LADWP Ratepayer Advocate Selected

January 19, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

A citizens committee on Tuesday named the head of a Los Angeles energy consulting firm to be the city’s first ratepayer advocate tasked with monitoring water and power rate increases proposed by the Department of Water and Power.

On a 5-0 vote, the search panel chose Frederick H. Pickel to be the executive director of the Office of Public Accountability.

Pickel, president of Wilshire Energy Consulting Group, has worked in the gas and electric industry for more than 30 years, both in the public and private sectors, according to a biography on the firm’s website.

Committee Chairman John Murray said the members made their decision with “great thought, great deliberation.”

The committee reviewed the resumes of 58 candidates from across the world and narrowed it down to four finalists.

After rigorous interviews, Pickel was the panel’s top choice, according to committee member John Walker.

“He has a flawless resume, a background indicative of the kind of individual that needs to hold this job,” Walker said. “You’ve got to have answers. You have to have professional and technical abilities to do this job, to both represent the ratepayers and be in council with DWP. This man has that capability.”

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa sent a letter to Pickel yesterday, pressing him and city officials to move quickly to review proposed increases to water and power rates.

“Already the credit agencies have spoken about the department’s need for increased revenue,” Villaraigosa said in the letter. “They have noticed the delay in setting new rates and have acted accordingly to lower the DWP’s credit ratings. Further delays will only further increase the costs to the department, to the city, and ultimately our residents and customers.”

Last March voters approved a charter amendment requiring the creation of an Office of Public Accountability and a ratepayer advocate to be an independent voice on the issue of rates. The charter change was placed on the ballot after a bitter fight between the City Council and LADWP officials over rates in 2010 that caused the department to threaten to withhold a transfer of more than $70 million to the city’s general fund.

Councilwoman Jan Perry, who chairs the Energy and Environment Committee, said Pickel’s resume is excellent, but she looked forward to learning more about his qualifications and what he can bring to the office.

Perry said she expects the Office of Public Accountability “to offer a clear, third party review of rate increases and LADWP programs and investments” to guide the council on everything from infrastructure upgrades to investments in renewable energy.

Garfield Music Instructor Hopes Van Halen Guitars Will Bolster School Marching Band

January 19, 2012 by · 1 Comment 

It was not to long ago that Garfield High School’s Marching Band was the pride of the community.

Today, the band, roughly a third of the size it was in its heyday, continues to win awards and garner loyal cheers, but it could really use some new instruments, says the school’s music director.

Lea esta nota EN ESPAÑOL: Garfield Necesita Nuevos Instrumentos para la Banda de Majorettes

On Monday, the 50-member marching band led the Kingdom Day Parade in South Los Angeles, breaking in new uniforms that arrived just last week. A banner, announcing their first place win at the LAUSD’s Beyond the Bell Grand Annual Band and Drill Team Championship on Dec. 10, preceded them down the parade route.

Garfield High School Marching Band lead the way during this year's Kingdom Day Parade. (Photo courtesy of LAUSD)

Years ago, under the direction of legendary music instructor Harold Maryweather, the band boasted 140 musicians. Their numbers have shrunk to about 50 over the years.

Garfield’s current music director, Eloy Adame, the third or fourth music instructor since Maryweather, says they must have had 140 instruments at one time, but that’s no longer the case. Adame says he does not know where all the instruments went.

He says music programs have been hit hard by funding cuts over the years. Cuts have not only affected high schools like Garfield, but feeder schools that can no longer prepare the same number of students eager to join a band.

Adame knows this personally. He was a music instructor at Griffith Middle School for seven years before he joined Garfield High School three years ago.

“[Three years ago Garfield’s] program was a little bit … anemic, and there was an opportunity to fill out an application for a grant through the Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation,” Adame explained.

Garfield was awarded the grant and the underwriters Fidelity FutureStage gave them $25,000 worth of musical instruments, including an entire set of drums and one or two of each instrument requested. While it was a start, it did not fill their total need, Adame said.

Garfield recently received a second donation from the Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation.

This time the donation came in the form of 15 mint-condition electric guitars donated from rock legend Eddie Van Halen’s personal collection.

Everybody — students, teachers and parents — are interested in the guitars, Adame told EGP. The much needed guitars means there will no longer be just one guitar for every two students.

However, cables and amplifiers didn’t come with the guitars, Adame said, adding that a company has already expressed an interest in making those donations.

The guitars are “top notch” and this makes it easier for students to learn, but Adame said he hopes the excitement over the guitars can be leveraged to increase enthusiasm for the marching band, which he says is the main focus of the music program.

“You wanna play an Eddie Van Halen guitar? You have to pay your dues in the marching band,” Adame joked.

Garfield Principal Jose Huerta tries out a new electric guitar; the school is hoping to receive donations cable and amplifiers. (EGP photo by Gloria Angelina Castillo)

Vice Principal Ramiro Rubalcaba credits Adame for getting the ball rolling by writing the grant application.

However, the school’s music program still needs more help because more cuts are expected next year and funding goes first to core subjects like Math, English, Science and History, he said.

“We have a band program that is a championship program but sometimes we have clarinets that are taped, and have rubber bands holding things,” Rubalcaba said, “These kids deserve to have brand new instruments, to have state of the art instruments, because they put in that time and they are champions,” he said.

The arts are important to keep kids motivated in school and “often it saves students from dropping out,” Rubalcaba told EGP.

Principal Jose Huerta calls the electric guitars a priceless donation for the school and says he believes the school was selected because it is improving academically. It went up 75 points last year, and beat every high school in California as far as growth in one year, the principal said.

“It’s all about instilling values in kids and he [Adame] does it. He promotes self-worth and responsibility and all those things kids need to succeed in life. So fortunate to have Adame here…” Huerta said.

Adame said they cannot sell the guitars to raise money to purchase band instruments, noting that they agreed in writing that the guitars would only be used by students.

Adame says about 30 of their instruments are in very bad shape, and while they buy new mouthpieces to keep them going and the school district does a good job repairing them, some of the instruments are 25 to 30 years old.

The band only has one full set of functional instruments and could use another set: one piccolo, e 4 flutes, 4 clarinets and 4 trumpets, said Adame, who hopes someone will step forward to donate the instruments.

Garfield also has a mariachi program and Adame also teaches the jazz program.

Electric guitars and electric bases have begun appearing in band competitions, according to Adame, but adds there’s no knowing when Van Halen’s guitars will make their debut on the football field since all the guitar students are beginners.

Students ‘Reflect’ On Diversity Through Art & Poetry

January 19, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

With school arts programs getting cut left and right, local PTA groups are hoping to keep their students’ creative spirits alive through an annually held competition.

This year Montebello Unified School District’s PTA groups received more submissions than ever for its ‘Reflections’ contest, which asked students to interpret the theme, Diversity Means, through a variety of mediums.

The Montebello PTA council made an extra effort to promote the competition this year and was pleasantly surprised by the response. Their award ceremony was standing room only, reflecting what they hope is the growing popularity of the contest.

“This is an excellent program because it provides students a platform to be able to showcase their talents,” said Toni Lopez, corresponding secretary for the Montebello Council PTA and chairperson for the contest.

Winning submissions in this year’s Montebello Unified School District PTA sponsored Reflections art contest. Three of the top submissions will be forwarded to the regional competition. (Courtesy of MUSD PTA)

Students who won in this year’s competition submitted poetry and illustrated artwork, but the competition is also open to photography, music, and film. Judges for the competition include professionals from the arts community. assembled by the school district’s arts coordinator.

Vail High School student Max Alaniz, 17, took home the top prize, winning not only his category of visual arts with a drawing of a pair of hands forming a heart around the planet Earth, but also the “Outstanding Interpretation” award for the best interpretation of the theme.

Jasmine Gerritson, 17, of Schurr High School won in the literature category with her poem “A Typical Day At the Market Place.”

Briana Hernandez, 10, of Bell Gardens Elementary won in the visual arts category for her illustration of a peace sign superimposed over Earth, entitled “Diversity.”

The three pieces have been submitted to the regional competition for the 33rd PTA district. Winners in that competition are forwarded to the state level.

Lopez said they have already announced next year’s theme, “Magic of a Moment,” giving students the next few months and the summer to work on their entries before the November deadline.

Coroner Identifies Monterey Park Transient Found Dead Near City Hall

January 19, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

(EGPNews) — Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office has identified an Asian man found dead next to a dumpster in Monterey Park as 56-year old To Luu.

On Jan. 9 at 9:36 am, a passerby saw him lying down next to the trash bin on 200 E. Garvey Avenue. Authorities pronounced him dead on the scene.

Authorities believe Luu was a transient who lived by the trash bin near Monterey Park city hall. His identity was released after his relatives were notified.

Information about the cause of death is pending, according to Assistant Chief Coroner Ed Winter.

SoCalGas Announces Winter Campaign to Assist Low-Income Families

January 19, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

(EGPNews)—Southern California Gas Co. (SoCalGas) has announced the launch of the Gas Assistance Fund, its annual winter assistance campaign that provides a one-time grant of up to $100 for low-income families.

“The Gas Assistance Fund helps our customers in need with their heating bills during the winter season when home heating is used the most,” said Hal D. Snyder, vice president of customer solutions for SoCalGas. “But, more importantly, this critical program can help alleviate strain on a family’s budget during these tough economic times.”

Sempra Energy, SoCalGas’ parent company, will match dollar-for-dollar contributions that customers and utility employees donate to the Gas Assistance Fund, up to a total of $250,000. The assistance funds are made available through participating United Way of Greater Los Angeles agencies.

The Gas Assistance Fund has helped over 186,000 disadvantaged southern California residents pay their winter natural gas bills through the disbursement of more than $14.5 million.

The United Way of Greater Los Angeles is working with approximately 100 community agencies to distribute the Gas Assistance Fund contributions to income-qualified customers. For participating agencies, call 2-1-1.

Anyone, including customers, can help by making a voluntary tax-deductible contribution to the Gas Assistance Fund by visiting SoCalGas’ website, socalgas.com/donate.

More information on other SoCalGas bill-assistance programs visit socalgas.com/assistance

Lieu Introduces Used Car Financing Protection Bill

January 19, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

(EGPNews)— Sen. Ted W. Lieu has introduced Senate Bill 956 in response to an investigation that showed widespread abuses by used car dealers who offer ‘buy here, pay here’ installment loans.

The three main goals of the bill are to impose regulations on dealers offering installment loans at their car dealerships by requiring them to obtain a California Finance Lender’s license; cap interest to 17.25 percent for used-car installment loans; and change the way car dealers are able to repossess vehicles to include grace periods, and make it easier for buyers to reinstate a repossessed car.

Rotary Honors Judy Chu, First Chinese-American Congresswoman

January 19, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

A Monterey Park service club honored the first Chinese-American congresswoman during a Jan. 12 ceremony.

The Rotary Club of Monterey Park inducted 32nd District Congresswoman Judy Chu as a Paul Harris Fellow, an honor named after the founder of the Rotary Foundation.

Left to right: Monterey Park Rotarian Ed Wong, Monterey Park Rotarian Gregory Tse, Congresswoman Judy Chu, Monterey Park Rotary President Allison Yu and Monterey Park Rotarian Ron Hedrick.

The program was founded in the mid-1950s to encourage donations and to celebrate individuals who have served their community. The club is raising money for vaccines to eliminate polio around the world.

Chu who began her political career on the Garvey School District board of education and the Monterey Park city council has used her position as a congresswoman to provide workshops on federal contracting; help the Gold Line construction light rail project obtain federal funding; and introduce a Senate resolution expressing regret for the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, which prevented the Chinese from immigrating to the U.S, becoming naturalized citizens and having the right to vote.

Garfield Boys Basketball Team Rolls to 12 Consecutive Wins

January 19, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

Riding a 12-game winning streak, the Garfield High School boys basketball team is 16-3 overall and 3-0 in the Eastern League.

The Bulldogs defeated South Gate, 48-30, Tuesday and got past archrival Roosevelt, 50-44, last Friday.

Building from a core of returning players from last season’s 21-8 team, Coach Ricardo Rivas could have Garfield back in the City Division II championship game again this season.

Garfield High School forward Joe Joaquin controls a rebound in last Friday’s game against Roosevelt. Joaquin scored 18 points and had 12 rebounds to lead the Bulldogs to a 50-44 victory. (EGP Photo by Mario Villegas)

“We’re a little bit better than we were at this time last season,” Rivas said. “We did much better against the nonleague teams we played this year and we’ve won 12 in a row.”

But he is quick to point out that there’s a long ways to go.

“Bell is also having a very good year and is going to be tough to beat,” he said. “We still have some areas of inconsistency, especially in our rebounding. Defensively, we’re on it, but we really need to get to work on the boards.”

Bell (9-4 overall) has also started Eastern League play 3-0. Garfield and Bell will square off Jan. 25 at Garfield and Feb. 8 at Bell.

Garfield is led by a pair of returning starters in forward Joe Joaquin and guard Francisco Aguilar. Joaquin scored 18 points and was credited with 12 rebounds in the Roosevelt game. He scored 12 points Tuesday at South Gate.
Aguilar scored 14 points to lead the Bulldogs over South Gate.

Another key has been the stellar play of point guard Angel Camacho, a returning player who saw extensive play as a non-starter last season.

“He doesn’t score the points, but he drives, kicks out, dishes off and gets the steals,” Rivas said about the scrappy Camacho. “He shuts the down the opposing team’s best guard.”

Guard Richie Castro is another player who’s impressed this season since moving into a starting role.

“He was in the mix last season and is doing a great job for us this year,” Rivas said. “Camacho and Castro are really tough on defense. Aguilar hasn’t missed a step since last season.”

Garfield plays South East at 7 Friday night at home.

Free Tax Prep Help Through the State Controller’s Office

January 19, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

Need help filing your taxes right?

If your annual household income is $50,000 or less, you may be eligible for free tax preparation help under the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program.

Starting this week, the state controller’s office will host free tax preparation hours at his Los Angeles office, and partner with organizations to provide tax help at the following locations:

Jan. 18-April 16, Mon-Fri, 9am – 4pm
State Controller’s Office
777 S. Figueroa St. Suite 4800 – L.A., CA 90017
Appointment required, call (213) 833-6010

Saturday, Feb. 4, 9am – 5pm
North Valley Occupational School
11450 Sharp Ave., Mission Hills, 91345

Saturday, Feb. 11, 9am-5pm
Chicana Service Action Center
3601 E. 1st S., L.A. CA 90063

Saturday, Feb. 18, 9am – 5pm
Firebaugh High School
5246 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. Lynwood, CA  90262

Saturday, February 22nd, 2pm-7pm
La Pintoresca Library
1355 N. Raymond Ave., Pasadena, CA  91103

Saturday, Feb. 23, 1pm-5pm
Verdugo Jobs Center
1255 S. Central Ave., Glendale, CA  91204

Tax preparation help is available in multiple languages.

For more information and VITA sites, call 1-800-906-9887 or visit the Franchise Tax Board’s at: www.ftb.ca.gov

California Metro Economies To Remain Anemic, Report Says

January 19, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

Non-farm employment in the Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana metro area will grow by a sluggish but encouraging 1.1 percent in 2012, according to a new economic report released Wednesday by the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

The report predicts the area will have only regained one-fifth of the jobs lost during the 2008 recession by the end of this year. However, a similar pace of growth in cities nationwide, 1.3 percent in 2012, would put the U.S. economy on “solid footing to maintain strong positive growth in 2013 and beyond,” the report stated.

The nation’s economic recovery has been hampered by negative consumer confidence, which the report expects to remain low this year. “The result will be less spending and longer delays in purchasing, putting more drag on economic growth and contributing to the sluggishness of the economy.”

The manufacturing, construction and government sectors are expected to remain weak, with most of the new jobs coming in the areas of education, health, trade and transportation sectors.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who is in Washington, D.C. as head of the Conference of Mayors, used the report as ammunition to attack Congress for the slow pace of cities’ economic recoveries.

“It is a direct result of the inaction of this Congress in 2011,” Villaraigosa said. “If we gave the 112th Congress a mid-term report card, the grade would be clear. Congress would get an ‘F.’”

One hundred twenty-five U.S. cities studied saw no net new jobs last year, according to the report produced by IHS Global Insight.

The report predicts it will take five years for 80 of the country’s metro areas to get back to pre-recession employment levels.

Villaraigosa and other mayors will meet with President Barack Obama to discuss the report and urge Obama to work with Congress to pass the legislation.

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