Exide Technologies this week wrapped up a series of community meetings aimed at informing the public about the possible health risks they face as a result of their exposure to toxic emissions, including arsenic, from the battery recycling plant in Vernon.
The company was also in court this week, appealing an order from the state Department of Toxic Substance Control (DTSC) to shut down the facility because hazardous waste and emissions are contaminating the soil and air, posing an “unacceptable” health risk to the public.
Local residents, elected officials and environmentalists are among the angry voices asking for a major overhaul before the plant is allowed to reopen. Some people living in the impacted areas are calling for the plant to be permanently shut down.
The one chorus of voices that stands in support of Exide’s reopening is the plant’s approximately 120 unionized workers and their families, many who also live in the area.
While Vernon only has about 100 residents, over 50,000 people go to the city each day to work. They come from Boyle Heights, East Los Angeles and the neighboring cities of Huntington Park and Maywood, all areas that are predominately Latino and working-class. And while meetings were scheduled to take place in Huntington Park, Commerce, Boyle Heights and Vernon, no meetings were scheduled for Maywood, where residents and local officials have long contended that toxic waste emanating from Vernon has polluted their water supply.
Maywood Councilman Felipe Aguirre said his city requested that one of the public meetings be held there, but when that did not happen, Maywood residents flocked to the meetings in Huntington Park.
“Maywood is the closest group of people living next to the plant,” Aguirre told EGP. “In reality, I think Exide was probably scared to come to Maywood. They won’t be met with open arms, there are a lot of people in this community who are very sick.”
Exposure to arsenic can cause lung, liver, kidney, bladder and skin cancer if inhaled. Non-cancer risks include chronic and acute harm to child development, as well as cardiovascular, nervous system, respiratory and skin damage, explained AQMD presenters during one of three meetings held last Saturday in Commerce.
Maywood has had issues with their water for years. Harmful trace chemicals have made water look Tamarindo-colored (brown), Aguirre told EGP.
He said Exide is putting “band aids on” on antiquated machinery; “jerry-rigging” and doing “mickey mouse fixes” instead of a major overhaul to ensure the community will not be exposed to further emissions. He said Exide should follow the example of QUEMETCO, a lead-battery recycling plan located in the City of Industry that installed the Wet Electrostatic Precipitator, or WESP, a system that effectively lowered emissions of lead, arsenic and other pollutants.
Aguirre said the Exide plant should not reopen until it has a new filtration system in place. “We are not guinea pigs,” said Aguirre, who distrusts claims that the plant should be allowed to reopen so they can “fix the mess.”
East Yards for Community Justice headquartered in the City of Commerce told EGP they would not be opposed to Exide closing its doors permanently.
“The operations at Exide Technologies have caused the surrounding communities detrimental environmental health impacts,” the group told EGP in a written statement. They said they are extremely concerned that the company has been operating without “the best available pollution controls,’ and added that they will continue to monitor the situation and are ready to provide technical assistance if needed.
“We believe that the health risks that this site poses to the community are much greater than the benefits,” East Yards told EGP.
Joseph K. Lyou with the Coalition for Clean Air and an appointee of the governor to the AQMD governing board said Exide has the right to challenge DTSC’s order to cease operations.
“It’s my understanding that they can go to court or they could ask the judge to reverse the decision. On the DTSC end, its unclear how it will play out,” he said.
South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD, or AQMD), which manages air pollution in Orange County, and portions of Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino, in March ordered Exide to immediately reduce arsenic emissions and ordered the company to hold a public meeting informing the public about potential health risks from the harmful emissions. The company was previously cited for excessive lead emissions, but has been in compliance since January 2012, according to the AQMD presentation.
According to the AQMD, while Exide was only required to hold one public meeting, they were holding 8 meetings, three each in Huntington Park and Commerce, and one in both Boyle Heights and Vernon.
AQMD Media Relations Manager Sam Atwood said the number of meetings was unprecedented. “We knew we needed to have more than one because of the number of people affected,” he told EGP.
Philip M. Fine, AQMD Asst. Deputy Executive Officer, told EGP it was the “largest notification” ever done by the agency, and included “over 100,000 addresses.” He said there are 31 schools in the impacted area, and each school received a package with the health risk assessment results that were to be sent home with students. Fine said the meeting notices and health risk assessments were also distributed at public libraries.
The only school in Vernon, however, was never notified about the public meetings taking place, Vernon Elementary School Principal Fabiola Hernandez told EGP. A majority of the students at the school attend by permit, because their parents work in Vernon, according to Hernandez. But because the school is two miles from the plant, the AQMD does not consider it to be within the high-risk area, where 10 in1 million residents could develop cancer.
“Those schools that were not notified, had no risk associated,” Atwood said.
Commerce officials invited Exide to hold a public meeting in city facilities, but the company instead opted for the Doubletree Hotel on Saturday, City Administrator Jorge Rifa told EGP.
Joseph, an eighteen-year-old Commerce resident, attended the 11 a.m. public meeting at the hotel where he blamed Exide for his health issues.
“I have been exposed to these chemicals, and let me tell you I’m sick, no, I’m really sick,” he said. “I wake up with a throat full of blood, I get bloody noses and I probably have cancer, but I’m not sure of that…”
While he expressed some sympathy for laid off workers, the same could not be said for their corporate employer: “These people don’t care. All they care about is if they have money in their bank accounts so they can pay off their fat homes and spend all the money on needless things and personal gain,” Joseph said. “You people on the board should be ashamed for harming people knowingly and not doing anything about it.”
Commerce Mayor Joe Aguilar told EGP he was surprised more people did not turn out for the meetings. About 15 of the people at the 11 a.m. meeting wore T-shirts that identified them as United Steelworkers Local 675 members.
Martin Sanchez, a mechanic at the plant, defended Exide. He pointed out that some homes have lead contamination from old paint and that air pollution also comes from cars and other industrial activities.
“Even the sun can cause cancer, are they going to blame the company? I got a family too… We’re all healthy; we don’t have cancer. Stop blaming it on the company,” Sanchez said.
AQMD Executive Officer Barry R. Wallerstein, however, responded to Sanchez saying the risk discussion was specific to Exide. He said health risks are from calculations based on sampling the air relative to this particular facility.
“…The facility engineers, the scientist and their consultants and the AQMD scientists all agree that the emissions measured result in this risk,” he said, adding it is about protecting the public. “And in doing that, I believe there will also be improvements for the workers,” Wallerstein said.
AQMD is rquiring Exide to submit a Health Risk Reduction Plan before Sept. 1st. Exide is said to be installing a special door over a furnace to better filter the gasses and a secondary HEPA filtration system, as well as modifying an exiting HEPA filtration unit.
AQMD will also consider additional requirements such as regulations or permit conditions; the company has been operating on an interim permit for 35 years.
Secretary-Treasurer of United Steel Workers Local 675, David Campbell, said he agrees with “everything” Wallerstein said, “largely because according to the environmental regulations in California this plant is the most technologically advanced plant Exide has.”
He said they are willing to commit to the community that if Exide is allowed to reopen, they will “offer free health and safety and environmental training from our international union’s health and safety department, with simultaneous translation in Spanish.”
Plant Manager John Hogart has only been with Exide for four month but has worked for over 16 years with aluminum and steel companies in Vernon. He said he is hopeful the plant would reopen and resume operations.
“We work very closely with the AQMD, they are the air monitoring agency for the basin and we meet their requirements. We think we do a good service to our community, to the country; we recycle spent lead acid batteries…” Hogart told EGP Exide follows regulatory agency guidelines.
He would or could not respond to specific questions like why the company has been operating on an interim permit for 30 years, citing his short time with the company and the Exide’s pending appeal.
One resident, who noted he missed much of the presentation, expressed a sense of futility, which for many seemed to be the elephant in the room.
“Is there a place where we can vote and have our opinion count, whether or not we want to allow the potential risks to continue?” he asked AQMD officials, who responded by saying that by speaking up at the public meeting he is making his voice count.
Commerce’s Aguilar noted that about 10 years ago a business in Commerce left the ground contaminated, but generally the city works closely with AQMD to ensure companies there are in compliance.
He said it’s not an issue of each city regulating, and thinks “AQMD is doing the job they are supposed to, but there are too many companies and “people are short-handed, and there may be one or two that slip through the cracks,” he said.
Commerce’s city administrator said the city council took action in April by writing a letter to the City of Vernon urging them to take all actions available to them as s a charter city to ensure the company ceases operations until it demonstrates clearly that it is not endangering the health and safety of the people who live and work within the Southeast region.
Rifa also said AQMD made a presentation at a recent meeting on the health hazards that was televised on the city’s cable channel.
Vernon’s response to Commerce, a letter signed by Mayor Michael McCormick, noted that Vernon and its Health and Environmental Control Department (VHECD) do not have authority to regulate Exide for air emissions and toxic substances, but safety is a top priority for the 55,000 workers that come to the city every day.
The letter also indicates the city, which found out about the arsenic contamination through newspaper reports, was also alarmed and asked AQMD to issue a health advisory.
Following Vernon’s Council meeting on Tuesday, only Councilman Michael A Ybarra, a parent and grandparent of children born and raised in the city’s limits, said he was very concerned about the health risks.
Ybarra said he hopes Exide can meet all the regulatory standards again and receive a permanent permit. “We need the business,” he said. “Battery recycling needs to be processed correctly, but it needs to be done right.”
Rifa pointed out that Exide is a major corporation, that’s publicly traded and has locations in 80 countries: “This is not a flyby night operation. You would expect, given the nature of their operations there is a very strict philosophy about managing that plant and any of their plants,” Rifa said.
“If they are operating in a way that disregards the community’s safety and health that’s shameful and if they cannot operate in a way that is responsible to our community and their workers, they should not be operating,” Rifa said.
When asked, the Coalition for Clean Air’s Lyou agreed it’s ironic that recycling is supposed to be good for the environment, but in this case the battery recycling poses a health risk to the public.
“Recycling is supposed to be a good thing. Reusing the lead, there’s obviously a need to do this. We’re recycling batteries for our cars and boats. However, when the recycling is done in a away that puts people at risk for cancer, we need to make sure that people are protected,” Lyou said.
The outcome of Exide’s administrative hearing on the DTSC action was unclear as of time of publication.
Nancy Martinez, EGP Staff Writer contributed to this story.
A multi-million dollar public-private partnership to build affordable housing for seniors in Bell Gardens was unveiled last week during a ribbon cutting ceremony, making it the third such housing project to be opened in the city.
Terra Bella, located at 5720 Clara Street, will provide housing to 65 low-income seniors, according to Bell Gardens officials.
“I am proud to know that we can provide safe, affordable housing to our senior residents,” said Bell Gardens Mayor Pedro Aceituno, noting that the housing was built during “”tough economic times.”
The development was built by Abode Communities at a cost of $23 million and financed through a combination of federal, state, private and local funding. The land was a vacant lot before being acquired by Abode, which started construction on the project in 2011.
“Terra Bella is a prime example of what can be accomplished through a wide-range of public-private partnerships,” said Robin Hughes, President and CEO of Abode Communities. “The support from our partners, combined with Project-Based Section 8 rental subsidies, ensures deep and permanent affordability to seniors who live on a fixed income.”
Bell Gardens loaned Abode $2.6 million from its now-defunct redevelopment agency, according to the city’s director of community development, Abel Avalos. The city expects the loan, plus interest. to be repaid in 30 years, Avalos said.
Since the project is affordable housing, Avalos said added revenue to the city in property taxes would be minimal.
Only seniors, 62-years-old or older who meet low-income based requirements set by the Housing Authority of the County of Los Angeles, which is estimated as 30-60 percent of the area’s median income, are eligible to live at the facility.
“It’s a much needed project,” Avalos said. “Overall, Bell Gardens is considered a younger community but there are quite enough seniors.”
The 60,049 square-foot residential project has 62, one-bedroom apartments and three two-bedroom apartments. The California mission-inspired property also features a 2,235 square-ft. common area that includes a resource center, common kitchen and on-site laundry room. It does not meet the standards to qualify as an assistance living facility.
Apartment units have been completely leased out, and there is a waiting list. Twenty-seven percent of the tenants were already Bell Gardens residents, according to Avalos.
“That’s a pretty good number considering [could] was out of our control,” he said.
There are currently about 3.394 seniors living in Bell Gardens, approximately 8 percent of the city’s population, Avalos said.
“Senior housing is really one of the few ways to provide a benefit to our residents because they are one of the most vulnerable residents on a fixed income,” said Avalos. “We probably would not have been able to assist as many people in another project as we could with this property.”
The California Latino Legislative Caucus issued a statement Wednesday saying it was willing to assist in the ongoing federal probe of Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello.
Agents from the FBI’s Los Angeles field office served search warrants Tuesday at Calderon’s Sacramento office, but what prompted the investigation that originated in Los Angeles and what they were looking for remains unclear.
The California Latino Legislative Caucus’ statement said that, contrary to some media reports, its offices were not searched.
“The nature of the warrants is under seal, and thus far no information on the affidavit in support of the warrants has been disclosed,” according to the caucus statement. “In any event, the Latino Legislative Caucus stands ready to assist the Justice Department in whatever way it can to bring this matter to a speedy resolution.”
Two offices used by Calderon, one at the Capitol and one on N Street were searched, clarified Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Tony Beard.
Calls and emails to Calderon’s office were referred to the senator’s high profile attorney, Mark Geragos, who said Tuesday there was no justification for the probe.
“The only one so far who has done anything improper is the government,” Geragos told the Los Angeles Times. “The government is out of control and we are going to take the appropriate action to hold them accountable. They should be ashamed of themselves”
Geragos said he would go to court to ask that anything taken from Calderon’s office at the Capitol be returned.
No arrests had been made, nor charges filed, as of Wednesday afternoon.
“Affidavits in support of the warrants have been sealed by the court and so we are unable to comment on nature, scope or target of investigation, which is ongoing, other than to say agents were seeking evidence based on allegations of criminal activity,” FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said in an email to City News Service.
Two sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, told EGP Tuesday that the cases could be related to hundreds of thousands of dollars in contracts between a San Gabriel Valley water agency and the senator’s brother, Tom Calderon, a former state legislator. One of the sources told EGP that “several people connected with the Central Basin Water District and its contractors have been questioned by the FBI” over the last two or three months, in what was called “a widespread corruption probe.”
Michael Franchek confirmed that he was interviewed twice by the FBI after he raised concerns that his firm, Ecogreen Services, was denied contracts with the water district which were awarded to better connected companies, including Water2Save, where Tom Calderon is a member of the board.
“To me it reeked of cronyism,” Franchek told the Sacramento Bee.
Calderon, 55, was born and raised in Montebello. Members of his family have served in the State Legislature for three decades. He represents the 30th District, which includes Bell, Bell Gardens, Cudahy, Montebello and Whittier, along with other cities.
La empresa Exide Technologies esta semana concluyó una serie de reuniones comunitarias destinadas a informar al público sobre los posibles riesgos a la salud debido a la exposición al arsénico procedentes de su planta de reciclaje de baterías de autos en la ciudad de Vernon. La compañía Exide esta semana, también participo en audiencias administrativas en un tribunal de Los Ángeles, apelando el cierre de la planta con fin de reanudar las operaciones.
Los residentes locales, funcionarios electos y los ecologistas están entre las voces de protesta que piden una revisión a fondo antes que la planta sea permitida a abrir de nuevo, otros quieren que la planta cierre por completo.
El coro de voces que se interpone en apoyo de la reapertura de la planta es principalmente de un grupo de aproximadamente 120 trabajadores sindicalizados y sus familias, muchos de ellos residentes de las zonas afectadas.
El concejal de Maywood Felipe Aguirre, dijo que su ciudad pidió que una de las reuniones públicas se realizará allí, pero eso no ocurrió, muchos residentes de Maywood en vez asistieron los reuniones en Huntington Park.
“Maywood es el grupo de personas más cercano que reside junto a la planta”, Aguirre dijo a EGP. “En realidad, creo que Exide probablemente tiene miedo de venir a Maywood. Ellos no encontrarán brazos abiertos, hay un montón de gente en esta comunidad que están muy enfermos [debido a la contaminación]”.
Durante las reuniones que se finalizaron ayer, representantes de AQMD explicaron que la exposición al arsénico de la planta de Exide puede causar cáncer de pulmón si es inhalado; y si es ingerido puede causar cáncer de pulmón, el hígado, los riñones, la vejiga y de la piel. Exposición también puede causar otros problemas de salud no cancerígenos, enfermedades crónicos o agudos como trastornos de desarrollo, problemas cardiovasculares, del sistema respiratorio y nervioso, y daños a la piel, se explicó.
Aguirre acusó a Exide de hacer lo más mínimo para arreglar sus machinas anticuadas, en lugar de cambiar todo para asegurarse de que la comunidad no esté expuesta a nuevas emisiones. Él preferiría ver que Exide haga las mejoras que hizo QUEMETCO, otra planta de reciclaje de baterías de autos ubicada en la ciudad cercana de Industry.
“No queremos que vuelvan a abrir la planta [de Exide], que la abran solo después que limpien su planta”, dijo Aguirre. “Ellos dicen que quieren volver a abrirla para hacer las mejoras, pero nosotros estamos diciendo que no se reabra hasta que tengan un sistema nuevo en su lugar. No somos animales en experimento”.
Durante años, Maywood ha tenido problemas con el agua. Existen trazas químicas nocivas que causan que el agua de la llave tenga un color parecido al Tamarindo pero con un sabor desagradable, dijo Aguirre.
La organización para la justicia comunitaria East Yards for Community Justice, con sede en la ciudad de Commerce, dijo a EGP que no se opondrían a la clausura permanente de Exide.
“Las operaciones de Exide Technologies han causado a las comunidades circundantes repercusiones sanitarias ambientales perjudiciales. Estamos muy preocupados de que esta instalación haya estado funcionando sin los mejores controles de la contaminación disponibles. Estaremos monitoreando de cerca la situación y estamos listos para ofrecer asistencia técnica a nuestros miembros si es necesario. Creemos que los riesgos para la salud que este sitio representa para la comunidad son mucho mayores que los beneficios”, dijo la organización a EGP en una declaración escrita.
El Departamento de Control de Sustancias Tóxicas del estado (DTSC) cerró las instalaciones recientemente explicando que los residuos y las emisiones peligrosos están contaminando el suelo y el aire, lo cual representa un riesgo para la salud “inaceptable” para el público.
Joseph K. Lyou, presidente de la Coalición para el Aire Limpio (Coalition for Clean Air) y nombrado por el gobernador al consejo de administración de AQMD, dijo que el desafío actual de Exide es retar si DTSC actuó correctamente al cerrar la planta, pero el resultado de la apelación no es muy predecible.
“Lo que pasará es un poco confuso. Por parte de DTSC, no se sabe cómo se resolverá esto en la corte”, dijo Lyou.
La agencia South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD o AQMD por sus siglas en inglés) gestiona la contaminación del aire en el Condado de Orange, y partes de los condados de Los Ángeles, Riverside y San Bernardino. En marzo, AQMD ordenó a Exide a reducir inmediatamente las emisiones de arsénico, y ordenó a la empresa a realizar una reunión pública.
En el pasado, la planta de Exide había sido citado por emisiones de plomo, pero las emisiones de plomo a partir de enero de 2012 están dentro de las normas de cumplimiento, según la presentación de AQMD.
Exide realizó tres reuniones en Huntington Park, tres en Commerce, uno en Boyle Heights y uno en Vernon—un total de ocho reuniones—pero solo estaban obligados a realizar una reunión, dijeron los funcionarios del AQMD.
De acuerdo con el asistente adjunto oficial ejecutivo de AQMD Philip M. Fine, esta fue la mayor notificación que AQMD ha hecho: más de 100,000 cartas se enviaron. Además, el portavoz de AQMD, Sam Atwood dijo a EGP que el número de reuniones debido a una sola planta también fue sin precedentes.
Durante la reunión en Commerce a las 11am, Joseph, de 18 años de edad, dijo a los oficiales de la calidad de aire y a los representantes de la empresa Exide, que la planta es el responsable por sus problemas de salud.
“He sido expuesto a estas sustancias químicas, y déjeme decirles que estoy enfermo—en serio estoy muy enfermo”, Joseph dijo. “Me despierto con un umbral lleno de sangre, me sangra la nariz y, probablemente, tengo cáncer—pero no estoy seguro…”
Aunque Joseph, quién no quiso dar su apellido, expresó cierta simpatía por los trabajadores despedidos, reprendió a la corporación.
“A estas personas [representantes de la compañía] no les importa. Todo lo que les importa es si tienen dinero en sus cuentas bancarias para que puedan pagar sus casas de lujo y gastar todo el dinero en cosas innecesarias para su beneficio personal”, él dijo. “Ustedes en el tablero deberían de estar avergonzados de lastimar a la gente, por saber lo que hacían y por hacer nada al respeto.”
El alcalde de la ciudad de Commerce Joe Aguilar dijo a EGP que se sorprendió al no ver más residentes en la reunión donde había aproximadamente 60 personas, 15 de los cuales vestían de camisetas que los identificaban como trabajadores miembros del sindicato United Steelworkers Local 675.
Martín Sánchez, un mecánico en la planta, defendió a Exide señalando que algunas casas tienen contaminación con plomo procedente de pintura vieja, y que la contaminación del aire también proviene de los autos y otras actividades industriales. “Paren de echarle toda la culpa a la compañía,” dijo Sánchez.
Sin embargo, el oficial ejecutivo de AQMD Barry R. Wallerstein respondió a Sánchez diciendo que los riesgos de salud discutidos son específicos a la contaminación que proviene de Exide, los riesgos a la salud son cálculos que se basan en el muestreo del aire en relación con esta instalación en particular.
Para solucionar el problema actual de las emisiones de arsénico, AQMD está obligando que Exide le presente un Plan de Reducción de Riesgos de Salud antes del 1 de septiembre. Exide también está trabajando para instalar una puerta especial para un horno que ayudará a filtrar mejor los gases, y agregar un segundo sistema de instalación de filtración HEPA y modificar otra unidad con filtración HEPA.
SCAQMD también considerará requisitos adicionales, tales como más regulaciones o condiciones más estrictas de permiso.
Los hallazgos de DTSD no formaban parte de las reuniones recientes, por lo cual no se discutieron las reparaciones a las tuberías para evitar la contaminación del suelo y el agua.
El gerente de la planta John Hogart, quien se unió a Exide hace solo cuatro meses pero quién ha trabajado para empresas de metales en la ciudad de Vernon por más de 16 años, se mostró esperanzado en que la planta vuelva a abrir e iniciará operaciones.
“Trabajamos muy de cerca con el AQMD, son la agencia de monitoreo del aire en la cuenca, y cumplimos sus requisitos. Creemos que hacemos un buen servicio a nuestra comunidad, al país, reciclamos gastado de las baterías de plomo ácido lo cual creemos que es un buen servicio. Y como he dicho, trabajamos con todas las agencias reguladoras y seguimos sus directrices,” Hogart dijo a EGP.
Hogart no pudo responder preguntas específicas como por qué la compañía operaba bajo un permiso provisional durante 30 años.
Un residente, quien señaló que faltó gran parte de la presentación, expresó una especie de sentimiento inútil: “¿Hay algún lugar donde podamos votar y hacernos contar, acerca de si queremos permitir que los riesgos potenciales continúen?” preguntó.
La respuesta por AQMD fue que al estar presente en la reunión pública y al expresar sus preocupaciones ya estaba haciéndose contar y que AQMD esta tomando las acciones necesarias para asegurar que la planta vuelva a abrir en el cumplimiento.
Cuando se le preguntó a Lyou acerca de la ironía de que se supone que el reciclaje es bueno para el medioambiente pero en este caso la planta de reciclaje presenta un riesgo a la salud, Lyou acordó.
“Reutilizar el plomo, obviamente hay una necesidad para hacer esto. Estamos reciclando las baterías de coches y de barcos. Sin embargo, cuando el reciclaje se hace de una forma que pone a las personas en riesgo al cáncer, tenemos que asegurarnos de que las personas están protegidas”, él dijo.
No quedo claro si hubo un resultado después de la audiencia administrativa de Exide antes del tiempo de publicación de este periódico.
Nancy Martínez, reportera de EGP, contribuyo a este reporte.
The two-tier pay schedule for members of the Vernon City Council could come up for review at the council’s next meeting, following the council’s approval Tuesday of a motion by Mayor Pro-Tem William Davis that asks staff to come up with a resolution to reduce the salary of the two highest paid members of the council, thereby equalizing the salary paid to all council members
The largess of city council salaries became a big issue during efforts to disincorporate Vernon in 2011. To help stave off disincorporation, Vernon officials agreed to make several changes in how it operates, including acting more transparently and ethically.
As part of its reform effort, the council voted in 2011 to reduce council salaries from $68,052 to $25,000 and to eliminate health benefits. The salary reduction was to take place at the end of each of the then sitting council member’s current term.
There have, however, been new members elected to the council since that change was approved, and it doesn’t sit well with them or Davis that two long-time city officials are being paid twice as much as the new council members, Michael Ybarra and Luz Martinez. Davis’s term ended shortly after the pay change was made, which quickly resulted in his salary being cut.
Davis has been trying to get the council to take up the salary issue since his reelection in April, only to have the matter repeatedly continued to another date. Davis said council members in other cities, residents, and workers have asked him why the city’s part-time elected officials receive different salaries.
Currently, Davis, Martinez and Ybarra each receive $2,083 a month, or nearly $25,000 annually. Councilmember Richard Maisano and Mayor McCormick each receive $4,650 a month or nearly $56,000 a year, an amount lower than the $68,052 council members were paid at the height of the disincorporation battle.
“Why should other council members be different when all of us have the same responsibility,” Davis said during the June 4 council meeting.
“We don’t want the city of Vernon to become like the city of Bell,” he said, referring to the high salaries that Bell officials were paid when a corruption scandal broke.
Davis, McCormick and Maisano were all on the council when the salary reduction decision was made. McCormick and Maisano are not scheduled to see a pay cut until their terms end in two years.
Davis said Vernon’s poor financial situation is another valid reason for speeding up the salary cuts, which would cut the city’s expenses by $50,000 annually.
The city significantly reduced its budget deficit during the 2012-2013 fiscal year when it began with a $12 million dollar deficit. Since then it had made sold part of its water rights for a one-time payment of $6 million, passed business tax measures in April that will bring in around $8 million annually and created a retirement incentive that will bring in $8 million in the next five years.
McCormick tried to table the discussion indefinitely at Tuesday’s meeting, but his motion failed for lack of a second. When asked by Davis why he would make such a motion, the mayor had no response.
According to the city clerk, the resolution will be brought back to council for consideration at its next meeting, set for June 25.
Councilmember Ybarra told EGP that he agrees with Davis’ the motion and believes that the council will vote to bring down the higher salaries.
“It should have been done sooner,” Ybarra said. “In hindsight, we should have progressively reduced salaries over years.”
Vernon’s Reform Monitor John Van De Kamp had repeatedly advised the council to bring their salaries in line with the “mainstream” of other cities.
“Lets make the city of Vernon a city that other cities follow,” Davis said.
Responding in part to the death of 8-year-old Palmdale boy allegedly beaten to death by his mother’s boyfriend as she stood by, state lawmakers called Tuesday for an investigation of three county child welfare agencies.
Assemblymen Mike Gatto, D-Los Angeles, and Tim Donnelly, R-Twin Peaks, said they would ask for an audit of child welfare agencies in Los Angeles, Orange and Sacramento counties at a Joint Legislative Audit Committee hearing set for Wednesday
“Children like Gabriel (Fernandez) rely on adults to keep them safe and advocate for their needs,” Gatto said. “The death of an 8-year-old boy, whose abuse and neglect was known by officials, is not just unacceptable — it is horrifying.”
Gabriel Fernandez was hospitalized May 22 with BB pellets embedded in his lungs and groin, a cracked skull, broken ribs, burns, bruises and two missing teeth. The boy died two days later.
His mother’s 32-year-old boyfriend, Isauro Aguirre, admitted under questioning by detectives that he injured the boy, according to Los Angeles County sheriff’s Sgt. Brian Hudson.
The boy’s mother, Pearl Sinthia Fernandez, 29, admitted to being there during the assault and not doing anything to stop it, Hudson said.
But it was the failure of county social workers to remove Gabriel from his home, despite multiple warning signs and investigations, which prompted the assemblymen’s concern.
The Los Angeles Times reported that six investigations regarding Gabriel were done.
“Gabriel had shown up to school with injuries consistent with severe beatings, had told authorities that his parents beat him regularly, and that he wcontemplated suicide,” according to Gatto.
But earlier allegations of abuse were termed unfounded, and the most recent probe dragged on for two months past a legally mandated deadline by the time the boy died, Gatto said.
Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael Antonovich has called for an investigation of all county social workers and supervisors involved in the boy’s case, four of whom were reportedly put on desk duty in the interim.
Fernandez and Aguirre have been charged with murder and the special circumstance allegation of murder during the commission of torture. They were denied bail while awaiting arraignment, which is set for June 11 in Lancaster Superior Court.
Prosecutors in the District Attorney’s Office have yet to decide whether to seek the death penalty in the case.
Gatto also referred the case of five-month-old Sammy Nikolayev in Sacramento, who was “ripped from his mother’s arms, in her house, because she asked to see a second doctor before authorizing risky heart surgery for her newborn,” according to a statement by Gatto’s office.
The mother lost faith in medical professionals after the baby was given antibiotics without a doctor’s consent, he said.
“While the facts of this case are not all public, what we do know is alarming enough to warrant further investigation,” Gatto said. “It is inconceivable to most parents that a government agency could enter your home without a warrant and haul away your baby, just because you sought a second opinion before a significant medical procedure.”
A former Maywood police officer was sentenced Tuesday to 19 years in state prison for sexually assaulting five women while on duty.
Ryan Allen West – who was sentenced by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge George Lomeli – pleaded no contest May 15 to two counts of forcible rape and four counts of sexual penetration with a foreign object.
Authorities launched an investigation in 2007, after one of the women went to a hospital and reported that she had been raped by an officer, according to the District Attorney’s Office.
West was the Maywood Police Department’s canine handler officer until March 2008. He was arrested in May of that year at his Riverside County home and charged with sexual crimes committed between September 2006 and May 2007.
He was initially charged with attacks on three women while on duty, and then charged later with crimes involving two other women.
An undercover prostitution operation at three Poway massage parlors has netted six arrests, a San Diego County sheriff’s sergeant said on June 2.
The massage parlors were: Silky Massage, 13328 Poway Road, Hai Tee Acupuncture-Massage, 12623 Poway Road and the Healing Touch, 12845 Poway Road.
Huiyan Fan, 39, from Monterey Park, and Tian Tian Jobe, 32, from San Gabriel, were arrested at the Silky Massage and cited for Unlawful Touching and other municipal code violations, he said. Yun Xian Chen, 56, from Monterey Park, and Qing Hui Zhang, 39, from San Diego, were arrested at Hai Tee Acupuncture-Massage and cited for Unlawful Touching, Duckworth said. Zhuang was also cited for municipal code violations.
Hang Yin Chui Russell, 50, and Yishuang Cheng, 47, both from Oceanside, were arrested at the Healing Touch. Russell was cited for municipal code violations and Cheng was cited for prostitution solicitation, he said.
The office of the Mexican General Consulate in Los Angeles on Monday announced that Consul David Figueroa Ortega’s term ended on May 31. Ortega led the consulate since 2011 when he was appointed by then Mexican President Felipe Calderón.
Juan Carlos Mendoza Sánchez is the interim consul. Ortega’s successor will be chosen by President Enrique Peña Nieto, who has elected last summer. A consul is a government representative of a foreign country, who among other official duties, provides assistance with bureaucratic issues to citizens of the consul’s country traveling or living abroad.
Mayor-elect Eric Garcetti officially began efforts to build his mayoral office this week, choosing a former chief of staff as his transition director and introducing a website to solicit ideas from the public and applications for staff positions and commission appointments.
Garcetti has a month to pick his administration team before assuming the mayor’s office July 1.
“We’re running a focused transition to ensure we hit the ground running on day one with an agenda to create jobs and solve problems for L.A. residents,” Garcetti said.
He said an important component to his transition will be spending time between now and his inauguration meeting with Angelenos in their communities to hear their questions and concerns face-to-face. The first of several scheduled community meeting took place last night at the PUENTE Learning Center in Boyle Heights. He is meeting with “Angelenos to identify the best solutions to improve our economy, make City Hall work better and strengthen our neighborhoods,” according to the meeting announcement.
Garcetti will also begin filling positions on about 50 city commissions, and once in office, he will review applications for city department head positions – requiring current managers to re-apply for their jobs, according to Garcetti spokesman Yusef Robb.
Garcetti’s administration could have the “first true” chief technology officer, Robb said.
Garcetti has also begun developing a coordinator position for a new Veterans’ Affairs Office, he said.
The City Council recently approved motions by Garcetti to transfer almost $500,000 from his 13th District council office to open mayoral offices handling veteran, immigration and entertainment industry affairs.
Rich Llewellyn, who will be unpaid, is leading the transition effort, according to Robb.
Llewellyn is the chief of staff for Councilman Paul Koretz and was a member of Garcetti’s mayoral campaign staff, as well as a longtime adviser to Garcetti.
“Rich understands my priorities and has the experience and expertise to help me assemble an administration that is ready for action,” Garcetti said.
Llewellyn, an attorney, also is a former chief of staff in Garcetti’s council office and was a special counsel for District Attorney Gil Garcetti, the mayor-elect’s father.
“I will get City Hall back to basics so that all of our neighborhoods are places where families thrive and businesses succeed,” Garcetti said. “I know first-hand that the best government is one that partners with the people. I want your help and your ideas.”
Garcetti will also be forming a committee to raise money for the transition, according to Robb.
The transition website is at http://transition.lacity.org.