County Joins Debate Over Exide’s Future

June 27, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

The Board of Supervisors Tuesday entered the ongoing debate over whether a battery recycler and manufacturer accused of polluting local communities with toxins should be allowed to continue to operate in the city of Vernon.

Supervisor sought options to control arsenic and other pollutants from the Exide Technologies plant that recently reopened following a state shutdown on April 24 in response to an order from the California Department of Toxic Substances Control, citing health risks from arsenic emissions.

The company, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of lead-acid batteries, then filed for bankruptcy protection, saying it needed the supply of lead from the recycling plant to maintain its profitability. It sought a court order to restart operations at the plant, which employs roughly 60 workers.

On June 16, citing irreparable harm to the company, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Luis Lavin ruled that the plant could reopen pending a July 2 hearing on the matter.

Emissions of lead and arsenic affect more than the 110,000 people in the surrounding communities, Supervisor Gloria Molina said Tuesday.

“Air pollution doesn’t observe any boundaries,” Molina said, pointing to a map showing a plume of pollution stretching as far as South Pasadena.

“It’s not just the health of southeast county residents that is at stake.”

Residents and Maywood officials charged that equipment was available to solve the problem, but accused Exide of trying to avoid the cost of effective controls.

“They want to get away with the cheapest possible solution,” Maywood City Councilman Felipe Aguirre told the board.

Exide has reduced emissions by more than 70 percent since 2010 and plans to “continue to implement our planned storm water and air quality control improvements,” according to a company statement issued in response to the court’s ruling allowing the plant to reopen.

“Working constructively with the community, Exide intends to continue running a premier facility in compliance with regulatory standards,” the statement says.

The plant increases the risk of cancer for workers and residents, according to the South Coast Air Quality Management District. Several residents told the board Tuesday about friends and relatives suffering from or lost to cancer that they believe was caused by the plant pollution.

A report by Exide to the AQMD calculated a maximum individual cancer risk of 156 in a million for those working near the facility, which is located in a largely industrial area. That risk is far above the agency’s public threshold of 10 in one million. The agency ordered Exide to find ways to reduce that risk, suggested installing wet electrostatic precipitators and set a deadline of Sept. 1 for a report back.

By unanimous vote, the board directed its lawyers to prepare a confidential report identifying all legal and administrative options available to prevent toxic emissions from the plant.

Restaurant Sues Charter School, LAUSD for ‘Malicious’ Disruption of Business

June 27, 2013 by · 5 Comments 

 

After years of strained relations, neighbors on North Huntington Drive in El Sereno could be headed to court now that one the parties has filed a lawsuit seeking over $1 million in damages from a local charter school and the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD).

Attorneys for the owners of El Sereno restaurant “Hecho en Mexico Authentic Mexican Cuisine LLC” (Hecho En Mexico) on Monday served its neighbor, charter school “Semillas Sociedad Civil” (Semillas), its operators and affiliated groups and individuals, with the lawsuit filed on June 7. They had previously served LAUSD, which is listed as a defendant because it authorized the charter school’s operation.

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One of the main defendants called the lawsuit “frivolous,” and the owners have no proof to back their claims.

The suit alleges that since 2009, when Semillas’ opened its now defunct restaurant Xokolatl Café, LLC, school leadership, including Executive Director and Principal Marcos Aguilar, began to interfere with Hecho En Mexico’s business with the goal to “ultimately seize the opportunity to operate the restaurant for themselves.”

The complaint alleges that Semillas affiliates have repeatedly and maliciously interfered the restaurant’s ability to do business by making it impossible for customers to park during peak business hours and creating a noise nuisance that has driven customers sway.

It further alleges that the school has allowed students to use the parking area as a playground, interfering with the restaurant’s ability to use covered patio seating because the noise and activity bothers customers. The school has also encouraged students to enter the restaurant’s property and climb on top of a metal patio roof to retrieve balls, causing damage to the roof and related drains, and exposing students to potential injuries, according to the complaint.

Perhaps the most damaging claim is the allegation that Semillas has engaged in a campaign of “false allegations” to damage the restaurant’s and owner’s reputations. Specifically, the complaint alleges that Semillas falsely claimed the restaurant encouraged drug and alcohol use among minors, including Semillas students. It says people affiliated with the school have accused one of the owners of being a pervert taking photos of children, and one of the plaintiff’s cars being vandalized with the words “no mas fotos” (no more photos). Semillas is alleged to have engaged launched a boycott of the restaurant aimed at driving customers away.

“We both immigrated from Mexico decades ago, became U.S. citizens and are trying to build the American dream. Now it has become a nightmare,” said Connie Castro, who with her husband Jorge Bravo owns the restaurant. “We could have pursued business opportunities in South Pasadena or Alhambra, but we chose to stay in El Sereno because we wanted to help make the community better,” she said in a written statement.

The site where Hecho en Mexico is located has been a restaurant since 1950. Castro and Bravo purchased the restaurant in 2004 and claim that business had been growing at about 10% a year, but has “plummeted by 50% since Semillas began its campaign against the restaurant.” The owners claim they have been forced to layoff employees and cut worker’s hours as a result of Semillas’ disruptive actions.

“All my clients want is to be left alone to operate a community institution in the same manner it has operated for decades without trouble… The decision to go to court was long, hard and carefully considered, and we are confident the court will remedy the situation,” said Thomas W. Dressler, the attorney representing Hecho en Mexico.

Aguilar, who along with his wife Minnie Ferguson, Tzicatl Community Development Corporation (TCDC), Xokolatl Café LLC, and 1-100 John Does who aided and abetted the wrongful acts, are listed as defendants in the lawsuit along with LAUSD.

Earlier this week, in an email responding to EGP’s request for comment on the lawsuit, Aguilar asked, “How is a frivolous lawsuit newsworthy?” but later emailed a statement responding to the lawsuit that also included a copy of a September 2012 letter to the Department of Beverage Control in which Aguilar issues a complaint regarding Hecho en Mexico’s liquor license.

According the statement, Semillas administrators and parents have been asking elected officials and oversight authorities to intervene and investigate “the nature of Hecho en Mexico’s after-hours adult entertainment for over two years.”

The release states that they believe Hecho de Mexico’s complaint is without merit, and “…Semillas has pledged to continue to hold Hecho en Mexico accountable for filing this frivolous lawsuit.”

“Hecho en Mexico has presented no evidence to correlate their alleged decline in business to the supposed activities by Semillas. Furthermore, given the climate of a recession, a depressed business corridor, and rising levels of unemployment in the restaurant industry, we feel their allegations are unfounded. To the contrary, Semillas has been a leader in the community, revitalizing blighted buildings and reinforcing a decades-old moratorium on the proliferation of liquor licenses in El Sereno,” said Marcos Aguilar, Semillas’ executive director.

UCLA professor and president of the Semillas Council of Trustees, Dr. Juan Gomez Quinones, adds that he finds it unfortunate that the restaurant owners feel singled out. “This issue is more about school safety and adequate oversight of conditional liquor licenses around neighborhood schools which operate outside of those conditions,” Quinones said.

Aguilar goes on to state that the restaurant’s “adult-oriented entertainment, such as strip teases and general debauchery” next to the school is outside the scope of the liquor license and has resulted in the school having to scale back on after school programming.

“Semillas is an educational organization dedicated to academic excellence for inner-city students. We have no interest in operating this restaurant as alleged by the complainants,” Aguilar added.

Semillas Community Schools is composed of two sites on Huntington Drive, one at 4976 Huntington Drive, next door to Hecho en Mexico; the other located down the street at 4736 Huntington Drive. The charter school operators have been operating an elementary school at one site and a high school at the other.

Last week, LAUSD denied the high school’s charter renewal despite the school having earned a six-year accreditation by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges and five year re-authorization by the International Baccalaureate organization. School officials expressed concerns over Anahuacalmecac high school’s finances, under enrollment, and uneven academic progress, among other issues.

Villaraigosa Signs Plastic Bag Ban Into Law

June 27, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

In one of his last major acts before leaving office, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa Wednesday signed into law an ordinance that makes Los Angeles the most populous city in the nation to ban single-use plastic bags.

The ban will take effect Jan. 1 for large stores and six months later for smaller stores. Customers will be required to provide their own re-usable bags when they visit stores, or pay 10 cents each for paper bags.

The law is similar to one adopted by Los Angeles County. Other cities in California, including San Francisco and Santa Monica, have plastic bag bans.

A statewide ban proposed by Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles, a former councilman, was defeated in May.

Villaraigosa called Wednesday on California lawmakers to follow suit in passing a statewide ban.

“The problem of plastic bags isn’t just an L.A. problem. It’s a California problem,” he said. “It’s time the state passed a ban.”

Councilman Paul Koretz, who wrote the local law, said the ban signifies a shift from an “unthinking, single-use culture” to a “more mindful re-usable culture.”

“This is how we can live more gently on our beautiful little planet,” he said.

The council voted 9-1 Tuesday in support of the ban, with Councilman Bernard Parks casting the lone dissenting vote.

Activists said a plastic bag ban will lead to cleaner beaches, storm drains, rivers and other public spaces that tend to become the final resting places for the non-biodegradable bags. Representatives of plastics companies countered that it would cost jobs, while others contended reusable bags are prone to germs and pose a health risk.

To help ease the transition, the city plans to hand out about 1 million reusable bags in low-income areas, and women who get food benefits through the Women, Infants and Children program will be exempted from the ban.

The local ban will take effect Jan. 1 for stores that gross more than $2 million a year or are housed in more than 10,000 square feet. Starting July 1, 2014, the ban will include liquor stores, and independent markets that carry limited groceries but have staples such as milk and bread.

Proceeds from the 10-cent charge for recyclable paper bags will be kept by stores and used only to recoup the costs of the bags and comply with the city ban. It also will pay for materials to promote reusable bags.

Stores will be required to file quarterly reports on the number of paper bags given out, how much money the store receives for those bags and efforts to promote reusable bags.

5,000 Pounds of Illegal Fireworks Seized in Whittier

June 27, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Authorities in Whittier seized about 5,000 pounds of illegal fireworks at a commercial building near a school, and arrested five people, police said on Tuesday.

Officers were patrolling in the 12000 block of Philadelphia Street, near Whittier High School, about 7 p.m. on June 23 heard an alarm at a commercial building, said Whittier police Officer Brad White.

Believing a burglary may be occurring, officers investigated, and five subjects were detained, he said. Police then obtained a search warrant, and found the illegal fireworks, which were seized with the assistance of the Los Angeles County Fire Department, White said.

The five people were arrested booked on suspicion of possession of explosive material near a theater, hall, school, college, church, hotel, or other public building, White said. Each was held on $500,000 bail. They were identified as: Segio Alvarez, 44, of Los Angeles, Alfred Henderson, 58, of Pico Rivera, John Belden, 55, of Whittier; and two women: Aneli Quiroz, 24, and Adrianna Beltran, 28, both of Los Angeles.

Bicyclist Struck by Car During CicLAvia, Declined Medical Treatment

June 27, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

 A bicyclist was struck on June 23 along a stretch of Wilshire Boulevard reserved for that day’s CicLAvia route, a city fire official said.

The incident occurred around 2:15 p.m. near the 4200 block of Wilshire Boulevard, said Brian Humphrey of the Los Angeles Fire Department.

The man complained of some aches but declined medical care. He was released at the scene, Humphrey said.

Firefighters at the scene radioed in that a vehicle had gone through cones, just before it hit the bike.

Pico Rivera Sheriff’s Station Seeks Additional Car Burglary Victims

June 27, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

The Pico Rivera Sheriff’s station on Monday announced they have arrested three car burglary suspects and are seeking any additional victims. The suspects were arrested on June 19, when police were called to the scene regarding a vehicle break-in in progress. 

Three male adult suspects, all from Baldwin Park, were arrested. Follow-up investigation resulted in the recovery of stolen property and the identification of 11 car burglaries victims, according to the sheriff’s station.

However, detectives believe there are more victims. For more information call the Pico Rivera Sheriff’s Station at (562) 949-2421.

Major Freeway Construction to Impact Commuters on SR-60 and SR-170

June 27, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

 The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) this week warned residents of four upcoming 55-hour closures on the Pomona Freeway (SR-60), as well as full and partial closures of the I-710 connector under the $120 million pavement replacement project.

The SR-60 freeway closures between Nogales Street and Fullerton Road began on July 12 and will continue for three non-consecutive weekends through August 26. The partial freeway closures are expected to cause major delays.

In addition, Caltrans warned that a full closure of the southbound I-710 connector to southbound I-5 will take place over the weekend of June 29 to July 1 beginning this Saturday, June 29 at 6 p.m. through Monday, July 1 at 6 a.m. The northbound I-5 connector to northbound I-710 will be closed from 8 p.m. Saturday, June 29 through 6 a.m. Monday, July 1.

Caltrans advises drivers allow extra time when traveling, find alternate routes and limit driving in that area.

For more information visit http://www.dot.ca.gov/dist07/

Voting Rights Act: Supreme Court Decision Shifts Focus to Congress

June 27, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

On Tuesday, President Obama expressed “disappointment” in the Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling in Shelby County v. Holder, which all but eviscerated Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, and called upon Congress “to pass legislation to ensure every American has equal access to the polls.”

Other critics of the ruling, however, were not so temperate in their characterization of what could prove to be a game changer for ongoing efforts to counter voter suppression.

“Within many of our lifetimes, brave men and women literally died for the right to vote, in the face of terror and intimidation from the Ku Klux Klan and others. Astonishingly, the court today effectively sided with the KKK, making it far easier to deny the vote to people of color, the poor, and anyone else who officials don’t want voting,” said Michelle Romero from the Greenlining Institute.

“Make no mistake: Though the court technically didn’t throw out the pre-approval provision, its decision today has the same effect, unless Congress acts,” she contended. “This is a deeply shameful decision, every bit as shameful as the Dred Scott case or Plessy v. Ferguson.”

The “pre-approval provision” of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act requires nine selected states and other jurisdictions located mostly in the South (and chosen due to their historic patterns of discrimination against ethnic minority voters) to submit any changes to state voting laws and procedures to either the Department of Justice (DOJ) or the U.S. District Court for approval, before they can go into effect.

Though the Supreme Court’s decision left Section 5 intact, Chief Justice John Roberts barred the use of Section 4, the data-gathering formula that provides the statistical underpinning for DOJ or the District Court to make their determinations.

In essence, because there have been instances of minority voters successfully electing candidates of their choice since the passage of the Voting Rights Act, Roberts argued that the past is no longer prologue to America’s current realities. He wrote: “There is no denying… that the conditions that originally justified these measures no longer characterize voting in the covered jurisdictions.”

In a statement released after the decision, Judith Browne Dianis, co-director of the Advancement Project, sharply disagreed: “Ample evidence shows that [the] prior Section 4 formula – which enabled Section 5 to block more than 1,500 discriminatory voting laws from going into effect since its inception, including five last year – is still a critical necessity, and that the formula for those covered states was clearly appropriate.”

“The Supreme Court today struck a major blow to our democracy. By stripping Section 5 of its powers, jurisdictions no longer have to justify any change in their voting laws,” said Tram Nguyen, associate director at Virginia New Majority.

“Discrimination at the ballot box isn’t a thing of the past. Many states, including Virginia, have adopted Voter ID laws aimed at reducing turnout among minorities and low-income voters.”

Similarly, Michael Waldman, president of The Brennan Center for Justice, rebuked the Court’s assessment of today’s voting climate as inaccurate.

“The Supreme Court’s decision is at odds with recent history. The Voting Rights Act was vital in 2012, not just 1965. For nearly five decades, it has been the nation’s most effective tool to eradicate racial discrimination in voting. And it is still critical today.”

But Waldman also suggested that the Court’s decision leaves room for the Voting Rights Act to be restored.

“There is a path forward. Section 5 stands. Congress now has the duty to upgrade this key protection and ensure our elections remain free, fair, and accessible for all Americans.”

The Court’s ruling speaks to a concern for state sovereignty, in that certain jurisdictions are being held to a different standard than those not subject to the Section 4 formula. There is now a question as to whether or not Congress will attempt to craft a new formula for determining if and how Section 5 jurisdictions are suppressing voters.

A new formula could conceivably even bring a greater number of states and jurisdictions under Section 5 coverage, given the deluge of restrictive state voting laws that have been enacted in recent years.

According to data compiled by The Advancement Project: In 2013, voter ID restrictions were introduced in 24 states; proof of citizenship laws in eight; restrictions to early voting in nine; restricting same day voter registration in six; restrictions on voting registration drives in eight; list maintenance and voter purges in six; restrictions on felon rights restoration in two; and penalties for student registration in two. These come on the heels of a number of other restrictive state voting laws that were passed before the 2012 presidential election.

Most observers, however, are not convinced that the current Congress, already deeply divided along party lines on a host of issues, has the political will to design a new formula that will appease both parties. The Voting Rights Act received an extension of 25 years from Congress as recently as 2006.

Recent polling shows an America nearly equally split on whether the Voting Rights Act should remain in effect. Given that, authorizing a new formula would be a calculated risk for incumbents whose constituents may, ironically, exercise their unencumbered access to the polls to remove those in Congress who dare to challenge the Court’s decision on Section 4.

 

Unauthorized Immigrants Account for Only 1.4 Percent of U.S. Medical Spending

June 27, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Newswise — A study by a University of Nebraska Medical Center researcher revealed that unauthorized immigrants have lower health care expenditures compared to legal residents, naturalized citizens and U.S. natives.

The study, which analyzed health expenditure data from the medical expenditure panel survey taken between 2000 and 2009, was conducted by Jim Stimpson, Ph.D., director of the Center for Health Policy at UNMC. Results were published in the June issue of the health policy journal, Health Affairs.

It was found that U.S. natives spent $1 trillion on health care. By contrast all immigrants – unauthorized, legal and illegal – spent one-tenth that amount or $96.7 billion. Unauthorized immigrants accounted for $15.4 billion of that total, or 15.9 percent.

It also was found that an estimated 5.9 percent of unauthorized immigrants received care that providers are not reimbursed for, compared to 2.8 percent of U.S. natives in the same category. Dr. Stimpson speculated that this may be because unauthorized immigrants are much more likely to lack health insurance when compared to U.S. natives.

These findings reflect a history of policies that block access to health care for unauthorized immigrants, he said.

“Today, undocumented immigrants and persons who immigrated less than five years ago have few options for health care access through public programs, leaving only the option to pay out of pocket or to secure private insurance,” Dr. Stimpson said.

The safety net, he said, available for immigrant populations includes hospital emergency rooms and federally qualified health centers.

Such limited access is not optimal for accessing quality care and finding a medical home, Dr. Stimpson said.

“These policies have merely shifted the financial burden of paying for the care of immigrants, and have potentially put the public’s health at risk, when those who have infectious diseases defer treatment for illness,” he said.

One way to remedy the problem, Dr. Stimpson said would be to give unauthorized immigrants access to preventive and treatment services for infectious diseases and to the insurance marketplace.

Fernando Wilson, Ph.D., an associate professor in the UNMC College of Public Health and Dejun Su, Ph.D., an associate professor in the UNMC College of Public Health and director of the Center for Reducing Health Disparities at UNMC, were co-authors on the study.

Through world-class research and patient care, UNMC generates breakthroughs that make life better for people throughout Nebraska and beyond. Its education programs train more health professionals than any other institution in the state. Learn more at unmc.edu.

Take Metro to East L.A. Summer ArtsFest 2013

June 27, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

The Summer ArtsFest 2013 will be held at the East L.A. Civic Center. (Office of Supervisor Gloria Molina)

The Summer ArtsFest 2013 will be held at the East L.A. Civic Center. (Office of Supervisor Gloria Molina)

“Summer ArtsFest 2013” gets underway Sunday at the East Los Angeles Civic Center and will include what’s being billed as an “all-day concert” with an array of live musical entertainment and evening “Fireworks Spectacular.”

Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina is encouraging the public to attend the free event on June 30th being put on in partnership with the L.A County Dept. of Park and Recreation.

The event includes an Artwalk, featuring local artists and crafters displaying their works, music by Conjunto Afro Son, Undercover Girls, JD Hall, White Tribute, Maryam Zadeh from Tapps, Tyrants in Therapy, The Flirts and Trans X, from 3-9p.m.

Easy access via the Metro Goldline Eastside Extension has made the East Los Angeles Civic Center a popular hub for cultural activities such as this Sunday’s ArtsFest, as well as a Center for county services — including a Sheriff’s station, regional library, county offices and courts.

Similar events are scheduled to take place at the civic center throughout the summer, on July 20, Aug. 3, and ending Sept. 3 with “The Taste of East L.A.”, ArtWalk, concert finale and bike ride.

Smaller free events, including Movies in the Park, Friday Jam Sessions/Dance Parties and farmer’s markets will take place throughout the summer, according to Molina’s office.

All of the events are free and open to the public.

This Sunday’s Firework Spectacular begins at 9:15 p.m.

 

For more information, contact the department of Parks and Recreation at (323) 260-2360, or visit www.parks.lacounty.gov www.parks.lacounty.gov.

 

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