Group Questions Autry FEMA Spending on Southwest Museum

November 14, 2013 by · 2 Comments 

Holding signs that read, “Autry: Free the Southwest Museum!” and chanting “Open the doors!” a group of activists gathered Wednesday morning in front of the locked gate to the pedestrian tunnel at the Southwest Museum to express their disappointment with the Autry “Cowboy” Museum.

“The Friends of the Southwest Museum Coalition found evidence that the Autry has received at least $10.5 million in taxpayer funds from the state of California and FEMA for the Southwest Museum building and collection,” said Nicole Possert, spokesperson for the coalition.  They claim the funding was awarded with the understanding that it would be used to re-open the facility to the public.

The coalition is demanding that the Autry, the Southwest Museum’s managing partner since 2003, unlock the doors to Los Angeles’ first museum and the original home of valuable collections of Native American, Southwestern and Meso-American art and artifacts.

“The Autry is failing miserably to share the Southwest Museum’s wonderful collection with the taxpaying public,” said Possert.

Activists protest in front of the closed Southwest museum. (Photo courtesy of Martha Benedict)

Activists protest in front of the closed Southwest museum. (Photo courtesy of Martha Benedict)

The Friends coalition has been battling for years to get the Autry to reopen the Southwest Museum site as a full working museum, with all its original collections, as it was when it merged with the Autry. They have repeatedly opposed efforts to re-open the museum on a smaller scale, or to convert its use for other types of projects or programming.

“This is the heart of our area, it has been for almost 100 years, since it first opened in 1914,” said Ivonne Sarceda, a coalition leader.

“We say ‘open these doors’ because this tunnel takes you to the museum,” Sarceda said as she stood in front of the museum’s locked doors.

However, 10 years after it was first closed, the Southwest Museum re-opened Oct. 19 for one day a week.

“The way they [the Autry] are showing their gratitude to taxpayers is by only opening the museum 6 hours each Saturday. Most of the museums in Los Angeles are open 6 days a week,” said Possert.

Diana Barnwell, a former Southwest Museum board member, said in a letter dated Nov. 11, 2013 and addressed to the Friends of the Southwest Museum coalition, that the museum’s structural problems evolved after the 1994 Northridge earthquake. The Southwest Museum Caracol Tower’s concrete walls were cracked, there was concrete beam damage where the Tower joins the main museum building and some minor roof tile damage, she detailed in her statement,

“When FEMA officials visited the Southwest Museum they agreed with our Board and management that the damage to the building was repairable,” said Barnwell in the letter the Friends group distributed at its press conference on Tuesday.

When the Autry became a partner, they stated in writing that they would use $1,206,555 in FEMA funds to restore the Southwest Museum to its “original glory.” In the years following, the Autry asked for more funds from FEMA and the state to repair the Southwest Museum, and to relocate its vast collections, according to Barnwell.

W. Richard West Jr., president and CEO of the Autry, told EGP Wednesday that the money they received from FEMA and a Proposition 40 grant from the California Cultural and Historical Endowment has already been spent on the museum, but it was not enough to complete all the work needed.

“We have taken about 85 percent of the collection out of the museum to preserve it, to prevent the intrusion of moisture, and it has been placed in other areas” such as the Griffith Park, he said.

West told EGP that it’s not yet possible to open the museum full-time. In June 2013, Los Angeles County engineers estimated that $25 to $41 million will be needed to complete repairs to the museum. The Autry, he said, is reaching out to the state and private sources to come up with the money, he said.

West added, however, that the Autry has no plans for returning the Southwest Museum collections to the Mount Washington site, even if the money is found to complete needed repairs. “We have to be realistic that this [Southwest Museum] is not a 21st century museum,” West said. “The museum will be used for an array [of other things], for programming, lectures, presentations and more,” he asdded.

Both sides are working with residents in the area, organizations and council members to push for their plan for the future of the museum. It has been a contentious issue for many years.

“We need to stop litigating and come to an agreement,” said West, citing the support they are now receiving from some of the Autry’s former opponents who now say they are willing to accept a scaled down version of the museum.

But members of the Friends coalition say assertions that the Southwest Museum in Mount Washington is no longer a suitable site for a museum are dead wrong.

“It has been proven … that this museum has many things that are positive for running as a successful museum, said Ann Walnum co-founder of the coalition. She said the opening of a Gold Line station adjacent to the museum has extended its reach to people from all over L.A. County, who now “can get here by rail.”

“With the merger of the Autry and the Southwest Museum, our top priority has been to properly care for and maintain the collection after decades of neglect, with the goal of making the collection accessible for research, exhibits, and programs in Los Angeles for decades to come,” said West.

Southlanders Raise Funds For Philippines Typhoon Relief Effort

November 14, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Efforts to raise money, food and other supplies have been launched by several groups in the Los Angeles area, including the Los Angeles chapter of the American Red Cross, which on Wednesday held two events to raise money for victims of Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) in the Philippines.

As of Wednesday, the reported death toll stood near 2,000, with many observers in the region saying it could rise to 10,000 or more as rescue teams reach remote areas cut off by the storm’s path of destruction early last Friday. More than 1 million people have been impacted by Typhoon Haiyan. Between 600,000 and 800,000 people are reported to be homeless and clean water, food and medical supplies are in dire short supply, according to the KNX 1070 radio station in Los Angeles.

“We only collect monetary donations because it allows us to move quicker. We don’t worry about shipping, they get exactly what they need, and it helps the country’s economy,” said Monica Diaz, spokeswoman for the American Red Cross Los Angeles Region on Wednesday about their fundraising efforts.

The group partnered with ABC7 to collect cash, checks and credit card donations at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena and the Honda Center in Anaheim, Diaz said.

It also worked with CBS2/KCAL9 and CBS radio to operate a 12-hour long phone bank Wednesday.

The Los Angeles area is home to one of the largest Filipino communities in the country, with more than 330,000 people of Filipino descent living in the region.

So far, no relief teams from the Los Angeles Region have been sent to the Philippines, Diaz said.

The U.S., however, has “ordered the aircraft carrier George Washington and other Navy ships in the Pacific “to make the best speed for the Republic of the Philippines,” according to the New York Times.

The George Washington was in Hong Kong when it received its orders. The aircraft carrier, according to U.S. officials, carries 5,000 sailors and more than 80 aircraft.

The United Nations said Tuesday that $301 million in international emergency assistance is needed to help the millions of people devastated by the typhoon’s destruction. The World Health Organization (WHO) says there exists a massive health crisis in the Philippines, with the spread of disease caused by decaying bodies, unclean water and food supplies, and a shortage of medical doctors and medical supplies adding to the typhoon’s destruction of homes and other infrastructure.

Over the weekend, members of the Filipino community started their own efforts to raise funds for victims, as fears mounted over the inability to reach relatives in the most ravages zones.

The Red Cross said people can contact them to get assistance locating relatives.

Bind De la Vega, president of the Philippine Disaster Relief Organization (PeDRO) told the Los Angeles Daily News that about 300 people turned out Sunday for a walk in the San Fernando Valley.

Locally, the fundraising effort got a big boost from The Walt Disney Co., which announced Tuesday it was donating $500,000 to the American Red Cross and Save the Children to assist relief efforts in the Philippines. The company also announced that it will match any donations made by its employees.

“Our hearts go out to the millions of people in the Philippines affected by this tragedy,’’ said Disney Chairman and CEO Robert A. Iger. “We hope this donation and our employee matching gift contributions will help families begin to rebuild their lives in the wake of this devastation.”

Information from City News Service used in this report.

Caltrans Explains Jurisdiction to Montebello Residents

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At a town hall meeting in Montebello late last month, frustrated residents called on Caltrans officials to explain what their job is, and who’s responsible for dealing with the annoying freeway issues that have them seeing red.

“Just what is it that Caltrans is responsible for in this area,” asked one resident during the Oct. 24 town hall meeting, organized by Councilman Jack Hadjinian and Councilwoman-elect Vivian Romero.

Motorist across Los Angeles County are accustomed to seeing workers in bright orange vests and white hard hats when freeway lanes are closed, but many residents said it’s not clear to them what else the California Department of Transportation actually does.

Caltrans officials attempted to explain their role and how they can help residents deal with living near a freeway, but were quickly ambushed by a barrage of questions and complaints from the audience about issues pertaining to noise,litter, water drainage and safety.

“We are responsible for right of way fence to right away fence,” said Deborah Wong, Caltrans deputy district director of maintenance, referring to the fences that enclose the large sound walls near residential streets on each side of the freeway.

In addition to designing, building and maintaining the state’s highways, Wong said the agency is responsible for the safety of motoring traffic, the preservation of what has already been built by Caltrans and services like graffiti and litter removal along the freeway.

Who is in charge of building thicker, taller sound walls so it won’t be so noisy for nearby homes, residents demanded to know.

Not Caltrans, according to Wong, who explained that the state agency is no longer in charge of building structures like sound walls, auxiliary lanes or widening lanes. “That’s actually something that [in Los Angeles County] Metro does now,” she said.

“Caltrans no longer has the money to [build] sound walls,” Wong said. “That has been brokered off from us [to] Metro [which] has an amount of money that is allocated locally.”

Caltrans workers met with Councilmember elect Vivian Romero, pictured center, and other Montebello officials last month to discuess Caltran-related issues along the 60 Freeway. (Photo courtesy of Vivian Romero)

Caltrans workers met with Councilmember elect Vivian Romero, pictured center, and other Montebello officials last month to discuess Caltran-related issues along the 60 Freeway. (Photo courtesy of Vivian Romero)

In 1997, Senate Bill 45 changed the allocation of transportation funds, putting local and regional agencies like Metro in charge of planning and prioritizing projects instead of Caltrans.

“We take care of the graffiti, but the actual financing of sound walls is no longer ours,” Wong said. “We’re only going to take care of [what’s already] existing.”

Metro officials told EGP that the bulk of Metro’s money goes to improving transit with projects like the Gold Line and Expo Line extensions, unlike in other areas like Orange County, which focus their funds on highway maintenance.

Metro adds to their revenue for these projects by building toll lanes like the one on the 10 freeway, which in turn bring in more revenue towards local projects.

“That’s [Metro] bringing in money to fund thing,” said Wong.

The confusion over jurisdiction left some residents concerned about who they should contact with their problems.

Gerri Guzman, a field representative for Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia and board member for Montebello Unified School District, said she’s worried that neither agency seems to be taking charge.

“What is the chance that as we approach these issues in the future Metro is going to say these are preexisting conditions from when Caltrans oversaw this area and then Caltrans in turn will say we are no longer responsible to address these particular issues,” she asked.

Metro officials told EGP back in September that they too have been questioned regarding Metro/Caltrans jurisdictions.

Metro CEO Arthur T. Leahy told EGP that he and other Metro officials met with the state director of Caltrans to discuss their concerns regarding freeway maintenance in Los Angeles County.

“[Metro] has become a squeaky wheel in Sacramento on this” Leahy said referring to the unequal maintenance he has observed in freeways between the Mexican border and Sacramento. “I think we have made progress, but we are not happy” yet, he said.

Leahy said that Metro has informed Caltrans of the issues they have with the state agency’s handling of potholes, landscaping, irrigation systems, trash and graffiti removal along the different highways within the county.

“This is not a minor problem,” Leahy said.

But for Caltrans, graffiti and litter removal fall behind safety and preservation of the existing structures when it comes to the agency’s funding priorities.

To help lower the costs of trash and graffiti removal, Caltrans uses court-ordered probationers, inmates or workfare people to provide more than $10 million in services annually, according to the agency.

Yet, despite the fact that the unpaid workers are non-violent offenders and are supervised at all times, it’s a practice some residents said has them worried, and they would rather not see continued near their homes.

On another note, Wong said Caltrans would ideally like to line up some of their projects with work being done by Metro, but if necessary, Caltrans will move forward soon with plans to repave the 60 freeway, between the 710 and 605 freeways.

“It needs to go [forward] whether they are ready or not.”

Commerce Approves Three-Prongs of Green Zone Policy

November 14, 2013 by · 1 Comment 

A local city with a large industrial base, criss-crossed by freeways and railyards that is often sited as having some of the most polluted air in the region, has adopted a policy environmental advocates hope will make the city healthier for its residents.

At the Nov. 5th City of Commerce council meeting, elected officials voted to approve a Green Zones Policy supported by a city task force and local activists. Supporters said not only will the policy bring a healthier community; it will also create more local job opportunities in manufacturing, specifically in food production and artisan businesses.

Railyards, freeways and other industrial lands uses cause highly concentrated levels of pollution that affect the health of Commerce residents, workers and visitors, according to East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice (EYCEJ), an environmental health and justice organization backing the policy. Ongoing exposure to these toxins can aggravate asthma, cause pre-term births, low birth-weight babies, lung disease, heart attacks, cancer and premature death, according to East Yards, according to the Green Zones executive summary.

In a study by the California Environmental Protection Agency, Commerce was identified in the top 5 percent of communities in California with the highest pollution burdens and vulnerabilities.

Members of East Yard and Commerce residents were at the Nov. 5 council meeting to push for passage of the Green Zones Policy, a four-pillar plan that according to East Yard’s website will prevent toxic exposure to residents from new land uses; reduce the level of existing impacts through voluntary business collaborations, allowing participants to utilize less polluting equipment; revitalize local economic opportunities to contribute in a vibrant economy and increase of jobs, and reinvest in key boulevards to bolster business and quality of life opportunities.”

At the meeting, Commerce resident and East Yard member Toña Lupercio presented a petition with hundreds of signatures from community residents supporting the policy to the council. “This policy is critical and we need your leadership,” she told council members.

Three of the Green Zone policy initiatives were developed and sponsored by the city’s Green Zones Policy Working Group. The fourth, dealing with the issue of “prevention,” was added by East Yard, stating it is needed in order to stop the exposure of residents to toxic and harmful pollutants.

“The reason that the council did not include the [fourth] element that amends the zoning ordinance to create buffer zones, from my understanding, is that they did not fully understand the recommendation,” said Angelo Logan, member of East Yards.

The new green policy will amend city zoning law to restrict new toxic land-uses close to homes, schools, churches and senior centers.

After much deliberation, the council voted unanimously to approve the working group’s three original recommendations, but decided to conduct study sessions on East Yards recommended ordinance. This element is aimed to prevent new hazards that range from truck idling at truck stops and warehouses to chemical handling facilities.

“[East Yards] members are very exited that the council has decided to adopt three of the four elements and will consider the 4th one in the coming months.” Said Logan.

The approval of the Green Zone Policy will help reduce environmental dangers in the community, prevent pollution and revitalize neighborhoods through targeted economic development strategies, according to East Yard.

As part of its goal, the policy aims to create a protected zone around sensitive land use areas such as schools, playgrounds, homes, daycare and senior centers to improve public health.

The policy has been years in the making. In June 2011, Commerce’s Environmental Justice Advisory Task Force urged city officials to hold workshops to explore ways to maintain the city’s focus on businesses and industry, while also protecting the health of its nearly 13,000 residents.

A Letter From the Publisher

November 14, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Eastern Group Publications is celebrating its 34th year of publishing its community newspapers. The oldest. the Eastside Sun has been in publication for more than 68 years while the newest, the Vernon Sun, is 5-years-old.

Our newspapers have circulated in the cities of Commerce, Bell Gardens, Vernon, Montebello, Monterey Park, and several communities throughout East and Northeast Los Angeles, always following one guiding principal, to serve the “Public’s right to know” by providing local communities with local news that is factual, well-written and that respects our readers.

We have at times had to publish stories about people that are controversial or put people in an unfavorable light, despite their popularity with some members of the community. We do this because we have a responsibility to you, our readers, to give you the facts to the best of our ability. But we have always tried to be fair and as accurate as possible.

Since the very beginning, we have attempted to make sure that public and legal notices, which tell the public about actions being undertaken by local cities, county, state, and federal entities that impact people’s lives, are published locally. We are proud to say that the local reach of public notice today is much more extensive than when EGP first started its campaign to get them posted in the community newspapers that reach local readers.

It is important to note that the regulations pertaining to the posting of public notices is determined by state law through jurisdiction by the Superior Court and not local governments, which we believe keeps it out of political maneuvering by local entities.

EGP believes we have a responsibility to endorse candidates for public and elected office and issues on the ballot in an unbiased, objective and as fair way as possible. It is not an easy task.

We know that some, at times maybe many of our readers will disagree with our endorsements, and understand that it is impossible for all of our readers to agree with our endorsements all the time. However, we want our readers to know that our endorsements are not based on our personal likes and dislikes. We give everyone a fair chance to present themselves to our editorial board and to undergo a full and comprehensive interview on relevant issues in an open and frank way.

These are the principles and ethics that guide us now, and which will continue to guide us in the future.

Editorial Cartoon

November 14, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

www.otherwords.org

www.otherwords.org

Our Industry and Our Jobs

November 14, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

In 1910, D.W. Griffith shot the first silent movie, “In Old California,” in Hollywood. It was the beginning of a quintessential California industry. The pioneers of the movie industry came to California because the State is tailor-made for film with great weather and every natural backdrop a director could want. For a century, a network of communities and businesses have grown up to support these productions and place a unique California stamp on world culture.

As our elected leaders in Sacramento plan for the 2014 legislative session, job creation and economic expansion should reign supreme as the top priority. The single most effective action they can take to create jobs and add fuel to our economic engine is to increase and reform the California Film Tax Credit program.

This program should be named the California Taxpayer Return on Investment Program because it represents one of the most successful investments of public funds the State has ever seen. For every $1 in tax credit, $1.16 is returned to local and state government coffers. On a straight ROI calculation, taxpayers get a 16 percent return on investment without laying out any cash. The film and television folks who qualify for the program actually invest their money in our economy first and get the tax credit benefit later. The savvy investor would jump at the opportunity for a return like this, as should California.

Keep in mind the tax credit dollars don’t pay for multi-million dollar actors, but instead cover below the line jobs for everyday workers that keep this industry working. Every single production creates its own small town that needs construction workers, food preparers, fashion designers, accountants, dry cleaners, transportation providers and many other products and services that in turn have their own ancillary impact. The ripple effect of a single production is extraordinary.

The world has watched California prosper from the entertainment industry and wants the same economic benefits. New York’s film tax credit program is four times the size of ours and other states like Louisiana, Georgia and New Mexico are close behind. The result is clear, California is losing out on thousands of jobs and millions of tax dollars for critical public services.

The answer is straightforward. Significantly increase the amount of resources in the California Film Tax Credit and change the regulations to allow more productions to be eligible. Unless we take “Lights, Camera, Action!” now, the job losses our state has seen in manufacturing, aerospace and other industries will have a gruesome sequel featuring the entertainment industry in “Bygone California.”

And that’s The Business Perspective.

 

The Business Perspective is a weekly column by Gary Toebben, President & CEO of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, produced with the input of Public Policy staff.

 

Grand Bargain or Raw Deal?

November 14, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Following the government shutdown drama, politicians in Washington appear hopelessly divided, according to conventional wisdom.

Fair enough. But there’s at least one area where many politicians from both of the major parties agree — and many of the TV talking heads and newspaper pontificators are with them, too. Social Security, they insist, “needs” to be cut.

For the last few years, after a major standoff, the usual Beltway pundits have been talking about something they like to call the “grand bargain.”

 

That sure sounds like a good thing. Who doesn’t love a bargain? Well, here’s the question you should ask yourself: Who’s actually getting one? It’s more likely than not that the savings aren’t headed your way.

In Washington speak, a “grand bargain” means some kind of budget deal where everyone is forced to give a little in order to reduce the budget deficit and tackle the country’s debt. To get Republicans to agree to raise more revenue (i.e., taxes), Democrats have to agree to some spending cuts.

As with most things, the devil’s in the details. There’s essentially unanimous Republican opposition to raising taxes on the wealthy. That makes authentic bargaining tough. And on the other side, the cuts are intended for programs like Medicare and Social Security, key elements of the safety net and perhaps the most popular government spending programs.

Medicare and Social Security are remarkably successful in helping keep seniors and others in need out of poverty. But “households relying on (Social Security) for a significant share of their income often live dangerously close to the poverty line,” according to the Economic Policy Institute. That means cuts of any kind could jeopardize their living standards.

 

Pundits and journalists cheer this talk of a “bargain,” and they praise politicians — especially Democrats — who have the “courage” to back such cuts.

For the past few decades, politicians and pundits have ginned up a “crisis” over Social Security’s finances. At this point, you can say almost anything about Social Security and get away with it.

Right now, yet another wave of scare stories about Social Security has soaked the media. 60 Minutes recently did a segment about the allegedly rampant fraud in the Social Security disability system. But back in reality, disability benefits are difficult to collect, and the program is watched very closely for signs of cheating.

 

The Washington Post ran a big story about the problem of people collecting benefits for their deceased loved ones. Front-page news in the nation’s capital — but if you read closely, you would discover that we’re talking about 0.006 percent of the checks.

So long as the media can keep churning out this misleadingly alarmist Social Security coverage, more politicians will talk up the idea of “fixing” the program. When you hear them say this, you should know that they mean cutting benefits.

 

Be on the lookout: When the TV talking heads and politicians all agree that it’s time to strike a “grand bargain” to “protect” or “fix” Social Security, check the fine print. Someone’s getting a bargain, but it’s probably not you.

 

Peter Hart is the activism director of Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting. www.fair.org Distributed via OtherWords.org.

 

Public Comment on Exide Storm Water Plan Opens Up Today

November 14, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

The public has until January 2014 to submit comment on a plan by lead-acid battery recycler Exide Technologies to upgrade its underground piping system.

On Nov. 7, 2013, Exide Technologies, petitioned for a Provisional State Modification for the State of California, Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC). Such modification includes the Temporary System of Storm Water and Wash-down Water Collection in accordance with the Standard Operating Procedure. The current system will be replaced in order to implement the comprehensive interim measure (“IM”) removal action work plan approved by the Department on August 21, 2013 through a temporary authorization

Located in the city of Vernon, Exide has been ordered by DTSC to reduce emissions of lead and arsenic into the air and storm water system, after it was found that the emissions exceed state safety standards.

The 60-day public comment period on Exide’s plan starts today, Nov. 14, 2013. Public comments should be mailed to Bill Veile, DTSC, 8800 Cal Center Drive, Sacramento, CA 95826-3200. A public hearing of the plan will be held Dec. 2 at the Double Tree Hotel, 5757 Telegraph Road, Commerce, CA 90040.

Exide’s proposed plan can be viewed at the Maywood Public Library or at DTSC. For more information, call (714) 484-5337. For access to the project documents, go to: www.dtsc.ca.gov/HazardousWaste/Projects/exide.cfm.

 

Update: The deadline for submitting comment was updated from Dec. 2, 2013 to Jan. 2014.

Hillary Clinton Honored for Fostering Positive U.S., Mexico Partnerships

November 14, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

During her acceptance speech while receiving the Hermandad Award from the Mexican American Leadership Initiative of the U.S.-Mexico Foundation, former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton emphasized the mutually beneficial relationship between the two countries.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit to California last week included a stop at USC where she received an award from the U.S.-Mexico Foundation. (Photos by Hector Cruz Sandoval)

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit to California last week included a stop at USC where she received an award from the U.S.-Mexico Foundation. (Photos by Hector Cruz Sandoval)

“What we have in common with Mexico, what Mexican Americans can help us understand better and implement is a shared future,” she said following the presentation at USC Saturday, according to the university’s Annenberg TV News service.

“Not just a shared responsibility, but a vision of what is possible for us and our children and our children’s children. I believe that our best allies and partners, for all our sakes, are right here, nearby.”

She also highlighted America’s diversity as one of its key assets.

“We are so lucky as a nation that we have the talents of people from everywhere,” she said, according to CNN. “Our diversity is one of our great strengths.”

The Hermandad Award is presented to leaders who have advanced the foundation’s mission of fostering constructive partnerships between the U.S. and Mexico and enhanced opportunities for the people of Mexico and the health and prosperity of both nations.

A day earlier, Clinton was honored in Beverly Hills for her humanitarian contributions, receiving the Global Champion Award at the International Medical Corps’ 2013 Annual Awards Celebration.

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