The Los Angeles City Council voted 11-0 Wednesday to adopt a $7.7 billion spending plan for the 2013-14 fiscal year that closes a projected $216 million deficit and includes a $260 million reserve fund.
The budget — which the mayor has five days to approve or veto —provides for the hiring of new firefighters and additional funding for tree trimming, street paving, graffiti abatement and the purchase of nearly 300 new police cars.
The additional expenditures were made possible through a surplus of about $119 million in one-time revenue.
The budget also provides for the Central Library downtown and eight regional branches to open seven days a week and allocates $1.7 million for mural restoration and maintenance as part of a proposed mural ordinance.
A better economic outlook, projected to bring in an additional $111 million in tax revenue and $51 million in savings from pension reforms helped to close the anticipated $216 million deficit, according the city officials.
The budget also includes a $260 million reserve fund, which city officials say will keep the city’s bonds rating in good standing.
The reserve makes up 5.25 percent of the total budget and is “the largest it’s been in a decade,” according to Councilman Paul Krekorian, who chairs the City Council’s Budget & Finance Committee.
Krekorian said the budget anticipates “nagging budget problems” in the future. The council’s most significant change to the mayor’s budget proposal was the restoration of a “budget stabilization” fund to more than $60 million.
The fund can be used to help close an anticipated $212 million budget deficit in the fiscal year 2014-15.
Krekorian said the mayor’s original spending plan would have gutted the stabilization fund if the Council had not found alternate funding — about $38 million in property, gas and tobacco settlement tax revenue — to buoy the stabilization fund.
“We’re still not out of the woods. We still have structural deficit challenges that we anticipate we be there for the next couple of years,” Krekorian said when the budget was tentatively approved last week.
It remains to be seen if labor unions will agree to Villaraigosa’s request that they give back a scheduled 5.5 percent raise in January and pay an 10 percent of their health-care premiums to help balance the budget.
In the event city leaders cannot negotiate those concessions, the budget has set aside $21 million, according to city officials.
Union representatives have flatly said they would not entertain the concessions, and said there is no reason to reopen talks until their contract expires in June 2014.
Chief Administrative Officer Miguel Santana, who advises city leaders on the budget, has said employee concessions will be needed, if not this year, then in future years.
The budget also funds a new economic development department and a consolidated planning and development department, combining offices such as Building and Safety and the planning.
Karen Segura used to eat fast food on a weekly basis and constantly ate snacks when she started the 6th grade at Bell Gardens Intermediate, but like most of the students who joined the school’s garden club, her tastes evolved and health improved as she learned to grow and sell fruits and vegetables right out of her school-based community garden.
John Garza told EGP that he and his teaching assistant Eva Cupchoy started the club in 1993.
“When I came to teach here, literally all you could see was dirt and weeds,” Garza said. “That’s when someone asked ‘why are there no community gardens in Bell Gardens.”
The two former teachers, who now work as club advisors, thought it would be wonderful for every school in Bell Gardens to have a garden and a club so children could learn about nutrition.
“That was a dream that we thought we would reach someday, but we never thought it was going to be someday soon,” Cupchoy said.
Last month the garden club reached its goal of opening a garden at all seven public schools in Bell Gardens: Cesar E. Chavez, Bell Gardens, Suva and Garfield Elementary schools, Suva Intermediate, Bell Gardens Intermediate and Bell Gardens High School.
The first five gardens were financed with nearly $180,000 in grant money obtained by the Campaign for a Healthier Bell Gardens (CHBG), a non-profit health initiative aimed at reducing diabetes and teen pregnancy in the city. Lani Cupchoy, project coordinator for CHBG told EGP that in addition to funding the gardens for the last three years, the grant paid for educational outreach, nutrition workshops and regular farmer’s markets.
The gardens at Suva Elementary and Suva Intermediate were opened with funding from Lowe’s and the United Latino Fund.
What began as just cleared plots of soil have since evolved into gardens with gazebos and sidewalks; currently growing sunflowers, tomatoes and squash.
Student gardeners from all 7 clubs will come together this week for an end of the year celebration and the awarding of scholarships ranging from $5 to $1,000 to pay for school supplies and college tuition. The scholarships come from money made at the farmer’s markets they host each quarter.
“The money all goes back to the children,” Eva Cupchoy explained. “We think it’s important to help the student because by encouraging them to go to college they can continue to help the community.”
The farmer’s markets allow all the clubs to get together and sell the fruits and vegetables they have grown, even if its just one onion or a couple of tomatoes, Eva said.
“It’s mostly a pride thing. It’s for them to say, ‘look at what’s in my garden in this city.’”
Segura is now a freshman at the Applied Technology Center in Montebello but still volunteers with the club in her spare time. She told EGP she doesn’t mind waking up at 5:30 a.m. to help set up at the farmer’s market.
She says the garden clubs help students like her, who pull the weeds and maintain the plants, become more responsible and involved in the community. They also learn about the benefits of eating organic foods and how to communicate to others what they have learned, Segura said.
Eva told EGP that thousands of students have participated over the years, leading to a local “gardening fever.”
But the clubs are facing financial uncertainty again this year, as they try to find new funding resources.
The gardens costs a couple thousand dollars each to set up, but according to Garza, now that they are in place expenses are lower and what they need is gardening materials like seeds and soil to keep going.
Funding for the clubs must be found so they can continue to help students and the community learn more about nutrition, Segura told EGP. “I rarely eat junk food or fast food” anymore Segura said. “I’ve only had McDonalds two times this year.”
The clubs have also exposed students to yoga, art and music through discussion and field trips, according to Eva, who says the clubs have “made a difference in the community.”
Eva said she can’t claim Bell Gardens is now the healthiest city, “But at least in every school there’s a garden and the kids are very excited to work in it.”
A 2011 Los Angeles Times article cited Bell Gardens’ 36 percent childhood obesity rate as the highest in Los Angeles County. Eva said the article shocked people in the community and made them want to change the statistic.
“I’m still a kid, so when I read the article I realized I was in the statistic and so I needed to find a way to help,” Segura said.
Garza noted that a sixth grader at Bell Gardens Intermediate was diagnosed with diabetes. “That woke up a lot of people, that this could happen to anyone.” Garza said. “She’s off medication now and lost weight because she started eating healthy.”
BGI garden club members regularly talk about making healthier choices while grocery shopping and encouraging children to exercise. Over the years, the club has helped children who would first reach for potato chips and sodas change the way they eat, Eva said.
“Now the kids are eating healthy, they’re grocery shopping with their parents and the parents are now having a better dialogue with their kids about nutrition,” added Garza.
The lack of funds has led Eva and Garza to consider having each garden club work independently to keep their gardens going, perhaps with the help of their school or PTA.
“We would like to visit every garden to check up on them, to offer them support,” Eva said. “It might not be with money because we don’t have any, but with the knowledge we have.”
The BGI garden club hopes to obtain funding through donations in order to continue to grow enough fruits and vegetables to put on the farmer’s markets for the community.
“We’re waiting for a miracle,” Eva said. “Maybe somebody can make a donation.
For more information about the club or to make a donation contact John Garza at (562) 544-6684.
Under Obamacare, most former foster youth will now remain eligible for Medicaid until age 26 – if they remain in the states they lived in when they aged out of care.
Advocates emphasize that because many former foster youth fail to access Medicaid once they’ve left the child welfare system, it is important to keep them continuously covered until age 26 without having to re-determine their eligibility.
It remains to be seen how states will make sure that former foster youth are aware of their eligibility and are able to enroll.
While about 6 million young adults currently have coverage under a parallel health care reform provision that allows them to stay on their parents’ employer-based plans, the provision for foster youth has not yet been implemented. Advocates are calling on states to prepare for the implementation of extended eligibility, and to create systems for enrolling former foster youth as they turn 21, and for informing youths up to age 26 of their eligibility.
“We should make sure that sustaining Medicaid coverage is in their transition plan,” says Tricia Brooks, a senior fellow at the Georgetown University Health Policy Institute’s Center for Children and Families (CCF).
Advocates from several states spoke at a teleconference this month hosted by CCF on the extended eligibility provision.
Qualifying for Extended Eligibility
There are over 400,000 children and youth in the foster care system, and almost all of them are enrolled in Medicaid. Brooke Lehmann, the founder of Childworks, an advocacy organization in Washington, D.C., says that 80 percent of foster youth have one or more chronic medical conditions that must continue to be treated after they age out of care.
“There’s simply a cliff where they were once provided for,” she says.
To qualify for the extended coverage, youths must have been in foster care at the time of their 18th birthday or have aged out of foster care based on their states’ age limits, and have been enrolled in Medicaid. Until now, states had an option (known as the Chafee Option), but not a mandate, to extend Medicaid coverage to former foster youths, and only until age 21. Only 33 states had adopted the Chafee Option. Now all states will be required to cover eligible youth through age 26.
But, under the extended eligibility provision, there is not currently a requirement that states must cover former foster youth who aged out of care in a different state. States simply have the option of doing so.
Brooks says that it will be important for supporters to “make the case” for a requirement that states must extend coverage to these youths. The Department of Health and Human Services could still change its interpretation of the provision and require states to do so. According to Lehmann, states are currently waiting for final regulations from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Otherwise, in order to retain Medicaid coverage, youths will be forced to remain in whatever states they are living in when they age out of foster care. The drawback of that is it could limit educational and job opportunities for young people who are already more likely than their peers to experience homelessness and incarceration. And it appears discriminatory since there is no similar residency requirement for young adults who can stay on their parents’ employer-based plans.
States are in the process of determining how they will verify eligibility; verification will be of particular concern to states if they are to opt to cover youths from out of state. Advocates have suggested the creation of a registry by the federal government that would automate verification.
Preparing for Implementation
Bridget Walsh, a senior policy analyst at the Schuyler Center for Analysis and Advocacy in Albany, says that she has seen “remarkable interest” from state agencies in New York with regard to the extended eligibility provision. Leigh Cobb, the Health Policy Director of Advocates for Children and Youth in Maryland, says that Maryland agencies have been similarly supportive, and that smooth implementation will rely on “as much outreach as possible, as early as possible.”
Both spoke of the importance of states’ preparations to track former foster youths between the ages of 21 and 26 so that they can be informed of their eligibility.
Children Now, an advocacy organization in California, recommends implementing the former foster youth provision on July 1 of this year, given that other youths in California are already benefiting from being allowed to remain on their parents’ plans.
The organization says that pre-enrollment would be ideal for youths who are turning 21 in 2013, so that they do not experience an interruption in their Medi-Cal coverage before being able to enroll under the new provision.
Children Now also advises that contact information must be gathered for these newly eligible youths so that they can be notified as soon as their states implement the extension of coverage. Outreach and education will be critical for not only the youths themselves, but also for foster parents, social workers and health care providers.
Overlooking the Juvenile Justice System
In addition to not securing the coverage of youth who want to leave their home states, the ACA also leaves out some former foster youth who age out when they are under the jurisdiction of the juvenile justice system.
When youth are solely under the jurisdiction of the juvenile justice system (as opposed to being under the dual jurisdiction of the foster care system and the juvenile justice system), their coverage under Medicaid can be suspended or terminated. If a youth ages out of foster care in juvenile justice while not being covered by Medicaid, he or she will not qualify for the extended eligibility provision.
It is not known how many foster youth are in the juvenile justice system. “There are no reliable national data on this,” says Mark Courtney, a professor at the University of Chicago School of Social Services Administration, who specializes in child welfare issues and foster youth.
Courtney points out, though, that many youth who might lose access to the coverage being extended for former foster youth could still qualify for Medicaid under income requirements.
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to offer property tax reductions to encourage the preservation and restoration of historic properties in unincorporated areas of the region.
The change to county code, authorized under California’s 1972 Mills Act and championed by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, will cut property taxes for owners of eligible landmark buildings who agree to maintain and protect them.
“The Mills Act is considered the single most important economic incentive program in California for the restoration and preservation of historic buildings by private property owners,” Department of Regional Planning Director Richard Bruckner said in a letter to the board.
Preservation efforts often spur redevelopment in neighborhoods surrounding landmarks, boosting property values overall, according to Louis Skelton, chairman of the county’s Historical Landmarks and Records Commission.
“The Mills Act will provide an incredible opportunity for community redevelopment,” Skelton told the board.
The Hollywood Bowl is the only property in the county that enjoys landmark status, though many more properties could benefit from the Mills Act program, according to Skelton.
The Landmarks commission will comment on application materials, guidelines and consideration criteria. A 10-year, annually renewable contract between each property owner and the county will set preservation standards.
Bruckner recommended that the board limit contracts under the program to six per year for the first three years and limit total property tax reductions to $300,000 annually. He also suggested that eligibility to be limited to single-family homes with an assessed value of no more than $1 million and non-residential properties assessed at $3 million or less.
Those recommendations will be addressed by the board when it considers the final form of the ordinances for adoption.
More than 20 other municipalities in the county have Mills Act programs, according to Marcello Vavala of the Los Angeles Conservancy.
Children at the East Los Angeles Community Youth Center (ELACYC) now have a greener, more comfortable environment thanks to donations from some local organizations.
The youth center’s landscape is now filled with shady trees, aromatic plants and beautiful green space, according to Barrio Planners Incorporated Landscape Designer Veronica Ortiz.
Ortiz said Barrio Planners Inc employees donated their time recently to plant trees, shrubs, ground cover and fix irrigation lines at the ELACYC.
That was phase one of the Green ELACYC Project, which received donations from John Krupka of Wilkins Irrigation, Kim Goldenstein from VIT Products Inc, Beautification Through Vegetation and So Cal Guerilla Gardening,” Ortiz told EGP.
“The significance of the project is that BPI not only produces plans and drawings but is also hands on for the community,” said Ortiz, who helped coordinate the event.
A total of three new trees were planted in addition to the landscaping.
“The children of the East Los Angeles Community need a clean and safe environment, we are very happy to provide it,” said Ortiz.
Other events are planned in the near future. Barrio Planner’s Comedy Nigh fundraiser on Friday May 24, 2013 at Stevens Steak House support ELACYC’s summer program.
For more information, call (323) 726-7734.
With the school year coming to an end, high school students will be knocking on the doors of local businesses in search of a summer job.
Some businesses in Bell Gardens spent time last week preparing to hire the younger workers by learning more about child labor laws and finding out why teens could be ideal workers.
The Bell Gardens Chamber of Commerce hosted the May 23 roundtable targeted at local businesses looking to hire summer youth employees and interns. Human Resource consultant Brenda Trujillo led the event and discussed child labor laws, such as the work permits required from a minor’s school district.
“It’s summer time, you’re going to get a lot of kids knocking on your door,” Trujillo told the audience made up of Chamber members.
Any person under the age of 18, including high school graduates, needs a school-issued permit to legally work, even in a family owned business, according to California’s child labor laws.
Elena Reed, Career Services Supervisor for the Montebello Unified School District, helps students get the permit they need to work legally. “Students need to visit their high school career center, which offer preparation and programs that could put their foot in the door,” said Reed about students interested in working in the summer. The permit application must be signed by the student and a parent, the employer offering a job and the school district.
Trujillo told EGP that young workers should also contact their school districts to see what job options they have and to learn more about the laws that pertain to them such as hour restrictions, so they don’t get ripped off by employers who can sometimes take advantage of young workers.
Trujillo also discussed age restrictions on certain jobs like places that serve alcohol, as well as the penalties of up to $10,000 that businesses face if they do not take the precaution to safeguard their employees.
Trujillo said minors have a greater risk of being injured on the job. Statistics show that 1 out of 4 children in the United States is injured due to illness or injury caused at a workplace, according to a 2013 California labor law report.
“That’s more than double the average of American adults,” Trujillo said. “There’s a lot of things that happen to kids, which is why we have the laws we have today.”
But according to Leticia D. Chacon, Chief Executive Officer of Human Services Association located in Bell Gardens, it is important to hire young people because they are the future of the community.
“All communities should hire students because they help the community grow,” Chacon said. “If you teach them to work hard then the community is going to grow and be stronger later.”
Trujillo said that young employees tend to be willing to learn and “easy to mold and shape.”
“You can take a teen who has no direction and give them direction and possibly give them a career,” she said.
Chamber President Susan C. Smith is CEO and president of the Loan And Jewelry Co. in Bell Gardens. She said one of her employees who started with her company at a young age has now been with her for 20 years. The key to being hired, says Smith, is for the young person to be professional, take responsibility, know that they have to show up on time and be aware of their appearance.
“Once they get the job, they can pick up numerous skills,” Smith said. “It prepares them for life.”
Retail and food service jobs are popular among teens because the hours are more flexible, but Trujillo advises minors to not be afraid to look at what they are passionate about and to employers in the field and ask if they hire minors or offer apprenticeships.
Esmeralda Peralta works in the Human Resource department at the Family Health Care Centers of Greater Los Angeles clinic in Bell Gardens, focused on learning about the laws that pertain to student volunteers. She said even volunteers are subject to child labor laws and require a permit from their school district.
“We don’t have volunteers right now but I know the summer is coming soon and students are going to come through our doors and ask if we have any volunteer work,” Peralta said. “I want to make sure I know the laws before I bring them in.”
Elizabeth Davis, senior accountant manager for Quality Lift and Equipment in Santa Fe Springs said that by hiring students and minors, business could teach the minor to be more business-oriented and to help out in their community.
“In return [businesses] will get someone who is fresh and able to learn.”
Canoes, kayaks and inflatable rafts can now be floated down the Los Angeles River from the L.A. Zoo area to near Dodgers Stadium, but inner tubes or swimming will attract park rangers who say no.
That’s the word from the Mountain Resources and Conservation Agency, which culminated a years-long effort by opening up 2-1/2 miles of free-flowing river, trees and ponds to the public on Monday.
The stretch of river is lined with concrete banks, but has a rocky bottom and has been known for centuries as a place where subterranean water from the San Fernando Valley surfaced, before it historically disappeared into sand near what is now the Civic Center.
These days, the water is a combination of street runoff and nearly-pure cleaned water from the Tillman Water Treatment Plant in Sepulveda Basin, said MRCA spokeswoman Dash Solarz.
As for the water quality, “it’s been tested and it’s safe, but it’s not recommended for drinking,” she told City News Service.
“Steerable, non-water contact boats, inflatable canoes, those type of water craft are all okay on the river,” she said. Fish have not been stocked, but carp and other finned creatures are in the pools and rapids.
“I saw six fishermen — no fisherwomen — and some little boys with poles, “ Solarz said Monday. “They do catch fish, which is okay so long as they have a license.”
Rangers in kayaks and on bicycles are patrolling the river, which passes Glendale, Griffith Park and a part of Los Angeles aptly known in earlier days as “Frogtown” — now Atwater Village.
The open stretch is from a park at Fletcher Drive south to what rafters would call the “put-out point” at Oros Street, just north of the industrial concrete wasteland that lies beyond the hulking set of bridges for the Golden State (5) Freeway, the Arroyo Seco parkway and several rail tracks.
Several small rapids and riffles are included, Solarz said. But the thrill of rafting down the slot at the concrete bottom of the river towards Long Beach — made famous in dozens of movies and TV shows — is off limits.
Other than a small stretch of grass-lined river in Sepulveda Basin, the newly-opened stretch is nearly the only accessible stretch of the 51-mile-long river, which flows from Chatsworth to the Queen Mary.
“Tons of people have been in there today and everyone’s having a good time,” Solarz said.
TEPEAPULCO, Mexico — It’s a typical Sunday in the town of Tepeapulco, in Mexico’s central highlands. Families gather, cook and catch up.
And that’s the scene at Santiago Domínguez’s home. At 82-years-old, he’s the family patriarch. He’s wearing pressed slacks, his dark hair smoothed back. By lunchtime, he’s surrounded by relatives.
But one person’s always missing: Rosa, Domínguez’s daughter. In the living room, there’s a picture of her as a young woman.
“I thought she’d only be gone three or four years—and then come back,” Domínguez said in Spanish.
But it’s been 18 years since Rosa left for Arizona with her two young sons. They went illegally to join the boys’ father there. She’s now 43 and has never returned to Mexico. Without papers, it’s just too risky.
“It got to the point that I told her, ‘You know, I’m not sure if we’ll see each other again,’” Domínguez said.
But now they might.
A proposed Senate bill would allow millions of immigrants who entered the US illegally to apply for provisional status and the chance to work legally and travel internationally.
“There’s hope like never before,” Domínguez said.
And it’s a feeling felt throughout Mexico.
A few towns over, Catalina Cervera knocks on a neighbor’s gate to visit the house next door—the one her younger sister, Sandra, abandoned.
Cervera’s sister left Mexico with her young children about 10 years ago. They crossed into Arizona illegally, picked produce, and now live near Phoenix.
“They’ve taken the door, the windows,” Cervera said in Spanish as she stood in front of her sister’s house.
Since her sister’s been gone, thieves have stripped her house clean, even the roof. It’s a cinder block skeleton.
Cervera said she and her sister feel impotencia, powerlessness—they want to see each other, but can’t.
Her sister couldn’t visit when their mother was dying. And a few years ago, Cervera couldn’t get a tourist visa to see her sister in Arizona.
Cervera said she lacked what’s needed for a US visa: things like a bank account, a business, or a credit card. But now she can envision her sister—and her sister’s kids—visiting Mexico again.
“They are motivated with the dream that this immigration reform is going to happen,” Cervera said of her relatives in Arizona.
But as Congress debates the legislation, the wait continues.
Back in Tepeapulco, Domínguez’s tradition is to sing to his daughter a famous ballad over the phone. It’s called “Sin Ti” or Without You.
“What else matters if being far from you makes me cry,” he sang.
Over a 1,000 miles away, in Arizona, his daughter Rosa has become an activist for immigration reform. She asks to only use her first name because of her unauthorized status.
“I want this to happen now, because our parents’ lives won’t wait,” Rosa said in Spanish.
And if reform does happen and she can travel to Mexico freely one day?
She said she’ll surprise her dad with a mariachi band. And they’ll play that ballad he’s sung to her for the last 18 years.
This article appeared at New America Media.
21-year-old Ernesto Ramirez has been identified as the victim of a fatal shooting that took place Tuesday around 5 p.m. on the 5700 block of Benner Street, according to Sgt. Christopher Gomez. Ramirez died at a local hospital, according to Christopher No of the Los Angeles Police Department’s Media Relations Section.
The murder suspect, described as a man in his 20s, was seen fleeing up a set of public stairs that connects two streets, No said.
Northeast LAPD detectives investigating the crime have not determined a motive or if the shooting was gang related, Sgt. Christopher Gomez told EGP on Wednesday. Police are asking assistance from the public. Anyone with information is asked to call Det. Dicroce or Yamada (323) 344-5744 during business hours; the watch commander at (323) 344-5701 during after hours; or by texing Crime Stoppers by texting to phone number 274637 (C-R-I-M-E-S on most keypads) with a cell phone. All text messages should begin with the letters “LAPD.”
Two men were fatally shot in separate incidents in East Los Angeles last weekend that also left a third man injured.
Two men were shot, one fatally, on May 25 around 2:50 a.m. on the 600 block of S. McDonnell Avenue, according to Sgt. Gallardo of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s East Los Angeles Station. The name of the man killed was not immediately released. A second victim was shot in the leg but his medical condition was not readily available. The shooting suspect is described as a male Hispanic with long black hair, about 5 ft-7 inches tall and weighing about 150 pounds, according to sheriff’s Sgt. Diane Hecht.
The second shooting took place at the 4200 block of East 1st Street on May 26 and the 24-year-old victim died at the hospital, according Deputy Tony Moore of the Sheriff’s Headquarters Bureau. His name has not been released.
It was unclear on Wednesday if the two shooting incidents could be related.
Anyone with information regarding these crimes is asked to call Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau at (323) 890-5500 or call “Crime Stoppers” at (800) 222-TIPS (8477) or use the website http://lacrimestoppers.org.