

She told EGP she’s still afraid to go home, tortured by flashbacks of that horrendous day when her life nearly ended. The scars on her chest and face, which may never disappear, are a constant reminder, but it could have been worse, she said. She could have died, she said.

What matters now are her daughters, seeing them running around and happy, she said.

“They don’t know what happened to me,” she said. “My oldest daughter thinks I was run over by a car,” she says with a slight smile on her face as she thinks about the lie to spare them from the truth.

Five days after the brutal attack, police arrested and charged Ricardo Gomez Alanis, 22, with Rodriguez’s attack. Described by police as a gang member, Alanis was in court Monday where he was charged with one count of attempted murder. If convicted, he faces 15 years to life in prison. Bail was set at $1 million. His next court date is Jan. 22, 2015.

Police have not released a motive for the attack, but Rodriguez said she believes he had worked with her husband.

Twitter @jackieguzman

Five Pedestrians in Highland Park Struck by 87 Year-old Driver

January 24, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 


An 87 year-old man driving southbound on Avenue 57 near a school in Highland Park hit five members of the same family Friday morning around 8 a.m.

The collision near Yorkdale Elementary School left a 52-year-old grandmother and a 10-year-old girl in critical condition, LAFD Battalion Chief Steve Ruda said.

The driver, an 87 year-old man, stayed on the scene for the investigation. EGP photo by Jacqueline García.

The driver, an 87 year-old man, remained on the scene for the investigation. EGP photo by Jacqueline García.

A 32-year-old woman who is the daughter of the 52-year-old woman and her two sons, ages 7 and 9, were listed in serious condition, Ruda said. The 10- year-old girl was a cousin, he said.
All three children were believed to be Yorkdale students.

It appears the elderly man — identified in broadcast reports as Luis Carbajal — accidentally stepped on the gas and ran a stop sign at the corner of Avenue 57 and Meridian St. and hit the pedestrians walking in the crosswalk, LAPD Officer Julius Wells told EGP at the scene.

Wells said the driver was not arrested because it appeared to be an accident and he did stop and was cooperating with police.

“He is going to have his license reevaluated and they are going to probably take it away, but that is up to the DMV,” Wells said.

The driver, who remained at the scene until picked up by a family member, was visibly upset. “He stopped in the middle of the street and he was just devastated,” Wilson Caraman, a nearby resident, told NBC4.

Information from City News Service used in this report.

Twitter @jackieguzman


Copyright © 2015 Eastern Group Publications/EGPNews, Inc. ·