Growing up in East Los Angeles, Leticia Mendoza had teachers who encouraged her to follow her dreams; today, she is trying to do the same for young Latinas living in Southeast Los Angeles County.
Mendoza, now a teacher and elected official with the ABC Unified School District, understands that even when young women are encouraged to take on the world, they sometimes do things that will prevent them from reaching their goals.
“Most of the time what’s holding us back is fear,” confides Mendoza, who last week saw one of her efforts to empower young Latinas come to fruition.
With help from local leaders, she brought together 175 high school juniors from the ABC, Downey, Montebello, Norwalk-La Mirada and Whittier Union Unified School Districts for the Inaugural Young Latinas Empowerment Conference at Cerritos College.
The event featured Latina politicians, businesswomen, educators, doctors and administrators who spoke to the young women about the importance of a higher education and being involved in their communities.
“I want these young girls to feel that no matter what field they’re interested in, it’s all up to you to get there,” said Mendoza, who also happens to be the wife of California Sen. Tony Mendoza.
“Many may not be thinking about college, they face challenges and may need more encouragement,” Mendoza said, emphasizing that language barriers, immigration status, relationships, low self-esteem or college readiness can stand in their way.
Or “parents may want to us to stay home and help the family,” she added, reflecting on the cultural barriers Latinas face when pursuing a higher education.
Cal State Fullerton professor Maria Malagon, Ph.D., was the featured speaker at the conference.
She pointed out that of every 100 Latinos in California high schools, only 60 will end up getting a high school diploma; 11 will go on to get a Bachelors degree and three will earn a Masters degree. Even fewer end up with a Ph. D., Malagon said.
The professor told the gathering of Latina teens that they are needed in a variety of fields, therefore “we need you to be committed to work hard.”
She said it might not be easy once they do get to college, and at times they might not feel welcomed. There is indeed a border that sometimes separates Latinos, she acknowledged, and it’s not just the US-Mexican border we’re talking about, but a metaphorical one as well.
“It’s a line that says you belong here or you don’t,” she said.
“These institutions were not made for you and me…but we have the right to be there,” she said, referring to the low number of Latinos students and professors on college campuses.
Malagon warned the high school juniors to resist when “folks try to change us.”
“I was told I had to change a lot about myself,” Malagon said, referring to her hoop earrings and wing-tipped eyeliner. “I proved myself with a lot of hard work.”
With the attacks on women and the Latino community by Pres. Donald Trump and his policies, a conference like this is very timely, Mendoza told EGP.
“It was the perfect time to do something about it,” she said, adding she hopes more women consider running for office.
Mendoza says she also wants young Latinas to know how men should treat them and that’s why she recruited her senator husband to help demonstrate that lesson.
Wearing pink aprons, a dozen male elected officials took “serving the public” literally. Commerce Mayor Ivan Altamirano and MUSD Board Member Edgar Cisneros were among the officials who served lunch to the young Latinas.
“We wanted to show you we care about your success,” Sen. Mendoza told them.
“This is the first step of the rest of your lives,” added Assemblyman Ian Calderon. “We want to be supportive.”
Many of the high school students used the word “empowered” to describe how they felt after hearing the words of encouragement from speakers and seeing women that look like them in important professional fields.
Sara Flores, a junior at Santa Fe High School, told EGP she felt more motivated to reach her goals.
“Many people think of us [Latinos] as people who don’t know anything about education or don’t care,” she said. “I want to prove people wrong. I want my voice to be heard.”
Mendoza told EGP she would like to see the event expand next year to include more women leaders, students and even parents. For now, she hopes these girls are returning to their communities with this motto: “I want them to say, ‘yes I can do it!’”
Norwalk High School student Lizet Anguiano was quick to put her newfound confidence and authority into action.
Without hesitation, she asked Assembly Majority Leader Calderon, “Can we get some limes over here?”
A bill to increase the number of Metro board members was re-introduced last week by Sen. Tony Mendoza, who cites the need for a board that more fairly represents all of Los Angles County, specifically southeast communities along the 710 Long Beach and I-5 Santa Ana freeways in great need of traffic relief.
Senate Bill 522 would add 10 more members to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board, increasing the number of seats to 24, ensuring the county’s 10 million residents are equally represented, said Mendoza.
Currently, the board is made up of the five county supervisors, four representatives of Los Angeles including Mayor Eric Garcetti, Metro’s CEO, and one councilmember each from the cities of Duarte, Glendale, Inglewood and Lakewood.
“With the exception of Lakewood, everything east of the 710 [freeway] lacks representation,” pointed out Mendoza.
Under SB 528, three of the 10 new seats would go to the city of L.A. and one each to the city of Long Beach and appointees of the Senate Pro Tem and Assembly Speaker. The remaining four would be filled by other municipalities.
Critics fear the bill will diminish the voting power of Los Angeles, the county’s largest city. But with 7 seats on the 24-member board, Mendoza says L.A.’s influence will not decrease.
Transportation agencies in surrounding areas have significantly larger boards than Metro. The San Bernardino Associated Governments has 31 members, Riverside Transit Agency 22 and the Orange County Transportation Authority has 18 members on its board.
“They keep numbers low to keep control,” said Mendoza, referring to outsized influence of L.A. and cities on the Westside. “We need to create balance so that everyone has a voice and a fair vote.”
The Board is opposed to any legislation that would change its makeup, Metro spokesman Rick Jagger told EGP.
“Any discussion or change in the Board should take place in L.A. County not through a mandate from Sacramento,” he said.
Last week, Metro’s board approved a ballot measure that if approved would levy a special half-cent sales tax to pay for more than $120 billion projects in the county’s new transit improvement plan, which includes a new subway line from the San Fernando Valley to LAX, new extensions from Claremont to Culver City and San Fernando to the South Bay.
Unlike previous transit funding measures that expire, such as Measure R, the new tax would be permanent.
L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti said in a statement that the “bold transportation plan will relieve congested roads, connecting our region with robust, comprehensive transportation systems we need and deserve.”
Senate Pro Tem Kevin de León and representatives from other municipalities had asked Metro to postpone approval of the plan and proposed ballot measure until the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee had a chance to review it at a public hearing.
De Leon authored SB767 last year, which authorized Metro to place a transportation and use tax on the ballot.
“Given the involvement of the state on this matter and feedback Senators have received directly from local stakeholders, we believe it is appropriate to hold an oversight hearing to discuss how Metro evaluated proposed projects … and also to assess the fairness and equity of the plan,” de Leon wrote in a letter to Metro.
The public hearing was set for June 24; one day after Metro approved its plan.
The refusal to postpone the vote prompted Mendoza to re-introduce legislation to change the board’s makeup. A previous bill authored by Mendoza was shelved by the senator in the hope that Metro would consider coming up with a plan that did not postpone projects in the eastside and southeast communities.
“They just don’t care about this side of the town,” Mendoza told EGP. “They chose to expedite projects that serve the wealthier population.”
One of the projects delayed under the county’s new transportation plan includes a light rail line from Union Station to Artesia with stops in Vernon, Huntington Park, Bell, South Gate, Downey, Paramount and Bellflower. After decades on the shelf, the Eco Rapid transit rail, which serves Mendoza’s constituents, would be pushed back another 20 years to 2047.
“This project would help people who are transit dependent,” Mendoza said. The southeast has not seen any new transit projects since 1995 when the Green Line opened.
“It seems the poor communities will continue to struggle with congestion, pollution and traffic,” he criticized.
At the Commerce City Council meeting last week, City Manager Jorge Rifa said he too is disappointed with Metro’s plan, which would push back much-needed traffic improvements along the I-5 and 710 freeways that wrap around the city.
“We can’t wait another 20 years for this part of the freeway to be fixed,” he said. “That’s a big deal for us because this is an economic corridor.”
If approved in November, revenue from the added tax is expected to be at least $860 million a year. Some cities, including Commerce, would see their sales tax increase to 10 cents on every dollar.
“If we don’t have input it will impact the future decisions on how Metro spends money,” warned Mendoza. “So far they are taking us for granted and don’t take us into consideration.”
Even though there is no station in Bell Gardens currently proposed for a light rail project that would connect riders from Downtown Los Angeles to Artesia, Mayor Pro Tem Pedro Aceituno recognizes the impact access to regional transit would have for a community that has far too long been isolated from the rest of the county.
His words came last week during a legislative briefing in Paramount where elected officials from across the southeast region pushed for funding a light rail project proposed by Eco-Rapid Transit, a joint powers authority made up of twelve cities and the Bob Hope Airport Authority.
“It is going to open doors,” Aceituno noted, pointing out the economic opportunities for his constituents. “This gives folks an opportunity to apply for jobs further away,” that otherwise they could not reach, he said.
Eco-Rapid’s rail system would run from Union Station to Artesia with stops in Vernon, Huntington Park, Bell, South Gate, Downey, Paramount and Bellflower.
“The current [transit] system has for far too long avoided the southeast,” said Assembly Speaker-Elect Anthony Rendon, whose 63rd district includes many southeast cities.
“The region is desperately in need of a rail service,” Rendon urged.
The communities along the proposed rail route are some of the densest areas in the region and would benefit greatly from the rail line being built, said representatives from the area one after the other.
Edgar Cisneros, who serves as a board member for the Montebello Unified School Board and as city manager for the city of Huntington Park, told EGP even the cities without a station within its borders would benefit. MUSD has schools in the cities of Bell Gardens, Commerce, East Los Angeles, Montebello, Monterey Park and Pico Rivera.
“Many kids aren’t walking to school, they have to rely on school buses,” he said. Regional transit is a “convenient and cheap way that allow parents to ride with their children.”
The southeast has not seen any new transit projects since 1995 when the Green Line opened. After decades on the shelf, Sen. Tony Mendoza said it’s time to make the rail project a reality.
“For many, the bus is the only means of transportation and this project will help families travel to the rest of the county,” Mendoza told EGP.
A recent Metro study found the proposed project would connect 4 million residents to regional transportation and have an estimated daily ridership of up to 80,000 people – more than any current or proposed light rail line in the Los Angeles area. If built, the Eco-Rapid rail project could create thousands of jobs for a region where the unemployment rate is a high as 16 percent in some areas, supporters said.
“The project will create economic development opportunities in and around each station,” Mendoza emphasized.
Diane Dubois, Director of Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) and councilwoman for the city of Lakewood, however, noted that finding funding could be a problem. With a price tag of $4 billion, it will take a lot more than the $240 million the agency has secured in Measure R funds.
Extending the voter-approved Measure R half-cent sales tax and new sales taxes is key to funding the project, said Metro CEO Phillip A. Washington. Gov. Brown recently approved a bill allowing Metro to ask voters for a tax increase, which could generate as much as a $120 billion.
On Thursday Metro approved $18 million of Measure R funding for the pre-development and planning of the light rail line.
“This investment of resources brings us closer to ensuring that the necessary funds are available to develop and build the light rail to completion,” Mendoza said in statement.
Mass transit projects ease the number of cars on the road, reducing the amount of road maintenance required over the years, pointed out Sen. James T. Bell, who serves as chair of the California State Senate Committee on Transportation and Housing. He told local elected officials to consider what the direct impact would be to each of the municipality’s general fund.
The longer Los Angeles County residents wait to address mass transit projects, the higher the cost will be, Bell said. “If we don’t act it doesn’t keep things the same, it makes it worse,” he said.
Mendoza asked the city leaders to begin educating their constituents on the need to pass a transit tax.
Using the Gold Line Extension as an example, Rendon described how the rail system helped connect eastside communities along the route to downtown.
As proposed, the southeast rail project would use the abandoned West Santa Ana Branch right-of-way. The goal is to complete the project by 2027, with subsequent links to Santa Clarita and possibly the High Speed Rail lines in Norwalk.
“This project will dramatically change mobility for an area that has waited for decades,” said Dubois.
Update: Feb. 26 11:40 a.m. included new funding approved by Metro; statement from Sen. Tony Mendoza.
Sen. Tony Mendoza is seeking nominations of women who are making a difference in his district to be honored during Women’s History Month.
Seven women from throughout the 32nd Senate District – which encompasses the cities of Artesia, Bellflower, Cerritos, Commerce, Downey, East La Mirada, Hacienda Heights, Hawaiian Gardens, La Habra Heights, La Mirada, Lakewood, Montebello, Norwalk, Pico Rivera, Santa Fe Springs and Whittier – will be honored during the annual Woman of the Year community luncheon on March 4. Nominations are needed in the following categories: business, community service, education, government, health, labor and non-profits.
Nomination forms are available online at www.sd32.senate.ca.gov/2016-woman-year or at Mendoza’s district office located at 17315 Studebaker, Suite 332 Cerritos, 90703. For more information, call Aldo Ramirez at (562) 860-3202. The submission deadline is Feb. 1.
San Gabriel Valley area education leaders say they are frustrated by the lack of control they have over spending decisions in their school districts on everything from textbooks to curriculum to Local Control Funding, and the state’s penchant for handing down unfunded mandates.
School districts are mandated to implement all kinds of state curriculum changes, whether the funding is there or not, said Montebello Unified School District (MUSD) Board President Edgar Cisneros. Yet when advocates requested approval of a statewide ethnic studies requirement, legislators quickly shot them down because funding is suddenly an issue, Cisneros told EGP.
Sen. Tony Mendoza’s “State of Education” address was held last week in Montebello at MUSD’s Applied Technology Center high school and attended by dozens of superintendents, district board members and teachers from Mendoza’s 32nd Senate District – which includes Commerce, Downey, Montebello, Pico Rivera and Whittier, attended. The program also included a Q & A with an analyst from the State Legislative Analyst’s Office.
While participants generally seemed relieved that the proposed 2015-16 State Budget includes a $7.6 billion bump for k-12 education, several school officials lamented that much of the new revenue will go to pay off debt and unfunded curriculum mandates such as Common Core.
The added money is “barely making us positive,” said MUSD Board Member David Vela, referring to the district’s budget.
The state’s Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), which allocates more money to schools with higher percentage of “high needs” students – low-income, English Learners and youth in foster care – has given schools more control over how to use those funds to tackle the achievement gap in those groups, but according to Vela, it’s not enough.
“How can you expect us to play around with that money when all we’ve been doing [for some time] is cutting our debt,” caused by years of state cuts to education funding, Vela said.
He described the difficulty of introducing new technology into the classroom and offering new curriculum, such as dual language immersion and ethnic studies when funding is not available, drawing approving nods from other attendees.
When it comes to what school districts want, like the ethnic studies requirement, there’s never enough money, said a frustrated Cisneros. “It’s just an excuse they use to derail bills,” he said, claiming state officials “are really uptight” about mandating the curriculum because “they would be required to fund it.”
There’s a huge disconnect between the governor’s office and school districts when it comes to the so-called local control over funding, said MUSD Superintendent Susana Contreras-Smith.
With the comfort of being on home turf, MUSD officials led most of the discussion and questions directed at Cabral.
Cisneros cited MUSD’s years-long inability to order updated versions of already approved textbooks because state officials wanting to save money suspended California’s Department of Education’s ability to approve new textbooks, a prerequisite to district purchases.
“I think they need to get it done or give us the power” to select and buy textbooks, Cisneros complained.
Money issues continued to be the hot topic as Edgar Cabral, a fiscal and policy analyst with the California Legislative Analyst’s Office, answered questions from the audience.
Cabral was asked if there are plans to extend Proposition 30, a temporary increase in the sales tax and on incomes over $250,000 a year approved by voters in 2012 to fund K-12 education and community colleges. The tax is expected to have raised $7.9 billion by the end of the 2014-2015 Fiscal Year, however revenues will decline when some provisions sunset later this year.
Superintendent Steve Pell pointed out that funds for programs like special education have already been cut and additional cuts will hit MUSD hard. “We want to have an outstanding program, we’re trying really hard, but there’s not enough money,” he said.
As for the state backing new bonds to pay for needed capital improvements to equipment and facilities, Cabral said Gov. Brown is concerned about state debt and believes bonds should be passed at the local level.
Then “the state should make it easier for local cities to implement their own bonds,” responded someone from the audience.
State officials are not realistic when it comes to the cost of fixing aging infrastructure, countered Vela. He said school districts like MUSD do not have the same ability as the state to raise large sums of money. A million dollars will not go very far in L.A. County’s third largest school district, he noted.
“The state needs to get out of Sacramento, come out and tour Montebello,” he said. “We know we have a senator that will fight for us, but he can’t be the only voice.”
Sen. Mendoza agreed. He said Gov. Brown’s expectations about what school districts could do with LCFF revenue were unrealistic. He supports passage of a facilities bond, but cautioned that residents should think of the bond as adding another credit card in the state’s wallet.
But “Our public schools need it; it’s long overdue,” Mendoza said.
Ultimately, the question of extending a facilities bond will most likely go to the voters if successfully placed on the ballot by the governor or legislature, explained Cabral.
Mendoza – a former teacher who taught students in East Los Angeles – said if passed, the three bills in his education packet would protect children by enhancing consequences for drug trafficking and manufacturing near schools; creating greater oversight of charter schools, and requiring day care center workers to be immunized.
Cisneros told EGP the district needs to advocate for issues it believes in and get involved the way it did last week when 35 Bell Gardens Intermediate students traveled to Sacramento to push for a bill they co-authored with Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia that would encourage the inclusion of the Mexican Repatriation in history textbooks.
“We don’t do enough to lobby” state lawmakers Cisneros told EGP. “We need to voice our political support for the things we believe in.”