Louis Mraz was taken into custody July 6 by LAPD officers and charged with assault and hit and run.
On May 28, 2011, Los Angeles resident Winona Wacker was riding her bicycle northbound on Avenue 50 when Mraz hit her, according to police. A witness told police Mraz had room on the roadway to pass and he saw Mraz intentionally strike the victim. The witness followed Mraz and was able to get the vehicle’s license plate number.
Mraz claims that as he drove away, he saw the cyclist still riding her bike.
Mraz was booked at the Metropolitan Detention Center, later posted bond and was released. Central Traffic Division detectives are conducting the investigation.
California’s Assembly President John Perez (46th District) has named Tony Zapata the Veteran of the Year for 2011. Zapata is the commander of VFW Post 4696 headquartered at East L.A.’s American Legion Post 804. He is a long-time Boyle Heights resident and member of the Resurrection Church Neighborhood Watch.
“I am pleased to select Mr. Zapata as the 46th Assembly District Veteran of the Year. Mr. Zapata’s service to the United States during the Vietnam War was honorable, but his service did not end there. From the moment of his discharge back to civilian life, he has been a leader on veteran’s issues and an invaluable resource for the men and women of southern California who have served our nation in uniform. He has been a tireless volunteer for countless community organizations, and his service is a credit to the uniform he wore and the community we are all so proud of,” Perez said in a written statement.
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“As a Veteran of Foreign Wars I try to help veterans and I also do a lot of community work, I guess that’s what they noticed,” he said. Zapata noted that a lot of service members are coming back to the community and need the support and direction to ensure they receive their Veterans Affairs benefits.
Zapata was also honored last year at the 2010 Los Angeles County Veteran of the Year.
When Sofia Freire walked onto Roosevelt High School’s campus for the first time four-years ago, she was scared, anxious and excited—just like the cap-and-gown clad students were in their freshman year, she said during the Rough Riders’ commencement ceremony at the Shrine Auditorium on June 30.
“Just as today is your last day as a student at Roosevelt High School, today is my last day as the principal of Roosevelt High School,” Freire said.
Freire has the distinction of becoming the last campus-wide principal at Roosevelt, ending the school’s almost 90-year-old governance structure following the school’s transformation to a multi-school model.
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While Freire leaves Roosevelt, she will continue to work with the school as the director of the Partnership for LA Schools’ Instructional Team, according to Partnership spokesperson Luz Maria Castellanos.
“As I complete my fourth year as principal of Roosevelt High School, I feel fortunate to have served such an amazing school. I have had the pleasure of interacting with the best students in the district and the privilege of meeting the most committed alumni, both of whom have enriched my experience as a principal, taught me so much about the power of the human sprit and demonstrated unrelenting commitment to the Rough Rider legacy,” Freire said.
With the graduation of the Class of 2011, Roosevelt completes its transformation to a campus with multiple schools on a single campus, a model adopted by the Los Angeles Unified School District which is aimed at increasing academic achievement and reducing dropout rates.
The Partnership for LA Schools (PLAS), under the leadership of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and former LAUSD Superintendent David L. Brewer III, was launched in 2007 to take over the management of several high schools, including Roosevelt, and some of their feeder schools.
Although the campus already had Small Learning Communities (SLCs), the theme-based academic programs were not autonomous until sometime after they joined the Partnership, according to Lizette Patron of InnerCity Struggle. InnerCity Struggles supported Roosevelt’s incorporation into the Partnership and campaigned in 2007 to get Roosevelt, Stevenson and Hollenbeck Middle School parents, teachers and students on board with the reform plan.
Roosevelt has seven small schools, each with its own principal.
Earlier this year, one of the schools, the Academy of Environmental & Social Policy, was thrust into the spotlight when a car ran a red light and hit a school bus carrying students. An elderly pedestrian died in the collision and students had varying degrees of injuries.
Jhoana Ascencion, valedictorian for the Academy of Environmental & Social Policy (ESP), was one of the students riding the bus that day. Ascencion had previously told EGP she enjoyed the small-school environment of Roosevelt’s ESP. The academy is located at the East LA Skills Center in Lincoln Heights—a remnant of previous overcrowding at Roosevelt. In 2009, Roosevelt was relieved of overcrowding with the opening of the Felicitas and Gonzalo Mendez Learning Center.
Reminiscing, Roosevelt’s Class of 2011 President Edgar Orozco said he and his peers went through a lot from Freshmen- to Senior-year, not the least of which was the school’s transition during their sophomore year.
“Not only were we losing students (to Mendez High School), but we were also breaking up into seven small schools,” Orozco said. “Traditional calendar, design teams, complex-wide—all terms that were quickly shoved into our school lives. While this transition brought uncertainty, it did it not override the enthusiasm that we felt,” he said about his junior-year, unlike any other in Roosevelt’s history.
The partnership encompasses 21 schools across LAUSD. Roosevelt stakeholders voted to become part of the Partnership for five years; the alliance will be up for reconsideration during the 2012-2013 school year, according to Patrick Sinclair, spokesperson for the Partnership for LA Schools.
While Roosevelt and other Partnership schools have undergone changes, so have other schools in LAUSD, which has simultaneously carried out reforms, like Public School Choice that allows traditional campuses and outside groups to compete to run new and underperforming schools.
The 2011 Roosevelt Valedictorian is Jesus Hernandez. Brian Salazar is the Salutatorian. Each of the small schools has its own valedictorian. They are Magdalena Ceja (Law and Government), Miriam B. Gonzalez (Communication, New Media and Technology), Jessica J. Marquez (Humanitas Art School); Jhoana Ascencion (Environmental and Social Policy); Jesus Hernandez (Math, Science and Technology Magnet); Maira Solis (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), and Perla Guadalupe Gama (Academy of Medical and Health Sciences).
Brenda Valadez-Romero was recognized for perfect attendance from kindergarten to 12th grade.
Officials of cash-strapped Montebello have filed a lawsuit against a Walnut-based developer they claim defrauded the city out of $1.3 million in federal dollars meant for affordable housing.
The city was ordered to pay back $1.3 million to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development after it failed to follow through on an affordable housing project it had informed HUD was complete, even thought the project had yet to get underway.
Montebello’s lawsuit, filed June 30 against developer Danny C. Ku of Ku & Associate, seeks to recover $1.3 million in HOME funds loaned to him to help develop a 62-unit mixed-use project on 112 and 114 South Sixth Street.
The project was never built, and now the city is accusing Ku of enriching himself and others by inflating the value of a piece of property on West Whittier Blvd that was used to secure the loan.
The lawsuit also argues that since the city council never formally approved the contract, it is entitled to the money it paid to Ku to develop the project.
But it is not clear in the lawsuit why the city released the money to Ku in the first place. A June 25, 2008 city council resolution required staff to get the council’s approval before executing the loan, but the loan agreement was never voted on by the city council.
The funds were nevertheless given to Ku after a February 2009 loan agreement was signed by Ku, then City Administrator Richard Torres, City Clerk Robert King, and Matt Gorman, a city attorney representing Alvarez-Glasman and Colvin Law Firm.
Ku says he is unable to provide any comments at this time to “clear his name” because he has yet to receive the lawsuit.
While the lawsuit only names Ku’s company specifically, the lawsuit also points to other unknown defendants who could be identified later as also being responsible for damages to the city.
Meanwhile, the FBI has also begun looking into potential criminal misuse of the federal funds and investigators have subpoenaed city documents related to its HUD funding.
The funds loaned to Ku’s development company were meant to offset any loss in profits resulting from the developer’s deal with the city to turn ten of the project’s mixed-use units into very low to low-income housing.
To get the loan, Ku was required to offer the city security in the form of a similarly valued asset in case he failed to make good on the loan.
According to the lawsuit, the property used to secure the $1.3 million loan was located at 501 West Whittier Blvd.
The city believes Ku agreed on July 28, 2008 to purchase the security property from Dimas and Ana Cobian for $1.442 million.
Six months later on January 23, 2009, there was another agreement to raise the purchase price to $1.6 million, according to the lawsuit.
But an audit performed by the city in Feb. 2011 put the actual property value at $1.1 million at the time of purchase.
The lawsuit does not state if the city sought an independent appraisal of the property before officials signed off on the loan agreement that allowed the funds to be released to Ku.
Ku would not have been eligible for the loan if the Whittier Blvd property had been valued lower than the amount of the HOME funds loan, according to the lawsuit.
Montebello’s suit alleges that by raising the purchase price, Ku misrepresented the value of the property and caused commission and brokerage fees to become “bloated.” Officials claim these fees served as “kickbacks” for those involved.
The city also alleges Ku owns Confidence Realty Inc, one of the two real estate brokerage firms that received a commission through the purchase of the Whittier Blvd property.
Confidence received a $42,000 commission, while Iren Veneziano, Inc., the other broker, received an $84,000 commission. Montebello Development Two, LLC, the development company set up to develop the project, and also owned by Ku, got $116,000.
The city also claims that if Torres had known the value of the property was “artificially” inflated, he would not have executed the loan agreement.
Councilman Frank Gomez called the lawsuit “pretty straightforward.”
He told EGP “Mr. Ku needs to repay the loan” because there was no deal since the [former] city council never signed off on it.
Councilwoman Christina Cortez has been quoted as calling the lawsuit “frivolous,” a claim Gomez says just puts the city in a “difficult position moving forward.”
Gomez said the city’s legal team has fully briefed the council on the issue, and he is confident the city is on “strong ground.”
“Mind you, this came into being by a previous city council and the majority of the current city council has worked quite diligently in remedying the errors of the previous city council, and we are going to continue to do that,” he said.
“We’re going to work with whatever investigations are either ongoing or [come up] in the future.”
Middle and high school students will not be allowed to return to school in the fall if they have not been vaccinated for pertussis, otherwise known as whooping cough.
A new state law that went into effect July 1 makes pertussis booster shots, called Tdap, mandatory for 7th to 12th grade students in the 2011-2012 school year. In subsequent years beginning with the 2012-2013 school year, incoming 7th graders will be required to get booster shots.
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Public health officials predict long lines at clinics and doctors’ offices if parents wait until the last minute to get their children vaccinated. A public awareness campaign was launched to encourage early compliance with the law.
“We hope parents will use the summer break to get a simple shot for their children. Parents can lead by example and also get vaccinated,” said Marina Alvarez, spokesperson for the County of Los Angeles Public Health Department.
Pertussis is a highly contagious bacterial disease characterized by severe coughing spells that could sometimes lead to vomiting. The coughs often have a “whooping” sound, hence the colloquial name for the disease. Serious complications include pneumonia, seizures and encephalopathy.
The disease is especially dangerous for infants under the age of 1 year old. Ten infants died in the past year, up from previous years when there was either one infant death or no deaths during the year, say health officials.
Because infants are too young to receive Tdap shots, caretakers and parents have been encouraged to get shots to prevent the possibility of infecting those who are more vulnerable, Alvarez says.
A spike in whooping cough cases prompted the new state law and the campaign by health departments around the state to encourage vaccinations for everyone 10 years or older.
Officials recorded 870 cases in 2010, making this the “worst epidemic” since 1947. Officials say they have not determined why there was an increase in whooping cough cases this year.
“Vaccines save thousands of lives each year… choosing not to vaccinate your children can have serious consequences,” said Jonathan E. Fielding, MS, MPH, Director of Public Health and Health Officer.
The price of shots range between $50 to $70, but health centers and clinics are providing shots at a much lower cost, around $20. Shots are often available for free to children under the age 18. To find out where Tdap shots are available, health officials recommend calling the county’s 24-hour information hotline 211 or visiting http://www.vaccinatela.com.
In addition to protecting against pertussis, the Tdap shot also guards against diptheria and tetanus. Alvarez says the shot should not be confused with the Dtap shot.
Students are being required to get vaccinated because “schools are havens for infection,” Alvarez said, assuring that “vaccines are safe” and that parents should not be concerned about the side effects.
Montebello Unified School District’s Assistant Superintendent of Pupil Service Mike Cobarrubias says the new law applies to 15,000 students in the district, making the goal of 100 percent participation a “massive undertaking.”
In addition to passing out flyers to parents, recording tele-parent messages, and posting information about the requirement on their website, MUSD officials have also partnered with St. Francis Medical Center and AltaMed to provide mobile clinics offering free shots throughout the summer.
The district will cross-reference the California Immunization Registry (CAIR) vaccination database, used by 80 percent of vaccination providers, to ensure they have current information about which students have already gotten shots.
Cobarrubias says 44 percent of MUSD students who are required to get shots have already done so. As the new school year nears and the number of students who still need to get vaccinated dwindles, the district may call parents directly to ensure all students are ready for school on time.
Thousands of LAUSD students at year-round schools showed up Tuesday without the required proof of immunization, creating chaos as school officials and nurses attempted to either verify information or provide students with forms to be filled out showing they had received the vaccination before they can return to school. Schools on the year-round schedule include Bell High School, Fremont High School, Huntington Park High School, Gage Middle School and Ellen Ochoa Learning Center.
Students who have not been vaccinated may be sent home, or be assigned to an auditorium or non-instructional area until they have received the Tdap shot. Forty percent of all LAUSD students have already gotten the booster shots, according to school officials.
School officials recommend looking up clinic locations at http://www.publichealth.lacounty.gov/ip/IZclinics/clinics.htm and getting more information about Pertussis at http://pertussis.lausd.net or http://www.shotsforschool.org.
You can view video examples of whooping cough at http://youtu.be/wuvn-vp5InE
and http://youtu.be/C1B7Q2XrYXw, as well as read the history of the recent epidemic at http://www.publichealth.lacounty.gov/acd/Diseases/Pertussis.htm.
Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story said nine infants died over the last year; the actual number is 10.
Local authorities are searching for a brazen rapist who attacked a 6-year-old boy in a bathroom stall at Rio Hondo Park in Pico Rivera, then walked the crying boy over to his mother.
The alleged crime occurred after a soccer game in the park and was reported at about 2:35 pm on Saturday, July 2. On Tuesday, the Sheriff’s Department released a composite drawing of the suspect.
According to authorities the suspect is described as a white male in his 30s, 6-foot, to 6-foot, 2-inches tall weighing 200 pounds with blond hair and blue eyes. He had a moustache and goatee, and wore a dark basketball jersey and dark basketball shorts.
The boy “went into the bathroom alone, and was sexually molested by the white man with tattoos on his neck and one arm,” Sheriff’s Lt. Robert Smith of the Pico Riviera Station said.
Witnesses told local reporters that after the assault, the man walked the boy to his mother saying that he had been calling for her. Shortly after, the boy told his mother what happened, and she alerted authorities.
The suspect fled in a white van with a partial license of 6J—–, witnesses told deputies. Witnesses told deputies the blond, blue-eyed man wore a bandanna with Mexican flag on it on his head, and at least one person told ABC7 that the suspect might have had an English or Irish accent.
Anyone with information is urged to call detectives at (323) 890-5500. Anonymous tips can be left at (800) 222-TIPS (8477) or via lacrimestoppers.org.
The latest payroll scandal to hit the state of California is sure to spark more frustration and mistrust on the part of a very weary public.
It seems that more than 1,400 state employees earn over $200,000, and most of them work for the state’s health system. Approximately 790 of those with salaries over the $200,000 mark are doctors, nurses and dentists.
A doctor in the prison system collected $777,423 in 2010 and another, a dentist, was paid more than $599,403, according to information released by California’s State Controller, John Chiang on his website.
While releasing the figures for public review is important, it is a far cry from true transparency in the state’s handling of employee compensation. By failing to also include the names of the individuals who received the large payouts of taxpayer dollars, the state controller has allowed a long ongoing practice of obscuring accountability in employee contracting for the state’s highest paid workers to continue.
When you work for the public, you have an obligation to keep the public informed on how taxpayer dollars are being spent, and, Mr. Chiang, that includes who gets the money.
If everything is on the up and up with government salaries and benefits, then the public needs to know who’s earning what amounts and why.
Government has lost much of the public’s trust. To re-earn it, it must start to act openly and transparently.
While health assistance from the state has had an axe taken to it, leaving many Californians unable to pay for or get the health care they need, is it any wonder news of inflated salaries and benefits, such as the cash buyout of more than two years of untaken vacation and sick time, is leaving many state residents angry and resentful?
Mr. Chiang, it’s time to include the names of state workers in your database.
On Wednesday, Assembly Speaker John Perez’ effort to dissolve Vernon, that cesspool that posed as a city government for over a century, passed another hurdle with the passage of his companion bill, AB 781, out of the Senate Governance and Finance Committee.
While AB 46 only dismantles the City, AB 781 details Perez’ plan for the future of Vernon. When he released the bill last month I was surprised to find that it was almost precisely the proposal I had made several months ago in correspondence with the Speaker and Vernon business owners. The business community opposed disincorporation of the city, fearing the devastating effect that dissolving Vernon would have on the area’s economy. To assuage their concerns, I proposed that the dismantled city be converted into a Community Services District [CSD], governed by workers and business owners. The plan now offered by Speaker Perez is essentially that.
If the Speaker has his way, the CSD would function like my plan but with one major exception. Perez would give workers and owners only an advisory voice. The county supervisors would govern the district. That is unacceptable to both capital and labor. Their opposition may kill both bills since the defeat of one bill automatically defeats the other.
What Vernon needs is a government that gives business owners and labor the security and perks currently enjoyed without the rule of a self-perpetuating cabal that has run that city since it was created in 1905. The stability, certainty and favorable government that business in Vernon wants will come in the form of that CSD, not annexation to L.A., Maywood or Commerce or rule by the county supervisors.
The neighboring cities drool over the hundreds of millions of dollars in various taxes that Vernon now collects. Need to balance a budget? Annex Vernon. The supervisors also see the cash cow that is Vernon as a solution to some of their financial problems.
In addition, the right to regulate and control zoning would be taken over by these outside interests. Those whose livelihood is determined by economic conditions in Vernon are right to be worried.
The solution is AB 781 with its CSD. California has thousands of special districts for mosquito abatement, flood control, libraries and dozens of other services. Surely it would be common sense for the legislature to establish a Vernon Industrial Community Services District, dedicated to promoting industry.
With some exceptions special districts don’t have the power of a city government. But some do and they are the precedents for what Vernon could become. Kern County’s Bear Valley Community Services District, for example, does everything a city can do yet it is unincorporated.
The new Vernon district would provide public safety, utilities, and other city functions while continuing to serve the industrial needs of the community. That would allay the fears of business owners and at the same time remove the stigma long associated with Vernon’s government.
Who would be the constituents in Vernon’s CSD? Right now 67 registered voters control the fate of Vernon’s 1800 businesses and the jobs of 50,000 workers who commute to Vernon each day. Let those 67 vote if they continue to live there, but enfranchise the owners and workers.
To confront the owners’ fear that they will be outvoted by their workers or that union bosses would replace the cabal that has ruled Vernon for so long, there is an easy solution. Let labor chose two governing board representatives and the owners two more. The four elected board members could then chose a fifth one.
The Vernon Industrial Community Services District is truly that “idea whose time has come.” It will prove that business doesn’t need a handful of Vernon oligarchs to provide a pro-business environment.
Ralph E. Shaffer, professor emeritus of history at Cal Poly Pomona, has been a Vernon-watcher since 1951.