County health officials said Tuesday they are pressing state regulators to expedite the cleanup of an estimated 400 homes near the shuttered Exide battery-recycling plant in Vernon that have hazardous waste-level lead contamination.
The 400 homes where soil tested for lead showed levels at or above 1,000 parts per million are the highest priority, according to Angelo Bellomo, the county’s deputy director for health protection.
“We believe there is sufficient basis for … expediting the cleanup (of soil on those properties),’’ Bellomo told the Board of Supervisors.
However, the DTSC is considering other criteria — in addition to contamination levels – in deciding how to prioritize cleanup of individual homes.
Those factors include whether children under the age of 7 or pregnant women live at a contaminated site and whether residents have a blood-lead level at or above five micrograms per deciliter, according to guidance published on the agency’s website.
County officials disagree.
“Everybody who is living in a house [with levels at or above 1,000 ppm]… needs mitigation … and needs mitigation immediately,” Department of Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer told the board.
“And that means soil removal and not laying plastic over it.”
Bellomo said he hoped initial cleanup efforts could begin in April.
“I sense that (the state Department of Toxic Substances Control) is trying to do the right thing, but they seem to be going very slow,” Supervisor Hilda Solis said.
DTSC documentation calls for a draft cleanup plan and environmental impact report to be finalized in June, with cleanup beginning in the summer. An agency spokeswoman confirmed those time estimates still hold, but said high-risk sites could be addressed earlier.
Properties with contamination between 400-1,000 ppm also meet federal regulatory levels for cleanup and state public health officials calculate that levels need to be below 80 ppm to eliminate lead risk.
The DTSC’s proposal calls for soil to be cleaned to below 80 ppm, and agency contractors are still in the process of testing the lead levels in surrounding communities. The regulatory agency estimates that it could handle cleanup of an average of 50 properties per week and that the work would be completed within two years.
State and county personnel are wrangling over whether cleanup is warranted inside homes, according to Bellomo, with the county arguing that interiors must at least be assessed and possibly cleaned.
Community leaders are also making this point,’’ Bellomo told the board.
The agency said in December that it would offer interior cleaning, but did not specify in what cases and whether that cleaning would be to specific environmental standards or to deal with the consequences of soil removal.
The discussion about DTSC’s progress was prompted when Solis asked for an update on complaints by workers employed to do soils testing.
Some workers employed by DTSC contractors alleged that they have been forced to manipulate testing data, work in unsafe conditions that expose them to contaminated soil and subjected to racist and derogatory comments by field managers, Deputy County Counsel Robert Ragland told the board.
The allegations have been referred to the state Attorney General’s office.
“I think the investigation has just begun,” Ragland said, telling the board that the county was awaiting the results of that review.
DTSC “encourages potentially affected individuals to have their blood lead levels tested’’ and offers a hotline for residents with questions about cleanup at (844) 225-3887.
The Board of Supervisors Tuesday voted its unanimous support of federal regulations targeting predatory lending practices by payday, car title and installment lenders.
“We believe protecting families and their pocketbooks is good public policy,” Supervisor Hilda Solis said.
The city of Los Angeles has the highest number of payday lenders in the state, with about 800 stores found mostly in communities of color, according to Solis.
“Californians now pay over $700 million in fees on these loans every year,” Solis said. “Our families are trapped in cycles of high-cost debt.”
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, created in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, has proposed rules requiring lenders to assess a borrower’s ability to repay a loan, restrict lenders from requiring access to a borrower’s checking account and cap annual percentage rates for some short-term loans at 36 percent.
Payday loans typically have a 14- or 30-day term and are payable in full upon receipt of a paycheck, tax refund or other expected cash payment.
California law limits the fee on payday loans to $15 per $100, up to a maximum of $45. That charge translates to an APR of 460 percent for a two-week loan.
The majority of payday customers are repeat customers. The CFPB found that borrowers at payday loan stores took out a median of 10 loans and more than 80 percent of loans were rolled over or renewed within two weeks.
Roughly 75 percent of fees generated come from borrowers who take out 11 or more loans each year.
California law is tougher than that in many states and prohibits lenders from writing a new loan to pay off an existing debt or making a new loan while an existing loan is outstanding.
The public may comment on the proposed rules through Oct. 7 at consumerfinance.gov.
Apartment developers, who typically construct the majority of residential units in Los Angeles, will join condominium builders in paying into the city’s park fund, under a set of updated requirements approved Wednesday by the City Council.
Cities are allowed to collect fees from developers under the state’s Quimby Act and use that money on nearby park projects. Los Angeles has long had a park fee policy in place, but city officials and park advocates complain that the rules, which have not been updated for more than 30 years, have fallen short on paying for the city’s green space and recreation needs.
The changes approved by the council are expected to bring in more money through the addition of apartment developments, which were generally excluded from the fees. In past years, the fees have brought in about $22 million annually, according to council aides.
The new rules will also let the city spend the funds in a wider area than previously allowed by increasing the two-mile radius for park projects to a five-mile radius of the development.
Councilman Jose Huizar, who pushed to update the park fees policy, said the more restrictive radius made it difficult to use the funds where they were needed.
“This is something that is really going to change the lives of thousands, if not millions of Angelenos,” he said of the new policy.
Huizar staffers estimate that with the added fee payments from the apartment projects, the annual park fee revenue could increase by another $30 million. City officials, however, have avoided settling on any specific, projected figure.
The rough estimate from Huizar’s office was calculated using the 10,000 apartment units that are typically permitted annually, but assuming revenue will only come from about half of them. The total number of units permitted each year, including condos and some single-family homes, has been roughly 15, 000.
The council also adopted a new fee structure today. Instead of the existing process in which developers pay fees in the range of about $2,800 to $8,000 per unit, they will now pay flat amounts.
Under the new structure, developers of condo projects will owe the city $10,000 per unit, following an initial year when the fee will be $7,500 per unit. Apartments units, which are rented out instead of sold, will cost developers $2,500 per unit in the first year, after which a $5,000-per-unit fee kicks in. Both the condo and apartment fees are set to rise along with inflation, following the second year.
Developers will have some options for avoiding paying the fees under the rules, including giving away or “dedicating” land to the city or offering to pay for improvements to existing park space and facilities, in place of paying the park fee. Developers are also exempted from the park fees for each affordable housing unit included in their projects.
The park fee update was supported by the Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust and other park advocacy groups, and in recent months won the support of pro-developer groups like the Central City Association.
The requirements, which still require approval from the mayor, are set to go into effect 120 days after adoption.
The Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to back efforts to increase the number of foster children placed with relatives, rather than assigning them to group homes.
Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Hilda Solis proposed that staffers come up with a plan to increase foster placements with relatives.
The move was prompted in part by Assembly Bill 403, the Continuum of Care Reform, set to take effective next January.
The law — which Kuehl and Solis called a “major shift in the way we approach child welfare” — requires that children be directed away from long-term group homes and placed in a family setting whenever possible.
“L.A. County has already proven that we know how to increase relative placements,” Kuehl said. “With the Continuum of Care Reform on the horizon and research indicating that children placed with relatives have better educational, health and behavioral outcomes, it’s a no-brainer to build on our success.”
An important element of the plan will be a method for identifying family members as soon as possible after a child is removed from an abusive or neglectful situation.
Currently, more than half of the approximately 18,000 children in out-of-home care in the county are placed in the homes of relatives, compared to 29 percent nationally and 40 percent statewide, according to the supervisors’ motion.
“While Los Angeles County exceeds the national rate for placing foster youth with relatives, there is always more work to be done to increase and support relative placements,” Solis said. “This motion provides a pathway to reduce delays in placing children with their relatives and to increase placement options.”
Last year, the board opted into a state program that offers “kinship caregivers” — family members who take in a foster child — the same financial support as other foster parents.
About half of the county’s kinship caregivers are 51-70 years old. Many live on fixed incomes, making it hard for them to cover the costs of caring for a child who may have landed on their doorstep in the middle of the night after an incident of abuse.
The county offers up to $2,000 in emergency funding for caregivers and set up a “warm line” earlier this year to lend support to foster families.
Compliance with the new law — which seeks to relegate group homes to offering short-term, intensive care services, rather than long-term placements — will also mean recruiting more foster parents overall.
The county’s Department of Children and Family Services has struggled to find enough families to care for all of its foster kids. Officials have attributed the problem to the financial pressures of raising a child and the county’s policy of working toward reunifying families.
Some parents are reluctant to foster a child who may ultimately be returned to their birth parents.
Information on fostering and adoption is available at www.shareyourheartla.org or by calling (888) 811-1121.
The Board of Supervisors delayed a decision Tuesday on whether to press for a change to state law that would allow the county to put a “millionaire’s tax” on the November ballot to fund the fight against homelessness.
Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Sheila Kuehl proposed the legislative push.
“One-time commitments will not address the crisis of homelessness in Los Angeles,” Ridley-Thomas said.
County Chief Executive Officer Sachi Hamai said the county needed to raise about $500 million in ongoing revenue to effectively address the problem.
Kuehl recalled a recent trip to Washington, D.C., with other members of the board.
“Everywhere we went, in every office, homelessness was the issue that was raised again and again and again,” Kuehl said. “And the question, ‘What are you going to do’”
Hamai said a vote in favor would “give the county an option,” and the board would decide later whether to pursue a ballot measure.
In order to have a shot at that option, the county must submit a proposal for a budget trailer bill by June 15, to be approved and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown by June 30.
Despite the short deadline, Supervisors Don Knabe and Hilda Solis successfully pushed to postpone the decision.
Knabe warned about the unintended consequences of a legislative change, which he said would set a precedent for the state to refuse to fund other county needs.
In the future, state officials might tell the county, “Whatever you need, you tax your residents,” Knabe said.
Solis raised concerns about an analysis of homelessness in her district and how it would affect the allocation of revenues. She said the data was provided at the last minute and taking more time to analyze it would allow the board to make a stronger case to state legislators.
The board ultimately voted 2-2-1, with Knabe and Supervisor Michael Antonovich dissenting and Solis abstaining. The board will reconsider the matter next week.
The board has the ability to raise local sales taxes on its own, but needs the state to give it the authority to place the so-called “millionaire’s tax” on the ballot.
A half-percent increase in county sales taxes was one of several other options county staffers and pollsters considered as a means of raising money to combat homelessness. A parcel tax, redirection of Measure B revenues — designed to support trauma centers — and a marijuana tax were other possibilities.
The idea of a half-percent tax on personal income in excess of $1 million garnered the highest support from voters polled, with 76 percent in favor.
Support for a sales tax increase polled at 69 percent — within the margin of error of the two-thirds of voters needed to pass any such measure.
Antonovich expressed skepticism about polls showing broad support for the tax given all the other taxes that may be on the November ballot.
“To have people come out and say they’ll vote yes on four, five, six different taxes is not logical,” Antonovich said. “There’s a problem with the credibility of the poll.”
Pollsters said a homelessness measure would have “no negative impacts” on other measures being considered, including the proposed transportation Measure R2, a potential parcel tax to fund county parks and the possible extension of Proposition 30, a “temporary” statewide tax to fund education.
Phil Ansell, director of the county’s homeless initiative, defended the polling methodology and told the board that voters view homelessness as the second most significant issue facing the county, behind only jobs and the economy.
Ridley-Thomas said the polling reflected voters’ compassion.
“It’s related to a sense of sadness and also anger,” he said.
California millionaires are already paying a 1 percent tax on income in excess of $1 million, as mandated by Proposition 63, passed in 2004 as the Mental Health Services Act. The MHSA is estimated to generate about $1.4 billion in 2015-16 and as much as $1.8 billion by 2018-19 to fund mental health programs, including housing for mentally ill individuals.
The new tax now under consideration by the board would not be restricted to helping those who are mentally ill.
Dozens of advocates urged the board to back the so-called millionaire’s tax, arguing that without the money, the homeless population would only grow.
“We will see more people living in boxes,” said Anne Miskey, CEO of the Downtown Women’s Center.
Homelessness in Los Angeles County increased by roughly 6 percent this year to 46,874 people, according to a recent report by the Los Angeles County Homeless Services Authority.
However, the number of homeless veterans decreased by 30 percent and the number of homeless families was down by 18 percent, which Ansell cited as evidence that county efforts to house homeless veterans and families are working.
“Homelessness persists and has worsened,” Ansell said, but “dedicated resources and focused systemwide attention gets results.”
Antonovich said the problem was not the lack of a tax, but the state’s allocation of the taxes it raises, and argued that higher taxes would drive entrepreneurs and jobs out of the county.
Though it was clear that Antonovich would not support a legislative change and Knabe seemed set on a delay, Ridley-Thomas made an impassioned plea for Solis to join him in voting in favor.
“Do we have the stamina, do we have the resolve, do we have the commitment to step up to our responsibilities?” Ridley-Thomas asked, before making a direct appeal to Solis to act now.
Solis abstained after arguing that a week’s delay wouldn’t significantly hurt the process.
More millionaires — an estimated 772,555 households — live in California than any other state, according to a 2015 study of high-net worth individuals by Phoenix Marketing International. And nearly one-quarter of America’s billionaires live in the state, according to Forbes magazine.
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 California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) will be in Commerce Friday to test the soil at two local parks for lead.
City officials asked DTSC to determine whether emissions from the now closed Exide Battery Plant in Vernon had elevated the level of lead in the soil at the parks, both within the 1.7 mile radius of the plant suspected to have the highest level of contamination,
“The City Council has called on the State of California to test the soil at our City parks following DTSC’s inclusion of Commerce in the affected area and the Governor’s release of funding for testing and cleaning,” said Mayor Pro Tem Tina Baca del Rio, a member of the Exide Advisory Group.
Lead is especially dangerous to children and pregnant women, and can cause learning disabilities and other health issues.
“Our priority is the health and safety of our residents and because our parks are heavily used by our community, we demanded to have them tested without further delay,” said Councilmember Oralia Rebollo, who also sits on the advisory group.
If the levels are high enough, DTSC will remove and replace the contaminated soil.
The city is also urging Commerce residents, especially in the Bandini and Brisow Park neighborhoods to sign up with DTSC to have their homes tested free of charge.
Sampling and clean up agreement forms can be requested by calling (844) 225-3887 or can be found at DTSC’s website at dtsc.ca.gov/exide.
The county’s Community Development Commission is prepared to offer business loans, waive county fees and refund property taxes in order to create high-paying jobs and raise income levels, officials told the Board of Supervisors Tuesday.
Incomes are lower and poverty rates are higher in Los Angeles County than statewide, while the unemployment rate stands at 1.5 times the national average, according to a January report by the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation.
“L.A. County still has too many communities that suffer from severe joblessness,” said Monique King-Viehland, the commission’s deputy executive director. “Employment and under-employment remain significant challenges.”
Some work is already underway, including plans to attract and develop bioscience companies and offer grants for renovations to blighted commercial areas like the Vermont Corridor.
Other initiatives are expected to be implemented beginning July 1.
Programs include low-interest rate loans of $100,000 to $500,000 for small- and medium-sized manufacturing businesses and waiving county permit and license fees for small businesses.
The commission is also considering the possibility of refunding property taxes to businesses in exchange for major infrastructure investments.
Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said it was high time that county officials stepped up to drive economic growth in the region.
“It is often thought that the county of Los Angeles is almost exclusively about social services and the safety net,” Ridley-Thomas said.
“Maintaining economically healthy communities, sustainable communities, is the county of Los Angeles’ business. It just simply is.”
The LAEDC report puts the county’s poverty rate at 17.8 percent as of 2014 and found that the county is in the top 1 percent in terms of income equality when compared with all counties nationwide.
Supervisor Sheila Kuehl urged her colleagues to think about training workers for jobs in expanding industries.
“We’re going to want to take a look at all of our training programs, not just the county-run ones, but those with whom we contract, to make certain that people are being trained to do things that are 21st century jobs,” Kuehl said.
Unemployment will continue to decline and the number of jobs will continue to grow this year and next in Los Angeles County, but at a somewhat slower pace then in the past four years, according to an economic forecast released Wednesday.
The report by the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation predicted that the county’s unemployment rate will fall to 6.2 percent this year and 5.9 percent next year — both down from the current rate of 6.7 percent.
“The county added 94,700 jobs in 2015, equivalent to a 2.2 percent annual increase,” according to the report. “A majority of the county’s major industries added jobs last year, as broad-based growth pushed wage and salary jobs to a record high. Los Angeles County should continue to add jobs at a 1.7 percent annual rate this year, followed by a 1 percent annual rate in 2017.”
According to the LAEDC, personal income will continue an upward trajectory, with anticipated gains of 4.4 percent this year and 5.3 percent next year. Combined with a stronger dollar and weaker inflation, household purchasing power should increase as the year goes on, leading to increases in taxable sales of 5.5 percent this year and 6.8 percent next, according to the
“This means local sales and use tax revenues will climb, putting local government agencies on a sounder financial footing,” according to the report.
The county is likely to add more than 100,000 residents over the next two years, even with a relatively low growth rate.
“Most of the recent population growth in Los Angeles County has been due to natural increase — births outnumbering deaths — while net migration was slightly negative again last year,” according to the report. “The county’s high cost of living and lack of affordable housing unites for low and middle-income households are contributing to the slowdown in population growth.”
Former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca pleaded guilty Wednesday to a federal charge of lying to investigators during an FBI probe of corruption in the jail system.
Under a plea deal with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Baca could receive up to six months in federal prison. Sentencing was scheduled for May 16.
Baca admitted before U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson to lying to investigators in 2013 when he said he was unaware that sheriff’s deputies were going to the home of an FBI agent to confront and threaten her over her involvement in the corruption probe of the department.
Baca was not only aware of the 2011 plan to frighten agent Leah Marx, but specifically told the deputies they “should do everything but put handcuffs” on her, prosecutors contend.
During the hearing, the judge asked Baca if he was pleading guilty “because you are, in fact, guilty.”
Wearing a brown suit decorated with a small sheriff’s department pin, Baca responded, “Yes, your honor.”
“Assistant U.S. Attorney Brandon Fox told the court that Baca had acted “deliberately and with knowledge that the statement was untrue” and knew he was breaking the law.
According to his plea agreement, Baca waived appeal unless Anderson sentences him to more than six months in prison.
“This case illustrates that leaders who foster and then try to hide a corrupt culture will be held accountable,” U.S. Attorney Eileen Decker said.
Outside court, defense attorney Michael Zweiback read a portion of a statement from Baca, which read in part, “I made a mistake, I accept responsibility and expect to be held accountable.”
He added that his Baca “felt it was time to accept responsibility and he didn’t want this cloud to continue to be held over the sheriff’s department.
“This is a man with a 58-year reputation in law enforcement. He does not deserve prison time.”
Baca declined to answer questions from reporters outside court.
Baca is the latest — and highest-ranking — department official to be enveloped in the corruption scandal stemming from violence in the jail system.
Baca, 73, retired in 2014 at the height of the federal probe. He had been sheriff since December 1998.
“I want to be clear that this is not a day of celebration for us,” Decker said. “It is indeed a sad day when the leader of a law enforcement agency fails to honor his oath and instead of upholding justice, decides to obstruct it.”
She also hailed the work being done by new Sheriff Jim McDonnell to overhaul the operation of and culture within the jail system.
“There is a new sheriff,” she said. “He and his team are making reforms, including in the jails.”
Although Baca’s plea is seen as a culmination of the corruption probe, Decker said federal authorities will remain vigilant in their oversight of the department.
A federal judge approved an agreement ending the case against sheriff’s Deputies Joey Aguiar and Mariano Ramirez. They were convicted of falsifying records documenting the 2009 beating of a handcuffed inmate, but they were acquitted of a federal civil rights charge and jurors deadlocked on a charge of excessive force. Prosecutors had planned to re-try them, but under the agreement, the excessive force charge will be dismissed, and the deputies will receive prison terms of between 21 and 27 months.
Aguiar and Ramirez were the latest of 21 current and former sheriff’s officials to be tried by federal authorities in connection with the FBI’s multi-year investigation into brutality and other misconduct in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. Decker said Baca will represent the 18th conviction in the probe.
The corruption probe previously went only as high as Paul Tanaka, the former undersheriff, who faces trial in March on conspiracy charges for allegedly managing a secret plan in 2011 to “hide” an inmate-turned-informant from FBI handlers during the jails probe.
That inmate, Anthony Brown, was hidden from FBI handlers during a time when federal officials were conducting a probe of alleged deputy violence against prisoners. Brown was booked and re-booked under a series of false names, and was eventually told he had been abandoned by the FBI.
Eight former sheriff’s department officials — including a captain, two lieutenants and two sergeants — were convicted for their roles in the cover-up.
All claimed they had been following orders from superiors in assisting a legitimate investigation into how and why a cell phone had been smuggled into the Men’s Central Jail.
Tanaka and retired captain Tom Carey, who headed an internal investigations unit, were charged in May with the alleged attempt to derail the federal jails probe.
Carey pleaded guilty last year to a charge of lying on the witness stand during the 2014 trial of former
Deputy James Sexton, who was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment for trying to obstruct the jails investigation.
Tanaka’s attorneys, Jerome Haig and H. Dean Steward, issued a statement saying Baca’s plea deal makes the case “all the more interesting,” but they are still prepared to call Baca as a witness during Tanaka’s trial.
“We had planned to call Sheriff Baca as a witness and that continues to be our plan,” according to the attorneys. “His guilty plea changes nothing for our defense. Paul Tanaka has pled not guilty firmly, and we look forward to our day in court.”
In response to the federal probe, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors created the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence, a panel which examined alleged brutality by deputies in the jail. The commission’s scathing report recommended more than 60 reforms. All of them have been enacted, including the creation of the Office of Inspector General.
The county has also agreed to create a Civilian Oversight Commission that will oversee the department.
The Board of Supervisors last month approved a process for selecting members of the panel.
George Hofstetter, president of the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, the union representing sheriff’s deputies, said Baca “deserves punishment” for his actions.
“The plea agreement sends a strong message that no one is above the law,” he said. “There must be zero tolerance for this type of failed leadership. This by no means undermines the dedication and hard work of the more than 9,000 deputy sheriffs who put their lives on the line protecting L.A. County residents.
“With this admission of guilt, the environment that created this type of corruption is out of the department and we begin a new day of restoring confidence and trust,” he said.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California — which filed a federal class-action lawsuit against Baca and his top commanders in 2012 over the alleged use of excessive force by jail guards against county jail inmates — applauded Wednesday’s action.
“Los Angeles County’s jails have been plagued by unlawful violence for decades,” said Hector Villagra, executive director of the ACLU of Southern California. “Much of the blame for that violence must be shouldered by former Sheriff Lee Baca, who failed to confront this abuse and the horrific conditions insidethe jail despite repeated calls for reform by the ACLU SoCal.
“Today, Baca pleaded guilty to making false statements,” Villagra said. “We are heartened to see that those charged with enforcing the law are also expected to obey it, including the former sheriff and his deputies.”