Hermon Fights for Its Own Neighborhood Council

December 22, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

It’s the story of the little neighborhood that refused to give up.

After five years of fighting for a separate voice in Northeast Los Angeles, the small community of Hermon could soon have their very own neighborhood council.

Members of the Hermon Neighborhood Council Formation Committee submitted a subdivision application last week, which if approved would mean Hermon would separate from the Arroyo Seco Neighborhood Council. The committee has been hard at work over the last six weeks finalizing the application and bylaws they started four years ago. The group has attended dozens of city meetings, gathered signatures from residents on petitions and reorganized its members.

“This is an amazing historic moment for our community,” longtime Hermon resident and community activist Wendi Riser said in an email to members of the formation committee.

It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to characterize Hermon residents as fiercely proud and protective of the small town like community they’ve worked hard to cultivate near the Arroyo Seco Parkway, known to most people as the Pasadena Freeway. They love their open spaces and the neighborhood dog park that hosts regular “yappy hours” and where their four-legged friends parade in Halloween costumes, as well as their local businesses and schools.

When a medical marijuana dispensary operator tried to open shop in the neighborhood, the community quickly organized a public meeting in protest with help from District 14 councilman, Jose Huizar, bringing in representatives of the city attorney, State Board of Equalization, CD-14 staff and LAPD’s Hollenbeck Division – ultimately stopping the pot shop from ever opening its doors.

(Courtesy of Wendi Riser)

(Courtesy of Wendi Riser)

They tend to be wary of any changes in city policies and ordinances they fear will have a damaging effect on their way of life, and they don’t like having their needs dictated by people on the outside.

In addition to Hermon, the Arroyo Seco NC also represents Montecito Heights, Monterey Hills, Mt. Washington and Sycamore Grove. The Arroyo Seco NC consists of two representatives from each of the five communities with the exception of Mt. Washington that has four. There are also 9 at-large members – representing the environment, health and safety, culture and arts – and one community interest representative on the board.

In Los Angeles, each neighborhood council yearly receives city funds to use on outreach, local improvements, special projects, programs or grants to engage residents. They are tasked with advising the L.A. City Council on local issues as well as the city budget and proposed laws, taxes and land use issues.

After more than a decade as part of the Arroyo Seco NC, Hermon residents felt their needs did not fall in line with those of many of their neighboring communities and a change was needed.

Hermon has too often witnessed its demands vetoed by the rest of the neighborhood council, says longtime community activist Joseph Riser, Wendi’s husband and president of the formation committee.

According to Hermon’s application, the proposed neighborhood council would have nine seats, with each member specializing in fields ranging from education to business.

When the neighborhood council system was first established the process for a community to separate from the neighborhood council it was affiliated with was difficult, if not nearly impossible. In 2012, Councilman Huizar, with help from the community, spearheaded an effort to streamline the process to allow neighborhoods councils to subdivide in cases where communities are separated from its neighbors by significant geographic features, such as the Arroyo Seco Parkway and the Ernest E. Debs Regional Park in Hermon’s case. The new law also eliminates the so-called “Starbucks stakeholder,” referring to outsiders who seek to influence neighborhood council elections by virtue of their patronage of a local establishment.

“I want to thank leaders from the great community of Hermon for bringing this idea to me,” Huizar told EGP Monday. “The new system that I helped create makes it easier and is fair to both existing neighborhood councils, as well as any proposed NCs.”

Hermon is “different from many of the neighborhoods that make up Arroyo Seco,” points out Joseph Riser, explaining the need for change. “Our houses are different, we were established by different people.”

Quaint and quiet Hermon, called the “biggest small community in Los Angeles, was established in 1903 by a group of Protestants, eventually taking on a college town feel when the now closed Los Angeles Pacific College opened. Although primarily residential now, the neighborhood is home to a popular dog park, small business district, an elementary school, an alternative high school and charter school.

Hermon falls under a different precinct than its neighbors and is even served by a different councilmember than the rest of the Arroyo Seco.

“Over the years, some of the people on the neighborhood council couldn’t even tell you where Hermon was,” Joseph Riser said, only half-jokingly.

He told EGP the new neighborhood council would take a closer look at the types of developments, like “McMansions” and affordable housing, as well as new businesses coming into their neighborhood.

Before they can move forward, L.A.’s Department Neighborhood Empowerment (EmpowerLA) must first approve Hermon’s application. If that happens, a vote of all Arroyo Seco stakeholders will take place within 90 days to decide whether Hermon should be allowed to separate and form its own neighborhood council.

“This is where we will need every Hermon stakeholder to show up and vote for Hermon,” says Wendi Riser.

Despite rumors to the contrary, if the Hermon Neighborhood Council is approved the Arroyo Seco NC will not be decertified or lose any of its $37,000 annual allowance.

Voting is expected to take place in March 2017. If passed, the Hermon Neighborhood Council could hold its first meeting as early as July.


Pieces of Rock ‘Bridge’ Communities

August 18, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Some of the rocks were big, others were small, but to the hundreds of people who lined up Saturday in downtown Los Angeles, the only thing that really mattered was the chance to own a piece of Los Angeles history.

Bell resident Bertha Luna and her family were among those who made the trek downtown in hopes of getting a piece of the iconic Sixth Street Bridge that had for decades connected the eastside to the city’s urban center.

“We had to have piece of L.A. history,” exclaimed Bertha.

“There are other bridges but none have this view,” her husband Armando chimed in.

The one-of-a-kind keepsakes were distributed during “Rock Day L.A.,” a celebration held near what remains of the bridge that was demolished earlier this year to make room for safer structural expanse across Los Angeles River.

Since its construction in 1932, the Sixth Street Viaduct – as it’s officially named – has been a favorite among filmmakers, appearing in dozens of TV shows, music videos and movies, including “Grease,” “Terminator 2,” “The Dark Knight Rises” and “Furious 7.”

“There are few structures in the city that are as iconic and easily recognizable,” pointed out Councilman Jose Huizar, who hosted the event. “This bridge was one of them.”

Hundreds of people lined up Saturday to take home a piece of the 6th Street Bridge. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Hundreds of people lined up Saturday to take home a piece of the 6th Street Bridge. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Just 20 years after being built, engineers discovered that the bridge was succumbing to Alkali Silica, a chemical reaction that was disintegrating the cement supports holding up the bridge. A 2004 seismic study concluded the bridge would very likely collapse during a major earthquake, prompting officials to decide to replace the structure when other restoration attempts failed.

The city of Los Angeles has approved $449 million for the Sixth Street Viaduct Replacement Project, the largest bridge project in the city’s history.

In February of this year, crews demolished the old bridge and began construction on a new one that is expected to open in late 2019.

The significance of the milestone was not lost on Boyle Heights resident Diana Del Pozo Mora, who along with her daughter and granddaughter each got their hands on a hunk of cement from the local landmark, and the certificate of authenticity it came with.

“We came because of what the bridge means to us; heritage, memories and infrastructure,” Del Pozo Mora said, recalling her many trips across the bridge. “It represents what L.A. was built on,” she said nostalgically.

Her 9-year-old granddaughter, Jessie Ponce de Leon, says she plans to share her rock with her fellow students when she goes back to school.

“I will keep it forever,” she told EGP, holding up the rock that caught her eye.

Hilary Norton was at the event handing out rocks. She said some people wanted to know what part of the bridge the rocks came from while others wanted a rock with graffiti on it. One resident even came prepared with a stroller to carry out the largest piece he could find, she said in amusement.

Most of all, “people wanted to talk about their love for the bridge,” Norton said.

The new Viaduct will have many more features then its predecessor that architects say will make the structure more pedestrian- and bike-friendly.

In addition to 10-lighted arches, there will be bike lanes, wider sidewalks and nearly eight acres of recreational open space under the bridge that will be accessible by stairways and bike ramps.

Replacing such an iconic landmark is a big responsibility, Tim Williams, managing principal at Michael Maltzan Architecture, the firm that designed the new structure, told EGP.

“There’s a civic duty that goes along with designing a piece of infrastructure like this,” he said. “What is especially great is it connects and ‘bridges’ these communities.”

Huizar admits the new bridge has large shoes to fill but believes its design will ultimately be just as iconic.

“The new bridge will not just be about getting from point A to point B, [but] will turn into a destination of its own,” he told EGP.

Oscar Guzman and his daughter Isabella enjoy reading about the history of Los Angeles and specifically attended the event to get a hold of the certificate of authenticity that comes with the rocks. They hope the new bridge will not only last as long as the previous one but also generate the same type of enthusiasm among residents.

“Everyone in Los Angeles, from all walks of life, crossed that bridge,” noted Guzman. “That bridge will go down in history and we have a part of it.”

$50,000 Reward Offered in Shooting of 10-Year Old in Boyle Heights

July 1, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

A $50,000 reward was announced Thursday for information leading to the identification and arrest of whoever wounded a 10-year-old girl in a drive-by shooting in Boyle Heights, then left the scene laughing.

A man on a bicycle was the intended target in the shooting that occurred about 6 p.m. on June 10 near the intersection of Rogers Avenue and South Chicago Street, west of the Hollywood (101) Freeway, according to Officer Mike Lopez of the Los Angeles Police Department’s Media Relations Section.

The girl and her sister were waiting to cross a street when a passenger in the suspect vehicle opened fire on the intended victim, who was riding a bike near the girls and who was not struck, police said.

“On June 10th, as you know, the little girl was outside with her sister when a car drove by and fired several shots at a bicyclist riding near the girls,” City Councilman Jose Huizar said.

“The 10-year-old girl was struck in the head and collapsed.”

Laughter was heard coming from the car as it left the scene, according to the LAPD. The girl was taken to a hospital and underwent surgery.

The reward was announced at a news conference at the LAPD’s Hollenbeck Station. Members of the girl’s family were among those attending, urging anyone with information to come forward.

Police said there were two vehicles involved, each carrying three to four male suspected gang members. The shots were fired by a passenger, described as a man in his early to mid 20s, in a black 2005 Toyota Camry sedan.

The second vehicle was described as a 2001 metallic silver Chevrolet Impala with a sunroof and a spoiler on the trunk.

Anyone with information about the suspects was urged to call (323) 342-8900 and ask for Hollenbeck detectives Yoshida or Carreon. On weekends or after hours, call should be directed to the Hollenbeck watch commander at (323) 342-4101.

Anonymous tips can be provided through Crime Stoppers by calling (800) 222-TIPS.

Lanzan Campaña para Pedir que se Legalicen las Ventas Ambulantes

June 23, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Cansados de esperar por años que el ayuntamiento de Los Ángeles les otorgue un permiso para trabajar, cientos de vendedores ambulantes han optado por una nueva estrategia para lograr que se les permita salir de la ilegalidad.

Una nueva campaña se concentra en destacar el aporte de estos trabajadores a la economía de la ciudad.
Vendedores y activistas decidieron enfrentar uno a uno a los concejales de la ciudad. Irónicamente descubrieron que la mayoría de las autoridades son ajenas a la realidad que viven decenas de miles de personas.

Caridad Vásquez es una de las vendedoras que ha padecido este lento proceso. Desde que llegó a Los Ángeles hace 22 años se gana la vida vendiendo comida casera en las calles.

En el 2008 fue desplazada junto a decenas de vendedores del lugar donde había trabajado por muchos años. “De cincuenta vendedores, pues yo no más me quede aquí”, explica.

Se calcula que en Los Ángeles hay casi 50.000 vendedores ambulantes y la inmensa mayoría son hispanos de bajos recursos, a los que nadie les da soluciones.

El 6 de noviembre del 2013 los concejales José Huizar y Curren Price presentaron una moción para regular las ventas callejeras, después de más de dos años y medio los afectados, como Vásquez, no han visto ninguna solución.

“Nos han puesto junta tras junta, audiencia tras audiencia y, sin embargo, todavía no hay una propuesta que venga de los políticos. No más nos están pidiendo más y más tiempo, mientras los vendedores sufren injusticias”, dijo a Efe Janet Favela, vocera de la Campaña por la Legalización de las Ventas Ambulantes de East LA Community Corporation (ELACC).

“Ha sido muy difícil escuchar cuando nos juntamos con un concejal que nos digan: oh no sabíamos que se les cobra renta a los vendedores, que ciertos policías los tratan mal o que piden el estatus migratorio”, relata Favela.

“La policía puede llegar en este momento con sanidad y levantan todo y recibes hostigamiento” explica Merced Sánchez, oriunda de Puebla (México) y vendedora de ropa en el centro de la ciudad.

Además, los activistas han puesto en manos del ayuntamiento las reglas de ciudades como Nueva York que hace décadas otorgaron permisos para la venta ambulante.

Sánchez cree que no hay voluntad política y que el ayuntamiento está olvidándose de la comunidad de bajos recursos. La inmigrante cuenta que en México era empleada de gobierno y que al llegar al Sur de California no encontró trabajo y se dedicó al comercio.

“Hasta este momento la ciudad no quiere entender que no somos una carga sino que generamos dinero” advierte.
Según ELACC, más del 80% de los vendedores ambulantes son hispanos de bajos ingresos, a veces muy por debajo del nivel de pobreza federal. La mayoría son indocumentados que no pueden conseguir trabajo.

“Un oficial me quito y me dijo: ¿Porque no te vas a trabajar? y yo le dije: Oficial, tengo cincuenta y cuatro anos ¿Usted cree que va a haber trabajo para mi? No tengo papeles, ¿Usted cree que si yo, si no supiera trabajar estaría vendiendo?” recuerda con indignación Vásquez.

En estos últimos años la inmigrante se ha sentido ignorada, cree que parte del rezago es por que la mayoría de los afectados son mujeres. Por eso ella decidió convertirse en uno de los rostros de la campaña, que tiene un vídeo musical e incluso una fotonovela. “No porque somos mujeres nos vamos a quedar calladas”, asegura.
La nueva estrategia también busca lograr el apoyo de la comunidad y de los consumidores. La consigna es lograr demostrar que su trabajo no está afectando a los comerciantes.

Angélica María Recibe Estrella en el Paseo de la Fama en Hollywood

May 26, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

La actriz y cantante mexicana Angélica María recibió la estrella número 2,582 en el Paseo de la Fama de el miércoles, en honor a una carrera en cine, televisión, teatro y música.

“Esta estrella en el Paseo de la Fama de Hollywood la merecía hace mucho tiempo”, dijo el concejal José Huizar en la ceremonia frente al edificio de Live Nation en el bulevar Hollywood.

“Usted representan lo mejor de México. Para los que vivimos en este país, cuando nos fijamos en usted, usted nos recuerdan a nuestro país de origen – la belleza, la estrella, el cine – y por eso le damos las gracias”.

Angélica María recibió su estrella acompañada de su hija Angélica Vale y sus dos nietos. (Cortesía de concejal José Huizar)

Angélica María recibió su estrella acompañada de su hija Angélica Vale y sus dos nietos. (Cortesía de concejal José Huizar)

La estrella está cerca de la primera casa de Angélica María en Hollywood, que estaba en la avenida Formosa, Angélica Vale, hija de Angélica María y actriz, cantante y comediante.

“ Realmente no puedo imaginar la cantidad de veces que caminaste esta calle con mi abuela, sin saber tu nombre estaría escrito en la banqueta”, dijo Vale.

Angélica María nació en Nueva Orleans y se trasladó a México con su familia cuando tenía 4 años de edad. Ella comenzó su carrera en el cine cuando tenía 5 años y ganó el Ariel, premio de la Academia de cine de México, cuando tenía 8 años de en 1952 por “Mi esposa y la Otra”.

Angélica María ha aparecido en 61 películas, más de 25 telenovelas, 17 de producciones teatrales y ha grabado 63 álbumes.

Angélica María es protagonista con Sela Ward y Nick Nolte en la serie de comedia “Graves”, que pronto estará al aire en la red de cable premium EPIX.

‘Clean Up Green Up’ Measure Approved Benefits Boyle Heights

April 21, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

The Los Angeles City Council last week unanimously approved an anti-pollution measure that will benefit the communities of Boyle Heights, Pacoima/Sun Valley and Wilmington, currently known as “toxic hotspots.”

These neighborhoods experience cumulative environmental health impacts due to their close proximity to concentrated industrial and transportation pollution sources. The Clean Up Green Up initiative aims to reduce pollution and revitalize these neighborhoods, states the ordinance.

In Boyle Heights, for example, the community is dissected by at least six major freeways–Golden State (I-5), Hollywood (U.S. Route 101), Pomona (SR 60), San Bernardino (I-10), Santa Ana (I-5), and Santa Monica (I-10)–and pollution is a big concern.

Studies have shown that people living in toxic hotspots neighborhoods endure elevated risk of asthma, cancer, heart disease and other chronic afflictions, all related to living with high levels of local industrial emissions.

The Clean Up Green Up ordinance is a groundbreaking effort where the City of Los Angeles is saying “we want to do more to protect our most vulnerable communities from pollution while offering up green solutions for businesses,” said Councilman Jose Huizar, whose district includes Boyle Heights.

“I am particularly proud of our efforts to improve air filtration systems citywide, said Huizar who championed the program five years ago with former councilmembers Janice Hahn and Richard Alarcón and supporters at Breed Street Elementary School. “This will protect children and families who live near freeways for years to come,” he said.

Through the years, Huizar oversaw its implementation as the Chair of the Planning and Land Use Management.

Rick Coca, Huizar’s spokesperson, told EGP that Whittier and Olympic Boulevards as well as Clarence and Mission Road are clear examples of where residential, schools and parks co-exist with industrial companies.

Groups supporting the Clean Up Green Up measure gathered at Breed Street Elementary School before the City Council voting last week. (Office of Councilman Jose Huizar)

Groups supporting the Clean Up Green Up measure gathered at Breed Street Elementary School before the City Council voting last week. (Office of Councilman Jose Huizar)

The measure requires that new projects within 1,000 feet of a freeway to use air filtration systems strong enough to keep out harmful emissions.

The rule also applies to existing homes and businesses that are changing out heating and air conditioning systems.

The ordinance also calls for a 500-foot buffer between auto shops and homes, and also address landscaping, lighting, building height, the orientation of parking lots, fencing and enclosures for stored materials and pollutants like dust, smoke and fumes.

Elizabeth Blaney, member of Union de Vecinos in Boyle Heights, told EGP the group has supported the measure from day one and helped to get it passed.

She said that the measure only impacts specific priority industries that are listed in the ordinance. It does not directly affect all businesses.

“Clean Up Green Up will impact new businesses that want to come into Boyle Heights and existing businesses that want to expand,” she said.

Coca said the councilman is proud of his work because the policy represents a major shift in how the City plans for the future construction near freeways. “The benefits to that part of the policy are citywide,” he added.

Blaney said that the City set up an ombudsman office to streamline permitting, coordinate inspections by various government agencies, and assist businesses with accessing resources to use green technology or other mechanisms to reduce any pollution their business may cause.

“This is about partnering and working with businesses and not to shut them down,” she said.

The City’s Bureau of Sanitation will hire the full-time ombudsperson to act as a liaison to businesses, to connect them to existing programs and resources that include local, state and federal programs, Coca said.

“The ombudsperson will help coordinate with that enforcement staff and with others from across multiple jurisdictions such as LAFD, Watershed Protection Division, County Health Department, AQMD, and even CalEPA’s Environmental Justice Division,” he said.

Just in December, Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer announced criminal charges against five Boyle Heights metal plating businesses, with allegations ranging from improperly disposing of hazardous materials to metal dust contamination outside of the business, which eventually affected the nearby residences.

Feuer said their office is “intensifying our focus on environmental justice, deepening our partnerships with state and local agencies and committing ourselves to rid underserved communities of pollution that no one should have to tolerate.”

The companies that received misdemeanor charges are; Nature’s Design, Bronze-Way Plating Corporation, Grana Industrial Finishers Inc., California Electroplating Inc. and Chromal Plating. Four of them, within two or three blocks form each other and less than a mile distance from the 5 Freeway.

Also, a report by the Southern California Environmental Health Sciences Center at USC found out that freeways and other busy roadways are a fact of life for many people in Southern California, with half of Los Angeles County, nearly 8 million people, living within a mile of a freeway, and a million within 100 meters.

Mayor Eric Garcetti said in a statement that Clean Up Green Up is a cutting edge policy that will help protect the public health of the residents of some the most polluted neighborhoods in Los Angeles.

“Thanks to this ordinance, residents in Pacoima, Boyle Heights and Wilmington will get the tools to reduce pollution, support economic development, and improve public spaces,” said Garcetti.

Coca said the ordinance is expected to take effect 45 days after the Mayor signs it.

“We expect him to sign it this week,” he told EGP.

York Park One Year Later

March 17, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

It’s been one year since a small neighborhood park opened to the public in Highland Park.

Located on the corner of York Boulevard and Avenue 50, York Park was designed with input from the community.

There are not many parks or open spaces in the neighborhood, so people were excited when the park opened. At the grand opening, children could be seen running around, enjoying everything the park has to offer.

At just one-third of an acre in size, the park still attracts a lot of people. A year of use, however, has led some park-goers to now say there are issues with the design. They say there are things not needed in a child-friendly park, and believe it could be made better.

The park was designed as part of the York Vision Plan, a blueprint for improving York Boulevard for residents, businesses, walkers, bicyclists and commuters.

A committee of volunteers worked with Councilman Jose Huizar’s Office on the plan. They held meetings in the community to find out what people in the area wanted most, and a park made the list.

EGP recently sat down with some park-users to discuss their views on the final design and found opinions are split.
Gloria Hernandez, a mother of three young children, visited the park for the first time with her sister. She looked around and said she doesn’t “adore” its layout.

“This reminds me of the park at home except this one has fewer things, but more colorful” she said. “Where are the swings?”

Highland Park resident Maria Ramirez said she brings her two children to the park almost every day after school. She also wishes the park had swings.

“That exercise area is not needed, it’s a park, not a gym,” she complained. “Instead of that area being for machines it should’ve been swings,” she told EGP. “My children have gotten hurt using the machines,” she explained.

Father of three, Jose Sanchez, disagrees. “I like the exercise machines,” he said. “I get to exercise while watching my children,” he added. “This park is too small for swings.”

Several people said they believe the space for the park’ small amphitheater could have been put to better use.

Children swing from the playground at York Park. (EGP Photo by Gisela Jimenez)

Children swing from the playground at York Park. (EGP Photo by Gisela Jimenez)

Yolanda Nogueira’s family has owned the brick building across from the park since 1964. She was on the committee that helped design the park. According to Noguiera, city engineers took the committee’s ideas and came up with 8 possible designs for the community to vote on.

“We voted on the swings, we definitely wanted swings in this small park,” she told EGP, agreeing with current park-users who want to see them added.

“There was certain equipment we voted on that didn’t get put in,” but should have, said Noguiera.

EGP reached out to Councilman Huizar to ask if changes could be made at the park, such as adding swings.

The councilman told EGP he is not aware of any big concerns about the park design. He pointed out that several workshops were held to give the community a chance to share their ideas. “We also had the survey where people got to vote for their favorite design after we had an idea of what it would be like,” the councilman said.

“So, the community designed the park, it was for the community.”

Creating a park on the site of a former gas station was challenging and pricey, Huizar stressed.

“When I first heard the community wanted the park there at first I thought, ‘Wow, this may not be possible.’ I realized it was going to be pricey and we would have a long process to building everything,” the councilman told EGP.

The councilman donated money from his discretionary funds to hire a grant writer to apply for Proposition 84 state park funding, which was received.

“Yes, we are open to new ideas but we do have to keep in mind that it will cost.” Huizar said.
“We [would just] have to figure out where the money would come from.”

Gisela Jimenez is a senior at Academia Avance Charter School in Highland Park. She is interning at Eastern Group Publications/EGPNews as part of the school’s “Work Educational Experience Project.”

$5M Secured to Make Streets Safer Near Schools

March 10, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Walking or bicycling to school could get safer for eastside students under a street improvement plan outlined last week during an open house at Boyle Heights City Hall.

Speed humps, curb extensions, high visibility crosswalks and roundabouts are some of the improvements planned near Breed Street and Sheridan Street Elementary schools as part of the Safe Routes to Schools initiative.

Lea este artículo en Español: $5 Millones Asegurados para Arreglar Calles

The office of local Councilman Jose Huizar and the Los Angeles Dept. of Transportation (LADOT) hosted the public event, which included displays showing where and what types of changes are in the works for Breed and St. Louis Streets, from Sheridan Street to 6th Street, and along Soto Street from Wabash to 8th Street. The streets run parallel and are all within a one-quarter mile radius of the “High Injury Network (HIN)”, Los Angeles streets with the highest concentration of traffic collisions that result in injury or death with an emphasis on those involving pedestrians or cyclists.

The Safe Routes to Schools program is an effort between the Los Angeles Unified School District and the city’s transportation department to make travel safer for students going to and from schools. Over 500 LA Unified schools were looked at and the top 50 schools in need of improvement — based on such factors as the number of students living within walking or cycling distance of the school, number of traffic collisions in the area and “burdened with the poorest health outcomes and economic conditions” – were identified.

In Boyle Heights, Breed and Sheridan Elementary schools made the list.

Huizar worked with the transportation department to secure $5 million in funding from the California Dept. of Transportation Active Transportation Program to pay for improvements, which, according to Boyle Heights resident Veronica Bañuelos, are long overdue.

Bañuelos told EGP residents have been asking for safety improvements along St. Louis Street for years. “We live in a very dangerous area,” she said in Spanish, noting that she has witnessed multiple accidents on the street in the same week.

There are no stop signs on St. Louis Street between Cesar E. Chavez Avenue and 4th Street and cars speed through the area without stopping for pedestrians, she said. “We requested a stop sign but we did not get a response from the councilman,” until now, she said, happy to see the changes coming to the area.

Union de Vecinos members ask questions about the improvements in Boyle Heights. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

Union de Vecinos members ask questions about the improvements in Boyle Heights. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

Boyle Heights resident and Union de Vecinos (Union of Neighbors) member Maria Benitez said the community had grown frustrated by what she claims was Huizar’s lack of response and his failure to show up for scheduled meetings with the community group.

Huizar spokesman Rick Coca disputed the characterization of his boss as unresponsive. In an emailed statement, Coca said the councilman’s staff has met regularly with Union de Vecinos “to strategize and work on important issues in our community.” The councilman himself met with the group in the fall of 2015, Coca said, adding that the improvements outlined in the new initiative directly  “address the concerns outlined by Union de Vecinos and others.”

Another Union de Vecinos member, Juan Estrada, at the open house complained that the area is just to “overpopulated and cars don’t respect pedestrians.”

Taking in the proposed changes, Estrada said he would like to see the speed limit lowered through the area and more stop signs on other residential streets.

For some people, especially children and the disabled elderly, crossing some streets can be “suicidal,” Estrada said.

The intersection at Cesar Chavez and Soto Street is one of the most dangerous zones in the area, according to the Federal Highway Administration.

The HIN data show that collisions involving people walking or bicycling are 2.5 higher than the citywide average. There have been 44 collision-related injuries, including two fatalities involving pedestrians and bicyclists along Soto Street, between Wabash Avenue and 8th Street.

L.A.’s transportation department estimates about 60% of Breed and Sheridan students walk to school daily.

Margot R. Ocañas, pedestrian coordinator with LADOT, told EGP the goal of the program is to improve safety for people walking to school through enhanced street engineering, traffic enforcement and safety education.

“This neighborhood has a high density of students who do walk and bicycle so it is very imperative that we address concerns about traffic safety and put in what we call safety measures,” she said.

On Soto Street, for example, traffic signals will be installed at  Boulder Street and 3rd Street. Bike “safety zones” will be added on Breed Street and on St. Louis.

To slow traffic down, nine speed humps will be added on St. Louis Street and ten on Breed Street, between Sheridan Street and 6th Street.

Huizar said in a statement that he’s proud to be partnering with transportation officials in this much-needed project.

“Protecting our children is every parent’s biggest priority and these upgrades will help bring profound safety improvements to students and families in our community,” he said.

Construction is tentatively scheduled to begin in January 2017 with completion set for late 2018.


Twitter @jackiereporter


Limpieza de Contaminación de Exide es el ‘Primer Paso’

February 25, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Durante años las comunidades que rodean a la actualmente cerrada planta Exide Technologies en Vernon han estado luchando para ser escuchadas; primero para forzar la clausura de la planta, después para asegurar una rápida limpieza a fondo de los barrios contaminados por las emisiones tóxicas—algo que muchos creen se estancó debido a la falta de financiación y un sentido de urgencia por parte de oficiales estatales.

Sin embargo, el miércoles el gobernador de California, Jerry Brown dio un paso histórico al abordar la contaminación de Exide proponiendo el gasto de $176,6 millones para acelerar y ampliar pruebas y la limpieza de viviendas, escuelas, guarderías y parques en un radio de 1,7 millas alrededor de la planta de reciclaje de baterías.

Read this article in English: Activists Call Funds for Exide Cleanup Just the ‘First Step’

El plan de gasto multimillonario se detalla en una carta al Senado del Estado de California y a los presidentes del Presupuesto de la Asamblea y del Comité de Asignaciones. Los fondos estarán bajo la forma de un préstamo del Fondo General, y California “vigorosamente perseguirá a Exide y otras partes responsables potenciales para recuperar los costos de esta limpieza”, según la carta del gobernador.

“Esta planta de reciclaje de baterías Exide ha sido un problema desde hace mucho tiempo”, dijo el gobernador Brown en su primera declaración pública sobre Exide. “Con este plan de financiación, estamos abriendo un nuevo capítulo que ayudará a proteger a la comunidad y hacer responsable a Exide”.

Bárbara Lee, directora del Departamento de Control de Sustancias Tóxicas (DTSC) del estado le dijo a reporteros el miércoles que la nueva financiación permitirá a DTSC a contratar a personal adicional para examinar las propiedades restantes en la zona de contaminación y remover el suelo contaminado de 2.500 propiedades marcadas como prioridad.

Actualmente, DTSC sólo tiene dos equipos asignados para la descontaminación a gran escala, pero Lee dijo el miércoles que ese numero podría aumentar hasta por 40 grupos limpiando una propiedad por semana cada uno.

Funcionarios electos y activistas se reunieron afuera de la iglesia de la Resurrección para celebrar la acción tomada por el gobernador sobre Exide. (EGP foto por Nancy Martínez)

Funcionarios electos y activistas se reunieron afuera de la iglesia de la Resurrección para celebrar la acción tomada por el gobernador sobre Exide. (EGP foto por Nancy Martínez)

El gobernador, junto a agencias estatales encargadas de velar por la limpieza de la contaminación generalizada, han sido criticados fuertemente por los residentes, activistas ambientales y funcionarios electos estatales y locales decepcionados con la reacción del Estado a una “epidemia” que ha contaminado hasta 10.000 hogares y expuesto hasta 2 millones de personas en el este y sureste de Los Ángeles a niveles tóxicos de plomo, arsénico y otros químicos.

Mientras algunos aplauden la propuesta del gobernador, la decisión es agridulce.

“Nuestras comunidades han estado luchado durante décadas contra Exide, y con el anuncio de hoy del gobernador Brown, está claro que ha escuchado nuestras llamadas para una limpieza rápida y completa”, dijo Mark López, director ejecutivo de East Yards Comunidades para la Justicia Ambiental.

López dijo que la financiación no es suficiente para completar la limpieza, sino que es el “siguiente paso hacia un largo camino a la justicia en este tema”, después de años de no proteger a la comunidad de Exide y enviar un mensaje claro de que la limpieza será ahora una prioridad para el estado.

El líder del Senado Kevin de León aplaudió al gobernador por el reconocimiento de la “necesidad urgente” de acción de emergencia. Conversaciones en curso con la oficina del gobernador llevaron a lo que ocurrió este día, dijo el senador. “La legislación Urgencia” para apropiar los fondos que se introducirán dentro de la próxima semana más o menos, De León le dijo a los reporteros.

Eso es una buena noticia para los residentes de Boyle Heights quienes el lunes le dijeron a EGP que se habían cansado de asistir a reuniones, y sintieron que era el momento de obtener el peso del gobierno federal detrás de ellos después de no ver ninguna acción real por años de parte de sus funcionarios elegidos.

“Necesitamos que el gobierno federal saque a DTSC fuera de la ecuación y manejen [el problema] ellos mismos”, dijo Terry Cano el lunes.

“Creo que ellos creen que si cierran los ojos y lo ignoran, nosotros nos cansaremos”, dijo Joe González, quien dice que tiene cáncer y tan sólo dos meses de vida.

La comunidad culpa a las agencias reguladoras estatales por permitir a Exide que operara durante 33 años bajo un permiso temporal, a la vez que violaba pese a las reiteradas violaciones de las emisiones contaminantes del aire y el manejo de los residuos o años peligrosos, arrojando niveles tóxicos de plomo, arsénico y otras sustancias químicas que pueden producir cáncer y enfermedades neurológicas en las comunidades de la clase trabajadora en su mayoría de Boyle Heights, Maywood, Commerce, Bell, Huntington Park y el Este de Los Ángeles.

El viernes pasado, diciendo que ya estaba impacientado con DTSC, el concejal de Los Ángeles José Huizar entrometió una resolución firmada por cinco de sus colegas instando al Estado a actuar con rapidez para asignar fondos. Huizar, quien representa y el mismo es un residente de Boyle Heights, también pidió que el abogado de la ciudad Mike Feuer explorara cualquiera de las opciones legales que tiene la ciudad.

Lee respondió a las críticas del gobernador el martes por la noche en una reunión del Comité de la Comunidad Asesor Independiente de Exide.

“Se ha pasado horas hablando de Exide, trabajando en lo que quiere proponer”, dijo, antes de aludir a un anuncio inminente.

Ayer, dijo a periodistas que la propuesta de Brown es un “gran peldaño” para el Estado y una indicación del grado de compromiso que el gobernador tiene con la limpieza.

De León dijo el miércoles que el estado trabajará en estrecha colaboración con el Procurador de EE.UU. para asegurar que Exide haga honor a su acuerdo para pagar la limpieza, o se enfrentan a cargos criminales federales.

La congresista Lucille Roybal-Allard imploró a legislaturas estatales que aprueben de inmediato los fondos para acelerar la limpieza.

“La salud y el bienestar de nuestras comunidades depende de una acción rápida y sostenida por el estado”, dijo. “Hasta la fecha, los esfuerzos del estado han sido peligrosamente lentos y con fondos insuficientes”.

La Ciudad de Commerce emitió un comunicado llamando a la contaminación un “desastre ambiental”, añadiendo que la pruebas y limpieza han sido un “proceso largo y arduo”. El martes, el Consejo pidió al personal que discuta con el estado expandir sus áreas de examen en Commerce.

La asambleísta Cristina García dijo que planea trabajar con sus colegas para crear una exención de CEQA necesarios para efectuar rápidamente las pruebas y limpieza de estas casas.

García y el asambleísta Miguel Santiago planean introducir una legislación proponiendo un impuesto de baterías.

“Esta medida crearía un programa de reciclaje de baterías de plomo-ácido (de carros) por el estado y tienen $1 de ese fondo para volver a pagar el programa de préstamo de $ 176,6 millones”, anunció.

Adicionalmente al examen y limpieza Lee explicó que parte de la financiación de los $176 millones también será utilizada para el desarrollo del personal y la capacitación para el empleo destinado a residentes locales y empresas para ayudar a revitalizar la comunidad. Lee también anunció que el estado está buscando la manera de mejorar la forma de gestionar los residuos y reducir la exposición de plomo, personal adicional está identificando actualmente cómo los fabricantes pueden hacer baterías más seguras para los seres humanos y el medio ambiente.

El anuncio de Brown se produjo después de que la Junta de Supervisores del condado de Los Ángeles votara para enviar una carta a Brown y a los líderes legislativos, pidiendo que se asignen más fondos para los esfuerzos de limpieza, diciendo que los $8.5 millones de dólares propuestos originalmente por el gobernador eran inadecuados.

“Durante mucho tiempo hemos visto dos Américas: una en la que los barrios ricos reciben ayuda inmediata y alivio. La otra América se compone de familias obreras pobres que sufren en silencio”, dijo Solís. “El anuncio de hoy del gobernador reconcilia estas dos Américas”.

La semana pasada por primera vez desde que asumió el cargo, el alcalde de Los Ángeles Eric Garcetti se reunió con algunos residentes de Boyle Heights decepcionados por la falta de acción en nombre de la ciudad.

Garcetti le dijo a EGP que ha dirigido a la Oficina de Saneamiento de LA a trabajar con líderes de la comunidad, Salud Pública del Condado y el DTSC para ayudar a las pruebas de avance y la limpieza y los planes para lanzar una campaña de educación pública para asegurar que más residentes sean analizados para determinar la contaminación por plomo.

“Nadie debería tener que vivir con el temor de riesgos graves para la salud en su propia casa y ningún niño debe ser despojado de la alegría de jugar en su propio patio”, Garcetti le dijo a EGP. “Los que viven en Boyle Heights y las comunidades de los alrededores merecen algo mejor”.

La directora adjunta de DTSC para la Justicia Ambiental y Asuntos Tribales Ana Mascareñas dijo que la agencia está considerando la realización de eventos a gran escala, tales como ferias de salud y centros abiertos de recursos para permitir que los residentes visiten y obtengan información sobre el proceso de limpieza.

Exide acordó en marzo cerrar su planta de reciclaje de baterías de plomo-ácido y pagar $50 millones para la limpieza del sitio y los barrios aledaños.

De esa cantidad, $26 de millones es para ser combinado con $11 millones que en la actualidad están en fideicomiso para cerrar con seguridad la planta, de acuerdo con el DTSC. En agosto, Exide, que se declaró en quiebra en 2013, había pagado $ 9 millones de dólares en un fideicomiso y otros $5 millones se deben pagar en marzo de 2020, según los funcionarios del Estado.

El residente de Boyle Heights Frank Villalobos le dijo a EGP que él estaba eufórico por el anuncio, pero señaló que los fondos sólo abordarán el impacto a la propiedad no a los permanentes daños que residentes enfrentan con las enfermedades causadas por la contaminación.

Por ahora, “nuestras oraciones han sido contestadas”, dijo. “El estado está ahora comenzando a mostrar preocupación”.


Twitter @nancyreporting


Exide: State to Fund $176M to Speed Up Testing, Cleanup

February 18, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

For years, communities surrounding the now-shuttered Exide Technologies plant in Vernon have fought to be heard: first to force the closure of the facility and then to ensure a thorough, swift cleanup of neighborhoods contaminated by toxic emissions — something many believe was stalled due to a lack of funding and sense of urgency on the part of state officials.

On Wednesday, Gov. Brown at long last took a major step to address Exide’s contamination by proposing the state spend $176.6 million to expedite and expand testing and cleanup of residential properties, schools, daycare centers and parks in the 1.7-mile radius surrounding the battery recycling plant.

The multi-million dollar spending plan is detailed in a letter to the California State Senate and Assembly Budget and Appropriations Committee chairs. The funds will be in the form of a loan from the General Fund, and California will “vigorously pursue Exide and other potential responsible parties to recover the costs of this cleanup,” according the governor’s office.

The now-closed Exide Technologies plant is located at 2700 South Indiana St. in Vernon. (Department of Toxic Substances Control)

The now-closed Exide Technologies plant is located at 2700 South Indiana St. in Vernon. (Department of Toxic Substances Control)

“This Exide battery recycling facility has been a problem for a very long time,” said Brown in his first public statement on Exide. “With this funding plan, we’re opening a new chapter that will help protect the community and hold Exide responsible.”

Barbara Lee, director of the state’s Department of Toxic Substances Control told reporters Wednesday the new funding will allow DTSC to hire more staff to test the remaining properties in the contamination zone and to remove lead-tainted soil from 2,500 properties labeled highest priority.

So far, close to 200 homes in Boyle Heights, East Los Angeles, Commerce, Maywood and Huntington Park have been cleaned since the plant was forced to close in April 2015, according to DTSC. Currently, DTSC only has two crews assigned to the large-scale decontamination, but Lee said that number could go up to as many as 40 crews cleaning at least one property each per week.

Senate leader Kevin de Leon applauded the governor for recognizing the “urgent need” for emergency action. Ongoing talks with the governor’s office led to this day, the senator said. “Urgency legislation” to appropriate the funding will be introduced within the next week or so, de Leon told reporters.

While the governor’s proposal is widely welcomed, it’s also bittersweet.

Especially for residents and environmental activists who for years heavily criticized Brown and state agencies overseeing the cleanup for their slow response to the Exide “epidemic,” which may have contaminated 10,000 homes and exposed as many as 2 million people in East and Southeast Los Angeles communities to toxic levels of lead, arsenic and other chemicals.

Brown’s long silence on Exide irked eastside residents who saw his rapid response to the SoCal Gas Co. gas leak in more affluent Porter Ranch and emergency declaration to marshal state resources to deal with the catastrophe as confirmation that there’s a double standard when it comes to the treatment of poor people and communities of color.

“Our communities have been fighting Exide for decades, and with today’s announcement from Governor Brown, it is clear he has heard our calls for swift and comprehensive cleanup,” said Mark Lopez, executive director of East Yards Communities for Environmental Justice.

Lopez, however, pointed out that the funding is not enough to complete the entire cleanup, but called it the “next step in the long road to justice on this issue” after the state failing for years protect the community from Exide. It sends a clear message that the cleanup will now be a priority for the state, Lopez said.

Brown’s proposal comes just two days after a group of Boyle Heights residents told EGP they had grown tired of attending meetings and hearings, and felt it was time to get the weight of the federal government behind them after seeing no real action for years from their elected officials.

“We need the federal government to take DTSC out of the equation and handle it themselves,” Terry Cano said Monday.

“I think they believe if they close their eyes and ignore it, we’ll just die out,” said Joe Gonzalez, who says he has cancer and just two months to live.

They blame state regulatory agencies for allowing Exide to operate for 33 years on a temporary permit, all the while spewing toxic levels of lead, arsenic and other chemicals known to cause cancer and neurological diseases and learning disabilities in the mostly working-class communities.

Last Friday, saying he too had grown impatient with DTSC, Los Angeles Councilman Jose Huizar intruded a resolution signed by five of his colleagues urging the state to move quickly to allocate funding. Huizar, who represents and is himself a resident of Boyle Heights, also asked that City Atty. Mike Feuer explore what if any legal options the city has.

Huizar said Wednesday the much-needed funds “do right by communities that for so long suffered undue harm because of Exide’s negligence and a complicit state agency that failed to regulate the battery recycling company,” He’s looking forward to seeing a timeline that spells out when testing and remediation will start and how long it will take.

Lee responded to criticism of the governor Tuesday night at a meeting of the Independent Exide Community Advisory Committee.

“He’s spent hours talking about Exide, working on what he wants to propose,” she said before alluding to an impending announcement.

Yesterday she told reporters Brown’s proposal is a “big milestone” for the state and an indication of how committed the governor is to the cleanup.

DTSC workers clean a Boyle Heights home. (DTSC)

DTSC workers clean a Boyle Heights home. (DTSC)

De Leon said Wednesday that the state would work closely with the U.S. Attorney to ensure Exide lives up to its agreement to pay for the cleanup, or face federal criminal charges.

Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard implored state legislatures to immediately approve funding to expedite the cleanup.

“The health and well-being of our communities depends on swift and sustained action by the state,” she said. “To date, the state’s effort has been dangerously slow and underfunded.”

The city of Commerce released a statement calling the contamination an “environmental disaster,” adding the testing and cleanup has been a “long and arduous process.” On Tuesday, the council asked staff to discuss with the state expanding its targeted areas in Commerce.

“This long-fought victory is a result of Assembly, Senate and local officials working together to raise the fierce urgency of this issue to the Governor,” said Assembly Speaker-Elect Anthony Rendon (D-Paramount) said in response the Brown’s proposal.

Rendon also singled out Assemblymembers “Miguel Santiago and Cristina Garcia for their relentless devotion to restoring justice to East and Southeast L.A. residents victimized by the illegal behavior of Exide management.”

Garcia said Wednesday she plans to work with her colleagues to create a necessary CEQA exemption to expedite the testing and cleanup of these homes.

Garcia and Assemblyman Miguel Santiago also plan to introduce legislation to mandate a fee on car batteries sold in California.

“This measure would create a state mandated Lead-Acid (Car) Battery Recycling program, and have $1 from that fund go to re-pay the $176.6 million loan program,” she announced.

In addition to testing and cleanup, Lee said some of the $176 million would go toward workforce development and job skills training for local residents and businesses to help revitalize the community. Lee also announced the state is looking at ways to improve how they manage waste and reduce the exposure of lead, adding staff is currently identifying how manufacturers can make batteries safer for humans and the environment.

Brown’s announcement came after the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted to send a letter to the governor and legislative leaders, calling for them to allocate more funding for the cleanup effort, saying the $8.5 million originally proposed by the governor was inadequate.

“For too long we have seen two Americas: one in which affluent neighborhoods get immediate help and relief. The other America is made up of poor working-class families who silently suffer,” Solis said. “Today’s announcement from the Governor reconciles these two Americas.”

Last week for the first time since taking office, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti met with Boyle Heights residents disappointed by the city’s lack of action on their behalf.

Garcetti told EGP he has directed the L.A. Bureau of Sanitation to work with community leaders, County Public Health and DTSC to help advance testing and cleanup and plans to launch a public education effort to ensure that more residents are tested for lead contamination.

“No one should have to live in fear of serious health risks from their own home and no child should be robbed of the joy of playing in their own backyard,” Garcetti told EGP. “Those who live in Boyle Heights and the surrounding communities deserve better.”

DTSC’s Assistant Director for Environmental Justice and Tribal Affairs Ana Mascareñas said the agency is considering holding large-scale events such as health fairs and opening resource centers to allow residents to drop in and get information about the cleanup process.

Exide agreed in March 2015 to close its lead-acid battery recycling plant and pay $50 million for cleanup of the site and surrounding neighborhoods.

Of that amount, $26 million is to be combined with $11 million currently in trust to safely close the plant, according to DTSC. As of August, Exide, which filed for bankruptcy in 2013, had paid $9 million into a trust and another $5 million is due to be paid in by March 2020, according to state officials.

Longtime Boyle Heights resident Frank Villalobos told EGP he was elated by the announcement but pointed out the funds will only address the impact to property and not the permanent damage residents face with illnesses caused by the contamination.

For now, “our prayers have been answered,” he said. “The state is now starting to show concern.”

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