Tuesday May 19, 2009 Special Elections Ballot Recommendations

May 7, 2009 by · 5 Comments 

The coming election is not only coming on the heels of a general election, it also seems to be adding to voters fatigue of what seems to be an election every six months.

Now the governor and State Legislature have loaded up the coming ballot with six measures, two of which stand to raise taxes even further than those already imposed on the state’s taxpayers— as the state struggles to fix the budget mess that has left the state billions of dollars short, despite already raising taxes and cutting billions in expenditures.

While we are not against all taxes, it seems to us that the state lawmakers have failed to adequately develop solutions that will keep us from facing the same issues in the near future. Rather than passing a short-term budget while pursuing long-term solutions and changes, the governor and state legislators have again resorted to a mish mash of hastily written ballot propositions to ratify their budget plan.

While we have no doubt that the challenges facing the state, and therefore its residents are complex and severe, and that failure to pass some of the ballot measures will hurt many, we cannot help but believe that some of the measures on the ballot do little to fix the state’s long term budget woes.

We have therefore kept in mind the voter’s heavy burden of higher taxes on already existing taxes in making our ballot recommendations.

State Ballot Measures

Prop 1A— State Budget. Changes California Budget Process. Limits State Spending. Increases “Rainy Day” Budget Stabilization Fund. Increases size of state “rainy day” fund from 5% to 12.5% of the General Fund while a portion of the annual deposits into that fund would be dedicated to savings for future economic downturns, and the remainder would be available to fund education, infrastructure, and debt repayment, or for use in a declared emergency. It would require additional revenue above historic trends to be deposited into state “rainy day” fund, limiting spending.

This proposition promises to keep state spending to a limit based on a ten-year revenue trend, (good). It mandates a larger rainy day fund than the one we already have, (good). It also extends the temporary increase in taxes of September two years more, (bad). We might have been persuaded to endorse Prop 1A if not for the two-year extension contained in the authorizing legislation, since no one knows what the economy will be like in two years. Further, the proposition’s language allows for unilateral mid-term reductions in state spending by the governor. NO RECOMMENDATION.

Prop 1B— Prop 1B— Education Funding. Payment Plan. Requires supplemental payments to local school districts and community colleges to address recent budget cuts. Annual payments begin in 2011–12 and are funded from the state’s Budget Stabilization Fund until the total amount has been paid. Payments to local school districts will be allocated in proportion to average daily attendance and may be used for classroom instruction, textbooks and other local educational programs. It has a potential state savings of up to several billion dollars in 2009–10 and 2010–11 and potential state costs of billions of dollars annually thereafter.

Allocates 1.5 percent of estimated General Fund to education beginning in October 2011 until a total of $9.3 billion in payments have been made. Again we don’t know what the future holds as far as state revenues are concerned, but this measure, which is dependent on the passage of Prop 1A before it can be enacted, will require restoring Prop 98 cuts before under a new formula, and could cause the delay of maintenance factor payments, according to the Legislative Analyst. NO RECOMMENDATION.

Prop 1C— Lottery Modernization Act. Allows the state lottery to be modernized to improve its performance with increased payouts, improved marketing, and effective management. Requires the state to maintain ownership of the lottery and authorizes additional accountability measures and protects funding levels for schools currently provided by lottery revenues. Increased lottery revenues will be used to address current budget deficit and reduce the need for additional tax increases and cuts to state programs. Would authorize the state to sell $5.0 billion in bonds that would be repaid with lottery revenues. Allocate no less than 87 percent of lottery revenues to repay lottery bond debt and for prizes; allow more than half of revenues for prizes and reduce to 13 percent from 16 percent for operating expenses. Allows state to replace schools share of lottery revenues with General Fund dollars.

Unless the lottery can spend more money promoting lottery games, revenue won’t rise and bond repayment will be difficult. Voters approved the lottery with the understanding that revenue generated would be directed to schools, not the General Fund. VOTE NO.

Prop 1D— Protects Children’s Services Funding. Helps Balance State Budget. Provides more than $600 million to protect children’s programs in difficult economic times and redirects existing tobacco tax money to protect health and human services for children, including services for at-risk families, services for children with disabilities, and services for foster children. Temporarily allows the redirection of existing money to fund health and human service programs for children 5 years old and under. Ensures counties retain funding for local priorities and helps balance state budget.

Redirects a portion of the $2.5 billion of excess funds from voter approved tobacco tax to pay for children’s health and social services to prevent deep cuts to children’s healthcare. There are large amounts of excess revenue sitting not being used by the Commissions that should be used to protect children. VOTE YES.

Prop 1E— Mental Health Services Funding. Temporary Reallocation. Helps Balance State Budget. Amends Mental Health Services Act (Proposition 63 of 2004) to transfer funds, for a two-year period, from mental health programs under that act to pay for mental health services for children and young adults provided through the Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnosis, and Treatment Program. Provides more than $225 million in flexible funding for mental health programs and helps balance state budget during this difficult economic time.

Temporarily redirects a portion of Mental Health Services Act to fund children’s health programs at risk. Since we have already endorsed redirecting Children’s Services Funding we believe it would be unfair to take from mental health funding when there is already a shortage in mental health service in the state. VOTE NO.

Prop 1F— Elected Officials’ Salaries Prevents Pay Increases During Budget Deficit Years. Encourages balanced state budgets by preventing elected Members of the Legislature and statewide constitutional officers, including the Governor, from receiving pay raises in years when the state is running a deficit. Directs the Director of Finance to determine whether a given year is a deficit year. Prevents the Citizens Compensation Commission from increasing elected officials’ salaries in years when the state Special Fund for Economic Uncertainties is in the negative by an amount equal to or greater than one percent of the General Fund.

Prohibits legislators, the governor and other elected state officials from getting pay raises whenever the state is running a budget deficit. Makes perfect sense to us, since it is the job of the governor and the legislature to ensure a balanced budget, they should not be allowed to take a pay increase when the state is facing a shortfall. VOTE YES.

Elected Officials

United States Representative 32nd District, unexpired term ending Jan. 3, 2011.
Eastern Group Publications has taken a hard look at the candidates running to fill out the seat left vacant by Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis. We found in many areas, particularly among the democrats, a great deal of agreement on the environment, transportation, healthcare, immigration, and the economy. While we agree that the business of government is to provide for the welfare and security of its people, we have become increasingly concerned that too many of our elected officials today are unaware, or care about how they will pay for the services they offer. Small businesses employ more than 70% of the country’s workers, including in the 32nd Congressional District, where unemployment rates are above 12%, higher than the state average.

Our endorsement goes to State Senator Gil Cedillo.  Mr. Cedillo has been able to convince us that he will represent California’s small business owners and their workers in an effective and resourceful way. His view that our notion of infrastructure should no longer be solely about brick and mortar projects, but also about a new network of social service infrastructure, such as building a new healthcare delivery system, deals with the changing nature of business and services in tthe US. We also believe that as the debate on immigration reform heats up in the Senate and Congress, his extensive knowledge of the issue will serve California and the country well. Cedillo has also been made aware of Eastern Group’s concerns over elected officials profligate spending, and has addressed our concerns to our satisfaction.

Los Angeles City Attorney
The race between Carmen Trutanich, an environmental attorney, and Jack Weiss, attorney/L.A. city councilmember, has been such a muckraking campaign that it is a wonder that any voter would want to vote for either one of the candidates for Los Angeles’ top law enforcement official.

We at EGP despise dirty campaign tactics and are finding it difficult to endorse either Weiss or Trutancih. But a decision must be made so we are reluctantly endorsing Jack Weiss for the Office of City Attorney, simply because of his stance on public safety and budget restraint.

Los Angeles Community College Districts Seats no. 2 and 6
We are endorsing the two incumbents: Angela Reddock, member of the Board of Trustees for Office No. 2 and Nancy Pearlman, Board of Trustees for Office No. 6.

Our Community College Districts are facing huge challenges in endeavoring to accommodate more students due to our area’s high unemployment and budget cuts at the state College and University levels, and they must do it on less funding. We therefore believe this is no time to lose the experience the incumbents have in managing the Los Angeles Community College District.

Commerce ‘Studying’ Projected Budget Deficit

May 7, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

The City of Commerce is taking early action to shore up a projected $1.9 million deficit in the 2009-2010 fiscal year budget.

Budget meetings usually begin in late May or June, but the city scheduled its first budget overview meeting in April, and is following up with regular workshops to discuss a slate of potential budget cuts in each department.

City officials think the deficit may extend to the 2010-2011 fiscal year, if not longer, which has prompted them to set aside a $1.5 million stabilization fund. This money would be spread evenly over three years and come out of the city’s reserve. This year’s injection of $500,000 still leaves a $1.4 million deficit.

Like many other local governments, Commerce has seen a sharp decline in its sales tax revenue. The city has taken in half a million dollars less in sales tax revenue compared to the same time last year.

City Manager Jorge Rifa addresses council during a budget meeting. (EGP Photo by Elizabeth Chou)

City Manager Jorge Rifa addresses council during a budget meeting. (EGP Photo by Elizabeth Chou)

Revenue from the Commerce Casino, which brings in more than one third of the city’s funds, has dropped $1.2 million compared to the same time last year.

The revenue decrease has not put the current year’s budget in the red, but Finance Director Vilko Domic said they don’t yet know how the city will fare in the last two months of this fiscal year, which ends June 30th.

Based on current economic conditions, the city is expecting sales tax revenue to go down by at least five percent next year, said Domic. They also expect to see decreased revenue next year from business licenses and building permits.

Meanwhile, the city is facing a cost of living increase for employee salaries and public safety contracts, along with costlier health benefits packages. The city has not planned any other operating increases and is working from the same $50.3 million operating budget from last year.

Initially the city asked the employee organizations if they would forego a 3.5 percent cost of living increase, which would save the city $1.1 million. It seemed to be the most prudent solution, Domic said, adding that they also told employees they would look for reductions in other areas.

“It’s just a request on our behalf,” he said.

“We knew this was going to be frowned upon by the employees, so a parallel track to benefit all of us would be to ask all the department heads to look at all their budgets and come up with two, three, five, seven and ten percent budget reductions,” Domic said.

Each city department will present the ramifications of increasing degrees of budget cuts. Reductions made around the two percent range include eliminating or reducing overtime, travel expenditures, gifts to residents and costs for running city events like the Miss Commerce pageant. The city has already voted to cut overtime by $123,225, travel and training by $107,233.

The city went more in-depth with the Parks and Recreations department at a recent budget discussion meeting. In past years, a fifth of the city’s general fund budget has gone to running the department. This makes it the second largest expense next to public safety, which takes up over a third of the city’s general fund.

At the Parks and Recreation budget meeting, the city council voted to introduce a fee for an adult exercise class and to renegotiate instructor fees. The city rarely charges for public services, and fees are not currently charged for any other exercise classes. As a rule, the city provides services to residents, including bus service, entrance into the city pool and gym, for free.

The city council also looked at eliminating the city’s under-used marksmanship range. In the last year only 57 people used the range. It costs $204,000 to operate the range, but the city only brings in a little over $70,000 in revenue, mostly from contracts with local public safety agencies that use it for training. The city is spending $2,350 on each person who currently uses the range, which Parks and Recreations Director Jim Jimenez says is “off the charts” compared to how much is spent per person for other services.

But because of the range’s history in the city – it has been around since the 1970s and has produced a number of talented sharpshooters – the city council voted to keep the range. Last June, the city directed staff to put together a promotional campaign for the range, but because of a recall election that interrupted the mid-year reviews that usually happen in the fall, it was never implemented, Jimenez said.

At the same meeting, the city also reviewed budget reduction options for the Public Information Office, including cuts to equipment rentals, advertising, and doing away with spotlights at the Miss Commerce pageant.

After the departmental budget meetings, the city will come back and consider the budget as a whole. Decisions made at these meetings will be brought back to the regular council meetings for an official vote.

City of Commerce Employees Association President Sandy Enriquez says so far the city seems to be working in good faith to look for areas where fat could be trimmed.

The next meeting is tonight at 6:30 pm in the City Council Chambers located at 5655 Jillson Way. This meeting will feature discussion and presentations from the Library and the Finance departments.

The city council will go over the Transportation and Community Development departments on May 21, and the Community Services and Human Resources departments on May 26.

Commerce has tentatively scheduled three more meetings after that and are shooting to adopt the budget at the June 23 City Council meeting.

Mayor’s Boyle Heights Town Hall Taken Over by Teachers

May 7, 2009 by · 6 Comments 

It was supposed to be a forum for Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to present his proposed Los Angeles city budget to the community, but the Boyle Heights Town Hall meeting at Our Lady of Talpa was quickly taken over by a vocal group of teachers who wanted to discuss teacher layoffs, and nothing more.

The town hall started off friendly enough with the mayor making sure that translation services were being offered, praising Councilmember Jose Huizar for his support and work, and acknowledging the teachers’ and their supporters presence—who made up about a third of the audience.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa held back-to-back town hall meetings in Highland Park, right, and Boyle Heights, left, on Monday that drew different responses from residents. In Highland Park he was greeted by a receptive audience, but in Boyle Heights, he was besieged by pink-slipped teachers and their supporters.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa held back-to-back town hall meetings in Highland Park, right, and Boyle Heights, left, on Monday that drew different responses from residents. In Highland Park he was greeted by a receptive audience, but in Boyle Heights, he was besieged by pink-slipped teachers and their supporters.

Referencing his plan to save city jobs by asking employees to work one hour without pay, go without pay raises and to contribute more to their pensions, Villaraigosa also said he believes there is a way to avoid teacher layoffs. But “I’d have to be a snake salesman to look you in the eye and tell you that we can do all of that with a snap of my fingers,” Villaraigosa said. “It’s going to mean everyone participating.”

Teachers and supporters appeared to be prepared for a showdown, however, with about a third of the audience standing throughout the meeting and several people and children holding up signs that read: “Actions Speak Louder than Words,” “Don’t Increase Class Size,” “93 percent of Teachers at Roosevelt don’t have confidence in the Mayor’s Partnership,” to cite a few.

The mayor said he agreed with teachers and their supporters that the goal of federal stimulus dollars is to save jobs, and that he too does not want teacher lay offs or class size increases. But it was clear the teachers weren’t going to be swayed from why they were there: to press their agenda that no teachers be laid off.

Villaraigosa attempted to remind the audience of his track record supporting labor unions and his efforts to prevent teacher layoffs by LAUSD, but he also implied that the teachers’ union, UTLA, needs to be more flexible.

“The fact of the matter is there is no way to resolve this budget, even with the school district, without some sacrifice all the way. The numbers are too big. Particularly right now, it looks like the people of California are not going to pass the initiatives on May 19…if we don’t pass those initiatives, the budget deficit in LA Unified is not going to get that much better,” said Villaraigosa, who was shouted down as he tried to speak.

The loud and heated back and forth between the mayor and the teachers made it hard for anyone with a non-teacher related questions on the budget to be heard.

At one point, the police even stepped in to control a rowdy member of the audience, and moderator Sal Martinez, Vice President of the Boyle Heights Neighborhood Council, asked that the audience to be more respectful.

The mayor was even interrupted when he agreed with a speaker.

“I agree with you,” said Villaraigosa. “Did you hear me? I said I agree with you!”

“I’m being honest and telling it to your face,” said the mayor in response to other audience comments.

Many of the teachers present were part of the Mayor’s Partnership Schools. Kirti Baranwal, a teacher at Gompers Middle School in Watts, told EGP the mayor’s schools were the most under-funded and they were at risk of losing 60 percent of their staff.

German Gurrola, a teacher at West Adams Prep, told EGP he wants school board members Monica Garcia and Yolie Flores, who have the mayor’s support, to change their vote and rescind layoffs.

The only time the protesters seemed to cheer loudly was when the mayor talked about cuts not involving teachers, such as a 10 percent cuts to his office budget, mandated work furloughs and $30,000 in cuts to his salary over the last two years.

Many of the teachers and their supporters were not from Boyle Heights, but were from South LA.
However, Mario Hurtado, a pink-slipped history teacher from Roosevelt, said he counted about 10 teachers and 10 students from Roosevelt.

He told EGP they wanted Title 1 Funds, used for ESL Programs and supplemental school supplies, to be less restrictive and to be used temporarily to pay for teacher and staff salaries.

“Because we are in an economic crisis and short on funds, restrictions on Title 1 should be waived—we might be short on supplies, like Post-Its, but we’ll have teachers,” said Hurtado.
The mayor was able to answer a question from a Ramona Gardens resident who wanted to know what he is doing for their community besides increasing policing. Villaraigosa responded by listing the anti-gang and the youth intervention programs that are targeting their community and giving young people an alternative to gangs.

He attempted to answer a handful of questions not related to teachers’ layoffs, but his responses were mostly drowned out by the teachers’ protests.

Matt Szabo, the mayor’s press secretary, told EGP the purpose of the town hall was for the mayor to address the community’s concerns and be accessible.

“Not a single person can walk away from this forum and say that the mayor dodged questions or didn’t share their concern,” Szabo said.

Mayor Pushes Public Safety in Northeast

May 7, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

When Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa concluded his budget presentation at Monte Vista Elementary School on Monday afternoon, he asked the audience if they had any questions. In the crowded auditorium full of adults, one 11-year-old girl seated in a front row quickly raised her hand. After the Mayor spotted her, Abigail Munguia, a fifth grader at the Highland Park school, offered a simple question to which the Mayor admitted he had no easy answer. “How can you make our school safer?” she asked.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa held back-to-back town hall meetings in Highland Park, right, and Boyle Heights, left, on Monday that drew different responses from residents. In Highland Park he was greeted by a receptive audience, but in Boyle Heights, he was besieged by pink-slipped teachers and their supporters. (EGP Photo by Paul Aranda, Jr.)

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa held back-to-back town hall meetings in Highland Park, right, and Boyle Heights, left, on Monday that drew different responses from residents. In Highland Park he was greeted by a receptive audience, but in Boyle Heights, he was besieged by pink-slipped teachers and their supporters. (EGP Photo by Paul Aranda, Jr.)

Although he could not offer a quick solution, the Mayor utilized the question to reinforce the message he repeated throughout the session: massive cuts in city services and personnel will lead to a direct increase in local crime. The Mayor read off the latest Los Angeles Police Department statistics that show reductions in every crime category in Northeast Los Angeles except robberies.

“If we start having to cut, all these numbers are going to go up,” the Mayor warned the audience of approximately 150 parents, students and community members.

In response to Munguia’s question, the Mayor said he planned to secure federal stimulus funds to hire 500 additional school police officers. Although he said that schools are generally safer than the surrounding communities, he called the four to five lockdowns at Monte Vista over the last few months “ridiculous.”

The town hall was the latest in a citywide series the Mayor has held to build public support for his budget proposals. The Los Angeles City Council, city employees and union leadership will consider a combination of spending reductions, city department consolidations and private investments included in the proposal. The Mayor’s office created new Web site —KeepLAWorking.com — for city employees to see the menu of options available to balance the budget faced with a $530 million deficit in the upcoming fiscal year.

The Mayor told the audience that everyone needs to sacrifice in order to avoid massive layoffs and cuts in public services.

“I’m unabashedly pro-teacher. I’m unabashedly pro-cop, pro-firefighter,” the Mayor said. “I think it’s important for us to protect jobs that provide services to people.

“When you have a 12.5 percent unemployment rate, it does no good to lay off teachers, firefighters, police officers, cafeteria workers and librarians,” he continued, “that’s the wrong way to go.

“I don’t want to do that.”

On Tuesday, the City Council voted to begin the process of identifying 1,600 positions that can be eliminated from city departments.

As part of his budget proposal, the Mayor has asked the city’s employee unions to look at furloughs, higher pension contributions and reduced health benefits.

The Mayor connected the potential effects of massive layoffs to the shootings last month outside the Highland Park Recreation Center that left two high school students dead after an alleged gang fight. The recreation center is adjacent to a city library that was filled with young school children at the time of the still unsolved shootings.

“If you cut X number of librarians, it will mean cuts in [library] hours,” he said.

The Mayor warned that cuts in school and park personnel would lead more youth to become bored and more susceptible to criminal activity. In addition to avoiding layoffs, the Mayor pressed that his budget increases funding for public safety, including an expansion of the Summer Night Lights program launched last year.

The number of parks that offer the program will double from eight to 16 this summer. In Northeast, L.A., the program serves Cypress Park and Glassell Park.

Before the meeting, EGP asked a group of Monte Vista students seated in the auditorium if they had any questions for the Mayor. Lisa Castillo, 10, wanted to know, “How is our community any safer?”

The UCLA aspirant said she felt safe at her school before she proceeded to give a detailed account of the shootings outside the Highland Park Recreation Center. As she spoke, her classmates huddled around to hear the latest accounts of an incident embedded in the minds of the students at the northeast school where drop drills serve as preparation for a shooting, not an earthquake.

Wyvernwood Owners May Be Facing Financial Worries

May 7, 2009 by · 4 Comments 

Wyvernwood had been named as a “distressed property” on a commercial real estate website and loan default is imminent, said the Comite de la Esperanza, the Wyvernwood Garden Apartment neighborhood association, at their last meeting on April 27.

Lawyer Elena Popp, who represents the Comite, told attendees that it was not confirmed that the company had financial problems but it was possible.

According to a press release sent by Popp, Co-Star Inc. which advertises itself as the number one commercial real estate information company, had reported the following about Fifteen Group on January 14:

“The loan was transferred to the special servicing department based on correspondence from the borrower indicating an imminent default. The owners requested a modification and/or forbearance period under the loan.”

Tim Trainor, spokesman for Co-Star Inc., confirmed the information, saying Co-Star was just reporting what the credit agency reported, that it was one of the largest loans placed in servicing that quarter.

At the Comite meeting, Popp explained that the real estate company reported lists on large properties at risk of defaulting.

“In January, [Fifteen Group] company appeared on the list, what it said was—not that they had defaulted on their loan, because they were still current—but they had sent a letter to the bank indicating that it was possible that they would miss payments and asked for a forbearance period under the loan,” explained Popp.

Popp said many large companies had overextended themselves and when the economic crisis hit, they had more debt and loans than money.

She told those present that it was a double-edged sword because while the news indicated that while Fifteen Group had money to meet their current responsibilities, they may not have enough money to continue with their plans to demolish Wyvernwood and build luxury apartments.

George I. Gonzalez, project manager for Fifteen Group, was present at the meeting but later refused to answer questions by EGP saying he needed a copy of Popp’s and the Commitee’s press release about the meeting. A copy was provided to Gonzalez by EGP, with permission from Popp, but he gave no explanation by time of publication.

Responding to a question from EGP last Monday, Popp said Fifteen Group probably did not have a good answer and it may have over extended itself.

Popp and the Comite said they continue to keep a watchful eye over the development project and the Environmental Impact Report. She accused Fifteen Group of contracting a person to help accelerate the environmental report.

“It sounds kind of strange that the same person who they are paying is writing the report,” said Popp.

At the meeting, a price list for repairs that was handed to residents when they paid April’s rent was also discussed. The list was discussed in terms of whether they were legitimate costs the residents should pay or if they were “wear and tear” repairs that were the company’s responsibility.

Popp told the residents they had two options: not to pay the repairs and risk being evicted, or pay the cost and unite to sue the company in Small Claims Court.

Leonardo Lopez showed EGP that an exterior paint job was in process in some apartment buildings.

“People think the apartments are not going to be demolished any more, they think everything is fine, because they see that they are painting, but in reality, it is a strategy they are using and that they have to do. Because, sure the company is fine, it’s making a profit—it’s in balance—but everything is not secure,” said Lopez. “We don’t have evidence that they are going bankrupt, and we can’t say that, but we have to let people know what we know, the little that we know. But yes, the project is still moving forward, they want demolition. They have not taken that back.”
Wyvernwood is a 153 building apartment community with 1,187 units on 70 acres in Boyle Heights. It’s located at 2901 East Olympic Boulevard, neighboring the industrial city of Vernon. Wyvernwood was built in the 1930s as housing for WWII soldiers and their families.

Fifteen Group acquired Wyvernwood in 1997 and has plans to transform the community, demolishing in phases to accommodate current residents and give them first choice in buildings that are completed. The final project will be 400 condos for sale, approximately 1,200 rental units, and about 660 low-income units.

Steven Fink, Wyvernwood owner, told EGP in July that Wyvernwood had a 20 percent turnover rental rate, and the project would provide much needed infrastructure upgrades to water lines, sewer lines, telecommunications, among other things.

Cinco de Mayo: The Real Story – Part 2

May 7, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Mexicans in California were so overjoyed upon hearing the news of the victory of the Mexican army over the French army, that they spontaneously celebrated the feat.

But, while the Battle of Puebla occurred in 1862—the American Civil War would rage on for three more years and the French would occupy Mexico for five more years. So how did this first battle become so memorable for Mexicans? Why did this one, out of the hundreds of battles and skirmishes of both wars, become so important and meaningful?

Because the original Battle of Puebla was magnified, and seared into Mexican memory when it was repeated one year later.

En el estado de Puebla, en el municipio de Zacapoaxtla, cuya población formó el batallón que rechazó el ataque invasor, la contienda del 5 de mayo se celebra desde 1864 con una feria que incluye una recreación histórica de la Batalla de Puebla. / In the Zacapoaxtla municipality of the Mexican state of Puebla, whose population formed the battalion that fought back the invaders, the Battle of Puebla has been celebrated since 1864 with a fair that includes a reenactment of the May 5th battle. (EFE Photo by Saúl Lopez)

In the Zacapoaxtla municipality of the Mexican state of Puebla, whose population formed the battalion that fought back the invaders, the Battle of Puebla has been celebrated since 1864 with a fair that includes a reenactment of the May 5th battle. (EFE Photo by Saúl Lopez)

Horrified that a group of ragtag Mexicans had defeated the mightiest army on earth. French honor demanded a re-match. So, in the months following their defeat, Napoleon III sent new French troops, cannon, horses and supplies to Mexico.

Far away in California, Mexicans and other Hispanos read in the Spanish-language newspapers the details of the fortification of Puebla, and were aware that the French would return.

Finally, ten months after their disastrous defeat, the much larger French army set out on the road from Veracruz to Mexico City, arriving at the gates of Puebla on March 13, 1863. After taking a week to ring the town with artillery and batter away at the walls of Fort San Lorenzo with cannon balls, the French charged in on the evening of March 26, 1863, and the second Battle of Puebla was on.

The French army was again driven back. Two days later, on March 28, the French again charged out of their trenches to take the town, and again were driven back after ninety minutes of fierce fighting.

Nearly 1,500 miles away, crowds of Hispanos—Californios, Mexicans, Central Americans and South Americans—anxiously awaited the daily appearance of the Spanish-language newspapers to find out what was happening in Puebla. The president of the Junta Patriotica in Los Angeles wrote to the paper, La Voz de Mejico, published in San Francisco:

“[H]emos estado aquí con una ansiedad, con un deseo vehemente de saber el resultado de esa Iliada terrible y sangrienta que se está repres[e]ntando en Puebla de Zaragoza.” (We have been in anxiety here, with a passionate desire to learn the results of that terrible, bloody Iliad that is being played out in Puebla de Zaragoza.)

The second Battle of Puebla was more thrilling to the thousands of Mexicans, Californians, Central and South Americans than the first had been, because it lasted much longer, allowing for collective emotions to grow. Far from the battle, the editor of La Voz de Méjico remarked:

“Jamàs causa alguna ha escitado en los pechos de los mejicanos emociones tan vivas y violentas.” (Never before has any cause excited such lively and violent emotions in the breasts of Mexicans.)
The French siege of Puebla lasted weeks, and the heroic resistance of Puebla became a beacon for those who supported freedom and democracy. By coincidence, the first anniversary of the original battle one year earlier on Cinco de Mayo was fast approaching and taking on symbolic importance. For the French, it was important to take Puebla before the anniversary of their ignominious defeat, thus denying a moral victory to Juarez and the forces of democracy. Equally, for the citizens of Mexico and for Hispanos in California, if the Mexican army could hold on at least until May 5, it would mark their desire to defend freedom and democracy.

A week before the symbolic date of Cinco de Mayo, the French decided to gamble all that they could. After shelling the fort of Santa Ines for four days, French sappers placed explosives under the wall and blew open a breach. French artillery played over the ruins for hours, lobbing solid balls and explosive shells intended to drive the Mexican defenders away.

Then, hordes of attacking French columns stormed out of their trenches and clambered over the ruins, sure that no human could have survived. Would they be able to take Puebla before the first anniversary of the Cinco de Mayo? Would freedom and democracy finally be beaten?

To read Part 2 click here

Next week Part 3 of “Cinco de Mayo: The Real Story.

David E. Hayes-Bautista is Professor of Medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine, UCLA. His most recent book is La Nueva California: Latinos in the Golden State (University of California Press, 2004)

2009 Mexican Mother of the Year

May 7, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

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Continuing a 58-year tradition that began in 1951, the Mexican Mother of the Year Association honored Alicia Salinas Ayala, 79, as this year’s Mexican Mother of the Year event held on May 2, and celebrated with a special Mariachi Mass at St. Mary Church in Boyle Heights.

Alicia Salinas Ayala, a 47-year City Terrace resident and member of St. Lucy Church choir, has dedicated more than 20 years to serving in various community organizations. Among her many accomplishments, Ayala was a pioneer facilitator and instructor in preventive health education for Spanish-speaking residents at community hospitals and churches and for the last six years has served on the AltaMed Health Services Board of Directors as a consumer representative.

Born in Boyle Heights but raised in Sonora, Mexico, Ayala, who is now a widow, has two sons, and is grandmother of five and still lives in the same house where her children grew up.

Garfield Is Leading Tight Eastern League Prep Baseball Race

May 7, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

The race for Eastern League baseball title is traditionally competitive and this year is no different.

Garfield entered the next-to-last week of the season leading it by a game over Bell and Roosevelt. The Bulldogs (14-10 overall) took a 10-4 record into Tuesday’s game at South Gate. Bell and Roosevelt were 9-5 going into their game Tuesday at Bell.

The Bulldogs last week improved their chances of winning the title by scoring a 9-2 victory over the host Rough Riders in a game played at the Roybal Learning Complex downtown.

“We’re playing good ball and the kids are working hard to reach their goal of winning the league title,” Coach Ruben Torres said. “We just have to find a way to get healthy.”

Garfield High’s Oscar Preciado slides home safely before Roosevelt catcher Luis Ceja can apply the tag in last week’s Eastern League game. Garfield won, 9-2. (EGP photo by Mario Villegas)

Garfield High’s Oscar Preciado slides home safely before Roosevelt catcher Luis Ceja can apply the tag in last week’s Eastern League game. Garfield won, 9-2. (EGP photo by Mario Villegas)

Garfield was without outfielders Rogelio Montes and Anthony Martinez, the 3-4 batters in the order, in a 10-9 loss to Long Beach Poly in a Redondo Tournament game last Saturday in Long Beach. Montes missed because of a pulled pectoral muscle and Martinez has a hamstring injury.

“We really need those guys in the lineup,” Torres said. “It’s too bad for Montes because he was just starting to get hot.”

Montes went 2-for3 and had two runs batted in to help lead Garfield to the April 29 win over Roosevelt. The Bulldogs had seven hits, but received seven walks and had four hit batters.

Joe Gomez pitched a complete game and helped himself with a two-run single. The junior allowed five hits, struck out one walked three in improving to 5-3.

“He got into trouble a couple of times but he really competed and made good pitches when he needed to,” Torres said.

Montes delivered a two-run single and Jose Maya drove in another run on a groundout in a three-run third inning.

A two-run double by Oscar Preciado highlighted a three-run fifth for Garfield, which also got a run-scoring single from Jose Rojas.

In the seventh, Gomez brought in two runs with a single and Manuel Valdovinos knocked in two with a single.

Garfield plays Bell at 3 p.m. today and travels to Jordan Tuesday.

Rough Riders Rebound to Hammer Huntington Park
Roosevelt, which played Garfield without benched starters Jonthan Alatriste and Rafael Arcos, came back to destroy Huntington Park, 25-7, in four innings April 30 at Salt Lake Park in Huntington Park. The Rough Riders (24-5) banged 26 hits, including 11 doubles.

Alatriste had two doubles and six RBIs and starting pitcher Andres Perez raised his record to 6-0.

Roosevelt defeated Marshall, 2-0, Saturday in a Redondo Tournament game. Andrew Perez, Tony Almeda and Alvin Herrera combined to pitch the shutout. Herrera (7-3), who relieved starter Perez and returned to the mound to also relieve Almeda, got the victory.

The Rough Riders scored in the first inning on a sacrifice fly by Frank Aguilar that scored Brian Torres, who singled, stole second and moved to third on an error. Almeda singled to score Aguilar in the sixth. Aguilar led off with a single and advanced to second when Torres was hit by a pitch.

‘Gifts for Guns’ Coming to East and Northeast LA, No Questions Asked

May 7, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

Local law enforcement agencies are holding Gun Buyback events on May 8 and May 9 in East Los Angeles and Northeast Los Angeles in an effort to get firearms off the streets.

The Sheriff’s Department will hold a “Gifts for Guns” drive-through event in East Los Angeles on Friday and Saturday and will exchange $100 gift cards for handguns, rifles and $200 cards for assault weapons. They will be located at the Belvedere Park parking lot on the 100th block of Mednik Avenue.

The Los Angeles Police Department will also offer $100 and $200 gift cards for firearms and assault weapons on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Ramona Hall in Northeast Los Angeles located at 4580 Figueroa Street.

The events are part of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s 2009 Gang Plan and are held in conjunction with LAPD, the City Attorney’s Office, LA County Sheriff’s Department, and community and faith-based organizations.

The weapons that are bought back will be melted down and destroyed.

Commerce Business Owner Convicted of Bribery

May 7, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

The owner of Financial Plus Investments in Commerce was convicted Tuesday in Los Angeles federal court of bribing a bank manager to falsify bank records, as party of an investment scheme that targeted the Latino community in East Los Angeles.

The jury found that Mexican national, Juan Rangel, 45, l secretly paid a Bank of America branch manager to falsify bank documents he later used to induce lending companies to approve more than $1 million in loans for “straw borrowers,” U.S. Attorney Thomas P. O’Brien said.

Rangel promised investors a 100 percent “protected” annual return .

Rangel faces a statutory maximum penalty of 95 years in federal prison when he is sentenced by U.S. District Judge George H. King on August 3.

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