The Board of Supervisors Tuesday approved $10,000 rewards in hopes of solving a fatal shootings on New Year’s Day in East Los Angeles.
Supervisor Hilda Solis proposed the reward in the Jan. 1 slaying of 25-year-old Tommy Gamez, who was shot to death in his car, which had crashed into three parked vehicles in the 600 block of Gerhart Avenue in East Los Angeles.
Investigators believe the shooting – which happened about a half-hour after the new year began – was gang-related.
Anyone with information was asked to call sheriff’s homicide Detective Dawn Retzlaff at (323) 890-5500.
County workers have moved quickly to assess soil, arrange cleanup and reach out to 500 families living near the now-shuttered Exide Technologies battery recycling plant, where a recent study found children have higher levels of lead in their blood, a public health official told the Board of Supervisors Tuesday.
Staffers have focused on homes in East Los Angeles, Commerce and Maywood, sending out a dozen three-person teams to sample and test for lead, Department of Public Health Interim Director Cynthia Harding told the supervisors.
The board, frustrated by the pace of the response from state regulators, recently asked DPH to intervene.
Harding said her department sampled and tested 500 properties in less than three weeks.
A contractor for Exide took about 2 1/2 months to assess 50 homes, while the state Department of Toxic Substances Control managed to get to the same number of homes in two weeks, according to Harding.
“We did 50 homes a day,” Harding told the board.
DTSC is also working on cleanup, and Harding said the agencies were coordinating, via weekly meetings, to “make sure we’re not stepping on one another’s toes.”
Harding said 83 percent of residents received results of county soil tests the next day, along with information on available health resources. The balance of the residents weren’t home when county employees stopped by multiple times.
Public health nurses were sent to visit the 45 homes where lead levels were found to be at hazardous waste levels, above 1000 parts per million.
All but eight of the 500 homes, four of which had no soil at all, had levels at least in excess of the DTSC threshold for remediation, Harding said.
Supervisor Hilda Solis said state staffers failed in their outreach to residents. They didn’t explain how residents should protect themselves from potentially contaminated soil and didn’t bother to tell families who had to vacate their homes during cleanup about vouchers for temporary housing, she said.
“DTSC really has to pay attention to what the needs are of this community,” Solis said.
“There are many people who have already suffered enough.”
In addition to continuing community outreach on soil testing and health education, county officials continue to press for faster action by the state and have thrown their support behind bills which call for $176.6 million in funding for cleanup.
Solis characterized it as a David and Goliath-like fight.
“We’re David and we’re up against some very big lobbying guns up there,” Solis said.
The $176.6 million in funding for further testing and environmental cleanup has been approved by the state Senate and is pending a vote by the Assembly.
State officials said the money would pay for testing of residential properties, schools, day care centers and parks within a 1.7-mile radius of the plant, and fund cleaning of as many as 2,500 properties with the highest lead levels.
The study performed by the state Department of Public Health at the request of DTSC found that children under age 6 who lived near the plant ¬– which was permanently closed in March 2015 – were likely to have more lead in their blood than children in Los Angeles County overall.
According to the study, 3.58 percent of young children who live within a mile of the plant had levels of 4.5 micrograms of lead or more per deciliter of blood. Among children who lived between one and 4.5 miles of the plant, 2.41 percent had 4.5 micrograms or more.
According to DTSC, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers 5 micrograms or greater to be an indicator of significantly high lead levels requiring public health action. California’s baseline, however, is 4.5 micrograms.
Although the study focused on proximity to the plant, researchers found that the age of housing was a contributing factor to lead levels, noting that homes closer to the facility tend to be older. The age of housing is significant, since lead levels in paint were not regulated until 1978.
When Exide agreed to close the lead-acid battery recycling plant, it committed to pay $50 million for cleanup of the site and surrounding neighborhoods. Of that amount, $26 million is meant to be set aside for residential cleanup.
As of last August, Exide, which filed for bankruptcy in 2013, had paid $9 million into a trust and another $5 million was due to be paid by March 2020, according to state officials.
The Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to create a unified county health agency, integrating the operations of the public health, mental health and health services departments.
Proponents, including the plan’s earliest champion, Supervisor Michael Antonovich, said they believe an umbrella agency will improve patient care, streamline access and reduce costs.
Those opposed said it will create more bureaucracy and further stigmatize mental illness.
Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said he was optimistic about implementing a structure in which three separate departments remain, with a lead agency driving integration.
“The Department of Public Health and the Department of Mental Health have raised their concerns and raised them pointedly in some cases,” Ridley-Thomas said. “These systems will talk to each other effectively … about a year from now, we’ll see that we’ve done something good.”
Supervisor Sheila Kuehl acknowledged that “a lot of folks out there are still feeling a little nervous,” but assured those assembled at the Hall of Administration that “each department would continue to have direct contact with the supervisors” and communications would not be filtered through the lead agency.
Supervisor Don Knabe stressed that budgets for the three departments should be developed independently, and he charged interim county CEO Sachi Hamai with making sure that happens.
The board did not announce who would lead the agency, although Department of Health Services Director Dr. Mitchell Katz is widely assumed to be the frontrunner.
Katz, who managed a combined health agency in San Francisco, outlined a plan for consolidation in January and proposed that he head the group.
Katz’s skill in managing a budget of more than $4 billion was on display at Tuesday’s board meeting. He told the board that DHS — which before his tenure routinely ran up huge deficits — had a $161 million surplus for the year ended June 30, 2015. Katz recommended setting aside $134 million in reserve.
Responding to a question by Knabe about the impact of merging departments and taking on responsibility for jail health services, Katz said he was confident.
“It’s always been my belief that by working together, things cost less, not more,” Katz said, adding that a single agency would have “opportunities to leverage new funding sources.”
But some see the move as a power grab by Katz and said the surplus money could be put to better use.
“I would prefer a surplus of zero dollars” and more people receiving care, said Genevieve Clavreul, a nurse with a doctorate in hospital management who often comments on county health issues.
The Department of Health Services is responsible for the county hospital system, while the Department of Public Health is responsible for managing outbreaks of communicable diseases, runs programs to promote health goals such as childhood vaccination and inspects restaurants and nursing homes.
The county operated a single health agency until 1978, when mental health became a separate department. Public health and health services were run as a single agency until July 2006.
Opponents said that history did not bode well.
The new structure “looks an awful lot like” that old agency and amounts to “a distinction without a difference,” said Bruce Saltzer, who represents a coalition of mental health providers.
Saltzer urged the board not to allow the new director to modify the organizational structure of other departments or draft performance evaluations for the other department heads. While not naming Katz, Saltzer said putting any of the existing department heads in charge would raise a “clear potential conflict of interest.”
But others had nothing but praise for Katz.
“There are a number of people — and I would count myself among them — that would walk through a wall for the guy,” Brad Spellberg, chief medical officer of Los Angeles County+USC Medical Center in Boyle Heights, told the Los Angeles Times.
Strategic priorities for the combined agency were also spelled out Tuesday and will include:
— improving patient access and experience;
— developing an effective way to serve homeless individuals;
— reducing emergency room overcrowding due to patients in psychiatric crisis;
— tailoring care to residents from different cultures and speaking different languages;
— diverting mentally ill patients at risk of jail time;
— linking vulnerable children to health care; and
— working to limit chronic disease and injury.
The decision by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to form a super health agency to improve health services by placing the county’s three separate health agencies under one top leader could work.
At least for a while and depending on how long it takes for each health service area to start complaining their department is being short-changed or under appreciated.
It seems to us that the people needing County health services will be better served by a system that can coordinate all the services a person needs to achieve a better health outcome. Health problems often have many components and quality care should be able to encompass the dynamic issues that contribute to mental health issues and diseases like diabetes, as well as resulting quality of life issues that can lead to homeless and chronic health problems.
A young person may need dental, pediatric and mental health counseling and coordinating those services is likely to lead to greater follow through by the patient.
Physical and mental health services in this county are too often provided in a disjointed manner that results in many patients not receiving all the services they need because paperwork or referrals are lost in a bureaucratic maze.
We believe coordinating patient information through a centralized intake process that is connected to the County’s various health service areas will especially benefit those who have difficulty navigating the complex system due to language, age or disability barriers, keeping them from falling through the tracks.
When all health services are under one umbrella, it should be possible to develop a system akin to what more private health care providers use.
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to incrementally raise the minimum wage in unincorporated areas over the next five years, reaching $15 an hour by 2020.
Supervisor Hilda Solis, initially hesitant about the possible impact on small businesses, joined Sheila Kuehl and Mark Ridley-Thomas in backing the ordinance. Supervisors Michael Antonovich and Don Knabe dissented, raising concerns about the impact on businesses.
Knabe voted in favor of the hike for county employees only. The minimum wage statewide is currently $9 an hour, but it is scheduled to increase to $10 an hour in January.
Kuehl recommended the county wage hike, which – like the increase recently approved by the city of Los Angeles – will include a series of increases over five years, beginning July 1, 2016, and reaching $15 an hour by 2020. The wage will go to $10.50 in July 2016, $12 in July 2017, $13.25 in July 2018, $14.25 in July 2019 then to $15 the following year. The hike will also mirror the city increase by delaying the increase by one year for businesses with fewer than 26 employees.
After 2020, the wage will be adjusted annually based on the cost of living, something Knabe said he was convinced was “absolutely the wrong thing to do.”
Kuehl said she’d “never been prouder than I am today” about giving “tens of thousands of low-wage workers whose labor has been undervalued and, too often, stole” the opportunity to enter the working class rather than living in “the poverty class.”
Antonovich countered that “a $15 minimum wage is really $21.17” once taxes and health insurance are considered. He also warned that theme parks like Magic Mountain and retailers like Ross and Walmart might be annexed to other cities to avoid paying the higher wage, hurting the county tax roll.
“Are you going to have businesses stay here, thrive and create jobs or are you going to have another exodus?” Antonovich said.
The board discussed the proposal last month, but postponed a vote due to concerns over a Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation report on the issue. Solis also withheld her support while awaiting a survey of small business owners and considering ways to mitigate the impact of the wage bump for them.
Tuesday, dozens of workers packed the county boardroom in support of the wage hike, telling the board that despite working full-time, they’re unable to pay for basic necessities. They faced off against business owners, large and small, who mostly opposed the increase, warning suprvisors that they would be forced to lay off workers, cut hours and raise prices.
Elected officials also turned out to make their case to the board.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti led off with an economic argument.
“Poverty is very, very expensive,” Garcetti said. “When we lose billions in lost wages, when we see folks who can’t support themselves, who winds up paying for it? We do.”
The owner of a Valencia-based warehousing and fulfillment business who said he ships about “20 football fields of consumer products” and supports a $16 million annual payroll warned that he might be forced to move or to automate jobs currently performed by at-risk youth or developmentally disabled workers.
“What you’re doing is going to be really damaging to businesses like mine,” business owner Ken Wiseman told the board.
Wiseman predicted that businesses would move across the Golden State (5) Freeway to Santa Clarita, which he expects will not raise its minimum wage.
A representative of Raging Waters theme park told the board the wage hike will cost the park $1.5 million and would prohibit the company from investing in new attractions.
The board’s action – which will also apply to county employees – leaves dozens of municipalities to decide whether they will respond in kind.
West Hollywood Mayor Lindsey Horvath told the board she is looking at how her city might join the wave of those seeking to raise the standard of living for families struggling to pay housing costs and students buried under school loans.
“Raising the minimum wage is not just the right thing to do, it’s the thing to do right now,” Horvath said. “Our communities can’t wait.”
Business representatives warned that setting a higher wage in unincorporated areas would create a bureaucratic nightmare for businesses that operate within and outside of those “islands.”
However, many of those representing local businesses seemed resigned to the outcome of Tuesday’s vote and focused instead on working out the details of the wage ordinance.
Tracy Rafter, founder of BizFed, which she said represents more than 140 chambers and business organizations, cited “deep concern” about how fast the county was moving to implement such a dramatic increase. But Rafter said she wanted to focus on protecting exemptions for nonprofits and teenage employees and on crafting a definition of employees that would minimize the impact on businesses working across municipalities.
Others expressed support for a small business initiative, championed by Solis and Supervisor Don Knabe, designed to help businesses by potentially providing tax relief, fee waivers or reductions and workforce training.
In a related motion, Solis and Ridley-Thomas proposed that the county move to regulate wage theft.
Nearly 80 percent of low-wage workers who work overtime aren’t paid appropriately and wage theft – which includes being denied meal and rest breaks and working off the clock – disproportionately affects immigrants, women and people of color, according to the supervisors’ proposal.
On a unanimous vote, the board directed staffers to report back on potential enforcement tools including criminal penalties, denying permits and licenses and imposing liens.
A draft minimum wage ordinance is expected to come back for board approval in 45 days.