Vernon-based Recycling Company Guilty of Dangerous Emissions

March 28, 2013 by · 3 Comments 

A company that recycles batteries has been blanketing up to 110,000 residents in southeast Los Angeles County with dangerous arsenic emissions, smog agency officials said on March 23.

Exide Technologies located in Vernon has been ordered to cut its emissions that have elevated the risk of cancer in its surrounding area. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

The South Coast Air Quality Control Board has ordered Exide Technologies in Vernon to immediately reduce emissions of the cancer-causing element, and ordered the company to hold a public meeting to explain what happened to neighbors and workers in the area.

The AQMD said persons affected by the emissions include residents of Vernon, Maywood, Huntington Park, Commerce, Boyle Heights and unincorporated East Los Angeles.

Lea esta nota EN ESPAÑOL: Compañía Basada en Vernon en Problemas por Contaminación del Aire

The company announced it will conduct public meetings in May aimed at informing residents of their risk of cancer from the arsenic emissions released by the facility.

Emissions from the battery recycler have elevated cancer risk in surrounding areas to a point where 156 cancer cases per million people can be expected to develop. The standard from public notification of the danger is 10 per million, AQMD officials said.

“We are working with Exide to take immediate steps to reduce their emissions and the associated risk,” said SCAQMD Executive Officer Barry Wallerstein. “Meanwhile, Exide must follow a strict timeline to implement a long-term solution.”

Exide Technologies is located west of the Vernon Rail Yard, in an industrial area between the Union Pacific rail tracks and the L.A. River, west of the Long Beach (710) Freeway. On the other side of the tracks is the Union Pacific neighborhood in East Los Angeles.

Most of the risk would be to people who work in the industrial areas of Vernon, and the risk would dissipate greatly further away from the plant, according to the AQMD.

This is not the first time Exide has been cited by the AQMD. In 2010, EGP reported that between 2007 and 2010, Exide was issued 16 Notices of Violation, resulting in 84 inspections during that period, according to a report by Mohsen Nazemi, AQMD Deputy Executive Officer.

In late 2007, early 2008 and early 2009, Exide violated both AQMD and state lead standards, and at one point Exide’s Permit was amended to allow only half the production until the company was in compliance, according to the AQMD report.

Other violations included improper handling of lead contaminated materials, recordkeeping and equipment maintenance. The company’s compliance plan required process and building improvements, site clean up, and more air monitoring.

Los Angeles Councilmember José Huizar, who represents Boyle Heights, released a statement demanding that Exide address the current unacceptable exposure levels immediately, regardless of the financial costs.

“I am outraged and appalled by the recent findings of high levels of arsenic and cancer risks associated with operations at Exide Technologies,” said Huizar. “The AQMD must use all of its authority to protect residents from dangerous emissions, and I intend to work closely with them to control this polluter.”

Sen. Kevin De Leon, who represents the 22nd District that includes Vernon and East Los Angeles, told EGP that Vernon must work with AQMD to ensure job creation and job expansion can coexist with a clean environment.

“We want all businesses to flourish, but we don’t want that to happen at the expense of the residents in the neighborhoods surrounding Vernon,” De Leon said.

The community meeting is required by state law, and will allow people to get information and ask questions.

Vernon’s Independent Reform Monitor, John Van De Kamp, told EGP that Vernon must make sure that the business’ emissions are within the norm.

“This may be something the city must dig into with other agencies to make sure that those kind of [emissions] are avoided,” said Van De Kamp.

AQMD has implemented regulations since the late 2000s, which have successfully reduced lead emissions from Exide Technologies. The company is now in compliance with the federal health standard for outdoor levels of lead.

For more information about Exide’s health risk assessment and the public notification process visit Information from City News Service was used in this story.

East L.A. Bobcats Ask County to Lift Park-Use Suspension

March 28, 2013 by · 1 Comment 

Elementary school football players and cheerleaders begged the Board of Supervisors Tuesday to let them play in an East Los Angeles park, while county officials expressed concern about keeping those kids safe.

The East L.A. Bobcats have been hosting football games for kids 6 to 14 years old for 48 years, according to the group’s president, Sylvia Romero.

The future of the East L.A. Bobcats is uncertain after a man was killed at a restaurant where numerous members of the team and their families were dining after a game. Pictured here the East L.A. Bobcats during a past game. (Photo courtesy of Erik Sarni)

Parents say the team — which plays in Ruben F. Salazar Park – keeps kids off the streets, out of gangs and focused on good grades, which are required for participation.

Bobcats are required to maintain a 2.0 grade point average to stay on the team and can earn $500 to $1,000 of scholarship money if their average is 3.2 or higher.

“We do this for our children, we want them to be something,” Socorro Mata, whose daughter Aaliyah cheers for the Bobcats, told the board.

It would seem like the kind of effort that Supervisor Gloria Molina would champion in her district, but a stabbing death in October put the county and the Bobcats at odds.

A 25-year-old man identified as Patrick Ortega was fatally stabbed at a Monterey Park Shakey’s pizza, where 20-30 members of the team and their family were eating. Jose De Jesus Ruiz, of Bakersfield, was arrested and charged with Ortega’s murder.

Neither man — both of whom were believed to have gang ties — had any connection to the Bobcats, according to the team’s supporters. But authorities raised concerns about at least one team volunteer and the threat of gang retaliation led county officials to suspend the team’s permit to use the park.

“Public safety is her top priority,” said Molina spokeswoman Roxane Marquez, adding that “zero tolerance for gang activity” has cut the number of homicides in East Los Angeles from 52 in 1995, the height of local violence, to just five last year.

Romero said two volunteers left the Bobcats to satisfy concerns raised by the Sheriff’s Department, but she said they were not gang members and she believes neither has ever been questioned by authorities. Romero and many parents said they weren’t worried about violence at Salazar Park.

“We would not have our children in this program if we did not think it was safe,” said Bobcat mother Patricia Jauregui.

To get the suspension lifted, the team needs to change its name and team colors, submit an approved code of conduct and pay for either sheriff’s deputies or a private security patrol to protect the kids, according to Marquez.

The team is willing to change their name and colors, but can’t afford to pay for security, Romero said. Sheriff’s patrols would be billed at $774 per day and a private security firm would cost $430 per day, she explained. The team practices five days a week during the summer months and three days when the season overlaps the school year.

Marquez said the team’s preliminary suggestions — to change the name to Wildcats and add dark blue to the team’s baby blue and white colors – are “not in the spirit” of the agreement. Romero says the team is willing to go further but also mentions that parents have already paid for expensive baby blue helmets.

Kids made the most emotional appeals to the board.

“I think Gloria Molina shouldn’t be taking this park away from the East L.A. Bobcats program,” cheerleader Aaliyah Mata said, beginning to cry. “I really love the East L.A. Bobcats and I don’t want to leave them.”

Molina did not respond to the comments during the board’s meeting and was in a closed door session immediately following, but field deputy Ed Cisneros, who covers East Los Angeles, said this wasn’t the first time a sports league had been asked to pay for extra security detail. As to the cost, Cisneros said the demand for extra security patrols could be lifted after a probationary period.

Kids turned cartwheels and led cheers outside the Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration following the meeting as Romero offered one last comment.

“They can take back our name, our colors, they can take back our parks, but they can never take what we’ve built there,” she said. “We have a legacy that will live on.”

Marquez countered that whether the suspension is lifted is up to the Bobcats.

“The future of the team is in their hands,” Marquez said.

The team’s season is set to begin on July 22.

Women Are the ‘Backbone’ of Their Cities, Says Garcia

March 28, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Women representing the cities of Bell Gardens, Montebello and Commerce were among nine women recognized Monday during a  “Distinguished Women of the Year” ceremony organized by Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia and held at the Cerritos Library.

Assemblywoman Christina Garcia, (second to left), honored Kathy Brendzal of Montebello, (left) Martha Cabral of Bell Gardens (second to the right) and Commerce resident Sandra Jimenez (right) as the 38th District’s “Women of the Year” at the March 25 ceremony in Cerritos. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

The “Distinguished Woman of the Year” program is an annual event observed by state legislators during Women’s History Month. In years past, the women were flown to Sacramento for a special recognition ceremony at the State Capitol, but that ceremony was cut this year due to budget cuts. Many legislators, however, are holding local ceremonies, including Garcia who was elected to the State Assembly for the first time last November.

Lea esta nota EN ESPAÑOL: Estas Mujeres Son la ‘Columna Vertebral’ de Sus Ciudades, Dice García

Garcia asked officials from the cities in her district — Artesia, Bellflower, Bell Gardens, Cerritos, Commerce, Downey, Montebello, Norwalk and Pico Rivera — to help in the selection process.

Martha Cabral of Bell Gardens, Sandra Jimenez of Commerce and Kathy Brendzal of Montebello were chosen by elected officials in their respective cities to receive the special honor. All three of the local women have in some way been involved in efforts to improve education.

“These women have been the backbone of our communities, they are focused, they are getting things done,” said Assemblywoman Garcia about the women from her district.

Cabral received her award from Bell Gardens Mayor Pedro Aceituno, who thanked her for her dedication to the youth in the city. He said Cabral is “truly very involved,” and gives a lot of her time to help Bell Gardens youth.

Cabral serves on Bell Gardens Education Commission, is president of the PTA at Bell Gardens Elementary School, and is involved in the California Association for Bilingual Education (CABE). She has met with California’s Superintendent of Public Instruction to discuss issues faced by English-learners, special needs and at-risk students.

Cabral told EGP it’s an honor to be recognized by her community, and that she hopes the city continues to work together to ensure education is a top priority in the predominately Latino working class community.

“When city officials work as a team they can do more,” Cabral said. “I would just like to see more women get involved with their child’s education and attend city council meetings to see how the city has improved.”

Commerce Mayor Lilia R. Leon presented Jimenez with the District award as well as a commendation from the city. Jimenez told EGP she felt honored to be nominated and is thankful for the programs Commerce offers to its youth and the rest of her community.

“Everything I do, I do because I love my community,” Jimenez said. “We have a great city and great programs.”

Jimenez is a member of Commerce’s Aquatic Booster Club and Relay for Life committee. She is the president of Educating Bodies and Minds (EBAM), which offers scholarships and provides nutrition, anti-bullying and martial arts classes to youth.

“She is an inspiration to many women,” Leon said. “Sandra is a resident that goes above and beyond expectations.”

Montebello Mayor Christina Cortez presented Kathy Brendzal with her award that recognized the Montebello resident for her work with adult education in the Montebello Unified School District.

Brendzal told EGP that she felt privileged to be able to help others the way she was helped as a first generation immigrant.

“Education and educating adults is more than a commitment to me, it’s a purpose in life,” Brednzal said. “Its our obligation to reach out to the next generation coming up and help them achieve their dreams.”

Brendzal serves on the Executive Board of the California Council for Adult Education, collaborated with former Assemblyman Mike Eng to protect adult education in the community and has initiated the 2-Day Legislative Day in Montebello to help residents effectively communicate with legislators.

“I am a firm believer that education makes all the difference in the world,” said Cortez, who called Brendzal a “truly a homegrown product of our city of Montebello.”

Also honored were Susie Gomes from Artesia, Rita Lara from Bellflower, Katherine Chu from Cerritos, Dr. Mary Stauffer from Downey, Eileen Sandoval from Norwalk and April Saucedo Hood from Pico Rivera.

Congresswoman Linda Sanchez (CA-38), whose district includes Montebello and some neighboring cities, was the celebration’s keynote speaker. She spoke about how women are the glue that keeps many communities together.

“Day in and day out, so many woman contribute to their communities and often times their work goes unnoticed, so it’s nice that they’re being recognized recognized for their hard work.”

Vernon Making Progress on Planned Reforms, Says Independent Monitor

March 28, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

In a recent report, Vernon’s independent reform monitor acknowledged that the industrial city has taken steps to change the “face” of Vernon by working toward meeting many of the recommendations made by Sen. Kevin De Leon after the city was nearly disincorporated in 2011 amid accusations of wrong doing by some city officials.

Lea esta nota EN ESPAÑOL: El Informe Semestral de Vernon Aborda el Presupuesto, el Medioambiente y las Viviendas

Former State Attorney General John Van De Kamp presented his findings at the March 19 City Council meeting. He pointed out that Vernon must still address concerns over its large budget deficit, housing reforms and its relationship with surrounding communities in order to continue to implement the good governance reforms. The reforms demanded following revelations that the city had paid exorbitant salaries to some former city officials, and accusations that the city, with only about 100 residents, was run like a fiefdom by a handful of individuals.

“The biggest problem [the city] faces now is getting their budget into balance,” Van De Kamp told EGP.

He told the council that the city must put its financial house in order, but acknowledged that some actions taken by the council are moving the city in that direction. According to the report, Vernon had a $12 million General Fund deficit in July 2012.

During the 2012-2013-budget year, the city made strides toward reducing the deficit by cutting the budget 11percent, selling 500 acre-feet of the city’s water rights to Norwalk’s Municipal Water system for $6 million and increasing a special parcel tax. They also approved an electric rate adjustment and an early retirement incentive program.

“You have taken some major steps forward,” Van De Kamp told the council. “But we’re not there yet.”

According to the report, the city’s assets have fallen from $313,566,791 in 2007 to $181,690,500 in 2011, based on the draft of Vernon’s 2011-2012 fiscal year audit report.

Van De Kamp hopes Measures K, L and M, which would increase the business license tax, levy an annual parcel tax and a levy a 1% utility user tax respectively, raising $8 million for the city’s General Fund, are approved by the voters in the upcoming April 9 election.

“I think the city will be well on its way towards fiscal balance,” if they are approved, Van De Kamp said.

Warning the council he was about to say something they would not like, Van De Kamp advised the council to reduce the salaries of some of its longer members, which remain above the norm of other city councils doing the same job, and despite salary cuts taken when the city was facing disincorporation. At the time, some council members were receiving more than $70 thousand in salary, according to Van De Kamp. They are now paid $55,800 a year, which Van De Kamp says should be cut to $24,996, the same amount being paid to the council’s newest members, Michael Ybarra and Luz Martinez. The council previously decided that the salaries of the higher paid members would be reduced at the end of their terms.

Van De Kamp said he feels salaries need to be at the “mainstream level,” he said.

“I’ve urged them to put on the agenda a vote to put everyone at that level.”

The nearly 40-page report published on Jan. 31, also includes the city’s response to recommendations made by Sen. Kevin De Leon during the disincorporation upheaval. They call for greater accountability and transparency, a doubling of the voting population, and a good neighbor program.

“There’s a really clear line between the Vernon of the past and Vernon of today,” De Leon told EGP. “[The city] has made remarkable progress, it has become more transparent, more accountable.”

A recently approved housing project on 52nd Drive is expected to double the voting population and help satisfy the senator’s request for housing reform.

“We’re going to double the electorate by the time this is done,” De Leon said. “This is a positive sign.”

De Leon points out that expanding housing in the city will bring in a electorate not hand picked by the council as it was in the past.

“We’re changing that paradigm,” said De Leon.

Responding to De Leon’s recommendation that Vernon improve its relations with neighboring cities, the city created an Environmental Community Fund to help mitigate pollution caused by Vernon businesses over the years. In August 2011, the city council ordered that $5 million be set aside every year for the next 10 years for that fund, and set up a separate $10 million to fund recreational facilities in Boyle Heights and Huntington Park.

Van De Kamp told the council that they have not budgeted for those funds, thus not fulfilling that recommendation.

The report, however, points out that the main source for those funds was lost when the state decided to dissolve local redevelopment agencies. Vernon’s 2012-2013 Budget sets aside $3.2 million for both funds.

“Given the city’s general fund difficulties, negotiations with Sen. De Leon should be initiated to modify the 2011 Resolution to reduce the annual allocation but retaining the essential nature of the De Leon goals,” Van De Kamp advised in his report.

De Leon told EGP that while he understands the city’s financial situation may have changed, he does not feel that agreement should be modified.

“It’s my clear expectation that they fulfill their commitment,” De Leon told EGP. “The thesis behind this agreement was a good neighbor policy.”

De Leon said that Vernon was not a good neighbor in the past, and the fund was meant to address past bad policies that have affected the surrounding cities.

Van De Kamp told EGP that Vernon has improved its involvement in the surrounding areas.

“It used to be that Vernon was an outlier with other cities but I think today they’ve moved in a fairly quick pace to catch up with other cities,” Van De Kamp said. “I think Vernon is acting as a good citizen should.”

Van De Kamp’s reports also credits recent city hires, namely City Attorney Nicholas Rodriguez, Finance Director William Fox and Director of Human Resources Teresa McAllister, for working with long time city employees to change how Vernon operates.

“You really have a new face of Vernon in its management,” he said.

The new attorney is “ethically inclined to do the right thing” and has taken as much in-house work rather than outsourcing legal consultation, which previously cost the city a lot of money, Van De Kamp told EGP.  He said Fox is “looking at the city’s long term stability” which he hopes will bring balance to the budget.

The hiring of these qualified executives has democratized a city that had a history of being very secretive, echoed De Leon.

“We have slowly but surely opened up the city,” he told EGP.

Every six months since being hired as Vernon’s independent reform monitor in February 2012, Van De Kamp has issued a report detailing the city’s progress on good governance reform measures, initiatives and his recommendations. Although Van De Kamp has no executive power and all decisions regarding his recommendations are made by city council, the city administrator and city staff, Van De Kamp says in his report that there has been “substantial progress in Vernon in the past six months”.

“It must be said that the city, with very few exceptions, has shown its consistent support of the recommended reform measures,” Van De Kamp says in the report.

He said the council has worked together and has been willing to follow the recommendations set by De Leon and himself, but advised the council that they must be more active during council meeting by asking questions or raising issues.

“Maybe its habits from the past, but I would urge you to play a really positive role on shedding light on what’s going on in the city,” Van De Kamp said. “As you do that you become better informed and those that come here to council meetings become better informed too.”

Future of Northeast LAPD Senior Lead Positions Uncertain

March 28, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

A portion of Northeast Los Angeles is in transition, not only because its city council representative is termed out and the local neighborhood council is reorganizing, but also because there is a new captian in charge of the local police station and an important community liaison position will likely remain vacant for some time.

Cypress Park, a mostly Latino, blue-collar neighborhood located adjacent to the Los Angeles River, was once known nationally for its violent gang activity. In 1995, the murder of three-year Stephanie Kuhen and wounding of her two-year-old brother outraged people across the country. Gang members had opened fire on the family’s vehicle after they mistakenly entered the gang’s “territory,” according to news reports at the time.

Today, crime is down in Cypress Park and the city as a whole. Some of the neighborhoods adjacent to Cypress Park have seen a rise in property values; neighborhoods like Glassell Park which was recently named among the 10 “up and coming” areas by the real estate blog Redfin.

While the city and police department took several measures to prevent and suppress gang activity and crimes in the area, including the creation of the Gang Reduction Youth Development (GRYD) program and the nearly doubling of the police presence in the area in recent years, the reintroduction of Senior Lead Officers (SLO) to the area was perhaps one of the most important steps taken, a it created a link and fostered communication between the community and local police.

But that link now appears to be in danger of being severed.

SLOs monitor crime trends in their designated areas, work with Community-Police Advisory Boards, provide crime statistic information to community groups and take in feedback from concerned residents.

Senior Lead Officers (SLOs) are permanently assigned to their neighborhoods. The position is a promotion, and comes with a bump in pay. However, due to budgetary restraints, two of the eight SLO positions in the Northeast Division are currently vacant, and could remain so for some time.

Two officers were temporarily assigned to fill the void created when two SLOs retired in February and others asked to be reassigned to a different community. Officer Adam Mezquita is serving as the interim SLO for Cypress Park, Glassell Park and a portion of Mount Washington, while Officer Fernando Ochoa is the temporary SLO for the northern end of Highland Park, roles that could last no more than two months, according to Northeast area LAPD Captain Jeffrey Bert, who took over the command of the division earlier this month.

According to Bert, the two SLO positions will remain vacant for an undetermined amount of time due to budgetary restraints. Senior Lead Officers earn a five-percent bonus as salary advancement.

“…We can put a person acting in that capacity but only for a certain time because we can’t afford to pay them, but by law we have to pay them. I know it’s a priority… and strive to get some of those pay raises back,” Bert told EGP, adding he hopes to keep the senior leads where they are and someday promote the most motivated officers into the vacant posts.

According to LAPD policy, officers can serve in interim SLO positions for 56 days before triggering a mandatory pay increase. Bert, however, said he has not yet received direction from his bosses to move or replace Mezquita or Ochoa.

Bert’s not sure when or if funding for the positions will open up, since those decisions are made by L.A.’s Chief Accounting Officer.

“Every single community, without a doubt, needs an SLO,” Bert said, explaining other divisions across the department are facing the same issue of filing positions left vacant by retirements.

In the past four weeks, there have been 18 Part One crimes — violent crimes and serious property crimes tracked by the FBI — in Cypress Park. Bert said the area along Huron and Figueroa Street, near the juncture of the 5 and 110 freeways has seen the most crime, mostly in the form of nighttime burglaries.

There were also four aggravated assaults, one of which appeared to be gang related, Bert said. But there were no murders, rapes, or robberies during that period, he said.

Part One Crimes are down this year compared to the same time last year (Jan. 1 to March 23), he said. So far, there have been 10 aggravated assaults, 4 robberies, 16 burglary-thefts from vehicles and 14 grand thefts, he said.

Most of the car-related crimes occur at night by people who want to sell I-pads, I-pods or other expensive items left in cars in order to maintain their drug habit, he said. Distracted pedestrians are also targets for thieves who want small items like wallets and I-phones, he said.

Cypress Park residents and activists Alexia Teran and Rory Olson, say they are pleased with SLO Mezquita’s work and like having an SLO who will listen to their concerns, such as those regarding a Medical Marijuana dispensary on North Figueroa they say is becoming a public nuisance.

“People are coming in and out … giving marijuana to kids on the street [near Nightingale Middle School],” Olson told EGP, noting that parking has also become a problem for local businesses.

Bert told EGP he has heard the complaints, and “LAPD is paying attention to the medical marijuana shops still open, both in terms of legality and the crime around it.”

“The chief complaint is loitering kids and the anecdote that patients are buying marijuana and reselling it to others who don’t have medical marijuana cards,” Bert said.

The Loreto Bridge, a pedestrian walkway over the 110 Arroyo Seco Parkway that connects Cypress Park and Lincoln Heights, is also problematic, according to Teran and Olson.

They say students need to use the bridge to get to Loreto Elementary School, and others use it to go back and forth between Cypress Park and Lincoln Heights.

“The problem is that sometimes illegal activities take place on the bridge and it’s not always easy to monitor that,” said Teran and Olson, noting it is something people complain about regularly.

“The police do patrol sometimes. The Council Office is aware, is trying to assist,” Teran said, adding the problem has existed “since the beginning of time.”

Maggie Darret-Quiroz, an active member of the Glassell Park community, said she was aware Mezquita was assigned on an interim basis, but adds she doesn’t want to see officers “shuffled around” in that role.

Darret-Quiroz says community participation is an understated contributor to the lower crime rates: “As soon as someone hears something, we call our SLO,” she said. “We need to find a way [to fill the SLOs positions permanently].”

Darret-Quiroz is the co-founder of the Glassell Park Community Garden, located on Drew Street where a gang den once thrived. City officials, who a few years back declared the site a nuisance property, cleared the plot to make room for the garden.

Darret-Quiroz told EGP she does not want to see community victories against crime and gangs compromised due to the non-promotion of an officer to the permanent SLO job.

Supreme Court Hears Gay Marriage Cases

March 28, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Southland residents on both sides of the same-sex marriage debate began a waiting game this week as the fate of Proposition 8, the voter-approved measure that restricts marriages in California to unions between a man and a woman, was left in the hands of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Prop. 8 was enacted by voters in 2008 but was deemed unconstitutional last year by a federal appeals court, which found the initiative was at odds with U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment guaranteeing equal protection under the law.

The Supreme Court heard arguments on the issue on Tuesday, but a decision likely won’t be issued until June.

“Today’s oral arguments before the Supreme Court over the constitutionality of Proposition 8 once again made a powerful case for marriage equality,” Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles said Tuesday. “I am confident the Supreme Court will make a ruling based on justice and strike down Proposition 8, and DOMA (the federal Defense of Marriage Act) as well.”

Perez, who is openly gay, called Proposition 8 “a clear violation of the values of equality in the eyes of the law that emanates from the Constitution.”

Some observers have suggested that the nation’s highest court appeared to be split 4-4 on the issue, with Justice Anthony Kennedy as the swing vote. His questioning during the oral arguments appeared to indicate a reluctance to take any action. That could leave the court without a majority vote and unable to make a decision — meaning the appeals court ruling striking down the proposition would stand.

The court could also determine that the proponents of Proposition 8 lacked standing to bring the appeal in the first place — a question that was argued before the California Supreme Court prior to the appeals court decision. If the U.S. Supreme Court takes that position, it would vacate the appeals court ruling, but uphold the original federal court ruling that also struck down Prop. 8.

Both possibilities would have the same effect of striking down Prop 8 in California, however, they would also mean the Supreme Court failed to make a definitive federal decision on the issue of same-sex marriage — which some advocates had been hoping for.

Randy Thomasson, president of and an opponent of same- sex marriage, said Monday the U.S. Supreme Court’s review of Prop. 8 goes beyond the issue of marriage.

“This case is as much about the survival of our Republic as it is about natural marriage between a man and a woman,” Thomasson said. “We are a constitutional government that abides by written laws and their original meanings. A republic under the thumb of judges who act like kings has ceased to be a republic.

“The unchanging laws of nature require two distinct sexes for humans — male and female,” he said. “… In contrast, homosexual behavior is neither natural nor healthy, and doesn’t qualify for marriage, which requires one man and one woman, no more, no less.”

In March 2000, California voters approved Prop. 22 that specified in state law that only marriages between a man and a woman are valid in California. But in May of 2008, the state Supreme Court ruled the law was unconstitutional because it discriminated against gays, and an estimated 18,000 same-sex couples got married in the ensuing months.

Opponents of same-sex marriage quickly got Prop. 8 on the November 2008 ballot to amend the state constitution, and it was approved by a margin of 52.5 percent to 47.5 percent. The approval was followed by statewide protests and lawsuits challenging Prop. 8’s legality.

In May 2009, the California Supreme Court upheld Prop. 8 but also ruled that the unions of roughly 18,000 same-sex couples who were wed in 2008 prior to its passage would remain valid.

Same-sex marriage supporters took their case to federal court and U.S. District Judge Vaughn R. Walker ruled in August 2010 that Proposition 8 “both unconstitutionally burdens the exercise of the fundamental right to marry and creates an irrational classification on the basis of sexual orientation.”

Backers of Proposition 8 — — appealed to the 9th Circuit, because then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and then-Attorney General Jerry Brown declined to do so. The appellate court heard arguments in 2011 but put a decision on hold while it awaited a state Supreme Court ruling on the ability of Prop. 8 backers to press the case forward despite the state’s refusal to appeal.

Once the state Supreme Court decided that Prop. 8 supporters had legal standing, the 9th Circuit moved ahead with its consideration of the case, hearing more arguments on a motion by Prop. 8 backers asking that Walker’s ruling be thrown out because the judge was in a long-term same-sex relationship that he had not disclosed.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last year that the proposition’s primary impact was to “lessen the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians in California.”

“It stripped same-sex couples of the ability they previously possessed to obtain and use the designation of ‘marriage’ to describe their relationships,” according to the court’s decision.

“Nothing more, nothing less. Proposition 8 therefore could not have been enacted to advance California’s interests in child-rearing or responsible procreation, for it had no effect on the rights of same-sex couples to raise children or on the procreative practices of other couples.

“Nor did Proposition 8 have any effect on religious freedom or on parents’ rights to control their children’s education; it could not have been enacted to safeguard those liberties.”

The U.S. Supreme Court also heard arguments Wednesday over the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which was enacted in 1996 and defined marriage solely as a union between opposite-sex couples.

El Informe Semestral de Vernon Aborda el Presupuesto, el Medioambiente y las Viviendas

March 28, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

En un informe reciente, el monitor independiente de las reformas en Vernon ha reconocido que la ciudad industrial ha tomado algunas medidas para cambiar la “cara” de Vernon al hacer esfuerzos para cumplir muchas de las recomendaciones formuladas por el senador Kevin De León. La ciudad casi fue desincorporada en 2011 por acusaciones de corrupción por algunos funcionarios de la ciudad.

El monitor independiente de reforma en Vernon John Van De Kamp, a la izquierda, se dirige al ayuntamiento en la reunión del 19 de marzo. (Foto de EGP por Nancy Martínez)

El ex fiscal general de California John Van De Kamp presentó sus conclusiones el 19 marzo durante la reunión del ayuntamiento, y señaló que Vernon aún debe abordar cuestiones del déficit presupuestario, la reforma de las viviendas y su relación con las comunidades cercanas.

Read this story IN ENGLISH: Vernon Making Progress on Planned Reforms, Says Independent Monitor

Estos pasos se necesitan para continuar la aplicación de las reformas con el fin de hacer un gobierno municipal más transparente. La ciudad se ha sometido a reformas después de ser criticada porque los funcionarios recibían salarios demasiados altos y por acusaciones de que la ciudad estaba a cargo de un puñado de individuos.

“El mayor problema [que la ciudad] enfrenta ahora es equilibrar su presupuesto”, dijo Van De Kamp a EGP.

Aunque Van De Kamp dijo que ha observado algunas acciones positivas por el consejo, le dijo al consejo que debe poner su casa en orden. Según el informe, la ciudad tenía un déficit de $12 millones en su Fondo General el pasado julio de 2012.

Durante el año fiscal 2012-2013, la ciudad hizo grandes avances en la reducción del déficit mediante la adopción de un 11% en recortes a los presupuestos de los departamentos de la ciudad, al vender algunos de sus derechos de agua de la ciudad al Sistema de Agua Municipal de Norwalk por $6 millones, aumentar un impuesto especial sobre parcelas, aprobar un ajuste de tarifas eléctricas y aprobar un programa de incentivo de retiro temprano.

“Han tomado unos pasos importantes”, dijo Van De Kamp al consejo. “Pero todavía no terminan”.

El informe indicó que aunque las empresas no han abandonado la ciudad, los ingresos de la ciudad han caído desde $313.566.791 en 2007 a $181.690.500 en 2011. Los datos son del borrador del informe de la auditoría fiscal de 2011-2012 de Vernon.

Van De Kamp espera que los votantes aprobarán las Medidas K, L y M, que aumentaría el impuesto de licencia de negocios, impondrá un impuesto anual a las parcelas, así como una tasa de un impuesto a la utilidad de usuario de 1%. Las medidas estarán en la boleta electoral para la próxima elección del 9 de abril, y juntas podrían recaudar $8 millones al año que no se destinarían al Fondo General de la ciudad.

“Creo que la ciudad estará bien en su camino hacia el equilibrio fiscal”, dijo Van De Kamp.

Sin embargo, les advirtió que el salario que reciben la mayoría de los concejales no es la norma a pesar de que se han reducido por grandes cantidades. Algunos de los concejales anteriores recibían hasta $70.000 al año al momento que la ciudad enfrentaba la desintegración, dijo Van De Kamp.

En su informe Van De Kamp recomiendo que los salarios de los concejales sea $24.996 al año. Aunque los concejales Michael Ybarra y Luz Martínez reciben esa cantidad, el resto de los concejales reciben $55.800. Anteriormente el consejo había decidido que los restantes miembros del consejo tendrían sus salarios reducidos a ese nivel cuando concluyan sus términos individuales.

“Sentí que necesitaban llegar al nivel de la corriente principal”, dijo Van De Kamp. “Les he instado que programen una votación para poner a todos en ese nivel”.

El informe de casi 40 páginas, publicado a principios del 31 de enero de este año, incluyó la respuesta de la ciudad a las recomendaciones formuladas por el senador Kevin De León que pidió una mayor rendición de cuentas y transparencia, la duplicación de la población de votantes, y un programa de buen vecino.

“Existe una marcada diferencia entre el antiguo Vernon y el Vernon de hoy”, dijo De León a EGP. “[La ciudad] ha hecho progresos notables, se ha vuelto más transparente, más responsable”.

El proyecto de vivienda recientemente aprobado para la calle 52nd Drive se espera que se duplique la población electoral y ayudará a satisfacer la petición del senador para reformar el asunto de viviendas (ya que la ciudad tenía muy pocos residentes y muchos eran empleados de la ciudad).

“Vamos a duplicar el electorado antes que acabemos con esto”, dijo De León. “Esta es una señal positiva”.

Esto no sólo aumentará el número de residentes por el doble en la ciudad, pero como De León señaló la reforma de vivienda traerá un electorado que no fue seleccionado personalmente por el consejo de la manera que lo fue en el pasado.

“Vamos a cambiar ese paradigma”, dijo De León.

Una de las respuestas de la ciudad a las recomendaciones del senador para mejorar las relaciones con las ciudades vecinas incluyó la creación del Fondo Ambiental para la Comunidad para ayudar a mitigar la contaminación liberada por Vernon lo largo de los años. En agosto de 2011 el Ayuntamiento ordenó que 5 millones de dólares se destinaran cada año durante los próximos 10 años para ese fondo, así como $10 millones para financiar instalaciones recreativas en Boyle Heights y Huntington Park.

Ya que el consejo no ha presupuestado el dinero para ese fondo, la recomendación no se ha cumplido, Van De Kamp les dijo.

En el informe Van De Kamp señaló que una gran fuente de esos fondos anticipados se perdió cuando las agencias de reurbanización se disolvieron. Según el informe, la ciudad ha destinado sólo $3.2 millones para los dos fondos en el presupuesto de la ciudad para 2012-2013.

“Dada las limitaciones del fondo general de la ciudad, se deben iniciar negociaciones con el senador De León para modificar la Resolución de 2011 para reducir la asignación anual, pero conservar la esencia de los objetivos creados por De León,” aconsejó Van De Kamp en su informe.

Pero el senador De León dijo a EGP que, aunque entiende la situación financiera puede haber cambiado después de que las agencias de reurbanización se disolvieron, no siente que el acuerdo para el fondo comunitario debe ser modificado.

“Es mi expectativa firme que ellos cumplan con su compromiso”, dijo De León a EGP. “La tesis de este acuerdo fue una política de buen vecino”.

De León dijo que Vernon tiene mala fama por ser malo vecino y este fondo trata de dirigirse a las políticas del pasado que han impactado a las ciudades en los alrededores de la ciudad de Vernon.

Van De Kamp dijo a EGP que Vernon recientemente ha tenido una participación mayor con las áreas que la rodean.

“Solía ser que Vernon era un caso atípico con otras ciudades, pero creo que hoy están a un ritmo bastante rápido para ponerse al día con otras ciudades”, dijo Van De Kamp. “Creo que Vernon está actuando como debe un buen ciudadano”.

En su informe Van De Kamp mencionó que la perspectiva cambiante de Vernon se podría atribuir a algunos de los recientemente contratados que han trabajado de forma eficaz con el personal anterior, incluso el fiscal municipal Nicolás Rodríguez, el director de Finanzas William Fox, y la directora de recursos humanos Teresa McAllister.

“La gestión de Vernon verdaderamente tiene un nuevo rostro”, dijo Van De Kamp.

Él dijo a EGP que el nuevo fiscal es “éticamente inclinado a hacer lo correcto” y ha hecho mucho del trabajo en casa en vez de pagar por consultas legales externas—que anteriormente era muy costoso para la ciudad. Van De Kamp también dijo que Fox está “estudiando la estabilidad a largo plazo de la ciudad” que espera que traerá equilibrio al presupuesto.

El senador De León dijo a EGP que la contratación de estos ejecutivos calificados ha democratizado una ciudad que tenía un historial de ser muy reservado.

Desde que fue contratado como monitor independiente de las reformas en febrero de 2012, Van De Kamp ha publicado un informe cada seis meses sobre las reformas para mejorar la transparencia del gobierno municipal, así como iniciativas y sus recomendaciones. Aunque Van De Kamp no tiene poder ejecutivo y todas las decisiones con respecto a sus recomendaciones son tomadas por el Ayuntamiento, el administrador de la ciudad y el personal de la ciudad, Van De Kamp, dice en su informe que sí ha habido “progresos sustanciales en Vernon en los últimos seis meses”.

“Se tiene que notar que la ciudad, con muy pocas excepciones, ha mostrado su apoyo constante por las medidas de reforma recomendadas”, dijo Van De Kamp en su informe.

Van De Kamp dijo que los miembros del consejo han trabajado juntos y se han mostrado dispuestos a seguir las recomendaciones formuladas por el senador de León y él mismo, pero aconsejó al consejo de que deben ser más activos durante la reunión del consejo por hacer preguntas o plantear cuestiones.

“Tal vez son sus hábitos del pasado, pero yo les pido que tomen un papel muy positivo en arrojar luz sobre lo que está pasando en la ciudad”, dijo Van De Kamp. “Al informarse mejor, los que asisten las reuniones del consejo también serán mejor informados.”

Commerce Crowns Royal Court In Annual Pageant

March 28, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Over a dozen young and talented young women who live, work or go to school in the city of Commerce vied last weekend on live television for a chance to be named one of five members on the city’s royal court.

Commerce’s 53rd Annual Miss Commerce Pageant was held March 25 at the Commerce Hotel and Casino, and broadcast on the city’s municipal channels, 3 and 32, and streamed live on the city’ website. The event also included the naming of Commerce’s 2013 Man of the Year.

(Left to right) Miss Cinco de Mayo Kimberly Jimenez, Miss Dodgers Brigit K. Escobar, Miss Commerce Shanese Shawntae Perea, Miss Clippers Alyssa Jade Rubio and Miss Fourth of July/Miss Friendship Daniela Gomez. (City of Commerce)

Members of the court represent the city at a variety of events and are often called on to participate in activities involving the city’s youth.

The 2013 contestants ranged in age from 16 to 21, and most are currently attending high school or college. Their career interests are as far flung as wanting to be a veterinarian, prosecutor, nurse, writer or guidance counselor.

Taking home top honors this year is nineteen-year-old make up artist Shanese Shawntae Perea, who for the next year will wear the crown and bear the title of Miss Commerce. Perea is a recent graduate of Napoleon Perdis Makeup Academy and says she hopes to one day own her own business and have her own makeup line.

Joining Perea on Commerce’s Royal Court are:

Miss Cinco de Mayo: Kimberly Jimenez, 18, is a senior at Bell Gardens High School. She works at the Citadel Outlets and wants to be a school counselor. Growing up she took part in the city’s aquatics program and participated in various competitions.

Miss Dodgers: Brigit K. Escobar, 19, is a student at Cerritos College and a tutor in the AVID program at Bell Gardens Intermediate. She wants to be a guidance counselor.

Miss Clippers: Alyssa Jade Rubio, 16, is a junior at Bell Gardens High School. She wants to attend college and one day be a crime scene investigator. She participated on the city’s Competitive Dance Team for several years, starting her dancing career at age three in the city’s Tap and Ballet program.

Miss Fourth of July/Miss Friendship: Daniela Gomez, 21, is a student at Cerritos College, majoring in Animal Biology. She currently works as a cashier/accountant. She wants to become a veterinarian and open her own ‘no-kill’ animal shelter/veterinary clinic.

The city’s pageant also has a male contestant component, this year’s Young Man of the Year 2013 is Armando Valencia (second to the left). (City of Commerce)

Rounding out the court is Commerce Young Man of the Year 2013, eighteen-year-old Armando Valencia Jr. He is a senior at Bell Gardens High School and editor and writer for the Lancer Scroll student newspaper. He plans to pursue a career in the fields of journalism and/or political science. As the 2013 Young Man of the Year, Valencia received a $1,200 scholarship.

Liu Honors Autism Advocate as District ‘Woman of the Year’

March 28, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

(Photo courtesy of the office of Senator Carol Liu)

The founder and CEO of a community-based sports socialization program open to all children with autism spectrum disorders, was honored earlier this month as one of Sen. Carol Liu (D-Glendale) (right) five “Women of the Year” from the 24th Senate District. Lora Mancini of San Dimas (left) says the idea to start the Autism Youth Sports League (AYSL) stemmed from her desire to find a sports program that would benefit her autistic son. AYSL became the first sports league in California that offers traditional sports programs to these children. “Lora is recognized for her innovation, commitment, and advocacy,” according to Liu.

Gore Hails L.A. Plan to End Coal Power Use

March 28, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Former Vice President and Nobel laureate Al Gore was in Los Angeles last week to congratulate city officials on their move to end the city’s reliance on coal power by 2025.

“I want to say, in the strongest way I can, this is a really big deal,” Gore said during a news conference in front of the Los Angeles Department of Water building.

Gore included Los Angeles among the top five cities in the world “where combating global warming is concerned.”

Only the cities of London, Toronto, Copenhagen and Berlin have “tried to do something like this,” he said, adding that Los Angeles would be the first American city to become coal-free.

According to Gore — who says he has met years of resistance from federal lawmakers toward his efforts to tackle global warming — the example set by Los Angeles would serve as an inspiration to the rest of the country.

Gore produced and starred in “An Inconvenient Truth,” an Oscar Award-winning 2006 documentary warning of the devastating effects of climate change brought on by green house gas emissions from man-made sources.

Since leaving office and running unsuccessfully to become U.S. president, Gore has put his energy into promoting solutions to climate change and is the chairman of the Climate Reality Project.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who has pushed to accelerate Los Angeles’ timeline to stop using coal power ahead of state mandates, opened his remarks March 22 by crediting the Sierra Club for carrying through a plan to turn the “dirtiest public utility” in the United States into potentially one of the cleanest in terms of green house gas emissions.

“This was their idea, baby, it wasn’t mine,” Villaraigosa said, referring to members of the Sierra Club who wore yellow shirts emblazoned with the slogan, “Beyond Coal.”

Environmentalists in turn credited the city’s leadership for opening the door and running with their ideas, while other cities rejected them.

“Over the last year, when wildfires have been raging across the country, when the droughts have been crippling the farm belt, when Superstorm Sandy and other storms caused severe economic hardships … the city of Los Angeles during that time has been investing in solutions, investing in energy efficiency,” Sierra Club national Executive Director Mike Brune said.

Villaraigosa said when he first proposed the idea of ramping up its carbon reduction efforts, he was met with “smirks” and even officials of the DWP told him “yeah, right, it’s not going to happen.”

He thanked DWP General Manager Ron Nichols — who Villaraigosa appointed — for helping steer the city to “this historic day to come.”

The Board of Water and Power Commissioners, which oversees DWP, earlier in the week capped off the efforts of environmentalists and city leaders by approving a plan to sell off its stake in a coal plant in Arizona and build a smaller, natural gas plant to replace a coal-fired one in Utah.

“A new era of clean power is dawning and we’re blazing a new trail for the rest of the country and the world to follow,” Villaraigosa said.

Villaraigosa recounted coming of age during the 1950s and 1960s when the “City of Angels” seemed to him “more like smog hell.”

“I always said, when you fight to protect the environment, when you fight to address the challenge of climate change, when you move away from our addiction to foreign oil, we can create good jobs, develop good technologies that would bring jobs and technologies of the future,” Villaraigosa said.

The DWP currently sources 39 percent of its power from coal-fired facilities, but with the two agreements that were approved March 19 pending City Council’s approval, those sources would be eliminated and replaced by renewable or natural gas energy.

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