A 38-year-old convicted arsonist, who’s accused of intentionally setting two fires at an address in the Highland Park area, pleaded not guilty Monday to felony charges.
Javier Viera, who was previously convicted of arson crimes in the city of Pasadena, is facing two counts of arson of a structure and one count of aggravated arson.
Viera, who’s being held on $1.58 million bail, is due back in court on Dec. 6, when a date is expected to be set for a preliminary hearing to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to proceed to trial.
Viera was arrested Friday at his home, eight days after Los Angeles Fire Department investigators “responded to a suspected arson fire in the 300 block of North Kirby Street, where they encountered…Viera at the scene,” LAFD spokesman Peter Sanders said.
“At the Kirby Street fire, investigators discovered a second intentionally set fire that had failed to spread at the base of a garage,” he said.
Viera already considered a suspect in a series of deliberately set trash container and vehicle fires in May in the Highland Park area, Sanders said.
Viera was convicted of 11 counts of arson in 2014, according to the criminal complaint.
“Arson is a serious crime and we have zero tolerance for willful acts of destruction in the city of Los Angeles,” LAFD Chief Ralph M. Terrazas said after Viera’s arrest.
“We are thankful there were no injuries or lives lost as a result of these fires and we will always investigate and prosecute the serious crime of arson to the fullest extent of the law,” Terrazas said.
A man who allegedly threatened to kill his father was arrested Tuesday following a five-hour standoff in the Highland Park area, authorities said.
The 33-year-old man, whose name was not immediately released, was transported to a hospital after police used a stun gun to subdue him, said Officer Liliana Preciado, a Los Angeles Police Department spokeswoman.
No one else was injured during the standoff.
Officers were dispatched around 10:15 p.m. Monday to a report of a man with a knife threatening to kill a relative at a residence on Meridian Street near North Avenue 52, according to the LAPD.
Responding officers demanded the suspect exit the residence, but he refused and barricaded himself inside of the home, at which time a SWAT team was called, Preciado said.
An officer at the scene told KNX Newsradio that five rounds of tear gas were used to try to flush the man out of the residence before he finally emerged, still combative, forcing police to use a stun gun to get him into custody.
Now in its third year, the 2016 Latin Jazz and Musical Festival returns to Northeast Los Angeles this weekend, with two days of great live outdoor performances, all free to attend.
The music festival will take place at Sycamore Grove Park on Figueroa Street, and is once again spearheaded by Councilman Gil Cedillo, with help from a slew of sponsors ranging from Metro to Walmart.
When Cedillo introduced the Latin Jazz and Music Festival back in 2014, he said he wanted a festival that matched Highland Park’s “authentic character and vibe.” He also wanted to make sure that the festival would appeal to the area’s young people and take into account the local area’s large Latino population.
The two-day event opens Saturday with the Plaza De La Raza Youth Ensemble at 11:45 a.m. followed by the Heart of Los Angeles Youth Big Band. Headlining Saturday night are the Latin jazz and salsa sounds of Oscar Hernandez and Alma Libre.
Sunday opens at noon with Renancimiento Trio followed by the Bravo High School Latin Jazz Ensemble. Andy Vargas and the Souleros headline Sunday; their show starts at 7 p.m.
Festivalgoers will also enjoy delicious offerings from a variety of food trucks and for those 21 and over, Highland Park’s Greyhound Bar & Grill is hosting a beer garden. This is a wheelchair accessible event for all the family, and organizers suggest bringing a chair, umbrella and sunscreen,
There’s off-street parking and shuttle service available. So walk, bike, skate or take public transportation to the Southwest Museum Metro Station.
Sycamore Grove Park is located at 4702 N. Figueroa St., Highland Park 90042. For more information, call (323) 550-1538.
The large United States flag that flew high above The Veteran’s Memorial Square in Highland Park was recently taken down after becoming unserviceable, now the community is being asked to come together and donate to purchase a new flag.
The Post Commander of American Legion Post #206, a nonprofit in Highland Park, is raising funds to purchase the flag, and has started a “go fund me” campaign to support the effort. For more information, visit American Legion Post 206’s Facebook page.
To make a donation, to https://www.gofundme.com/24mfgepw
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti reminded renters last week that they have rights under the city’s Rent Stabilization Ordinance, but as one group of tenants in Highland Park has found out, those rights don’t apply to everyone.
The city ordinance provides protections against eviction and rent hikes to some tenants living in older apartment dwellings, but not to the nearly 60 families living at the Marmion Royal apartment complex at 5800 Marmion Way, across the street from the Highland Park Gold Line Station. The tenants are facing eviction by the property’s new owners, Skya Ventures and Gelt Ventures, who purchased the property from Azusa Pacific University for $14.3 million.
In May, Skya’s president, Gelena Skya-Wasserman, told real estate news site The Real Deal that they plan to renovate the building’s façade and apartment units, and to upgrade security and add new amenities to the complex, which according to The Real Deal was 91% leased when the property changed hands.
Residents and housing advocates on Tuesday denounced the evictions as another example of families being displaced by gentrification of the Northeast Los Angeles neighborhood.
Theresa Andrade, mother of three, told EGP about a year ago she was forced to leave her apartment located on Avenue 51, near Monte Vista Street, because they were increasing her rent.
“Now I’m being evicted from this apartment too,” she added worried.
Flor Ventura and her husband and son have lived at the Marmion Royal for 10 years. On May 16, they received a notice informing them they had 60 days to vacate their apartment.
Ventura told EGP she was at first confused, but soon realized she wasn’t alone. Many of her neighbors had received the same notice.
Not knowing what else to do, she told EGP they reached out to their local councilman, Gil Cedillo, who chairs the city council’s housing committee.
According to Ventura, staff in Cedillo’s Highland Park Field Office told them the problem was out of their hands because the property doesn’t fall under the rent stabilization ordinance, and therefore there was nothing the council office could do for them.
“Basically, they told us the people who bought the building have a lot of money and there’s nothing we can do but leave,” Ventura told EGP in Spanish.
Protections under the Rent Stabilization Ordinance or RSO, apply to multi-unit buildings built before 1978; the Marmion Royal was built in 1987.
The lack of protections for tenants like those at the Marmion Royal has allowed landlords to raise rents as high as they want and has led to a flood of no-fault evictions at the same time that the demand for housing is on the rise, claims the NELA Alliance, a group of local activists documenting gentrification in Northeast L.A.
The majority of tenants living in the units are working-class Latinos. Several tenants receive Section 8 housing subsidies.
“Tenants have asked why we [Los Angeles] do not offer an extended rent control policy,” Cedillo spokesman Fredy Cejas told EGP. According to Cejas, under the 1995 Costa Hawkins Act, “no law can interfere with an owner’s ability to establish the rental rate for his/her property.”
“The Marmion Royal complex does not fall under RSO protection, which means there is little room for us to intervene,” he told EGP.
Ventura said tenants attempted to come to an agreement with the owner that would allow them to return to their apartments once the remodel is complete, but while he was amenable to allowing them to return, their new rent would be nearly double what they now pay.
There’s also the additional cost of finding a new place to live while construction is going on, making the deal unaffordable.
The tenants have formed the Marmion Royal Tenants’ Union, a new entity under which they will fight their displacement.
About 50 tenants have so far signed a petition to fight their evictions, according to John Urquiza, a NELA Alliance activist.
Attorney Elena Popp with the Eviction Defense Network of Los Angeles is helping to protect the tenants from retribution by the landlord.
“When we get to the eviction process, the attorney will kick in and defend tenants,” Urquiza said.
In the meantime, tenants claim the landlord, who already has crews to begin working on the building, is harassing them.
“They have cut the water several days without previous notice,” Marylyn Zamaniego told EGP during Tuesday’s protest. “My daughter is afraid of the constant noise crew workers make,” she added.
EGP reached out to the new owners for comment, but they had not responded as of press time.
However, in May, The Real Deal reported that Skya-Wasserman boasted the “walkability of the up-and-coming neighborhood.”
“The owners prized the adjacency to the [Gold Line] station, which was built in 1911,” according The Real Deal.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.