September 13, 2012 Issue

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Man Jumps off First Street Bridge, Struck by Train

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An investigation was under way today into the apparent suicide of a man who jumped from a bridge linking downtown Los Angeles with Boyle Heights and was then struck by an Amtrak train.

The man was hit at 11:10 p.m. on Sept. 13 by the 595 Pacific Surfliner operating between San Diego and Los Angeles, said Amtrak spokeswoman Christina Leeds.

The train hit him beneath the First Street bridge, said Lt. Marc Lucio of the Los Angeles County sheriff’s Transit Services Bureau.

“It appears to be a suicide where the gentleman jumped off a bridge and landed on the train tracks and was struck by a train,” added Sgt. Joe Bailey of the Los Angeles Police Department’s Central Traffic Division. The man was pronounced dead at the scene, he said.

Amtrak trains are equipped with video cameras and the man’s death might have been recorded, Bailey said.

The train had 30 passengers aboard and was close to Union Station when it struck the man, according to Leeds, who said there were no injuries to passengers or crewmembers.

Bigger Than Life Statue Immortalizes Popular Mexican Singer, Actor

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Mexican icon Antonio Aguilar, whose passionate rancheras earned him fame on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border, will be honored with a bronze statue to be unveiled at El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historic Monument in downtown L.A. on Sunday.

“I think Antonio Aguilar symbolizes not only that he was great artist in Mexico… but he also represents the American dream. He came here many times looking for work, trying to start a career and one time, we are told, he slept three nights on the benches there at Placita Olvera,” said Los Angeles Councilman Jose Huizar, who helped spearhead the project to honor the man whose music is still enjoyed today.

Born José Pascual Antonio Aguilar-Barraza on May 17, 1919, the singer, film actor and producer passed away in 2007. Huizar said planning for the statue began soon after his death.

Antonio Aguilar, “El Charro de Mexico”, came to Los Angeles with a dream like millions of other immigrants.

He told EGP that he and Teresa Campos Castañeda, owner of Teresitas Restaurant in East Los Angeles, got the ball rolling, brainstorming the best way to honor the late musician.

Teresitas specializes in cuisine from Zacatecas, the Mexican state where both Antonio Aguilar and Huizar were born.

“He was my countryman, a great man and he took our Mexican folklore around the word,” Campos Castañeda told EGP.

Campos Castañeda said she is thrilled and thanks God the idea for a statue has materialized.

The 13-foot tall statue on a 5-foot base of cantera, a stone from Zacatecas, will depict Aguilar on horseback, as he was often seen during his performances, a unique combination of concert and equestrian show. The statue will be located in Dolores Plaza, which faces Union Station on North Alameda and Los Angeles streets.

A replica of the statue that was installed earlier this week. (EGP photo by Gloria Angelina Castillo)

Huizar acknowledged that while the statue is a great tribute to the Mexican artist, for him it also represents the countless immigrants who come to Los Angeles looking for a better life.

In 1940 at the age of 21, Aguilar, not only slept on the benches of Olvera Street, he also played his guitar in the local restaurants in exchange for food, according to the University of Guadalajara Foundation.

It is an example of the fortitude that Huizar said should inspire all immigrants and hard working people.

“He didn’t have any money or much food, but yet he struggled and was able to make it, not just in Mexico, but here as well,” Huizar said about the man who has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and its Mexican counterpart, the Paseo de las Luminarias in Mexico City.

In a way, Huizar said, the monument serves to “welcome immigrants and to remind us … that “we all continue to look for a better life and the American Dream.”

Aguilar had the opportunity to study aviation in New York City but instead chose to pursue a singing career. His singing classes enabled him to sing in the genres of popular music and opera, the foundation proposal states.

During the 1960s, Aguilar, known internationally as the “Charro de México,” performed with his famous wife, Flor Silvestre, and his two sons, here and in Mexico.

Huizar said the statue could possibly be the first of its kind of Aguilar in the United States, and possibly even in Mexico where there are only busts of the famous entertainer.

Aguilar’s statue joins three others at Placita Olvera, according Chris Espinosa, general manager of El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument. He said the process for erecting a statue at the historical site, is not easy.

“We are very particular about what we accept here… It is a difficult process. It has to be approved by the El Pueblo Commission, the Cultural Affairs Commission, and probably the Office of Historic Resources,” Espinosa said.

Espinosa suggested the statue could also be a new attraction for visitors.

Financing for the statue came from Sigue Corp, the University of Guadalajara, Serrano Clinics Medical Group and smaller donors. About $50,000 in city beautification project funds were used to prepare the site, according to Huizar.

While the statue will be unveiled on Sept. 16 as part of the Fiestas Patrias — festivities in honor of Mexican Independence Day and the start of Hispanic Heritage month — the unveiling also commemorates the 5-year anniversary of Aguilar’s passing by acknowledging his many contributions, Huizar said.

“This is a guy who not only made it big in Mexico but he played next to some of the biggest stars here in Hollywood—John Wayne, Ron Goodson—and he opened the doors for a lot of other Mexican artists,” Huizar said.

Aguilar’s wife, Flor Silvestre and his son Antonio Aguilar Jr. will perform following the unveiling ceremony. Singer Pepe Aguilar will also be present, but will not perform.

Sundays’ ceremony begins at 6p.m., and is free and open to the public. Olvera Street is located at 125 Paseo De La Plaza # 400, Los Angeles, CA 90012.

For more festivities this weekend see our Fiestas Patrias Calendar on page 6.

Interfaith Group Condemns U.S. Embassy Attack in Libya

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Local religious leaders condemned the slaying of the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three others during a press conference Wednesday morning. The killing of ambassadors like Chris Stevens is an “abomination that we condemn in the loudest voice we can,” said Maher Mathout, senior advisor for the Muslim Public Affairs Council based in Highland Park.

Stevens and three of his staffers were killed by armed Libyan extremists on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. After a day of calling for a stop to divisiveness, “we woke up to the nightmare that we did this morning,” said Rabbi Joshua Levine-Grater.

No matter what faith we belong to, “we implore global citizens to refuse to be manipulated into divisiveness,” said Reverend Ed Bacon of All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena.

MPAC Executive Director Salam Al-Marayati speaks at Wednesday’s press conference.

Testimonies Begin for Vernon Voter Fraud Hearings

September 13, 2012 by · 1 Comment 

Bernard Patrick Roberts could not understand what was so important that he had to be dragged out to Vernon to testify on a witness stand just so he could answer questions before a former California state judge about the his Arizona driver’s license, which he only uses to operate a golf cart.

Roberts lost much of his hearing while on a World War II mission, and the lawyers had to shout most of their questions to him. It hardly seemed worth the trouble. “I’m 90 years old. It’s hard enough getting out of bed in the morning… what the hell am I doing here?” he wanted to know.

Lea esta nota EN ESPAÑOL: Se Inician los Testimonios en las Audiencias de Fraude Electoral en Vernon

Complete with opposing counsels, a court reporter, and a former judge, Vernon’s quasi-judicial hearing into the local business chamber’s allegations of voter fraud will determine who ultimately wins a city council seat.

“There are some people for whom this is a little more important, so if you’ll just humor us…” said Fred Woocher, an attorney for the Vernon Chamber of Commerce.

“I’ve already been here for two hours,” said Roberts.

Though ill-tempered at times, Roberts’ testimony turned out to be an unexpected help to the chamber’s cause. He is listed on the city’s voter registration rolls, and at least on paper, he appears to have voted in the June 4 election. But during his testimony he did not even try to pretend he lived in Vernon, stating bluntly that he lives in Surprise, Arizona.

“I don’t live here” in Vernon, he said. When he is in Vernon, he is visiting his grandson who lives in a light blue, three-bedroom house, rented under his son Dennis Roberts’ name.

The declaration could possibly help to invalidate at least one of the votes cast June 4 in favor of city council candidate Reno Bellamy, but at least three more votes would need to be invalidated before Bellamy’s win turns to a loss.

The Los Angeles county’s tally for the vote is 34-30 in favor of Bellamy, but the chamber believes ten votes cast for Bellamy were fraudulent, which they say would mean Luz Martinez, the candidate they backed, is the real winner.

A ruling on the validity of the ballots being challenged would ultimately be up to Debra Wong Yang, an attorney and former judge hired by the city to serve as hearing officer in the proceedings. When the county refused to review the Vernon business chamber’s challenges, the city of Vernon, which as a charter city can determine many of its own rules, set up the hearing process to review evidence gathered by the chamber’s attorneys and private investigators.

Roberts along with several more witnesses were issued subpoenas last week to appear at Vernon city hall where the first two days of the hearing were held.

In the first two days of the hearings, voters whose signatures and names appear on the contested ballots took to the witness stand, as well as watchful neighbors and private investigators reporting back on their findings after hunting down the whereabouts of the voters suspected of residing outside of Vernon.

Bellamy, who has filed a lawsuit against the city for convening the hearings, watched Monday’s proceeding from the sidelines. He characterized the hearings as a sham. “They should be pursuing this in a real court. This is a fake court,” he said.

His attorney Joseph C. Maher, II echoed the same. “We should not even be participating in this process,” he said. A superior court judge ordered them to take part in the city’s hearing process before they could continue with the lawsuit.

Bob Stern, the former head of the Center for Governmental Studies who currently works with John Van de Kamp’s independent ethics team monitoring Vernon, says he has not seen any other cities holding these types of municipal election contest hearings, but as a charter city, “they are able to do this” and the courts “give great leeway” to cities like Vernon to come up with its own rules as long as they do not contradict with the state constitution or other higher law.

Legal challenges aside, the hearings lent faces to many of the challenged voters known only by the names listed on the voter registration rolls, and if the testimonies are to be believed, seems to give a rare peek into Vernon’s small town life and the circumstances that led them to the city, which has just 75 registered voters.

Glenn Davis Gulla, one of six brothers who claim to live in a two-bedroom apartment in Vernon, said neighbors rarely see him because he likes to keep to himself. In particular, he tries to stay out of the path of Councilman Mike McCormick who likes to “talk and talk and talk.”

Many of those who took the stand to defend their votes described lifestyles that seemed to lean toward nomadic, always emphasizing that they would ultimately return to Vernon. Gulla and his brothers drive hundreds of miles to stock up soda vending machines all over the southland, often stopping off to rest at a Lucerne Valley house located over a hundred miles away from Vernon. They spend days at a time rehabilitating the house, which they say is owned by another brother who lives in another part of the country.

The witnesses also professed to going through hardships. Dean, another one of the Gulla brothers, apparently lost a ranch in Winchester six years ago, and the Vernon house is the only place left for him to go. Meanwhile Roberts’ son Dennis says he takes care of his father in Arizona “24/7” and does not have very much income, getting most of it from playing golf and doing other odd jobs. His fulltime job is taking care of his father, which necessitates him being in Arizona. “Don’t I have the legal right [to vote]?” Roberts lamented on the stand.

The younger Roberts says his roots are in Vernon, because his children live in the Los Angeles area. “I’m in Vernon all the time,” he said.

When the challenged voters were asked why they would choose to live in Vernon, they appeared surprised by the question. Vernon’s unbelievably cheap rents, well below market rate in the Los Angeles area, even after a recent increase, was the main reason cited.

Many also seemed to have connections with major local officials and figures. Roberts said he played golf with Curtis Fresch, a brother of the late former Vernon city attorney Eric Fresch whose high public employee salary raised eyebrows and brought scrutiny to the city. Dean Gulla worked at a carwash owned by Councilman Richard Maisano, though that ended badly when he ran into legal trouble with the carwash’s owner.

Bellamy thinks the people who voted for him are being targeted unfairly. “Many people have double residence, dual residence, difference places. There’s no law against that,” he said.

Maher meanwhile derided some of the evidence presented by the chamber as “nosy neighbor” testimony, and said the only reason the hearing is being held by the city, rather than being taken to the Superior Court, is because they know they cannot win there.

Woocher says some of the witnesses may not have been aware that their testimony was self-incriminating, while there are others whom “we don’t believe testified truthfully and whose testimony was inconsistent with their own documentation.”

He says they are trying to pin the voters on the addresses they use on vehicle and other types of registrations. Some of the voters being questioned provided various reasons for why some of the addresses on their registration documents are located outside of Vernon. “There are certain documents we’ve been referring to that the law gives importance to, like registration with the Department of Motor Vehicles… that creates presumptions that you live in the place you registered,” said Woocher.

More witnesses are expected to take the stand when the hearing reconvenes Sept. 30.

EDITORIAL: Americans Stand Together In a Crisis: Seems Romney Missed that Lesson

September 13, 2012 by · 1 Comment 

There was a time in the United States when an extreme crisis, such as the killing of a U.S. diplomat, would cause Americans to stand together as a solid force against an enemy.

So we are greatly surprised that former governor and presidential candidate Mitt Romney would so quickly choose to weaken that symbolic wall of national defense by criticizing President Obama and the State Department for what he sees as an inadequate response to the killing of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and his staff in Libya.

We are not criticizing Gov. Romney because he is a Republican, but because his comments were shortsighted and ill-advised. If the situation was reversed and he was president and Obama a presidential candidate who did the same thing, it would be Obama receiving this rebuke.

The U.S. has embassies and personnel manning those embassies all around the world. To so quickly tell the world he disagrees with President Obama’s actions sends a message to those intent on attacking America and Americans that even in this moment of crisis, we are not united. It is particularly troubling message coming on the heels of the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorists attacks on American soil.

Tell us, how do his words and action strengthen the safety of America’s embassies, and Americans living in other countries? None of us is privy to what was going on, or what was being negotiated behind the scenes to insure the safety of all those acting on behalf of this county.

Do not get us wrong, there is much to be criticized about the U.S.’s foreign policy, but there is something to be said for timing and context, not to mention statesmanship.

We think Gov. Romney needs to go back in history to learn how Americans of every party, religion and other persuasions have stood together in times of crisis.

Actually, he doesn’t have to go back very far, just 11 years to September 11, 2001.

Egypt and Libya: Shades of 1979-80

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In the last 24 hours, beginning with the 11th anniversary of 9/11, all hell has broken loose in the Middle East. Our diplomatic missions in Egypt and Libya have been attacked, with the U.S. ambassador to Libya among those brutally murdered by Islamists. Much will continue to be said about this, but the similarities to Iran 33 years ago are striking. And make no mistake about it, rightly or wrongly, this is now a major political issue in our presidential election, as it was in the 1980 presidential election. Just like that, in one explosive burst, foreign policy is on the front-burner in the 2012 campaign.

Over the last four years, longtime authoritarian Arab leaders in Egypt and Libya have been deposed, supplanted—we fear—by longtime extremist Islamic movements. In Egypt, Hosni Mubarak is gone. In Libya, Moammar Kaddafi is gone. Neither man was, by any stretch, a democrat. And yet, we worry that they have been replaced by something much worse.

Well, something similar unfolded in Iran 33 years ago, when a longtime authoritarian leader and close U.S. ally, the Shah, was replaced by an extremist Islamic movement headed by the Ayatollah, producing the world’s worst, longest-running theocratic/terrorist state. The moment was dramatized on November 4, 1979, when the U.S. embassy was seized and over 50 American hostages were captured and held for 444 days. Like in Egypt, it all seemed to begin, at least visually, symbolically, with the burning of the American flag at our embassy.

The current chaos in Egypt was reportedly precipitated not by any sort of vile commemoration of 9/11, but by an anti-Mohammed film released in parts on the internet and broadcast inside Egypt. That said, it was also reported that the American flag outside the embassy was replaced by pro-Al Qaeda (the perpetrators of 9/11) flags. What other factors may have sparked Egypt and the Libyan outburst? Fairly or unfairly, that’s where the politics comes in.

President Obama’s detractors are wasting no time looking for possible added motivations. They are noting the debate at the Democratic convention last week over Jerusalem. They are pointing to the news (released the same day, on September 11, 2012) that Obama allegedly refused an Israeli request for a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ben Netanyahu. They are stressing four years of (in their view) weakness, accommodation, amateurism, and a lack of clarity by the Obama administration in the Middle East, from Egypt and Libya to Iran and Syria. Indeed, the “clarity” factor was precisely Mitt Romney’s theme in his September 12 press conference in Jacksonville, Florida, where Romney repeatedly underscored the word “lead” or “leadership,” which he sees as lacking from Barack Obama.

I will not dissect those claims here (some of which I agree with), but what is clear is how this unfolding situation appears eerily like what President Jimmy Carter faced going into his reelection in 1980. Carter was blamed for the fall of the Shah and the rise of the Ayatollah. Republicans will be making analogies between Carter’s mishandling of Iran and the Shah and Obama’s handling of Egypt and Mubarak—and perhaps also of Obama’s handling of Libya and Kaddafi, and still more.

Whoever is to blame, there’s no question that the course of events in Egypt and Libya suddenly seem to be veering even more sharply into the catastrophic direction that Iran took 33 years ago. That is a very bad thing, a rapidly evolving foreign-policy disaster for the United States—and for its president. Will it hurt or help Barack Obama as the November vote approaches? We shall see. In the meantime, get ready for seven weeks of intense and at times nasty debate.

Dr. Paul Kengor is professor of political science at Grove City College, executive director of The Center for Vision & Values, and author of the book, “The Communist: Frank Marshall Davis, The Untold Story of Barack Obama’s Mentor.” His other books include “The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism” and “Dupes: How America’s Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century.”

Tilting at Windmills at L.A. City Hall

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The position of Chief Administrative Officer for the City of Los Angeles is intended to be a clarion voice.
The CAO is not an elected official and reports to both the City Council and the Mayor. The CAO’s performance is based on his/her independence, personal integrity and management expertise.

Unfortunately for the citizens of Los Angeles, the CAO is often faced with a mayor or city council that is more interested in politics than policy and chooses to please special interests rather than protecting the interests of the taxpayers. That was never more evident than during the recent City Council committee hearing on the issue of franchising of commercial refuse collection.

Shortly before the hearing, CAO Miguel Santana produced a thorough report outlining the fiscal and practical reasons why the City should adopt a non-exclusive franchising system. The plan he outlined would allow any hauler that meets a number of environmental, waste diversion and safety standards to participate in a franchise, allowing commercial and multi-family unit owners the freedom to decide which hauler best suits their individual needs. He cited the following facts:

1) The city would generate more than $100 million from a non-exclusive franchise system in the time that would be required to implement the costly bureaucracy required for an exclusive franchise system.

2) The city will be able to begin generating significant revenue, nearly $30 million for the beleaguered city budget as soon as the first quarter of 2013.

3) A non-exclusive franchise arrangement will protect high-paying jobs and allow small, family-owned businesses to compete; and preserve the competition that keeps rates affordable for consumers.

The CAO pointed out that an exclusive franchise system would drive small waste hauling companies out of business, give no options to customers and create a new and costly bureaucracy in the City of Los Angeles.

The solution seemed obvious, but only Councilmember Tony Cardenas voted to consider the option of implementing a non-exclusive system. Other councilmembers in attendance dismissed the CAO’s report. Why? For the same reason the City Council has made so many decisions that got us into the current financial mess … the desire to appease political allies over the best interests of citizens and businesses as a whole.

In the words of Ghandi: “Even if you are a minority of one, the truth is the truth.” Miguel Santana was the independent voice of truth. He had no axe to grind or special interest to make happy. His report recommended what is practical, economical and in the best interest of taxpayers and businesses.
Ignoring this kind of good advice is why we have a budget deficit, dwindling city services and one of the highest unemployment rates of any big city in America.

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.

West Nile Virus Found In Eagle Rock

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Across the country, 2012 is proving to be the worst year for West Nile Virus infections since the virus was first detected in the U.S. in 1999. According to the Greater Los Angeles County Vector Control District (GLACVCD), West Nile activity in the local region is also increasing.

Eagle Rock, in Northeast Los Angeles, is one of the latest communities where the virus has been detected, according to the Vector Control District’s Community Affairs Director, Truc Dever.

Dever told EGP that a mosquito sample collected Aug. 28 from the 1600 block of Campus Drive tested positive for the virus. One, or all 31 of the mosquitoes could have been positive, explained Dever, who added that for the agency’s reporting purposes if just one mosquito comes back positive, the area is considered infected.

Humans and animals get the virus through the bite of an infected mosquito. One out of five people will experience flu like symptoms. In extreme cases, the virus can cause a serious neurologic illness such as encephalitis or meningitis. About 10 percent of people who develop neurologic infection due to West Nile virus will die, according to health officials.

The region has been experiencing a long stretch of very hot and humid weather, which according to Dever can have a “direct impact on the amount of West Nile virus activity we see.”

“The hot weather has led to an increase in mosquito abundance and caused the virus to replicate at a faster rate,” Dever said in a written statement. “This has resulted in a higher incidence of West Nile virus positive mosquito samples, dead birds, and human cases.”

As of last week, however, no dead birds with the virus had been reported in the Eagle Rock area.
District vector ecologists last week confirmed that mosquito samples collected in Eagle Rock and 30 other areas within the district had tested positive for West Nile. The cities and communities of Glendale, Harbor City, Hawaiian Gardens, Rosewood, Sun Valley, and Willowbrook registered virus activity for the first time. Nine dead birds found in the district also tested positive for West Nile.

When West Nile is found in an area, county vector control posts signs, in English and Spanish, in public areas such as parks, advising the public to take precautions, Dever told EGP.

“The signs are posted in a half mile to one mile area [from the infected site]. Mosquitoes can fly up to one mile,” she said.

The signs list precautions that can be taken to avoid infection, and contact information for where someone can get more information, Dever said.

The county will continue to track infected areas as part of its “regular track route,” she said. “We will continue to track on a schedule throughout the season” to see whether the virus is still active in the area.

So far this year, the county has identified 138 West Nile Virus-positive mosquito samples, 31 positive dead birds, and three positive chickens within its jurisdiction.

Last week, 10 new human cases of West Nile Virus were reported in LA County, bringing to 18 the total number of human cases reported here.

Dever said the county has traps spread across the 1,300 square-mile district, but they cannot test every area.

“Just because we haven’t found West Nile in an area doesn’t meant it’s not there,” she said.

“It’s safe to assume that West Nile is everywhere, and everyone should take precautions.”

‘Carmageddon II’ Could Come With Financial Rewards

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(CNS) – In hopes of encouraging motorists to stay off freeways during the upcoming “Carmageddon II” closure of the San Diego (405) Freeway in the Sepulveda Pass, local officials on Tuesday announced discounts being offered by 300 eateries and attractions to give people alternatives to driving.

“We’re asking folks to use the weekend, discover a local restaurant, take a bike ride, visit a museum using one of our newly expanded transit lines,” Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said during a news conference at the Hollywood and Highland Center. “It could be the Orange Line, the subway, the Exposition Line, the Gold Line, you name it.”

“Carmageddon II” is scheduled for the weekend of Sept. 29-30. The 405 Freeway will be closed in both directions between the Santa Monica (10) and Ventura (101) freeways, allowing construction crews to demolish the remaining half of the Mulholland bridge over the freeway.

The first “Carmageddon” occurred in July 2011, but the anticipated massive traffic congestion never materialized, as motorists apparently got the message to avoid the area and stay home that weekend.
County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky cautioned that motorists should not get complacent, thinking that last year’s experience means there won’t be any traffic problems during the upcoming closure.

“With public cooperation, this will be a non-event,” he said. “With complacency and a lack of cooperation, it can become a traffic nightmare. So let’s make it a non-event. Let’s turn ‘Carmageddon’ into ‘Carma-Heaven’ or ‘Schmarmageddon’ or any other ‘geddon’ you want to dream up. We look forward to a great weekend on the 29th and 30th.”

Metro, which is overseeing the $1 billion Sepulveda Pass freeway improvement project, has partnered
with about 300 merchants throughout the area to offer discounts ranging from 10 to 50 percent during the closure. Among the attractions offering discounts are the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, the Santa Monica Playhouse, the Grammy Museum and the Los Angeles Zoo.

An interactive map with information about discounts is available on Metro’s website, www.metro.net.

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