Woman Injured After Driving into Highland Park Building

July 18, 2013 by · 1 Comment 

A woman was injured Wednesday morning when the car she was driving slammed into a building in Highland Park. 

The car went halfway into the building at the corner of Avenue 53 and North Figueroa Street, which housed a business called Martha’s Clothing, according to news photographers at the scene. Firefighters pulled the woman from the wreckage and took her to a hospital.

The crash just after midnight left a hole in the building, which was shored up by firefighters, according to reports from the scene.

Assessment Roll Shows Real Estate Values Rebounding

July 18, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

The assessed value of properties in Los Angeles County jumped by 4.66 percent over the past year, marking the third consecutive annual increase, according to figures released Wednesday by the county Assessor’s Office.

The Assessment Roll showed increases of 1.49 percent and 2.24 percent during the past two years, following four years of declines, according to the county. This year’s roll put property valuation in the county at $1,129,994,170,579, an increase of $50.3 billion over last year.

“Strength in the residential real estate market was the largest single factor for the increase in roll value,” Chief Deputy Assessor Santos Kreimann said. “As residential real estate values rebound, we have seen fewer homes in foreclosure and a significant increase in sales. Overall, this reflects greater confidence in the economic recovery.”

Accidental Suicide Under Investigation in Boyle Heights

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A drunken 38-year-old man accidentally shot and killed himself with a handgun at a Boyle Heights residence on Monday as a friend was trying to take the weapon away from him, police said.

The shooting occurred in the 3200 block of Folsom Street at 12:15 a.m., said Sgt. Peter Gamino of the Los Angeles Police Department’s Hollenbeck Station.

“A husband and wife were home with a 38-year-old friend, showing off a gun, and the husband tried to take the gun away from the drunk friend because he didn’t want the friend to shoot himself,” Gamino said. The friend tried too hang onto the weapon and, in the struggle, shot himself in the head, he said.

The man was pronounced dead at the scene, Gamino said.

Investigators were checking for gunpowder on the hands of the dead man and the host to corroborate the account related to police, Gamino said.

If true, “the guy had good intentions. He just couldn’t get his friend to let go of the trigger,” he said.

Gang Members Sentenced to Death in Pico Rivera Shooting

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Two gang members were sentenced to death on July 12 for a June 2009 shooting in which three men were killed and seven people were wounded outside a Pico Rivera pizza parlor.

John Michael Perez, 47, and Rudy Anthony Ruiz, 34, were convicted April 26 of first-degree murder for the June 27, 2009, slayings of Garret Dandini, 25, his cousin, Tony Dandini, 39, and Juan Carlos Carrera, 36, at a motorcycle club’s charity fundraiser.

Jurors also convicted Perez and Ruiz of seven counts each of attempted murder and one count each of conspiracy to commit murder, and found true gang allegations against the two.

During his opening statement, Deputy District Attorney Stephen Gunson told jurors that the shooting occurred outside Falcone’s Pizza during a charity fundraiser for a local motorcycle club whose members were mistakenly targeted out of the belief that they belonged to a gang.

“Ten people were shot. Three lost their lives,” the prosecutor told jurors.

Peaceful Protests Marred By Youth Mobs

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A fourth night of protests in Los Angeles against the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was peaceful Tuesday night after Los Angeles Police Department Chief Charlie Beck vowed the department would take a much tougher stance during future protests to prevent the repeat of the violence following prayer vigil and rally at a Leimert Park on Monday night.

In Hollywood, however, the scene was far from peaceful as 30 to 40 people conducted a rolling crime spree that included random attacks on individuals and businesses, according to police.

A diverse mix of people gathered Saturday at Mariachi Plaza in Boyle Heights to protest peacefully to the verdict in the Trayvon Martin murder trial. (photo by Rafael Cardenas)

A diverse mix of people gathered Saturday at Mariachi Plaza in Boyle Heights to protest peacefully to the verdict in the Trayvon Martin murder trial. (photo by Rafael Cardenas)

It appears the roving band of marauders was aware that police were on tactical alert in other parts of the city where protests marches were scheduled to take place. Police say they may have used social media to engage people in the robberies and assaults. They grabbed purses, phones, jewelry and other items from pedestrians and stole items from several businesses.

The crime spree began around 9:30 p.m. Tuesday. The initial call indicated that 15 to 17 men and women were robbing people around Hollywood Boulevard and Gower Street, according to Los Angeles police Officer Christopher No.

“They kept moving from location to location,” No said.

Police said about 30 to 40 people were involved in the crime spree, with the perpetrators, mostly males in their teens or early 20s, breaking into smaller groups. At least one of those groups wound up at the popular tourist destination of Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue, police said.

There were no reports of weapons being seen during the robberies.

Officers arrested 12 people — 11 juveniles and one adult, said Lt. Ray Valois of the LAPD’s Hollywood Station. Eleven of those arrested were booked on suspicion of robbery and one was booked on suspicion of receiving stolen property, he said.

In addition to robbing individuals’ property, the suspects also took items from businesses, leaving a mess behind them as they went, Valois said.

One victim suffered a hand injury while being robbed of her cell phone, but she was not hospitalized, police said.

Police initially indicated the crime spree may have been related to recent protests over the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the killing of Florida teen Trayvon Martin. LAPD Cmdr. Andrew Smith said at a Wednesday mid-morning news conference the group was likely just taking advantage of the department’s focus on the protests.

“What we’re thinking is these youngsters took advantage of our redeployment of officers down to the Crenshaw district last night, and decided this would be a good night to come up to Hollywood and act a little crazy,” Smith said.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson, president of the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable, said Wednesday that the youth responsible for the melee and vandalism in Crenshaw on Monday and the crime spree in Hollywood Tuesday have “hijacked” the message protesters against the George Zimmerman verdict have been trying to get out to the public.

For more than a year organizations have been constructively trying to get out the message that the case is about “justice and fairness, and all of a sudden you have people take it into their hands and taint that,” the Times reported he said.

“It’s been hijacked,” he continued. “I think that’s a fair way to put it. People we talked to, they were not shy and they didn’t shirk away from using those terms.”

City Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, who represents the area, insisted that the Hollywood area is still a safe area to visit, despite recent violent incidents — including last night’s robberies and last month’s fatal stabbing of a woman, allegedly by a transient, near the Hollywood & Highland Center.

Meanwhile, Smith said investigators were reviewing surveillance video from the various cameras positioned in the Hollywood area in hopes of identifying additional suspects in the crime spree.

On Monday night, a 150-strong mob split from the Leimert Park prayer vigil and rally and went on a rampage along Crenshaw Boulevard, damaging several businesses, assaulting people, vandalizing cars and blocking traffic, police said. Fourteen people were arrested.

No arrests were made during a march and rally Tuesday that drew about 100 people to City Hall, or during a similarly sized gathering that night at Leimert Park.

A large and diverse group of people also gathered Saturday at Mariachi Plaza in Boyle Heights to demonstrate their opposition to the Zimmerman verdict. The event was peaceful and provided a positive forum for people to weigh in on a Florida jury’s decision to acquit Zimmerman of murder charges, according to information obtained from people at the scene.

The LAPD said Wednesday they are monitoring social media sites and preparing for the possibility of more flash mob crime sprees across the city.

Montebello Approves 50 Percent Water Rate Hike

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Some Montebello residents will see a 50 percent hike in their water bill starting next month, the result of the city council’s approval last week of a rate increase to help offset a deficit in the city water utility fund.

The rate will go up another 25 percent in July 2014 in the effected area, which includes properties located north of Lincoln Boulevard and in the city’s southside, adjacent to the I-5 Freeway.


EGP photo by Nancy Martinez

It’s been nearly 10 years since the last rate increase and city officials say the rate hike is needed to deal with the utility’s nearly $380,000 operating deficit in next year’s fiscal budget. The system has been operating at a deficit since 2007, but council members, who not too long ago faced a $17.3 million deficit, are pushing to balance the city’s budget and say the operating shortfall cannot continue.

A recently completed “Water Rate Review and Analysis” found that customers of the city’s water system, maintained and operated by the California Water Service Company (Cal Water), on average pay $64 every two months for their service, while customers of Montebello’s four other water providers pay about $115 for the same service.

The rate hike will affect 1,647 mostly residential customers beginning Aug. 1st.

Councilman Jack Hadjinian said he sympathizes with those facing the price jump, but it is necessary. He said other ratepayers are unfairly subsidizing the low rate paid by some residents.

“I don’t know what’s worse, the 50 percent increase or that [other] people are subsidizing the people in the affected area,” Hadjinian said. “As a city, we’re not in the business to make money, we’re in the business to provide services,” he said. “But we have to be able to afford those services.”

Ben Caragan, one of the consultants who conducted the water rate study, told council members that the city’s water rates have remained flat since 2004 and an increase is needed to address overdue structural improvements to ensure continued reliability. He said current rates are insufficient to cover the cost of operations, maintenance, capital improvements, importing water and pumping ground water, which have doubled.

Angry over the dramatic hike, a number of residents at the July 10 council meeting blamed the city’s “mismanagement” for the failure to increase rates slowly over time.

“Its not the people’s fault,” Montebello resident Anna Arriola told the council. “The city should have raised the rates when the city realized there was no money.”

Hadjinian acknowledged that there had been some mismanagement by previous councils.

“They put this on the back burner and now we have to pick up the difference,” he said, defending the council’s action.

Fearing that the jump could be too high for some residents, some of the speakers called on the council to look for programs to help residents unable to pay the increase.

The rate hike will not personally affect Vivian Romero, who nonetheless told the council that righting the city’s “mismanagement” should not be put “on the back or shoulders of people with low- or fixed-incomes.”

Councilman Frank A. Gomez said the inability of previous councils to make tough decisions and the water system’s decaying infrastructure are to blame for the current situation.

He said the people of Montebello should learn from “past poor decision making” by the people they elected to make decisions for them.

According to the water rate study, about $4.9 million in immediate improvements are needed. About $44.8 million more will be needed to pay for a long-term replacement program to improve the water flow, prevent ruptures and reinforce the system for natural disasters. The rate hike it expected to generate a $230,000 annual surplus, which can go toward capital improvements.

Caragan also urged the council to review rates annually and to consider leasing Montebello’s ground and water rights.

Councilman Art Barajas said the city’s water rights are assets that could potentially generate money in years to come.

“At the end of the day, we need to be responsible with the way we handle our assets,” he said.

As required by law, public notice of the proposed increase was provided. Two public outreach meetings were also held prior to the vote. Only four written protests were received by the city, far below what was needed to prevent the council from voting on the increase at the June 10 public hearing held during the council meeting. Hadjinian said he was a “little disappointed” by the poor turnout at those meetings.

“This was their opportunity to express their concern,” he said, but they did not attend.

Only Mayor Christina Cortez voted against the rate increase. She is concerned many people will not be able to afford the rate hike, despite the low turnout at recent meetings.

“We keep saying there’s nobody here from that area, [that’s] true, but guess what, we were elected to represent those people.”

County Jail Plan Draws Fire From Civil Rights Advocates

July 18, 2013 by · 1 Comment 

The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday considered options for upgrading the county’s aging jail system, but activists called for alternatives to incarceration and funding for community-based mental health services.

The board has considered various recommendations to modernize, expand and reconfigure aging and outdated jails over the last six to seven years. But the supervisors have balked at the price tag and raised concerns about the need for and long-term viability of prior plans.

Vanir Construction Management Inc., a consultant hired by the county, presented a requested in-depth analysis of the county’s jail system that focused on the need for mental health services and separate facilities for high-security inmates. They presented five options for modernization ranging in cost from $1.3 billion to $1.6 billion.

The population of mentally ill inmates is expected to grow by 40 to 50 percent over the next five years, according to the Department of Mental Health.

Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky called mental health facilities at the county’s Twin Towers Correctional Facility a “train wreck” waiting to happen.

“I will never parachute out of an airplane and I will never go back to Twin Towers again voluntarily,” Yaroslavsky said of the conditions in that jail’s mental health facility.

Some activists argued that money should go to community-based mental health treatment and other resources, including post-release programs like job training, rather than to make room for the mentally ill in jails.

Diana Zuniga of Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB) said she had signatures from more than 1,000 people from 100 different organizations, urging the county not to build any new jails.

But the board said it had little alternative.

“Jails are clearly a necessity,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. “But there is a human rights component that cannot be ignored.”

Men’s Central Jail – which would be demolished under all plans – has deteriorated to the point where it cannot operated cost efficiently, according to Vanir’s report. A new jail would be built downtown to house all high- and medium-security inmates and provide for mentally ill criminals.

Vanir forecast that the overall number of inmates should remain fairly flat over the next 30 years, at about 18,500 inmates. A decline in crime overall and other factors are expected to offset the fact that county jails are now housing many inmates once destined for state prisons. As a result, none of the scenarios proposes an increase in the number of jail beds.

The question of where female inmates will be housed is the key variable among the five alternatives. The most expensive option includes housing for women in two locations: a Women’s Village at Pitchess Detention Center and at a modernized Mira Loma Detention Center, formerly used by federal immigration authorities.

The report’s failure to address alternatives to jail time – like pretrial release, split sentences and diversion into mental health programs – also prompted an outcry from civil rights advocates, who said that the mentally ill and substance abusers were being “warehoused” in county jails.

“This has had a devastating impact on poor black and brown communities,” said Patrisse Cullors of the Coalition to End Sheriff Violence. “We believe that billions of dollars should be poured back into the communities.”

Vanir “is not an authority on looking at alternatives,” said Esther Lim of the Southern California Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California. “It is an expert at designing jail facilities.”

Assistant Sheriff Terri McDonald, who runs the jail system, stressed to the board that she and Sheriff Lee Baca are already working on alternatives, including a program focused on female inmates.

Supervisor Gloria Molina said if the board was going to spend $1.4 billion to $1.6 billion dollars, she wanted to be sure that convicted criminals would serve a greater percentage of their jail time. Inmates sentenced to county, rather than state, terms typically serve 40 percent of their sentence.

“Right now it’s an arbitrary number and it all has to do with ‘we don’t have enough room for you, and you’re on your way,”’ Molina said.

The board did not OK any option Tuesday, but asked Vanir, the Sheriff’s Department and county attorneys to return with additional information. A report is expected back in 30 days.

Cedillo Kicks Off Term with Community Celebration

July 18, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Los Angeles Councilman Gilbert Cedillo hosted a community swearing-in celebration Sunday to kick-off his term as the new representative for the city’s first council district.

Hundreds turned out for the ceremony, which included retired California Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso administering the oath of office to Cedillo.

Attendees included national, state and local elected officials as well as residents, according to the councilman’s office.

Los Angeles Councilman Gilbert Cedillo vows to be the “People’s Representative” at his community swearing in at the Historic Park Plaza Hotel in Pico-Union. (Office of Councilman Gilbert Cedillo)

Los Angeles Councilman Gilbert Cedillo vows to be the “People’s Representative” at his community swearing in at the Historic Park Plaza Hotel in Pico-Union. (Office of Councilman Gilbert Cedillo)

In his speech, Cedillo said he will focus on creating cleaner and safer neighborhoods and opening already existing public space for extended recreational uses.

“I am honored that you have entrusted me to represent you in the first district,” Cedillo said. “We have a lot of work to do and I cannot wait to get started. He challenged the attendees to dream about making the district “better.”

Cedillo’s day of celebration kicked off at Our Lady Queen of Angeles church at Olvera Street where Rev. Father Richard Estrada gave him the “bendición del pueblo” (the town’s blessing).

The festivities continued with “A Taste of the 1st,” which featured food samplings from restaurants in the district, live music and other entertainment.

Chinese lion dancers, Korean fan dancers and Jose Rizo’s Grammy Award Winning jazz group, Mongorama, were some of the featured performances.

Cedillo is a veteran legislator, having served previously on the California State Assembly and State Senate. He officially took office on July 1.

The 1st Council District, includes all or parts of the neighborhoods of Glassell Park, Cypress Park, Highland Park, Mt. Washington, Solano Canyon, Elysian Park, Echo Park, Westlake, Angelino Heights, Temple Beaudry, Lafayette Park, Chinatown, Forgotten Edge, Lincoln Heights, Montecito Heights, Pico Union, Adams-Normandie, University Park, Mid Cities and Mac Arthur Park.

Commerce: Budget Woes No More

July 18, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

The Commerce City Council on Tuesday night unanimously approved a balanced budget of nearly $52 million for the 2013-2014 fiscal year, which started July 1.

This budget marks a turnaround for the city which has for the last four years applied different strategies to deal with decreases in revenue.

Picture 4

Finance Director Vilko Domic presented the 2013-2014 fiscal budget before it was approved at Tuesday’s council meeting. (www.ci.commerce.ca.us)

An increase in revenues has given the city a projected surplus over half a million dollars, which will help augment department deficiencies resulting from previous budget cuts.

Commerce Finance Director Vilko Domic told the city council Tuesday, expenditures are nearly $700,000 less than expected revenue. However, $240,000 of the surplus can be attributed to one-time funds and the council was cautioned against using of the funds for expenses that would be on going.

During the budget planning process, $845,000 in added expenditures was added to the budget, in some cases to restore previous cuts in areas such as employee hours, and to fill vacant positions. About $600,000 of the enhancements is for reoccurring items added to the operating budget, according to Domic’s presentation.

Domic thanked the council “for putting up with a lot of aggravation and anxiety over the last 4 years, 5 years, because it was something new to all of us.”

Council members said they are relieved by the new budget numbers.

Mayor Pro Tem Lilia R. Leon said the city was able to “ride the wave when it was lean,” but it now seems the city’s budget is again moving in the right direction.

“We’re getting a little in the black, we’re able to provide things taken away and restore some of them,” Leon said.

Councilmember Tina Baca Del Rio noted that while during past budget negotiations city staff was “looking at the numbers” and council members were “looking at the community,” they were able to meet in the middle.

“Its nice to see we have some money left at the end of the day, now let’s spend it!” Del Rio said jokingly, quickly taking back the spending comment.

Portions of the city’s budget were previously approved at the July 2 council meeting, according to Domic.

However, at the time, negotiations with the city’s employee groups had not yet been settled. Those negotiations have since been concluded and approved by the council.

Voter approved Measure AA funds, a half-cent sales tax expected to raise $4-$5 million annually for infrastructure projects and facility maintenance, are not included in the city’s General Fund budget. Last month, appointments were made to the seven-member Measure AA Advisory Committee that will provide input into how those funds should be spent.

Maywood Man Sentenced In Brutal, ‘Satanic’ Killing of Mother

July 18, 2013 by · 1 Comment 

A man described by a prosecutor as a Satanic follower was sentenced Wednesday to 25 years to life in prison for murdering his mother, whose butchered remains were found in a freezer in the Maywood apartment they shared.

Moises Meraz-Espinoza, 21, was convicted in June of first-degree murder for the Feb. 2, 2011, asphyxiation of his mother, Amelia Espinoza. The 42-year-old woman’s body was skinned with a knife and box cutters and dismembered with a saw, with all of her organs removed and never recovered, according to Deputy District Attorney Heba Matta.

Two upside-down crosses also were found carved into the woman’s skull, which was found with numerous bones and teeth in Meraz-Espinoza’s backpack, according to Matta. Her skin and flesh were discovered in the freezer.

Norwalk Superior Court Judge Thomas I. McKnew told Meraz-Espinoza the 25- years-to-life sentence was a punishment “that you certainly deserve,” citing the “hideous carving up of your mother’s body.”

The judge said the defendant skinned his mother, put some of her remains in bags, then went on with his life “as though nothing happened.”

During the trial, Matta called the killing “very symbolic,” noting that it occurred on Feb. 2 – a Satanic holiday that involves human or animal sacrifice. A Satanic bible that contained a chapter on human sacrifice was found inside the apartment the then-18-year-old man shared with his mother, the prosecutor said.

Meraz-Espinoza – who walked into the Huntington Park police station two days later at a cousin’s urging and told police he had killed his mother and dismembered her body – got a tattoo of a Satanic cross behind his left ear while in jail, according to the prosecutor.

In court Wednesday, defense attorney Jonathan Roberts questioned whether the killing was related to Satanic worship.

“There’s a lot of dispute about that,” he said.

Roberts contended that Matta was relying on a 50-year-old understanding of Satanic worship, noting that Satanists do not believe in human sacrifice.

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