Latin Jazz and Music Fest Returns to Sycamore Park

September 21, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Now in its fourth consecutive year, the annual Latin Jazz and Music Festival returns to Sycamore Grove Park in Northeast Los Angeles this weekend for two days of music that fuse the artistry of jazz with the warmth and vitality of Latin rhythms and soul.

Afro-Latin Jazz master Arturo O’ Farrill comes to Highland Park this weekend.

Afro-Latin Jazz master Arturo O’ Farrill comes to Highland Park this weekend.

The festival, hosted by L.A. City Councilman Gil Cedillo, opens at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 23rd with a showcase performance by the Plaza de la Raza Youth Ensemble and concludes on Sunday, the 24th with a highly anticipated performance by Los Coyotes Blues Band, featuring members of the legendary, multiple Grammy Award-winning Los Lobos.

According to Fredy Cejas, Cedillo’s communications director, the festival is an opportunity for the community to enjoy great local musical acts in a relaxed outdoor setting.

“We want to continue the tradition of bringing diverse bands and our diverse constituents together,” says Cejas, who adds that including community-based youth performances helps ensure the festival is “being inclusive of our own local talent and giving them exposure.”

 Los Coyotes - (led by Cesar Rosas and David Hidlago of Los Lobos) will close out the festival, Sunday, Sept. 24 at 5:30 p.m.

Los Coyotes – (led by Cesar Rosas and David Hidlago of Los Lobos) will close out the festival, Sunday, Sept. 24 at 5:30 p.m.

On top of two days of free, live performances, an onsite community resource fair will bring city departments and non-profit groups together for the community to explore, Cejas adds.

Festivalgoers will be treated to a range of nationally and internationally prominent acts, from the Susie Hansen Latin Band, led by the renowned electric violinist and Saturday headliner Joe Bataan, a legendary New York salsero whose distinctive “salsoul” blend of salsa and R & B has packed dance and concert halls on both coasts and in Europe for decades.

On Sunday, Cold Duck, an eight-piece Southern California orchestra with a sterling reputation for versatility and musical showmanship will take the stage at 2:50 p.m. They are followed by the Arturo O’Farrill Quartet, fronted by the pianist, composer and director of the acclaimed Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra. The son of famed Latin jazz musician, arranger and bandleader Chico O’Farrill, Arturo is a leading exponent of Latin Jazz worldwide.

Introduced by Cedillo in 2014 as a festival designed to reflect Highland Park’s “authentic character and vibe,” the celebration was also intended to appeal to the area’s young people and the local area’s large Latino population.

Event sponsors include Paramount Pictures, Coca-Cola, nonprofit El Centro del Pueblo, Big Belly Smart City Solutions, Arroyo Seco Neighborhood Council and the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs.

The festival is accessible to mobility challenged guests and attendees are encouraged to bring their own lawn chairs, umbrellas, and picnic blankets to sit on.

Off-street parking is available, but guests are strongly encouraged to take the Metro Gold Line to the Southwest Museum Station with access directly across the street from the park.

Sycamore Grove Park is located at 4702 N. Figueroa St., Highland Park 90042. For a complete list of performers and the two-day schedule, visit

Megan Razzetti contributed to this story.

Fig Traffic Safety Still an Issue for Cedillo

May 19, 2016 by · 5 Comments 

A ceremony was held last week in Highland Park to inaugurate the installation of a new traffic signal on Figueroa Street at Avenue 55, where residents have complained of speeding drivers and unsafe conditions for pedestrians and bicyclists.

First District Councilman Gil Cedillo represents the area and was joined at the May 13 installation ceremony by students, teachers and parents from Monte Vista Elementary School.

The new traffic signal is part of his effort to improve public safety in the district, Cedillo said.

“Accidents happen, there’s no question about it,” the councilman told the group. That’s why “we want to make a safe [North Figueroa] corridor,” he added.

Traffic safety on Figueroa is a hot button issue in Highland Park.

Lea este artículo en Español: La Seguridad del Tránsito Continúa Siendo un Problema para Cedillo

Some have sought to blame Cedillo personally for fatal accidents along the commercial corridor, such as those involving a speeding driver who struck Yolanda Espinoza Lugo in a marked crosswalk on Figueroa and Avenue 24, then sped away, and another involving a 17-year-old student from Montebello who was fatally hit by a city-operated semi-truck near his Highland Park school.

But according to Cedillo, since taking office in 2013 he has been actively working with the city’s transportation department to install safety enhancements – such as the  traffic lights between Avenue 50 and Avenue 60 that give pedestrians more to time to cross the street and now the signal on Avenue 55.

Another traffic signal is coming soon to Avenue 51 and rectangular rapid crosswalk beacons will be installed on Avenues 35, 41 and 60, according to Cedillo’s Communications Director Fredy Ceja.

“As the local government, public safety is our number one obligation,” Cedillo said last week.

Highland Park resident Jessica Sevillano is the mother of one of the second-graders at the ceremony. She told EGP she thinks Cedillo is doing a good job, but added he could have made the improvements a long time ago and prevented some of the tragedies.

“There have been too many accidents,” she said in Spanish, pointing out that her mother was nearly hit while crossing the street with her son.

“Maybe he has too much work and he didn’t notice before, but this light is much needed,” she told EGP.

Traffic safety work has been done as fast as possible, counters Cedillo’s chief of staff Arturo Chavez. He told EGP that from planning to installation, a new traffic light usually takes two years: “We did it in nine months,” he said about the signal on Avenue 55. “But when accidents happen, there’s nothing that anyone can do to prevent them. A light is not going to prevent them, a crosswalk is not going to prevent them,” he said.

It’s the same point the councilman made an article published by EGP earlier this year. Cedillo told EGP people must take responsibility for their actions. You cannot drink and drive or be texting while driving or walking, he said, explaining that distracted motorists and pedestrians are a safety hazard.

While Cedillo supporters tout his efforts to improve the district, citing his work to clean areas filled with debris and to remove bulky items and make streets safer, others complain that he’s more interested in what big donors to his campaign want. They say he needs to be more hands on and visible.

A local bike activist who often takes to social media to launch barrages of criticism at Cedillo, particularly on traffic safety, has decided to challenge the councilman in the next election. Josef Bray-Ali owns the Flying Pigeon bike shop in Cypress Park and says he has decided to turn his anger into activism.

About two weeks ago, Bray-Ali, 37, filed with the LA City Ethics Commission to start fundraising as a candidate for CD-1 in the March 2017 Primary Election. He hopes to open his campaign office a few doors down from his store by the end of the month.

Councilman Cedillo and students from Monte Vista Elementary cross the intersection of Figueroa and Avenue 55 where a new traffic has been installed. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

Councilman Cedillo and students from Monte Vista Elementary cross the intersection of Figueroa and Avenue 55 where a new traffic has been installed. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

According to Bray-Ali, he tried for nearly two years to meet directly with Cedillo to discuss the safe-street plan, but could never get past his staff.

“I went from the chief of staff to the field rep to receptionist, and I wouldn’t pass from there,” he told EGP Monday. “We have become a bunch of nobodies in our own neighborhoods,” he complained.

Among his chief complaints was the councilman’s decision to halt plans to build dedicated bike lanes along Figueroa. The proposed “road-diet” would have run from Colorado Boulevard to San Fernando Road. It was shortened to run between York and San Fernando but was eventually completely cancelled per Cedillo’s request to LADOT, according to Bray-Ali.

“There’s a lot of negative emotions that I have towards him as a politician because of the fight that we put to try to get the bike lane along Figueroa,” Bray-Ali said, “and the councilman stopped this project for reasons that are not clear.”

While running for city council, Cedillo expressed support for the road diet, dedicated bike lane plan. But after taking office and holding community meetings on the topic, he dropped his support for the plan, citing the complaints of people who travel the corridor and businesses along the route that reducing lanes for cars will cause traffic tie-ups and increase emergency response times.

Bray-Ali’s and other bike lane supporters’ social media postings, using the hashtags #chaleconCedillo and #RoadKillGil, have blamed the councilman’s cancellation of bike lanes for accidents along Figueroa and in some cases for accidents in other parts of the district.

Chavez calls the postings offensive. He said a road diet alone would not stop people from speeding and questioned why for some people a road diet is a better solution than a street light.

Bray-Ali said the bike route is not his only reason for running for office. He says he wants to build stronger neighborhoods that are more connected.

“I want small incremental growth instead of the big buildings,” he said, emphasizing that renting and buying property nowadays has become almost impossible for residents of the area.

“What are we doing that is failing? Why were generations earlier getting property and we can’t?” he questioned, calling Cedillo’s representation of the district “incompetent.”

The problem of housing affordability, however, is a citywide issue. The city council is considering charging developers fees to pay for more affordable housing or to require that their projects include set-asides for those types of units.

Last August Cedillo announced a plan to use about $9 million available to his district through “excess bond proceeds” left over from the city’s former redevelopment agency, to subsidize some of the 15,000 affordable housing units in danger of being removed from the housing market.

“We are really doing a great job in this area and we are cleaning it up like we committed and making it safer,” Cedillo told EGP.

“Sometimes people who don’t live in our district want to come and criticize us.”


Twitter @jackiereporter

County Parks Need More Money

April 28, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Parks in Los Angeles County need more money to pay for everything from better lighting and equipment to more police and recreational programs, according to a needs assessment report being finalized for county supervisors.

The findings, compiled from feedback received from residents during 178 public meetings across the county will be presented to supervisors May 3 to help them determine whether there is an urgent need to place a parks funding proposition on the November ballot.

“We’ve all benefited from little and big open spaces,” said Jane Beesley, district director of the Los Angeles County Regional Park and Open Space District at an Earth Day news briefing/environmental justice forum hosted by New America Media.

“We need our parks and now our parks need us,” Beesley said.

Over the last two decades, funding for county parks was supplemented through Proposition A — a county parks tax approved by voters in 1992 that expired last year. A supplemental levy approved in 1996 is scheduled to expire in June 2019.

Since 1992, the Regional Park and Open Space District – which administers Prop A revenue – has funded almost 1,500 park-related projects across the county. In addition to ongoing maintenance, the special parcel tax has helped pay for projects like a new Olympic-sized swimming pool at Belvedere Park in East Los Angeles and the restoration of the Griffith Park Observatory and Hollywood Bowl.

A similar ballot measure to pay for future maintenance and improvements was narrowly defeated in 2014. Critics at the time said the measure was too vague and lacked community input. Advocates for a new funding measure say those issues have been addressed, citing the hundreds of public parks meetings conducted countywide between December 2015 and February of this year to gather public input in preparation for a possible ballot measure asking voters to pay for park improvements.

El Sereno Arroyo Playground was transformed from a vacant lot to the ‘gem’ of the northeast community. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

El Sereno Arroyo Playground was transformed from a vacant lot to the ‘gem’ of the northeast community. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

“We asked them to dream and they did,” said Rita Robinson, project director for the county’s Parks Needs Assessment, noting that more than 5,000 people took part in the workshops.

“How many times have you seen government ask what would you like?”

Meetings held in low-income Latino, African-American and Asian-American neighborhoods were packed, environmental groups pointed out during the forum.

While no specific details of the report have been released, Robinson said more than 1,700 specific projects were recommended. Activists said many of the proposals were generated in communities of color.

Robinson made it clear that the executive summary being presented to supervisors next week would show most county’s parks have high and very high needs.

Keshia Sexton, director of organizing for Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust, said residents she spoke to during the outreach portion of the study had a long “wish list” that included dog parks, swimming pools, community centers, gardens, soccer fields and skate parks. Some residents even went as far as to ask for a new park, she said,

“What we heard across the board was there is a need,” Sexton said. “They also made it clear they hope this was not just another study but that there would be action.”

Pamela Marquez is one of those who has witnessed first hand that the “squeaky wheel gets the grease.” For decades, she and other residents of El Sereno demanded that a vacant lot on the outskirts of their predominately Latino eastside Los Angeles neighborhood be converted into a park – but one that fits the needs of the community.

“We were given the opportunity to design the park of our dreams and it has made a difference,” Marquez told EGP. The El Sereno Arroyo Playground is now the gem of the community, she said. Park amenities include walking paths, children’s playground, solar lights, security cameras and other features. The park has even increased property values, Marquez added.

She said having a park nearby “makes a difference” in one’s quality of life. “My husband lived near a park and joined sports, meanwhile we have friends who joined gangs” because there was no park to offer an alternative, she said, recalling her experience growing up in Boyle Heights.

For many residents and environmental activists, parks are a way to engage and build community. Several speakers emphasized the critical role parks play in a community’s health.

Belinda V. Faustinos grew up near Lincoln Park and said the park was the only place many parents could afford to take the entire family.

She emphasized fixing bathrooms and other amenities that make park-goers feel safe and comfortable.

“We need to make sure all parks have that no matter where they are built,” she said.

Andrew Yip with Bike SGV said high rates of obesity and diabetes are often found in underrepresented communities that often lack a park or open space.

People in these communities often just want the basics, like better lighting and paved streets, he said.

(EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

(EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Rosalio Muñoz volunteers at Ernest E. Debs Regional Park in the Northeast Los Angeles neighborhood of Montecito Heights and believes safety measures are needed at the park which includes acres of open space and hiking trails.

The bodies of two young women bludgeoned to death were found at the park a few months ago and according to Muñoz the park would benefit from more lighting and a dedicated park ranger and added staff.

He worries, however, that a Metro transportation bond on the same ballot might hurt the park proposal’s prospects.

According to county officials, however, 69 percent of voters polled said they would support passage of a park funding measure even with a transportation bond on the ballot

“It’s very crowded, but people are committed to parks,” said Beesley.

Car Crash Blamed on Rocks Thrown from Parkway Overpass

February 25, 2016 by · 3 Comments 

Highland Park resident Jose Luis Osuna installed extra protection to keep his windows from being broken if someone were to throw a rock at his house. Never did he think that a rock thrown from a freeway overpass would one day leaving him paralyzed and unable to speak.

On Jan. 17 at around 11:30pm, Osuna, 56, was driving home from work on the 110 Arroyo Seco Parkway North when a medium sized rock thrown from the Avenue 43 overpass shattered his windshield and hit him in the face and neck, dislocating his jaw, according to his sister Rosario Osuna.

Osuna lost control of his car and crashed into the freeway retaining wall.

Lea este artículo en Español: Una Roca Aventada de un Puente Causa Choque Severo

Rosario said she was in shock when she saw her brother who had been taken to Huntington Memorial Hospital. He was “unrecognizable,” she told EGP in Spanish, still shaken by his injuries.

“His head was big, his face was very swollen, bruised almost black, his teeth fell out and his vocal cords were destroyed,” Rosario recalled. “He can’t speak, and the right side of his body is paralyzed,” because someone decided to throw a rock at his car, she said Monday in disgust.

For months, motorists have had to deal with objects being thrown at them from a hole in the wire mesh on the bridge.
Montecito Heights resident Erin Scott-Walsh told EGP she was driving north on the parkway in the left lane with her sister about a week ago and as they approached Avenue 43 they saw “what appeared to be a younger male” tossing a water bottle through the hole of the fence, hitting a truck traveling in the same direction.

Hole in fencing on Avenue 43 bridge made it easy for vandals to throw rocks at cars on the Arroyo Secco Parkway. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

Hole in fencing on Avenue 43 bridge made it easy for vandals to throw rocks at cars on the Arroyo Secco Parkway. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

After learning about Osuna’s incident via social media, Scott-Walsh said she became more concerned.

“The truck didn’t react to the bottle, that’s why I thought it might have been empty, but the possibility [of another accident] was there and it scared me,” she said.

Following up on the rock throwing complaints, EGP found there seems to be confusion at the Los Angeles Police Department about which police division covers the area by the Avenue 43 overpass. Local residents told EGP calls to police sometimes go unanswered due to the confusion over jurisdiction.

Hollenbeck Division Capt. Martin Baeza told EGP his staff is not handling “nor do we have any reports of rock throwing.”

Likewise, Northeast Division Capt. Arturo Sandoval said he contacted his “aggravated assault detectives,” however, “I don’t recall us handling any” related incident either.

Osuna’s case is being investigated by California Highway Patrol, which has jurisdiction over freeways. CHP Officer Robin Hines told EGP they haven’t arrested anyone, but have a suspect and they are following some leads.

“We are waiting for lab results of DNA testing” on the rock, said Hines explaining the results could take “from a few weeks up to a month to arrive.”

In order to maintain a more secured area, Hines said extra patrols have been placed near the area of the incident.

The hole in the fence, however, is the city’s responsibility as is the crime on adjacent streets.

Several people living near Avenue 43 said they believe the rock thrower to be a homeless man living in an encampment near the bridge.

José Luis Osuna, 56, was left paralyzed after a rock was thrown form the overpass on Ave. 43 on the Arroyo Seco Parkway 110.

José Luis Osuna, 56, was left paralyzed after a rock was thrown form the overpass on Ave. 43 on the Arroyo Seco Parkway 110.

A resident, who out of fear for her family’s safety asked to not use her name, said she and her husband have called the police several times to report the man — who appeared to have mental issues and  “goes into rages and becomes disruptive.”

The woman didn’t witness Osuna’s accident, but did hear “a big explosion.” It wasn’t until the next morning that learned what happened.

“Shortly after is when [the homeless] encampment disappeared,” she said.

Other residents in the area said they too fear the man described as a Latino in his 30s. They claim he kicks over their trashcans and breaks car windows.

“Unless you see him and serve as a witness police won’t arrest him,” complained the woman who spoke to EGP on condition of anonymity.

Hollenbeck Division redirects her to the Northeast division and vice-versa when she calls to report him, she complained.

“We have to call multiple times and when they finally come they only give him a warrant,” she said.

Osuna spent two weeks in a coma before being moved to a skilled nursing home, according to his sister Rosario.

On Wednesday, following EGP’s inquiries to the city, the public works department repaired the hole in the fence that had made it easier for vandals to throw rocks at cars passing by. A spokesperson for public works, Elena Stern, told EGP the department encourages residents who find similar issues to report them by calling 311 or downloading the MyLA311 app for mobile devices.

Doctors don’t know if Osuna will ever speak or move again, said Rosario, who hopes an arrest is made soon to keep others from being harmed.

Jose Luis Osuna’s friends have created a gofundme page to help with his hospital expenses. To donate visit:


Twitter @jackiereporter

Homeless’ RVs Are Impounded After Complaints

February 18, 2016 by · 1 Comment 

Outraged community members are organizing to demand answers from local authorities after some Recreational Vehicles parked along Figueroa Street in Highland Park were impounded on Friday.

Rebecca Prine, volunteer director with Recycled Resources for the Homeless—a nonprofit helping homeless—said via email the organization wasn’t notified about the sweep in front of the Sycamore Grove Park and blames local Councilman Gil Cedillo for leaving people in need without a home and with the possibility of increasing park and street homelessness.

Witness of the towing, Jaime Kate told EGP “two or three” RVs were towed “and at least one car.”

During the homeless count organized last month by the Los Angeles Homeless Authority—the agency in charge of providing services to homeless—over 30 Recreational Vehicles (RVs) were counted as permanent homes for people living in the northeast, according to Recycled Resources.

Prine said many of the RV residents are people displaced from their homes in the northeast as they were given rental increases they were unable to afford.

“Had Recycled Resources for the Homeless been made aware of this action we would have used funding we have collected to assist our neighbors experiencing homelessness,” said Prine.

Fredy Ceja, communications director with the councilman told EGP there was no sweep. “There are parking restrictions on Figueroa, which if not adhered to, result in fines.”

After violating parking restrictions, RVs on Figueroa Street impounded by police. (Courtesy of Jaime Kate)

After violating parking restrictions, RVs on Figueroa Street impounded by police. (Courtesy of Jaime Kate)

He explained that some of the RVs have been in the same location for over a year and Recycled Resources is aware of it.

“You can’t leave your car for a long period of time in the same spot.”

Constituents of the area have been complaining with the police and the councilman’s office due to “loitering and illicit activities,” said Ceja.

He said parking enforcement advised the owners to move their vehicles, and while some of the RVs moved across the street, others stayed in the same spot, which led to their towing.

Wednesday night community members reunited at the All Episcopal Church in Highland Park—which currently serves as shelter for over 30 homeless people—to talk about the issue and find solutions to assist people in getting their RVs back as well as to work in a solution to help the owners.

Recycled Resources stated that “this community belongs to everyone, not just those who can afford to live here,” and they would like to see resources for every social economic level in the community.

“We would like to work toward establishing a safe place for people to park RVs, with resources for bathrooms and waste disposal here in the community they call home,” said Prine.

Ceja said Cedillo’s office is looking for places to park the RVs without problems. In the mean time, he said it would be good if the church provides space to park some RVs on its parking lot.

City Attorney Cracks Down on NELA ‘Brothels’

February 11, 2016 by · 1 Comment 

City Attorney Mike Feuer announced Wednesday the filing of a lawsuit against the operators of an alleged ring of brothels fronted by massage parlors in Eagle Rock, Highland Park, Wilmington and North Hollywood.

The nuisance abatement lawsuit targets Helen Haihong Huang and Mark Richard Vitatern, who operate MHWI Int’l Inc., and others believed to be associated with a ring made up of at least four businesses.

One parlor is located at 6630 N. Figueroa St in Eagle Rock and another at 5740 York Blvd. in Highland Park, near the We Tell Stories art school and the Highland Park Foursquare Church, according to the city attorney.

The other businesses in Wilmington, at 1037 Avalon Blvd., and North Hollywood, at 3214 De Witt Drive, are also near churches, he said.

The lawsuit seeks orders prohibiting the operators from running similar businesses and the property owners from allowing such activity.

The lawsuit alleges the massage parlors were covers for prostitution businesses that advertised their services on the Internet and used text messages to set up appointments.

Searches by Los Angeles Police Department officers on Jan. 7 turned up a condom bin at one business and about $80,000 in cash at the home of one of the operators, according to the City Attorney’s Office.

The alleged ringleaders operated four other businesses in Los Angeles that have since shut down, following several prostitution arrests, according to Feuer.

Street Improvement Projects in Eagle Rock, Boyle Heights Earmarked

February 11, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Street improvement projects in Eagle Rock and the Boyle Heights area were recently earmarked for almost $18 million in state and other funds, City Councilman Jose Huizar announced.

The funds will go toward “complete street” initiatives “that prioritize pedestrians and bicyclists as   much as automobiles, while also helping drive foot traffic to our main corridors,” Huizar said.

“I am extremely happy about the nearly $18 million we’ve recently secured,” he said. “I look forward to pursuing other funds to bring even more improvements to Council District 14.”

Eagle Rock is getting about $12 million, including a $9.8 million grant from the California Transportation Commission for a number of upgrades along Colorado Boulevard: pedestrian lighting between College View Avenue and Eagle Vista Avenue; curb extensions at 21 sites, including Townsend, Argus and Maywood; a flashing crosswalk at Eagle Rock Boulevard and Merton Avenue; a new sidewalk next to College View Avenue; street furniture; and bicycle striping.

A $2 million grant from the state’s Active Transportation Program was awarded to the Eagle Rock area, and will pay for medial islands on the westside of Eagle Rock Boulevard, a pair of new traffic signals at La Roda Avenue and Hermosa Avenue, and bus stop lighting.

Boyle Heights is receiving $6 million, including $5 million in Active Transportation Program grants for sidewalk work, pedestrian lighting between Pico Gardens housing and Sixth Street Bridge East Park, and a new signal at Fourth and Clarence streets.

Whittier Boulevard also will get $1 million in redevelopment funds for sidewalk repairs, though more funding is being identified.

In addition to the funding announced today, Boyle Heights had already received $2.55 million last year to build new sidewalks and bicycle amenities along Mission Road, from the Sixth Street Bridge to Seventh Street, and a roundabout.

These projects are set to begin construction early next year.

Winter Shelter Opens in NELA

December 17, 2015 by · 1 Comment 

When three homeless sisters heard a church in Highland Park would soon open a nighttime shelter, they quickly went to check it out. After all, their only other option was to keep sleeping on the floor of a public restroom at Sycamore Grove Park, where they’ve bedded down for the last few months.

The pews at All Saints Episcopal Church welcomed them with a sleeping bag, a pillow and some toiletries. Warm meals are offered in the small kitchen while movies are projected onto a screen.

Lea este artículo en Español: Refugio de Invierno Abre sus Puertas en Highland Park

More than two weeks have passed since the sisters started their nightly ritual of lining up to secure a pew – a welcome respite from the outdoor elements and the restroom floor.
“It’s way better than sleeping in the cold,” says fifty-six-year old Hope, who did not want to give her last name. The sisters were among the first six people to gain admission to the church shelter when it opened Dec. 1.
Within days, the Winter Access Center shelter was at full capacity and people had to be turned away, said Rebecca Prine, volunteer director of nonprofit Recycled Resources for the Homeless, a public charity in Northeast L.A.
“Everything has been going very well and our little community is thriving,” Prine told EGP. “We have been relying on the generosity of others in the community.”
In September, Mayor Garcetti and members of the city council declared “a state of emergency on homelessness” and committed $100 million to provide permanent and transitional housing to those in need.
Months have passed and homeless activists have grown impatient with the city’s slow response.

A pillow, a sleeping bag and toiletries were placed on every pew of the church. (EGP photo by Jacqueline García)

A pillow, a sleeping bag and toiletries were placed on every pew of the church. (EGP photo by Jacqueline García)

Temperatures are falling and El Niño storms are on their way, said Prine, explaining Recycled Resources had to step in after seeing no action from the L.A. City Council.
Local neighborhood councils, businesses and volunteers collaborated to find a place for their homeless neighbors. Rev. W. Clarke Prescott of All Saints Episcopal Church agreed to open the church as a temporary winter shelter.
The church has space for 30 guests per night. There’s a small space on the second floor for people with children; pets are also welcome.
But more help is needed, said Prine, criticizing city officials for not stepping up.
Representatives from the Los Angeles Homeless Services Agency (LAHSA) visited the shelter to evaluate it’s eligibility for funding.
The homeless service agency’s 2015 Homeless Count identified more than 25,000 homeless in the city of Los Angeles. Countywide, homelessness has risen 12 percent since the 2013 count, from 39,461 to 44,359.
On Monday, LAHSA spokesperson Kelli Pezzelle told EGP the church does not meet the agency’s safety standards. Among the issues, pews are too narrow to be used as beds and there are no fire extinguishers, Pezzelle said. The agency rejected the funding request for the Winter Access Center, but reversed its decision Wednesday.
According to Councilman Cedillo’s spokesperson Fredy Ceja, his boss sent a letter Tuesday to LAHSA urging the agency to reconsider its determination “given the urgent need for immediate shelter.” Cedillo’s letter noted that All Saints “is the only shelter currently available to homeless individuals in NELA, and LAHSA’s support of this site will expand the scope of services available in the area.”

Following LAHSA’s reversal, Cedillo said he “immediately introduced a motion to place the site on the winter shelter list, securing protections under the shelter crisis. This will allow them to access LAHSA funds and operate through the winter season,” the councilman said in a news release.
Councilman Jose Huizar also jumped in to support the center, getting approval from the council to allow him to transfer $20,000 in his office’s discretionary funds to the shelter.
The city council Wednesday also approved a motion Cedillo introduced Tuesday asking the Dept. of Recreation and Parks to immediately open the Bridewell Armory in Highland Park as a winter shelter.
Cedillo’s request comes on the heels of the approval of Councilman Jose Huizar’s motion to allocate $12.5 million for “immediate assistance for homeless, rapid rehousing and winter shelters” citywide.
The funding includes $10 million for “rapid re-housing” subsidies for nearly 1,000 transients to help them with rent or move-in costs. The remaining funds will increase shelter beds this winter by more than 50 percent — to a total of 1,300. These beds will be targeted to those living in the Los Angeles River bed and the Tujunga and Arroyo Seco washes.
“While some of this money helps prepare long-term infrastructure to address homelessness, the bulk of the money is for immediate actions to help people get off of the streets,” Huizar said.
The center has remained open with support from the local community. The neighborhood councils of Highland Park and Eagle Rock have each approved funds for the center: $1,000 and $4,000 respectively.
While everyone in Northeast L.A. is talking about homelessness, no one is doing anything about it, explained Eagle Rock Neighborhood Council President David Greene.
“Neighborhood Councils can and should be leading the way on issues that are too political or too local for the City Council and Mayor to deal with in a timely way,” he told EGP. “So while the City of L.A. figures out how to find and spend the millions of dollars in its ‘war on homelessness,’ the ERNC saw a way to do something about the situation in NELA immediately.”
Individuals have donated cooked meals, clothes, books and pet food; volunteers are running the shelter, open from 7p.m. to 8a.m.
For those lucky enough to get a spot for the night, it’s a safe and warm haven from the bitter winter cold.
Every night, volunteer Nereida Vazquez greets shelter residents, sometimes staying overnight to see to their needs. A former drug addict and victim of domestic violence, Vasquez says she knows first hand the value of having a place to sleep, since she was once homeless and had her three children taken away by the department of family services.
It feels great to now be in a place to give back to those in need, she told EGP.

The shelter at All Saints Episcopal Church opened on Dec. 1st with six homeless arriving on the first night, now it’s at capacity with over 30 people every night. (EGP Photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

The shelter at All Saints Episcopal Church opened on Dec. 1st with six homeless arriving on the first night, now it’s at capacity with over 30 people every night. (EGP Photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

“We need to come together as a community because nobody really represents the homeless community,” she said. “It’s been a challenge, but also an honor to be part of the team.”
Vazquez’ mother and daughter visit her at the shelter and her daughter helps out. “I feel very proud to have my family here,” said Vazquez, adding volunteering is a valuable lesson for her daughter.
Recycled Resources hopes to link participants to the supportive services they need to improve their situations before the temporary facility shuts down in March.
Monica Alcaraz, a Recycled Resources volunteer and president of the Highland Park neighborhood council, told EGP they evaluate each shelter resident’s situation and recommend the appropriate assistance.
“The cases are different, some of them want to apply for housing, others need basic documentation like an [identification] or social security card,” she said.
“I am proud of the work we have been able to do as a community and for our community,” said Prine. “If we do not [get] city funds we will still succeed and shame on our elected officials.”
According to Hope, Recycled Resources has already helped the sisters apply for Section 8 housing, which they hope to get into before the shelter closes.
“We are not bad people, we just happened to be on the streets and we need help,” she said with a sense of sadness.
“But I know I’ll get out of this situation soon.”

For more information about the shelter visit


Twitter @jackiereporter

UPDATE: Two Women Found Dead in Debs Park

October 29, 2015 by · 3 Comments 

A 17-year old girl found dead in a park in Montecito Heights was identified Friday by friends as family as Briana Gallegos of Pico Rivera.

The coroner’s office previously identified a second victim as 19-year-old Gabriela Calzada.

The women’s deaths have been classified as homicides, Officer Aareon Jefferson of the Los Angeles Police Departments Media Relations Section said.

The bodies were found about 2:20 p.m. Wednesday near Mercury and Boundary avenues along a walking path through Ernest E. Debs Regional Park, according to the LAPD.


Ernest E. Debs Regional Park is a popular location for hikers and runners. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

Ernest E. Debs Regional Park in Motecito Heights is home to several miles of hiking and cycling trails. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

A woman walking her dog came upon the bodies, which were on the side of a hill, and called police, LAPD Officer Matthew Ludwig said Wednesday.

According to police, the women were found fully clothed about 300 yards from the street, and did not appear to have been sexually assaulted. He declined to comment on whether police found obvious signs of trauma on the bodies.

The coroner’s office has not officially identified Gallegos as one of the victims but friends have identified the teen and written on her Facebook page. According to the page, Gallegos was a student at Sonia Sotomayor Learning Academies in Glassel Park.

One of the young women was reported missing at about 9 p.m. Wednesday, nearly seven hours after their bodies were found.

The park is popular with hikers and walkers. It’s also home to a National Audubon Center.

Flowers were placed at the site where the bodies of two woman were found at Debs Park. (EGP Photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

Flowers were placed at the site where the bodies of two woman were found at Debs Park. (EGP Photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

“I’m really scared knowing a killer may be out there,” said Helen, who asked not to use her last name.

“I never walk in the park alone anymore, not since those women were attacked last year, ” she told EGP.

She was referring to the assault on three women between January and July 2014.  At the time, police said the suspect was targeting women walking alone in the park. Signs with a composite drawing of the suspect warning women to to not walk alone and to keep an eye out for the suspect were posted around the park.

Autopsies to determine the victims’ causes of death were pending, according to the coroner’s office.

Article includes information from City News Service.

Update: 6:39 p.m.

Updated Oct. 30 2:45 p.m.

UPDATE: Man Charged in Highland Park Hit and Run

June 30, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

A 21-year-old Los Angeles man was charged Tuesday with gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and hit-and-run driving for a crash that killed a bicyclist who was in a marked crosswalk last week in Highland Park.

Alexis Virto was scheduled to be arraigned today in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom on one count each of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, driving under the influence of an alcoholic beverage causing injury, driving with a 0.08 percent blood alcohol content causing injury and hit-and-run driving resulting in death or serious injury to another person.

Virto is accused in last Friday’s death of 33-year-old cyclist Jose Luna, who was struck about 3 a.m. in the 4000 block of North Figueroa Street.

Investigators believe that Virto was driving between 60 mph and 80 mph, and said the impact of the crash severed one of Luna’s legs. He allegedly drove away with the victim on the vehicle’s hood for about 200 yards and later abandoned the car.

Police allege Virto was still intoxicated at the time of his arrest several hours later. He was found sleeping on a bed with his girlfriend at a home about six blocks from the crash scene, police said.

He had injuries consistent with the collision and windshield debris in his hair, said Detective John Menese of the LAPD’s Central Traffic Division.

Police tracked down Virto after receiving a report of an abandoned damaged vehicle, which matched the description of the one seen speeding from the crash scene and also had the victim’s biological matter on it, police said.

Virto has remained behind bars since he was taken into custody last Friday morning.

If convicted as charged, he could face up to six years in state prison, according to the District Attorney’s Office.

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