Task Force Arrests Suspect In Church Fires

January 27, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

LOS ANGELES (CNS) – A 25-year-old man arrested in connection with a series of arson fires and vandalism targeting houses of worship throughout Southern California, most recently in Boyle Heights, was being held in lieu of $75,000 bail Saturday.

The Inter-Agency House of Worship Task Force arrested Christian Michael Garcia on Thursday on suspicion of arson and vandalism. Garcia was booked at 7:20 p.m. Friday into the Los Angeles Police Department Valley Jail in Van Nuys, according to online inmate records.

Read about communication reaction in this story .

The case against Garcia will be presented to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office on Monday for prosecution, authorities said.

“Arson and vandalism targeting houses of worship is a serious crime and we have zero tolerance for willful acts of destruction in the city of Los Angeles,” LAPD Chief Charlie Beck and LAFD Chief Ralph Terrazas said in a joint statement.

“The destruction of a house of worship not only devastates the affected congregation, but affects the entire community,” they said. “We will always investigate and prosecute the serious crime of arson to the fullest extent of the law.”

The most recent incidents involved an incendiary fire and vandalism at Resurrection Church on Thursday in Boyle Heights and the Church of the Angels in Pasadena on Jan. 13. Authorities say Garcia is also connected to multiple other acts of arson and vandalism that have occurred at houses of worship in Los Angeles County.

A dumpster outside Resurrection church is filled with charred and water-soaked remnants of fire Thursday. (EGP photo by Gloria Alvarez)

Thursday’s fire was reported at 2:05 a.m. at the church on the 3300 block of East Opal Street. It took about 60 firefighters nearly 30 minutes to extinguish the fire, which burned primarily on the first floor. The flames were kept from the main sanctuary, said Los Angeles Fire Department Capt. Erik Scott.

The Pasadena fire at Church of the Angels broke out at 2:20 a.m. Jan. 13 at 1100 N. Avenue 64. The blaze at the 129-year-old Episcopalian church was classified as a hate crime, according to Lisa Dederian of the Pasadena Fire Department. A few historic statues were “significantly damaged,” and there was fire and smoke damage inside the church, she said.

“The collaboration of our federal and local partners and the tireless work of investigators from the various agencies in the task force, made this arrest possible and is a testament to the productive working relationship first responders have here in Southern California when a community is threatened by criminal activity,” Pasadena Fire Chief Bertral Washington and

Pasadena Police Chief Philip Sanchez said in a joint statement.

City Councilman Jose Huizar, who represents Boyle Heights and other Eastside communities, thanked the LAFD Arson Unit, the LAPD, Pasadena police and fire agencies “for their remarkable work and expediency in ensuring the person responsible for these and other heinous crimes will be held accountable.”

“Monsignor (John) Moretta and Resurrection Church have stood time and time again for Boyle Heights, and Boyle Heights will always stand for Resurrection Church,” Huizar said. “We applaud these investigators and we look forward to assisting the Resurrection Church rebuild knowing that the true spirit of this parish can never be destroyed.”

Fire at Boyle Heights Church Called ‘Suspicious’ – Community Outraged

January 25, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

A “suspicious” fire damaged a Catholic church in Boyle Heights that also serves as a center for community activism this morning, and an investigation is underway to find the cause.

Flames were reported at 2:05 a.m. at Resurrection Church, located at 3345 E. Opal St. in Boyle Heights. No one was injured, according to fire officials.

The multi-agency House of Worship Task Force has been called in to investigate. Two religious statues outside Resurrection were vandalized. One was toppled over. On the other, the face of Jesus was splattered with bright green paint.

A dumpster outside Resurrection church is filled with charred and water-soaked remnants of fire Thursday. (EGP photo by Gloria Alvarez)

The task force, with members from several law enforcement agencies, has been investigating a rash of suspicious church fires, including a Jan. 13 fire in Pasadena that damaged the Church of the Angels, a 129-year-old Episcopalian church at 1100 N. Avenue 64. That non-injury blaze, which broke out at 2:20 a.m., is also considered suspicious but to date has not been classified as a hate crime, according to Lisa Dederian of the Pasadena Fire Department.

The fire at Resurrection was primarily centered on the first floor of the church, and the flames were kept from the main sanctuary, said Los Angeles Fire Department Capt. Erik Scott. It took 62 firefighters 26 minutes to douse the fire, according to Margaret Stewart with the fire department. Firefighters were conducting extensive salvage operations and water removal during the early morning hours, Stewart said. Due to the vandalism, the fire has been deemed suspicious, Scott said.

This newspaper has often referred to Resurrection Church, which includes an elementary school and headquarters for the local Neighborhood Watch — a group that does much more than keep an eye out for crime — as “ground zero” in the battle against environmental injustice and other social justice issues plaguing the working class community of Boyle Heights.

Most recently, church members led the fight to shutter the polluting Exide plant in Vernon and to force the cleanup of thousands of homes, schools and parks contaminated with lead from the factory.

That history caused an immediate outpouring of concern from the community and elected officials.

Assemblyman Miguel Santiago (D-Los Angeles) said he and his family regularly attends the church and he heard the “heartbreaking news” about the “fire and vandalism” when he awoke this morning.

“I pledge to do everything in my power to assist law enforcement in hunting down the perpetrators of this crime,” said Santiago in a statement released earlier today.

“…my wife, Celina, and I will keep the church and its parishioners in our thoughts and prayers moving forward,” he said, adding that he does not “understand this sort of senseless vandalism.”

Los Angeles Councilman Jose Huizar (CD-14) said he met with the church’s pastor, Monsignor John Moretta, early this morning. Huizar said he was fully briefed by LAPD and LAFD inspectors.

“What I can share for now is the LAPD and LAFD investigators assured me that they will do everything in their power to get to the bottom of what caused the fire,” said Huizar, explaining he could not be more specific because there’s an ongoing investigation.

“I assured Monsignor Moretta that we will do everything in our power to help them rebuild and come back stronger than ever,” Huizar said in a press statement.

According to Moretta, the fire damaged the Church’s vestibule, but firefighters were able to keep it from spreading. The fire was in an area known as the “candle-room,” where worshippers light candles as part of their prayers for special intentions, such as the recovery of someone who is ill or in thanks for something good that has happened.

Candles were burning that night, but, according to fire officials, the candles are specially designed to burn slowly and safely. “They can burn overnight, that’s per fire code, so we’re looking for other potential causes,” said Capt. Scott.

The situation, though devastating, could have been much worse.

“We were lucky, some of our neighbors were out at that hour and saw the fire and called it in,” Moretta told EGP Thursday.

Billy Gordon told CBS2 News that he saw smoke and flames coming from the church and called 911.

“My first thought was that I hope there’s nobody in there and then the second thought was the statue that’s knocked over there, should we try and rescue it, you know it was knocked down on its face and then maybe we shouldn’t move this thing. He said, no don’t touch it, it’s a crime scene.”

A section of Opal Street was cordoned off for hours as fire fighters mopped up the scene and the Worship Task Force began its investigation.

“I’ve been here [at Resurrection] for 34 years and have never seen anything like this,” Moretta responded when asked if he had any idea who might have started the fire.

He said the task force was still inside, going through the scene: “We need to let them finish their work first.”

The task force was combing through the debris, going inch by inch through charred and wood soaked remains searching for evidence of what caused the early morning blaze, said fire officials.

It will take time to repair the damage from the fire, smoke and water, but the church will continue to hold services, either outdoors or the in parish hall, Moretta said.

“We had weddings and baptisms scheduled for this weekend,” he said. “We’ve been working all day on making alternate arrangements,” he said, telling EGP he’d been up since 2:00 a.m.

The church is all closed up. From the outside, the damage seems minimal: a narrow section of windows blackened by smoke; the front doors charred around the edges; a dumpster filled with water damaged remains from the interior.

It’s much worse than it appears, Santiago said after touring some of the damage.

“It’s devastating to see … the damage from the fire and the water,” he told EGP. “It’s gruesome and cruel,” he said, again promising to do anything he can to help the church.

While every fire takes its toll, the fire at Resurrection Church is especially troublesome to the people who seek not only spiritual guidance there, but also the many social services offered to parishioners and non-parishioners alike.

Parishioner Sylvia Manzano says the fire has shaken her.

“It’s very, very awful, I feel nervous, I feel angry,” Manzano told CBS 2 reporter Kandiss Crone.

“Who would do something like this,” asked Ramon in Spanish, not wanting to give his last name because he’s in the country without permission. “This church, father, they do go things, they don’t hurt anyone,” he said, shaking his head in disgust and disbelief. “This is a disgrace. You have to be mentally ill or full of hate to attack a church, to throw paint on Jesus,” Ramon said.

 

Fire Damages Resurrection Church in Boyle Heights

January 25, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

A “suspicious” fire damaged a Catholic church in Boyle Heights that also serves as a center for community activism this morning, and an investigation is underway to find the cause.

Flames were reported at 2:05 a.m. at Resurrection Church, located at 3345 E. Opal St. in Boyle Heights. No one was injured, according to fire officials.

The multi-agency House of Worship Task Force has been sent to investigate.

The fire was primarily centered on the first floor of the church, and the flames were kept from the main sanctuary, said Los Angeles Fire Department Capt. Erik Scott. He said there were signs of vandalism at the scene, and the cause of the fire “appears to be suspicious.”

The fire was doused by 62 firefighters in 26 minutes, according to Margaret Stewart of the fire department. Firefighters were conducting extensive salvage operations and water removal, Stewart said.

Assemblyman Miguel Santiago (D-Los Angeles) said he and his family regularly attend the church and he heard the “heartbreaking news” about the “fire and vandalism” when he awoke this morning.

“I pledge to do everything in my power to assist law enforcement in hunting down the perpetrators of this crime,” said Santiago in a statement released earlier today.

“…my wife, Celina, and I will keep the church and its parishioners in our thoughts and prayers moving forward,” he said, adding that he does not “understand this sort of senseless vandalism.”

Los Angeles Councilman Jose Huizar said he met with the church’s pastor, Monsignor John Moretta, early this morning. He also said he has been briefed by LAPD and LAFD inspectors.

“What I can share for now is the LAPD and LAFD investigators assured me that they will do everything in their power to get to the bottom of what caused the fire,” said Huizar, explaining he could not be more specific because there’s an ongoing investigation.

“I assured Monsignor Moretta that we will do everything in our power to help them rebuild and come back stronger than ever,” Huizar said in a press statement.

“Monsignor Moretta and Resurrection Church have led so many battles to help Boyle Heights. We stand ready to return the favor,” the councilman said.

While every fire, especially to a church, can take a toll, the fire at Resurrection Church is especially troublesome to the people who seek not only spiritual guidance there, but also the many social services offered to parishioners and non-parishioners alike.

“Resurrection Church is a symbol of the heart of Boyle Heights,” said Santiago.

“It is the community’s meeting center; the lifeblood of Boyle Heights in the food, services, education, and shelter it provides to our residents,” he said.

“Our community will rebuild and be stronger than ever.”

L.A. Council Votes to Join Legal Fight to Block Trump on Immigration

January 18, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

The Los Angeles City Council took several actions Wednesday in opposition to the Trump administration’s immigration policies, including directing the city attorney to take legal action to try to stop the cancellation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

The council voted 12-0 to authorize City Attorney Mike Feuer to file an amicus brief in support of the California Attorney General’s lawsuit against the termination of the DACA program. The motion was altered in an amendment from its original language that called on the city to file its own lawsuit or join the California lawsuit.

“It’s shameful and immoral that our federal government is debating this,” Councilman Joe Buscaino said before the vote. “Let’s send a message to the federal government and reiterate the importance that immigrants make this community and this country an amazing place to live and work.”

Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle have been working to negotiate a new DACA deal to protect from deportation undocumented immigrants who were brought to America as children, but the talks have stalled and a federal government shutdown is possible if an agreement cannot be reached.

DACA was rescinded by President Donald Trump in September, but he gave lawmakers six months to come up with a new deal. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra joined a lawsuit by the attorneys general of the states of Maine, Maryland and Minnesota, as well as the University of California and other plaintiffs, and obtained a preliminary injunction last week against the Trump administration over the move to end DACA, which was created by then-President Barack Obama by executive order.

“As I’ve said before, we will resolve the DACA issue with heart and compassion — but through the lawful Democratic process — while at the same time ensuring that any immigration reform we adopt provides enduring benefits for the American citizens we were elected to serve,” Trump said in a statement in September.

Councilman Gil Cedillo, who chairs the council’s Immigrant Affairs, Civil Rights and Equity Committee, seconded the resolution introduced by Councilman Jose Huizar.

Cedillo took the opportunity to publicly criticize Trump, who during a recent meeting with congressional leaders about immigration issues, reportedly asked why the United States should accept immigrants from “shithole” countries like Haiti and in Africa rather than places like Norwa

“It’s embarrassing. The `s-hole countries’ and all the comments related to that indicate that the attacks on DACA and the immigrant community that were first expressed as he began his campaign still remain the underlying basis for the policy from the administration,” Cedillo said. “That is not a way to run a nation. That is not what we are about.”

The council also approved — on a 12-0 vote — a resolution asking the city attorney to report on litigation options against the termination of the Temporary Protected Status Program, which offers a provisional reprieve from deportation to citizens of some countries. The resolution, which was altered in an amendment, had originally sought to support legislative or administrative action that would extend the TPS Program.

The Trump administration announced earlier this month that it was canceling the TPS status for immigrants from El Salvador in 2019, and the council voted 13-0 in approval of a second resolution officially opposing the move.

On a 13-0 vote,  the council approved a new immigration program that will facilitate a connection between lawyers and individuals interested in obtaining letters of representation to aid them when they are being questioned by immigration officials.

Concejales Reafirman Apoyo a Indocumentados con Nuevas Medidas

January 17, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

Concejales de Los Ángeles aprobaron el miércoles cuatro medidas de apoyo a beneficiarios de los programas DACA y TPS, mediante cartas de representación para residentes indocumentados y una prohibición de negocios con empresas que construyan el muro fronterizo propuesto por el presidente, Donald Trump.

El objetivo de las medidas, aprobadas por unanimidad, es proteger a los angelinos en situación “irregular”, porque “sus vidas afectan a la ciudad y a todo California”, declaró a EFE Gil Cedillo, concejal del Distrito 1 de Los Ángeles.

“Estamos enviando un mensaje a Trump (expresando) que continuaremos en resistencia a sus medidas draconianas de inmigración”, manifestó Cedillo.

“Como ciudad, respaldamos a todos nuestros residentes, independientemente de su estatus migratorio”, aseveró el concejal de la llamada “Pequeña Centroamérica”.

Las cuatro nuevas normas fueron presentadas por él junto a José Huizar, concejal del Distrito 14, del este de Los Ángeles, través del Committee on Immigrant Affairs, Civil Rights and Equity (Comité de Asuntos de Inmigrantes, Derechos Civiles y Equidad).

La primera medida busca unirse a la demanda contra el Gobierno federal, interpuesta por el Procurador General de California, Xavier Becerra, en oposición al cierre del Programa de Acción Diferida para los Llegados en la Infancia (DACA).

Además, supone una segunda querella a favor de los “soñadores” por parte de la ciudad.

Otra medida viene a apoyar “cualquier acción legislativa o administrativa” que extienda el programa Estatus de Protección Temporal (TPS), que afecta a salvadoreños, nicaragüenses y haitianos residentes de Los Ángeles, a quienes la administración Trump canceló la protección legal.

También, el acuerdo abriga a los hondureños, que viven con la incertidumbre de qué pasará cuando termine la extensión de su amparo migratorio, válido hasta el 5 de julio.

“Sobre los asuntos de DACA y TPS tenemos el derecho de rechazar las (medidas) del Gobierno federal, debido a los efectos económicos negativos que la eliminación de esos programas tendrá en nuestra economía local”, aclaró Cedillo.

El concejal de Los Ángeles Gil Cedillo se unió a CARECEN y otras organizaciones de derechos de los inmigrantes para denunciar la decisión del presidente Trump de poner fin al Estatus de Protección Temporal (TPS) de 200,000 salvadoreños, siguiendo el mismo destino para Honduras y los Haitianos que viven en los Estados Unidos con TPS. / Foto por José Rodríguez

“Aunque el Gobierno federal supera la ley local y estatal, tenemos autoridad para ejecutar nuestras propias leyes”, indicó.

Otra medida aprobada el miércoles es un “programa” de redacción de misivas de representación legal “a personas en riesgo de deportación”.

“Las cartas de representación son una capa adicional de protección para aquellos (indocumentados) que entran en contacto con agentes del Servicio de Inmigración y Aduanas (ICE)”, detalló el concejal del Distrito 1.

“No es una garantía de que ICE los deje en paz, pero (la carta) les dará representación legal asignada, que ICE necesitará consultar para cualquier interrogatorio”, adelantó.

La cuarta medida apoya la propuesta de ley SB30 del senado californiano, introducida por el senador Ricardo Lara, que prohibiría a California hacer negocios con empresas o individuos que participen en la construcción del muro en la frontera de California con México.

Huizar comentó a EFE que “en una nación fundada por inmigrantes debemos defender a nuestros angelinos de un presidente que basa su política de inmigración en la raza y los estereotipos”.

“La ciudad de Los Ángeles no se quedará de brazos cruzados mientras (Trump) hace el peor tipo de política con ‘soñadores’, beneficiarios de TPS e inmigrantes de todo el mundo que vienen a nuestras costas en busca del sueño americano”, apostilló.

En Los Ángeles, según estimaciones del censo nacional, residen más de 4 millones de personas, de las cuales el 49 por ciento es de origen latino.

Concejal Propone Tráilers en Lotes de la Ciudad Como Vivienda Temporal Para Personas sin Hogar

January 17, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

Grandes campamentos de personas sin hogar que viven bajo de carpas y lonas, rodeados de cajas de cartón, carros de compras rebosantes de tesoros que para otros se parecen a basura, llenan las calles que dan a la autopista Hollywood 101 a la sombra del ayuntamiento de Los Ángeles.

No es una situación exclusiva del área, estos campamentos existen en las ciudades y vecindarios de todo el condado de Los Ángeles.

Y es un problema que crece más rápido de lo que la ciudad y el condado han podido manejar.

El martes, un concejal de Los Ángeles propuso que la ciudad albergara a unas cinco docenas de personas sin hogar en tráilers (casas remolque) en un estacionamiento en el centro de la ciudad junto a un monumento histórico estatal y un importante centro turístico cultural.

La propuesta, esbozada en una moción presentada por el concejal José Huizar, exige la instalación de cinco tráilers en un estacionamiento propiedad de la ciudad en las calles de Arcadia y Alameda, al lado de la autopista de Hollywood (101).

El plan es alojar a personas que duermen en las aceras en el área alrededor del histórico Monumento Histórico de El Pueblo de Los Ángeles, hogar de la Calle Olvera, el Centro de Interpretación Tropical de América, los museos de China, Italia y de Justicia Social, y algunas de las estructuras más antiguas de la ciudad, todas ubicadas a pasos de uno de los centros de transporte más concurridos de la ciudad, Union Station.

Además de ser un hito histórico importante, El Pueblo es una importante atracción turista, atrayendo a más de dos millones de visitantes al año.

La moción de Huizar dice que los refugios podrían instalarse y operarse durante seis meses a un costo de $2 millones. El concejal dijo que el costo anual después de eso sería de alrededor de $1.4 millones para operar el sitio, y que más albergues temporales de naturaleza similar están en proceso para otras áreas de la ciudad.

“Este es el primero de su tipo. No necesariamente lo llamamos piloto, porque esperamos trabajar con otros al mismo tiempo”, dijo Huizar a Servicios CNS.

La propuesta proviene de un grupo de trabajo formado por el alcalde Eric Garcetti para intercambiar ideas sobre cómo sacar a miles de personas sin hogar de las calles. Si el Ayuntamiento lo aprueba, la iniciativa de proporcionar refugio temporal marcaria una nueva estrategia para la ciudad, que se ha enfocado principalmente en fomentar la construcción de viviendas permanentes a través de $1.2 mil millones en bonos aprobados por los votantes bajo la Medida H, aprobada en 2016.

Garcetti ha dicho que espera que la vivienda temporal se pueda colocar en otras propiedades de la ciudad en todo Los Ángeles para ayudar a atender a las aproximadamente 25,000 personas sin hogar en la ciudad.

El gerente general de El Pueblo, Chris Espinosa, es miembro del equipo operativo del alcalde. Le dijo a EGP el martes que la falta de vivienda es un problema constante en el monumento histórico, que también es el lugar de nacimiento de la ciudad.

El personal y la comisión de El Pueblo simpatizan con el problema de la falta de vivienda y están muy interesados en trabajar con la ciudad en iniciativas para mejorar su situación, dijo Espinosa, y agregó que la gran cantidad de campamentos para desamparados en Main Street, Arcadia y Spring Street ha planteado preocupaciones de seguridad en el monumento estatal.

La ciudad quiere albergar a docenas de personas sin hogar que viven en campamentos cerca de la calle Olvera en tráilers en un estacionamiento, que es propiedad de la ciudad. en frente de Union Station. / Foto por Mike Alvarez

El Pueblo dirigirá el estacionamiento donde se ubicarían los tráilers. Los ingresos generados por las tarifas de estacionamiento ayudan a cubrir los gastos operativos del monumento, que han ido en aumento a medida que aumentan los costos de seguridad y otros relacionados con la población sin hogar.

El monumento incluye a Father Serra Park, una gran zona ajardinada ubicada en la calle Los Ángeles, entre la plaza principal del monumento y los museos, y Union Station. Todos los días, un gran número de hombres y mujeres sin hogar, “algunos con enfermedades mentales y problemas con las drogas…algunos simplemente son pobres”, usan el parque como un lugar para acampar, le dijo Espinosa a EGP.

Espinosa señalo que la situación ha sido “preocupante” para los visitantes, especialmente “turistas extranjeros y niños”.

“Realmente nos asustamos cuando comenzamos a escuchar acerca de la propagación de la hepatitis en la población sin hogar”, dijo Espinosa. “Comenzamos a hacer limpiezas dos veces por semana, desinfectando el área”, dijo, y agregó que, aunque la practica ayuda a detener la propagación de la enfermedad, no hace nada para que las personas sin hogar entren a la vivienda.

En el frente de seguridad, los comerciantes y visitantes se han quejado del comportamiento agresivo de algunas personas sin hogar.

En las reuniones de la Comisión El Pueblo, los comerciantes se quejan de sus empleados y clientes informan haber sido acosados y cosas peores. Informan la actividad de las drogas en los baños públicos y la dificultad de mantener esas áreas limpias para los visitantes.

“Hace aproximadamente un año, tuve que contratar un guardia de seguridad adicional para cada turno, tres turnos y tuvimos que poner vallas especiales y comprar más cámaras de seguridad” para ayudar a lidiar con el problema, dijo Espinosa sobre el costo adicional para el propuesto operativo.

“Hace seis meses, LAPD agregó una patrulla peatonal dedicada a la zona, y eso ha sido una excelente adición”, dijo.

Según Espinosa, la Comisión El Pueblo aún no ha votado para apoyar u oponerse a la moción de Huizar, pero señalo que algunos de los comisionados han participado en las discusiones del plan.

La moción de Huizar abre la discusión pública sobre cómo funcionará el programa, no solo El Pueblo, sino en otros lugares de la ciudad, dijo. El alcalde participó personalmente, y el objetivo es mirar los sitios, que son propiedad de la ciudad, con altas concentraciones de personas sin hogar, dijo Espinosa, y señalo que la inclusión de servicios integrales para los que están temporalmente alojados en el sitio será beneficio adicional.

“Sacar a la gente de las calles y ponerlos en una vivienda cambia la dinámica y mejora las posibilidades de que se beneficien con los servicios que se ofrecen”, dijo Espinosa.

El concejal Huizar, quien ha estado a la vanguardia de muchas de las iniciativas de la ciudad para abordar el problema de las personas sin hogar, está de acuerdo en que la vivienda de apoyo permanente es fundamental.

“La vivienda de apoyo permanente es un modelo que funciona” porque los individuos “no se pierden”. Mientras tanto, necesitamos “cosas más inmediatas” a medida que se desarrollan las soluciones a largo plazo, dijo Huizar.

El sitio de El Pueblo consistiría en tres tráilers para camas, un tráiler para albergar a los trabajadores administrativos y servicios de administración de casos, y un tráiler de higiene con baños, duchas e instalaciones de lavandería. Huizar dijo que la esperanza es que la gente que se quede allí pueda ser trasladada a una vivienda permanente dentro de seis meses.

Huizar también dijo que la aprobación de la Medida H y la Medida HHH a nivel nacional que apunta a recaudar $355 millones por año para servicios para personas sin hogar a través de un aumento en el impuesto a las ventas indicaba que los votantes de Los Ángeles quieren que sus líderes tomen medidas agresivas con las personas sin hogar.

“Si hubiera una encuesta sobre esto, creo que el apoyo sería abrumador”, dijo Huizar. “El público ha estado pidiendo a nuestros funcionarios del gobierno que consideren la falta de vivienda como la crisis que es, y por eso que se aprobó la medida H, por eso pasó la Medida HHH. Y lo que oigo, también, que es la realidad, es que tenemos que hacer algo de inmediato”.

Algunos esfuerzos recientes de la ciudad para combatir el problema de las personas sin hogar han encontrado oposición, incluida una propuesta para colocar unidades de almacenamiento en Venice para que las personas sin hogar la utilicen, que se encontró con una demanda en 2016 por un grupo de propietarios locales. Huizar dijo que es probable una oposición similar al plan de El Pueblo.

“Anticipamos que habrá un retroceso NIMBY (sus siglas significan, Not In My Backyard que se traduce como ‘No En Mi Patio Trasero’)”, dice Huizar. “No sabemos en qué forma vendrá, pero esperamos que el vecindario se dé cuenta de que las personas sin hogar en sus vecindarios son sus vecinos, sus amigos, podrían ser familiares…”

La falta de vivienda en la ciudad de Los Ángeles aumentó un 20 por ciento en 2017, mientras que el condado registró un aumento del 23 por ciento, según los resultados del 2017 Greater Los Ángeles Homeless Count. En la ciudad, el número total de personas sin hogar subió a 34, 189 y el número del condado aumentó a 57, 794.

Plan Para Construir Viviendas Asequibles en Lotes de Estacionamientos de la Ciudad Toma Fuerza

December 23, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Los lugares de estacionamiento son preciados en la ciudad de Los Ángeles.

La amenaza de perder incluso algunos espacios de estacionamiento puede provocar pánico en vecindarios densamente poblados donde el estacionamiento disponible es escaso. Muchas empresas dependen de estacionamientos de propiedad pública para sus clientes, sin tener estacionamientos propios.

En la ciudad de Los Ángeles, los funcionarios electos han estado identificando activamente las propiedades de la ciudad “infrautilizadas” como sitios potenciales para nuevos desarrollos de viviendas asequibles. Es parte de un plan para apuntalar la escasez critica de viviendas en la ciudad y evitar que más personas caigan en la indigencia.

La semana pasada, el Ayuntamiento aprobó un plan para cobrar a los desarrolladores una nueva tarifa para construir en la ciudad. Los miembros del consejo dicen que los ingresos de la tarifa de “vinculación” se utilizarán para construir más unidades de vivienda para familias de ingresos bajos a medianos.

La construcción de una vivienda podría algún día reemplazar este estacionamiento, que es propiedad de la ciudad, en la avenida 24 en Lincoln Heights. (Foto por B. Preciado)

La construcción de una vivienda podría algún día reemplazar este estacionamiento, que es propiedad de la ciudad, en la avenida 24 en Lincoln Heights. (Foto por B. Preciado)

Mientras los funcionarios municipales, defensores de la vivienda, desarrolladores y la comunidad empresarial debatían sobre la viabilidad y el impacto que la tarifa tendría en el desarrollo, las oficinas locales del concejo y los planificadores urbanos estaban ocupados catalogando las propiedades de la ciudad con el propósito expreso de aumentar las despensas de casa.

También están buscando propiedades donde se puedan construir viviendas para personas sin hogar.

En los distritos del concejo 1 y 14, algunos de los sitios que están examinando son lotes baldíos; otros son estacionamientos públicos.

Durante las últimas dos semanas, el Ayuntamiento ha tomado medidas para formalizar el proceso de revisión publica, aprobando las mociones de los concejales Gil Cedillo (CD-1) y José Huizar (CD-14) para propiedades de la ciudad en Eagle Rock, Boyle Heights, cerca del centro de Los Ángeles, en área de Westlake adyacente al Parque MacArthur y en Lincoln Heights.

Las solicitudes de propuestas para que los equipos lideren la revisión publica, los acuerdos de adquisición de propiedades, la aprobación de equipos de desarrollo y la transferencia de una propiedad en Boyle Heights a una organización sin fines de lucro que utilizará el sitio para albergar a estudiantes universitarios de 18-24 años de edad, son algunas de las medidas que han sido aprobadas.

Huizar dijo que está “encantado” de seguir adelante con “proyectos para ayudar mejor a nuestros jóvenes sin hogar en Boyle Heights y proporcionar viviendas asequibles que tanto se necesitan en el distrito”. Se refería a la transferencia de una propiedad con forma de “triángulo” en la avenida Pleasant en Boyle Heights a la organización sin fines de lucro Jóvenes, Inc.

Según Huizar, las propiedades que son propiedad de la ciudad ofrecen “oportunidades únicas para desarrollar terrenos para personas sin hogar y viviendas asequibles más rápidamente sin el costo de adquisición de tierras”.

Dos estacionamientos públicos en Boyle Heights – en el bloque 318 del norte de la calle Breed y el bloque 249 del norte de la calle Chicago – también han sido identificados como posibles sitios de viviendas asequibles. También se está observando un lote vacío en la intersección de la avenida Genevieve y Monte Bonito Drive en Eagle Rock.

Cedillo también ve el desarrollo de propiedades de la ciudad como un plus. Él dijo: “La solución para combatir la crisis de la vivienda en Los Ángeles es continuar construyendo viviendas lo más rápido posible, en particular las viviendas asequibles”.

Debido a que el estacionamiento es tan importante en la ciudad, la posibilidad de perder espacios puede ser controversial y se sabe que detiene o al menos demora algunos desarrollos. Los planes para desarrollar estacionamientos públicos cerca de la estación de Metro Gold Line en Highland Park suscitaron fuertes críticas de residentes locales y empresas que no solo estaban preocupadas por la densidad adicional, sino también por el acceso a estacionamientos que son propiedad de la ciudad.

Los planificadores de la ciudad y el equipo de desarrollo del proyecto dijeron que uno de los lotes más grandes, fuera de la avenida 58 y entre la estación de Gold Line en Marmion Way y la calle Figueroa, estaba infrautilizado y casi vació. Los desarrolladores, Cedillo, y su predecesor, el ex concejal Ed Reyes, trabajaron arduamente para convencer a los interesados de que los nuevos desarrollos estarían obligados a incluir disposiciones de estacionamiento público.

Estacionamiento cerca del distrito comercial central del vecindario en North Broadway en Lincoln Heights. (EGP Foto por B. Preciado)

Estacionamiento cerca del distrito comercial central en Lincoln Heights. (EGP Foto por B. Preciado)

En cuanto a los estacionamientos bajo revisión en Boyle Heights, Huizar asegura que se reemplazará cualquier estacionamiento público que se usará para desarrollos habitacionales. Donde, o de qué manera, no estará claro hasta cuándo y si es que se aprueba un diseño de desarrollo.

En Lincoln Heights, la oficina de Cedillo ha dirigido cinco estacionamientos que son propiedad de la ciudad para revisión. Los cinco están cerca del distrito comercial central del vecindario en North Broadway: ubicados detrás o frente a negocios como CVS, la tienda 99 Cents Only, WSS Shoes y el Arroyo Vista Family Health Center, una clínica comunitaria cuyos pacientes son en su mayoría de bajos ingresos. El estacionamiento público de la avenida 24 ofrece estacionamiento para muchos de los pacientes de la clínica y en la mayoría de los días está lleno a su capacidad.

Mientras que un equipo de desarrollo ha sido seleccionado para construir viviendas asequibles en propiedades de la ciudad cerca de MacArthur Park en Westlake, (619, 623, 627, y 629 en la avenida Westlake), las ubicaciones de Lincoln Heights todavía están en la etapa de revisión temprana, Fredy Cejas, Director de Comunicaciones de Cedillo, le dijo a EGP en un correo electrónico.

Dijo que una moción aprobada a principios de este mes por el Ayuntamiento “solo autoriza a la ciudad a entrar en un Acuerdo de Negociación Exclusiva con un equipo seleccionado para comenzar un proceso de planificación para identificar planes de desarrollo alternativo”.

“El propósito de la Moción es comenzar la conversación con la comunidad sobre la propuesta de vivienda en los estacionamientos de la ciudad”, dijo Cejas.

Mientras “no se tomó una decisión real” sobre si se debe construir, Cejas enfatizo que se tomó la decisión de explorar cómo se pueden desarrollar los lotes con la vivienda y que tipo de proyecto puede ser factible.

La noticia sorprendió algunos negocios de Lincoln Heights. Irene Holguin de Arroyo Vista dijo que no podían hacer ningún comentario porque no sabían nada de la propuesta, que salió a la luz pública en una publicación reciente en Facebook y en el boletín de Cedillo.

El presidente y dueño de la propiedad de Lincoln Heights Business Improvement District, Steve Kasten, dijo que él tampoco estaba al tanto de los planes, pero que como empresario su primera reacción es que usted no puede tomar “todo el estacionamiento”.

“Pero si hay una manera de crear viviendas sin eliminar el estacionamiento para las empresas locales, lo hago por eso”, dijo, y agregó que quiere aprender más. Si se construyen nuevas viviendas, Kasten dijo que espera que los inquilinos tengan ingresos lo suficientemente altos como para permitirles apoyar a las empresas locales.

Es muy importante que la comunidad tenga aportes durante todo el proceso de desarrollo, Kasten le dijo a EGP.

En su correo electrónico, Cejas dijo que el Ayuntamiento y el alcalde reconocen que los angelinos enfrentan una severa crisis de vivienda. La renta sube y la construcción no se ha mantenido al ritmo del crecimiento de la población. Cejas dijo que una estrategia clave para lidiar con el problema “es considerar utilizar el espacio aéreo no utilizado sobre los estacionamientos que son propiedad de la ciudad”.

Durante la campaña de reelección de Cedillo en 2016, los retadores acusaron al concejal de tener un plan secreto para construir refugios para personas sin hogar en sitios de estacionamiento en Lincoln Heights. El concejal negó el cargo, y Cejas enfatizó esta semana que los sitios bajos revisión “no son todos para viviendas para personas sin hogar”.

“La comunidad tendrá una voz y se involucrará en la planificación para la reutilización de estos lotes como se especifica en la Moción”, dijo Cejas, y agregó que no se perderá el estacionamiento porque la ciudad requeriría que se reemplacen los espacios de estacionamiento en manera individual.

Según Cejas, Cedillo requerirá que el equipo de desarrollo seleccionado participe en un proceso sólido de participación de la comunidad para solicitar el aporte de las diversas partes interesadas del distrito.

Esta información, dijo Cejas, se utilizará para “definir los parámetros de un posible proyecto, incluidos, entre otros, que tipo de vivienda, el número de unidades, el diseño arquitectónico, los requisitos de estacionamiento y otros asuntos relacionados con la planificación urbana y el medio ambiente”.

Megan G. Razzetti contribuyó a esta historia.

Plan to Build ‘Affordable’ Housing on City-Owned Parking Lots Gains Steam

December 21, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Parking spots are a valuable commodity in the City of Los Angeles.

The threat of losing even a few parking spaces can lead to panic in densely populated neighborhoods where places to park a vehicle are in short supply. It’s an issue for businesses too, since many rely on publicly owned parking lots for their customers, not having parking lots of their own.

In the City of Los Angeles, elected officials have been actively identifying “under-utilized” city-owned properties – including parking lots – as potential sites for new affordable housing developments. It’s part of a plan to shore up the city’s critical housing shortage and to keep more people from falling in to homelessness.

Last week, the City Council  approved a plan to charge developers a new fee to build in the city. Council members say revenue from the new “linkage” fee will be used to build more housing units for low- to middle-income families.

As city officials, housing advocates, developers and the business community debated the viability and impact the fee would have on development, local council offices and city planners were busy in the background cataloguing city-owned properties with the expressed purpose of adding to the city’s affordable housing stock.

City-owned parking lot on Avenue 24 near the Arroyo Vista Family Health Center is one of 5 lots in Lincoln Heights the city is vetting as potential sites to build affordable housing. (Photo by B. Preciado)

City-owned parking lot on Avenue 24 near the Arroyo Vista Family Health Center is one of 5 lots in Lincoln Heights the city is vetting as potential sites to build affordable housing. (Photo by B. Preciado)

They are also looking for properties where housing for the homeless can be built.

In Council Districts 1 and 14, some of the sites being vetted are vacant lots; others are public parking lots.

Over the last two weeks the City Council has taken steps to formalize the public review process, approving motions by Councilmen Gil Cedillo (CD-1) and Jose Huizar (CD-14) for city-owned properties in Eagle Rock, Boyle Heights, near downtown L.A., in the Westlake area adjacent to MacArthur Park and in Lincoln Heights.

Requests for Proposals for teams to lead the public review, property acquisition agreements, approval of development teams, and the transfer of a property in Boyle Heights to a nonprofit that will use the site to house 18-24-year-old homeless college students are some of the measures that have been approved.

Huizar says he’s “thrilled” to be moving forward with “projects to better assist our homeless youth in Boyle Heights and provide much-needed affordable housing in the district.” He was referring to the transfer of a “triangle” shaped property on Pleasant Avenue in Boyle Heights to nonprofit Jovenes, Inc.

According to Huizar, city-owned properties offer “unique opportunities to develop land for homeless and affordable housing more quickly without the cost of land acquisition.”

Two public parking lots in Boyle Heights – on 318 N. Breed St. and 249 N. Chicago St. – have been identified as potential affordable housing sites. A vacant lot at the intersection of Genevieve Avenue and Monte Bonito Drive in Eagle Rock is also being looked at.

Cedillo also sees developing city-owned properties as a plus. He said: “The solution to combat the Housing Crisis in Los Angeles is to continue building housing as fast as possible, particularly affordable housing.”

Because parking is such a premium in the city, the possibility of loosing any spaces can be controversial and has been known to stop or at least delay some developments. Plans build housing on public parking lots near the Metro Gold Line Station in Highland Park drew loud criticism from local residents and businesses not only concerned about the added density and traffic, but also access to city-owned parking lots.

City planners and the development team for the project said one of the larger lots, off Avenue 58 between the Gold Line Station on Marmion Way and Figueroa Street, was under-utilized and often nearly empty. Developers, Cedillo, and his predecessor, former Councilman Ed Reyes, worked hard to convince stakeholders that the new developments would be required to include public parking provisions.

As for the parking lots under review in Boyle Heights, Huizar assures that any public parking taken for housing developments will be replaced. Where, or in what manner, will not be clear until when and if a development design is approved.

In Lincoln Heights, Cedillo’s office has targeted five city-owned parking lots for review. All five are near the neighborhood’s central commercial district along North Broadway: located behind or across from businesses such as CVS, the 99 Cents Only Store, WSS Shoes, and the Arroyo Vista Family Health Center, a community clinic whose patients are mostly low-income. The public parking lot off Avenue 24 provides parking for many of the clinic’s patients and on most days is filled to capacity.

While a development team has been selected to build affordable housing on city-owned properties near MacArthur Park in Westlake, (619, 623, 627 and 629 Westlake Avenue), the Lincoln Heights locations are still in the very early review stage, Fredy Cejas, Cedillo’s communication director  told EGP in an email.

He said a motion passed earlier this month by the City Council “only authorizes the City to enter into an Exclusive Negotiation Agreement with a selected team to begin a process of planning to identify alternative development schemes.

“The purpo

Housing could one day replace this parking lot near the 99 Cents Only store in Lincoln Heights. (EGP photo by B. Preciado)

Housing could one day replace this parking lot near the 99 Cents Only store in Lincoln Heights. (EGP photo by B. Preciado)

se of the Motion is to start the conversation with the community about proposed housing on City parking lots,” Cejas said.

While “no actual decision” on whether to build has been made, Cejas emphasized a decision has been made to explore how the lots can be developed with housing and what type of project may be feasible.

The news caught some Lincoln Heights businesses by surprise. Arroyo Vista’s Irene Holguin said they could not comment because they did not know anything about the proposal, which came to public light in a recent Facebook posting and Cedillo’s newsletter.

Lincoln Heights Business Improvement District President and property owner Steve Kasten said he too was unaware of the plans, but that as a businessperson his first reaction is you cannot take “all of the parking.”

“But if there is a way to create housing without eliminating parking for local businesses, I am for that,” he said, adding he wants to learn more. If new housing is built, Kasten said he hopes tenants will have incomes high enough to allow them to support local businesses.

It’s very important for the community to have input throughout the development process, Kasten told EGP.

In his email, Cejas said the city council and mayor recognize that Angelenos are facing a severe housing crisis. Rents are skyrocketing and building has not kept up with population growth. Cejas said a key strategy to deal with the issue “is to consider utilizing the unused air-space above City-owned parking lots.”

In some neighborhoods, that has meant building multi-story complexes with underground or roof top parking.

During Cedillo’s 2016 reelection campaign, challengers accused the councilman of having a secret plan to build shelters for the homeless on parking lot sites in Lincoln Heights. The councilman denied the charge, and Cejas this week emphasized that the sites under review “are not all for homeless housing.”

“The community will have a voice and be involved in the planning for the reuse of these lots as specified in the Motion,” Cejas said, adding that no parking would be lost because the city would require parking spaces to be replaced on a one-to-one basis.

According to Cejas, Cedillo will require development team selected to engage in a robust community participation process to solicit input from the district’s diverse stakeholders.

That input, Cejas said, will be used to “define the parameters of a potential project – including but not limited to what type of housing, the number of units, architectural design, parking requirements and other related city planning and environmental matters.”

Megan G. Razzetti contributed to this story.

 

A Traffic School for L.A. Cyclists In the Works Sub

December 2, 2017 by · 2 Comments 

Bicyclists who receive a moving violation in the City of Los Angeles could soon be allowed to attend ‘traffic school” to reduce the amount of their fine or cut the violation from their record under a motion introduced by Councilman Jose Huizar (CD-14).

(Office Councilman Jose Huizar)

(Office Councilman Jose Huizar)

The City Council last week voted to have the Department of Transportation report back on the feasibility of creating a traffic school similar to those attended by auto drivers. “This is a great opportunity for the City to increase bike safety,” said the councilman in his weekly newsletter.

Council Committees Approve Plan for Street Vending Permit System

November 9, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Two Los Angeles City Council committees approved a comprehensive plan Wednesday for a regulated permit system for street vending, which would end the city’s distinction as the nation’s only major municipality that bans the practice.

The City Council in February voted to stop making street vending punishable with a misdemeanor criminal charge, although it is being penalized through citations as the council works on the permit system for the industry.

The proposal for the permit system was drafted by the Chief Legislative Analyst  (CLA) and was approved without objection at a joint meeting of the Economic Development Committee and the Public Works and Gang Reduction Committee.Vendedor Ambulante

“It’s alarming to know that we are the largest city without a vending policy,” Councilman Joe Buscaino said. “If you look, cities around the world have vending policies that work for everyone. This is exactly our end goal, and today the system is a failure, it’s an embarrassment.”

The permitting proposals include provisions such as limiting vendors to two per block in many locations. While some of the provisions are opposed by vendors, there has been wide support in the industry for the effort to decriminalize street vending.

One provision sparking debate would require businesses on a block to sign a letter of approval allowing the vendor to operate, which is something the council had recommended previously. Although the CLA report did not state a preference on the issue, it said if the council wished to adopt it, the panel should consult with the city attorney in closed session as to the provision’s legality.

The committees added an amendment to the report that would direct the city attorney and CLA to consider allowing businesses to opt out of having vending on their block rather than having all businesses sign a letter opting in.

The idea of requiring businesses to opt in or allowing them to opt out has been opposed by some street vending organizations and advocates.

“We strongly support a comprehensive sidewalk vending program, but we are concerned about a proposal that would require vendors to obtain permission of brick-and-mortar businesses, whether consent or dissent,” Doug Smith, an attorney at Public Counsel, told the committee. “This is an unfair burden to the vendor applicant and could lead to increased instances of extortion.”

The CLA report outlines a plan to create a list of additional “non-vending” areas that may include alleys and city-owned property, while creating a process for certain streets to be named “non-vending” areas by City Council action.

The estimated cost for potential enforcement models contained in the report could range between $3.37 million to $5.87 million. To recover those costs through permit fees of $125, between 26,950 and 46,885 certificates would have to be issued.

The report also estimates that the first year of operation for legalized street vending could cost a vendor between $2,932 and $21,861 in overhead due to equipment purchases, fees, permits, insurance and inspection costs, although it recommends a number of ways to reduce the cost to vendors, including exploring the feasibility of contracting with a manufacturer that would produce carts that have already received plan-check approval from the county.

The report also recommends that once the total number of available vending locations has been determined by the council, that the Economic and Workforce Development Department be instructed to develop a lottery system that reserves a percentage of the certificates of operation for disadvantaged individuals.

The report recommends banning vending near schools unless only fruits and vegetables are being sold, and also banning it near popular venues like Dodger Stadium and the Hollywood Bowl.

One of the motivations for the City Council to legalize street vending and create the permit system was concern that leveling misdemeanor criminal charges against vendors could make some undocumented immigrants a target for deportation.

“I think the city of L.A. and this council has come a long way in terms of our view of street vendors. A few years ago, I didn’t think we would be having this conversation,” Councilman Jose Huizar said in February.

“But the environment is correct — whether it’s the environment nationally or here locally — acknowledging the benefits that street vendors bring to us and the acknowledgment that we should bring them out of the shadows to contribute to the economy,” he said.

The “national environment” Huizar alluded to was President Donald Trump’s stated intention to increase deportations of immigrants in the country illegally.

The committees also approved a second motion that would amend the Los Angeles Municipal Code in a section that is still being used by enforcement agencies continue to cite vendors for “peddling” from vehicles or push carts, as the section was not included in the previous two sections that were altered to decriminalize vending.

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