Parents of Teen Fatally Struck By City Truck File Lawsuit

June 10, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

The parents of a 17-year-old student who was killed when he was struck by a city-owned flatbed truck in a Highland Park crosswalk filed a lawsuit Friday against the city of Los Angeles, Los Angeles County, the state and the driver of the truck.

Mariposa Perez, the mother of Andres Perez of Montebello, and the boy’s father, Sal Perez, filed the lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court, alleging negligence, dangerous condition on a public property and assault and battery.

The suit seeks unspecified damages against all parties as well as punitive damages against the truck driver, David M. Francis.

A spokesman for the City Attorney’s Office did not immediately return a call for comment.

Perez was struck Dec. 15 after the Los Angeles Unified School District closed all campuses because of a threat sent to several school board members.

The teen was headed to Los Angeles International Charter High School and was crossing the street at Avenue 60 and Figueroa Street at about 7:30 a.m. when the city vehicle driven by Francis hit him, police said at the time.

LAUSD officials said that because the notice classes had been canceled came late, many students had not heard about it and were headed toward their schools.

The lawsuit states that the location where Andres Perez was killed is a T-intersection that is “dangerously defective” with inadequate traffic control devices, poor pavement markings, a difficult line-of-sight and poor tree placement, all of which make it a “dangerous, concealed trap for pedestrians.”

Francis had a prior history of being “impulsive, careless, thoughtless… as well as being mentally, emotionally and physically unstable,” the suit states. The driver also was “blatantly and egregiously unfit and unqualified to be driving the … truck,” the suit alleges.

Francis tried to hide, destroy or misrepresent evidence about the incident to try and evade responsibility, the suit alleges.

The LAPD said Francis told them he did not see the teen, but stopped after hitting the boy and tried to help him.

Parents Push Education Agenda as Crime Scene Unfolds

June 9, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

A group of Spanish-speaking mothers were waiting outside the Highland Park Ebel Club on Avenue 57 last week to meet with their local school district board member when L.A. police units swarm the location in pursuit of an alleged “armed” gang suspect, yelling at the women to leave the area. They take refuge across the street inside a local coffee shop where they hope to continue their meeting.

A few doors down on Figueroa Street, a man in a white shirt and tie stands outside a new hip, antique-filled bowling venue and restaurant greeting the mostly White guests, he seems oblivious to the chaos unfolding less than a block away. A street vendor sells ice cream to a man waiting at a bus stop while people gather on street corners as police cordon off several blocks, denying them access to their homes and cars left in public parking lots. The only vehicles being allowed through are those with loud sirens; firefighters, an ambulance, police patrols and three K9 units. A helicopter combs the area at a close range.

It could have been a scene right out of a Hollywood movie but instead was real life in Highland Park, a community at the crossroad of change.

Perhaps most striking that day was how the community seemed to take things in stride, for the most part just going about their business in a neighborhood where gentrification is changing the face of what’s normal.

The best example being the group of mothers who, undaunted by the scene taking place outside of the Antigua Café, continued to press forward with their meeting with Los Angeles Unified School Board Member Ref Rodriguez, who initially followed police instructions to leave the area because it wasn’t safe, but at the women’s urging returned to meet with them.

“Padres de Highland Park,” a group of about eight mothers representing the 11 public elementary, middle and high schools in Highland Park, had a long, organized list of items they wanted Rodriguez to address. Charter schools were not represented and all the women taking part are Latina. They primarily spoke in Spanish, and repeatedly emphasized their desire to be partners in their children’s education.

Calling the mothers and children “mi familia” (my family), Rodriguez said he was ready to listen.

“The school never asks our opinion,” complained Daisy Ortiz, whose child attends Garvanza Elementary. “We are giving them our most precious treasure and you just make business out of their education,” she told Rodriguez.

The parents complained about schools that wait to incorporate accelerated or advanced classes until middle or high school.

“Advanced education has to start from elementary school,” said one mother as Rodriguez listen attentively and a member of his staff took copious notes on a laptop computer.

Some of the mothers stressed the importance of inclusion in the education of their children and asked the board member to help make it a school district goal.

“We want a resolution approved that will require the involvement of parents at the beginning of any process, instead of at the end,” Ortiz said.

You [the District] don’t have a vision for our children, she continued. “There are new positions in LAUSD to make money, but not to fix the educational system,” she lamented.

Taking turns speaking, the women asked Rodriguez to work with them on a list of goals they said would help improve Highland Park schools. Specifically, they want schools and the District to:
—Always consider parents and give them full and concrete information;
—Include parents’ opinion when implementing new school programs;
—Listen to [parents’] questions and concerns;
—Give parents workshops on how to conduct meetings and understand District information and;
—To hold quarterly meetings with the board member.

We don’t want to go to our school parent centers for Zumba or knitting classes, said Alma, who did not want to give her last name.

What we really need, she said, are experts who can teach parents how LAUSD meetings work so they can take part.

The best thing schools can do for families is to give them the opportunity to be included in the process, the women said.

They said they volunteer at their schools so their children will have a better future than the man police were searching for right outside their meeting.

“We are not against the District, we want to work with you, but words are not enough,” said Susana Zamorano, an organizer with CARECEN who works with the group.

Public schools need to work harder to keep students instead of pushing them to charter schools, Leticia Aldana told Rodriguez.

“[Students] leave public schools because they don’t feel welcome,” she said.

“Charter schools have more programs,” added another of the mothers.

Rodriguez answered specific questions about school data and other matters, and what he could not answer, he said he would look into and come back with an answer. He concluded the meeting by saying he would take all their comments and suggestions under consideration, and agreed to meet again.

Outside, the neighborhood was returning to normal as streets were reopened to pedestrians and traffic. LAPD Northeast Division Sergeant Christopher Gomez told EGP that police officers had observed a known gang member with a gun walking near Avenue 57 and attempted to stop him, which led to the foot pursuit and the suspect discarding the gun along the way. The suspect eventually surrendered without incident, said Gomez. The gun was not found.

Multiple Injured in Highland Park Collision

June 2, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Six people were injured, three of them critically, in a multiple-vehicle collision Friday in Highland Park.

Three of the victims suffered non-life-threatening injuries in the crash, which was reported about 9:15 p.m. in the 6100 block of Figueroa Street near the intersection of York Boulevard, according to Margaret Stewart of the Los Angeles Fire Department.

All three critically injured victims were taken to a hospital. It was not immediately clear how many of those with lesser injuries were also transported from the scene.

Fig Traffic Safety Still an Issue for Cedillo

May 19, 2016 by · 3 Comments 

A ceremony was held last week in Highland Park to inaugurate the installation of a new traffic signal on Figueroa Street at Avenue 55, where residents have complained of speeding drivers and unsafe conditions for pedestrians and bicyclists.

First District Councilman Gil Cedillo represents the area and was joined at the May 13 installation ceremony by students, teachers and parents from Monte Vista Elementary School.

The new traffic signal is part of his effort to improve public safety in the district, Cedillo said.

“Accidents happen, there’s no question about it,” the councilman told the group. That’s why “we want to make a safe [North Figueroa] corridor,” he added.

Traffic safety on Figueroa is a hot button issue in Highland Park.

Lea este artículo en Español: La Seguridad del Tránsito Continúa Siendo un Problema para Cedillo

Some have sought to blame Cedillo personally for fatal accidents along the commercial corridor, such as those involving a speeding driver who struck Yolanda Espinoza Lugo in a marked crosswalk on Figueroa and Avenue 24, then sped away, and another involving a 17-year-old student from Montebello who was fatally hit by a city-operated semi-truck near his Highland Park school.

But according to Cedillo, since taking office in 2013 he has been actively working with the city’s transportation department to install safety enhancements – such as the  traffic lights between Avenue 50 and Avenue 60 that give pedestrians more to time to cross the street and now the signal on Avenue 55.

Another traffic signal is coming soon to Avenue 51 and rectangular rapid crosswalk beacons will be installed on Avenues 35, 41 and 60, according to Cedillo’s Communications Director Fredy Ceja.

“As the local government, public safety is our number one obligation,” Cedillo said last week.

Highland Park resident Jessica Sevillano is the mother of one of the second-graders at the ceremony. She told EGP she thinks Cedillo is doing a good job, but added he could have made the improvements a long time ago and prevented some of the tragedies.

“There have been too many accidents,” she said in Spanish, pointing out that her mother was nearly hit while crossing the street with her son.

“Maybe he has too much work and he didn’t notice before, but this light is much needed,” she told EGP.

Traffic safety work has been done as fast as possible, counters Cedillo’s chief of staff Arturo Chavez. He told EGP that from planning to installation, a new traffic light usually takes two years: “We did it in nine months,” he said about the signal on Avenue 55. “But when accidents happen, there’s nothing that anyone can do to prevent them. A light is not going to prevent them, a crosswalk is not going to prevent them,” he said.

It’s the same point the councilman made an article published by EGP earlier this year. Cedillo told EGP people must take responsibility for their actions. You cannot drink and drive or be texting while driving or walking, he said, explaining that distracted motorists and pedestrians are a safety hazard.

While Cedillo supporters tout his efforts to improve the district, citing his work to clean areas filled with debris and to remove bulky items and make streets safer, others complain that he’s more interested in what big donors to his campaign want. They say he needs to be more hands on and visible.

A local bike activist who often takes to social media to launch barrages of criticism at Cedillo, particularly on traffic safety, has decided to challenge the councilman in the next election. Josef Bray-Ali owns the Flying Pigeon bike shop in Cypress Park and says he has decided to turn his anger into activism.

About two weeks ago, Bray-Ali, 37, filed with the LA City Ethics Commission to start fundraising as a candidate for CD-1 in the March 2017 Primary Election. He hopes to open his campaign office a few doors down from his store by the end of the month.

Councilman Cedillo and students from Monte Vista Elementary cross the intersection of Figueroa and Avenue 55 where a new traffic has been installed. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

Councilman Cedillo and students from Monte Vista Elementary cross the intersection of Figueroa and Avenue 55 where a new traffic has been installed. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

According to Bray-Ali, he tried for nearly two years to meet directly with Cedillo to discuss the safe-street plan, but could never get past his staff.

“I went from the chief of staff to the field rep to receptionist, and I wouldn’t pass from there,” he told EGP Monday. “We have become a bunch of nobodies in our own neighborhoods,” he complained.

Among his chief complaints was the councilman’s decision to halt plans to build dedicated bike lanes along Figueroa. The proposed “road-diet” would have run from Colorado Boulevard to San Fernando Road. It was shortened to run between York and San Fernando but was eventually completely cancelled per Cedillo’s request to LADOT, according to Bray-Ali.

“There’s a lot of negative emotions that I have towards him as a politician because of the fight that we put to try to get the bike lane along Figueroa,” Bray-Ali said, “and the councilman stopped this project for reasons that are not clear.”

While running for city council, Cedillo expressed support for the road diet, dedicated bike lane plan. But after taking office and holding community meetings on the topic, he dropped his support for the plan, citing the complaints of people who travel the corridor and businesses along the route that reducing lanes for cars will cause traffic tie-ups and increase emergency response times.

Bray-Ali’s and other bike lane supporters’ social media postings, using the hashtags #chaleconCedillo and #RoadKillGil, have blamed the councilman’s cancellation of bike lanes for accidents along Figueroa and in some cases for accidents in other parts of the district.

Chavez calls the postings offensive. He said a road diet alone would not stop people from speeding and questioned why for some people a road diet is a better solution than a street light.

Bray-Ali said the bike route is not his only reason for running for office. He says he wants to build stronger neighborhoods that are more connected.

“I want small incremental growth instead of the big buildings,” he said, emphasizing that renting and buying property nowadays has become almost impossible for residents of the area.

“What are we doing that is failing? Why were generations earlier getting property and we can’t?” he questioned, calling Cedillo’s representation of the district “incompetent.”

The problem of housing affordability, however, is a citywide issue. The city council is considering charging developers fees to pay for more affordable housing or to require that their projects include set-asides for those types of units.

Last August Cedillo announced a plan to use about $9 million available to his district through “excess bond proceeds” left over from the city’s former redevelopment agency, to subsidize some of the 15,000 affordable housing units in danger of being removed from the housing market.

“We are really doing a great job in this area and we are cleaning it up like we committed and making it safer,” Cedillo told EGP.

“Sometimes people who don’t live in our district want to come and criticize us.”

—-

Twitter @jackiereporter

jgarcia@egpnews.com

Highland Park Center Receives $50,000 Grant

April 28, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

The Optimist Youth Homes and Family Services Center in Highland Park announced a $50,000 grant from the S. Mark Taper Foundation to support their mission to educate and treat juvenile offenders and at-risk youth.

“We are grateful for the S. Mark Taper Foundation’s investment in this agency, which will have a lasting effect on the entire community,” said Sil Orlando, executive director of OYHFS.

“The S. Mark Taper Foundation’s continued support of our programs has benefited many people in the community as we work to accomplish our mission.”

Optimist operates residential care facilities, four group homes, a charter school for probation and foster youth, mental health programs and a foster care and adoption agency. The agency serves over 550 children and families daily.

The S. Mark Taper Foundation is a private family foundation incorporated in 1989, dedicated to enhancing the community by supporting nonprofit organizations.

Pot Plants, Firearms Seized in Mt. Washington and Highland Park

April 15, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

More than 1,300 marijuana plants and a cache of firearms and ammunition were seized and two brothers arrested this morning when Los Angeles police served warrants at three locations, two in northeast Los Angeles and the other in Sylmar.

The warrants were served about 6 a.m. in the 800 block of Terrace 49 in Mount Washington, the 6000 block of Tipton Way in Highland Park and the 13000 block of Bradley Avenue in Sylmar, according to Officer Matt Ludwig of the Los Angeles Police Department’s Media Relations Section.

The arrests and seizure were announced at a news conference at the LAPD’s Northeast Station.

Various types of firearms and thousands of rounds of ammunition, were seized along with about $4,500 in cash from the Mount Washington address, Ludwig said.

The seized marijuana had an approximate street value of $500,000, police said.

Livio Scagliotti, 49, was arrested at the Tipton Avenue location on suspicion of evading arrest, possession of armor piercing ammunition and possession of illegal firearms and Manuel Scagliotti, 44, was arrested at the Terrace 49 location on suspicion of burglary, Ludwig said.

Both men, who are brothers, were wanted in connection with an illegal marijuana cultivation operation that spanned about five year, police said.

Investigators allege the marijuana was grown for street sales and possibly for sales to legal pot dispensaries.

Livio Scagliotti was being held in lieu of $100,000 bail and Manuel Scagliotti in lieu of $85,000, according to sheriff’s online inmate records.

York Park One Year Later

March 17, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

It’s been one year since a small neighborhood park opened to the public in Highland Park.

Located on the corner of York Boulevard and Avenue 50, York Park was designed with input from the community.

There are not many parks or open spaces in the neighborhood, so people were excited when the park opened. At the grand opening, children could be seen running around, enjoying everything the park has to offer.

At just one-third of an acre in size, the park still attracts a lot of people. A year of use, however, has led some park-goers to now say there are issues with the design. They say there are things not needed in a child-friendly park, and believe it could be made better.

The park was designed as part of the York Vision Plan, a blueprint for improving York Boulevard for residents, businesses, walkers, bicyclists and commuters.

A committee of volunteers worked with Councilman Jose Huizar’s Office on the plan. They held meetings in the community to find out what people in the area wanted most, and a park made the list.

EGP recently sat down with some park-users to discuss their views on the final design and found opinions are split.
Gloria Hernandez, a mother of three young children, visited the park for the first time with her sister. She looked around and said she doesn’t “adore” its layout.

“This reminds me of the park at home except this one has fewer things, but more colorful” she said. “Where are the swings?”

Highland Park resident Maria Ramirez said she brings her two children to the park almost every day after school. She also wishes the park had swings.

“That exercise area is not needed, it’s a park, not a gym,” she complained. “Instead of that area being for machines it should’ve been swings,” she told EGP. “My children have gotten hurt using the machines,” she explained.

Father of three, Jose Sanchez, disagrees. “I like the exercise machines,” he said. “I get to exercise while watching my children,” he added. “This park is too small for swings.”

Several people said they believe the space for the park’ small amphitheater could have been put to better use.

Children swing from the playground at York Park. (EGP Photo by Gisela Jimenez)

Children swing from the playground at York Park. (EGP Photo by Gisela Jimenez)

Yolanda Nogueira’s family has owned the brick building across from the park since 1964. She was on the committee that helped design the park. According to Noguiera, city engineers took the committee’s ideas and came up with 8 possible designs for the community to vote on.

“We voted on the swings, we definitely wanted swings in this small park,” she told EGP, agreeing with current park-users who want to see them added.

“There was certain equipment we voted on that didn’t get put in,” but should have, said Noguiera.

EGP reached out to Councilman Huizar to ask if changes could be made at the park, such as adding swings.

The councilman told EGP he is not aware of any big concerns about the park design. He pointed out that several workshops were held to give the community a chance to share their ideas. “We also had the survey where people got to vote for their favorite design after we had an idea of what it would be like,” the councilman said.

“So, the community designed the park, it was for the community.”

Creating a park on the site of a former gas station was challenging and pricey, Huizar stressed.

“When I first heard the community wanted the park there at first I thought, ‘Wow, this may not be possible.’ I realized it was going to be pricey and we would have a long process to building everything,” the councilman told EGP.

The councilman donated money from his discretionary funds to hire a grant writer to apply for Proposition 84 state park funding, which was received.

“Yes, we are open to new ideas but we do have to keep in mind that it will cost.” Huizar said.
“We [would just] have to figure out where the money would come from.”

Gisela Jimenez is a senior at Academia Avance Charter School in Highland Park. She is interning at Eastern Group Publications/EGPNews as part of the school’s “Work Educational Experience Project.”

Re-dedication Ceremony & Block Party for the Quetzalcoatl Mural in Highland Park

March 17, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Sat. March 19
12 Noon-4pm—Re-dedication Ceremony & Block Party for the Quetzalcoatl Mural in Highland Park. Speakers, Music, Poets. Ceremonial blessing by XIPE TOTEc; Charlie Fisher Historian, LA Poet Luareate & Award Winning author Luis Rodriguez. Free Admission. Location: 6037 N. Figueroa St & Ave. 61 (rear Parking Lot. For more info, call Anthony 909-232-7050.

Two People Seriously Injured in Highland Park Crash

March 3, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

A single-vehicle rollover crash on the Arroyo Seco Parkway in Highland Park seriously injured an 8-year-old boy and a 25-year-old woman Sunday and temporarily shut down all three southbound lanes of Route 110, authorities said.

The crash was reported about 1:30 p.m. near York Boulevard, according to the California Highway Patrol.

Both victims were taken to a hospital, said Erik Scott of the Los Angeles Fire Department.

One lane was reopened about 40 minutes after the crash was reported, according to the CHP.

Drivers Have A Role In Arroyo Seco Parkway Safety

February 25, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

The Arroyo Seco Parkway or State Route 110 is hailed as the first freeway of the west and a vital artery that connects Los Angeles to Pasadena. Despite being seen as an engineering feat in the 1940’s, today its design is considered outdated, and to many, a winding series of safety hazards.
“We have to understand that when it was built, cars were not going that fast. Old Model T’s would usually get up to 30 mph at the max,” said Los Angeles Councilman Gil Cedillo, who represents some of the communities adjacent to Arroyo Seco Parkway.

The safety concerns experienced today can be seen at hairpin exits like the one at Avenue 43, which inspired a group of local residents to start a petition drive in December 2014 to urge Senate Pro Tem Kevin De Leòn to secure state funding for Caltrans — the state agency charged with maintaining freeways and highways — to make improvements and add more exits to the parkway to make it safer.

“I know there are concerns about it and heard about it at different meetings,” acknowledges Cedillo, who adds that management of the parkway is not the city of Los Angeles’ responsibility, but the state’s.

“I’ve taken these concerns to the  senator [Kevin de Leon] who is very powerful and can have an impact and influence on those matters.” Cedillo told EGP.

There has been some action by Caltrans to make the Arroyo Seco Parkway a safer place to drive. In 2012, Caltrans released the Arroyo Seco Corridor Partnership Plan, which among other things included the goal of preserving the parkway’s historical value and usefulness to the surrounding communities while making it safer.

Four years later, safety issues remain, prompting Cedillo to say more needs to be done to figure out “what mitigations can be implemented” to improve safety, and “how it relates to the important arteries that bring people into the city.”

He points out, however, that design changes alone to make the Arroyo Seco Parkway more suited to handle modern day traffic will not make the parkway accident free; motorists also need to take it upon themselves to be safe.

“Driving a two-ton vehicle is inherently dangerous. That’s why there’s rules and regulations like seatbelts and not driving under the influence,” Cedillo said.

“We have a very skilled department of transportation that works with Caltrans and the LAPD, but so much of the safety is dependent on the people. We can make all the rules and regulations, but if people don’t comply, particularly when it’s raining and people don’t pay attention to what they’re doing, that’s where accidents happen.”

“I was talking about this with the LAPD [Los Angeles Police Department],” he said, “when people use their cellphones it takes their focus away from the road.”

The councilman recommends people try to drive less in rainy weather and not rely so heavily on cellphone and navigation apps to get them where they are going.

“We have bad cultural practices in our community that makes us lazier and we need to exercise more self help and responsibility,” he said. He noted that many accidents can be attributed to “poor decision making” by motorists and pedestrians, and cited crossing the street in the middle of the block instead of at a crosswalk that might just be a few feet away, or texting or talking on a cellphone while driving as examples of bad behavior.

So while many of the problems experienced on the Arroyo Seco Parkway can be blamed on its outdated design, which many residents argue must change, the effort to make the Arroyo Seco Parkway a safer place for everyone will require cooperation from both residents, the city, and the state to make a real difference.

Martin Baeza is a senior at Academia Avance Charter School in Highland Park, He is interning at Eastern Group Publications as part of the school’s “Work Educational Experience Project.”

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