Candidates Discuss Northeast L.A. Issues

February 23, 2017 by · 1 Comment 

The crowd at a city council candidate forum Monday in Lincoln Heights was a little more restrained than during a similar forum last week in Glassell Park, even though the candidates speaking and issues addressed were for the most part the same.

In Glassell Park, the First Council District Candidates’ Forum was often interrupted by loud heckling and shouts. On Monday, however, the forum organized by the Lincoln Heights Neighborhood Council and held in the auditorium at Sacred Heart High School was a little less raucous.

All five candidates vying for the council seat took part, including the incumbent, Gil Cedillo, and challengers Josef Bray-Ali, a community advocate; Giovany Hernandez, an education advocate; Jesse Rosas, a businessman; and write-in candidate Luca Barton, a graphic designer.

The City of L.A. ‘s Primary Election takes place March 7 and includes the races for mayor, city attorney, controller and several ballot measures, as well as an L.A County sponsored Measure H to raise the sales tax a quarter-cent to pay for services for the homeless. If a single candidate does not win 50% plus one of the vote, a runoff will be held in June.

Council District 1 covers multiple Central and Northeast Los Angeles communities, including, Cypress Park, Glassell Park, Chinatown, Echo Park, Elysian Park, Highland Park, Koreatown, Lincoln Heights, MacArthur Park, Pico Union, University Park and a section of downtown.

The five candidates answered questions on issues ranging from the region’s housing shortage, traffic, public safety and the homelessness epidemic, with the focus being on the challenges those issues create for Lincoln Heights’ residents and businesses.

The format did not allow for a real debate, but instead limited each candidate to making short statements in response to questions posed by the moderator and later the public.

As the incumbent, Cedillo was often the prime target of criticism from the challengers, who each said the district needs new blood.

“We need new leadership in this district or we will continue to see failure,” said Bray-Ali, a former bicycle shop owner who has for years dogged the councilman at events and on social media for his part in stopping dedicated bike lanes from being installed along a portion of Figueroa Street running from Highland Park to Cypress Park.

Cedillo defended his record throughout the night, pointing to his 20-year record of accomplishments in elected office and 15 years in the labor movement, noting his long list of endorsements resulting from that work.

“If you want to know what people are going to do in the future, look and see what they have done in the past,” Cedillo repeated several times throughout the night, pointing to 100’s of bills he’s authored that have been signed by three different governors.

“I have a record. It’s constant, consistent and it’s measurable.”

All five candidates running for Los Angeles City Council District 1 participated in a forum Monday in Lincoln Heights. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

All five candidates running for Los Angeles City Council District 1 participated in a forum Monday in Lincoln Heights. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Bray-Ali attempted to paint a different picture of the councilman’s leadership and accountability.

He and the other candidates claimed Cedillo has not done enough to improve safety for pedestrian and cyclists using local streets, and accused him of simply not listening to the community.

“Time and time again we have had the door slammed in our face and been shut out of city office,” complained Bray-Ali, who has in the past used his Twitter account to blame the councilman’s failure to install bike lanes on Figueroa for nearly every pedestrian and auto accident on the street, and in surrounding areas.

Barton and Hernandez said more attention must be paid to traffic issues in Lincoln Heights, especially along North Broadway, the community’s main commercial area, and near area schools.

Hernandez proposed greater use of lighted-crosswalk markings to slow traffic, which Cedillo said are just some of the safety measures he’s implemented since taking office.

Rojas questioned why streets lights are not synchronized to better control the flow of traffic. “Everyone has a right to be safe,” he said.

The challengers said crime and the number of homeless people in Lincoln Heights has risen under Cedillo’s watch.

Bray-Ali accused the councilman and his staff of not “showing up” to reassure the community when a murder happens, or making sure police are on patrol.

Cedillo pointed out that L.A. has the fewest police officers per capita in the country, and that’s a problem, he said. He noted that he has the support of many of the city’s police and fire personnel.

Cedillo said he has long been an advocate for “fair share zoning” and that the burden of new homeless shelters and services should be spread across the city, and that’s why he stopped a plan to build homeless shelters on city-owned parking lots in Lincoln Heights.

“I’m fed up with the lies and hype,” responded Bray-Ali, claiming the councilman only took action after getting complaints from the community.

Bray-Ali said, if elected, he is committed to ensure homeless veterans have a place to shower, go to the bathroom and wash their clothes.

Cedillo responded by once again pointing to his record, reminding the audience that he helped create the city’s committee on homelessness.

Measure S, a ballot measure that if approved would place a 2-year moratorium on new developments, put the controversial issues of “gentrification” and rising housing costs in the forefront.

Rosas said large developments are not good for the community, claiming they often come at the expense of affordable housing.

“Affordable housing for who?” Rosas asked. “We don’t want people to get displaced.”

Bray-Ali, Cedillo and Hernandez all said they oppose the measure.

“I don’t think it’s the cure,” said Hernandez, a renter himself. This will mean, “halting the construction of much needed housing units,” he said.

“It’s an effort to stop change…it will take zoning in Los Angeles back to the 1950s,” said Cedillo.

Bray-Ali said with significantly more people than housing, development is needed, but blamed failed leadership for allowing developers to build without consulting with impacted communities.

“You think Measure S is going to stop them,” asked Barton. “If they can’t do new development they’ll take existing [buildings] and covert them to luxury units.”

Martha, 66, said she was a victim of just that, and blamed Cedillo for failing to help her.

Bray-Ali offered to connect her to a landlord willing to rent out to seniors being displaced from her building, garnering applause from the audience.

Hernandez pointed out the woman’s story proved “displacement is not an urban myth,” and the need for local officials to work with the state legislators to overturn the controversial Ellis Act. The 1985 Act has allowed landlords to legally evict their rent-controlled tenants if they sell or convert the building into condos.

Cedillo tried to offer reassurance that his office would help but was met with heckling from the audience, as he was much of the night and the previous forums.

“No change is going to happen in the already existing system,” argued Hernandez.

Hernandez, the youngest of the five candidates and self-proclaimed homegrown candidate, told the crowd election time is like a report card for the incumbent to find out if he or she has done a good job.

“I’m proud to give my community the option for something else,” said Hernandez.

Cedillo told the crowd they could heckle him all they want and even choose to vote for another candidate, but said he’s confident he will be reelected.

“This election is going go happen March 7 and we’re going to wake up on March 8 and I’m still going to be your council member,” he said. “We’ll see you at the election party.”

 

Northeast Los Angeles Bridge Opens

February 1, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti Monday helped officially reopen the Riverside Drive Bridge that connects Cypress Park and Elysian Valley.

The work to replace the old bridge began in 2014 due to seismic deficiencies. It was rebuilt for $60 million, and has several new features, including the first protected bike lane on a city bridge.

The 1,200-foot span, which crosses the Los Angeles River near where the Glendale (2) and Golden State (5) freeways meet, also features the city’s first modern traffic roundabout.

“Bridges are more than infrastructure,” Garcetti said. “They are a symbol of the personal connections we make to destinations and to one another. This is a great day for Los Angeles. The bicycle lane and other innovations make it a place where people can travel safely and conveniently by bike, on foot and in their cars.”

(Office of Councilmember Gil Cedillo)

(Office of Councilmember Gil Cedillo)

City Engineer Gary Lee Moore said the bridge “is the safe, modern, multi-modal transportation link that the community deserves and one that they helped make a reality.”

The Bureau of Engineering was able to rebuild the bridge while keeping traffic flowing over it by first building two lanes of the new bridge and then demolishing the old bridge. The bureau then added additional lanes to the new bridge.

“Building infrastructure in an urban area has numerous challenges,” Moore said. “We worked to maintain this crossing as the vital link for cars, bikes and pedestrians that it is, and are grateful to the community for their patience and support throughout the project.”

Hermon Fights for Its Own Neighborhood Council

December 22, 2016 by · 2 Comments 

It’s the story of the little neighborhood that refused to give up.

After five years of fighting for a separate voice in Northeast Los Angeles, the small community of Hermon could soon have their very own neighborhood council.

Members of the Hermon Neighborhood Council Formation Committee submitted a subdivision application last week, which if approved would mean Hermon would separate from the Arroyo Seco Neighborhood Council. The committee has been hard at work over the last six weeks finalizing the application and bylaws they started four years ago. The group has attended dozens of city meetings, gathered signatures from residents on petitions and reorganized its members.

“This is an amazing historic moment for our community,” longtime Hermon resident and community activist Wendi Riser said in an email to members of the formation committee.

It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to characterize Hermon residents as fiercely proud and protective of the small town like community they’ve worked hard to cultivate near the Arroyo Seco Parkway, known to most people as the Pasadena Freeway. They love their open spaces and the neighborhood dog park that hosts regular “yappy hours” and where their four-legged friends parade in Halloween costumes, as well as their local businesses and schools.

When a medical marijuana dispensary operator tried to open shop in the neighborhood, the community quickly organized a public meeting in protest with help from District 14 councilman, Jose Huizar, bringing in representatives of the city attorney, State Board of Equalization, CD-14 staff and LAPD’s Hollenbeck Division – ultimately stopping the pot shop from ever opening its doors.

(Courtesy of Wendi Riser)

(Courtesy of Wendi Riser)

They tend to be wary of any changes in city policies and ordinances they fear will have a damaging effect on their way of life, and they don’t like having their needs dictated by people on the outside.

In addition to Hermon, the Arroyo Seco NC also represents Montecito Heights, Monterey Hills, Mt. Washington and Sycamore Grove. The Arroyo Seco NC consists of two representatives from each of the five communities with the exception of Mt. Washington that has four. There are also 9 at-large members – representing the environment, health and safety, culture and arts – and one community interest representative on the board.

In Los Angeles, each neighborhood council yearly receives city funds to use on outreach, local improvements, special projects, programs or grants to engage residents. They are tasked with advising the L.A. City Council on local issues as well as the city budget and proposed laws, taxes and land use issues.

After more than a decade as part of the Arroyo Seco NC, Hermon residents felt their needs did not fall in line with those of many of their neighboring communities and a change was needed.

Hermon has too often witnessed its demands vetoed by the rest of the neighborhood council, says longtime community activist Joseph Riser, Wendi’s husband and president of the formation committee.

According to Hermon’s application, the proposed neighborhood council would have nine seats, with each member specializing in fields ranging from education to business.

When the neighborhood council system was first established the process for a community to separate from the neighborhood council it was affiliated with was difficult, if not nearly impossible. In 2012, Councilman Huizar, with help from the community, spearheaded an effort to streamline the process to allow neighborhoods councils to subdivide in cases where communities are separated from its neighbors by significant geographic features, such as the Arroyo Seco Parkway and the Ernest E. Debs Regional Park in Hermon’s case. The new law also eliminates the so-called “Starbucks stakeholder,” referring to outsiders who seek to influence neighborhood council elections by virtue of their patronage of a local establishment.

“I want to thank leaders from the great community of Hermon for bringing this idea to me,” Huizar told EGP Monday. “The new system that I helped create makes it easier and is fair to both existing neighborhood councils, as well as any proposed NCs.”

Hermon is “different from many of the neighborhoods that make up Arroyo Seco,” points out Joseph Riser, explaining the need for change. “Our houses are different, we were established by different people.”

Quaint and quiet Hermon, called the “biggest small community in Los Angeles, was established in 1903 by a group of Protestants, eventually taking on a college town feel when the now closed Los Angeles Pacific College opened. Although primarily residential now, the neighborhood is home to a popular dog park, small business district, an elementary school, an alternative high school and charter school.

Hermon falls under a different precinct than its neighbors and is even served by a different councilmember than the rest of the Arroyo Seco.

“Over the years, some of the people on the neighborhood council couldn’t even tell you where Hermon was,” Joseph Riser said, only half-jokingly.

He told EGP the new neighborhood council would take a closer look at the types of developments, like “McMansions” and affordable housing, as well as new businesses coming into their neighborhood.

Before they can move forward, L.A.’s Department Neighborhood Empowerment (EmpowerLA) must first approve Hermon’s application. If that happens, a vote of all Arroyo Seco stakeholders will take place within 90 days to decide whether Hermon should be allowed to separate and form its own neighborhood council.

“This is where we will need every Hermon stakeholder to show up and vote for Hermon,” says Wendi Riser.

Despite rumors to the contrary, if the Hermon Neighborhood Council is approved the Arroyo Seco NC will not be decertified or lose any of its $37,000 annual allowance.

Voting is expected to take place in March 2017. If passed, the Hermon Neighborhood Council could hold its first meeting as early as July.

 

Jazz It Up Latin Style This Weekend

August 18, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Now in its third year, the 2016 Latin Jazz and Musical Festival returns to Northeast Los Angeles this weekend, with two days of great live outdoor performances, all free to attend.

The music festival will take place at Sycamore Grove Park on Figueroa Street, and is once again spearheaded by Councilman Gil Cedillo, with help from a slew of sponsors ranging from Metro to Walmart.

When Cedillo introduced the Latin Jazz and Music Festival back in 2014, he said he wanted a festival that matched Highland Park’s “authentic character and vibe.” He also wanted to make sure that the festival would appeal to the area’s young people and take into account the local area’s large Latino population.

(Office of Councilman Gil Cedillo)

(Office of Councilman Gil Cedillo)

The two-day event opens Saturday with the Plaza De La Raza Youth Ensemble at 11:45 a.m. followed by the Heart of Los Angeles Youth Big Band. Headlining Saturday night are the Latin jazz and salsa sounds of Oscar Hernandez and Alma Libre.

Sunday opens at noon with Renancimiento Trio followed by the Bravo High School Latin Jazz Ensemble. Andy Vargas and the Souleros headline Sunday; their show starts at 7 p.m.

Festivalgoers will also enjoy delicious offerings from a variety of food trucks and for those 21 and over, Highland Park’s Greyhound Bar & Grill is hosting a beer garden. This is a wheelchair accessible event for all the family, and organizers suggest bringing a chair, umbrella and sunscreen,

There’s off-street parking and shuttle service available. So walk, bike, skate or take public transportation to the Southwest Museum Metro Station.

Sycamore Grove Park is located at 4702 N. Figueroa St., Highland Park 90042. For more information, call (323) 550-1538.

 

Lincoln Heights Farmers Market 1-Year Anniversary

June 8, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Wednesday, June 8

3-8pm – Celebrate the 1-Year Anniversary of the Lincoln Heights Certified Farmers Market. Event will feature nutrition education, healthy cooking demos, farm-fresh produce, prepared food, live music, artisans and kids activities. New Vendors including the Underwood Family Farms. Market takes place at the intersection of North Broadway and Daly Street. For info, call (323)427-0203.

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

jgarcia@egpnews.com

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.

York Park One Year Later

March 17, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

It’s been one year since a small neighborhood park opened to the public in Highland Park.

Located on the corner of York Boulevard and Avenue 50, York Park was designed with input from the community.

There are not many parks or open spaces in the neighborhood, so people were excited when the park opened. At the grand opening, children could be seen running around, enjoying everything the park has to offer.

At just one-third of an acre in size, the park still attracts a lot of people. A year of use, however, has led some park-goers to now say there are issues with the design. They say there are things not needed in a child-friendly park, and believe it could be made better.

The park was designed as part of the York Vision Plan, a blueprint for improving York Boulevard for residents, businesses, walkers, bicyclists and commuters.

A committee of volunteers worked with Councilman Jose Huizar’s Office on the plan. They held meetings in the community to find out what people in the area wanted most, and a park made the list.

EGP recently sat down with some park-users to discuss their views on the final design and found opinions are split.
Gloria Hernandez, a mother of three young children, visited the park for the first time with her sister. She looked around and said she doesn’t “adore” its layout.

“This reminds me of the park at home except this one has fewer things, but more colorful” she said. “Where are the swings?”

Highland Park resident Maria Ramirez said she brings her two children to the park almost every day after school. She also wishes the park had swings.

“That exercise area is not needed, it’s a park, not a gym,” she complained. “Instead of that area being for machines it should’ve been swings,” she told EGP. “My children have gotten hurt using the machines,” she explained.

Father of three, Jose Sanchez, disagrees. “I like the exercise machines,” he said. “I get to exercise while watching my children,” he added. “This park is too small for swings.”

Several people said they believe the space for the park’ small amphitheater could have been put to better use.

Children swing from the playground at York Park. (EGP Photo by Gisela Jimenez)

Children swing from the playground at York Park. (EGP Photo by Gisela Jimenez)

Yolanda Nogueira’s family has owned the brick building across from the park since 1964. She was on the committee that helped design the park. According to Noguiera, city engineers took the committee’s ideas and came up with 8 possible designs for the community to vote on.

“We voted on the swings, we definitely wanted swings in this small park,” she told EGP, agreeing with current park-users who want to see them added.

“There was certain equipment we voted on that didn’t get put in,” but should have, said Noguiera.

EGP reached out to Councilman Huizar to ask if changes could be made at the park, such as adding swings.

The councilman told EGP he is not aware of any big concerns about the park design. He pointed out that several workshops were held to give the community a chance to share their ideas. “We also had the survey where people got to vote for their favorite design after we had an idea of what it would be like,” the councilman said.

“So, the community designed the park, it was for the community.”

Creating a park on the site of a former gas station was challenging and pricey, Huizar stressed.

“When I first heard the community wanted the park there at first I thought, ‘Wow, this may not be possible.’ I realized it was going to be pricey and we would have a long process to building everything,” the councilman told EGP.

The councilman donated money from his discretionary funds to hire a grant writer to apply for Proposition 84 state park funding, which was received.

“Yes, we are open to new ideas but we do have to keep in mind that it will cost.” Huizar said.
“We [would just] have to figure out where the money would come from.”

Gisela Jimenez is a senior at Academia Avance Charter School in Highland Park. She is interning at Eastern Group Publications/EGPNews as part of the school’s “Work Educational Experience Project.”

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: https://www.gofundme.com/x2qz2bac.

—-

Twitter @jackiereporter

jgarcia@egpnews.com

The Stories That Made Headlines In 2015

December 31, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

The count down has started: Out with the old and in with the new!
Well, not quite.
2015 may be coming to a close but some of the stories that repeatedly made our headlines this year are sure to be back in 2016; some with a vengeance.
From the Exide toxic pollution scandal to the threat of El Nino, to the growing number of homeless, rising rents and crime numbers, the battle to close the 710 to 210 transportation gap and demands for higher wages, EGP predicts these issues will continue to grab headlines in 2016.
Not because movement on the stories are at a standstill, but because they continue to evolve.
Economists say more people are working and the economy has recovered, but there’s also an increasing amount of data showing many more people are now homeless and fewer people are able to buy a home or afford skyrocketing rents.

Exide Contamination Scandal
No story on our pages received more coverage than the battle by local residents and environmental justice activists to shut down Vernon-based Exide Technologies.
After years of hazardous waste violations, residents in East and Southeast communities in March rejoiced at the news that Exide – a lead-acid, battery recycler – would finally be closed permanently. In order to avoid federal criminal prosecution, the company agreed to close down permanently and pay millions of dollars in fines and for the cleanup of facility and any properties in surrounding areas contaminated by its emissions.
What’s Next: Testing and cleanup of properties in the surrounding communities of Boyle Heights, East Los Angeles, Bell, Huntington Park, Maywood and Commerce is still underway by the Department of Toxic Substances Control. Up to 10,000 homes may require decontamination. A community advisory committee is “overseeing” the process, including the removal and transportation of the tainted soil to another location.

 A crew from the Department of Toxic Substances Control collect samples of dirt for testing. (EGP photo archives)

A crew from the Department of Toxic Substances Control collect samples of dirt for testing. (EGP photo archives)

Crime In Northeast Los Angeles
Also making multiple headlines in 2015 was the gang war in Northeast Los Angeles that resulted in numerous shootings and widespread fear in the community.
Los Angeles police from the Northeast Division attended a community meeting earlier in the year where they told residents that the LAPD had increased patrols and stepped up enforcement of gang injunctions to get control of the street violence.
The gang violence did quiet down, but other violent crimes, including the murder of two young girls whose bodies were found in Debs Park, multiple stabbing attacks and gentrifying Figueroa Street took its place in the headlines. Hit-and-run deaths also increased, heating up the war over bike lanes, which advocates claim are the best way to slow down traffic and increase pedestrian safety. Opponents dispute their claim, saying bike lanes will not stop someone from driving under the influence or taking off when they hit someone. They also say the bike lanes will just create more traffic jams and decrease valuable street parking.
What’s Next: Bicycle activists say they will continue to pressure the local Councilman, Gil Cedillo, and the city of Los Angeles to adopt their “road diet” plan in Highland Park. Cedillo has proposed other strategies, such as adding more traffic lights and signs in the area. The battle will continue.

A vigil is held for a victim of a hit-and-run in Highland Park. (EGP photo archives)

A vigil is held for a victim of a hit-and-run in Highland Park. (EGP photo archives)

The Homeless Crisis
Throughout 2015, the city and county of Los Angeles have continued to report growing numbers of homeless and to talk about the need to spend millions of dollars to increase transitional and permanent housing and mental health services.
Residents in several communities have complained that homelessness is a problem in their neighborhood and have called on local officials to move transients — forcibly is necessary – out of their neighborhood.
While some point to the homeless as the blame for an increase crime, health and unsanitary conditions, blight and a host of other problems, advocates for the homeless fought efforts to criminalize the homeless and pushed for more services to assist them.
More than 25,000 people are homeless within the city of Los Angeles, according to the latest 2015 count by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority. Countywide, homelessness has risen 12 percent since 2013’s count, from 39,461 to 44,359 people homeless.
In September, Mayor Eric 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.
Earlier this month, city officials set aside $12.4 million to help house the homeless and provide more temporary shelter during El Nino storms expected this winter.
The funding, proposed by Garcetti and approved by the City Council, 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.
At the County level, supervisors last week approved $5 million of Homeless Prevention Initiative funds be set aside for the expansion of programs that help decrease homelessness among youth in Los Angeles County.
The County is now drafting a set of strategies to reduce homelessness through an intensive, inclusive planning process known as the Homeless Initiative, which will include recommendations to establish a Transition Age Youth Resources Center.
Approximately 1.7 million runaways or homeless youth under the age of 18 live in Los Angeles County, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness. Twenty-five percent of former foster youth reported they had been homeless at least one night within 2.5 to 4 years after leaving the foster care system.
Last week city and county officials jointly announced expansion of the County’s SMART team model — known as MET in the County — which according to Sup. Hilda Solis “effectively diverts mentally ill individuals from the criminal justice system and into treatment programs with the potential of helping many turn their lives around.”
What’s Next: With the threat of El Nino looming larger every day, homeless advocates are scrambling to increase the number of shelter beds available this winter. A temporary shelter opened at All Saints Episcopal Church in Highland Park is one such facility that will likely receive emergency funding despite not meeting the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority’s normal standards. Some cities are considering allowing people living in campers to park overnight at city-run facilities, and other changes.

Los Angeles has experienced an increase in homeless living on the streets. (EGP photo archives)

Los Angeles has experienced an increase in homeless living on the streets. (EGP photo archives)

The Threat of El Niño
Federal, state and local officials have been aggressively preparing for El Niño heavy rains that are expected to hit the Southland this winter. In years past, El Niño weather caused traffic gridlock, neighborhoods to be flooded, toppled power lines and damaged homes with the pounding rain for days without end. Cities across the basin have been assessing infrastructure needs and making repairs to avoid storm damage.
Topping the list of preparations across the region has been the clearing of debris flood basins and storm drains.
Earlier this month the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) released a disaster response plan for severe storm weather.
Commerce and several other cities have set up strategies for communicating with residents and business in the event of an emergency, are encouraging people to sign up for their Alert system notifications.
Bell Gardens is sending residents “tips” for preparing for El Nino.
Montebello and Commerce have each handed out a large number of sandbags to local residents.
What’s Next: Local municipalities will continue monitoring areas prone to flooding, clearing out storm drains and distributing sandbags to businesses and residents. The storms are expected to hit in late winter. Los Angeles County has set up safety tips available at www.lacounty.gov/elnino

The SR-710 Debate
For more than six decades, the battle over how to close the 4.5 mile gap between the terminus of SR-710 Long Beach freeway in Alhambra and the northbound Foothill 210 Freeway in Pasadena has divided communities all along the route, from Commerce to La Canada.
The heavily traveled 710 Freeway is a transportation nightmare for commuters and commercial vehicles in the area, and residents living in adjacent communities.
Caltrans and Metro released a draft environmental impact report/environmental impact statement (DEIR/EIS) in March on five possible alternatives for closing the gap, they include: a “no build” option; a traffic management system; a rapid bus line, a light rail and a 6-mile freeway tunnel.
Several groups have called for scrapping the report, after months of meeting and public comment, and starting over. Others have called the long delay a racist, environmental injustice, forcing low-income, mostly Latinos to bare  the brunt of high levels of pollution while allowing more affluent communities to avoid carrying their share of the burden.
What’s Next: Information from comments received during public hearings throughout the year will be used to prepare the final environmental document along with the agencies’ preferred alternative. We can expect to see ongoing debate and political maneuvering from all sides of the issue.

 An  SR710 North public hearing gets heated. (EGP photo archives)

An SR710 North public hearing gets heated. (EGP photo archives)

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