Two Separate Assaults With a Deadly Weapon Incidences In Vernon

June 21, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

One was with a knife, the other a car. This past week, Vernon officials responded to two separate calls reporting assault with a deadly weapon.

At 1pm on June 14, an employee of a Vernon business called the police upon seeing a couple fighting in their parking lot located on the 3200 block of Vernon Avenue. The man allegedly pulling a knife out on the woman, say police. Marcos Rodriguez was arrested at the scene.

Just past midnight on June 17, a female motorist reportedly pursued and rammed into the vehicle of another woman, sending the second car into the side of the road with a popped tire. A man who is married to the first woman and is an acquaintance of the second, trailed the pursuit and notified the police. After the vehicles collided and stopped on the corner of Atlantic and Bandini Boulevard in Vernon, the two women got out of the car and engaged in a verbal altercation. Police responded to the scene, arresting Irma Ibarra.

‘Elaborate’ Pot Farm Found At Vernon Warehouse

June 21, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

Vernon fire authorities last week seized 400 pots of marijuana plants from a warehouse located on the 2000 block of 37th Street, between Alameda Avenue and Santa Fe Street. A man at the scene, Jason Humes, was taken into custody.

At 10:30 on June 12, fire officials visited the warehouse a routine visit and noticed a man walking into the building. But they received no response when they knocked on the door of the warehouse.

Finding this suspicious the fire officials called in the police. Eventually the man opened the door and showed the officials into the warehouse. While inspecting the facility, the officials detected the odor of marijuana, leading to the discovery of an “elaborate marijuana farm” growing inside a trailer and a container, according to Lt. Jerry Winegar.

Police confiscated the plants, and took Humes into custody. The investigation is ongoing.

Activists Urge Undocumented Youth to Get ‘Papers’ In Order

June 21, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa joined a local immigrant rights coalition on Tuesday to urge young people in the country with out authorization to begin collecting paperwork that could make it possible for them to avoid deportation under a newly announced change in federal policy.

Lea esta nota EN ESPAÑOL: Se Insta que Jóvenes Indocumentados Pongan en Orden Sus ‘Papeles’

President Barack Obama said on June 15 that he has issued an executive order authorizing undocumented immigrants 30-years-old or younger, who were brought to the United States before the age of 16, have lived in the US continuously for at least five years, are in school or have graduated, have served in the military and who have no criminal background, to receive a two-year, renewable permit to remain in the country, and to receive authorization to work legally.

UCLA student Justino Mora, an undocumented immigrant, said the news brought him tears of hope for the first time. He said the executive order means he will have the opportunity to contribute to the US economy. (EGP photo by Gloria Angelina Castillo)

While the announcement was met with joy in some corners, others have expressed concern that the order could leave undocumented immigrants who apply for the permit at risk of deportation if Obama is not reelected, and his executive order is revoked.

But on Monday, immigrant rights activists and the mayor seemed more concerned about getting potential candidates ready to apply.

“We’ve gotta prepare the documents, we gotta show the record, you gotta demonstrate that you have been here through school records, thorough
financial records…” said Villaraigosa, who admitted he was brought to tears by the president’s announcement.

While in the State Assembly, Villagaigosa helped pass AB540, the law that gives undocumented immigrants who attended high school in California the right to pay in-state tuition at state institutions of higher education.

Victor Nieblas of the National Immigration Lawyers Association said the process for applying has not yet been announced, so it’s important for people to know that they should not turn themselves into immigration authorities. The government doesn’t want you to turn yourself in, it could be 60 days before they are ready, Nieblas said.

In the meantime, students should begin collecting any proof that shows they have been in the US for at least the last five years, said Jessica Dominguez, an immigration attorney and LA Family Unity Commission member. She said this is especially important for individuals with any kind of criminal record. Get certified court dispositions and get those records analyzed by an attorney to find out if they could be held against you, she said.

Under the announced policy, applicants cannot have a felony conviction, a significant misdemeanor, or multiple misdemeanors, or pose a threat to national

Dominguez advised people to use caution when selecting someone to assist them in the process. She said immigration fraud happens all the time and undocumented immigrants need to be careful not to fall in the trap of unscrupulous attorneys and fraudulent notarios who want to make a quick buck off them.

She also warned that lying on the application would lead to deportation.

“Be very careful with anyone out there who is telling you to make up evidence or to lie about your age or any other requirements, because instead of helping yourself, you’re actually going to be closing the door for any future relief,” she said.

Dominguez said besides receiving work authorization, immigrants who qualify for this relief will be able to receive a social security card, state identification card and a driver’s license. She also noted that while they will no longer have to fear deportation, “they can’t leave the country.”

Individuals who were 30 at the time of the memorandum will still be eligible to apply and individuals will be able to continue soliciting renewals every two years even after the age of 31, Dominguez told EGP.

Immigration lawyer Alena Ray Conrad, principal of the Law Office of Alena Ray Conrad, says the people who could benefit the most are those who have filed family petitions and have been waiting years for their pending cases to become concurrent. “It’s something to get them by in the meantime,” she said.

Ray Conrad noted that individuals must have been 16 years old or younger when they immigrated to the US, but minors must wait until they are 15 years old to apply. So a 15-year-old who is scheduled for deportation could apply for relief, but a 10-year-old child with a clean immigration record would not be eligible, she explained.

Other minors and Dream Act-eligible individuals who have already been deported and are currently living in another country, are not eligible.
There is no relief for the parents of eligible young people, immigration advocates stressed.

On the day of the announcement, while some dreamers and their allies celebrated the announcement in front of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office in Downtown Los Angles, a handful of undocumented activists said they were less than thrilled.

Members of the National Immigrant Youth Alliance began a sit in at Obama’s Los Angeles area campaign office, located near Culver City, on June 14. The alliance is staging similar “Occupy Obama Headquarters” events in other parts of campaign offices across the country, including Atlanta, Oakland, Detroit, Cincinnati, according to 24-year-old undocumented student activist Jonathan Perez of Montebello.

Perez said this memo wasn’t much different from the Obama’s Aug. 2011 announcement of leniency in enforcing low-priority deportation cases.
“It’s still case-by-case…. a lot of Dream Act students have been deported,” he said.

Adrian James, 25, who was also occupying the local Obama Campaign office, said he is optimistic that their efforts—coming out as undocumented immigrants and participating in rallies and acts of civil disobedience—are being heard and that they are making an impact.

James is a Riverside resident who emigrated from Thailand at the age of 13. He said the timeliness of the election is a principal concern: “That’s why we continue to occupy and we’re being cautious not to celebrate too prematurely,” he said.

Over the last year or two, undocumented students, including Perez, have allowed themselves to be arrested for civil disobedience in order to bring attention to so-called Dream Act students, or “Dreamers.” In his speech on the policy change, Obama noted the bravery of these students, saying “Dreamers” are American in everyway but “on paper,” and are poised to make positive contributions to the country.

Still, many worry the announcement is little more than an election ploy.

At Tuesday’s press conference, Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles Executive Director Angelica Salas credited the activism of undocumented young people for the policy change.

CHIRLA has posted on its website a self-help guide for requesting prosecutorial discretion, as the new policy is referred to. They also have a hotline for general immigration questions: 1-888-624-4752.

Grieving Father Struggles to Pay Dead Son’s Student Loans

June 21, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

A few months after he buried his son, Francisco Reynoso began getting notices in the mail. Then the debt collectors came calling. “They would say, ‘We don’t care what happened with your son, you have to pay us,'” recalled Reynoso, a gardener from Palmdale, Calif.

Reynoso’s son, Freddy, had been the pride of his family and the first to go to college. In 2005, after Freddy was accepted to Boston’s Berklee College of Music, his father co-signed on his hefty private student loans, making him fully liable should Freddy be unwilling or unable to repay them. It was no small decision for a man who made just over $21,000 in 2011, according to his tax returns.

“As a father, you’ll do anything for your child,” Reynoso, an American citizen originally from Mexico, said through a translator.

Now, he’s suffering a Kafkaesque ordeal in which he’s hounded to repay loans that funded an education his son will never get to use — loans that he has little hope of ever paying off. While Reynoso’s wife, Sylvia, is studying to be a beautician, his gardening is currently the sole source of income for the family, which includes his 18-year-old daughter Evelyn.

Francisco Reynoso, with his wife Silvia and daughter Evelyn in the background, co-signed for his son's student loans. When his son Freddy was killed in a car accident after graduating from college, Reynoso not only had to deal with his grief but also with debt collectors constantly calling him to repay his son's loans. (J. Emilio Flores for ProPublica)

And the loans are maddeningly opaque. Despite the help of a lawyer, Reynoso has not been able to determine exactly how much he owes, or even what company holds his loans. Just as happened with home mortgages in the boom years before the 2008 financial crash, his son’s student loans have been sold and resold, and at least one was likely bundled into a complex Wall Street security. But the trail of those transactions ends at a wall of corporate silence from companies that include two household names: banking giant UBS and Xerox, which owns the loan servicer handling the bulk of his loans. Left without answers is a bereaved father.

The risk of cosigning on Freddy’s loans seemed to have been worth it when he graduated in May 2008 and began looking for a job in the music industry. He was on the way back from a job interview on the evening of Sept. 4 when he lost control of his car and it rolled over. Freddy’s family learned of his death the next morning.

The grief was relentless; the debt collectors, ruthless. By law, debt collectors must go through a debtor’s attorney if one has been hired, but even after Reynoso hired an attorney, he said they continued to call him every day, several times a day, for about a year and a half: “I would tell them to call the lawyer. And they would still say, ‘The lawyer doesn’t owe us. You’re the one who owes us. You’re the one who has to pay us.'”

Meanwhile, Reynoso was still reeling: “I was crying for him every day,” he said.

The question of to whom Reynoso’s debts are actually owed — and who has the authority to forgive them — is a mystery that thus far neither Reynoso nor his lawyer has been able to solve.

One of Freddy’s student loans was cancelled after his death without a problem: his federal loan. That’s because the government cancels student loans if a student dies.

But the bulk of Freddy’s loans were private student loans, which typically offer less favorable interest rates and fewer consumer protections. Only a few private student lenders offer debt discharges in the event of the borrower’s death, though public outcry over specific cases has swayed lenders to grant occasional death discharges.

But for the Reynosos, just figuring out whom to appeal to has been an exercise in futility. Working with a law firm, Francisco Reynoso sent copies of Freddy’s death certificate to any company that sent paperwork about the loans. He remembers being told by at least one company that they’d call him to work out a solution. But no one ever did, he said, and the bills kept coming — each time larger than the last with more interest, more late fees.

“We sent out death certificates to all of them,” said Dolores Orozco-Serrano, a legal administrator with Borowitz & Clark, the bankruptcy law firm handling the Reynosos’ case. Only the federal loan was discharged. “Everyone else was not cooperative at all.”

Freddy Reynoso’s private loans were originated by two companies — Bank of America and Education Finance Partners. Neither company still holds onto them. ProPublica tried to find out who did.

First, the Bank of America loan: Almost as soon as Bank of America originated it, the loan was sold to a Boston-based company called First Marblehead, once one of the biggest securitizers of student loans. But nowhere in the paperwork sent to the Reynosos and reviewed by ProPublica does the name First Marblehead appear. Instead, the Reynosos have received paperwork emblazoned with the logo of National Collegiate Trust. That’s the name First Marblehead gave to bundles of loans that it turned into Wall Street securities and sold to investors. Was Freddy’s loan bundled into a security? And if so, who owns it now? First Marblehead has not returned repeated requests for comment.

Freddy Reynoso’s other loans followed an even more complicated path — and one tainted by scandal. Education Finance Partners, the private student loan company that originated the largest portion of Freddy’s student debts, reached a $2.5 million settlement agreement with the New York Attorney General’s Office in 2007 to settle charges that it had paid colleges across the country to steer students toward its high-interest loans. And Berklee College of Music, Freddy’s alma mater, was one of the schools singled out in that investigation for accepting the improper payments. Berklee College of Music spokesman Allen Bush acknowledged in a statement to ProPublica that the school accepted a total of $23,000 from Education Finance Partners between 2005 and 2007, but said that “all of these funds were deposited into a financial aid account and disbursed through a need-based grant system to current Berklee students.”

Education Finance Partners, Freddy’s lender, never admitted any wrongdoing. A year after the settlement, the company declared bankruptcy.

But who holds Freddy’s loans now remains a mystery. The company’s archives — now kept by a company called Loan Science — show that his loans were scooped up by the Swiss bank UBS in October 2008. But the entire portfolio changed hands again in 2009. “That 2009 sale was private, it was bound by a confidentiality agreement and, therefore, we’re not in a position to disclose the identity of the purchaser,” wrote a UBS spokesman in an email.

One possibility: Freddy’s loan may have been among those acquired by the Swiss National Bank, Switzerland’s equivalent of the U.S. Federal Reserve, when it bailed out UBS. (See our sidebar.)

Reynoso and his lawyer don’t even know exactly how much he now owes, but it appears to be well into the six figures. The loan that Bank of America originated is clear: At the end of March, the balance was around $7,400, according to Mike Reiber, a spokesman for PHEAA, a company that once serviced that loan. (With the loan in default, it now resides with First Marblehead, Reiber said.) But the other, much larger portion of Reynoso’s debt remains murky. A 2009 lending disclosure document indicates that through Education Finance Partners, UBS extended nearly $160,000 in credit to Freddy Reynoso, and projected that if he made all payments as scheduled, the loan for his music education would end up costing him $279,000.

Seemingly the only party who knows — and is obligated to tell Reynoso — about this debt is the servicer, ACS Education Services.

Citing privacy reasons, ACS declined to disclose any specifics about the loans to ProPublica, even with Reynoso’s full consent. Three weeks ago, Francisco Reynoso himself sent a letter to ACS asking who currently holds the loans, but he has received no response.

ACS is a subsidiary of Xerox, so ProPublica put in several calls there. Given more than a full week to respond, Xerox’s corporate communications team has yet to provide a response to queries about when Reynoso can expect basic information about his son’s loans, including the amount he owes and the name of the company that now owns the debt.

Even with the help of a lawyer, Reynoso’s options are limited. Unlike most kinds of debt, private student loans are not dischargeable through bankruptcy, though Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., is leading an effort to change that. So for the time being, Reynoso’s hope hinges on a narrow provision in the bankruptcy code called a hardship discharge. The bar for proving “undue hardship” is high, but Reynoso still hopes for the best as he waits for a ruling from the bankruptcy judge. As he puts it: “I’m in the hands of God.”

Signature Collection Underway in Garcia Recall

June 21, 2012 by · 2 Comments 

Backers of an effort to recall the president of the Los Angeles Unified School District Board said Monday that they will be in Lincoln Heights this weekend collecting signatures to place the recall of Monica Garcia on a special election ballot.

They have conducted similar signature gathering efforts in Koreatown and the southern region of School Board District 2, according to Vera Padilla, one of the organizers of the recall effort.

Schools may be on break, but “We will be collecting signatures all summer,” Padilla said.

The group has until Tuesday, Sept. 4 to collect at least 26,608 signatures from registered voters within the school district boundaries, according to Maria Garcia, spokesperson for Los Angeles City Clerk Election Division.

Lea esta nota EN ESPAÑOL: Recolección de Firmas En Curso para Destituir a García

Padilla says the Latino community elected Garcia to the school board because they thought she would listen to the community’s concerns, but that hasn’t been the case. She says the people volunteering to collect signatures for the recall, are some of Los Angeles poorest residents.

Garcia is termed out and only has one year left in her current term that ends June 30, 2013. But recall proponents say they want her out of office before then, even if it is only a couple of months early.

“I feel like she’ll go onto a higher position… we want the community to know that they shouldn’t trust her. I want to smear her name to be very honest,” Padilla said. “I want to tell the community ‘be aware, become educated about who you are voting for and make them accountable.’”

Padilla also criticized Garcia for supporting the construction of new schools while teachers are being pink slipped and programs are being reduced. She said cuts to adult and early education will “devastate” Los Angeles.

Some of the planned cuts to adult and early childhood education, however, have been staved off through an agreement reached between the LAUSD and UTLA, the teachers union.

As part of the agreement, teachers have agreed to take 10 additional furlough days in the upcoming school year. The agreement is also expected to prevent the layoffs of about 4,500 teachers and thousands of other district workers.

“As a result of the 10-day furlough agreement with UTLA, Adult Education will receive a much-needed $45 million in additional funds for its 2012-13 budget.” LAUSD spokesperson Monica Carazo told EGP in an email.

“These funds will enable the division to bring back 61 shared and stand-alone sites that were slated for closing. The total Adult Education budget for 2012-13 – including federal dollars – is $105 million,” Carazo stated.

Carazo said 48 percent of the Adult Ed programs will be taken off the chopping block and several programs—like the Career Technical Education (CTE), English As a Second Language (ESL), General Education Development (GED), Adults with Disabilities (AWD) and Programs for Older Adults (POA)—will be restored. There will also be partial restoration of the Regional Occupational Program (ROP), she said.

Local adult centers that will reopen include: the East Los Angeles Occupational Center, Garfield CAS, Roosevelt CAS, Lincoln CAS, East Los Angeles Skills Center, Eastside Learning Center, Belvedere Learning Center, Hamasaki Learning Center, Marianna Learning Center and Wilson CAS, according to Carazo.
Twenty-four small early education centers with enrollment capacities of 85 or fewer students will be closed, among them, Belvedere, Soto, Toland Way early education centers, Carazo also said.

But recall proponents are quick to point out that despite this partial last minute reprieve, the adult education program will be about 25 percent of the size it was five years ago, and almost 25 percent of the school district’s early childhood education centers will still be closed, causing overcrowding at the remaining sites. The district’s poorest families will be especially hard hit by the changes, they claim.

They blame Garcia for allowing the cuts to happen.

In a written statement, backers of the recall effort also questioned the wisdom of allowing LAUSD’s $19 Billion school construction fund, “in which a new school is opened every month,” to continue taking in and spending money, when “programs essential to our communities are continually being slashed.”

“An initiative could be placed on the ballot in which citizens could vote to reallocate construction bond funds to the LAUSD General Fund, but instead Monica Garcia’s failed leadership is wreaking havoc on public education. Board President Monica Garcia needs to be held accountable,” the press release states.

The continued construction of new schools while teachers get pink slipped really resonates with recall supporters and the community who see this as an example of Garcia’s poor leadership, the campaign says.

The campaign also blames the board president’s tenure for tens of thousands of reductions in force notices, favoring “privately managed charter school corporations,” and mismanaging millions of dollars on “unnecessary” tests.

Proponents of the Recall Monica Garcia Campaign on Monday held a press conference to announce their signature collection drive is now underway. (EGP photo by Gloria Angelina Castillo)

García never responded to Recall Notice of Intention, which gave her 21-days to counter the recall proponents’ arguments. She also did not respond to EGP’s requests for comment for this story.

But in a previous interview with EGP, García accused recall proponents of “playing politics.” She said she invited her detractors to work with her to “serve our children during these hard economic times.”

A recall effort directed at School Board Member Nury Martinez announced earlier this month by laid off school teacher and East Valley resident Renato Lira, failed to meet this week’s deadline to submit proof of publication for the Notice to Recall Martinez, according to City Clerk spokesperson García. She said he would have to start the process all over again if he wishes to continue.

Disgruntled Monterey Park Councilwoman Makes Exit

June 21, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

The Monterey Park City Council was scheduled to meet Wednesday night to decide if it wants to appoint, hold a special election, or leave vacant the seat abdicated by former Councilwoman Betty Tom Chu.

Chu called it quits in a surprise announcement made at last week’s city budget meeting. She left her post with less than a year remaining on her term ending March 2013.

Pulling no punches during a lengthy resignation speech delivered at the start of the June 11 meeting, Chu said she does not usually back down from challenges, but said she is “not foolish enough to spend [her] time on futile work.” She is usually on the losing end of the city council’s regular 4-1 votes, and cited the “political and philosophical divide” between her and the other council members.

Chu accused her colleagues of failing to study the issues enough, and of not adhering to the “facts” when making their decisions. As a result, she said, the many hours she spent preparing for meetings were wasted.

The now former councilwoman said she had considered quitting for months, having twice walked out of a closed session city council meetings during her term. What finally “broke the camel’s back were recent budget and social engineering comments from council members,” she said.

Chu accused her council colleagues of “a pattern of ignoring hard realities,” and an unwillingness to make difficult decisions. She said out of the many organizations she has been a part of, she has “the least respect for the 2003-2007 and this Monterey Park city council.”

Chu first served on city council from 2003-2007 and was re-elected in 2009 to her current term.

But her fellow members on the council were not the only targets of her outrage and disdain: She also lambasted some outspoken members of the public who regularly attend council meetings. “Out of all the gadflies that appear at these public, Brown Act meetings, I do not recall a group that I respect less than the members of the Concerned Citizens [group] who have been former members of R.A.M.P. [Residents Association of Monterey Park],” she said.

Chu who is a retired attorney and a former bank president says she is leaving her post having fulfilled her campaign promises of requiring trash contracts to go out to open bid, making sure attorney fees are under control, and securing development agreements to require “nationally recognized stores” be brought into two commercial projects in the city.

During her recent term, she also encouraged the city to move forward with a study on contracting with the county for fire service. An ad hoc committee set up by the city council is currently studying the matter.

Before exiting the dais, Chu wished the council well, but not before taking a final jab at the current council’s abilities: “Although, I am not optimistic about the work of this council, I will convey to this council, to the management, to the employees, my best wishes for a better future both economically as well as in terms of friendships.” With that, Chu handed in her resignation letter and walked out of the city council chambers.

Following Chu’s announcement, the council went into an unscheduled closed session. When they emerged, City Manager Paul Talbot briefly addressed Chu’s “unexpected, unprecedented” announcement, saying they are “still trying to understand and digest” what just happened. But for now, he said, they still have a three-hour budget presentation to get through.

As of press time, a decision on how to replace Chu had not been reached.

Space Lab Trip Widens Commerce Youths’ Horizons

June 21, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

Local teens saw with their own eyes rovers that have been to Mars, and got to hold in their hands machine parts that would later become rockets to be launched into space.

They were bused earlier this month by the City of Commerce to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s annual open house event where they had a chance to meet rocket scientists and explore science related careers.

Lea esta nota EN ESPAÑOL: Viaje a Laboratorio Espacial Expone a Jóvenes de Commerce a Oportunidades

The free field trip was open to all teen patrons of the Commerce Library in the 9th to 12th grades, and allowed them to beat the bumper-to-bumper traffic leading into the popular event. Happening just once a year, the open house was a rare opportunity for members of the public to peruse high-level scientific research and projects, and to speak with some of the world’s top scientists.

“Students were fascinated by the size of the machines, and the precision it took to cut some of these pieces out … the kids were able to take a look at and appreciate how lightweight, yet strong the pieces [which will be sent into space] were,” said aerospace engineer Marco Herrera, who grew up in Commerce, where he felt not enough teens realized they could become “rocket scientists.”

Commerce teens examine rocket parts at the fabrications display of the JPL Open House on June 2. The City of Commerce’s education commission, library, and transportation department worked together to organize this field trip. (Photo by Erik Jackiw / Courtesy of Commerce Public Library)

Figuring youth these days are growing up “under the same circumstances,” Herrera joined the city’s education commission to develop local programs to broaden learning opportunities for Commerce youth. In recent months the education commission has organized its annual essay contest and a reading program at the library focused on introducing books and reading to autistic children.

Herrera, who proposed the trip to JPL, was motivated by his own experience interning at Caltech and JPL to pursue a career in science. “Sometimes kids are not interested, not because they don’t want to be, but because they are not exposed to what’s available to them,” he said.

Once the teens held the objects in their hands, they were able to appreciate the magnitude of what they were learning in textbooks and from their teachers, Herrera said. “We know about our solar system, or about mars, and it’s all because of stuff JPL built. The sun, planets, global warming… JPL makes the satellites that measures emissions, the weather, hurricane clouds.”

“Our goal,” he said, “is to build a connection between what the scientists do and how it impacts our everyday lives.”

Commerce youth and their chaperones took a field trip earlier this month to the JPL Open House. (Photo by Erik Jackiw / Courtesy of the Commerce Public Library)

Vernon Is Losing Its Competitive Edge, Say Businesses

June 21, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

One called it a double cross. Another said they might as well move their business to Santa Fe Springs, another industrial city. And still another businessman said that instead of buying energy from Vernon, their company and that of several others are now entertaining the idea of switching to solar energy, or another form of alternative energy.

Many of the businesses that went to bat for the city when it was threatened with disincorporation were at Tuesday’s Vernon council meeting to express their displeasure at several major steps Vernon officials are taking to raise utility rates and taxes. The businesses included meat packers, a coffee roaster, cold storage companies, a uniform and linen supplier, chemical makers and a specialty gas producer.

“If we were your stockholders, we would fire you, “ said Doug Rawson, CEO of printing company Superior Lithographics.

For the second time since the city escaped disincorporation, the council has approved an electricity rate increase, this time by 17 percent, spread out over two years, with the first installment on July 1 at 7.9 percent. They also placed a new 11 percent utility user’s tax on a special September 18 election ballot to be decided by the city’s 70 or so registered voters. The existing parcel tax on warehousing businesses was also increased from 26 cents to 28 cents per 100 square feet.

Representatives from some of the city’s biggest companies showed up to detail the impacts of those increases. Gary Jamison, Vice President of Finance at Farmer John’s, a meat packing company, said they now have three options – to shift overnight production to other facilities around the country, discontinue products, or if all else fails, pass the costs onto customers.

“We will lose our point of difference, our ability to compete, and lose our customers” if we pass costs onto customers, not unlike what might happen to Vernon if it raises electricity rates or introduces new taxes on the city’s power users, said Jamison. He added that their company would shoulder as much as ten percent of the city’s proposed increases that are going toward the proposed $12 million needed to close the city’s budget deficit in the upcoming year.

Matt Wenzel of Ameri Pride Uniform Services said they experienced a belt-tightening situation four years ago, and addressed it by looking internally, and by becoming “very aggressive about what we do… in a different way.”

Officials at the meeting admitted that while they have been hit with costs related to requirements to switch to renewable energy, the need for the increases partially stems from mistakes made in the past. The city struck a bad deal when it entered into a natural gas agreement that has left them upside down on a bond debt, said Light and Power Director Carlos Fandino. They purchased natural gas when it was valued at $7.50, but natural gas is now only valued at $2.50.

“We understand that was a bad decision at the time,” he said. Fandino, who took over his post in 2010, added the admission is a little like “Monday morning quarterbacking,” since he was not involved when the decisions were made, but is now benefiting from hindsight. “Currently, we are looking at how we can restructure that [natural gas] contract,” he said.

When he took over, the department began “an immediate clean up,” getting rid of nine consultants and cutting their budget by “close to $3 million,” Fandino said.

A joint legislative audit report scheduled to be released next week could provide more information on Vernon’s financial situation, said City Administrator Mark Whitworth. In the meantime, City officials say they have taken exhaustive measures to stem the bleeding.

Officials promised they would be back with further proposals to cut the budget some more. As for the approved increases, they promised to work personally with the companies to come up with strategies for them to stay in the city.

Peter Corselli of U.S. Growers noted that while Vernon has been attacked for not having parks or libraries, at one time it could at least say it had jobs, and manufacturing ones at that.

“Vernon’s manufacturing base has been the envy of Los Angeles County,” he said, but those days are slipping away at an “alarming rate.”
“All the talk of keeping the city business friendly was nothing more than talk,” he said.

But it was not always that way, according to Corselli. When Southern California Edison raised electricity rates on Vernon back in 1937, the city’s founding father, John Leonis, was told by the utility, “The rates are the rates. Too bad.”

Leonis’ response: “You know that power plant we’ve been talking about? Put it in.”

New Immigration Policy Is Sure to Come With Some Hurdles

June 21, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

Under President Obama’s new policy giving young undocumented immigrants a two-year breather from deportation, undocumented youth will face a new challenge—proving they have sufficient documentation to show they qualify for the new, albeit temporary, status.

While the president last week outlined the general guidelines under which an undocumented immigrant — brought to the country through no fault of their own before the age 16, and who is now 30 years old or younger — can qualify for a two-year permit to be and work in the country legally, the details as to how the process will actually work will not be announced for another 60 days, according to officials at the Department of Homeland Security.

The regulations and the application process are sure to include a number of leaps and hurdles to overcome. And as is usually the case, they are also likely to include a number of grey areas and exceptions, which will serve to disqualify some deserving and talented young people.

The process will probably be easier for some than others. With schools out of session, getting paperwork could prove challenging. Government bureaucrats, and that includes school employees, are not known for their ability to act quickly, or accurately, for that matter.

For once, those with packrat tendencies will probably be rewarded, since they will find it easier to prove their presence in the U.S. than those who live in more sterile conditions.

Speaking at a press conference, Homeland Security Chief Janet Napolitano said those eligible to avoid deportation under the new residency status, will also be able to apply for a work permit. That’s a good idea, and will likely increase tax revenue.

As we look ahead, we see problems arising for those who have been convicted of a felony or a significant misdemeanor, and perhaps rightly so. We expect that those with clean backgrounds probably won’t have any problems, but activists will probably wind up fighting to include some with police records in the first group to be granted the new permits.

We urge immigration officials to exercise their prosecutorial discretion in a way that really examines whether a youthful mistake should be punished for a lifetime. We also urge immigration activists to not just turn a blind eye on all past criminal activity, and to recognize that there are some who by their criminally bad behavior have forfeited their right to be in this country.

Even though the final regulations have yet to be published, immigrant rights groups are already planning workshops to inform potential candidates about what will be required of them, and how to apply. But there are others out there whose intentions are not so honorable, and we urge potential applicants to use caution when seeking help, and to not fall victim to the unscrupulous scammers standing ready to exploit their situation with false promises and high fees.

‘Dreamers’ Victory Is A Lesson for Us All

June 21, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

Finally the executive order to stop the deportation of undocumented students has arrived.

Using a strategy centered on publicly pressuring President Barack Obama’s reelection campaign, the independent and unafraid “Dreamers” took their demands to Democratic campaign headquarters across the country. Using civil disobedience tactics, they demanded that the president issue an executive order to stop the deportation of undocumented students.

It was the right political button and bingo, the president responded. And now, it appears that an estimated 800,00 to 1.4 million youth can breathe easier and feel the security of not having the ICE elephant in the room 24-hours a day, 365 days a year.

Approximately 16 months ago, when Obama’s unofficial 2012 presidential campaign began to court the increasingly important Latino voting bloc, Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, speaking at East Los Angeles College, unequivocally laid out her boss’ and the Democratic party’s position for all to hear: “The administration cannot issue an executive order because the Republicans will use it to rile up the right wing troops in November 2012,” reported La Opinion.

With only four months until the November General Election, which will determine if Obama stays in the White House and whether Democrats can retake the majority in the House of Representatives, it’s obvious that new political conditions have given way to changes in policy. Feeling pressure from the right, the president has started to address some longtime “sensitive” issues, like gay marriage, and now, knowing he need the Latino vote, immigration policy.

This wonderful victory achieved by a new generation of activists, should stand as a lesson to the old guard and leadership of the immigrant rights movement: “Ya no se hagan pendejos-Stop making fools of yourselves.”

Our point is not to embarrass anyone, but to let the public know that many in leadership roles are clueless about how to achieve the comprehensive immigration reform that will empower millions of undocumented immigrants and their families.

Since early 2011, most gave up on efforts to unify and motivate the movement to produce real massive political pressure.

Those of us who have continued to push the national May Day marches want to clarify, in the interest of unity, that we have always believed success on May 1st unequivocally means, tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands on the streets of downtown LA and cities throughout the country. Then, and only then, will this social movement create a significant political groundswell of people willing to work to defeat of the ultra conservative Republican bloc.

Setting aside for the moment the recent Dreamer victory, it has now been 49 days since the divided 2012 May Day marches in LA. Since then we observed two related but important developments on immigration. One was the aggressive policy change that increased the number of ICE teams involved in the “search for criminal immigrants” nationally. It was billed as a move to feed the conservative, but independent voting bloc. But for Latinos, it was an openly offensive and repressive move, for it is a well known fact that the majority of those caught in the violent early morning ICE raids on homes, when children, women and the elderly are present and asleep, are not criminals. As far as we can tell, this was the only response from the Obama administration to whatever political pressure ensued from the May 1st mobilizations on the administration.

The second political development came within a week of the May 1st demonstrations, this time from Dreamer activists. It was the beginning of the campaign to target and occupy Democratic Party campaign offices nationally, with one objective, to wrest from the White House a presidential decree that would protect 1.4 million students from the insidious and inhumane policies of deportation. The announcement was made simultaneously through media events and protests in close to twenty cities in the US.

On June 15, the administration announced a change of policy and the president, speaking at a White House press conference, proclaimed, “it is the right thing to do.”

The social movement, the community and the media were all taken by surprise, and while the sensational victory is the product of the social movement as a whole, this victory belongs to the youth.

The Dreamers did not move millions of people to blockade the Democrats or Republicans, that skill still belongs to more experienced activists, but with just four months until the election, their actions can serve as an catapult to achieving immigration reform as a whole, a and how to respond to the soon to be announced Supreme Court decision on Arizona’s SB 1070.

However, success depends on putting aside political and organizational interests and personal egos, as well as what we call bipolar political conduct.

Javier Rodriguez is a journalist and a media and political strategist. A long time activist, he was the initiators and organizers of the massive immigration march in Los Angeles on March 25, 2006, Isabel Rodriguez is a worker’s compensation attorney: Antonio Rodriguez is a civil rights, anti-police brutality, The three siblings are long time political activists, and have played a prominent role in organizing s street immigration movements of 1984 and 2006.

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