Gold Line Plan Gets Public Hearing

October 2, 2014 by · 2 Comments 

“Where are we going to go,” asked longtime Montebello resident Sylvia Cruz Monday during a public meeting to review the Draft Environmental Impact Report for Phase 2 of the Metro Eastside Transit Corridor.

Cruz is worried her home could be razed if the route ultimately chosen goes through her part of the city. She says people like her, who are retired or close to retirement, could “be left out in the cold.”

“At our age, how can we start over,” she said, visibly upset.

After years of studies and meetings, the Draft EIS/EIR for extending the Gold Line, Eastside Transit Corridor released in August is being closely dissected by parties interested in the rail project’s ultimate eastward route.

Monday’s public meeting was one of four hosted by Metro in Montebello, Pico Rivera, South El Monte and Whittier – cities along two of the proposed rail alternatives routes. Metro was seeking comments from the public on the impacts identified in its draft report released back in August, before presenting its preferred recommendation to Metro’s board in November.

Whittier resident Richard Cisneros provides his support for the Washington route during the Eastside Gold Line extension public  hearing in Montebello Monday. (EGP Photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

Whittier resident Richard Cisneros provides his support for the Washington route during the Eastside Gold Line extension public hearing in Montebello Monday. (EGP Photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

SR-60 Coalition consultant Omar Hernandez agrees with Cruz. “[Metro] had 47 alternatives and they chose the most destructive to Montebello,” he said. “We want Metro to consider the legal challenges that they will face from the city of Montebello, the coalition and businesses along the corridor,” Hernandez told Metro representatives at the meeting.

Properties “will be taken through eminent domain if they refuse to sell,” said Hernandez. That may seem insignificant, “unless you are one of those [affected] families,” he said.

The Eastside Gold Line, which currently ends on Atlantic Boulevard in East Los Angeles, will be extended either 6.9 or 9.5 miles, depending on the final route selected: along the 60 Freeway to El Monte or along Washington Boulevard to the city of Whittier.

One of the four alternatives proposed is to do nothing, to build nothing. Another calls for taking measures to optimize existing traffic systems, such as improving freeway off ramps, synchronizing traffic signals, maximizing bus lanes, etc.

Lea este artículo en Español: Ruta Final de Extensión de Línea Dorada en Debate

But it was the two rail alternatives that generated the most attention and angst among the 100 or so people at Monday’s meeting. Property owners and residents said they want to make sure their city does not get the short end of the stick, but what that means largely depended on the city where you lived.

Most of the people who spoke at the Montebello meeting favored the SR-60 alternative over the Washington route, which speaker after speaker said would “destroy” Montebello.

“We would like our community to be preserved,” said Armando Arenas, owner of the La Costa Restaurant, one of 58 businesses that would have to be demolished if the Washington Boulevard alignment is approved.

“Construction along Garfield would impact commuting, schools, churches, residential properties and businesses,” he said. “If Garfield is congested, we don’t have alternatives,” he added.

Montebello Mayor William Molinari said the SR-60 route would provide the opportunity to create hundreds of jobs in Montebello and took issue with comments allegedly made previously by  a Whittier councilman, which inferred that Montebello has major crime issues and was “missing an absolute golden egg” to transform that area along Washington Boulevard.

According to the report, adopting the Washington Boulevard route would require demolishing 58 business and 9 residential properties, including 33 businesses and an apartment complex in Montebello; 15 businesses in Whittier and five businesses and a single-family residence in Pico Rivera. About 633 employees would be displaced.

Dimitris Vithoulkas owns California Burger on Washington Boulevard in Montebello says he should not be forced to relocate. He says the “heavy traffic” of people going to and from work and recreational facilities has been good for his business.

If the SR-60 route is chosen, only eight businesses would have to be demolished, one in Montebello, but no residential properties would be impacted. About 69 workers could be displaced.

Impacted businesses would be given “advance written notice” and would receive relocation assistance and payments under the Uniform Act and the California Act, according to Metro.

If selected, the Washington alternative would continue from the Atlantic station to six potential stops to the east on Garfield Avenue, Whittier Boulevard, Greenwood Avenue, Rosemead Boulevard, Norwalk Avenue, and Lambert Road station, taking 17-22 minutes to travel the 9.5 miles between the Atlantic and Lambert stations.

Metro estimates a daily ridership of about 19,900 and an estimated capital cost of $2.8-$3.2 by 2035, the year it expected to be completed.

On the other hand, the SR-60 route would only make four stops, on Garfield Avenue, at the Shops at Montebello, on Santa Anita Avenue and finally on Peck Road in El Monte. Trains would travel the 6.9 miles in about 13 minutes. Ridership is estimated to be about 16,700 daily, at a capital cost of close to $2.5 billion by 2035.

A few speakers said they see the Washington route as an opportunity for the most vulnerable, particularly the large number of workers and low-income commuters who depend on public transportation to get around.

Many of the attendants at the public hearing say are against the Washington route. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Many of the attendants at the public hearing say are against the Washington route. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

“I wish we could have both routes,” said Ted Knoll, executive director for Whittier First Day Coalition, an agency that works with low-income residents and the homeless in Montebello, Pico Rivera, Santa Fe Springs, La Mirada and Whittier.

“We are trying really hard to connect our people to services throughout the county,” he said.

The draft report shows two options for the Washington route. The first would include a grade separation at Rosemead Boulevard, while the second would have an aerial crossing over the San Gabriel River/605 Freeway and a grade separation at Pioneer Blvd.

For the SR-60, Metro would try to minimize potential impacts to the former Oll landfill superfund site in Monterey Park. The city’s community and economic development director, Michael A. Huntley, said they have been working on the Monterey Park Market Place development for more than a decade, and the SR-60 route would “block visibility to that shopping center.”

Whittier resident Richard Cisneros said that everybody should be working “for the greater good.” He said the rail stations could have a positive impact in the community, and suggested they could have “features that enrich the community,” like the Metro stations in Chinatown and Mariachi Plaza in Boyle Heights.

Some of the meeting participants said more detailed information is needed, and they want Metro to do more studies.

SR-60 coalition member Henry Madrid said Metro has undercounted the ridership for that alternative because they failed to include visitors to the near 1,500-acre Whittier Narrows Recreation Center or the Montebello Golf Course.

“It misses riders that contribute to potential revenue,” Madrid said.

Former Montebello councilwoman Kathy Salazar agreed, saying she doesn’t understand why Metro did not count visitors to recreation areas. She suggested mixing the two routes, bringing the freeway route down Rosemead until it turns left on Washington into the city of Pico Rivera.

“But not through our city [Montebello], that’s not going to happen,” she said.

To read the full report or to get more information about how to comment by the Oct. 21 deadline, go to www.metro.net/projects/eastside_phase2 or call (213) 922-3012. 

—-

Twitter @jackieguzman

   @nancyreporting

jgarcia@egpnews.com

nmartinez@egpnews.com

 

City Mourns Passing of Vernon Councilman

October 2, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

The news of Vernon Councilman Michael A. Ybarra’s death last Friday was met with sadness in the southeast city.

The councilman died in Lodi, California following an athletic event, family members informed the city. He was 61.

To honor Ybarra, the city lowered flags at Vernon City Hall and city fire stations to half-staff on Saturday.

Ybarra, a life long resident of Vernon, was elected to the city council in April 2012, unseating incumbent Daniel Newmire during the first contested race in the city in many years.

He was the first councilman to be elected after the city was nearly disincorporated in 2011 and an ordinance prohibiting city council appointments was passed.

Vernon Councilmember Michael A. Ybarra, pictured when he first ran for office in 2012.(EGP photo archive)

Vernon Councilmember Michael A. Ybarra, pictured when he first ran for office in 2012.(EGP photo archive)

“He ran for council during one of the most challenging times the city of Vernon had,” said Vernon Police Chief Daniel Calleros.

“He was a great man,” said the shocked Calleros. “ He really worked hard for the city, he cared for the community and the direction the city is going.”

Ybarra ran as a reform candidate during a period plagued by allegations of corruption and secrecy. He was following in the footsteps of his father, Thomas Ybarra, a 43-year Vernon councilman who resigned in 2009, just six months before his death.

“Ending our city’s old ways has not been easy,” Ybarra told EGP when first elected. “There is still more to be done. I promise to serve this community of Vernon with honesty and integrity.”

One of his first duties as a councilman was to work with city staff and his fellow members on the council to reduce Vernon’s looming $16 million deficit,
hidden by former city officials using budgeting gimmicks to give the city the appearance of financial stability.

This year, the city’s approved budget contained a surplus.

Before being elected, Ybarra traveled to Sacramento to fight the ultimately unsuccessful effort of Assembly Speaker John Perez to disincorporate the city. His activism earned him the first political endorsement by the Vernon Chamber of Commerce.

Chamber president and CEO Marisa Olguin said the Vernon community is extremely saddened by Ybarra’s death.

“Vernon has lost a strong leader and dedicated public servant who loved the city and was proud to be a part of ushering in Vernon’s healthy governance reforms,” Olguin said in a statement.

He was to be one of the most vocal members on the council, often asking questions or requesting more information from staff before voting. He was watchful over city budgetary issues and wanted to understand its impact on business, Olguin said.

Vernon councilmember Michael A. Ybarra during a council meeting earlier this year. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Vernon councilmember Michael A. Ybarra during a council meeting earlier this year. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

“Vernon not only loses a great leader but a close, Vernon friend. There were many business leaders who had a strong relationship with Mike…” she added.

Vernon City Administrator Mark Whitworth says the city is mourning the loss of a man who was “taken from all of us far too soon.”

“Councilmember Ybarra worked diligently to keep Vernon on its good governance path. He was a strong supporter of Vernon’s businesses and kept a close eye on city fiscal issues,” he said. “We send our condolences to Councilmember Ybarra’s family and friends. They are in our thoughts and prayers in their time of profound loss.”

Ybarra was born and raised in Vernon and he often noted that his family’s roots in the city date back to the 1860s. Ybarra’s great uncle, Esteban Peralta, served on the Vernon City Council for 15-years during the 1930s and ‘40s. Peralta ran the city’s first store in 1905, the year Vernon was incorporated.

During his swearing-in ceremony, the then new councilman called it “a proud day for the Ybarra family.”

Ybarra was a U.S. Army veteran and formerly worked as an aerospace quality engineer in Vernon for more than 23-years.

The last council meeting he attended took place Sept. 16. His last official appearance on behalf of the city was at the reopening ceremony for a Huntington Park soccer field renovated with funds from Vernon and named in honor of Sen. Kevin de Leon, who helped broker a deal with Vernon officials to keep the city from being disincorporated.

Ybarra’s term would have expired in 2017.

Funeral services have been scheduled for Monday, Oct. 6 at 9:00 a.m. at Calvary Cemetery (4201 Whittier Boulevard, East Los Angeles, CA 90023).

Vernon city officials, department directors and city employees will attend to pay their last respects and “tribute of his steadfast commitment to the City of Vernon,” the city announced Tuesday.

Ybarra is survived by his widow, Susana Rodriguez-Ybarra, and three daughters: Michelle, Marlene and Melissa.

Boyle Heights Celebra el Día Internacional de Braceros

October 2, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

El domingo, el Concejal José Huizar (CD-14) se reunió con la Unión Binacional de Ex-Braceros y sus familias en el ayuntamiento de Boyle Heights para develar una maqueta, diseñada por el artista Dan Medina honrando a los más de cuatro millones de mexicanos que participaron en el programa de trabajo temporal más grande en la historia de EE.UU.

“Como muchos otros, estoy orgulloso de decir que mi padre, Simon Huizar Bañuelos fue un bracero,” Huizar le dijo a EGP vía email. “Desafortunadamente, esta casi completamente olvidado en la historia con muy pocas referencias en nuestros libros. Eso necesita cambiar” agregó.

Por esta razón, en el 2012, Huizar promulgó el 29 de septiembre como el Día Internacional del Bracero, y dio un reconocimiento especial a los trabajadores inmigrantes que ayudaron a EE.UU. durante su tiempo de necesidad durante la Segunda Guerra Mundial.

El Programa Bracero trajo alrededor de 4,5 millones de ciudadanos mexicanos a trabajar en el campo entre 1942 y 1964. El Tratado Bracero firmado entre EE.UU. y México sigue siendo el programa de trabajadores huéspedes más grande en la historia de este país.

La Unión Binacional De Ex-Braceros está recaudando fondos para una versión más grande de la maqueta, que también será colocada en Boyle Heights.

“Apoyo este esfuerzo para traer un estatua que honre a los braceros, su trabajo como inmigrantes al venir a este país para tener una mejor vida para ellos y sus familias”, dijo Huizar.

El Concejal José Huizar junto a su esposa, hijos y a braceros y familiares durante la develación de la maqueta. (Foto cortesía de oficina del concejal Huizar)

El Concejal José Huizar junto a su esposa, hijos y a braceros y familiares durante la develación de la maqueta. (Foto cortesía de oficina del concejal Huizar)

 

Kershaw to Start Against Cardinals Friday at the Ravine

October 2, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

The Los Angeles Dodgers held off their Western Division rivals the San Francisco Giants by 6 games to win their second straight National League West Championship. The Boys in Blue will now face the St. Louis Cardinals Friday at Dodgers Stadium in their quest for a 2014 World Series appearance.

Dodgers’ pitcher Clayton Kershaw threw for 8 innings of the NL West-clinching game Sept. 24 against the Giants. Kershaw is a frontrunner for the NL Cy Young and Most Valuable Player awards.

With nothing at stake in last Sunday’s game for either team, Kershaw took on the role of pitching coach while veteran 3rd baseman Juan Uribe took over team manager duties, giving General Manager Don Mattingly an extra day to focus on the St. Louis Cardinals matchup.

 (Left to right:)Henley Ramirez and Matt Kemp celebrate their run scoring innings as Juan Uribe gets ready to contribute with his bat.  (EGP photo by Fred Zermeno)

(Left to right:)Henley Ramirez and Matt Kemp celebrate their run scoring innings as Juan Uribe gets ready to contribute with his bat. (EGP photo by Fred Zermeno)

Mattingly will start Kershaw Friday against the Cardinals who will in turn start 20-game winner Adam Wainwright.

The left-hander ended the season with a record of 21-3 and took the Majors’ ERA title at 1.77 for the fourth straight year. Kershaw also won a couple of other titles including his most wins in the Majors at 21, WHIP at .86, strikeouts per nine innings 10.85, complete games at 6, and his winning percentage at .875.

Kershaw missed 31 games at the beginning of the season with a teres major muscle strain but still managed to rack-up 198 1/3 innings across 27 starts.

Another strikeout for Clayton Kershaw during the 8th inning against the Giants at the Ravine Sept. 24.  (EGP photo by Fred Zermeno)

Another strikeout for Clayton Kershaw during the 8th inning against the Giants at the Ravine Sept. 24. (EGP photo by Fred Zermeno)

Other Dodgers with 2014 titles include 1st baseman Adrian Gonzalez who led the way with 116 RBIs and Dee Gordon with his Majors best in stolen bases at 64; he also led the way with 12 triples.

The Dodgers ended the season against the Colorado Rockies and the starting line-up tore it up with 23 runs during the 3 game series at Dodgers Stadium.

 

 

La Ciudad de Vernon Lamenta la Muerte de Concejal

October 2, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

La noticia de la muerte del Concejal Michael A. Ybarra de la ciudad de Vernon el viernes pasado fue recibida con tristeza. El concejal murió en Lodi, California después de un evento deportivo, según informaron los familiares a la ciudad. Tenía 61 años.

Para honrar a Ybarra, la ciudad bajó las banderas del ayuntamiento y las estaciones de bomberos de la ciudad de Vernon a media asta el sábado.

Ybarra, un residente de toda la vida de Vernon, fue elegido para el consejo de la ciudad en abril del 2012, quitándole el puesto al titular Daniel Newmire durante la primera carrera impugnada en la ciudad en muchos años.

Fue el primer concejal en ser elegido después de que la ciudad fue casi desincorporada en  el 2011 y se aprobó una ordenanza que prohíbe nombramientos del consejo municipal.

“Corrió para el consejo durante uno de los momentos más difíciles que la ciudad de Vernon enfrentaba”, dijo el Jefe de Policía de Vernon, Daniel Calleros.

“Era un gran hombre”, dijo sorprendido Calleros. “Él realmente trabajó duro para la ciudad, se preocupaba por la comunidad y la dirección en la que iba la ciudad”.

Concejal MIchael A. Ybarra falleció el viernes. (EGP photo archive)

Concejal MIchael A. Ybarra falleció el viernes. (EGP photo archive)

Ybarra corrió como candidato de la reforma durante un período plagado de acusaciones de corrupción y secretos. Estaba siguiendo los pasos de su padre, Thomas Ybarra, un concejal de Vernon por 43 años, quien renunció en el 2009, sólo seis meses antes de su muerte.

“Poner fin a viejas costumbres de nuestra ciudad no ha sido fácil”, Ybarra le dijo a EGP cuando fue elegido por primera vez. “Todavía hay mucho por hacer. Me comprometo a servir a esta comunidad de Vernon con honestidad e integridad”.

Antes de ser elegido, Ybarra viajó a Sacramento para combatir el esfuerzo infructuoso del presidente de la Asamblea John Pérez para desincorporar la ciudad. Su activismo le hizo ganarse el respaldo político de la Cámara de Comercio de Vernon.

La Presidenta de la Cámara y CEO Marisa Olguín dijo que la comunidad de Vernon está muy entristecida al saber de la muerte de Ybarra.

“Vernon ha perdido a un líder fuerte y un servidor público dedicado que amaba a la ciudad y tuvo el orgullo de ser parte para marcar el comienzo de las reformas de gobierno saludables de Vernon”, dijo Olguín en un comunicado.

Él era uno de los miembros más vocales en el consejo, a menudo haciendo preguntas o pidiendo más información del personal antes de votar. Era vigilante sobre las cuestiones presupuestarias de la ciudad y quería conocer su impacto en los negocios, dijo Olguín.

“Vernon no sólo pierde a un gran líder, pero un amigo cercano de Vernon. Hubo muchos líderes de negocios que tenían una fuerte relación con Mike …”, añadió.

El Administrador de la ciudad de Vernon, Mark Whitworth, dijo que la ciudad está de luto por la pérdida de un hombre que fue “arrebatado de todos nosotros demasiado pronto”.

“El Concejal Ybarra trabajó diligentemente para mantener a Vernon en su buena trayectoria de la gobernabilidad. Él era un firme defensor de los negocios de Vernon y mantienía una estrecha vigilancia sobre cuestiones fiscales de la ciudad”, dijo. “Enviamos nuestras condolencias a la familia y amigos del Concejal Ybarra. Ellos están en nuestros pensamientos y oraciones en este momento de profunda pérdida”.

Ybarra nació y se crió en Vernon y a menudo hablaba de las raíces de su familia en la ciudad que se remontan a la década de 1860. Esteban Peralta, tío abuelo de Ybarra sirvió en el Ayuntamiento de Vernon por 15 años durante los años 1930 y ‘40. Peralta manejó la primer tienda de la ciudad en 1905, el año en que Vernon fue incorporado.

Durante su toma de posesión, el entonces nuevo concejal dijo que ese era “un día de orgullo para la familia Ybarra”.

Ybarra era un veterano del ejército de EE.UU. y anteriormente trabajó como ingeniero de calidad aeroespacial en Vernon por más de 23 años.

La última reunión del consejo a la que asistió tuvo lugar el 16 de septiembre. Su última aparición oficial en nombre de la ciudad fue en la ceremonia de reapertura de un campo de fútbol en Huntington Park renovado con fondos de Vernon y nombrado en honor del senador Kevin de León, quien ayudó negociar un acuerdo con los funcionarios de Vernon para prevenir que la ciudad fuera desincorporada.

El cargo de Ybarra terminaría en el 2017.

Los servicios fúnebres se han programado para el lunes 6 de octubre a las 9:00am en el cementerio Calvary (4201 Whittier Boulevard, East Los Ángeles, CA 90023).

Funcionarios de la ciudad de Vernon, directores del departamento y empleados de la ciudad asistirán para ofrecer sus últimos respetos y “homenaje por su firme compromiso con la ciudad de Vernon”, anunció la ciudad el martes.

A Ybarra le sobreviven su viuda, Susana Rodríguez-Ybarra, y tres hijas: Michelle, Marlene y Melissa.

California Bans the Plastic Bag

October 2, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

This week California became the first state to ban single-use plastic bags. The governor signed a bill that prohibits large grocery stores starting in July 2015 and smaller stores and pharmacies one year later, from giving customers single use plastic bags for free to carry their purchases.

Consumers will have to take their own paper or reusable plastic bags to the store, or pay retailers no less then .10 cents to purchase a reusable plastic or paper bag.

The governor says this law will reduce “the torrent of plastic polluting our beaches, parks and even the vast ocean itself.”

Banning plastic bags has become one of the chief concerns of environmentalists, who have succeeded in getting numerous cities and counties across the state to adopt their own bans.

While the new state measure will make the requirement uniform across the state and help clean our waterways, it would be disingenuous to say there is no downside. We should not forget that the law will also create a financial hardship for some of the state’s lower-income residents.

We hope the next step is not banning plastic bags altogether.

Like it or not, plastic bags do have some good uses, such as allowing Californians to transport chicken and turkey that can carry salmonella in a safer, less contaminated way.

Dog owners in many less affluent areas use single use plastic bags to collect their pets’ feces in a way that doesn’t spread disease.

To many, .10 cents is hardly a budget-busting amount, but for others the cost may keep them from using the .10 cent bag for clean up purposes.

We aren’t against the ban of plastic bags, but hope we don’t start to see more paper bags and reusable plastic bags littering the horizon.

Breves de la Comunidad

October 2, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

Los Ángeles

Una demanda presentada contra el concejal José Huizar por acoso sexual y represalias por una de sus ex colaboradoras llegó a un arreglo, dijo el miércoles Michael Eisenberg, abogado de la demandante Francine Godoy.

Eisenberg dijo que no podía divulgar los términos del acuerdo, solo decir que concluyó la demanda de su cliente.

Godoy demandó tanto Huizar como a la ciudad el 17 de octubre del 2013. En abril, el juez del Tribunal Superior de Los Ángeles, William Fahey concedió una solicitud de Godoy para añadir una causa de acción contra la ciudad por supuesto incumplimiento para prevenir el acoso sexual y represalias.

Godoy es una ex diputada, jefa de personal en la oficina del Distrito 14 de Huizar y alegó—entre otras cosas—que su ex jefe se ofreció a apoyarla en una campaña electoral a cambio de sexo.

Ella dijo que se negó a proporcionar favores sexuales, lo que la llevó a un patrón de discriminación y represalias que incluyó que Huizar retirara su apoyo a su candidatura para un asiento en la Junta Directiva de Colegios Comunitarios de Los Ángeles.

Huizar negó las acusaciones, aunque el concejal, quien es casado, admitió en octubre pasado que él y Godoy tuvieron una relación “consensual” que él “lamenta profundamente”.

 

Highlad Park

La policía del noreste de Los Ángeles advierte a la comunidad que ha habido un gran número de robos de convertidores catalíticos de los carros Honda Elements. La semana pasada hubieron siete reportes. Aunque los robos ocurrieron por toda el área noreste, los últimos fueron en Highland Park. Para reportar cualquier actividad sospechosa llame al (213) 928-8223 y a los detectives de autos al (323) 344-5757.

 

Los Ángeles

El ayuntamiento de Los Ángeles declaró el miércoles oficialmente la celebración del “Día de Latinoamérica en Los Ángeles” cada primer sábado de octubre en respuesta de una iniciativa del Grupo Latinoamericano de Cónsules (GRULAC) y el concejal Gil Cedillo (CD-1).

La primera edición de estos festejos tendrá lugar el próximo sábado 4 de octubre a partir de las 10am. en el parque MacArthur. Por tres horas, el evento ayudará a asistentes para realizar consultas consulares, obtener asesoramiento sanitario y disfrutarán de bailes tradicionales y folclóricos.
Esta iniciativa estuvo respaldado de los cónsules de Argentina, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, México, Nicaragua, Perú, República Dominicana y Uruguay.

November’s Elections Won’t Resolve Much of Anything

October 2, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

Members of Congress are home now, campaigning for the upcoming elections. Their messages are all over the map, and for a good reason: they have very little to brag about.

The Congress that just recessed until after the elections makes the 80th — the one that Harry Truman blasted as “do-nothing” — look like a paragon of productivity. It didn’t pass an annual budget. It didn’t tackle immigration reform, climate change, tax reform, the minimum wage, or domestic surveillance. It passed fewer bills than any other Congress in 60 years.

 

Small wonder that voters are in a sour mood when it comes to Washington. They want to see our elected leaders tackling issues that confront the country. They want less partisanship. They don’t understand government’s frequent failures, and crave more competence. On every front, the people they’ve elected have disappointed them. Yet voter outrage at Congress is not translating into a message of rejecting incumbents.

 

Given President Obama’s lack of popularity, there’s a general sense among members of the political class that Republicans have an edge in the election and may well take over the Senate. Yet even if the Senate majority changes hands, it will do so only narrowly. A party needs 60 votes there to accomplish much of anything, so whoever controls the Senate will be able to maneuver only on the margins; resolving tough issues head-on will be difficult, maybe impossible. The dysfunction and lack of productivity that have become defining characteristics of Congress in recent years are likely to continue.

 

This is ironic, because large amounts of money are being poured into the fall elections, especially in races for the Senate. You’d almost think transformational policies were at stake. Yet the attention on the Senate is probably misplaced. Polls are showing that a number of gubernatorial seats are likely to switch hands in both directions, and if anything this year’s 36 gubernatorial contests will have more of an impact on politics two years from now than what happens in the Senate.

In short, whatever happens on Election Day this year, it’s unlikely that much will change in its wake. This may hardly be the most important election of our lifetimes, but the business that Congress left unfinished is still waiting. The nation needs an elected leadership capable of rolling up its sleeves and meeting our challenges head-on right now, not a few years hence.

 

Lee Hamilton is Director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.

 

The Nouveau Sodbusters

October 2, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

We know from the childhood song that Old MacDonald had a farm. But e-i-e-i-o — look who’s got his farm now. It’s outfits like American Farmland, Farmland Partners, and BlackRock.

These aren’t dirt farmers wearing overalls and muddy boots. They’re Wall Street hucksters in Armani suits and Gucci loafers.

The latest fast-buck fad for high-roller investment trusts, hedge funds, and venture capital speculators is “farming.” Not that these dude ranch dandies are actually plowing and planting.

00-seeds-of-greed-cartoon

No, no — these are soft-hands people, buying up farmland with billions of rich investors’ dollars, then tilling the tax laws and threshing the farmers who do the real cultivation.

For example, American Farmland Company — which owns 16 farms — is a combine of the largest real estate empire in New York City, two Florida sugar barons, a wealth management outfit, and the real estate brokerage arm of insurance giant Prudential.

None of these nouveau sodbusters has a speck of dirt under their fingernails, but they’ve figured out how to work the land without touching it and still harvest a sweet profit. The founder of this scheme says “It’s like gold, but better, because there is this cash flow.”

Cash flow? Yes, farmers are charged rent to till the Wall Streeters’ land. Then the financiers get a prime cut of any profits from the crops that the farmers produce. Also, the combine is set up as a Real Estate Investment Trust, providing an enormous tax break for the Wall Street plowboys.

And, of course, there’s the mega-pay the moneyed elites will reap when they convert their scheme into securities for sale on the stock exchange.

A few rich speculators get richer, farmers are turned into sharecrop laborers, and farms are switched to high-profit crops that require heavy pesticide dosages and soak up scarce water resources. Other than that, this is one hell of a deal.

 

OtherWords.org columnist Jim Hightower is a radio commentator, writer, and public speaker. 

California Prohíbe el Uso de Bolsas de Plástico en Supermercados

October 2, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

California se convirtió el martes en el primer estado de la nación en prohibir por ley las bolsas de plástico de un solo uso en los supermercados, farmacias y tiendas de licores, una medida largamente demandada por los ecologistas y muy criticada por la industria del plástico.

Con la firma de la ley rubricada por el Gobernador Jerry Brown, las grandes cadenas de supermercados como Walmart, Safeway o Target y las farmacias no podrán ofrecer a sus clientes bolsas de plástico a partir del 1 de julio de 2015, mientras que la prohibición entrará en vigor para las pequeñas tiendas de ultramarinos y para las licorerías un año después.

“Esta es una ley que va en la buena dirección. Reducirá las cantidades torrenciales de plástico que contaminan nuestras playas, parques e incluso el vasto océano. Somos los primeros en prohibir estas bolsas, pero no seremos los últimos”, se felicitó el gobernador Brown tras la firma de la nueva normativa.

Por otro lado, las tiendas estarán obligadas a ofrecer a sus clientes bolsas de papel reciclado o elaboradas con material biodegradable, por cada una de las cuales deberán cobrarles por lo menos diez centavos, una disposición pensada con el objetivo de fomentar la reutilización entre los ciudadanos.

La prohibición afecta a la mayor parte de las bolsas de plástico usadas en el comercio al por menor, pero no a aquellas que se utilizan para empaquetar productos frescos como frutas o vegetales que posteriormente se ponen a la venta en los supermercados, ni a las tiendas que no se dediquen a la venta de alimentos, licores o medicamentos.
Los fabricantes de bolsas de plástico han lamentado en un comunicado conjunto que la medida pueda suponer la pérdida de miles de puestos de trabajo, y han anunciado que tratarán de forzar un referéndum a nivel estatal para que los votantes se pronuncien directamente sobre la prohibición de las bolsas de plástico y, dado el caso, puedan derogar la ley.

La normativa aprobada el martes por el Gobierno estatal homologa la prohibición de las bolsas de plástico en toda California, ya que hasta la fecha sólo 127 ciudades y condados habían legislado al respecto, lo que suponía que las medidas afectaban únicamente a un 36% de la población californiana.

La ley también contempla préstamos estatales por valor de dos millones de dólares para los fabricantes de bolsas de plástico, para que reorienten su producción hacia la fabricación de bolsas reutilizables.

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