Eficia Will Walk In Memory of Her Murdered Son Mothers Day Weekend

May 9, 2013 by · 3 Comments 

Some mothers will receive flowers this week in celebration of Mother’s Day. Others, like Eficia Garcia, will mark the holiday by taking flowers to the place in Northeast Los Angeles where their child’s life was tragically cut short by violence.

Statistics show that crime is down in the area that includes Highland Park, Eagle Rock, Lincoln Heights, Cypress Park, Mt. Washington and Glassell Park.

Eficia Garcia visits the site where her son was killed in Highland Park. She will walk this weekend to call for an end to violence. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

But for Eficia, the violence is ever-present.

She vividly recalls March 13, 2009, the day her 16-year old son Alejandro Garcia was shot to death in front of the Highland Park Recreation Center. His 15-year old friend Carlos Hernandez was also shot.

Police said they think the shooting was gang-related, but Eficia doesn’t believe her son was involved in a gang. He was an ROTC student at Franklin High School who never gave her trouble, she told EGP in Spanish earlier this week. She said Alejandro was wrongly taken from her.

“Nobody can understand how I feel.” she said, struggling to hold back her tears.

The day Alejandro was killed started out just like any other day. Eficia recalls being at her home on Avenue 64 waiting for her son to return from school. It was around 3:30 p.m. and crowds of students from Franklin passed her house on their way home.

Like she had so many times before, she was preparing something for Alejandro to eat when he got home. He was planning to watch the Lakers game with friends, she recalled.

That’s when the sound of gunshots filled the air.  Silence followed. Her mother’s intuition told her something was wrong.

At first she thought her 13-year old daughter who attended nearby Burbank Middle School might have been hurt.

“Go see what happened!” she yelled at her older son in Spanish, fearing the worst.

He told her to stay inside, but how could she? She grabbed her 3-year old son and walked to the scene of the crime.

For a moment, her fear was swept away by relief.

“I thought ‘thank God it wasn’t my daughter,’” she remembers thinking after seeing her daughter was safe.

But that feeling was quickly lost when she realized the victim being put in an ambulance was her son. She could only see his legs, but she recognized his pants and shoes.

“I think that’s Jandro (her son’s nickname), that’s my son!” she yelled out.

Not knowing what had happened, she says she completely lost it and began screaming and crying.

Four years have passed but the memory still tears at her as she struggles to stay composed.

This Saturday, Eficia will join other mothers whose children were the victims of violence for the 6th Annual Peace in the Northeast Walk. This year’s walk will include stops at the sites where a life was ended by violence. The spot in front of the Highland Park Recreation Center where Alejandro was shot to death is on the route.

A cross will be placed at each of the sites.

“We need to make sure we don’t let this happen” again, Eficia told EGP. That’s why, despite the personal pain it will cause her, Eficia will be among those walking.

While time may lessen the pain, violence like that which took her son have a lasting effect, she says.

“My family fell a part,” she said, explaining that her life has not been the same since her son was killed.

She and her husband divorced soon after the killing. Her children turned against each other and now barely speak. Her oldest son has resorted to heavy drinking and blames himself for not going that day to see what had happened as his mother told him to do.

Alejandro’s murder also caused a strain on the family finances. Eficia says that although she was able to pay for her son’s funeral and burial at a Glendale cemetery, she eventually lost her family’s home.

Then there were the death threats and the gunshots fired at her home on New Years Day, causing her to fear for her life and those of her family.

People should understand that when you kill somebody it affects their families dramatically, Eficia said.

She knows that the two jailed murder suspects are also missed by their families, but says the pain they feel cannot compare to what she has suffered.

“I understand they are locked up, but at least they can see them … When will I see my son?” she said, the tears starting to flow.

With Mother’s Day approaching and her life broken into pieces, Eficia still wishes she could somehow get back the son she lost.

Mother’s Day is “no longer the same,” she said, racked with emotion.

The loss of Alejandro, who would care for her when she came home late at night after her job cleaning offices, has left a hole in her life, Eficia told EGP.

“Why do I keep living when you’re no longer here with me,” she tells her son when she visits his grave.

Eficia hopes her story will inspire other mothers in the Northeast area to support this Saturday’s walk for peace and to share the pain that burdens her and women like her who have lost a child through senseless violence.

She visited the site where her son was killed earlier this week in preparation for this weekend’s walk.

Looking out into the street, her eyes filled with tears, the pain floods back as though it was just yesterday that Alejandro was murdered.

“My son was lost, but I must recover from this.”

Attend the 6th Annual Peace in the Northeast Walk

The walk will begin at 10 a.m. at the Highland Park Recreation Center, located at 6150 Piedmont, Los Ángeles, CA 90042.

The event will offer free food and drinks, music and activities for children. There will be free bike helmets for youth who complete a bike safety training, while supplies last.  The event will end at 4 p.m.

For more information, email NEPeaceDay@gmail.com

Boyle Heights Activists Weigh Consequences of Exide Closure

May 9, 2013 by · 1 Comment 

The recent closure of a battery-recycling plant in Vernon promises the reduction of dangerous levels of toxic emissions to neighboring cities. Now members of Resurrection Neighborhood Watch are looking for ways to address the harmful effect the facility has had on their community, which borders Vernon.

They are also considering the impact the closure has had on workers who lost their jobs when the plant was shut down by state regulators.

Exide maintenance employees at the Vernon facility after the order to suspend operations. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

The group meets at Resurrection Church in Boyle Heights and most of its members belong to the parish and live or work in the area. They met on Monday to discuss the recent order by the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) to suspend operations at Exide Technologies after the agency found that the facility was releasing hazardous airborne emissions and “metal bearing” waste into the soil.

It’s not the first time the group has taken a stand on an environmental issue impacting the East Los Angeles area. They have a long history of advocating for the health and welfare of people living in their community, and many of their targets over the years have been based in Vernon, including a once city-owned power plant. They voiced their concerns over pollution caused by Exide to city officials and government agencies before the closure.

Barrio Planner’s Frank Villalobos on Monday said some of Exide’s displaced workers had contacted Resurrection Church’s Father John Moretta. They blamed the priest and the group for Exide’s closure and the loss of their jobs when oprations at the facility was suspended indefinitely.

Exide released a statement saying they do not know how long their suspension of operations will last, but Villalobos said he estimates it will be at least a full year before the plant reopens its doors.

DTSC’s Deputy Director Jim Marxen told EGP that he does not know what will happen to the employees who worked at the facility.  While jobs and wages are very important to the agency, Marken said their priority is keeping workers safe.

Watch member Teresa Marquez, 65, said it is heartbreaking that people were left without a job, but she feels they should be thankful they are healthy enough right now to look for employment elsewhere.

“What about all those [people] who will be affected?” she asked. “How many people are sick and don’t know it.”

Twenty-year-old Keven Duran pointed out that the employees might not see the affects to their health for years to come.

“In the long run, we’re saving their lives,” said Miguel Alfaro, 54.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD) had previously cited the facility for exposing Southeast Los Angeles County residents to chemicals and pollutants known to cause cancer. Exide was ordered by the AQMD to notify 110,000 of those residents of their exposure to lead as well as hold public meetings to explain what happened to neighbors and workers in the area.  Those meetings are expected to take place sometime later this month.

Marxen told EGP that the risk level from exposure has been reduced since the facility was shut down.

“At this point exposure has stopped,” Marxen said.

Vernon Director of Health and Environmental Control Leonard Grossberg told EGP in a written statement that the one arsenic emission found in March was corrected within three days.  The results from new samples taken to determine if any additional corrections are needed are still pending, he said.

As for the reported contamination from the leaking pipe discovered last month, Grossberg told EGP that investigations or remediation would take place some time after the repairs are completed.

“We are waiting to see how Exide will address the leaking pipe that was recently discovered, and how long it will take to fix,” Grossberg said. “We are in the process of talking with Exide as to how they will handle the down time and pending suspension.”

On Monday, Miguel Alfaro said he thinks the Resurrection group should be looking into a complete closure of the plant to avoid further exposure to residents and employees.

“If we don’t do that, they’ll find a way to cheat the system,” he said.

Workers would normally file health and safety complaints with the California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health (CAL/OSHA), but in Exide’s case, the agency no longer has jurisdiction over the facility since it has been closed down. Exide workers, however, can file claims with the Department of Industrial Relations.

“There are ways an employee can get help if they think there is a problem,” said Marxen.

According to the Department of Labor, the facility has only had three accidents and two complaints filed against it since 2008. The most recent accident was in November, but it had to do with a forklift and an excessive load. In that case Exide paid an $18,000 fine.

CAL/OSHA Spokesman Peter Melton told EGP that the agency would have been able to shut down the facility if it had found the safety of employees to be in danger. He said due to the lack of serious claims filed by employees or issues found during inspections, no action was required by the agency.

According to Melton, CAL/OSHA, which ensures that the public and workers are safe from safety hazards, uses the data from the Department of Labor as a way to keep tabs on worker safety at a facility. The only complaints they observed since 2008 involved a “cleanliness issue” in 2008 and a “low leveled hazard” in 2011, both of which were not considered serious, said Melton.

Since the order to suspend operations at Exide, the publicly traded company has seen a drastic decrease in their stock prices.

“There’s no way to compare their [financial] hurt to the way human beings will be hurt,” said Teresa Marquez.

The neighborhood watch group hopes that whoever is elected Los Angeles’ next mayor will take a stand against companies that continue to pollute their communities. Until then, Villalobos expects Exide to address the community through public hearings, the way the company did in 2006.

“We have to remain vigilant,” Villalobos said. “Six years doesn’t seem like a long time but look at all the people who have passed away.”

EGP’s calls to Exide Technologies for comment were not returned.

After 72 Years, Sycamore Grove School Will Close

May 9, 2013 by · 1 Comment 

One of Northeast Los Angeles’ best “kept secrets,” a K-8th grade Christian school, will close its doors in June, ending nearly three quarters of a century educating boys and girls in math, reading and writing, and Christian values.

While families over the years have enjoyed the authentic small-school setting at Sycamore Grove, a feeling other schools in the area are trying to replicate, under enrollment seems to have led to the school’s demise. Just 32 students enrolled this year forcing the decision to close the Highland Park school.

Sycamore Grove opened in 1942 and in its heyday had as many as 120 students, according to the school administrator Bishop William Cruver.

The school is affiliated with the Pillar of Fire Christian Church on Figueroa Street and Avenue 49 led by Cruver and is located on church property. Pillar of Fire, International, the church’s parent organization, has been subsidizing the school’s personnel costs, Principal Denise Simpson told EGP.

She said the school has exhausted efforts to recruit more students and undo years of declining enrollment and in February the church’s California board voted to close the campus at the end of this semester. Parents, students and staff were immediately informed, according to Simpson. The news was met with great sadness, she said.

They do not know why they have not been able to attract more students, and “would fix it” if they could, she told EGP.

“People have told us we are the best-kept secret, that’s not good. We’re not supposed to be a secret. We’ve tried advertising, postcards… [But] If people are struggling to put food on the table, paying for an education may not be a priority,” she reasoned.

Sycamore Grove’s $350 a month tuition is relatively low when compared to other private schools, but Simpson acknowledges it could be a lot of money for families who may be struggling.

Of the 32 students currently enrolled at the school, only 20 paid tuition this semester, she said. In some cases, family incomes have been cut because a parent lost their job: “What could we do, we can’t kick them out,” she said.

The school is located adjacent to Sycamore Grove Park where physical education is taught. Kindergarten was not offered this year and school administrators are now busy helping students find a new school for next year.

The ties to Sycamore Grove go back generations for some families, according to Simpson who said one of her current student’s grandmothers also attended the school years ago.

Sycamore Grove is also a family affair.

Simpson’s 18-year-old daughter Victoria attended the school and her 14-year-old daughter Noelle will graduate this year. Simpson attended the school when she was a girl, later returning as a teacher and now principal.

“I’ve been here 30 years,” not counting the years as a student, she said.

Ninety-year-old Bishop Cruver and his 88-year-old wife Rev. Elizabeth Cruver — who serves as principal emeritus — are Simpson’s parents. Originally from England, the Cruvers have served as the church and 72-year-old school’s administrators for the last six decades.

The school’s closure “hurts down inside,” Rev. Cruver told EGP.

“It’s been a lifetime of work out here, 60 plus years,” he said. “I certainly did enjoy it. Past students have told us those were good days—those were good days for us too… youthful and invigorating,” he said.

Cruver pointed out that many of the school’s former students have gone into police work and other public service careers, which he says shows the moral and spiritual values they learned at the school have stayed with them throughout their lives.

Both Cruver and Simpson are voting members of the church’s California board and they voted against the school’s closure, Cruver told EGP.

“It kept coming down to the fact that we have less children which means less tuition to pay the teachers,” Cruver explained.

Cruver, who is very involved in the community with clergy and community-service organizations, noted that Highland Park is improving. “Overall the area is coming up,” he said, which he thinks could turn the tide on the school’s financial outlook.

In January, Highland Park was listed number one in the Top 10 up-and-coming neighborhoods in the country by real estate listing website Redfin. However, the Los Angeles Unified School District, which administers the area’s public schools, has also seen a drop in enrollment in recent years.

Bishop Cruver remains optimistic and says he hopes “to start again as the area continues to improve…

“There are young families, this school can start again,” he told EGP.

In a letter sent to the school in February, Pillar of Fire, International President and General Superintendent Joseph Gross commended the faithful service of the Cruvers.

“The school has had a wonderful legacy, teaching thousands of children since 1941. However, we have insufficient students, personnel, and funds to continue to operate,” Gross said.

“We envision the continuation of ministry in Los Angeles through the Pillar of Fire Church and perhaps through new educational and compassionate ministries,” Gross wrote.

The Highland Park church is one of six Pillar of Fire parishes across the country. In addition to it parochial schools, Pillar of Fire, International also runs an accredited college and has missions and ministries around the world. The church is headquartered in New Jersey. The pastor of the New Jersey parish is a relative of the Cruvers.

Four full-time teachers and three staff members, including Simpson’s husband Harvey, will lose their jobs due to the closure.

The Cruvers and Simpsons say they will now refocus their energies on augmenting the church’s ministry and outreach. More information about Pillar of Fire and their upcoming events can be found on the church’s new website, www.pof-la.com

Candidates for Mayor Explain Agendas at Latino-Themed Forum

May 9, 2013 by · 1 Comment 

As the May 21 election looms closer, the candidates for mayor of Los Angeles, City Councilman Eric Garcetti and Controller Wendy Greuel, both democrats, on May 4 participated in a forum where they were asked to explain their positions and answer questions from the Hispanic community.

The forum was sponsored by the Alliance for a Better Community (ABC), National Council of La Raza, Hispanas Organized for Political Equality (HOPE), The Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), National Association of Latino Elected Officials (NALEO) and La Opinión newspaper.

“What makes this forum special is that is that it’s for the community and the questions that are being asked come from the different Latino communities in the city,” Mónica Lozano, executive director of Impremedia and editor in chief and executive director of La Opinión, told Efe. “They are not necessarily political questions, but quality of life questions that affect everyone,” she said.

The forum included the participation of Fernando Guerra, director of the Thomas and Dorothy Leavey Center for the Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University; Lolita López, KNBC4 reporter, and La Opinión reporter Pilar Marrero. The group asked candidates questions submitted by different Hispanic community groups in Los Angeles. ABC7 Reporter Carlos Granda served as the forum’s moderator.

“Latinos have to get out and vote, and that’s why we have to talk to the community about what matters to them,” Guerra told Efe, noting that while “nearly 29 percent of all registered voters in the city are Latino, only 23 percent of those who voted in the primary were Latino.”

Presenting similar statements, the two mayoral candidates claimed among other things that they seek to give a greater share of civic participation to the Hispanic community; will work to improve the education of Latinos, especially in the poorest areas; and boost job creation and promote quality education and preparation of Hispanics.

Greuel said that if elected she will seek to “give minority women the opportunity to obtain the necessary resources to develop and offer young people a proper education to get a good job.”

Meanwhile, Garcetti told Efe that his platform is an opportunity for suggestions: “We have problems in the city, in education as well as in public transportation and the economy, this is an opportunity to give me ideas,” he said.

“And that’s my story: I represent a district whose population is mostly Latino and this is also an opportunity to give me your views on the future of the city.”

Both candidates offered to allocate more resources for adult classes and to integrate community programs to support benefits from the immigration reform law that would allow immigrants to legalize their immigration status.

Garcetti called attention to his Hispanic heritage and said he identifies with this community.

“My grandparents were from northern Mexico, Chihuahua and Sonora,” Garcetti said in Spanish. “But I don’t want your vote just because I speak Spanish,” he added, stating that he understands the needs of the Hispanic community and that, if elected, he will continue to work to meet those needs.

According to Lozano, the forum was a good opportunity to remind politicians of the concerns of the Hispanic community and to “not take for granted” the Latino vote will be in their favor.

The results of a survey conducted by research firm Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates and released last week, showed Garcetti with a one-point lead over Greuel among all Los Angeles voters.

“Although we are voting more, the policies of these elected officials do not always represent the concerns of the community,” said Impremedia’s director.

Lozana said La Opinion, Impremedia and other media outlets’ associated with the “Tu opinion cuenta” (“Your opinion counts”) campaign—which was used in part to collect questions for the forum—is looking to “lift voices and present them to the people elected  officials who have influence and can make decisions.”

Lozano said they want to “ensure they respond in a more relevant way to the needs of the community.”

Belmont Student’s Haunting Photo Wins ‘Spotlight’ Award

May 9, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

A striking black and white photo of a young woman who appears to have dozed off while behind the wheel of a car as her date slumbers in the backseat, has earned an 18-year-old Belmont High School senior a $4,000 scholarship and the distinction of being one of just 16 high school students honored at the Music Center’s 25th Annual Spotlight Awards held last weekend at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

Henry Abrego’s stylized photo harkens back to the glamour of a by-gone era, but the hauntingly beautiful photo is likely to strike a cord with parents everywhere who worry about their teen’s safety on prom night.

The Music Center’s Annual Spotlight Awards is a long-standing arts-education program that seeks to indentify Southern California’s most talented teens. The program draws participants from public and private schools all across Southern California. More than 2,200 students participated in the free yearlong program and competition, which culminated with 16 performance and visual arts participants earning first place or runner-up awards and scholarship money. Abrego was the runner-up in the Photography category.

In total, $100,000 was awarded in scholarships, with each of the first-pace winners receiving $5,000 and the runner-ups receiving $4,000 each.

According to the Music Center, the Spotlight Awards are not just another competition, but a program that “emphasizes the achievement of artistic goals through the development of skills, knowledge and self-confidence.”

Several past recipients have gone on to successful careers in the arts, including pop music star Adam Lambert, American Ballet Theatre ballerina Misty Copeland, Alvin Ailey dancer Matthew Rushing, Broadway’s Erin Mackey, and the New York Philharmonic’s Principal Oboist Liang Wang, according to the Music Center.

‘Urban Movement’ Flourishing at Lincoln High School

May 9, 2013 by · 2 Comments 

A fairly new after-school dance club at Lincoln High School in the Los Angeles community of Lincoln Heights has started to make a name for itself at regional dance competitions, the group has already compiled a small collection of first place trophies this year.

Urban Movement, composed of Lincoln High School students, have been placing in first place and picking up a collection of trophies at recent competitions this year. (Courtesy of Urban Movement)

Lincoln’s “Urban Movement,” a 14 student dance group, took first place at the April 28 Miss Dance Drill Team Six Flags Magic Mountain Competition for the categories of Co-Ed Large Hip-Hop Division and Most Enthusiastic.

On April 13, they took home the first place trophy in the Medium Co-Ed Hip-Hop division at the highly competitive Sharp International Competition at Downey High School.

They also won first place in the Medium Co-Ed Hip-Hop division at the National Street Dance USA Competition on February 16, according to instructor Harry Weston.

The group was founded in 2008 by Jackie Lopez, a hip-hop dancer and theater performer who had taught at the Los Angeles Unified school, said Weston, who took over the program when it became an after-school club in 2010. Lopez and Weston know each other from the Versa Style Dance Company, a socially conscious dance group founded by Lopez that prioritizes education as well dance.

Weston says his students learn about Hip-Hop history and culture. “What are we doing, we’re not just dancing,” he said.

Students learn the high-energy dance social dance routines that include verbal interaction, but they also work on team building and becoming a family, said Weston, adding that he and his team of advisors also serve as mentors to the high school dancers.

A lot of young people, especially those from poor families or broken homes, look for something stable and healthy to hold on to, Weston said.

“The underlying [purpose] is mentoring these men and women is to uplift their lives,” he explained. “Hip-Hop can improve their lives.”

Students in the dance program also receive help with their homework and college applications. They must maintain at least a 2.0 grade point average to stay in the program.

“Dance can be a hobby, but it can also be your life,” Weston said. “Dance is my life, its my career all through my education,” said the instructor who recently attended UCLA.

Urban Movement’s ties to Versa Style Dance Company has given Lincoln High School’s dancers access to valuable experiences, like the opportunity to perform professionally, Weston said. In the past, dancers, many who would be the first in their families to go to college, have also taken intensive dance classes at UCLA during the summer, he said.

Urban Movement is supported by The Flourish Foundation, which pays Weston’s salary. The Flourish Foundation also funds arts teacher residencies at Garfield High School and the East Los Angeles Performing Arts Charter (ELAPAA) High School at Torres High school and other schools, according to the foundation’s website.

The Urban Movement dance team is a year-round program. They practice four to five days a week during the summer and perform at pep rallies and football games in the fall, and at competitions later in the school year.

“It is truly positive and something the students look forward to… from past experiences kids don’t want to go home after practice,” Weston said.

About 75 percent of the students are dancing for the first time. Hip-Hop not only builds confidence but also self-knowledge, he said.

Senior Xavier Nuñez, a student at the Leadership in Entertainment and Media Arts School, said he wanted to join Urban Movement as a freshman because it looked fun and the advisors were more flexible about his schedule than were the Band instructors. “I started off shy, I didn’t really know how to dance,” the now 18-year-old told EGP. He speaks highly of Weston as a mentor.

Nuñez at first comes across as a history buff, more interested in discussing the origins of Hip-Hop and specific dance moves, but he told EGP that he eventually wants to be a professional dancer. His favorite aspect of Hip-Hop and Urban Movement are the “social dances.”

“Today’s choreographed teams don’t communicate with each other. All these moves are meant for us to communicate and praise each other,” Nuñez said.

Similarly, Mayra Navarrete, a junior at Lincoln’s Medical and Health Small Learning Community, says Urban Movement’s Hip-Hop training sets them apart from other groups at competitions.

“Choreo looks different than Hip-Hop,” said 16-year-old Navarrete who choreographs Quinceañera dances in her free time. “It’s fun, we get to show them how we are and because the crowd remembers the [classic Hip-Hop] moves, they get excited.”

Navarrete says she wants to major in dance and business in college and someday start her own dance company.

When Urban Movement performs outside of Lincoln High School, Weston says they make it a point to represent the school well because often there are no teams from the East Los Angeles area or other low-income communities.

“We are from East Los Angeles, we make it very clear,” he said.

“Here in East LA, it’s very different than Beverly Hills—but we can still succeed,” Navarrete said proudly.

The group’s next competition is this Saturday, May 11 at Paramount Studios.

Videos of Lincoln High School’s Urban Movement can be found on YouTube.com

State Supreme Court Oks Local Limits on ‘Pot Shops’

May 9, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Reacting to the state Supreme Court’s ruling Monday that said municipalities can ban medical marijuana dispensaries, an attorney backing Los Angeles’ Proposition D ballot said its approval May 21 would mean the city would likely tolerate about 130 pot shops.

Even though the ruling – it came in response to the city of Riverside banning pot shops – could prompt other cities, including Los Angeles, to enact bans.

About 200 California municipalities have enacted bans on pot shops in recent years, despite state legislation that allows for them dating back to 1996.

But attorney Brad Hertz of the “Yes on D, No on F” campaign said that if Los Angeles voters approve Proposition D, the City Council would need approval from voters to ban about 130 pot dispensaries that were in operation before the City Council enacted a 2007 ban that was later overturned.

City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, a medical marijuana user who recently announced that his cancer was in remission, and colleague Paul Koretz support city-sponsored Proposition D. It would impose a roughly 5 percent tax on the sale of pot and limit the number of dispensaries citywide to about 135.

City officials have estimated that there were as many 1,000 pot shops in operation at times over the past few years.

Rosendahl denounced Monday’s 7-0 ruling by the California Supreme Court, saying it could make it more difficult for people suffering from serious medical conditions to get marijuana for pain relief.

“I wouldn’t be alive right now if it wasn’t for medical marijuana. I will not let no judge kill me or other people,” he said.

Koretz said Proposition D serves a dual purpose of regulating dispensaries so that they do not become a “public nuisance,” while providing “adequate access” to those who need marijuana.

Koretz, a former West Hollywood City Councilman, said it was clear to him that Californians wanted people to have access to medical marijuana.

Hertz said Monday’s ruling could prompt the Los Angeles City Council to enact a new ban. Several City Council members voted against putting Proposition D on the ballot.

Councilman Jose Huizar, who represents parts of the city’s east and northeast communities as well as downtown Los Angeles, said many of his constituents have complained about pot shops, voted against letting putting Proposition D on the ballot. Residents of Eagle Rock were particularly vocal, complaining that a disproportionate number of the marijuana dispensaries in the city had set up in their neighborhood.

Huizar said Monday’s ruling validated the city’s “gentle ban” on dispensaries last year.

“This court ruling tells us that if chaos ensues once again and there is rampant abuse of whatever ordinance voters approve on May 21st, we as a city have the authority to outright ban medical marijuana dispensaries,” Huizar said.

Two other petition-driven measures on the ballot could also affect medical marijuana dispensaries in Los Angeles if approved.

Proposition F calls for a tax on dispensaries but does not set limits on the number of shops. Proposition E is similar to Proposition D, without some of the regulatory provisions of the latter.

City Attorney Carmen Trutanich said the state Supreme Court decision “affirmed that local governments have the authority and obligation to protect public safety and regulate land uses, including the distribution of safe and readily accessible medical marijuana to patients and their caregivers.”

“A city’s decision whether to ban, regulate or limit the number of medical marijuana collectives must be made in an open, public and transparent manner, so that the needs and concerns of all in the community are heard,” he said.

NRDC Threatens to Sue Over L.A. Council’s Approval of BNSF Rail Yard

May 9, 2013 by · 1 Comment 

The Los Angeles City Council approved BNSF Railway’s $500 million near-dock rail yard Wednesday, citing “cut-throat” competition from other North American ports looking to take advantage of the widening of the Panama Canal.

Port officials said the Southern California Intermodal Gateway, a 153-acre rail yard about four miles from the twin ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, also has the potential to improve air quality in Southern California.

Council members worried that if cargo handling capabilities at Los Angeles’ port are not improved, ships could bypass West Coast ports via the Panama Canal, which is scheduled to open a new set of locks to accommodate larger ships in 2015,

Before the vote, Natural Resources Defense Council lawyer David Pettit told the council he planned to file a lawsuit if the project was approved, saying the rail yard could constitute violations of the state Environmental Quality Act and civil rights law.

The vote drew around 500 people, who filled the council chamber and a nearby room at Los Angeles City Hall.

Harbor-area councilman Joe Buscaino, whose constituents would be the most affected, called it “a good and sound environmental project” that would create “actual green jobs” and take about 1.5 million trucks off the road.

Wednesday’s 11-2 vote approved environmental findings necessary for the overall project’s approval, a lease agreement to allow BNSF to build on port property, as well as a 50-year permit to construct and operate the facility.

Council members Jan Perry and Bernard Parks voted against the project, saying there were too many unanswered questions, especially because it came to City Council without any committee hearings.

Parks said he was concerned by the diversity of groups opposed to the project.

The council denied appeals by detractors, including the city of Long Beach, the South Coast Air Quality Management District, the Long Beach Unified School District, environmental justice groups and trucking businesses.

Long Beach and Wilmington residents and members of environmental groups who oppose  the project said it would be too close to schools and homes.

Long Beach Mayor Bob Foster told the council that the two cities have successfully collaborated on port projects in the past, but the BNSF project was different.

“Frankly these communities deserve better,” he said.

The project is “shockingly close to homes,” he said.

Some homes are only about 20 feet away from project boundaries, and no one is providing funding for the “bare minimum of air filters and new windows.”

“This project can be made better,” but the Los Angeles Harbor Commission, which shepherded the project through a seven-year long process, has not done anything to improve it, Foster said.\

Barry Wallerstein of the South Coast Air Quality Management District said that in the agency’s “entire history” it has never opposed an infrastructure project until Wednesday.

“We took this step because the pollution for SCIG would harm public health,” and because the project does not adequately address environmental concerns, he said.

Opponents urged the council to send back to the Harbor Commission the environmental impact report and lease agreement, saying there were no guarantees that BNSF would be a zero-emissions operator.

A BNSF representative Wednesday told the council that the technology is not yet up to their standards. Port officials said they believe BNSF is committed to “goals” in their agreement recommending they use mostly zero-emission technologies at the railyard, and pointed to a five-year “re-opener” that would allow them to check in to see if the company is on track.

Representatives of labor and business groups, including the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor and the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, said the project would help keep jobs in region.

Gary Toebben, president of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, said jobs at the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports are “under siege” from “ports along the  East Coast, the West Coast and the Gulf of Mexico that are expanding their capacity everyday to take advantage of the widening of the Panama Canal.”

In addition, he contends, BNSF’s project would be the “greenest intermodal yard in the United States.”

Developmentally Disabled Find A New Home In Monterey Park

May 9, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

A celebration was held last week to mark the end of construction for a new and long-awaited residential home in Monterey Park for developmentally disabled adults.

Channel 7 Traffic Reporter Allysha del Valle (second to the left) joins team involved directly with the construction of the the John and Mary’s Place Residential Home in Monterey Park. (Courtesy of MERCI)

More than 200 people — including several Monterey Park elected officials and supporters of MERCI, the nonprofit group responsible for project — attended the May 2 open house and ribbon cutting for the John and Mary’s Place Residential Home, located at 523 North Chandler.

$814,000 in federal HUD funds administered by the City of Monterey Park, loans, donations and grants were used to fund the Craftsman-style home named for John and Mary Duce.

“The home is a beautiful addition to Monterey Park, but funds are still needed for furnishings, bedding, towels, dishes and utensils,” said MERCI Executive Director Marta Escanuelas, explaining that more donations are needed to complete the construction of the classrooms and administration building portions of the project.  MERCI has so far raised $40,000 of the $500,000 goal they have set.

MERCI says it will recognize donations of $10,000 or more by naming rooms in honor of the donating individual, organization or business. Donors of $100,000 or more will have building naming rights for one of the two buildings being constructed.

A group of parents of children with developmental disabilities from the San Gabriel Valley and East Los Angeles formed MERCI in 1955 as a school because at that time there were no educational options for their children.  The organization’s services have expanded over the years to include 111 developmentally disabled adults in day programs and residential homes. For more information, visit MERCI’s website at http://www.merci.org or contact Executive Director Marta Escañuelas at (626) 289-8817 or E-mail her at martaesc1@verizon.net.

What’s the Penalty If You Don’t Buy Health Insurance?

May 9, 2013 by · 9 Comments 

To buy or pay the penalty?

That is the question that will confront many U.S. residents in the coming months, when open enrollment season begins for health insurance coverage, under the terms of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare.

ACA will be fully implemented on January 1, 2014, when most legal U.S. residents will be required to have “minimum essential health coverage” or make a “shared responsibility payment,” as the Congressional Budget Office puts it in regulations it rolled out last fall. That’s code for penalty.

The penalty “is enforced through a (Internal Revenue Service) tax code,” noted Karen Pollitz, a senior fellow at the Kaiser Family Foundation in Washington, D.C.

So when you file your 2014 tax returns, you will have to let Uncle Sam know what kind of health insurance coverage you have and what, if any, tax credit you are eligible for, unless you can claim you are exempt from buying health insurance.

Non-financial exclusions include:

• You are between jobs and without insurance for up to three months.

• It contradicts your religious beliefs.

• You are an undocumented immigrant.

• You are a member of an Indian tribe.

• You are in jail.

The financial exclusions for not having health insurance include having a family income so low that you don’t have to file an income-tax return, Pollitz said. Or your minimum essential coverage exceeds a certain percentage of your household income for the most recent taxable year. In 2014, that is 8 percent.

Coverage could take many forms. It could be a government-sponsored plan like Medicaid or Medicare, an employer-sponsored plan or a plan purchased on the individual market.

Applicable penalty

The individual one-time penalty under ACA in 2014 will be $95 per adult, or one percent of your income, whichever is greater. So say your annual income is $50,000, you’d pay $500. For every uninsured child, the penalty is $47.50. The family maximum is $285.

“Coverage is assessed on a monthly basis,” said Pollitz. “So if you were uninsured for six months, you’d owe half the otherwise applicable penalty.”

She said that the government has given a wide window – from Oct. 1, 2013 to March 31, 2014 – for enrollment this time, but from next year on there will only be a three-month window to sign up.

Will people take the gamble and skip coverage, hoping that their youth or good health will protect them?

If the state of Massachusetts, which passed a landmark health care law in 2006, which became the blueprint for the 2010 ACA, is any indication the number of people who will refuse to get some form of coverage will be low, Pollitz surmised.

In Massachusetts, she observed, “there’s a culture of coverage. Most people want to comply with the law.”

Indeed, within a year and a half after the law passed there, the majority of people signed up for coverage.

But when it comes to the ACA, an estimated 6 million people, who cannot claim legitimate exclusions, will likely take the gamble and remain uninsured in 2016, the government predicts.

Pollitz said there are no criminal penalties to those who violate the law, just a civil one. That could mean seizing your refund.

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