Freeway Sign Points to War Veteran’s Courage

June 2, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

The freeway junction—where the 5, 10, 60 and 101—is now properly labeled just in time for Memorial Day. (Photo courtesy of the Office of Senator Gil Cedillo)
“The freeway junction—where the 5, 10, 60 and 101—is now properly labeled just in time for Memorial Day. (Photo courtesy of the Office of Senator Gil Cedillo)

New East Los Angeles memorial freeway interchange signs, over a decade in the making, quietly went up over the weekend ; by Monday, all five signs were up for commuters, traveling where the I-5, I-10, SR-60 and US-101 freeways meet, to see.

The signs were installed without fanfare because the cost of financing an unveiling ceremony near the interchange is not feasible in these current economic times, local veterans and the representatives of elected officials said at an organizing meeting on May 20.

When the interchange was officially named at the 44th Annual Memorial Day Ceremony in 1998—which included the participation of then Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa who introduced VFW 4696 Commander Dan Ortiz, then Lt Gov. Gray Davis, and now US Labor Secretary Hilda Solis — veterans expected they would soon hear the name of the Mexican-American hero on the airways as part of the daily coverage of traffic conditions along the busy freeway junction. But that was not to be the case.

But on Monday, as part of an annual Memorial Day observance in East Los Angeles, the installation of the signs will be celebrated, providing closure to a 12-year struggle to finance their placement.

Of the US’s 40 Latino Congressional Medal of Honor recipients, only one is from Los Angeles—East Los Angeles to be exact. The veterans at the Eugene A. Obregon American Legion Post 804 on Cesar Chavez Avenue know this well, as their Post is named in his honor, and is home of the Don Pio Pico VFW 4696, Marine Corps League Detachment 1347, American Airborn, Hispanic-American Airborne Association and the Ray Verdugo American Airborne Association.

EGP photo by John Ung Color Guard at the 63rd Annual Memorial Day ceremony in 2009. The annual somber event pays tribute to soldiers who have paid the ultimate sacrifice.

Color Guard at the 63rd Annual Memorial Day ceremony in 2009. The annual somber event pays tribute to soldiers who have paid the ultimate sacrifice. (EGP photo by John Ung)

 

Obregon was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his bravery in 1952. He was killed while saving the life of a fellow Marine in the Korean War on Sept. 26, 1950. He was just 19 years-old.

Eugene A. Obregon.

“What he did was something out of the movies,” Arturo Chavez, district director for Senator Gil Cedillo told EGP during a recent planning meeting for the 63rd Annual Memorial Day Observance and 24-Hour Patriotic Vigil.

In 1997, Desert Storm Veteran Dan Ortiz and Vietnam Veteran Tomas Alvarado began a mission to have the interchange named after Obregon, Art Herrera, US Air Force veteran of the Occupational Forces in Lebanon and VFW post adjutant, and Tony Zapata, US Navy Vietnam Veteran and VFW member, told EGP.

“The idea came one day while traveling through the state with my friend and fellow veteran, Tomas Alvarado,” Ortiz recalled. “We took the idea to then Assemblyman Gil Cedillo who wrote the initial legislation for this endeavor. So many times we’ve heard about traffic situations at the East LA Interchange in the news and we thought, since so many other areas are being named in honor of someone, who better than Eugene Obregon to honor, one of our own from East L.A.”

Cedillo, who like Obregon attended Roosevelt High School, introduced Concurrent Resolution 148 in the assembly to name the interchange in honor of Obregon. The resolution passed on August 28, 1998.

However, the signs that were to read, “Marine Private First Class Eugene A. Obregon Interchange” never went up because the veterans were left to shoulder the cost of producing and installing the signs.

According to Herrera, Caltrans wanted $24,000 for five signs, but as a non-profit organization they had difficulty raising the money. Herrera grew tired of hearing the interchange referred to as the Santa Monica junction, and a decade later, he began making phone calls to “big money groups” to no avail. While Cedillo’s office was working on the problem, Herrera decided to write Supervisor Gloria Molina a letter.

“So I wrote to Molina asking her for help and then Suzanne Manriquez [senior field deputy] was assigned to this project and I told her ‘we want to raise the money,’” said Herrera, noting Manriquez’s words of kindness.

“And this came from her, not because she’s here, she said ‘you know what, you veterans don’t have to pay for nothing, you veterans gave your life. You gave the ultimate sacrifice, why should you pay for it?’ And so she got in contact with Arturo Chavez and David Meza and they are the one’s who really made this thing come to what it’s going to be this Memorial Day, in honoring our fellow comrades,” he said.

Herrera further credits Cedillo for getting Senate Concurrent Resolution No. 109 passed on June 26, 2008. The resolution changes the signs to read “Medal of Honor Recipient Eugene A. Obregon, USMC, Memorial Interchange.” In addition, his staff negotiated with Caltrans to have the price tag chopped in half to $12,000.

The fundraising and combined efforts of the offices of Cedillo, Molina, Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard and Los Angeles Councilman Jose Huizar (CD-1), shows their commitment to the veteran community, it “shows our politicians do care about us,” Herrera said.

Zapata hopes the sign will help educate newcomers to the neighborhood.

“It’s a great thing to bring this out and let people know who Eugene was and what he did,” Zapata said. “I’m sure a lot of people will be asking who Eugene Obregon was.”

The veterans hope the public and the media will quickly adopt the junction’s formal name.
“Considering this is L.A., rather than hearing ‘It’s all backed up to the East L.A.

Interchange’, I look forward to the traffic reports saying ‘traffic is flowing smoothly through the Obregon Interchange,’” Ortiz said.

At the 63rd Annual Memorial Day ceremony and 24-hour vigil this Monday at the Mexican-American All Wars Memorial at Cinco Puntos in Boyle Heights, a replica of the freeway interchange sign will be on display. Members of the Obregon family have been invited to attend the recognition ceremony.

The 24-hour vigil begins Sunday, May 30 with rotating groups of veterans standing guard, and ends at 10 a.m. Monday, May 31 with the annual ceremony. This year’s keynote speaker is Capt. Leo Cuadrado, Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran and Silver Lake area resident. The program’s emcee is CBS 2 Anchor Laura Diaz.

The community is invited to bring photos of family members who have served or are currently serving to be put on display during the ceremony, Zapata said.

A luncheon, hosted by the Women’s Auxiliary 804 and 4696, will follow at the Eugene A. Obregon American Legion Post 804 at 3 p.m.; the post is located at 4615 E. Cesar Chavez Ave.

The memorial at Cinco Puntos in Boyle Heights is located at the intersections of Lorena, Indiana, Brooklyn and Cesar Chavez, approximately a half mile north of the Indiana Gold Line Station. For more information or to volunteer for the event, call Hector Elizalde at (323) 770-3100, Tony Zapata at (323) 261-8533 or Danny Hernandez at (323) 881-6565.

Monterey Park Mixed-Use Project Hits Speed Bumps

June 2, 2010 by · 2 Comments 

The nearly-completed Atlantic Times Square development could help bring in much needed revenue for the city, but some legal issues may hold up its grand opening, scheduled for June. (EGP photo by Elizabeth Hsing-Huei Chou)

A much-anticipated mixed-use shopping and entertainment center in Monterey Park is now facing unresolved legal and financial issues that has put a question mark over whether it will make its June grand opening date.

Arcadia-based developer Kam Sang Corporation, which signed a redevelopment contract with the city in 2004 to develop the Atlantic Times Square project, has failed to pay the city at least $390,000 in permit fees, a sum that the city attorney says could amount to “substantially more.”

The 200,000 square feet development will bring in a 14-screen movie theater, a fitness gym, several nationally-branded restaurants, and 210 condo units.

Councilmember Betty Tom Chu said at last week’s meeting that the money owed by the developer is especially important given the city’s $4 million budget gap, and is “counted upon by our city in terms of determining what our deficit is in the city.”

Chu dropped another bombshell at the beginning of the meeting, revealing that Mayor Anthony Wong, a licensed real estate broker, could be receiving a $23,000 commission from the developer for bringing in a retail tenant.

“I am requesting that the city conduct an investigation to determine the full facts of the situation,” Chu said.

Wong’s disclosure of his financial interest in the project brought a halt to the city’s plans the week before to discuss the money owed by the developer, she said.

“One of the issues that came to our attention during the last week was the issue of the conflict and that issue has complicated these [other] issues, said City Attorney Mark Hensley, who is now looking into whether this is a “material breach” of the contract between the developer and the city.

The council has instructed Hensley to send out a letter notifying the developer that it is now in default and to notify it of the breach in the contract, which prohibits council members from having any financial interest either directly or indirectly in the project.

Wong, who had excused himself prior to the discussion on the project, disclosed that he was due a commission from the developer for bringing in King Media, a major Chinese DVD retailer. Wong declined to go on record with a comment when EGP contacted him last Thursday.

Councilman David Lau took Wong’s side at the May 19 meeting, asking whether the attorney had spoken to the mayor about this issue. “It’s critical to have a full investigation to allow the mayor to provide his inside story,” he said.

The announcement of Wong’s interest in the project took the audience by surprise. “Do we need to do a comic book simplification of conflict of interest?” John Gee, a member of the Economic Development Advisory Committee asked.

Gee also asked the rest of the council to examine their own motives and interests. “Now, it also, by the way, raises the question that is the 600 lb gorilla in the room. Can we trust you?” he said.

Others like resident Michael Wang said it takes common sense to know, “if one is an acting mayor of a city, he or she probably shouldn’t be taking interest like that and accepting commission and other financial gains.”

Resident Randy Reyes said if Anthony Wong is found to be in conflict, “I don’t care if it costs the city… it’s time that heads roll.”

Hensley says he is still trying to determine if the developer owes more than the $390,000 and is also reviewing the potential breach of the conflict of interest provision in the redevelopment contract; both issues will be brought back at a later meeting.

Chu also pressed the city attorney to look into six other examples of alleged misconduct by Wong that were un-related to the project, pointing to how these potential conflicts and instances of misconduct could affect the city’s image.

“I certainly hope [the allegations] are not true, because at best they give an appearance of impropriety which could cause nationally recognized tenants to shy away from our city,” she said.

During recent budget discussions, it was revealed that the city had over-estimated its business license fee revenue for last year because they were expecting the Atlantic Times Square project to open much sooner than is now anticipated.

The city council is counting on the revenue from the project to boost its sagging revenue-base. Councilman Frank Venti in particular has looked to this project as an opportunity to attract more “nationally recognized stores and restaurants.”

As part of its contract with the city, the developer has promised that 51 percent of the commercial tenants would be nationally recognized.

“I wish we weren’t going through this right now,” Venti said. “We’d like to see some great clothing stores in here that we know about, some restaurants that we know about. The movie theater is going forward… to me I feel it’s necessary to get it open.”

24-Hour Fitness, one of the development’s anchor businesses and an early victim of the project’s delay, was set to open Feb. 5. During a recent visit to the gym, Venti said he observed that the “steam room was on, the sauna was on, the pool is ready to go.”

To protect the city from additional damages, the city attorney recommended the city allow the gym to open, which the city council approved at the meeting.

The gym has since opened, according to Redevelopment Agency Project Manager Brian Dowling, who says last minute construction is moving forward. Tenants like Cold Stones Creamery are installing freezers and building up their stores, he told EGP.

“Coming soon” signs along the construction site also promote the development as a future home for Vietnamese baguette shop Lee’s Sandwiches, kitchen and bath fixture company Valley Deco, and Chinese book and media store SUP Bookstore.

Wang said the announcement of the mayor’s conflict of interest situation reminded him of Hong Kong, where he feels the clean-up of corruption there corresponded with its economic growth. “I’m used to seeing corruption in China, in Hong Kong, in Taiwan,” but he is expecting things to be better in America.

People from surrounding cities are excited to see the Atlantic Times Square open, for there to be a movie theater, he said. “Monterey Park is a beautiful city. It’s a very nice city in many ways but all you have to do is drive down Garvey at night after six, seven in the evening and you’ll see that we don’t have a lot going on right now, let’s be honest. When people are going out, they go to Alhambra. They go to other cities.”

Golden Gate Theatre Project Appeal Denied

June 2, 2010 by · 2 Comments 

The Los Angeles Board of Supervisors on Tuesday upheld plans to convert the historic Golden Gate Theatre to a CVS Pharmacy, but the Mothers of East LA (MELA) say they are not giving up yet on their fight aginst the proposed tenant’s liquor license and their dream to have a cultural institution in the area.

Lucy Delgado, of Mothers of East LA, testified before the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday. The Mothers don’t want liquor sold at the theatre and say their alternative proposal has been ignored. EGP Photo by Gloria Angelina Castillo

After the hearing on MELA’s appeal, Ron Holley, a consultant to property owners Charles Company, M&A Gabaee, LP., told EGP he was very pleased by the board’s decision, and is anxious to get the project underway. The company hopes to open the pharmacy by the end of this year.

Charles Company consultant, architectural historian Robert Chattel, said that while the plans for the Golden Gate Theatre do not meet all the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties that all changes to the building be reversible, they do not cause material impairment and that the mitigation measures and conditions approved address the vast majority of concerns raised.

“I’m confident it will be a model for historic preservation projects,”Chattel told EGP.

Ron Holley (Front row) and the residents present to support the re-use project. EGP photo by Gloria Angelina Castillo

The Los Angeles Conservancy did not initially support plans to encapsulate the theatre’s interior, cover up the historical architectural features and remove the balcony, but the group is now satisfied that the mitigations and conditions attached to the project will “ensure maximum retention of historic fabric,” according to the Conservancy’s website.

People at the hearing were split on the project. On one side of the room sat supporters of the CVS drugstore. Arnulfo Delgado, who helped coordinate shuttles from the ELA Civic Center, Eastmont Community Center, Saybrook Park, Ford Elementary and Salazar Park to the meeting, estimated 200 people showed up to support the development.

Mothers of East LA and the “Coalition to Save the Golden Gate.” EGP photo by Gloria Angelina Castillo

Among the people speaking in favor of the project were business and property owners Ron Mukai, representing the Maravilla Business Association, Louis Herrera, a member of the Whittier Boulevard Merchants Association, Jesse Torres, president and CEO of Pan American Bank, Veronica Salas of the Belvedere Soccer League, and Sylvia Huasta a patron of Salazar Park. The supporters argued that the drug store would revitalize the area and generate jobs in a community with high unemployment; others noted they were already CVS customers, but had to travel out of the area to shop.

Veronica Salas, of the Belvedere Soccer League, speaking in favor of the re-use project. EGP Photo by Gloria Angelina Castillo

Pan American Bank’s Torres said CVS is a responsible corporation and would not sell alcohol to underage users, but would put “predatory” retailers that focus only on liquor sales, out of business.

Acknowledging stakeholders opposed to the CVS, Mukai said he has tremendous respect for businessman Eddie Torres, Frank Villalobos of Barrio Planners, Inc. and the Mothers of East LA.

“We can’t forget where we came from and we can’t forget our roots, but strong national and regional corporations play a role just like the moms and pops and just like El Mercado and things that make East LA, East LA,” Mukai said. “I don’t want to see it gentrified to look like Mission Viejo, but I think with a strong mix of national retailers… responsible development, holding people accountable for their actions, this includes Charles Company and CVS,” it could be good for the community, Mukai said. He added that while community space is important, retail centers are just as important and sorely lacking in the area.

Referring to a proposed alternative development plan to rebuild the Vega Building and use the property as an entertainment complex and performing arts focused charter school, Herrera told supervisors the proposal repeats the past with plans that lack funding.

“I have also seen Frank Villalobos drawings, it’s an excellent drawing, however it’s like a dream—for a dream to come true you must take that first step and [have] a lot of money to make it happen. I don’t see that first step and that money coming in,” Herrera said.

Members of the crowd of several dozen people who supported MELA’s appeal and wore t-shirts that read “Coalition to Save the Golden Gate,” also spoke.

Teresa Marquez, Diana del Pozo-Mora and Lucy Delgado, representing the Mothers of East LA, outlined their appeal for the project. The group had hoped to pool their individual public comment time, but Molina denied their request.

The Golden Gate Theatre is a symbol of greatness in East Los Angeles, del Pozo-Mora said, recounting how Molina in the early 1990s helped save the building from demolition.

“No one can dispute that East LA needs art, culture and education. The MELA alternative addresses all those needs,” said del Pozo-Mora, the group’ s executive director.

Rev. Monsignor John Moretta of Resurrection Church and Eddie Torres told the board they oppose CVS alcohol permit because the company’s liquor license, formerly owned by El Rancho bar, allows them to exceed in volume (shelf space and 24-hour access) that of the bar.

Ricardo Lopez said he lives directly across the street from the theatre, and added that from 2000 to 2004 he operated a cultural and theatre center at the old Silver Dollar Bar where journalist Ruben Salazar was killed. He said he was embarrassed, ashamed and insulted by Charles Company’s plan to use the theatre for a retail pharmacy. Lopez said he felt the company was condescending at the Town Hall meeting held on May 19, when they said they were there “to do what is best for you.”

“I think that Ruben Salazar too would be insulted by what is going on…” Lopez said. “I can assure you… that it is not another liquor store, it is not a pharmacy that we need.  I cannot remember the last time that liquor solved any problems, whether it comes in one can or whether it comes in two cans, it does not solve the problem.”

The county has mandated that no individual bottles or cans be sold, and no more than five percent of CVS’ s retail space can be used for alcohol sales, Molina explained at the beginning of the meeting.

Carmen Valencia, widow of “Mr. Boyle Heights” Ross Valencia, Sam Barrasa, an East Los Angeles Resident Association (ELARA) volunteer, and Dede Vidales with the Garfield Alumni Association, also spoke in favor of MELA’s appeal.

Read this story IN SPANISH: Niegan Apelación al Proyecto del Teatro Golden Gate

While ELARA has not taken a position on the redevelopment project, they welcome projects that will help bring taxes to the “future city,” the group’ s president, Ben Cardenas, told EGP. He was not at the meeting.

Early in the hearing, Molina explained that she inherited the project while transitioning from the L.A. City Council to the Board of Supervisors, and acknowledged that she had fought to stop demolition of the building. Since then, however, she said it has become blight on the community and a magnet for the homeless and drug users.

“It is an unfortunate situation that we can’t have the theater … in its full glory,” Molina said. “Right now, the best we have is a compromise … taking this building and at least leaving it in place and preserving as much of the historic aspect as we can.”
Despite the denial of their appeal, MELA says they will continue to fight the project’s liquor license and is working with three lawyers to file a lawsuit.

L.A. Street Renamed for Humanitarian

June 2, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

A street next to Our Lady Queen of the Angels church was named Paseo Luis Olivares May 20, in honor of a late priest and activist who dedicated his life to helping the neediest among Los Angeles’ Latino communities.

“Dedicating a street in Los Angeles is the basic recognition from the city where my brother labored and struggled for justice for its poorest residents,” Henry Olivares, the priest’s brother, said after the new street sign was unveiled.

Paseo Luis Olivares is the small street that lies just north of the church property, between New High Street to the west and North Main Street to the east.

Father Luis Olivares served as pastor of Our Lady Queen of the Angels, also known as La Placita, from 1981 to 1989.

While there, he co-founded the United Neighborhood Organization, which helps Latino neighborhoods address issues of street violence, student drop-out rates, and overcrowded and under-performing schools.

He also co-founded the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, which advocates for civil rights for immigrants and refugees.

In 1988, Olivares declared the Old Plaza Church a sanctuary for refugees fleeing from the political turmoil and bloodshed in El Salvador. During one of his many trips to that country, Olivares, a diabetic, was infected with HIV through an improperly sanitized needle.

Olivares died in 1993, at the age of 59.

“Paseo Luis Olivares is a fitting tribute to a great man,” said Councilman Jose Huizar, whose motion to rename the street was approved by the City Council. “Father Luis Olivares’ activism on behalf of immigrants, those living with AIDS, and the homeless established a legacy that will live on forever.”

Small, But Loud Group Protests LA’s Arizona Boycott

June 2, 2010 by · 2 Comments 

About 30 people — some of them members of the Tea Party movement — held a rally in front of City Hall Tuesday to protest the Los Angeles City Council’s vote to boycott Arizona over its law cracking down on undocumented immigration.

“We’re not going to stand for it,” protester Tony Katz said. “We want a safe, lawful Los Angeles, we believe in a safe and lawful Arizona, and we believe in strong borders and we believe in a strong America.’’

One protester carried a sign that read “Deport the City Council.” Some of the protesters said they are immigrants, but “legal ones,” and said illegal immigration should not be tolerated.
Another protester shouted “’Illegal’ is the key word there,” adding that the council should focus on solving its own problems — such as a massive budget deficit — “and then once you fix it, then maybe you can step out and talk about other things.”

The City Council voted 13-1 May 12 — with Councilman Greig Smith dissenting — to approve an economic boycott of Arizona in hopes of pressuring the state into repealing Senate Bill 1070.

The Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act makes it illegal to be in Arizona without proper documentation. It authorizes local law enforcement to investigate a person’s immigration status whenever there is a reasonable suspicion that the individual is in the country illegally.

However, it bars solely using race, color, or national origin to question suspected illegal immigrants.

Councilwoman Janice Hahn, one of the proponents of the Arizona boycott, stood by the council’s decision.

“We know that people are frustrated about illegal immigration but we on the City Council do not feel like (Arizona’s new immigration law) is the right way to address this frustration” she said. “We believe it targets a certain segment of our population and we believe it could target American citizens. We know the federal government needs to take up immigration reform, but we think this law targets American citizens who may look a certain way.”

Gary Aminoff, first vice chairman of the Republican Party of Los Angeles County and organizer of Tuesday’s rally, said the council acted irresponsibly in approving the Arizona boycott.

“The state of Arizona is dealing with its own issues,” he said. “It’s not up to the City Council of the city of Los Angeles to decide to boycott and cut off funding to Arizona. That only hurts the people of Arizona and does nothing to deal with the issues that the L.A. City Council is ostensibly concerned about.”

Aminoff said Tuesday’s protest “has nothing to do with race, color of skin, country of origin, language or color of hair

“It has to do with a law and order issue of people who come here illegally and abuse the system,” he told City News Service. “We wouldn’t care if the 12 to 15 million illegals in this country were Swedish — we would still oppose illegal immigration.”

Aminoff called Senate Bill 1070 “a restatement of the federal law’’ and “closely duplicates” Section 834b of California’s Penal Code, which calls for every law enforcement agency in the state to attempt to verify whether an arrestee is legally in the country.

The law’s opponents show “a lack of trust in Arizona’s police officers that feel they would intentionally profile by race,” Aminoff said.

Aminoff said he does not think the council will rescind the boycott because of the protest.
“What we want to do is bring a message to the City Council there are many people in the city of Los Angeles who do not agree with their decision to boycott Arizona,” Aminoff said.

On Tuesday, Arizona Senator Russell Pearce, the author of Senate Bill 1070, told KNX 1070 AM Radio that he is pushing legislation that would ban granting US Citizenship to the US born children of immigrants in the country illegally. He said contrary to what many people believe, the granting of citizenship “is not an automatic guarantee in the Constitution,” and people who think it is are “wrong.” Pearce says granting citizenship is too much of a draw and incentive for people to come to the US illegally.

Last month, Republican legislators sent a letter to President Barack Obama and asked him to send more troops to the border. On Tuesday, just hours after meeting with a group of Republican Senators, news broke that the president is planning to sending 1,200 National Guard troops to the US/Mexico border, and that he will ask Congress for a half billion dollars in federal funds to beef up border enforcement, focusing on drug trafficking and violence.

Janet Murguia, president and CEO of National Council of La Raza, a national Latino civil rights and advocacy organization, called Obama’s plan “inadequate and deeply disappointing,” since there was no concurrent announcement on a timeline for a “comprehensive fix to our broken immigration system,” Murguia said in a written statement.

“As we have stated time and again, temporary fixes and patchwork initiatives won’t solve the problem. Congress and the administration have it within their power to do what the American people need, to solve tough problems. They need to act now.”

San Diego Congressman Brian Bilbray called Obama’s request little more than a “quick-fix” that will have little effect on the flow of people entering the country illegally. Enforcement of employer sanctions is what is needed to stop the flow of illegal immigrants into the country, he said on Tuesday. “The best way to secure the border is to secure the job market in the US,” Bilbray said, adding that until employers “exploiting cheap labor” are stopped, little will change. “No one wants to tell our friends they can no longer hire illegals, no longer exploit them, he said.

New Era Begins For Los Angeles, Catholic Archdiocese

June 2, 2010 by · 2 Comments 

The man chosen by the pope to succeed Cardinal Roger Mahony as head of the most populous Roman Catholic archdiocese in the United States officially began his ministry in the Southland Wednesday with a gala Mass at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.

Coadjutor Archbishop Jose H. Gomez, head of the church in San Antonio since 2004, was chosen in April by Pope Benedict XVI to replace Mahony, who will retire on his 75th birthday on Feb. 27.

“My sisters and brothers, I have so much to learn about this extraordinary family that God has gathered here in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles,” Gomez said. “I have only just begun, and I’m going to need your prayers and assistance, your counsel and guidance, but most of all, your patience.

“ … I pledge you my life and my love. I promise to always be your servant, and a servant of the Lord God,” he said.

Gomez, who speaks with a strong Spanish accent, demonstrated to the audience that he has a sense of humor, drawing laughter from the audience on several occasions.

“I speak English with an accent. It’s my fault because my mother wanted me to learn English, and I refused to do it,” he said. “So it’s a good lesson for all of us to always obey our mothers.”

Wednesday’s Mass marked the beginning of Gomez’s work in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, which claims more than 5 million Catholics in Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties.

Gomez will serve as an assistant bishop until Mahony’s retirement.

In his sermon, Mahony recalled speaking to the pope about the need for a replacement.

“I explained that in the year 2010, I would have served as archbishop of Los Angeles for 25 years and that in early 2011, I would reach age 75,” Mahony told the roughly 4,000 people gathered at the cathedral. “I proposed that he consider appointing a coadjutor archbishop for Los Angeles, a new shepherd who would come in 2010 to labor with me before becoming archbishop of Los Angeles…

“Subsequently, Pope Benedict approved my request,” he said. “Then followed a process which happily culminated in the appointment of my friend and brother Archbishop Jose Gomez, who we formally and warmly welcome today.”

The Mass included the rite of reception. Sister Mary Elizabeth Galt, chancellor of the archdiocese, read a letter from Rome announcing Gomez’s appointment as coadjutor archbishop. Mahony accepted the letter and the audience was asked if they were prepared to support Gomez, and they replied, “We are.”

The Mass included six other cardinals, 59 bishops and 411 priests.

Mahony, an outspoken supporter of immigrant rights, said Gomez will have to continue the work on behalf of immigrants in the diocese and elsewhere.

“A good shepherd will of necessity work tirelessly for just immigration policies and for the protection of the dignity of all of our immigrants,” Mahony said.

Gomez indicated that he was ready to take on the challenge.

Gomez, 58, is a Monterrey, Mexico-born priest of the conservative Prelature of Opus Dei. He earned undergraduate degrees in accounting, philosophy and theology and was ordained in the Prelature of Opus Dei in 1978. In 1980, he earned a doctorate in theology from the University of Navarre’s campus in Pamplona, Spain.

In 2001, he was ordained an auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Denver, where he served in several areas, including outreach to Hispanics. He also organized Denver’s Centro San Juan Diego for Family and Pastoral Care, a place for formation of lay leaders and a base to provide welcoming services to immigrants.

EDITORIAL: Memorial Day Is More Than Just the Start of Summer

June 2, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

This weekend begins a number of observances for Memorial Day, culminating with the official ceremonies on Monday, May 31.

This yearly observance is a day to honor those who have given their lives to preserve our freedoms and our safety. It should serve as a reminder to all our fellow citizens to take a moment and reflect on those we are honoring and thank them for their sacrifice as we take time off from our jobs and assorted other duties,

For many, this weekend also marks the start of the summer holiday, a time for picnics and parties. EGP wants to remind our readers to avoid drinking and driving, so that no other tragedies occur for us to mourn.

EDITORIAL: June 8 Primary Election Endorsements

June 2, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

State Controller – John Chiang. We admire Chiang’s willingness to say no when he believes the actions of the governor and legislature are out of line.

We do not know of any other official with the nerve to issue IOU’s to the public when issuing checks would have made the state’s precarious economic situation even worse. Chiang has been willing to sound the warning bell on more than one occasion, and to challenge his fellow state legislators to “prove their numbers” and to base their budget figures on the reality of the state’s finances rather then on their overly hopeful pipe dreams.

Though we don’t always agree with him, we admire his stand up attitude.

POINT/COUNTERPOINT: SB 933 – Putting Small Business Between the Rock and the Hard Place

June 2, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

That spot between the rock and the hard place is a bad place to be.

In fact, it’s a very tight fit.

And the California Legislature is about to make it a bit tighter.

The Rock

When you visit your local bookstore, restaurant or dry cleaner, you may have noticed the kindly-worded sign letting you know that the business charges a small fee for you to use a debit card. Well, the debit card surcharge imposed by the mom-and-pop store is not there to squeeze you for a little more profit; a small business charges this fee to cover the ever-increasing cost imposed by the big electronic payment networks such as VISA, Mastercard and Interlink, and those mandatory fees may be 2.5 percent of the purchase price or higher.

Meet the Hard Place

Senate Bill 933 by Senator Jenny Oropeza prohibits your favorite local coffee shop from recouping this significant cost by charging a small fee for the use of a debit card.  By prohibiting a small retailer from covering the transaction costs, SB 933 puts the local bookstore or family-owned-and-operated restaurant between a rock of rising transaction fees and the hard place of a ban on covering that cost.

Faced with this ban, small retailers will be forced to take one of several undesirable actions.
—Increase prices on all their goods to pay fees owed to Big Payment Networks. This places small retailers at a competitive disadvantage to large chain retailers who pay far lower debit card fees if at all.

—Absorb the 2.5 percent fee and cut expenses in other areas. This eats into the bottom-line of your local store owner who must now use their limited (if any) profits to cover yet another increased cost.

—Set a minimum price for use of debit cards or refuse to accept debit cards. When fees for credit card transactions were banned years ago, many small retailers reacted by setting a minimum purchase price or refusing to accept credit cards altogether. A ban on debit and credit cards could leave cash as the only option for consumers.

Squish!

A struggling economy plagued with tight credit, a lack of consumer confidence, and a heavily-regulated environment makes one wonder how bills like SB 933 find the light of day. What’s worse is that SB 933 favors the big payment companies who can charge massive fees. Oh, and that fee can be increased with little notice to the small business.
So, let us take count of the winners and losers:

—Winners: Big National Payment Companies, Trial Lawyers (after all, to them, what’s a law without a lawsuit?)

—Losers: Consumer Choice, Small Business
Nickel-and-diming small businesses with bills like SB 933 just grinds them into the ground and makes a horrible small business climate tragically worse for the owner and customer alike. It’s time for the legislature to stop adding burdens to California’s job creators and start making it easier to grow and expand their businesses and get Main Street and our economy moving again.

John Kabateck is the Executive Director of National Federation of Independent Business/California. For more information, visit www.NFIB.com.

POINT/COUNTERPOINT: Measure Would Protect Against Misleading Prices

June 2, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Protecting California consumers from unfair ‘checkout’ fees

Imagine paying somebody to take your money. To you and me, such a concept may seem unreasonable.

But to a growing number of retailers making money from your debit card, this makes sense-lots of cents.

And it is happening only because of a legal loophole.

Here’s what is occurring: Retailers statewide are increasingly adding on “checkout” fees when consumers use their debit cards to make purchases. Put another way, consumers are paying millions, on top of the price of the goods they’re buying, simply so the retailer will accept an electronic money transfer.

Current California law prohibits merchants from applying checkout fees to credit card purchases, but not on debit cards, allowing merchants to bill debit-card users an additional fee.

To halt these debit-card surcharges, I authored Senate Bill 933.

The issue is simple fairness. A basic rule of good business is that the price on a store window for a carton of milk, or the cost of gas on the sign in front of a service station, should be the price we pay when checking out.

Instead, consumers find themselves paying, say, $3.50 or more at checkout for a gallon of milk that was advertised at $3, simply for using their debit card. Or $3.25 for a gallon of gas advertised at $3.02. Such debit-card surcharges can spike prices by 20 or 30 percent and, again, are set by retailers without any limits.

As consumers increasingly use debit cards more than cash, check, or credit cards-checkout fees add up to big dollars in a short time.

Consider how debit-card fees are hitting the most vulnerable among us:

The U.S. Department of the Treasury distributes Social Security benefits through what it calls a Direct Express debit card, and the state Department of Employment may soon issue unemployment checks via debit card. A similar change is pending for state residents receiving disability payments.

It’s outrageous to allow retailers to impose extra fees on those who are unemployed, or on disability, or are senior citizens simply because they use debit cards.

The underlying issue is fairness. The way debit-card payments work, retailers pay a fee that covers the costs of processing an electronic transaction between the various financial institutions and card networks.

While it is understandable that retailers want to minimize their business costs, the U.S. Senate recently approved legislation that for the first time requires these interchange fees to be “reasonable and proportional” to the processing costs incurred.

That may help retailers reduce their costs, but it does nothing to protect Californians from added on checkout fees.

The fact is, it makes good business sense for retailers to accept debit cards, but they should do so in the same way they handle credit cards-without additional fees.

A May 14, 2010 study by The New America Foundation found, “a host of benefits gained by merchants from accepting bank cards-including increase in total sales-makes bank cards a profitable enterprise for merchants.”

In other words, retailers accept debit cards because it is a profitable business practice yet many shamelessly still charge consumers.

As it now stands, retailer-imposed checkout fees is costing consumers hundreds of millions of dollars.

According to New America, debit-card surcharges “amount to a needless transfer of income from consumers to retailers that are already covering their costs related to bank card acceptance without a surcharge.”

This is hitting lower-income families the hardest, especially those using government-issued cards.

Many business and consumer groups agree retailer checkout fees are unfair. Supporting SB 933 are the California chapters of the AARP, Consumers Union, Consumer Federation of California, Consumer Action, National Employment Law Project, Center for Responsible Lending, and several local chambers of commerce.

At a time when California working families already face tough challenges making ends meet, they shouldn’t bear penalties for simply how they choose to pay. Fair is fair, whether it’s by cash, check, credit or debit card.

State Senator Jenny Oropeza (D-Long Beach) chairs the Senate Majority Caucus. For more, visit www.senate.ca.gov/oropeza

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