County Wants DTSC to Expedite Exide Cleanup

March 2, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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.


County Sups. React to Orlando Shooting

June 16, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

The Board of Supervisors observed a moment of silence Tuesday for victims of the Orlando shooting and their families, and urged county residents to continue to fight prejudice against LGBTQ people.

Supervisor Don Knabe opened the meeting with a prayer.

“We come with heavy hearts,” Knabe said, extending the county’s sympathy and condolences to those who lost loved ones in the “horrible and horrific Orlando situation.”

Supervisor Hilda Solis called the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history “an outrageous act of violence.”

The 49 people killed and another 53 wounded by gunman Omar Mateen at the gay nightclub Pulse were mostly Latino, Solis noted.

“This tragedy is a harsh and sobering reminder of the continuing need for committing resources to educate and prevent prejudice and violence in all of its forms,” Solis said.

“The mass shooting in Orlando is an extreme expression of an all-too-common, everyday homophobic, transphobic, sexist and racist violence facing gender non-conforming people, especially of color, in the United States and around the world,” Solis said before extending “heartfelt condolences and compassion to the families … and loved ones of those who were killed” and asking for prayers for those still healing.

Supervisor Sheila Kuehl was joined on the dais by more than a dozen senior county employees who identify as members of the LGBTQ community, including Department of Health Services Director Mitchell Katz, Assistant Sheriff Terri McDonald and Assessor Jeffrey Prang.

“I’m kind of sick of moments of silence … I’m ready for moments of screaming and moments of rage and moments of weeping and moments of keening and moments of decision and moments of commitment and all of the things that we talk about after each of these tragedies,” Kuehl said.

Kuehl, a longtime advocate for gay rights, said she was proud of the work the county, California and the country had done to try to eliminate “inherited hatreds” and called on residents to rededicate themselves to working against prejudice and violence.

“There will never be enough grief, there will never be enough words, there will never be enough that we can do,” Kuehl said, holding back tears.

The county’s Commission on Human Relations also issued a statement expressing “our most profound sympathies and condolences to the people, their families, friends and communities, whose lives were so brutally ravaged by the recent violence in Orlando.”

The commission’s preliminary analysis for 2015 found that anti-gay/lesbian hate crimes in the county had reached their highest level in more than a decade.

“However, we know that, together, with deliberate, persistent effort, we can transform prejudice into acceptance, inequity into justice, and hostility into peace,” the statement continued.

The commission also cautioned against other forms of prejudice.

“We must not allow the violence in Orlando to lead to increased Islamophobia and further tragedy and loss of innocent life,” the statement continued. “We must remind ourselves and those around us that the actions of one person do not in any way represent the beliefs of the thousands of Muslims who we live and work with each day, and that we need to defend them against those who would act out of anger and ignorance or political convenience to do them harm or deny them basic rights.”

Sups. to Re-Evaluate Anti-Gang Tactics

April 28, 2016 by · 1 Comment 

The Board of Supervisors Tuesday directed county staffers to re-evaluate anti-gang tactics employed over the last two decades under a partnership with the Los Angeles Police Department.

Supervisors Hilda Solis and Sheila Kuehl proposed taking a second look at the Community Law Enforcement and Recovery program, known as CLEAR.

“We need to have more inclusivity,” Solis said.

Kuehl said she was reminded of outdated efforts to solve student truancy by handing out tickets to offenders, rather than looking at the underlying issues driving absences.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said the multi-agency program – aimed at “recovery of gang-infested communities” – was adopted in 1997, when he was a Los Angeles City Council member.

But based on a recent rise in gang violence and the fact that more than half of the city’s homicides are believed to be gang-related, Ridley-Thomas said it was time to reconsider whether CLEAR was working.

“The default (of CLEAR) is not prevention. The default is not intervention. The default is not re-entry. It’s suppression,” Ridley-Thomas said, adding that the funds might be better used for intervention or restorative justice programs.

Under the program, police presence in gang neighborhoods was stepped up and officers focused on arresting gang members. Armed probation officers ride along and participate in search and seizures and special operations targeting gang members.

The agencies share gang intelligence.

Supervisor Don Knabe asked why none of the CLEAR units, which sit in nine LAPD divisions, are based out of sheriff’s stations.

As discussion ensued, it seemed Knabe knew the answer.

“There was a different chief and a different sheriff that were having a little battle at the time,” Knabe said.

Sherman Block was sheriff at the time the program was initiated and was succeeded the following year by Lee Baca. Former LAPD Chief Willie Williams left his post in May 1997 and was replaced by Bernard Parks before the year was out.

The county currently receives $267,000 in federal and city funding for CLEAR, which offsets 15 percent of the department’s cost, according to interim Probation Chief Cal Remington.

Staffers were directed to look at how CLEAR sites were chosen, analyze the results and assess whether the program is consistent with the most recent research on effective gang intervention.
CLEAR is one of many programs aimed at reducing gang violence in Southern California.

Supervisors to Back Appeal of Immigration Decision

December 3, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to sign on to an amicus brief urging the U.S. Supreme Court to review the decision blocking President Barack Obama’s executive action on immigration.

If the U.S. Supreme Court agrees to review Texas v. United States, county counsel has been directed to join Los Angeles, New York and other jurisdictions and organizations who have added their names to the amicus brief, which seeks to reverse the Fifth Circuit’s decision.

“It is important for Los Angeles County to voice its support because immigrant integration is about laying the foundation for equality and justice,” said Supervisor Hilda Solis, who introduced the motion.

Supes to Form Prop. 47 Task Force

December 3, 2015 by · 2 Comments 

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to form a task force to help non-violent ex-cons update their records under Proposition 47 and to link them to jobs and services.

Proposition 47 — dubbed by supporters the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act — was approved by 59.6 percent of California voters in 2014. It reduced some non-violent drug and property crimes — such as shoplifting, receiving stolen property and writing bad checks of less than $950 — from felonies to misdemeanors.

Supervisors Hilda Solis and Mark Ridley-Thomas proposed the task force and Solis said it would bolster public safety.

“The primary purpose of the motion today is to reduce crime,” Solis said. “Jail and prison have become a revolving door.”

The task force will focus on connecting individuals coming out of jail and prison with jobs, housing, health care and mental health and substance abuse treatment and finding funding for those services.

“For the last 40 years, our broken criminal justice system has drained communities like South Los Angeles,” said Karren Lane of the Community Coalition of policies that doled out harsh punishments for drug and other non-violent offenses.

Solis highlighted the barriers faced by ex-offenders.

“Having a felony conviction makes it difficult to get work, to get housing, to get services and to put your life back together,” Solis told her colleagues.

Public Defender Ronald L. Brown said individuals in prison and jail suffer disproportionately from mental illness and substance abuse and told the board that treatment is critical to success outside of jail.

“Prisons don’t encourage inmates to address their drug problems,” Brown said.

Proponents say the proposition provides a more just penalty for low-level offenders. Anticipated savings from the law are intended to be spent on mental health and substance abuse treatment, truancy and dropout prevention and victim services.

“I think what we’re talking about is a hand up, not a hammer down,” said Bruce Brodie of the county’s office of Alternate Public Defender.

Other backers point to how Prop 47 has alleviated prison overcrowding and allowed more serious offenders to serve a greater proportion of their sentence.

However, opponents say Prop 47 puts dangerous criminals who should be behind bars out on the streets.

Supervisor Michael Antonovich pointed to criminals who are released only to commit new crimes, citing the example of one man who had been arrested 22 times after his initial release.

“Violent crime is up 4.2 percent,” Antonovich said.

Supervisor Sheila Kuehl challenged the idea that the proposition was linked to higher crime rates.

“There has been a lot of rhetoric about Prop 47 and a rise in crime rates and it’s just that, rhetoric. There is no data,” Kuehl said.

Kuehl said San Diego County hasn’t seen a rise in crime since Prop 47 became effective.

There are roughly 695,000 Los Angeles County residents who are eligible to apply to change their criminal records under Prop 47, according to Brown, who told the board that his office is overwhelmed by the need to help ex-offenders “become employed, tax-paying citizens of this county.”

One community advocate said many of those eligible were unaware of the potential to change their lives.

“Two out of three people who qualify for Prop 47 are not even aware” it exists, said Amber Rose Howard of All of Us or None.

The task force was also charged with trying to extend the deadline to apply for a criminal record change, currently set for Nov. 3, 2017.

The board directed staffers from the Office of Diversion and Re-Entry to work with the city of Los Angeles’ Office of Reentry to push for the region’s share of state funding from Prop 47 savings. A report back is expected in six months.

The board also asked the Auditor-Controller to audit the county’s savings as a result of Prop 47.

County Moves Forward On ‘Shaming Campaign’

November 5, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

A plan to publicly shame those who solicit sex with minors moved forward Tuesday, with a draft ordinance covering Los Angeles County expected next week.

Supervisor Don Knabe has been pushing for a “shame campaign” since late last year.

“They can say what they want, but it’s really child rape,” Knabe said of perpetrators.

Interim County Counsel Mary Wickham told the board the way was clear to draft an ordinance that would provide for the publication of names and booking photos of those convicted of soliciting prostitution or loitering with intent to solicit prostitution. The emphasis of the ordinance will be on minors.

Supervisor Sheila Kuehl reminded Wickham that the county has formallyagreed not to refer to the victims of child sex trafficking as prostitutes and asked that the language be carefully drafted.

Kuehl also questioned the practice of arresting people for loitering with intent, saying she thought the allegation amounted to “mind reading.”

That raised the possibility that the final ordinance as drafted may not include those convicted of the loitering charge.

The Orange County District Attorney’s Office already publishes the names of perpetrators on a website titled “Sex Purchasers.”

Critics have questioned whether the practice is an effective deterrent.

Knabe predicts the ordinance is “going to have a dramatic impact.”


Board Backs Wider Access to HIV Prevention Pill In County

June 11, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

The Board of Supervisors Tuesday approved a plan to make a daily pill designed to reduce the risk of HIV infection broadly available to at-risk residents.

Supervisor Sheila Kuehl proposed the roll-out of the pre-exposure prophylaxis or “PrEP,” which to date has been distributed through small pilot programs. Truvada, used to treat HIV since 2004, was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for preventative use in 2012 and is the only “PrEP” pill approved to date.

“PrEP is a real game changer … and there are communities that are in dire need,” said Vallerie Wagner of AIDS Project Los Angeles.

A comprehensive HIV prevention strategy must include access for high-risk uninsured and under-insured residents, particularly young black and Latino gay men, black and Latina women and transgender persons, Kuehl told her colleagues.

But one of the largest and most politically savvy AIDS advocacy organizations argues that PrEP will encourage promiscuity and ultimately increase the spread of HIV.

AIDS Healthcare Foundation President Michael Weinstein has called PrEP a “party drug,” and contends that at-risk users won’t adhere to a daily regimen of taking the pill. AHF sponsored a nationwide ad campaign against the use of Truvada as a prophylactic.

Kuehl’s proposal acknowledged that “research has shown that PrEP is most effective when it is part of a comprehensive HIV prevention program that includes routine medical care, risk reduction counseling, medication adherence support and care coordination.”

About 1,850 Los Angeles County residents become infected with HIV annually. Some advocates said Los Angeles had fallen behind other major cities in fighting the virus.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas asked that staffers working on a plan for broader distribution of the pill also look at the feasibility of providing PrEP to county jail inmates.

The vote was 4-0, with Supervisor Michael Antonovich abstaining.

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