Caltrans Tenants Seek Moratorium on Rent Hike

March 21, 2013 by · 3 Comments 

Residents of El Sereno and South Pasadena who live in Caltrans-owned properties gathered last week to voice their outrage over recent rent increases imposed by the state transportation department.

Caltrans, responding to a recent audit, has said the increases are needed to bring the rents for the homes purchased decades ago for the long stalled 710 Freeway expansion project up to fair-market rate.

Hugo Garcia, a long-time Caltrans tenant, spoke at the United Caltrans Tenant Assembly held in El Sereno on March 14 about the rent increases most tenants are facing. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

During a March 14 public meeting hosted by the United Caltrans Tenants (UCT) at All Saints Catholic Church in El Sereno, tenants and their supporters questioned the need for the 10 percent rent increase that became effective this month, with additional increases scheduled down the line.

“The amount is a little ridiculous for a low-income community,” said a tenant who identified herself only as Lisa A because she says she fears retaliation by her landlord, Caltrans.

Hugo Garcia has lived in a Caltrans-owned property for over 20 years. He and other tenants at the meeting said they want Caltrans to place an immediate moratorium on rent hikes until their concerns are addressed, not the least of which is proof that the rate increases levied are actually based on the fair market rental rates for similar properties in their neighborhoods.

“This is what UCT is standing and fighting for,” said Garcia, who told EGP that Caltrans was invited to attend the meeting.

On Tuesday, Lauren Wonder, Chief, Public Affairs and Media Relations for Caltrans, told EGP that the invitation was received two days prior to the meeting, too late for them to schedule anyone to attend. On Wednesday, in an email to EGP, Wonder and Caltrans Public Information Office spokesperson Maria Raptis said  “Caltrans representatives continue to offer to meet with tenants to answer questions.”

According to the California State Auditor’s August 2012 report, the state missed out on $22 million in rent revenue from July 2007 to December 2011 due to Caltrans “poor management” of the properties.

The audit also stated that it is unconstitutional to charge tenants rents below fair-market rate unless the tenant is in the eligible for the Affordable Rent Program.

“Rental of these properties at below-market values constitutes a prohibited gift of public funds, unless such rentals serve a public purpose,” the audit stated.

In a letter dated Dec. 28, 2012, Caltrans informed tenants that due to the report’s findings the agency was going to increase rents in 10% increments until they reached fair-market value.

Tenants’ whose rents are 25% below fair-market value would have an annual increase of 10% until it reaches what Caltrans had calculated to be the fair market value. Tenants whose rents are more than 25% below the fair market rate would see their rent go up 10% every six months until it reaches the 25% below fair market rate threshold, at which time the increases would decrease to 10% per year until they reach market rate.

According to the audit, Caltrans has also failed to verify the incomes of some tenants in the affordable rent program, which on average reduced rents to 26% of the market rate value set by the agency in 2008. Auditors recommended that Caltrans verify tenants’ eligibility for the department’s Affordable Rent Program, which Caltrans says it encouraged tenants to apply for in order to avoid the rent increases that became effective March 1.

But many tenants at the meeting voiced frustration over what they called a lack of clarity in the program. Some tenants said that even though they were informed they qualify for the affordable rent program, they still had to pay the rate increase.

While Caltrans did not specifically address those concerns, according to Wonder and Raptis, Caltrans is by law required to charge fair market rent, and said the has expanded the Affordable Rent Program to 128 more households: “The prior Affordable Rent Program served 46 households; today’s new program has added an additional 128 households, for a total of 174,” they said.

They said Caltrans follows Los Angeles’ Housing and Community Development guidelines to determine eligibility for the Affordable Rent Program.

The state’s audit found that a majority of the rents for Caltrans’ 404 properties along the 710 Freeway were below the fair-market rate, with 354 on average being charged only 57% of the 2008 fair market rental rate, which auditors said is probably higher today.

Tenants, however, question the validity of the fair-market rate now being used by Caltrans. They said the letters notifying tenants of the rent increases did not state what the fair-market rate is for their dwelling, so they have no idea how high their rent could go.

Garcia said he obtained some of the appraisals used by Caltrans from the office of Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez. He says there are big discrepancies between the properties used for comparison by Caltrans and the properties the agency owns, such as the age and location of the property.

In one case, according to Garcia, a home on Maycrest Avenue in El Sereno built in 1917 was compared to homes built in 1932, 1957 and even a condo built in 2009. Another Caltrans-owned home in El Sereno was comparison to properties located in Alhambra, where home values tend to be higher.

“We can see the pattern, they’re doing this throughout. There’s no accuracy,” Garcia said.

“Caltrans follows industry standards, including using comparable properties in the market area. This is based on various factors including but not limited to square footage, bedroom/bathroom count, and location,” according to Caltrans. “Each tenant can obtain a statement of fair-market rental rates for the property he/she is renting,” they added.

Also at issue is what tenants lament is Caltrans’ poor record on maintenance and repairs, which they claim are not done in a timely manner.

Myra, a Caltrans tenant of 26 years told the audience that she has been on the waiting list for repairs for years.

“If they’re going to raise my rent I’d like it to be worth it,” she said.

“Along the way Caltrans became something that they weren’t prepared to become, long-term property managers,” said Garcia.

But according to the audit, while Caltrans only received a $12.8 million net income from rents between July 2008 and December 2011, it spent $22.5 million on repairs, an average of $6.4 million per year. Some of the repairs may not have been reasonable or necessary, according to the report.

In some cases, authorized repairs exceeded the properties potential rental income, according to the audit which found that in 20 of the 30 projects reviewed, three years of rents were needed to cover the state’s costs for using General Services to make the repairs.

Annual inspections were also lax, the report said.

Caltrans began purchasing residential, commercial and vacant land in 1954 to use for the project to connect the 710 and 210 Freeways, which has been in the planning stages since 1953.

Until the agency decides on whether it will move forward with a freeway, tunnel or a no build option, the properties will continue to be managed by Caltrans local district office.

Caltrans hopes the direction of the 710-freeway expansion project will be decided by 2014, at which time it will determine which properties to keep and which to sell off. In March 2012, Caltrans estimated that the market value of the properties to be $279 million. State legislation however, would require Caltrans to sell the surplus property to current tenants who have low or moderate income at potentially 80% of the estimated market value by making them exclusively affordable housing.

Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez, Councilman Jose Huizar and Sen. Ed Hernandez, who represent the area, have been supportive of the group’s effort to come to an amicable agreement with Caltrans over the rent hike. Representatives of the officials attended the meeting to document the concerns raised by the group. Some of the tenants said they felt Caltrans failure to attend was disrespectful to them and public officials, despite at letter from Caltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty explaining no one from the agency was available to attend.

“We have two senators, two assembly members and our city councilmember all requesting that Caltrans show up to our tenant’s assembly tonight and all we get is Mr. Dougherty lame refusal,” Garcia told the crowd.

Angela Flores, an El Sereno resident whose family lives in Caltrans-owned homes, told EGP she hopes Caltrans, public officials and tenants can eventually come together to keep the El Sereno community in place and not force them to look for more affordable housing somewhere else.

“It hasn’t just been us, there has been generations before us who have been forced to leave our community, and I want to put a halt to it for the generations to come.”


Heavy Grocery Bags Relieve Burden of Needy Seniors

March 21, 2013 by · 2 Comments 

“Do they have chili con carne?” Daniel, a 64-year-old Garvanza resident, eagerly asked others standing in line at the Highland Park Senior Center early Monday morning.

Chile con carne is Daniel’s favorite canned food but it isn’t always among the staples distributed through the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank’s Commodity Supplemental Food Program.

Around 300 people turned out Monday for a food assistance program for seniors at the Highland Park Senior Center. (EGP photo by Gloria Angelina Castillo)

About three hundred or so seniors turned out for the Food Bank distribution held this month in the senior center’s parking lot. Some arrived in cars, others brought their personal grocery baskets and still others shared a grocery cart to haul away the bags made heavy primarily by canned foods.

The two sturdy bags of groceries given to Daniel were filled with non-perishable milk, cereal, canned fruits and vegetables, juice and pasta. Pulling out the last can in the second bag, Daniel seemed unsure if it was what he was hoping to take home: “Chili. I wonder what kind of Chili this is? It doesn’t say Chili Beans,” he told EGP. He eventually found that it did have what he wanted — hamburger meat — making him happy that he got what he wanted after all.

Daniel told EGP that he estimates each bag weighs about 10 pounds and altogether contains $20 to $24 worth of groceries. Groceries he says he really needs these days to get by. This food assistance program is specifically for low-income seniors like Daniel.

A report released late last year by the U.S. Census Bureau using new measurement tools that take into account food costs, found California’s poverty rate to be the worst in the country. According to the federal Supplemental Poverty Measure, nearly one-quarter – 23.5 percent – of the state’s population lives in poverty. That state’s poverty rate is higher than in the Deep South and New York, which traditionally have had the highest rates.

Many Californians are considered “working poor.” They have jobs, but don’t work enough hours or earn enough to take them out of poverty. The state’s higher cost of living contributed to its higher poverty index.

“We’re seeing a very slow recovery [nationally], with increases in poverty among workers due to more new jobs which are low-wage,” University of Wisconsin-Madison economist Timothy Smeeding told the Associated Press, according to an article published last November in the Huffington Post. “As a whole, the safety net is holding many people up, while California is struggling more because it’s relatively harder there to qualify for food stamps and other benefits.”

According to the Food Hardship Study released in February, which looks at the inability to afford enough food for every region, state, Congressional District and 100 of the country’s largest metropolitan areas — five Congressional Districts in Los Angeles County ranked in the top 30 nationwide for food hardship, including the 34th District (Huntington Park and Bell Gardens) which ranked second in the nation with over one-third of respondents (32.8 percent) saying they could not afford food.

Since the start of the Great Recession, the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank saw the number of agencies it supplies with food reach a record high of 640 in 2011. Fifteen months later, the Food Bank has a waiting list of 565 more agencies seeking assistance to meet the demand for food by Los Angeles County’s 1.7 million residents struggling to get enough food.

“The high unemployment rate and less food available from the government challenges the Food Bank and the agencies it serves to continue to meet the high demand for assistance,” according the Food Bank’s website.

“These numbers support what we are seeing at the Food Bank – an increase in the number of people in food lines at food pantries and other agencies,” said Michael Flood, President and CEO of the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank. “Several areas of Los Angeles County are still feeling the effects of the recession and many families are still finding it difficult to make ends meet.”

Seniors, some on fixed incomes and other with no source of income, are particularly vulnerable.

That reality was not lost on an 88-year-old Asian Highland Park resident at Monday’s food distribution, who was so excited to find that the carton of non-perishable pasteurized milk she found in her bags was in liquid form; others received powered milk.

“This is a big help for us… milk, cheese, cereal, what we need the most,” she said. “Sometimes they have rice, but not today,” she added.

Danny Mesa, a driver and distributor for the Food Bank, said the cargo truck parked at the center had about 300 crates of foods when it arrived. By 11a.m. less than 50 remained. Mesa said the Food Bank is consolidating two of its distribution programs for seniors at the Highland Park Senior Center, so they expect a larger crowd there next month.

The Los Angeles Regional Food Bank Commodity Supplemental Food Program distributes food at senior centers throughout the county. To qualify, a senior must be 60 years or older, and meet the income guidelines: no more than $1,180 per month for one person, or $1,594 per month for two people.

Requirements include a picture ID that shows a date of birth, proof of income (Social Security, SSI or Pension documentation), or a Medi-CAL card.

Recipients can authorize someone to pick up their food kit each month.

To sign up, call 1-800-510-2020 to find you’re the senior center that services your area, or visit the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank website for more information, at www.lafoodbank.org.


Commerce Great-Grandfather Honored as Korean War Hero

March 21, 2013 by · 2 Comments 

Family and close friends of a long-time Commerce resident already know him as a dedicated family man, a kind soul, a hard worker and a hard-rock enthusiast, but last week he officially gained the distinction of being a hero—a recognition his loved-ones say was long over due but something they already knew.

Commerce Resident Lorenzo Cardoza Jr. recieved the Purple Heart on March 17 for wounds he received in Korea in 1952. (EGP photo by Gloria Angelina Castillo)

Lorenzo Cardoza Jr., an 82-year-old Commerce great-grandfather, on March 17 received the Purple Heart for bravery despite his wounds received in a battle 61 years ago at Satae-Ri, Korea in 1952. The Purple Heart medal is an award reserved only for service members who are wounded or killed by enemy fire.

Just 20 years old, Cardoza, a resident of East Los Angeles at the time, enlisted in the U.S. Army and was assigned to the 224th Infantry, Company A.

On Dec. 14, 1952, Private First Class Cardoza Jr. was in the trenches with his unit engaged in heavy combat with North Korean soldiers when shrapnel from the explosion of a mortar shell so powerful that it left him temporarily blind wounded him. A bullet from enemy fire grazed his neck before striking and killing a fellow solider.

Despite his injuries, Cardoza continued firing his weapon, holding off enemy forces until reinforcements arrived, thus saving lives, said City of Commerce Mayor Pro Tem Tina Baca Del Rio, who presented a commendation to Cardoza at a ceremony at Bandini Park celebrating the awarding of the long overdue medal.

Cardoza has also received the Marksmanship Medal, according to Del Rio, who called Cardoza a model soldier, a leader and model resident of “The Model City,” a reference to the city’s motto.

Howard Hernandez, California State Commander of the American GI Forum, presented Cardoza with the Purple Heart — the oldest military award still given to members of the U.S. Military. He explained the medal is not an easy one to get, nor do all soldiers want it since it requires the spilling of blood.

Tears welled up in Cordoza’s eyes as applause broke out and one of his daughters cheered “Way to go Dad!”

“It feels great, I’m very emotional,” Cardoza told EGP following the ceremony.

Lea esta nota EN ESPAÑOL: El Héroe de Guerra de la Casa Al Lado es Honrado Por Fin

Representatives for Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia (58th District) and U.S. Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (40th District) also presented commendations to the father of seven, grandfather of 15, and great-grandfather of eight who has resided in Commerce with his wife, Horalia, “Mona,” since before its incorporation in 1960.

According to family members, Cardoza’s nephew Fernando Galarze nine years ago began efforts to locate his uncle’s military and medical records that had been destroyed in a fire. Galarze’s mother, Cardoza’s late sister, encouraged him to pursue the medal.

“Today’s reality came from a wish from Amanda Galarze, she always knew you were a hero whether you were in the army or not… She made this request for me because as a Vietnam Veteran, I was visiting and seeing clinics within the system. After several years, we are fortunate to get to this date March 17, 2013,” said Fernando in a statement read by his adult son, Ronnie Galarze.

The elder Galarze, who did much of the research for the award and orchestrated the recent ceremony, was unable to attend the event because he is still hospitalized following an unexpected quintuple heart by-pass surgery, according to the family. His son presented Cardoza a shadow box containing the Purple Heart recipient’s military decorations as a gift from his father.

Family members describe Cardoza as a great father, and a humble, generous person who does not judge people, and who came out of retirement in his 60s to work as a welder until his health declined.

Victor Cardoza, who traveled from Indiana to be present at the ceremony, said his father used to take him to clean offices at night and they also saved aluminum cans.

“He set the standard for me… he was a hard worker, he taught me how it was to be an adult, and have responsibilities. ‘Make it happen’, ‘be strong’, ‘don’t burn anyone,’” those were the lessons he taught us, Victor recalled.

Ana Cardoza said she never saw her father drink, she never heard her parents argue and she believes they are as in love now as they were during her childhood.

Horalia “Mona” Cardoza said her children and grandchildren adore her husband and used to beg him to dress in his fatigues and share stories from his time as a soldier.

“I’m very proud of him and I think it was long over due,” said Elsie Cardoza, Cardoza Jr.’s niece and goddaughter.

“He’s not just a war hero, he’s our hero,” his grandson Adrian Herrera said.

A band, including Cardoza’s sons, played Rock music during the luncheon, Cardoza is a fan of AC/DC& Val Halen, and also enjoys reggae music, his granddaughter Ashley Underwood said.

The Commerce City Council will also honor Cardoza Jr. at an upcoming council meeting in April, which will be broadcast on the City’s cable channel, according to Del Rio.


El Héroe de Guerra de la Casa Al Lado es Honrado Por Fin

March 21, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Amigos y familiares de un residente de Commerce ya lo conocían como un hombre de familia dedicado, un alma caritativa, un gran trabajador y un entusiasta de música roquera, pero la semana pasada oficialmente se le otorgó la distinción de ser un héroe, un reconocimiento que sus seres queridos dicen se le debía desde hace décadas aunque ya sabían que era un héroe.

Lorenzo Cardoza Jr. el 17 de marzo recibió el Corazón Púrpura por la valentía que demostró tras ser herido en una batalla en 1952. Foto de EGP por Gloria Angelina Castillo

Lorenzo Cardoza Jr., de 82 años de edad y bisabuelo residente de Commerce, el 17 de marzo recibió el Corazón Púrpura por la valentía que demostró tras ser herido en una batalla hace 61 años en Satae-Ri, Corea, en 1952. La medalla de Corazón Púrpura es un premio reservado sólo para los miembros del servicio armado estadounidense que fueron heridos o asesinados por fuego del enemigo.

A los 20 años de edad, Cardoza, quien fue residente del Este de Los Ángeles en aquel entonces, se alistó al Ejército de los EE.UU. y fue asignado a la Compañía A de la Infantería 224a.

El 14 de diciembre de 1952, el soldado raso Cardoza Jr. estaba en las trincheras con su unidad en combate pesado contra los soldados de Corea del Norte cuando fue herido por metralla de una granada de mortero que estalló, la explosión fue tan poderosa que lo dejó temporalmente ciego. Una bala del enemigo también le rozó el cuello antes de golpear y matar a un soldado compañero.

A pesar de sus heridas, Cardoza continuó disparando su arma, manteniendo a raya a las fuerzas enemigas hasta que llegaran refuerzos, y así salvando vidas, dijo la Vise Alcaldesa de la Ciudad de Commerce Tina Baca Del Río, quien presentó un elogio a Cardoza en una ceremonia en el parque Bandini donde se le entregó la medalla.

Cardoza también ha recibido la Medalla de Puntería, dijo Del Río, quien llamó a Cardoza un soldado modelo, un líder y residente modelo de “La Ciudad Modelo”, haciendo referencia al lema de la ciudad.

Read this story IN ENGLISH: Commerce Great-Grandfather Honored as Korean War Hero

Howard Hernández, comandante del estado de California para el American GI Forum (Foro Americano de Reclutas), presentó a Cardoza con el Corazón Púrpura—el premio más antiguo militar que todavía se otorga a los miembros del Ejército de los EE.UU. Hernández explicó que la medalla no es fácil de conseguir, ni tampoco  todos los soldados la quieren, ya que requiere el derramamiento de sangre.

Las lágrimas brotaron de los ojos de Cordoza cuando los presentes aplaudían y mientras que una de sus hijas lo felicitó, diciendo en voz alta “¡Muy bien papá!”

“Me siento muy bien, estoy muy emocionado”, dijo Cardoza a EGP después de la ceremonia.

Los representantes de la Congresista Lucille Roybal-Allard (Distrito 40) y la Asambleísta Cristina García (Distrito 58) también presentaron elogios al padre de siete hijos, que tiene 15 nietos y ocho bisnietos que ha residido en Commerce con su esposa, Horalia, “Mona”, desde antes que la ciudad se formara en 1960.

Según los miembros de la familia, el sobrino de Cardoza, Fernando Galarze, hace nueve años empezó los esfuerzos para localizar los registros médicos y militares de su tío que habían sido destruidos en un incendio. La madre de Galarze, la difunta hermana de Cardoza, lo animó a proseguir la medalla.

“La realidad de hoy nació de un deseo de Amanda Galarze, ella siempre supo que usted era un héroe, sea si fuera usted soldado o no… Ella hizo esta petición para mí, porque como un veterano de Vietnam, yo estaba visitando las clínicas dentro del sistema. Después de varios años, tenemos la suerte de llegar a esta fecha del 17 de marzo de 2013,” dijo Fernando, en un comunicado leído por su hijo adulto, Ronnie Galarze.

El Galarze mayor, quien hizo gran parte de la investigación para la medalla y quién orquestó la reciente ceremonia, no pudo asistir al evento debido a una inesperada cirugía quíntuplo de derivación aorta-coronaria, de acuerdo con la familia. Su hijo presentó a Cardoza una caja expositora que contiene sus condecoraciones militares como un regalo de su padre.

Miembros de la familia describen a Cardoza como un gran padre, y una persona de carácter humilde, generoso, que no juzga a la gente, y quien regresó a trabajar después de jubilarse a los 60 años para trabajar como soldador hasta que su salud declinó.

Víctor Cardoza, quien viajó desde Indiana para estar presente en la ceremonia, dijo que su padre solía llevarlo a limpiar oficinas por la noche y también guardaban latas de aluminio.

“Él estableció el estándar para mí… era un buen trabajador, me enseñó cómo debe ser un adulto y cómo cumplir con responsabilidades,” dijo Víctor.

Ana Cardoza dijo que ella nunca vio a su padre beber, nunca escuchó que sus padres se pelearan y ella cree que siguen igual de enamorados hoy como lo fueron durante su infancia.

Horalia Cardoza dijo que sus hijos, nietos y bisnietos adoran a su marido y a menudo le rogaban que se vista en su uniforme militar para compartir las historias de su época de soldado.

“Estoy muy orgulloso de él y creo que desde hace mucho tiempo se merecía este premio”, dijo Elsie Cardoza, sobrina y ahijada de Cardoza Jr.

“Él no es sólo un héroe de guerra, él es nuestro héroe”, dijo su nieto Adrian Herrera.

El Ayuntamiento de Commerce honrará a Cardoza Jr. en una reunión del consejo en abril, que será transmitido en el canal de cable de la ciudad, dijo Del Rio.


Five Former Bell Officials Convicted of Corruption; One Acquitted

March 21, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

(Left row from top to bottom): Former Bell Mayor Oscar Hernandez, and former councilmembers Teresa Jacobo, George Maribal (right row from top to bottom) George Cole and Victor Bello were all convicted of missaproriation of public funds. Former councilmember Luis Artiga (right row) was aquitted of all charges. (EGP Archive 2010)

Five former Bell city officials were convicted Wednesday of misappropriating public funds by accepting exorbitant salaries while representing the small municipality, but jurors acquitted them of some charges and exonerated one former councilman altogether.

Former Mayor Oscar Hernandez and former council members Teresa Jacobo and George Mirabal were each convicted of five counts of misappropriation of public funds and acquitted of five others. Former Councilman George Cole was convicted of two counts and acquitted of two others, while former Councilman Victor Bello was convicted of four counts and acquitted of four others.

Former Councilman Luis Artiga was the only defendant to be completely exonerated, with jurors acquitting him of all 12 counts against him. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy told Artiga, who cried as the verdicts were announced, “You’re free to go, sir.”

“First and foremost, I want to thank my Lord and savior Jesus Christ for setting me free of these false accusations,” Artiga, a pastor, said outside the courtroom as his family members gathered around him in tears.

Artiga told reporters he had been “falsely accused” and said he maintained from the beginning that “the truth was going to set me free.”

“I didn’t go there for the money,” he said.

Artiga’s attorney, George Mgdesyan, told reporters that his client was not on the council at the time it voted to raise the council members’ salaries for their work on the city boards, adding that all his client did was “work hard for the city of Bell.”

The seven-woman, five-man jury was unable to reach verdicts on the remaining counts against the five other defendants, with the panel’s foreman telling Kennedy the jury was split 9-3 on each count — without revealing whether the jury was leaning toward conviction or acquittal.

The judge asked if anything further could be done, noting, “I hate to say further deliberations because you have deliberated and deliberated and deliberated.”

Four of the female jurors indicated, however, that the deadlock might be resolved with some further instructions from the judge. Kennedy told the panel to break for lunch and come back this afternoon and submit specific questions that might help the jury reach verdicts.

The judge noted that the panel had been involved in “extended deliberations,” with the foreman saying that the jury had taken “multiple” votes on the charges on which they had not been able to reach verdicts.

Jurors initially got the case Feb. 22, but a juror was replaced Feb. 28 — with the judge ordering the panel to begin its deliberations anew – after an alternate juror replaced a panelist who acknowledged she had done research on the Internet and talked to her daughter about what she called “the abuse” she suffered from other jurors.

The reconstituted panel was in its 13th day of deliberations when it buzzed at about 10 a.m. to notify the court that it had reached verdicts.

Bello’s attorney, Leo J. Moriarty, said after the morning session that it was unclear how much time behind bars the five defendants could face, but said they could simply be sentenced to probation under the counts on which they have been convicted.

Deputy District Attorney Edward Miller told jurors during the trial that the officials misappropriated public funds by collecting unlawful salaries for sitting on four city boards — the Community Housing Authority, Surplus Property Authority, Public Financing Authority and Solid Waste and Recycling Authority — that rarely met.

Defense attorneys maintained their clients were wrongly accused, arguing they worked diligently for the city and earned their salaries.

All six defendants were acquitted of charges involving payment for service as a member of the city’s Public Financing Authority.

Hernandez, Jacobo, Mirabal, Bello and Cole were each convicted of charges involving payment for their service on the city’s Solid Waste and Recycling Authority, but jurors deadlocked on 10 charges involving payment for their work on the city’s Community Housing Authority and the Surplus Property Authority.

Hernandez, 65, Jacobo, 55, and Mirabal, 63, were each charged with 20 counts of misappropriating public funds between January 2006 and July 2010; Bello, 54, was charged with 16 counts of misappropriation between January 2006 and December 2009; Artiga, 52, was charged with 12 counts of misappropriation between January 2008 and July 2010; and Cole, 63, was charged with eight counts of misappropriation between January 2006 and December 2007.

Former City Manager Robert Rizzo, 59, who is accused of being the mastermind of the alleged corruption scheme, is awaiting trial separately, along with former assistant Angela Spaccia, 54, on corruption-related charges.

Hearing the verdicts, BASTA (Bell Association to Stop the Abuse), a grassroots organization formed in the wake of the Bell corruption scandal, issued a statement expressing “relief” that the jury had found the “Bell Six” guilty.

“This verdict is long awaited and further vindicates the community’s efforts to move out of the shadow of Rizzo corrupt regime.  The jury’s verdict is a clear step in helping the Bell community to heal.”

They urged the judge to hand down stiff sentences when the time comes, and said the city should not be responsible for the legal expenses incurred by the “corrupt council members who need to finally take full responsibility for their wrongdoing.”

“It is reassuring to know that our judicial system is not broken, and that justice can be served,” said BASTA representative Fidencio Gallardo.

But according to BASTA, the ordeal the city has gone through is not yet over: “Until there are convictions of every councilmember and former administrator guilty of criminal actions against the citizens of Bell, Bell residents will not feel that justice has been met,” they said.  “We now look to the trial of Rizzo and Spaccia and hope that the judicial system continues to do its part.”


Experts: Local Control Formula Would Fix ‘Broken’ School Funding in California

March 21, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

SAN FRANCISCO—California is at a critical juncture in potentially overhauling what many agree is the state’s “overly complex” and “inequitably distributed” public school funding system, said education experts at a recent ethnic media briefing organized by New America Media.

That system, blamed for many of the glaring funding inequities and achievement gaps that have plagued the state for decades, could soon be replaced by a drastically pared down approach first proposed by Gov. Jerry Brown in January.

His proposal, known as the Local Control Funding Formula, would put more dollars in the hands of districts with higher numbers of needier students. It would also do away with many of the restricted funding streams now in place, leaving it to local school boards and administrators to decide how these new funds are spent.

Last week, over 30 ethnic media journalists, student reporters and advocates from across the Bay Area gathered into the San Francisco offices of New America Media, looking to inform their communities about what some are calling the biggest change to school finance since passage of Prop 13 in 1978.

LCFF, formerly known as the Weighed Pupil Formula, is a fundamental reform of the current education finance system, said Jonathan Kaplan, Senior Policy Analyst with California Budget Project.

“California’s [current] education finance system is broken, it doesn’t work, even experts find it difficult to understand,” said Kaplan, who has spent over half a decade studying the K-12 funding system. By including this in his January budget proposal, the governor is looking to make the system “more transparent, more rational and more equitable,” he added.

According to Kaplan, full implementation will happen over a 7-year period. During that time, dollars now tied up in a dozen or more special-purposed categorical programs will be redirected to school districts according to socio-economic and other needs.

Federal funds, such as special education and school nutrition programs, and the state’s TIIBG (Targeted Instructional Improvement Block Grant), home-to-school transportation, and preschool funding will be kept in place.

Under the three-layered formula, each district in California will receive a base grant of about $6800 per student when fully funded. Low-income students, English learners and foster youth will also receive a supplemental grant of 35 percent on top of the base grant (equal to $2,385). Districts where these students comprise 50 percent or more of the population will receive another 35 percent as a concentration grant.

Arun Ramanathan, Executive Director of Ed Trust-West, an education civil rights organization that aims to close the achievement gap among Californians, is an avowed supporter of the formula.

“These moments only happen every decade or so,” said Ramanthan, pointing to the convergence of a number of factors that make passage of the LCFF a distinct reality. These include the absences of a budget crisis and a looming election cycle, as well as the presence of an interested governor and legislature.

That last piece, notes Ramanathan, is rare. He said by pushing for the LCFF, Brown has all but acknowledged that California’s current funding system is inequitable, something that could open the state to potential lawsuits.

Ramanathan also stressed the lasting impact that passage of LCFF could have. “[State] Superintendents appear and disappear every three years for the most part,” he explained. “What they do typically does not have a whole lot of staying power, but what the state does has a tremendous amount.”

As an example, he pointed to the creation of the state’s current accountability system under then Gov. Gray Davis in 2000. That system, part of which includes the Academic Performance Index (API), is now a firmly entrenched feature of public schools in California.

Critics of the formula say that for some districts inequities will remain.

Under its “hold harmless provision,” no district will receive less than what it gets this year in terms of state dollars, though districts with fewer disadvantaged kids will see a slower increase in their funding during the phase-in period. And even though spending per student increases in every district once the plan is fully implemented, some are estimated to receive less per pupil than districts at comparable funding levels today.

Both Ramanathan and Kaplan agree that the formula as it stands now isn’t perfect, noting they would like to see stronger accountability measures put into the language of the formula so as to ensure that districts put the added funds to their intended purposes.

EdSource Today writer and editor John Fensterwald agreed that accountability is among the biggest concerns with the proposal. But he also highlighted the fact that under Brown’s proposal, parents and community members are going to have to become more involved in the district’s decision making process.

“If you are going to do things on a district level and there aren’t going to be plans on an individual school site level, that’s going to require parents to be very active and very vigilant,” he said.

Under the LCFF, funds are calculated by district instead of at the school site level, Fensterwald explained. Which means that a lot of the spending decisions will be made by local school board members, and that is where the advocacy of parents and community groups becomes critical.

The LCFF is currently under examination in the legislature. A revised budget will be released on May 15.

“Essentially, we’re looking at a two-month period,” stressed Ramanathan, the time frame in which parents and community members can weigh in to have their voices heard by their representatives on this issue.

The next Assembly budget subcommittee hearing will be on April 19, in Sacramento. The state budget will be finalized on June 30.

Vernon Officers Honored for Saving Man

March 21, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Two Vernon police officers were honored this week as heroes for saving the life of a Walnut man who suffered a heart attack while driving to the hospital.

Officer Chrisitan Moscoso, right, and Officer Edward Hernandez, left, pose with their life-saving award plaques and Vernon Police Chief Daniel Calleros after the March 19 city council meeting where they were honored.(EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

In the early hours of Nov. 7, 2012, Vernon police received a 9-1-1 call from a hysterical young woman who was on Soto Street near Fruitland Avenue. Although the dispatcher was not able to get a lot of information about the nature of the call from the frantic 18-year-old, Officer Christian Moscoso arrived on scene within two minutes of the call received around 1:45 a.m.

Upon arriving, Moscoso discovered that the young woman’s father, Frank Cervantes, 65, had suffered a massive heart attack while driving himself to the hospital. According to the report, Cervantes was unconscious and had no pulse when Moscoso removed him from the vehicle and laid him on the road to perform life-saving measures. The officer was using an automated external defibrillator (AED), a devise used to treat cardiac arrest with electric shocks through the chest on to the heart, when Officer Edward Hernandez arrived  on the scene to help.

“At one point all hope was lost given the lifeless condition of the man,” said Vernon Police Chief Daniel Calleros at the March 19 City Council meeting where Moscoso and Hernandez were honored in front of their families, fellow police officers and city officials.

On the night of the incident, Moscoso performed mouth-to-mouth on the victim while Hernandez applied chest compressions until Vernon Fire Dept. paramedics arrived to takeover treatment of the heart-attack victim who eventually regained a pulse and began breathing on his own.

Lea esta nota EN ESPAÑOL: Policías de Vernon Reconocidos Por Salvar una Vida

Morosco and Hernandez, who were presented with a plaque from the Vernon City Council commemorating their life-saving efforts, said they performed as trained.

“That’s our job, we act on it without thinking too much into it,” Hernandez told EGP. “We’ve been trained for these types of situations.”

Moscoso, who it so happens trained Hernandez in CPR, told EGP he strongly encourages everyone to get basic CRP training.

“In our case, we were able to help out Mr. Cervantes,” Moscoso said.

Vernon’s police chief told the council that according to American Red Cross statistics, about 94% of people who suffer sudden cardiac arrest die before they reach a hospital.

“As you know, medical incidences of this nature typically do not have positive outcomes,” Calleros said. “But this particular incident resulted in a complete recovery of the individual.”

Business and Labor Unite on Immigration Reform, But Future Uncertain

March 21, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

While the business sector and organized labor agree that immigration reform must include a road map to citizenship, there remain significant concerns over what will be addressed – and who will be left out – in the bill being drafted in the Senate.

In February, the AFL-CIO and Chamber of Commerce released a statement of shared principles on comprehensive immigration reform. Despite this alliance of two groups that have in the past had competing views on undocumented workers, it remains to be seen how their recommendations will play out in the drafting of a reform bill that is expected in April.

It is now up to the “Gang of Eight” – the bipartisan group of eight senators currently working on the bill – to negotiate the future of 11 million undocumented workers.

The group includes Republicans John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Marco Rubio, and Jeff Flake, as well as Democrats Charles Schumer, Dick Durbin, Michael Bennet, and Robert Menendez.

Ana Avendaño, the AFL-CIO’s director of immigration and community action, says that an inclusive path to citizenship is the key part of immigration reform.

“Without a broad path to citizenship, the whole bill essentially falls apart,” she says.

Avendaño, along with representatives from the Center for American Progress and the immigration reform advocacy group America’s Voice, participated in a national telebriefing for ethnic media reporters held by New America Media.

Senators Graham and Schumer have met with AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and Chamber of Commerce President Thomas Donohue to discuss “future flow” – bringing workers into the United States to meet future business demands and labor shortages.

Avendaño states that it is in the labor movement’s interests to have a system that respects workers’ rights and reunites them with their families. Business and labor are recommending a new type of visa program for lesser-skilled workers that is not tied to single employers, and that allows workers to self-petition for permanent residency and then citizenship.

Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, states that this would be different from traditional guest worker programs “that inevitability lead to exploitation,” separating workers from their families and forcing them to leave after a certain amount of time.

But some Republicans want to recalibrate reform efforts in a way that would promote business-related immigration (such as high-skilled foreign workers) but would restrict the immigration of family members of legal residents.

Angela Kelley, vice president for immigration policy and advocacy at the Center for American Progress, expresses concern over the backlog of 4 million people who are waiting to be legally reunited with family members in the United States.

“People won’t endure that separation,” she says, citing the many people who risk living in the United States illegally rather than be apart from their children and spouses.

There are other notable problems that have yet to be addressed within the framework that business and labor have presented to the Gang of Eight.

The future of E-Verify, the federal database used by employers to check workers’ immigration status, remains uncertain. The system has been widely criticized by civil rights groups, in part because it has been found to be riddled with errors.

Avendaño says the AFL-CIO is opposed to the use of E-Verify because it is easily manipulated by employers. When workers try to organize, employers can use the verification system to “deport away their problems,” rather than address workplace issues.

Sharry says that the forthcoming bill will certainly include an employee verification system, but that “the current E-Verify system is vastly flawed,” and that the system covers less than 10 percent of new hires. A verification system must be built, he says, that is accurate and protects workers.

Also absent from principles agreed upon by business and labor is how to deal with undocumented workers who have criminal records. Many workers use false documents in order to be employed in the United States, putting them at risk for arrest, which under most reform plans would exclude them from a path to citizenship.

The Gang of Eight’s bill is expected to be completed in April, after which it will go before the Senate Judiciary Committee. If the bill passes out of committee it will go to the Senate floor, and then on to the House.

“We’re optimistic that the conditions [for immigration reform] are the best they’ve been in a long time,” says Kelley.


Honor Cesar Chavez by Volunteering, Says County

March 21, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Mark your calendar, next week—March 25 to 31—is the 12th Annual L.A. County Cesar E. Chavez Community Service Week and the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has announced cultural and educational activities as well as opportunities to give back to the community.

“Following Chavez’s example of service to others, we established the County’s Annual Cesar Chavez Community Service Week in 2002 to celebrate the legacy of this American Hero for his lifelong commitment to democracy, justice and service to others,” said Supervisor Gloria Molina, who founded the program.

“I can think of no better way for us to honor Cesar Chavez’s memory than to roll up our sleeves and go to work on behalf of our community,” said Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas. “He understood, better than many, that real leadership is committed and consistent service.”

In honor of the legacy of Civil Rights leader and United Farm Worker’s co-founder Cesar Chavez, county employees are conducting a food drive in partnership with the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank and are asking residents to volunteer and donate non-perishable foods to a local food bank.

Local libraries and parks are also looking for volunteers.

Residents can also take part in arts and crafts and service opportunities taking place on March 27 from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. at Obregon Park, located at 4021 E. First Street in East Los Angeles, and at City Terrance Park, located at 1126 N. Hazard Ave., on March 28 from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. South El Monte Library, located at 1430 North Central Avenue, will have children’s programs on Saturday, March 30 starting at 10:30am.

For more information regarding Cesar Chavez community events, contact your local library or visit www.colapublib.org/calendar/events

Food Collection Details

County residents can participate in the food drive by dropping off food items from March 25 through 29 at the L.A. Regional Food Bank:1734 E. 41st St, Los Angeles. Drop off times are from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. only, however, residents can make a monetary donation online any time at the Food Bank’s ‘virtual food drive’ from March 18 through April 1. For information on the food drive, call (323) 234-3030 x 194. To donate online, visit www.lafoodbank.org/virtual-food-drive.


Baca Names New County Jail Chief

March 21, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Sheriff Lee Baca on Monday introduced the new chief who will preside over the troubled Los Angeles County jail system, the largest in the nation with more than 18,000 inmates.

Terri McDonald, the newly named assistant sheriff of the Custody Division of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, is a former appointee of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who chose McDonald to help the state oversee county jail systems.

The jail system she will oversee for Baca has nine custody and correctional facilities. McDonald will also head up the Education Based Incarceration Bureau, which focuses on deterring crime by investing in inmates through education and rehabilitation. There are 67 such programs operating in the jail system.

McDonald’s appointment follows the March 6 resignation announcement of Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, the department’s embattled second-in-command.

Tanaka, who has been with the department since 1982, came under fire last year in a report by the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence, which was created to investigate allegations of abuse against inmates in the county’s lockups.

The panel’s investigators found that Tanaka — as overseer of the jail system — not only failed to address concerns about violence against inmates by discouraging investigations into alleged deputy misconduct, but actually urged deputies to be aggressive against inmates.

The investigators also faulted Baca, saying he failed to discipline Tanaka or other top managers despite acknowledging errors in judgment. Baca acknowledged that some deputies had “done some terrible things” in the jails, but took issue with the panel’s characterizations of deputies running rampant in the lockups.

McDonald has been with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation for the last 24 years, most recently as the Undersecretary of Operations. She has also headed up the Ombudsman’s office in the state incarceration system.

McDonald has a public administration degree from the University of San Francisco and began her career with the state as a correctional officer.

Also on Monday, Baca also introduced the new chief of the Homeland Security Division, Ted Sexton. The former Tuscaloosa County sheriff will oversee the operation of 1,100 sworn and civilian personnel within the Homeland Security Division, which includes the Special Enforcement, Transit Service, Reserve Forces, Emergency Operations, Aero, Community College and County Services bureaus.

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