Después de años de indignación pública sobre la contaminación de Exide Technologies a ciudades y barrios del este y sureste de Los Ángeles finalmente parece estar llamando la atención de legisladores estatales, probablemente en respuesta a las crecientes acusaciones que California tiene un doble estándar cuando se trata de cómo maneja las emergencias ambientales y de salud en las comunidades latinas de bajos recursos.
Read this article in English: Assembly Questions Actions on Exide
El martes, el Comité de la Asamblea sobre Seguridad Medioambiental y Materiales Tóxicos llevó a cabo una audiencia en Sacramento sobre los planes para descontaminar la planta de reciclaje de baterías, actualmente cerrada, en Vernon la cual se cree ha contaminado hasta 10.000 hogares y negocios con plomo y arsénico, poniendo a más de 100.000 personas en mayor situación de riesgo ante enfermedades neurológicas y cáncer.
Fue la primera audiencia por funcionarios electos estatales desde que las protestas por las reiteradas violaciones de la planta de las normas de emisiones químicas tóxicas se hicieron públicas en 2013.
Como EGP informó por primera vez, los residentes del Este de Los Ángeles, Boyle Heights, Commerce, Maywood, Bell y Huntington Park están cada vez más frustrados y enojados por el “doble estándar” que han observado entre el trato dado al problema de la fuga de gas en Porter Ranch donde la mayoría de residentes son afluentes de raza blanca y la contaminación de plomo de Exide donde las comunidades afectadas son predominantemente latinas de clase trabajadora.
“Tal vez deberíamos llamarnos Boyle Heights Ranch, tal vez nos darían más atención”, el Monseñor John Moretta de la Iglesia de la Resurrección dijo al comité el martes.
En conferencia de prensa antes de la audiencia, la supervisora del Condado de Los Ángeles, Hilda Solís, el senador y presidente electo de la asamblea Anthony Rendón, y el asambleísta Miguel Santiago pidieron al Estado a destinar $70 millones de presupuesto del próximo año para pagar por la limpieza de las propiedades residenciales más contaminadas.
“Una enfermedad invisible ha afectado a estas comunidades, se trata de un caso de injusticia ambiental”, dijo Solís, denunciando a los reguladores estatales por su lento progreso en la eliminación del suelo contaminado con plomo de los hogares del este y sureste. Sugirió que el dinero podría ser recuperado después cobrándole a Exide. Una demanda podría ser requerida.
“DTSC no ha hecho un buen trabajo en la limpieza”, dijo Rendón. “Necesitamos asegurarnos que Exide limpie el desorden que dejó en nuestras comunidades”.
Junto a los funcionarios en la conferencia de prensa y para la audiencia estaba también un autobús lleno de residentes de las áreas afectadas. Habían viajado al Capitolio para exigir el mismo nivel de acción por parte del estado que se le está dando a la fuga de gas de Aliso Canyon en Porter Ranch, y dijeron a los miembros del comité que los reguladores estatales necesitan acelerar la eliminación del plomo del suelo contaminado de su hogares.
Hasta el momento, el Departamento de Control de Sustancias Tóxicas (DTSC) ha limpiado alrededor de 200 propiedades en la zona designada de contaminación.
El resentimiento creció después que el gobernador Jerry Brown se negara a abordar personalmente la “catástrofe” de Exide algo que si hizo en Porter Ranch, donde ha declarado estado de emergencia.
“Podemos culpar a DTSC por el manejo y la aplicación de Exide y por tomarse tanto tiempo, pero no los podemos culpar por que el gobernador no les dio dinero para limpiar la contaminación”, Mark López, activista con East Yards para la Justicia Ambiental le dijo a EGP antes de la audiencia.
Durante la reunión del comité del martes, el asambleísta Santiago repetidamente preguntó a la directora de DTSC Bárbara Lee si existían obstáculos que limitan el aumento del número de viviendas que se limpian cada semana. Ella no respondió directamente a sus investigaciones, pero dijo que DTSC esta limpiando tres propiedades por semana. A ese ritmo, se tardará siete años en limpiar las 1.000 propiedades, dijo Lee.
“Tenemos una sentencia de muerte, no podemos esperar más”, dijo entre lágrimas Terry Cano, una de los residentes de Boyle Heights que viajó a la capital del estado a declarar. Ella alegó que miembros de su familia han muerto de cáncer causado por contaminantes de Exide en su comunidad.
Cano también expresó su frustración con el enfoque de la agencia estatal sobre la contaminación en las instalaciones ahora vacantes de Exide en lugar de centrarse en los lugares donde la gente todavía vive.
“Esto es el equivalente a responder a un edificio en llamas y que los bomberos respondan al fuego y no a la familia que se esta muriendo”, se quejó.
Lee defendió las acciones de la agencia, señalando que 22.000 horas de tiempo del personal se han dedicado a trabajar en el cierre de Exide. Agregó que la Administración Brown ha sido un gran apoyo en su trabajo, asignando $7 millones en fondos estatales para las pruebas y la limpieza.
Sin embargo, funcionarios electos locales dijeron que no se ha hecho lo suficiente.
“DTSC le ha fallado a nuestra comunidad”, dijo Santiago.
Hay una preocupación de que el dinero está detrás de la respuesta del Estado a la limpieza.
La asambleísta Cristina García llama a los $8 millones de presupuesto del gobernador para la limpieza de Exide “insultante”.
“Se siente como si el gobierno está simplemente lanzando monedas de un centavo a la gente [de bajos recursos] para mantenernos tranquilos”, dijo.
Instó al Comité a recomendar al Estado que de ser necesario busquen en la reserva, para garantizar que el gobernador asigne $70 millones en el presupuesto de este año.
“Tenemos que hacer las cosas bien y mostrar a los residentes de las comunidades de bajos ingresos que son predominantemente latinos son tan importantes como nuestros homólogos de las comunidades más afluentes”.
Jane Williams, directora ejecutiva de Comunidades de California Contra Tóxicos, sugirió a los legisladores estatales que consideren un impuesto de batería para ayudar a compensar el costo asociado con la limpieza en lugar de esperar a que Exide asigne los fondos. Ella le dijo al comité que la compañía de reciclaje de baterías tenía una larga historia de contaminación en sus plantas en todo el país.
“Exide tiene un patrón y práctica de ir contaminando comunidades y dejando su contaminación”, dijo.
La alcaldesa de Huntington Park, Karina Macias, dijo que ha hablado con muchos residentes que se sienten frustrados con el proceso y no ve ningún plan financiero claro ni un compromiso. También expresó su frustración de que el comité esperó hasta el final de la larga reunión de cuatro horas para escuchar a los ciudadanos, las víctimas de la crisis. Casi todos los residentes que viajaron a Sacramento tuvieron que abandonar la reunión para recuperar el autobús de regreso a casa, sólo uno se quedó a declarar.
“Han estado esperando por mucho tiempo”, dijo antes de entregar las cartas de la comunidad para el registro.
Eduardo de la Riva, concejal en Maywood, dijo que no aprecia que representantes de Exide en la reunión trataron de cambiar la culpa de los altos niveles de plomo en el lado Este a otras causas, como la pintura con plomo, autopistas cercanas y el entorno industrial. Pidió que la agencia estatal reconozca que la limpieza debe ser su prioridad.
“Aplaudimos a DTSC para los pasos que ahora están empezando a tomar, pero el daño ya está hecho”, dijo. “Debemos actuar ahora”.
Una grabación de vídeo de la audiencia se puede ver en línea en http://calchannel.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=7&clip_id=3327
Years of public outrage over the Exide Technologies’ contamination of cities and neighborhoods in the east and southeast Los Angeles area finally appears to be getting the attention of state legislators, likely in response to growing accusations that California has a double standard when it comes to how it handles environmental and health emergencies in low-income Latino communities.
On Tuesday, the Assembly Committee on Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials held a hearing in Sacramento on plans to decontaminate the site of the now shuttered battery-recycling facility in Vernon believed to have contaminated as many as 10,000 homes and business with lead and arsenic, putting over 100,000 people at a higher-risk for neurological diseases and cancer.
Lea este artículo en Español: Asamblea Cuestiona las Acciones de Exide
It was the first hearing by state elected officials since protests over the plant’s repeated violations of toxic chemical emissions standards became public in 2013.
As EGP first reported, residents from East Los Angeles, Boyle Heights, Commerce, Maywood, Bell and Huntington Park have grown increasingly frustrated and angry over the “double standard” they’ve observed in the treatment of the mostly-white, affluent Porter Ranch gas leak and the blue collar, and the predominately Latino communities affected by Exide’s lead contamination.
“Maybe we should call ourselves Boyle Heights Ranch, maybe we’ll get more attention,” Rev. Monsignor John Moretta of Resurrection Church told the committee on Tuesday.
At a press conference before the hearing, Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis, Speaker-elect Sen. Anthony Rendon and Assemblyman Miguel Santiago called for the state to allocate $70 million out of next year’s budget to pay for cleaning up the most contaminated residential properties.
“An invisible disease has affected these communities, this is a case of environmental injustice,” said Solis, decrying state regulators slow progress in removing soil polluted with lead from east and southeast homes. She suggested the money could be recovered later from Exide. A lawsuit could be required.
“DTSC has not done a good job on the cleanup,” said Rendon. “We need to make sure Exide cleans up the mess it has left in our communities.”
Joining the officials at the press conference and for the hearing was a busload of residents from the impacted areas. They’d traveled to the Capitol to demand the same level of action from the state that is being given to the Aliso Canyon gas leak in Porter Ranch. They told committee members that state regulators need to speed up the removal of lead tainted soil from their homes.
So far, the Dept. of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) has cleaned about 200 or so properties in the designated contamination zone.
During Tuesday’s committee meeting, Assemblyman Santiago repeatedly asked DTSC Director Barbara Lee whether there are obstacles they can address to increase the number of homes being cleaned every week. She did not respond directly to his inquiries, but said DTSC is cleaning three properties per week. At that rate, it will take seven years to clean 1,000 properties, complained other speakers.
“We have a death sentence, we can’t wait any longer” said a tearful Terry Cano of Boyle Heights who traveled the long distance to testify. She alleged that members of her family have died of cancer caused by Exide’s polluting of her community.
Cano also expressed her frustration with the state agency’s focus on the contamination at the now vacant Exide facility instead of focusing on places where people still live.
“This is the equivalent to responding to a burning building and firefighters respond to the fire and not the dying family,” she criticized.
Resentment is growing over Gov. Jerry Brown’s failure to personally address the Exide “catastrophe,” something he has done in Porter Ranch, where he has declared a State of Emergency.
“We can blame DTSC for the handling and enforcement of Exide and for taking so long, but we can’t blame them for the governor not giving them the money to clean up the contamination,” Mark Lopez of East Yards for Environmental Justice told EGP before the hearing.
Lee defended the agency’s actions, pointing out that 22,000 hours of staff time has already been spent working on the Exide closure. She also said the Brown Administration has been very supportive of their work, allocating $7 million in state funding for testing and cleanup.
“I can assure you the governor has us all committed to this site, it’s a priority for us.” echoed Matt Rodriguez of the California EPA,
Local elected officials, however, seemed unconvinced.
“DTSC has failed our community,” Santiago said.
Concern that money is behind the state’s slow response to the clean up.
Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia called the $8 million in the governor’s budget for the Exide Cleanup “insulting.”
“It feels like the government is just throwing pennies at brown people to keep us quiet,” she said.
She urged the committee to recommend the state dig into the reserves if it has to, to ensure the governor allocates $70 million in this year’s budget.
“We must do the right thing and show the residents from low income communities who are predominately Latino that that they are just as important as our counterparts from affluent communities.”
Jane Williams, executive director for California Communities Against Toxics, suggested state legislators consider a battery tax to help offset costs associated with the cleanup instead of waiting for Exide to allocate funds. She told the committee the battery recycler had a long history of contamination at their plants across the country.
“Exide has a pattern and practice of contaminating communities and leaving contamination behind,” she said.
Huntington Park Mayor Karina Macias testified she has spoken to many residents who are frustrated with the process and just don’t see any clear financial plan or commitment. She also expressed frustration that the committee waited until the end of the four-hour long meeting to hear from the public, the victims in the crisis.
Nearly all of those residents who traveled to Sacramento had to leave the meeting to catch their bus home, only one was left to testify.
“They’ve been waiting for too long,” she said before handing over letters from the community for the record.
Maywood Councilman Eduardo de la Riva said he did not appreciate Exide representatives at the meeting trying to shift the blame for the high levels of lead to other sources, including lead paint, nearby freeways and the industrial setting. He asked that the state agency recognize the cleanup should be their priority.
“We applaud DTSC for the steps they are now starting to take but the damage has been done,” he said. “We must act now.”
A video recording of the hearing can be viewed online at http://calchannel.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=7&clip_id=3327
The complaints of headaches, bloody noses and asthma by Porter Ranch residents sound all to familiar to eastside activists who’ve spent years fighting their own large scale local environmental health hazard.
So are the demands for government officials to immediately shut down Southern California Gas Co.’s natural gas storage facilities near Porter Ranch that residents blame for their health crisis.
Lea este artículo en Español: Exide, Porter Ranch; Un Doble Estándar
Strikingly different, however, has been the response from state regulators and elected officials – including Gov. Jerry Brown –who for years failed to take the same level of bold action to stop Vernon-based Exide Technologies from putting the lives of thousands of east and southeast working class, predominately Latino residents at risk.
Money, race and political power are at the root of the inequity, activists claim.
Armed with high-powered attorneys, residents in Porter Ranch are demanding the closure of SoCal Gas’ Aliso Canyon facility where a leak was discovered Oct. 23, leading to hundreds of complaints from residents about negative health effects and demands for the utility company to pay to relocate residents in the impacted area. In less than three months more than 2,000 residents have been relocated, schools have been shut down, students were moved and the company is expected to pay for the housing of pets and additional policing.
No one denies the seriousness of the problem in Porter Ranch, but east and southeast area residents and activists can’t help feeling there’s a double standard at play, especially when it comes to Gov. Brown who last week declared a State of Emergency in Porter Ranch after touring the Aliso Canyon facility and meeting with affected residents, something he’s failed to do in the Exide case.
His declaration allows the state to mobilize the necessary state personnel, equipment and facilities, and to waive any laws or regulations in place to deal with the environmental issue. It also gives the governor power to allocate emergency funding to fix the leak, which is expected to take three to four months to repair.
Boyle Heights resident Doelorez Mejia was pleased to see the quick call to action by the governor and state officials in Porter Ranch, but couldn’t help feeling the injustice of the situation.
“I’m disappointed our community was not considered as worthy for such swift protection,” she told EGP. “But sadly, I’m not surprised.”
She was referring to the years that pleas from residents living near the Exide acid-lead battery recycling plant were ignored. And the dozens of meetings where residents testified about the people – young and old – in their families with cancer, children with learning disabilities and other illnesses they say can be blamed on years of breathing in the toxic chemicals spewing from the Exide plant.
In 2013, air quality officials reported that Exide had violated toxic chemical emissions putting more than 110,000 east and southeast area residents at a higher-risk of cancer. Lead and arsenic had been found in the soil at nearby homes and at least one park.
It wasn’t the first time Exide had violated state standards on toxic emissions, nor would it be the last.
But unlike in Porter Ranch, demands around Exide went unheeded. Residents were not relocated, classes were not cancelled and the facility could not be closed despite operating for decades on a temporary permit issued by the California Department of Toxic Substance Control (DTSC).
Public outcry during dozens of community meetings, hearings and protest marches over their exposure to toxic levels of arsenic and lead – known to cause permanent neurological damage to children and pregnant woman – failed to force the closure of the facility. In fact, it took the U.S. Attorney’s Office stepping in and strong-arming Exide – with the threat of federal criminal charges – to agree to a negotiated permanent shut down in April 2015.
Testing and air emission modeling in the area now show that as many as two million people may be at an elevated risk for cancer and other health issues due to years of exposure to lead from the Exide plant. State toxic regulators now believe that upwards of 10,000 properties may need to be tested and decontaminated. So far, only 184 contaminated properties have been cleaned.
Exide was allowed to open adjacent to homes that had been in the area for generations. In Porter Ranch, city planners had allowed developers to build on vacant land next the Aliso Canyon facility, which had been there for decades.
Boyle Heights resident Teresa Marquez acknowledges that both the Porter Ranch and Exide environmental hazards pose a threat to public health, but says she knew the response would be drastically different in Porter Ranch, since even at the local level public officials have been more active in the Valley.
Boyle Heights is a neighborhood in the city of Los Angeles, Marquez pointed out, yet Mayor Eric Garcetti has not made an appearance at an Exide meeting or made public statements calling for a prompt response the way he has about the gas leak, she said disappointingly. Where’s the city attorney, who is now filing lawsuits to protect Porter Ranch residents?
“The key difference is money and white,” she said frankly. “And we’re just poor Latinos.”
Porter Ranch is a more affluent Los Angeles neighborhood located at the northwest edge of the San Fernando Valley. Its residents are mostly white, with a medium household income of over $120,000. In contrast, Exide’s contamination impacts the highly dense communities of Bell, Boyle Heights, Commerce, unincorporated East Los Angeles, Huntington Park, Maywood and Vernon; all home to mostly working class Latinos.
“I can’t help but wonder why the horrible disaster at Porter Ranch has captured so much attention, while the equally horrible disaster at Exide has captured so little,” Los Angeles County Board Supervisor Chair Hilda L. Solis told EGP in an emailed statement.
It was not until the facility was forced to close that eastside residents began to see elected officials take notice of their concerns, said Marquez. But even as they celebrated that victory many residents knew the challenge ahead was cleaning up the lead from dirt that to this day prevent children from playing in their own backyards.
“They wouldn’t dare relocate [Porter Ranch] families into our communities,” said Mark Lopez, executive director of East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice.
He told EGP their anger is not at Porter Ranch or its residents, but at the state and governor “who can be responsive but chose not to respond.”
“The gas leak should have been shut down last month, that being said, Exide should have been shut down decades ago.”
Late last year Brown attended a hotel opening in Bell Gardens, not far from Exide. Lopez and other eastside residents were also there, outside angrily protesting the governor’s silence on Exide. They carried signs and a 10-foot paper-mache effigy of Brown. Unlike in Porter Ranch, the governor has yet to visit communities impacted by Exide or publicly comment on the long-playing Exide environmental crisis, despite it now being called one of the largest public health disasters in the state’s history.
Gladys Limon, staff attorney for Communities for a Better Environment told EGP the governor’s and state agencies’ responses to the Porter Ranch catastrophe reveal a stark racial disparity in efforts to protect communities from health and safety risks caused by industrial operations.
“The state neglected the thousands of families in Southeast and East L.A. for decades, and the Governor to this day has failed to personally acknowledge the Exide health emergency and to meet with residents,” she said.
Former County Supervisor Gloria Molina told EGP that she continuously called the governor’s office to get him to take action, but never got a call back.
“The governor is totally uninterested,” she said, adding it may have something to do with the low number of registered voters in the area.
“He takes pride in being the environmental governor but he seems more interested in protecting trees than people,” Molina said.
Some environmental activists say they believe the governor’s response to the Aliso Canyon gas leak may be more in line with his commitment to be the world’s leader in reducing greenhouse emissions, than about health concerns.
Marquez said she was surprised to hear Brown had met with Porter Ranch residents.
“He hasn’t spoken to us,” she said. “I don’t know why he hasn’t taken similar action … he just simply doesn’t care about our community.”
EGP reached out to the governor to get his response to concerns by eastside residents that he has been indifferent to their plight, but, in keeping with the criticism from the community and elected officials, Brown again failed to personally comment on the situation. Instead he passed off our request to the Department of Toxic Substance Control, the state regulatory agency in charge of the cleanup, which has for years been strongly criticized for its handling of Exide.
“Protecting the community around the Exide Technologies facility in Vernon is a high priority for the Administration,” reads the response from DTSC spokesman Sandy Nax, who credited the governor for providing additional funding for the residential sampling and cleanups currently underway.
Bell Councilman Nestor Valencia told EGP he and other area residents have criticized DTSC for moving too slowly with soil sample tests and the clean up of properties.
“It goes to show the disparity of the southeast and East Los Angeles communities [compared] to other communities,” he said.
Residents just want the same response they saw in the Valley, Huntington Park Mayor Karina Macias told EGP. They want the same protocols for all communities, she said.
“Nobody should have to live under circumstances like that – where their health is impacted,” said Macias. “No offense to Porter Ranch but it’s unfortunate for us to not see such a response when we are talking about a toxic substance.”
Instead of hope, Mejia says the response by elected officials to the Porter Ranch disaster reaffirms what she already knew.
“They don’t care so much about our inner-city people. They don’t care about the industrial neighborhoods or the workers the way they do about wealthier communities.”
A version of this article was published by Eastern Group Publications in the January 14, 2016 print editions.
[Update 1:30p.m:] Added additional comments by residents.
January 14, 2016 by admin · Comments Off on L.A. County to Increase Small Business Contracts
The Board of Supervisors Tuesday approved a plan to award more contracts to small businesses – aiming for 25 percent of the county’s total purchases by 2020 – and businesses owned by disabled veterans.
Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Hilda Solis recommended setting a goal of having businesses owned by disabled veterans account for 3 percent of total county purchasing by 2020. Both target percentages match state goals.
Ridley-Thomas said about half of all private-sector jobs in the county are generated by roughly 200,000 small businesses in the region. However, certified local small businesses account for less than 2 percent of the county’s $6.6 billion in purchasing and contracts, according to board documents.
“This would bring a triple bottom line benefit: meaningful employment for the disadvantaged, reducing the demand on county services and increasing the tax base,” Ridley-Thomas said.
Solis said the county needed to take more steps to help small business owners.
“About 70 percent of all businesses in East Los Angeles are mom-and-pop shops, and the county must do more to support these local establishments,” Solis said.
The Department of Consumer and Business Affairs was tasked with developing a four-year plan to meet the new goals. A report back is expected in May.
The board will also consider a proposal by the county’s chief executive officer to nearly double the bid price reduction preferences for small businesses from 8 to 15 percent and remove caps on preferences.
Los Angeles Economic Development Corp. President Bill Allen offered his support for the board’s initiatives, saying it evidenced “a clear commitment to increasing economic prosperity and opportunity, to reducing income equality and to raising standards of living for all county residents.”
Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to establish a committee charged with fostering economic growth and better-paying jobs.
Supervisor Hilda Solis proposed creating the Economic Development Policy Committee.
“Creatively exploring ways to create more jobs for the residents of Los Angeles County is a top priority for me this year,” Solis said. “If we want more jobs that pay fair wages, then we all have to make concerted efforts to encourage more economic development.”
The board has initiated various programs designed to fuel job growth, including efforts aimed at small businesses. However, Solis said a more strategic approach was required.
The move came in response to a five-year strategic plan developed for the county by the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation, working with more than 500 local leaders and stakeholders.
The LAEDC described the plan as a “roadmap to improve standards of living for L.A. County’s 10 million residents by fostering more broadly shared prosperity.”
A preview of the still-to-be-released plan detailed more than 100 strategies intended to advance high-skill, technology-driven industries and connect disadvantaged communities to that growth.
Some of the plan’s broad goals include strengthening export-oriented industries, being more business-friendly and building more livable communities.
The LAEDC laid out the challenges facing the county as “widening income inequality, tepid wage growth, housing unaffordability and structural poverty.”
Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said the county’s action Tuesday highlighted a change in the board’s perspective.
“The county has always been seen as a safety net,” Kuehl said. “(But) it’s insufficient to just stand under the bridge, waiting for people to fall off.”
The LAEDC will work with the county chief executive officer and department directors to come up with recommendations for implementing the plan.
A report back is expected in 90 days.
A preview of the plan can be found at www.laedc.org.
State lawmakers joined local officials in Los Angeles’ Skid Row district Monday to announce a proposal to issue $2 billion in bonds to help build housing for people who are chronically homeless due to mental illness.
If approved, the funding would likely be distributed as competitive grants to permanent supportive housing projects that have built-in health and counseling services, according to Senate President pro Tempore Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles.The $2 billion could help build as many as 14,000 permanent supportive housing units, de Leon said.
“This strategic proposal that we’re moving forward on the first day of the legislative session will provide many homeless Californians with the key to health and home,” de Leon said.
He said the state has 114,000 homeless people, the largest population in the country, with 28,200 of them chronically homeless.
“Homelessness in California is a sad reminder of the stratified society that we live in,” the lawmaker said.
De Leon, joined by local officials and other state lawmakers, made the announcement at the Star Apartments, a permanent supportive housing complex on Skid Row, where many of Los Angeles’ shelters and services, as well as homeless population, are concentrated.
Supporters of the initiative lauded its “housing first” approach, which focuses on providing housing stability to those struggling with mental health issues.
“It is about mental health attention and services — wraparound services — and it takes a lot of funds and support for that,” Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis said.
She said she hopes a “good chunk” of the funding will go to the Los Angeles area, which has more than 40,000 people who are homeless.
The $2 billion would be one piece in a larger effort to address homelessness, with funding from other source also needed, she said.
De Leon said the initiative still needs to makes its way through the state legislative process, with hearings likely to be held until June. The goal is to make at least some of the funding available by 2017, he said.
“Our idea is to move this as a budget priority for the California State Senate; therefore, we will enter into negotiations with the Assembly, as well as the governor,” de Leon said.
The proposal also calls for stop-gap measures that would provide immediate help while permanent supportive units are still being constructed. Those proposed measures include spending $200 million from the state general fund on rent subsidies over four years and increasing aid for the poor who are at higher risk of becoming homeless because they are elderly, blind or disabled.
Michael Antonovich handed over his gavel Tuesday as the chair of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisor to Hilda Solis. The role rotates among the five supervisors on an annual basis.
Antonovich used the moment to highlight the many changes that have taken place in the last year or so, including the election, appointment or promotion of new county leaders, including Solis and fellow Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, Sheriff Jim McDonnell, Assessor Jeffrey Prang, County CEO Sachi Hamai and County Counsel Mary Wickham.
The integration of three county health departments under the umbrella of a single health agency, a move to reorganize the CEO’s office which “eliminated a layer of bureaucratic fat” and a push to fight sex trafficking were among the other achievements Antonovich noted.
Solis said that one of her priorities in the year ahead would be to reach out to underrepresented communities.
“The priority I would like to set for this year is to reaffirm our commitment to our diverse county family – to make this family, our family, inclusive for everybody, no matter their background, no matter where they come from, no matter how far down the scale they have been,” Solis said.
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to form a task force to help non-violent ex-cons update their records under Proposition 47 and to link them to jobs and services.
Proposition 47 — dubbed by supporters the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act — was approved by 59.6 percent of California voters in 2014. It reduced some non-violent drug and property crimes — such as shoplifting, receiving stolen property and writing bad checks of less than $950 — from felonies to misdemeanors.
Supervisors Hilda Solis and Mark Ridley-Thomas proposed the task force and Solis said it would bolster public safety.
“The primary purpose of the motion today is to reduce crime,” Solis said. “Jail and prison have become a revolving door.”
The task force will focus on connecting individuals coming out of jail and prison with jobs, housing, health care and mental health and substance abuse treatment and finding funding for those services.
“For the last 40 years, our broken criminal justice system has drained communities like South Los Angeles,” said Karren Lane of the Community Coalition of policies that doled out harsh punishments for drug and other non-violent offenses.
Solis highlighted the barriers faced by ex-offenders.
“Having a felony conviction makes it difficult to get work, to get housing, to get services and to put your life back together,” Solis told her colleagues.
Public Defender Ronald L. Brown said individuals in prison and jail suffer disproportionately from mental illness and substance abuse and told the board that treatment is critical to success outside of jail.
“Prisons don’t encourage inmates to address their drug problems,” Brown said.
Proponents say the proposition provides a more just penalty for low-level offenders. Anticipated savings from the law are intended to be spent on mental health and substance abuse treatment, truancy and dropout prevention and victim services.
“I think what we’re talking about is a hand up, not a hammer down,” said Bruce Brodie of the county’s office of Alternate Public Defender.
Other backers point to how Prop 47 has alleviated prison overcrowding and allowed more serious offenders to serve a greater proportion of their sentence.
However, opponents say Prop 47 puts dangerous criminals who should be behind bars out on the streets.
Supervisor Michael Antonovich pointed to criminals who are released only to commit new crimes, citing the example of one man who had been arrested 22 times after his initial release.
“Violent crime is up 4.2 percent,” Antonovich said.
Supervisor Sheila Kuehl challenged the idea that the proposition was linked to higher crime rates.
“There has been a lot of rhetoric about Prop 47 and a rise in crime rates and it’s just that, rhetoric. There is no data,” Kuehl said.
Kuehl said San Diego County hasn’t seen a rise in crime since Prop 47 became effective.
There are roughly 695,000 Los Angeles County residents who are eligible to apply to change their criminal records under Prop 47, according to Brown, who told the board that his office is overwhelmed by the need to help ex-offenders “become employed, tax-paying citizens of this county.”
One community advocate said many of those eligible were unaware of the potential to change their lives.
“Two out of three people who qualify for Prop 47 are not even aware” it exists, said Amber Rose Howard of All of Us or None.
The task force was also charged with trying to extend the deadline to apply for a criminal record change, currently set for Nov. 3, 2017.
The board directed staffers from the Office of Diversion and Re-Entry to work with the city of Los Angeles’ Office of Reentry to push for the region’s share of state funding from Prop 47 savings. A report back is expected in six months.
The board also asked the Auditor-Controller to audit the county’s savings as a result of Prop 47.
The Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to create an office to help enforce Los Angeles County’s new minimum wage and prevent “wage theft.”
Supervisor Hilda Solis recommended setting up the program to investigate claims of wage theft.
“This is a big historic step for us,” Solis told her colleagues. “It sends a strong message to employers, especially those that don’t play by the rules.”
The vote was 4-1, with Supervisor Michael Antonovich abstaining. He said it was the state’s job to enforce wage theft and he’d rather see the $408,000 needed to set up the new office spent on social service programs.
The board voted in September to adopt a minimum wage in unincorporated areas of the county that will increase to $15 by 2020.
Enforcement is critical, said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, calling state enforcement efforts “anemic at best.”
“It is imperative that Los Angeles County crack down on unscrupulous employers because wage theft is both illegal and immoral, victimizing not only workers, but their families,” Ridley-Thomas said.
Wage theft can include not paying legal minimums, refusing to pay overtime, not giving employees meal or rest breaks, making under-the-table cash payments or inappropriately classifying employees as contractors to avoid paying benefits.
Residents and advocates shared stories of abuses with the board.
One workers’ rights attorney said she represented bakery employees who have to be at work at 3 a.m.
“They work for 10 to 12 hours. They make basically three dollars an hour and that has not been the minimum wage in almost 35 years,” said Yanin Senachai of Asian Americans Advancing Justice.
Another advocate said abuses were “often indistinguishable from human trafficking cases,” telling the story of a woman who was forced to go to the bathroom in a bucket because she wasn’t allowed to leave the kitchen where she worked.
A report by the county counsel found that the percentage of wage abuses were highest in the garment industry, with workers in domestic services, building services and retail businesses also experiencing high levels of wage theft.
Solis said in a statement following the board’s vote that immigrants and minorities are disproportionately affected by wage theft.
“Immigrants suffer minimum wage violations at twice the rate of their native-born counterparts,” Solis said. “African-Americans suffer wage theft at twice the rate of their white counterparts. More than 50 percent of immigrant Latinas in the county earn less than the minimum wage.”
Business owners raised concerns about overzealous enforcement.
“Consider the local bakery looking to correct an honest mistake,” said Alex Davis of the Valley Industry and Commerce Association.
Davis asked the board to engage businesses in working out the details of enforcement.
Solis asked for further study of how the county might expand its business licensing and then use licenses to enforce the payment of wages.
Solis stressed, however, that the program would focus on education and help “level the playing field” for those who abide by the law.
“We … want small businesses to succeed,” Solis said.
A representative from the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce read a letter from chamber President and CEO Gary Toebben.
“We are especially supportive of efforts to focus on education and compliance before you move to punitive measures,” Toebben wrote.
Others agreed with Antonovich that the county should leave enforcement to federal or state officials.
A county lawyer was among those who countered that federal and state governments were in the business of enforcing their own minimum wages, which are lower than the county’s, and that both had significant backlogs in addressing complaints.
La Junta de Supervisores aprobó el martes una solicitud de financiamiento de $2 millones por la Supervisora Hilda Solís para ayudar a acelerar la limpieza del suelo contaminado alrededor de la planta de reciclaje de baterías actualmente cerrada Exide en Vernon, diciendo: “el estado continúa arrastrando los pies”.
Exide acordó en marzo cerrar su planta de reciclaje de baterías de plomo-ácido y que pagaría $50 millones para la limpieza del sitio y los barrios circundantes.
De esa cantidad, $26 millones están destinados a ser reservados para uso de limpieza residencial. A partir de agosto, Exide, que se declaró en bancarrota en 2013, había pagado $9 millones en un fideicomiso y otros $5 millones se deberán pagar en marzo del 2020, de acuerdo con funcionarios estatales.
Pero el Departamento de Control de Sustancias Tóxicas no ha hecho lo suficiente para proteger la salud de los residentes, aseveró Solís.
“Sólo 44 casas han sido limpiadas, y me refiero, por dentro y por fuera”, enfatizó.
La semana pasada, un portavoz de DTSC dijo que el estado ha limpiado los patios de 170 hogares alrededor de la planta y limpiaron el “interior de cada hogar donde el dueño de la propiedad nos ha concedido acceso”.
Solís dijo que hasta 1.000 hogares pueden encontrarse afectados de los tóxicos, lo suficiente para calificar como residuos peligrosos, y el Estado ha estimado que de 5.000 a 10.000 hogares pueden en última instancia, requerir algo de limpieza. El total podría correr en exceso de $400 millones, dijo Solís el martes.
La planta, que produce una gran cantidad de desechos peligrosos, como el plomo, el arsénico y el benceno, operó por 33 años sin un permiso permanente. Los esfuerzos para actualizar los procedimientos de los equipos y de seguridad fracasaron repetidamente para cumplir las normas ambientales.
Aunque las emisiones de plantas gaseosas ya no son un problema, la contaminación de plomo en el suelo, que puede causar retrasos en el desarrollo y deficiencia cognitiva, sigue siendo una preocupación.
Un portavoz de la salud pública también citó el aumento del riesgo de cáncer relacionado a otros productos químicos, una vez emitidos por la planta.
“Los productos químicos de Exide han elevado el riesgo de cáncer de decenas de miles de personas en todo el rededor de la planta Exide”, dijo el Dr. Cyrus Rangan, director del Programa de Epidemiología Tóxica del dept. de salud del condado. “A pesar del cierre de la instalación, esta comunidad tiene que vivir con un mayor riesgo de cáncer… por el resto de sus vidas”.
Los barrios de Boyle Heights y Maywood tienen los niveles más altos de contaminación residencial, pero el área de exposición se extiende para abarcar aproximadamente a 2 millones de personas, según Angelo Bellomo, director del condado de la División de Salud Ambiental.
Los $2 millones de dólares del condado se destinarán para facilitar la limpieza, accesar rápidamente otras propiedades potencialmente contaminadas y comenzar una amplia campaña de salud.
Funcionarios de DTSC se comprometieron a reunirse con un grupo asesor de la comunidad el Miércoles y después comenzarán una nueva ronda de limpieza y pruebas, centrándose primero en las propiedades con la mayor exposición potencial al plomo, según un portavoz de la agencia estatal.
En un comunicado, Solís dijo que el DTSC tiene un “ claro e intratable conflicto de intereses” en la gestión de la limpieza porque la agencia es responsable de su “fracaso para regular adecuadamente la instalación de Exide”.
Los abogados del condado están evaluando sus opciones legales para forzar al estado o a Exide actuar y planean reunirse con la junta a puerta cerrada durante la próxima semana o dos para hablar de esas alternativas.
El supervisor Michael Antonovich estaba entre los que expresó su preocupación acerca de que el condado asuma responsabilidad si interviene para limpiar.
“El condado no es el culpable”, dijo la abogada interina del Condado María Wickham, asegurando a la junta que no habría ningún cambio de responsabilidad.
Sin embargo, si los trabajadores del condado intervinieron para manejar la limpieza de forma directa y fueron negligentes en esos esfuerzos, existe la preocupación de que podrían ser culpados. Los esfuerzos de limpieza directos no están previstos actualmente.
El supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas dijo que la intervención federal no estaba fuera de la pregunta.
La votación de la junta directiva a favor de la financiación fue unánime.