Bell Gardens Council Assignments Get Heated

July 25, 2013 by · 27 Comments 

A heated argument broke out Monday at the Bell Gardens City Council when the annual reorganization of the council and committee assignments upset one council member so much he threatened to use social media to broadcast council actions he claims are “irresponsible” and “unfair.”

Lea esta nota EN ESPAÑOL: Fricción Durante la Reorganización del Concejo de Bell Gardens

The meeting started smoothly enough, with the council unanimously voting to make Councilman Daniel Crespo mayor for the first time during his 12 years on the council, and Councilwoman Priscilla Flores the new mayor pro tem.

“I wasn’t ready for this tonight,” said a surprised Crespo.

Daniel Crespo (left) was elected Bell Gardens mayor and Priscilla Flores (right) elected mayor pro tem Monday during the annual reorganization of the council. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Daniel Crespo (left) was elected Bell Gardens mayor and Priscilla Flores (right) elected mayor pro tem Monday during the annual reorganization of the council. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Flores, who like Crespo is up for election in November, said her nomination of Crespo was “deserving.”

Doing a complete about-face, Councilwoman Jennifer Rodriguez, who has been known to engage in shouting matches with Crespo during council meetings where each has accused the other of making decisions for “political gain,” said she now has “confidence” in Crespo’s leadership.

“Mr. Crespo and I have a long history but I think that our common interest is the betterment of our community,” Rodriguez said.

But the cordial atmosphere soon turned sour as the council turned to the business of reorganizing council member assignments to the various external boards, commissions and committees where council members represent the city.

Former Mayor Pedro Aceituno said he put the item on the agenda to make sure the appropriate adjustments were made, a task that usually takes place after the annual council reorganization.

Particularly contentious was Rodriguez’s nomination of Crespo to replace Councilman Sergio Infanzon as the city’s representative to the Gateway Cities Council of Government (COG), which includes representation from the twenty-seven cities of southeast Los Angeles County —such as Vernon, Montebello, Commerce, Bell, South Gate and Bell Gardens — the County of Los Angeles and the Port of Long Beach. Gateway Cities advocates on issues regarding air quality, housing needs, job creation and economic revitalization for the region.

It is a politically influential group that can impact legislation, policy and large amounts of government funding that flows to the area.

Infanzon told the council that his four years at Gateway Cities has put him and the city in a leadership position that would be lost if he is replaced.

“I just want to make sure that we understand the responsibilities and what it entails to be part of this and what it has taken to get a leadership role in this committee,” Infanzon said. “I believe it’s in the best interest in the city to keep it [the assignment] the same.”

Infanzon is also up for reelection this year and emphasized that he has only missed one committee meeting in four years, insinuating that other council members do not take their roles in their respective committees as seriously.

Currently Gateway Cities’ Board of Directors 1st vice president, Infanzon said he is on track to be elected president at the board’s next meeting in August. It would be the first time someone from Bell Gardens is president, he emphasized.

“I would like to continue representing the city in this organization because of the critical leadership that we have been able to create and develop,” he urged.

According to Gateway Cities’ Deputy Executive Director, Jack Joseph, traditionally the first vice president rotates to become president. Joseph told EGP this year would be an “exception” and the board would have to vote for someone else in order to address the change in representation. He added that while a new representative starts off as a delegate, there is no need to wait a certain number of years before being elected president as long as the other board members approve.

Rodriguez told Infanzon he should trust the new mayor to take over his duties on the committee. Nothing is preventing you “from being as involved as you have been.” Rodriguez added.

“Mr. Crespo has great expertise and he’s been on the council I believe longer than anyone of us and I think he will do a great job at representing us.”

The council is heading in right direction despite the challenges it faces, she said, raising her voice.

Infanzon said the issue is not about whether he can provide support to Crespo but about the four years it took for him to be on the verge of being elected president. Using his hands to illustrate his point, he said the city’s new delegate would have to start at the very bottom and Bell Gardens would lose its chance to finally have a representative in top leadership.

Infanzon said he “truly believes” the council members do not understand “how government works,” and that it would be irresponsible for council members to make a decision that night.

His comment riled Crespo who noted he was the Bell Gardens’ representative to Gateway Cities in the early 2000s.

“I’m perfectly aware of its functions and responsibilities,” he retorted. “I do look forward to having you briefing me on where we are at in this specific committee,” he added indignantly.

The mayor then called for a vote on Rodriguez ‘s nomination, but before it could be taken, Infanzon said the council voting that night would demonstrate a “lack of responsibility” to the people.

“I’m glad that the public is here, I’m glad that we have representation here, I’m glad that its being recorded because I don’t think that it’s fair,” he said, clearly upset. “Now just for political purposes or for whatever reason we are changing it.”

His passionate plea escalated when he told the council that every single resident in the city was going to know what happened at the meeting and they would “fight this.”

“We are going to use every single piece of media; Facebook, Twitter, press releases everything to let them know the decision that we make here,” he said angrily.

He accused the council of not understanding what needs to be done to “take the level of integrity and honesty of this body to a different level.”

Rodriguez shot back that if he wants to talk about politics and lack of responsibility, he should remember that all of the members of the council beside him are lifetime residents of Bell Gardens, insinuating that it’s him who does not understand the troubled times previous councils experienced.

“We have always been a very responsible council,” she said loudly. “I resent the fact that you would use social media as a threat to try to subordinate this council and convince us to do what you want us to do,” she said angrily. “I take that as a threat, I think that sometimes as a councilmember you have to let go of your ego, ” she said as the city council chambers grew uncomfortably quiet and some in the audience got up and left.

Despite the city attorney’s attempt to move the meeting along, Infanzon continued to press on and attempted to clarify he was calling the decision irresponsible, not the council, but Rodriguez was not having any of it, and told him he should be careful how he says certain things.

Crespo said the debate needed to stop so they could move on to other committees and called for the vote.

Stating that he was at first leaning toward voting for Infanzon, Councilmember Aceituno said Infanzon’s “unfortunate” comments led him to change his vote to Crespo.

“I took offense to some of the comments and the tone in which they were made,” Aceituno said.

When it came for Infanzon to vote he told the council it was “okay” and they could do whatever they please.

“All of you know that I work hard,” he said in a defeated voice. “Yes I know I wasn’t born in this community but my community is the people not the place.

“None of you should be offended,” he said in his final plea to the council. “I should be the one [who is] offended,” he said before abstaining.

Crespo was elected.

Infanzon turned down Rodriguez’s nomination of him to serve as the city’s alternate to Gateway Cities. “Thank you…but its okay,” he said emotionally when she pleaded with him to accept the nomination.

His rejection of her nomination sparked another round of arguments between the two, with

Rodriguez ultimately nominating Aceituno to be the city’s alternate.

Attempting to try to strike a conciliatory note, Infanzon told Crespo after the vote that he would support him.

“Tomorrow, after this meeting, you will be someone representing this city, I will be someone representing this city, because of that I will respect you and if you need something I will provide it to you, and I will support you with whatever it is that is needed to protect the interest of this city.”

Garcetti ‘Dreams Big’ with Ramona Gardens Youth

July 25, 2013 by · 1 Comment 

The young people at Legacy LA, a non-profit organization that caters to kids and teens from Ramona Gardens, recently invited Mayor Eric Garcetti to “dream big” with them—an invitation he gladly accepted.

Lea esta nota EN ESPAÑOL: Alcalde Garcetti ‘Sueña en Grande’ con la Juventud de Ramona Gardens

Garcetti met last week with members of Legacy LA’s Dream Big Leadership Program at the Hazard Park Armory —where they are based. While there, he heard a wish list of things the young people hope the mayor can help them get, including some basic facility upgrades like air conditioning and heating, and larger renovations such as the installation of their own café modeled after Homeboy Industries’ Homegirl Café near downtown Los Angeles.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti listened to teens from Ramona Gardens. The students made a presentation to the mayor that concluded with a wishlist of the changes they would like to see at Legacy LA. (EGP photo by Gloria Angelina Castillo)

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti listened to teens from Ramona Gardens. The students made a presentation to the mayor that concluded with a wishlist of the changes they would like to see at Legacy LA. (EGP photo by Gloria Angelina Castillo)

Several of the young men and women described to the mayor how Legacy LA has helped them personally and academically, allowing them to turn around their lives and to make positive contributions to their community.

As Garcetti listened, the young people, led by Marlene Azo who served as the main presenter, told the mayor that the boys and girls who live at Ramona Gardens face a number of reoccurring barriers and challenges to their success, such as little access to healthy food, air pollution and negative stereotypes about who they are and what they can achieve.

The Ramona Gardens neighborhood is a food desert and there are no grocery stores close by, Azo said. The one so-called “meat market” is really an over-priced liquor store, Azo added to illustrate her point.

Evelyn Castillo told Garcetti that the young people at Legacy LA wanted to understand how the community had become a food desert so they researched the area’s history, collected pictures and oral histories and created a timeline that shows “it wasn’t always like this.” They discovered that at one time there were more food stores, now one store has a monopoly.

Amanda Gutierrez told the mayor her front yard is basically a freeway interchange.

The air pollution in Boyle Heights in combination with the neighborhood being a food dessert is an unhealthy combination leading to diseases like asthma, lung cancer and diabetes, the group told Garcetti, who listened closely.

Their desires go beyond just wanting to understand why things are they way they are, so they informed Garcetti that they’ve started collecting signatures on a petition calling for upgrades to improve the neighborhood, including the installation of more lights, stop signs and crosswalks.

Azo, citing the ongoing video surveillance at Ramona Gardens, said they feel stigmatized as delinquents by police just because they come from a low-income community.

She’s proud, however, that the once strained relationship between police and Ramona Gardens youth has been improving since Legacy LA teens hosted a workshop aimed at giving youth and police the chance to begin to dialogue.

Eddie Licon was in the 8th grade when he first started receiving help at Legacy LA as part of the Gang Reduction Youth Development program. He said his father was murdered that year and he was referred to Legacy LA through the Gang Reduction Youth Development (GRYD) program.  “Having a case manager I could talk to on a weekly basis” helped him grieve and cope in a healthy way, Licon explained to the mayor.

Legacy LA, however, has since lost all of its GRYD funding, which forced the group to close down its satellite facility located within Ramona Gardens.

Now 20 years old, Lucy Herrera told the mayor she was part of Legacy LA’s first student leadership program and will graduate from UC Riverside this upcoming year. She now works for the organization during the summer as a program coordinator, and says she is grateful that she can count on Legacy LA’s Executive Director Lou Calanche for a summer job.

“I love my job. I love being able to interact with kids in programs I know will keep them off the streets and feeding into any stereotypes placed upon us for growing up in the projects,” Herrera said, adding Legacy LA has molded her and others into young professionals.

Legacy LA’s Calanche told EGP that the impact the program has had on these young people cannot be overstated, making their presentation to Garcetti that more profound.

“These are kids that everybody discounts because they’re from the projects, but we just make them believe in themselves and see how much potential there is,” Calanche told EGP. “These are kids that say ‘oh they told me that because I’m from Ramona Gardens, I’m a gang member’ and they come here and their whole life transforms and they basically build their capacity to be leaders and to believe in themselves and to have dreams for the future and once they believe they can do it, their whole life transforms.”

To continue and expand on these successes, the group said they need more money for programs to support young people academically, provide worthwhile diversions to gang activity and more job and career training opportunities.

They would like help finishing the building of their community garden and to someday have a youth run café, a movie theatre and recording studio, and to offer more workshops for parents in areas like career training, jobs skills and ESL. More jobs for both parents and the area’s teens are high on their list of priorities.

When it was his turn to speak, Garcetti told the small crowd of students, parents and Legacy LA staff about his family’s Mexican roots in Boyle Heights and how his father was the first in his family to graduate from college. “Your stories are the same as my family,” he said.

“As your mayor now, it’s a great honor to be with you to hear your courage and the way you have dreamt big, but also called on folks like me to dream big with you,” Garcetti said.

“This used to be an armory, where you keep all your ammunition, where you keep all the weapons to fight a war. This was built after WWII and you’ve transformed it to a place with a different sort of ammunition—not to hurt people but to protect and transform this community.”

Garcetti, who was just finishing up his third week as mayor, said the delinquency by some young people in Los Angeles in the name of Trayvon Martin last week was unfortunate. He told them it’s easier to get into trouble than it is to get out.

“Don’t look to me as someone who comes in here, ‘he’s the mayor, he’s the leader.’ Each one of you is powerful … you can change your life and the lives of the people around you more than I can. And each one of us has that power in our community, where we work, our school and a place like Legacy to make that difference,” Garcetti told the young people.

When asked by 13-year-old Jesse Ceja to sign the group’s wish list, Garcetti said he was happy to do so. His signature comes with moral support, funding however, is another matter.

The mayor told EGP all the items on the wish list are achievable goals. Coming back to visit and helping with the community gardens are the easier items on the list. The others may take additional time and resources.

“I’m close to Lou, so I feel we can work on that stuff but we don’t have millions of dollars coming out of our ears,” he said.

As for jobs for young people, he reiterated that the city has already set a goal of 10,000 jobs for teens next summer and fundraising is already underway.

According to Calanche, the organization’s long-term goal is to transform the community so its youth has all the resources and opportunities available to help them succeed in the future.

She said the organization was really impacted when they lost GRYD funding, which she hopes will be restored in the future so they can continue to offer case management and intervention services.

Legacy LA is trying to turn around Ramona Gardens’ 63 percent dropout rate by offering academic support and tutoring through its “Student Success” program, she said, noting that about 200 Ramona Gardens students attend Lincoln High School.

“Ramona Gardens is a community that has been forgotten and neglected for a long time … [but] we really believe that these kids have so much potential and just have to believe in themselves. It’s hard sometimes; the kids get in trouble, they get locked up or whatever, but if they go to jail, they come out, we’re still here,” Calanche explained.

She said Legacy LA has the same priorities as the mayor: academic success, the arts and green job training.

“So we’re hoping that by the end of his first term this [city-owned] building is completely renovated,” Calanche said. “It could be a sort of symbol of his success, of how we can transform other neighborhoods.”

 

 

 

Fricción Durante la Reorganización del Concejo de Bell Gardens

July 25, 2013 by · 1 Comment 

Una discusión acalorada se desató el lunes en la reunión del concejo municipal de Bell Gardens cuando la reorganización anual del concejo y las asignaciones a los comités molestó a uno de los concejales tanto que él declaró que utilizaría los medios sociales para difundir las acciones del concejo que—según él—eran “irresponsables” e “injustas”.

Read this story IN ENGLISH: Bell Gardens Council Assignments Get Heated

La reunión comenzó cohesiva y se eligió de forma unánime al concejal Daniel Crespo como el alcalde de la ciudad por primera vez durante sus 12 años como integrante del concejo. También seleccionaron a la concejala Priscilla Flores como la nueva vice alcalde.

“Yo no me esperaba esto esta noche”, dijo Crespo sorprendido.

Flores, quien al igual que Crespo buscarán la reelección en noviembre, dijo que la nominación de Crespo era muy merecida.

La concejala Jennifer Rodríguez, que ha sido rival de Crespo en el pasado, dijo que ahora tiene “confianza” en su liderazgo.

“El Sr. Crespo y yo tenemos una larga historia, pero creo que nuestro interés común es el mejoramiento de nuestra comunidad”, dijo Rodríguez.

Pero el ambiente cordial se perdió cuando el concejo comenzó a reorganizar las asignaciones de los miembros del concejo a las diversas juntas externas, comisiones y comités donde los concejales representan a la ciudad.

El concejal y ex alcalde Pedro Aceituno puso el tema en la agenda de la reunión porque quería asegurarse de que los ajustes necesarios se hicieran, él explicó. Las asignaciones por lo general se hacen cada año después de la reorganización.

La nominación por Rodríguez de reemplazar al concejal Sergio Infanzón con Crespo como el representante de la ciudad en el concejo “Gateway Cities Council of Governments” (COG por sus siglas en inglés) fue particularmente polémica. El grupo, compuesto de representantes de varias ciudades de la región, actúa colectivamente en cuestiones relacionadas a la calidad del aire, las necesidades de viviendas, la creación de empleo y la revitalización económica de la región.

Después de decir que él quería continuar como representante de Bell Gardens en el concejo COG, Infanzón dijo que quería que el concejo entendiera las responsabilidades, las obligaciones y lo que se requiere para conseguir un papel de liderazgo en ese concejo.

“Yo creo que es en el mejor interés de la ciudad dejarlo [la representación] como esta”, él dijo.

Infanzón, quien también buscará la reelección este año, continuó haciendo hincapié en que durante los últimos cuatro años él sólo había faltado una reunión del concejo COG e insinuó que los otros concejales de Bell Gardens no tomaban seriamente sus papeles en los comités.

Como primer vicepresidente del concejo COG, Infanzón dijo que él seria elegido como presidente en la próxima reunión programada para agosto, por lo cual seria la primera vez que Bell Gardens tendría la oportunidad de tener un presidente en el concejo COG, él subrayó.

“Me gustaría seguir representando a la ciudad en ese organismo debido a la oportunidad crítica de liderazgo que hemos sido capaces de crear y desarrollar”, dijo Infanzón.

Según el subdirector ejecutivo de COG Jack Joseph, a pesar de que Bell Gardens nunca ha tenido a un representante desempeñarse como presidente en ese concejo, cada año el concejo elige un nuevo presidente. Aunque tradicionalmente la posición del primer vicepresidente gira para convertirse en el presidente, Joseph dijo a EGP que el concejo COG ahora tendrá que votar por alguien diferente.

En la reunión, Rodríguez le pidió a Infanzón a confiar en el nuevo alcalde para hacerse cargo de sus funciones en el comité. Luego ella levantó su voz diciendo que el concejo municipal se dirige hacia la dirección correcta a pesar de los retos que han enfrentado previamente.

Rodríguez e Infanzón discutieron. Infanzón tratando de explicar que Crespo comenzará desde abajo, no en alto rango, al unirse al COG, por lo cual la misma oportunidad de ser elegido a presidente en agosto no será una posibilidad.

“Por alguna razón, este cuerpo no entiende eso”, dijo Infanzón asegurando que sería irresponsable tomar una decisión esa noche. “Realmente creo que es una falta de responsabilidad para las personas, y [prueba de que] no entienden cómo funciona el gobierno.”

Este comentario causó a Crespo a decir que él formó parte del COG anteriormente, a los principios de la década 2000.

“Estoy perfectamente consciente de sus funciones y responsabilidades”, dijo Crespo. “Espero platicar contigo para que me digas las actividades actuales del comité.”

Durante la votación para poner a Crespo como representante de Bell Gardens en COG, Infanzón reiteró que era irresponsable cambiar el representante esa noche.

“Me alegro de que el público está aquí, me alegro de que tengamos representación aquí, me alegro de que esto se está grabando porque creo que esto no es justo”, Infanzón dijo claramente molesto. “Ahora, solo por fines políticos o lo que sea la razón estamos haciendo el cambio.”

Su petición apasionada se intensificó cuando le dijo al concejo que cada residente de la ciudad iba a saber lo que ocurrió en la reunión y que él planeaba pelear la decisión.

“Vamos a usar todas las opciones de medios de comunicación, Facebook, Twitter, comunicados de prensa para hacerles saber la decisión que hicimos aquí”, él dijo haciendo hincapié en sus palabras. “Que no entendemos qué es lo que tenemos que hacer para lograr un nivel elevado de integridad y honestidad en este organismo.”

Rodríguez recordó a Infanzón que el resto del concejo eran residentes de toda la vida de la comunidad, insinuando que su falta de residencia de largo plazo le impedía entender los tiempos difíciles que el concejo experimentó previamente.

“Siempre hemos sido un consejo muy responsable”, dijo Rodríguez, luego levantó la voz. “Me molesta el hecho de que usted desea usar los medios sociales como una amenaza para tratar de subordinar este concejo y convencernos de hacer lo que usted quiere que hagamos.”

En ese momento hubieron residentes que comenzaron a marcharse de la reunión mientras que otros se quedaron en un silencio incómodo.

Rodríguez terminó su discurso a voz alta diciendo que esperaba que Infanzón trabajaría al lado de Crespo.

Infanzón respondió clarificando que él estaba llamando a la decisión irresponsable, no el concejo en sí.

Crespo dijo que el concejo tenía que seguir adelante y era necesario que el debate llegara a un fin para que el concejo pueda hacer frente a las asignaciones al resto de los comités externos.

El concejal Aceituno indicó que al principio se inclinaba hacia Infanzón, pero sus comentarios “desafortunados” lo llevaron a cambiar su voto a favor de Crespo.

“Todos ustedes saben que yo trabajo duro”, dijo Infanzón con voz derrotada cuando fue su turno de votar. “Sí, sé que no nací en esta comunidad, pero mi comunidad es el pueblo, no el terreno.”

El concejo unánimemente eligió a Crespo al COG, sin embargo, Infanzón se absténió de la votación.

Rodríguez trató de nominar a Infanzón como el miembro suplente al COG, pero Infanzón rechazó la oferta y hubo más gritos entre los dos. Aceituno fue elegido el nuevo suplente.

“Mañana después de esta reunión vas a ser representante de esta ciudad, y yo voy a ser representante de esta ciudad”, Infanzón dijo Crespo después de la votación. “Por eso es que yo te respetaré y si usted necesita algo te lo voy a dar y te ayudaré con cualquier cosa que sea necesario para proteger el interés de esta ciudad.”

Undocumented Students Protest Napolitano as New UC President

July 25, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

SAN FRANCISCO – Janet Napolitano became the new president of the University of California last week over objections of student protesters. Six students were removed by campus police from the Board of Regents meeting where Napolitano’s appointment was confirmed.

The former U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security will be the first woman president of the 10-campus UC system and will earn $570,000 per year in her new position. Shortly after Napolitano’s compensation was read at the public meeting, a UC student stepped forward from the audience and started the chant, “Education, not deportation!” Campus police escorted four other students out shortly after when they refused to leave the room.

About 60 students, parents, faculty and staff representing UC Merced, Berkeley, Santa Cruz and other campuses protested outside the meeting to show their disappointment with Napolitano’s nomination.

As Secretary of Homeland Security, Napolitano oversaw a record number of deportations under the Obama administration, about 400,000 undocumented immigrants per year.

Undocumented student protesters said they were concerned about what her appointment could mean for students like them.

“She’s separated a lot of families,” said Wei Lee, an undocumented graduate of UC Santa Cruz, who noted that the UC system is home to many undocumented students. “We cannot allow someone like Janet Napolitano with her background and her experience to run this fine education system.”

Lee, who is ethnically Chinese and was born and raised in Brazil, fell out of immigration status after being denied political asylum. He said that without the advocacy of his friends and community, he and his family would have been deported. Today, he is a part of the student group ASPIRE (Asian Students Promoting Immigrant Rights through Education) and says that the current immigration system “does not reflect American values.”

San Francisco State University student Akiko Aspillaga held a pink sign that read, “This feminist opposes Napolitano’s appointment.”

“For somebody who justifies the war, who militarizes not just our borders but our communities and separates our families… if those are her values, we don’t want her to be the lead of our education system,” said Aspillaga.

Lotus Yee Fong, whose son has two UC degrees, expressed concern over Napolitano’s credentials: “She is not an educator.”

Protesters also criticized the timing of the appointment. Napolitano was nominated only a week before the public meeting, which they said left them little time to organize.

“It’s more or less a political coup,” said UC Santa Cruz student Daniel Shubat, shaking his head. “They did it during the summer. It’s underhanded and we don’t have a say.”

Supporters are quick to point out that Napolitano has also been criticized by Republicans who accuse her of being too soft on immigration enforcement.

Hundreds Attend Metro Meetings on SR 710 Project

July 25, 2013 by · 1 Comment 

Hundreds of people turned out for Metro’s  “All Communities Convening” meetings, held during the last week in El Sereno, Pasadena and Monterey Park, to review the SR-710 gap closure Environmental Study.

All three meetings offered the same format; attendees watching a video — also available online at http://www.metro.net/projects/sr-710-conversations/ — and presentations on the “refined” five alternatives included in the draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) and Environmental Impact Statements (EIS), as reported by EGP on July 11.

Stakeholders attended Tuesday night’s “All Communities Convening” presented by Metro in Monterey Park. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Stakeholders attended Tuesday night’s “All Communities Convening” presented by Metro in Monterey Park. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

The completion of the SR-710 freeway to 210 Freeway gap has been under consideration in some form or other for more than 50 years. In some areas it is as controversial today as it was in the very beginning.

Metro has narrowed down the alternatives under review to 5, four of which aim to reduce local and regional traffic congestion through multi-modal concepts, including: a bus rapid transit (BRT) system; a light rail system like the Gold Line; better traffic management including synchronizing traffic signals, ramp metering and street widening, and a controversial underground freeway tunnel connecting the 710 and 210 freeways. The tunnel could have one or two levels, be a toll road, or be a bus transit route.

The 5th or  “no build” alternative would just implement planned improvements in the 2012 Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) Regional Transportation Plan (RTP).

Meetings held in recent days drew a variety of responses from people in attendance, including in El Sereno on July 18 where each of the five proposals had some measure of support.

Long-time 710 gap closure opponent and El Sereno resident Tom Williams said the evaluation criteria for the alternatives is flawed because the freeway tunnel is not a fair comparison to the light rail or bus rapid transit alternatives. George Cabrera Jr. expressed concerns over safety, noting two recent gasoline truck fires, and Peter Orona Jr. invited Metro representatives to his home to take in the clean air he feels is threatened by the gap closure project.

But Aurora Perez, who identified herself as El Sereno’s honorary mayor, said she favors the freeway tunnel because it will improve traffic for future generations. She said the El Sereno community has been neglected for too many years, mostly because they oppose any type of change.

Mike Roseberry, also of El Sereno, told EGP he favors the light rail option. “They need to break up that money and start spending it on the streets,” he said.

However, Sandra Arias and Edward Chavez, both residents of the Maravilla neighborhood in East Los Angeles, told EGP they oppose the light rail alternative because it would mean more construction and the taking of some property through eminent domain in East L.A. They say the area has already received more than its fair share of transportation projects, which have over the years sliced up the community with freeways and most recently, the Gold Line extension in 2009.

The only reason Mednik Avenue at 3rd Street is wide enough for the light rail alternative, said one attendee, is because homes were taken there for the 60-freeway expansion in the mid-1960s.

In Pasadena on July 20, opponents of the SR 710 toll tunnel proposal protested prior to the Metro convening meeting.

Tuesday in Monterey Park, where many of the streets have become the unintended overflow valve for traffic at the end of the freeway, most of the 50 or so people in attendance seemed to agree that traffic at the city’s major intersections needs to be addressed as part of the plan, but appeared split on whether the tunnel option is the best way to go about it.

The back and forth discussion by those in the audience included some people comparing the tunnel proposal to tunnels found in other parts of the world. People opposed to the project expressed concern over the price tag, potential air pollution and increased traffic.

On the other hand, backers of the build alternatives say they are already overwhelmed by traffic and are being taxed for a project that has been stalled for years.

“If we had built this tunnel over 40 years ago, it would have cost less,” said Monterey Park’s Mayor Teresa Real Sebastian, a supporter of the tunnel option. “If we wait 40 years into the future it’s going to cost more, let’s build it today.”

Metro expects to circulate the Draft Environmental document and conduct Public Hearing on it in Spring 2014, with the final Environmental Document and alternative selection by Spring of 2015.

 

 

Montebello Bikers Ride to Create Awareness for Bike Lanes

July 25, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Dozens of cyclists joined Montebello Mayor Christina Cortez on a bike ride around the city last week in hopes of drawing support for adding more bike lanes to city streets.

The Montebello Bicycle Coalition, a group dedicated to making the city bicycle-friendly, organized the “mayor’s bike ride” as a way to get more residents committed to attending future hearings on a bicycle lane feasibility study scheduled to go in front of the Traffic and Safety Commission in September.

The coalition led the four-mile bike ride around the city to give the mayor and other residents a chance to experience what it’s like to be a cyclist in the city.

Montebello residents of all ages took a four mile ride around the city last week in hopes of creating awareness for bike lanes. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Montebello residents of all ages took a four mile ride around the city last week in hopes of creating awareness for bike lanes. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Montebello currently has two marked bike paths along Montebello Boulevard and Gerhart Avenue.

Montebello Bicycle Coalition member Joel Montano told EGP that the group wants bicycle infrastructure in the city to be improved, whether it is with bike lanes or protected bike parking.

“We hope that through the mayor’s involvement we can show that bicycle lanes are a way to transport yourself throughout the city,” he said.

In February, the Montebello Planning and Community Development Department held a public meeting to hear concerns and suggestions from local residents and cyclists about the proposal to make the city more bike-friendly through infrastructure changes. The meeting was held in advance of the preparation of a feasibility study to determine if the city has the capacity for those changes.

Montebello’s Planning Manager Ariel Socarras told EGP that although the completion of the final draft has gone “well beyond the anticipated schedule” due to limited staffing dedicated to the project, staff is expected to submit the feasibility study to the commission in the coming weeks.

“Its definitely a priority on our end, it’s just the budget constraints that make it difficult,” he said. “The department thinks an alternative [form of] transportation is a benefit for the city.”

Once the commission receives the study, they can move forward with a recommendation to the city council.

While it is still to early to say what the city council will decide, according to Socarras, if they feel strongly on moving forward with a bicycle plan after reviewing the study and allocate the money needed for its implementation, the city could potentially see new bike lanes in 2014.

“This [study] is just step one in a number of steps that needs to take place,” he said. “The next step is getting the money.”

Mayor Cortez, who has worked with the group for over two years, told the crowd of riders that she hopes the momentum from the event will lead the city council to move forward with a plan to add on to existing bike lanes. She said there is growing support in the community and neighboring area for its implementation.

“A lot of people are beginning to ride bikes because they are becoming more health conscious and aware of the environment,” she said. “Maybe with some funds and additional resources we’ll be able to get some safe bike lanes within our city for riders.”

Montano told EGP that he hopes the feasibility study is released soon so the city can take the next step and start becoming involved in moving the project forward. He hopes residents who participated in the bike ride go beyond the event and become an active part in making the city bicycle-friendly.

“This is not just a one day thing, we hope that residents continue to participate,” Montano said.

 

The Montebello Bicycle Coalition meets the first and third Wednesday of the month at the Daily Brew, located at 137 N. Montebello Blvd. at 7 p.m.

 

Rise In Use of Force In Jails Not a Worry, Says Special Monitor

July 25, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Use-of-force reports generated in Los Angeles County jails are on pace to exceed the number recorded in 2012, according to figures made public Tuesday, but a lawyer who monitors the sheriff’s department said he was unconcerned.

“At this point, I’m not terribly concerned,” said Merrick Bobb, special counsel to the Board of Supervisors.

He said he was following the trend carefully, but that most of the year-over-year increase related to use of the lowest level of force.

Assistant Sheriff Terri McDonald, who runs the jail system, said that the lowest level incidents tracked were those that did not result in any injuries or complaints and were judged to be in line with department policy.

That category accounted for three-quarters of all reported incidents in 2013.

As of July 6, the sheriff’s department has logged 310 use-of-force reports against inmates for the calendar year. That compares to 479 reports logged in all of 2012, according to the county.

McDonald said force was sometimes needed to break up fights, “rescue” inmates or control mentally ill inmates, for example.

Bobb and McDonald agreed that it was reasonable to expect a jump in the numbers now that supervisors were demanding all use-of-force incidents be reported.

“It may be that force is being reported more faithfully than it was in the past,” McDonald said.

Bobb, who has been reviewing conditions in the county’s jails for decades, updated the Board of Supervisors Tuesday on the status of reforms intended to change a culture of deputy-on-inmate abuse in the jails.

Seven incidents of deputies using excessive force have been logged so far this year. Those cases were typically brought to the attention of supervisors and internal investigators.

One of the biggest reforms the department is implementing is a dual-track career path for deputies on patrol and those working as jailers. That plan includes rotating jailers between jails and cell blocks to prevent dangerous cliques from forming.

The Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence pointed to such cliques as empowering a culture of violence.

Supervisor Gloria Molina urged McDonald to root out the “bad guys” among jailers, as the county invests in upgrading the jails and paying for reforms.

The department has asked for more money to hire 25 more jail supervisors and to create a bureau to train deputies to work in jails. The county’s chief executive officer is reviewing those requests. So far, none has been handed up to the board for approval.

Bell Gardens Expo Draws Crowds

July 25, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Bell Gardens residents visited the nearly 50 booths from businesses and community groups at the Business and Community Expo on Saturday. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Bell Gardens residents visited the nearly 50 booths from businesses and community groups at the Business and Community Expo on Saturday. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

A business and community expo last week in Bell Gardens drew hundreds of residents and businesses interested in learning more about the services the city has to offer.

The Bell Gardens Business and Community Expo was moved to its new location, Veterans Park, which provide ample space and access.

Director of Community Development Abel Avalos told EGP that the event is a “stepping stone” for the city to attract businesses.

“The turnout was good,” he said, but added that in the future he hopes to work closer with the city’s business chamber “to get the word out and increase participation.

A number of local businesses participated with booth space, where they were able to share with current and potential customers information about their services and products,

The expo also included a health and lifestyle element, offering free blood pressure testing, a fitness demonstration and computer classes.

 

 

 

Wells Fargo Launches Financial Literacy Program for Veterans

July 25, 2013 by · 1 Comment 

Military bases across the U.S. will become a new classroom of sorts for military veterans and their families as part of a new financial literacy program being launched by Wells Fargo & Company under the Hands on Banking® for Military banner, the company announced late last week.

The goal of the program is to address the financial literacy challenges facing military members, veterans and their families, and their unique needs at every stage of their career, according to Wells Fargo’s announcement.

The program presents 10 individual lesson topics ranging from the basics of banking to planning for retirement.

“Many military members and their families face unique challenges that put them at a financial disadvantage, including deployments and moving around every few years,” said Brian McCullough, Wells Fargo Military Affairs program manager.  “These men and women sacrifice their lives for us. The very least we can do is give them the right financial tools to help them through these transitions. They have been there for us. We want to be there for them.”

Wells Fargo is working with the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) to bring Hands on Banking for Military classes to service members at close to 700 locations across the country, according to the banking institution’s announcement.

The program is also designed to help keep military personnel and their families on a path to financial stability with NFCC agency counselors providing one-on-one personalized financial reviews, budget planning and concrete solutions to pressing financial concerns.

Military and veteran groups wishing to have a representative teach a class, or individuals interested in scheduling a session with a financial specialist can contact the NFCC at (855) 374-2773.

Wells Fargo also has banking locations on nine bases across the country and plans to offer Hands on Banking for Military at these locations. Hands on Banking for Military is part of a broader Wells Fargo effort supporting military service members and veterans: helping active duty military service members and veterans achieve homeownership, helping veterans transition to civilian careers and providing customized financial education.

Hands on Banking for Military is an HTML-based course and is located at www.handsonbanking.org.  

 

Blacks and Latinos Seek Mental Health Care Less Often

July 25, 2013 by · 1 Comment 

Blacks and Latinos receive less adequate mental health care than Whites, finds a new study in Health Services Research.

“We found that Blacks and Latinos [remain] in care, including using outpatient services and filling psychotropic drugs, for a shorter time than whites,” said lead study author, Benjamin Le Cook, Ph.D. M.P.H., assistant professor in the department of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. “Furthermore, since Blacks often wait longer to get help, they are more likely to end up in a psychiatric ER or psychiatric inpatient facility to treat their mental illness.”

The study also found significant differences in how people seek mental health care. “For those who do make it to care, African-Americans and Latinos have episodes of care that are shorter in duration,” said Le Cook.

Le Cook and his colleagues analyzed data from the responses of 47,903 White, Black and Latino adults age 18 and over to mental health questions in the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS) regarding probable need for mental health or substance abuse care.

They found that while 40 percent of Whites with a probable need for mental health care sought treatment, only 27 percent of Latinos and 24 percent of Blacks did. Efforts to reduce disparities in seeking care might focus on improving identification of clinical need among minorities, access to mental health systems of care in minority communities, and initial engagement in treatment by minorities, the researchers suggest.

“Access drives quality of mental health care, and improved quality is needed, but education and engagement are vitally important,” comments Erica Ahmed, director of public education at Mental Health America in Alexandria, Virginia.

Mental health literacy is complex and engagement is contingent on many factors like poverty, citizenship, race and isolation, said Ahmed.  “You can live in an urban area but you can still be isolated when it comes to accessing mental health care.”

When the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is implemented, Le Cook said better insurance coverage will likely help Blacks and Latinos, but there are still disparities.

“While insurance increases mental health access, adequacy of care is low for those with and without insurance and a number of insured individuals fill and refill psychotropic medications without any patient follow-up,” he noted. “These problems are not likely to be eliminated after insurance coverage expansion.”

Next Page »

Copyright © 2014 Eastern Group Publications, Inc. ·