Workers Back Anti-Wage Theft Bill

August 27, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

Janitors, housekeepers, airline and restaurant workers were among participants supporting legislation to end wage theft at a town hall meeting Friday in Highland Park at Franklin High School.

Senate leader Kevin de Leon spoke about his legislation, SB 588, the Fair Day’s Pay Act, which he said would strengthen the State Labor Commissioner’s ability to collect wages owed to employees.

Lea este artículo en Español: Trabajadores Apoyan Legislación Contra el Robo de Salarios

Hard working employees shouldn’t have to go hungry or live in crowded places because they don’t earn enough, said De Leon, who represents Highland Park, Vernon and Boyle Heights.

“It is criminal that [business owners] have stolen those wages from you,” he told the gathering. “Why? Because you have to pay your bills, your children’s education. You need your money to survive!”

Senator Kevin de Leon (center) with workers after the town hall meeting in Franklin High School in support of SB 588. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

Senator Kevin de Leon (center) with workers after the town hall meeting in Franklin High School in support of SB 588. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

In California, one in three workers is paid less than the minimum wage and every week in Los Angeles about $26.5 million in wage theft violations occur, according to the California Fair Paycheck Coalition.

Long lines, language barriers and the potential loss of paid work days prevent many employees from filing claims to regain lost wages, according to De Leon. The government’s existing system for collecting unpaid wages is also complex and ineffective, making it harder for workers and easier for bad employers to get away with not paying their employees what’s owed.

Those who do file a claim and win, according to the coalition, are rarely compensated.

“Five out of six workers who win their theft cases never see a dime” due to the complexity of the process, says the coalition.

“This is a situation happening every day in California and employers have been getting away with it,” SEIU President David Huerta told EGP.

Examples of wage theft include employers who pay less than minimum wage or who pay workers for fewer hours than worked, as well as employers who misclassify workers as independent contractors or who do not pay over-time as required by law.

“This issue gets worse with undocumented workers because they become silent victims,” Huerta said.

A 2010 University of California, Los Angeles Labor Center study found that local low-wage workers are robbed of about $1 billion in wages each year.

The harm caused by wage theft is not just financial, but also poses a health and wellbeing risk to workers in low-wage jobs and their families with poor living conditions, said Fabiola Santiago, a researcher with the Human Impact Partners.

“When workers experience wage theft they don’t have money to put healthy food on their table,” that leads to anxiety, stress and depression, she said. “Income is the strongest determination of health,” she added.

It’s time to put legal protections in place so workers’ wages are not stolen and “they can live a better life, for themselves and for their children,” De Leon told EGP.

“Life is hard enough, but having your wages stolen by big corporations is criminal,” the senator said.

SB 588 targets businesses that owe money to employees. Supporters say it will reduce abuse of corporate laws by not allowing businesses to hide behind sub-contractors or by changing their name. If passed, SB 588 would give the labor commissioner the power to collect wages owed to workers.

De Leon’s goal is to get the bill passes in the Assembly and on the governor’s desk by September.

Following the meeting, workers marched to the El Super store on York Boulevard in Highland Park, which was recently fined by the State Labor Commission violations of worker safety and wage laws.

—-

Twitter @jackieguzman

jgarcia@egpnews.com

 

Winners and Loser In Gentrification

August 20, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

Much is being said and will continue to be said about the displacement of residents when real estate in a neighborhood suddenly becomes hot.

As property values go up and buyers are willing to pay more, a growing number of residents find they are facing higher rents and the real prospect of dislocation,

Depending on who’s talking, someone in these transactions is doing something wrong; or right.

Unfortunately, there will always be winners and losers when real estate is involved.

But is it fair to criticize homeowners who want to sell their properties for more than what they were worth during the mortgage crisis?

Studies have shown that for Latinos, their greatest source of wealth comes from home ownership. It’s what they depend on to get them through their retirement years or to pay for a child’s college education.

On the flip side, the cost of rent is a deterrent to eventual home ownership or saving for the future, because a large portion of a lower-wage workers’ income goes to cover housing expenses.

The issue has become more critical as housing has become less affordable and fewer affordable housing units are being built.

Residential housing is not the only area where the impact of “gentrification” is being felt.

In Highland Park, small businesses are being displaced when commercial buildings are sold to investors who buy at top prices for commercial property in hot areas.

Many small businesses that have managed to survive during tough economic times now find themselves on the outs because they did not have long-term leases in place and cannot afford the higher rents developers need to charge to cover their costs and to see a return on their investment.

In many ways, the unfolding story is one that sheds light on the inequality of business acumen that exists in this changing market. Small business owners used to doing business on a handshake and a promise are finding that hard work alone will not keep them alive.

The reality is that many small shops and cafes just don’t have the resources to be able to move and pay rental deposits for a new location. They work on lean margins, because for a long time the majority of their customers were low-income and unable to afford high prices.

It’s a vicious circle.

Who’s to blame? There is no easy answer.

New mortgages must be paid; taxes and the cost of refurbishing old buildings to their former glory require large investment of capital.

What’s the solution? Again, there’s no easy answer.

What’s clear is that small business owners, many who are Latino or Asian and have English as second language, need assistance gaining the business skill sets that will allow them to protect their businesses and to stay in business.

To often, local city officials talk about helping small businesses, but that’s as far as it gets.

It’s not likely to go over well, but perhaps what we need is to require new businesses owners applying for their first business license to attend a boot camp that will help them get the skills they need, like what’s involved in leasing property, in this marketplace.

As a society, it’s in our interest for our government to provide services to small business owners who are in danger of losing their investments and equity, after all they do the bulk of hiring in this country..

If thi suggestion sounds to paternalistic, we’re open to suggestions.

We believe that property owners should be entitled to sell and new owners should be entitled to make a reasonable return on their investment.

It’s a tough situation we at EGP know first hand. The offices where we are located have been sold and we must undertake the heavy cost of moving to another location.

It’s no ones fault; it’s just the way things are. We understand the financial risk investors are taking when they enter a new market, and empathize with those who feel the burden of paying for the risk.

Man Wounded In Higland Park Weekend ‘Gang’ Shooting

July 27, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

One person was wounded in a shooting in Highland Park Sunday night.

The male victim was shot in a lower extremity just after 8 p.m. in the 1400 block of North Avenue 56, said an officer at the Los Angeles Police Department’s Northeast Station.

The victim was taken to Huntington Memorial Hospital for treatment of a non-life-threatening wound, the officer said.

No suspect information was immediately available.

Police were investigating the possibility that the shooting was gang-related, the officer said.

Gang-related shooting in the Northeast L.A. neighborhood have increased significantl this year, with the highest number coming between February and April.

Law enforcement officials have blamed a turf war between the Avenues and HPK for the increase.

Stepped up enforcement, including some assistance from  from LAPD’s elite Metro mobile division and use of gang injunctions has slowed the number of shootings since May.

The  motive in the latest shooting remains under investigation.

Man Critically Injured in Highland Park Fire

July 24, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

A man between 30 and 40 years old was critically injured in a kitchen fire in an apartment in Highland Park Thursday, according to a Los Angeles Fire Department official.

The fire at a garden-style apartment building in the 5000 block of East Echo Street was reported at 6:48 p.m., Margaret Stewart of the Los Angeles Fire Department said.

The fire was held in check and extinguished by sprinklers, but firefighters found the victim unresponsive inside the affected third-floor unit, Stewart said.

The victim was in critical condition when taken to a hospital, Stewart said.

The fire was caused by food left cooking on the stove, she said.

The apartment had working smoke alarms, Stewart said.

Car Crashes into Fire Hydrant

July 23, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

A vehicle sheared off a fire hydrant in Highland Park today, resulting in a minor injury and sending up a geyser of water.

The crash was reported about 8 a.m. in the 6200 block of North Figueroa Street, the Los Angeles Fire Department reported.

Crews shut off the water flow and worked to repair the hydrant.

No Single Strategy to Fighting Crime

July 16, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

It was still light out when officers from the Los Angeles Police Department’s Gang Division stopped three young men in a Glassell Park neighborhood that for years was notorious for gang and drug activity.

It was just one of several stops officers would make that night which would end up with one or more “known” gang members being taken into custody for parole violations or for violating local gang injunctions prohibiting them from congregating with other “known” gang members.

In the weeks leading up to that Friday night, Capt. Jeffrey Bert with LAPD’s Northeast Division had attributed the rising violence to feuding between the Avenues and HLP gangs in Highland Park. Gang related violence was up 67%, Bert told the audience at a panel discussion on gang injunctions in April. There were 20 shootings between the Avenues and Highland Park gangs between Feb. 6 and April 18 alone, he said, giving his support to the use of gang injunctions as a successful crime-fighting tool.

During a stop, Northeast LAPD officers check suspects for parole and gang injunctions violations. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

During a stop, Northeast LAPD officers check suspects for parole and gang injunctions violations. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

There were five more shootings in Highland Park during the month of May; four were gang-related, according to the LAPD.

On Friday, May 22 —  the eve of the start of the three-day Memorial Day Holiday weekend and the unofficial start of the summer season — officers from LAPD’s Northeast Division gang and Special Problems Units, and from the specialized mobile Metro unit were out in force, continuing efforts to quell the recent rash of gang-related shootings and violence in Highland Park.

“You never know what it’s going to be like” out there, Sgt. Chris Gomez, head of the Special Problems Unit told EGP reporters that night.

From a distance, the large number of police officers responding to the Glassell Park stop seemed excessive, but according to Gomez, every officer at the seemingly well-under-control scene had an assigned role, from watching movement along the street and in the apartments overhead and across the street, to directing innocent bystanders away from the sidewalk where the suspects stood handcuffed.

This is a dangerous area, Gomez said. A police officer was ambushed on this very street, he said. He said police policy dictates that an officer should never be outnumbered. There are three suspects, the initial stop was made by a patrol car with two officers, so other units in the area responded to provide back up.

That night, officers with the Special Problems Unit told EGP that they try to interact and get to know residents in the area and to diffuse tension between the police and the community. Echoing comments made in the weeks prior by LAPD brass, “We can’t do it alone,” said Officer Asuncion.

Social demographers and criminologists often point to summer being the time when crime rates spike the most. At-risk youth with few resources and too much time on their hands are more likely to engage in illegal activity, studies have found.

But Los Angeles’ 12.7 percent increase in violent and property crime during the first half of the year is bad news, and could indicate a longer and higher increase without greater intervention. Mayor Eric Garcetti and police Chief Charlie Beck last week announced plans for a ramped-up domestic violence response team and said additional back-up officers should help stem the crime rise.

The figures marked the first time in about a decade that overall crime has risen in the city.

Violent crime rose 20.6 percent overall in the first six months of the year, compared with the same time last year, according to Los Angeles Police Department figures.

In the violent crime category, homicide fell 6.7 percent, but rape was up 7.9 percent, robbery up 16.6 percent and aggravated assaults increased by 26.3 percent.

Gomez said this week that the members of his unit have seen an increase in the number of older gang members returning to the community.

“Their prison terms are up and they’re getting out of jail,” he said, referring to Drew Street and Avenue gang members arrested during past crackdowns on gang and drug violence in the Northeast area.

But it’s the younger members that are doing most of the work of the gangs, Gomez said.

That’s why he supports intervention programs like Summer Night Lights, which keeps parks open after dark to give youth in low-income communities a safe and neutral place to hang out and take part in sports and other positive programs. It also gives officers a chance to interact positively with the community, he said, noting that at the Cypress Park Recreation Center people come and sit down with officers and talk.

Stepped up enforcement and more cops visible on the street are also important, he said. Gomez supports Beck’s plan to add officers to the mobile, specialized Metro unit, which has some of the department’s best trained officers, but says there is a downside, the reassignment of officers has left some divisions, including northeast, short-handed at times.

“Frankly, we need more resources,” says Gomez, whose unit “fills the holes” in the division’s handling of crime. More than a handful of officers have been taken from every division, and that “cripples our ability to pursue leads and calls for service,” Gomez said.

It’s a message he says Division captains have communicated to higher-ups.

 

EGP reporter Jacqueline Garcia contributed to this story.

 

Summer Night Lights: Alternative to Trouble

July 1, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

When the temperature rises and school is out, young people in neighborhoods with few resources and activities to keep them busy are at a higher risk of getting into trouble, statistics show.

It’s a fact that city officials and law enforcement are well aware of, and the reason behind a program that keeps many city of Los Angeles parks and recreation centers open after dark during the summer.

Lea este artículo en Español: Programa de Verano Mantiene a Jóvenes Fuera de Problemas

Now in its eighth year, the Summer Night Lights (SNL) program offers free sports, art and crafts and other activities along with meals to youth and their families in many of the city’s most densely populated neighborhoods.

Highland Park resident Teresa Martinez has been taking her children to the Highland Park Recreation Center for the last two years for some summer fun.

“There are a lot of activities going on and the Summer Night Lights program is very popular in this area,” she told EGP Monday. “They offer free food, drinks, music, raffles, a lot of stuff,” she said.

This year, Martinez’s 10-year old daughter will play on a softball team while her 13-year old son hopes to join a basketball team.

When young people are busy doing things they enjoy, they are less likely to get into trouble or be recruited into gangs, according to then councilman, and now Mayor Eric Garcetti when he spearheaded the program eight years ago as a way to combat gang activity in Glassell Park and surrounding neighborhoods. In partnership with the Office of Gang Reduction and Youth Development (GRYD) and the City of Los Angeles, the “park after dark” program has since expanded to 32 locations across the city.

LAPD officers play a game of tug-of-war with children during the Summer Night Lights program in Highland Park. (Courtesy of Highland Park Neighborhood Council)

LAPD officers play a game of tug-of-war with children during the Summer Night Lights program in Highland Park. (Courtesy of Highland Park Neighborhood Council)

SNL has proven to be a good tool for reducing violent crime while promoting peace, positive activities, and healthy outcomes for residents, according to the GRYD. Summer Night Lights focuses on areas most impacted by gang violence, unemployment, and with high concentrations of youth and young adults.

“This is a great opportunity to participate with the youth and create a positive point” of contact, LAPD Northeast Division Sgt. Christopher Gomez told EGP. He said his Special Problem Unit oversees the Glassell Park and Highland Park locations, helping families feel more comfortable about their young people taking part in night time activities.

Martinez said she was at first reluctant to take her children to the park where some sports programs can run until 11 p.m. Those fears have since been allayed: “There is always a lot of police activity and there’s a lot of parent involvement too,” she explained about why she’s now glad Summer Night Lights is offered in Highland Park.

According to GRYD, in 2014 over 900,000 visits were reported across all 32 Summer Night Lights sites. There was a 15.4% reduction in gang-related crime— Wednesdays through Saturday between June 25 and Aug. 9 — compared to the same period in 2013. Over half a million meals were served during the hours of the program.

According to officials, more than 10,000 youth have participated in soccer, basketball and baseball sports leagues and in sports clinics with the LA Kings, LA Galaxy, LA D-fenders, Play Rubgy USA, CHIVAS USA, and WNBA/Coca Cola.

The evening programs run from 7pm to 11pm, Wednesday to Saturday in selected parks and recreation centers. Some of the citywide activities offered this year include:

— Arts: nightly art workshops, culinary arts, silk-screening, mural painting, zumba, hip-hop dance and poetry.

— Sports leagues: basketball, softball and/or soccer leagues for all ages;

— Special events: music concerts, health/fitness, movie nights, science and literacy resources;

— Nightly healthy meals;

— Department of Public Health Resources.

The program will also hire some youth, ages 17-24, to work at site locations. In 2014, 1,068 local jobs were created and 325 at-risk youth were hired and provided on-going training.

Added this year is a pre-program assessment focused on identifying educational careers and goals for youth involved in the Summer Night Light program.

Local Summer Night Lights Locations:

– Glassell Park Recreation Center:
3707 Verdugo Rd. 90065

– Highland Park Recreation Center:
6150 Piedmont Ave. 90042

– Costello Recreation Center:
3141 E. Olympic Blvd. 90023

– El Sereno Recreation Center:
4721 Klamath St. 90032

– Montecito Heights Recreation Center:
4545 Homer St. 90031

– Ramon Garcia Recreation Center:
1016 Fresno St. 90023

– Ramona Gardens Recreation Center:
2830 Lancaster Ave. 90033

– Cypress Park Recreation Center:
2630 Pepper Ave. 90065

 

For more information, visit: http://grydfoundation.org/programs/summer-night-lights/

 —-

Twitter @jackieguzman

jgarcia@egpnews.com

Man Charged in Highland Park Hit and Run

July 1, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

A 21-year-old Los Angeles man was charged Tuesday with gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and hit-and-run driving for a crash that killed a bicyclist who was in a marked crosswalk in Highland Park.

Alexis Virto pleaded not guilty in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom to one felony count each of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, driving under the influence of an alcoholic beverage causing injury, driving with a 0.08 percent blood alcohol content causing injury and hit-and-run driving resulting in death or serious injury to another person.

Virto is charged in last Friday’s death of 33-year-old cyclist Jose Luna, who was struck about 3 a.m. in the 4000 block of North Figueroa Street.

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

Police allege Virto was still intoxicated at the time of his arrest several hours later. He was found sleeping on a bed with his girlfriend at a home about six blocks from the crash scene, police said.

He had injuries consistent with the collision and windshield debris in his hair, said Detective John Menese of the LAPD’s Central Traffic Division.

Police tracked down Virto after receiving a report of an abandoned damaged vehicle, which matched the description of the one seen speeding from the crash scene and also had the victim’s biological matter on it, police said.

Virto has remained behind bars since he was taken into custody last Friday morning.

He is due back in court July 28, when a date is scheduled to be set for a hearing to determine if there is enough evidence to require him to stand trial.

If convicted as charged, he could face up to six years in state prison, according to the District Attorney’s Office.

UPDATE: Man Charged in Highland Park Hit and Run

June 30, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

A 21-year-old Los Angeles man was charged Tuesday with gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and hit-and-run driving for a crash that killed a bicyclist who was in a marked crosswalk last week in Highland Park.

Alexis Virto was scheduled to be arraigned today in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom on one count each of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, driving under the influence of an alcoholic beverage causing injury, driving with a 0.08 percent blood alcohol content causing injury and hit-and-run driving resulting in death or serious injury to another person.

Virto is accused in last Friday’s death of 33-year-old cyclist Jose Luna, who was struck about 3 a.m. in the 4000 block of North Figueroa Street.

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

Police allege Virto was still intoxicated at the time of his arrest several hours later. He was found sleeping on a bed with his girlfriend at a home about six blocks from the crash scene, police said.

He had injuries consistent with the collision and windshield debris in his hair, said Detective John Menese of the LAPD’s Central Traffic Division.

Police tracked down Virto after receiving a report of an abandoned damaged vehicle, which matched the description of the one seen speeding from the crash scene and also had the victim’s biological matter on it, police said.

Virto has remained behind bars since he was taken into custody last Friday morning.

If convicted as charged, he could face up to six years in state prison, according to the District Attorney’s Office.

Podcaster Upset Over Obama Interview Aftermath

June 25, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

 A podcaster said Monday he’s “a little sad” that the media focused on President Barack Obama’s use of the “n” word during an interview done in the comedian’s Highland Park garage-recording studio.

During Marc Maron’s “WTF” podcast – released Monday but recorded Friday when the president was in town for a series of fundraisers – Obama said the legacy of slavery “casts a long shadow, and that’s still part of our DNA that’s passed on.”

“We’re not cured of it,” Obama continued. “And it’s not just a matter of it not being polite to say ‘nigger’ in public. That’s not the measure of whether racism still exists or not.”

The president’s comments came in the aftermath of the apparent racially motivated shooting deaths of nine black people at a church in Charleston, South Carolina.

Maron told ABC7 that he’s “a little sad that the media has just isolated the use of the n-word as the lead story and taken it out of context, which was really a powerful statement about the state of racism in our country. But that’s what you guys do, right?”

Maron told Vanity Fair that he got the interview, which lasted about an hour and was in the planning stages for months, because a member of Obama’s staff is a WTF fan.

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