Supervisors Did the Right Thing by Backing Away from Clean Water Fee

March 14, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Accepting the fact that their handling of a proposal to get approval from Los Angeles County property owners for a parcel fee aimed at cleaning regional waterways was deeply flawed, the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday voted to cancel the proposal, at least for now.

Because the parcel tax could result in another substantial tax liability for large property owners, nonprofit organizations and business owners, the proposed levy was met with resistance.

We believe that what angered property owners the most however was not that they were being asked to approve another tax, but the seemingly sneaky and underhanded way the County was going about getting it passed.

The measure was detailed on a ballot mailed out to property owners that looked more like junk mail then an official voting instrument. In fact, later learning about the initiative, many property owners said they had thrown the vote by mail ballot away, thinking it was unimportant. Property owners told supervisors that there had been no outreach or advertising to let them know that an election was even taking place.

As a result, absent the public outcry that prompted supervisors to rethink their handling of the issue, the taxing measure could have passed with very few votes and little public awareness until the increase was noticed on the next property tax bill.

This experience should be a warning to everyone who thinks that sending ballots through the mail is the best way to increase voter participation. The act of mailing out ballots is not in and of itself a solution. Strong efforts still need to be made to inform people first, that there is an election taking place, second, what it is about, and third, about the process involved.

We hope this kind of mailed in election is never held again, but if it is, that the appropriate measures are taken to make sure that the ballot is easily identified as such and that the media will used to provide notice to the voters.

The Board of Supervisors did the right thing in backing away from this measure, at least until it can come up with a better way to get the information out to those that will be most impacted.

MOCA Trustees: Beware of Vanishing Museum Merger Promises

March 14, 2013 by · 1 Comment 

Two of Los Angeles’ most important museums – the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) revealed this week that they are discussing a possible merger. This announcement has eerily familiar and alarming echoes.

Ten years ago – almost to the day – the Board of Directors of the venerable Southwest Museum signed on the dotted line, approving an ill-conceived, ill-fated, and still contentious merger with the Gene Autry Western Heritage Museum.

The Southwest had been seeking a “white-knight” for some years due to declining finances and erratic leadership.

So, with a few strokes of a pen, the Board handed over to the Autry what has been called possibly the world’s finest collection of Native and Meso-American artifacts and a museum building listed on the National Register of Historic Places. This was done on the representation that Autry would deploy its $100 million endowment to maintain the Southwest Museum as a separate institution under the newly-created “Autry National Center”.

These solemn commitments are crumbling before our eyes as the Autry today is in the process of moving the Southwest’s collections into a warehouse in Burbank for its permanent storage while seeking to convert the Autry Museum’s basement to become the new and only exhibition home of the Southwest Museum.

Are we watching the Southwest Museum now fade into needless oblivion in the basement of the “white knight”, with MOCA soon to follow?  Consider the parallels:

—A cash-flow challenged museum and a “white knight” galloping to the rescue accompanied by a press-generated buzz of excitement.

—A museum’s beloved and quirky exhibition location(s) that the “white knight” assures will continue to exhibit its collection.

—Public promises made by the “white knight” museum to maintain distinct museum budgets, staffing and marketing identities.

—A figure of $100 million is bandied about (Autry claimed it had a $100 million endowment in place; LAMCA says it has the ability to raise $100 million).

—A Board of Directors asking themselves how to best preserve a beloved institution and its priceless collection.

If the MOCA Board does not want to see the legacy of its great museum reduced to a LACMA exhibit information card tacked on the wall that reads: “From the collection of MOCA”, the transaction must be structured with great care, if it must proceed at all.

Strong, enforceable financial commitments spelled out in precise language to assure the independence and autonomy of the MOCA institution.

A centralized administrative and fund-raising structure which allows each museum board to oversee the programming and curatorial staff responsible to carry it out.

Condition the merger on the “white knight” raising and delivering the $100 million endowment before the merger becomes effective and is more difficult to unwind.

With strong and precise merger agreement language, the expectations of both museums can be unambiguously defined and objectively measured to know when they are achieved. With separate boards to advocate for each museum within the greater administrative and fund-raising structure, neither can subsume the other. With the obligation to actually have $100 million in hand, the merger objectives have a better chance of actually coming to fruition.

Without such protections, a MOCA/LACMA merger is at risk of repeating the lessons I have learned. Only years after the Southwest/Autry merger in 2003 did the Friends of Southwest Museum Coalition publish on its website a detailed report prepared by an internationally respected, non-profit attorney/accountant. That report established that on the day of the merger, Autry had only $1.8 million of invested securities in endowment, while the “failing” Southwest Museum had over $4 million of invested securities. The Autry $100 million will not be in hand for many years due to an accounting sleight-of-hand. So, as many say: Beware of Vanishing Museum Merger Promises.

Diana Barnwell was a community representative board member of the Southwest Museum at the time of its merger with the Gene Autry Western Heritage Museum in March, 2003


Stalling the Incomplete Recovery

March 14, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

How do you gauge the impact of depriving 12,000 low-income California preschoolers of the opportunity to participate in the Head Start program because of budgetary gridlock? Or stripping more than half a million people living in poverty of their access to the highly effective Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children?

Even if it’s short-lived, assessing sequestration’s toll may take years. In some cases, lives will change course. Depriving underprivileged kids of the programs that help give them what President Barack Obama likes to call “a fair shot” doesn’t serve the national interest or make any sense.

Neither do many of the other $85 billion in automatic cuts now taking shape as part of sequestration. These budget reductions are bound to do real harm to individual Americans and throw the already sputtering economic recovery off course.

Wait. What recovery?

Good question. While the Great Recession officially ended nearly four years ago, the post-recession recovery never amounted to more than a myth for most Americans. Most of us don’t just feel poorer now. We are poorer. Median household income stood at $50,000 in 2011, a nearly 9 percent decline from 1999.

This is why many progressives asserted in the final months of last year that starting 2013 without a fiscal deal would have meant tripping into a ditch, not tumbling off a cliff. It doesn’t, however, mean there’s no further to sink.

Consider the performance of that unsung but illustrative economic indicator of poor and working class America: Walmart. Even in good times, its sales spike twice a month when most workers get their paychecks. The retail behemoth’s same-store sales rose an anemic 1 percent in the fourth quarter of 2012 from a year earlier, as the U.S. economy overall stayed just about flat.

That was apparently a booming business compared to what Walmart experienced in February in the wake of the payroll tax cut’s expiration. “Sales are a total disaster,” lamented Jerry Murray, Walmart’s vice president of finance and logistics, in a Feb. 12 leaked email obtained by Bloomberg News. Early February marked “the worst start to a month I have seen in my ~7 years with the company.”

Sequestration may further sap Walmart’s sales and its cash-strapped customers. But it may have a bright side if it ultimately helps Washington discover that trimming the Pentagon budget won’t make us less safe.

The automatic cuts now being phased in will trim military spending by $45 billion this year. That may sound scary, but it’s merely a return to the lofty levels reached in 2007, when the Bush administration tried to see if a “surge” would bring peace to Iraq. It didn’t.

The clearest evidence of this newfound military austerity came on the eve of the sequestration’s dawn, when the Navy canceled plans to dispatch a second aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf.

Depending on how you measure it, the United States spends as little as half a trillion bucks on our military and as much as $930 million every year. This is much more firepower than we need for any legitimate “defense” mission. But there seems to be very little political will in Washington amid all this fiscal angst to do anything about it.

The Pentagon budget doesn’t get much attention, not even during heated elections like the ones we experienced last year. In Washington, military spending cuts rarely figure prominently as a deficit-shrinking solution in polite conversation. The fear of being “soft” on defense seems to render candidates helpless to do anything about our oversized military budget.

Ideally, sequestration will help our leaders see that this great nation isn’t broke. Overspending on the armed forces just creates that illusion.

Emily Schwartz Greco is the managing editor of OtherWords, a non-profit national editorial service run by the Institute for Policy Studies. OtherWords columnist William A. Collins is a former state representative and a former mayor of Norwalk, Connecticut.


Drawing the Line on Big Beer

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Millions of Americans will enjoy a beer tonight. The vast majority of them probably won’t realize that the wide variety of brands they see in the stores, bars, and restaurants come from just two foreign-based multinational companies that control 80 percent of the U.S. market.

Many of the most popular beer brands appear unchanged over the years, and there’s been a recent explosion in the variety of beers available. But behind the label, the industry has become a global and increasingly monopolized affair, just like the rest of our food system.

Now, one of the largest beer corporations, Belgium-based AB InBev — which owns Budweiser — wants to buy Mexico’s Grupo Modelo, which owns the Pacifica, Tsingtao, and Corona brands. The Justice Department, after allowing foreign companies to acquire nearly all U.S. breweries in the past decade, finally took some action in January when it sued to block the Budweiser-Corona marriage.

But AB InBev seems intent on forging ahead with the deal. It’s rearranging the proposed takeover to address Washington’s concerns by promising to sell a factory and the Corona and Modelo brand rights in the United States to another company. Even these changes would leave AB InBev in control of nearly everyone’s beer cooler. The already-vast brewer would have yet more power to raise prices unilaterally.

AB InBev is truly a beverage behemoth. It owns over 200 brands worldwide including Budweiser, Becks, Stella Artios, Boddingtons, Löwenbräu, Michelob, and St. Pauli Girl. After this merger, its main competition would be UK-based brewer SABMiller, which owns 367 global brands, including Coors Light, Fosters, Miller Light, and Milwaukee’s Best.

The beer industry’s concentration has grown alongside an explosion in locally brewed craft beers, but the nearly 2,000 independent craft breweries comprise less than 6 percent of the U.S. market.

Why does it matter who owns our beer? According to a recent report by the New America Foundation, the industry’s consolidation has raised prices and narrowed consumer choice. After InBev purchased Anheuser-Busch in 2008, a long-running price war between Anheuser-Busch and SABMiller ended, and both began to raise their prices simultaneously.

What’s worse, this consolidation problem spans the whole food system. When a few large companies own and control our meat, milk, and processed foods, it’s bad for consumers and the farmers who bring us the food. The big players get to make all the decisions, from pricing to distribution, and consumers and producers have no choice but to go along for the ride.

Consolidated markets cease being fair. The high concentration of companies that control a majority of our food has become a foodopoly — an alliance of agribusiness and big food companies that controls everything we eat, every step of the way, from seed to table.

Just how highly concentrated is our marketplace for food? Two out of three pork chops are sold by just four companies. It’s even worse for beef, with four companies processing 80 percent of all U.S. cattle. When markets are this concentrated, the big players make all the rules in the marketplace to the detriment of farmers and consumers. That’s why a chicken farmer receives about 25 cents on every 12-piece KFC chicken bucket.

When you look behind the multitude of brands in the supermarket and find just a handful of companies, it’s easy to see why small farms have disappeared. Over decades of policy shaped by the largest food and agriculture corporations, these companies have managed to squeeze more and more from the livelihoods of farmers. The meatpackers and other food manufacturers pay farmers lower prices, and farmers are forced to turn their livestock operations into factory farms so that they can make ends meet. Consumers aren’t the ones benefiting off of the low, low prices farmers get for their products — the middlemen are.

Who controls your beer might seem a frivolous question. But who controls our food supply is no laughing matter. The Justice Department must challenge the growing food monopolies to protect consumers. Blocking this merger would mark a first step in that direction.

Wenonah Hauter is Executive Director of Food & Water Watch.

La Santa Cecilia, Elvis Costello Collaborate On New Album

March 14, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

(La Santa Cecilia)

Latin musical sensation La Santa Cecilia announced that British musician Elvis Costello will lend his vocals for the collaborative song, “Losing Game” on the band’s new album “Treinta Días” (Thirty Days).

The singer behind “She”, “Pump it Up” and “Alison” was excited about being invited to write some lyrics for the song “Losing Game” with La Santa Cecilia’s lead singer “La Marisoul.”

“Ever since La Marisoul and I exchanged lyrics in Spanish and in English for the song ‘No Let Me Be Misunderstood’ at the Wiltern Theatre a year ago, I hoped we would have an opportunity to collaborate again,” said Costello in a press release.

Costello talked about the feelings of “power and joy” that the new songs from “Treinta Días” express, especially “El Hielo (ICE)”, the first single released March 5 on iTunes, from the album set to be released in May.

In the first single, the band, consisting of Alex Bendaña, Jose “Pepe” Carlos and Miguel “Oso” Ramírez, narrate the daily struggle that immigrants who work hard to give their families a better future face, including potentially being deported and getting separated from their loved ones.

The Los Angles group mixes sounds of different cultures in the United States, including blues, jazz and rock combined with sounds that reflect their Mexican and Latin American heritage of “cumbia,” “bossa nova,” “bolera” and tango.

La Santa Cecilia began their career in Los Angeles’ historic Olvera Street where they performed for tourists. Their unique sound earned them a Latin Grammy nomination in 2011 for “La Negra.” They recently signed with the Universal Music Latino label.


Community Calendar: March 14, 2013- March 20, 2013

March 14, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Today, Thur. March 14

4:30-5:30pm—City Terrace Library Observes Teen Tech Week. Teens can learn about online safety, exchange ideas, and share experiences interacting with others online. Use Freegal to download 3 songs for free if you have a mobile device & a library card. Library is located at 4025 E. City Terrace Dr. LA 90063. For more information, call (323) 261-0295 or email lvillegas@library.lacounty.gov

7pm—Glendale Central Library Hosts March 14 Conversation with Hector Tobar, author of the award-winning novel Barbarian Nurseries. Author/columnist Gustavo Arellano will lead the discussion with the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, LA Times columnist and novelist. Library is located at 222 East Harvard Street, Glendale, 91205. For more information, call (818) 546-2042 or go to http://library.ci.glendale.ca.us .

Friday, March 15

1-3pm—CA Mexican American Veterans’ Memorial Beautification & Enhancement Committee to meet at the Hollywood American Legion Post 43. The committee oversees the project to upgrade a major monument across from the State Capitol that is dedicated to Mexican American veterans. The meeting agenda includes a review of designs, fundraising, etc. Post 43 is located at 2035 N. Highland Ave., LA 90068. For more information, go to http://www.calvet.ca.gov/ or call (916) 651-7750.

Saturday, March 16

9am-3pm—The Annual Teen Summit at City Terrace Park. LA Dept. of Parks and Recreation, AltaMed, AmeriCorps & Community HealthCorps, and the Juvenile Justice Crime Prevention Act have partnered to bring teens important and useful information about opportunities to further their education, stay healthy, avoid bullying, so they can become role models in their communities. This event is free of charge. Park is located at 1126 N. Hazard Ave. LA 90063. For more information, call (323) 260-2371 or visit www.parks.lacounty.gov

10am-1pm—Free Family Play Day at Obregon Park. Family-fun activities, tips on healthy easting, health resources & info on how to prepare your baby for success in life. Free snacks & water, and much more. Presented by Best Start LA & First 5 LA. The park is located at 4021 E. First St., LA 90063. For more information, call Loerna Artiga at (213) 483-7834 or email lartiga@first5la.org.

10am-2pm—WRD’s 6th Annual Groundwater Festival-The Treasure Beneath Our Feet. Learn about water, energy, conservation & the environment. Free games, prizes, food & more.  Festival will be held at Water Replenishment District: 4040 Paramount Blvd., LA 90712. Visit www.WRD.org or call (562) 921-5521 for more information.

12 Noon-8pm—The Italian Catholic Federation, Branch 111’s 16th annual Feast of St. Joseph Table at St. Benedict Church in Montebello & again on Sun.  March 17 from 10am to 8pm in the Parish Hall: 1022 W. Cleveland Ave. Montebello. All our welcome. Free pasta meal to everyone on both days. For information, call Frank Salomone at (323) 888-2074.

2-3pm—Aztec Stories: Traditional Music Performance at the East L.A. Library. HeraldaAztec Stories’ free presentation explores the history, language, philosophy, arts, ceremonies, and traditions of ancient Mexika/Aztecs through music & poetry. All ages welcome. The library is located at 4837 E. 3rd St. LA 90022. For more information, call (323) 264-0155.

6pm-8pm—Expulsion: Boyle Heights featuring the Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre and Danza Floricanto/USA in a live, outdoor, site specific performance. Empty lot across from Mariachi Plaza-101 S. Boyle Ave-has been converted to a 3-story stage for the free performance. Donations suggested: $10. For more information, go to http://www.heididuckler.org/

March 16 & 17—St. Joseph Table: “Fiesta Di San Giuseppe” at Resurrection Parish Hall in East Los Angeles. Traditional St. Joseph table to benefit the needy. All are welcome tp enjoy a Free Spaghetti Dinner. Sat. program starts with Mass & Table blessing at 9:30 am; spaghetti served until 6pm. Sunday: free spaghetti dinner from 9am to 7pm. Other great Italian foods & Special Easter Boutique both days. Resurrection is located at 3340 Opal St. LA 90023. For more information, call 323) 268-1141.

Tuesday, March 19

1-5pm—Have Old Photos of East LA? Help create an online collection of East Los Angeles history by sharing your photos taken before 1980 at photo sharing days. Receive a free County of Los Angeles Public Library USB drive with your scanned images for participating. Event will repeat Wednesday, from 3 to 7pm.  Library is located at 4025 E. City Terrace Dr., LA 90063. For more information, call (323) 261-0295.

4-5pm—Last Days of the Dinosaurs at Anthony Quinn Library. Richard Wade presents an interactive show about dinosaurs-how they lived and died. See real fossils, a meteorite, a full-sized model of a Tyrannosaurus skull, a seven-ft Brachiosaurus thighbone and other amazing objects! Library is located at 3965 Cesar E. Chavez Ave. LA 90063. For more information, call (323) 264-7715.

Upcoming

3rd Annual Lummis Day Film Night will be held March 23 at the Highland Park Ebell Club. Event will focus of “coming of age on L.A.’s Eastside,” and will include the documentary “Chicano Rock: The Sounds of East Los Angeles,” and excerpts from “Lola’s Love Shack,” the new comedy from Patrick Perez. Both films will be introduced by their directors. Film Night Starts at 7pm. Ebell Club is located at 131 Ave 57. Tickets available at Galco’s & Antigua Coffee House in Highland Park, by calling (818) 535-9178 or going www.lummisday.org .


Contract Finalized for 6th Street Bridge Redesign

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The architectural firm that won the international design competition for the redesign of the 6th Street Bridge has been officially awarded the design contract, Councilman José Huizar announced March 7.

HNTB was selected from among three finalists last October, but the deal wasn’t sealed until March 6 when the Los Angeles City Council voted to approve the $30 million contract for HNTB.

The iconic 6th Street Bridge is located between Boyle Heights and the Downtown Art District, and extends over the Los Angeles River. It must be replaced due to serious deterioration caused by an internal chemical reaction called Alkali Silica Reaction (ASR), which leaves it vulnerable to collapse in the event of a significant earthquake.

The proposed design by HNTB is a bridge with canted cable supported arches, with access points for the community at the base of each arch, and gathering spaces on both sides of the river, according to the press release.

Construction is expected to begin in 2015 after approval from the Board of Public Works and the City Council. The project is expected to be completed in late 2018 and opened in 2019.

Fewer CA Kids Spending Time Behind Bars

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Fewer California kids are spending time behind bars. A report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation found that the youth incarceration rate nationwide reached a 35-year low in 2010. In California, the rate decrease was nearly 50 percent from 1997 to 2010. Despite improvements, the U.S. still incarcerates youth at a higher rate than other countries. Jessica Mindnich with “Children Now” said many kids return to the system.

“We have over 11,500 youths in this state who are incarcerated,” Mindnich said. “Because we aren’t giving them the support and services they need, it is very likely that these youths will grow up into adults that end up in our adult system.”

Laura Speer with the Casey Foundation said about three-quarters of kids incarcerated in the U.S. are there for non-violent offenses. That is why alternatives to juvenile incarceration must be considered, she said.

“They have a chance to get their lives back on track, and so we want to make sure they get put in the best possible program to get them back on track,” she explained.

Mindnich stressed that it is important to focus on prevention in order to be able to break a school-to-prison pipeline.

“One of the things we’re doing in the state is looking at school discipline policies,” she said. “We know that students who are suspended or expelled are three times more likely to have contact with the juvenile justice system in the following year.”

Nationwide, the report found large disparities in youth confinement rates by race, with African-American youth nearly five times more likely to be locked up than their white peers. The report recommended several strategies, including incarcerating only those who pose a public safety risk and investing in home- or community-based alternatives.

The report, “Reducing Youth Incarceration in the United States,” is available at www.aecf.org.


Study Links Crime Rates and Land-Use Zoning in L.A.

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Los Angeles city blocks zoned for both residential and commercial uses have lower crime rates than nearby blocks pegged for commercial purposes, according to a study released recently by a Santa Monica- based think tank.

The RAND Corp. study, which examined city blocks in Boyle Heights, Highland Park, Hollywood, San Pedro, South Los Angeles, Southeast Los Angeles, West Adams and Westlake, found that crime was lowest in blocks zoned for residential-only uses, even in relatively high crime neighborhoods of Los Angeles.

“At least in the case of a city like Los Angeles, zoning matters – an important fraction of reported crime is associated with the kind of zoning on a city block,” said James M. Anderson, the study’s lead author and a behavioral scientist at RAND.

“These results suggest both researchers and policymakers should pay more attention to the ways in which zoning and other land-use policies can affect crime,” Anderson said.

Policymakers have long debated the effect that city planning and zoning can have on crime. Some experts have urged diverse uses of land in order to create an urban environment that encourages “eyes on the street” to deter crime.

However, there has been relatively little research designed to test such theories, and most of the studies that have occurred have focused on older cities in the eastern United States, according to the nonprofit think tank.

The study was published in the February edition of the University of Pennsylvania Law Review.


Monterey Park Police Seek Public’s Help Finding Burglary Suspects

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Police on March 7 sought the public’s help in finding two tattooed men wanted for credit card fraud and vehicle burglaries in Monterey Park and the greater San Gabriel Valley.

Arrest warrants have been issued for Brian Renteria, 25, and Jerry Ristich, 27, Monterey Park police Lt. Carrie Mazelin said. Police released photos of the men.

Renteria, a parolee, is known to be armed and dangerous, Mazelin said.

He is Hispanic, about 6 feet 2 inches tall, 230-300 pounds, with brown hair and eyes. He has the letters SSG tattooed in capital letters on the right side of his face, according to Mazelin.

Renteria is believed to be a transient, staying in motels in the San Gabriel Valley area.

Ristich, who lives in Monterey Park, is Hispanic, about 5 feet 9 inches and 190 pounds, with brown hair and eyes. He has tattoos on his neck.

The men were identified by police during an investigation of a vehicle burglary near Alhambra and Emerson avenues in Monterey Park in January, Mazelin said.

Renteria is also wanted for parole violation. He may have burglarized vehicles parked outside daycare centers in the Arcadia area by breaking windows and taking purses while women were inside to drop off their children, Mazelin said.

Police impounded Renteria’s vehicle recently and found several designer purses and wallets, as well as keys to luxury automobiles.

Anyone who believes they were burglarized by the two can call police to examine the recovered property. Anyone with more information about the suspects was asked to call Detective J. Frescas at (626) 307-1241.


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