Making a New Home In Vernon

July 16, 2015 by · 1 Comment 

Former El Sereno resident Francis Ramirez was used to her 45-minute commute to her job in Vernon, but wanted to cut down her morning drive time.

So when earlier this year she happened upon a flyer left at her office advertising new affordable housing being built on the outskirts of Vernon, she decided to apply, sight unseen.

After months of waiting, Ramirez and her 25-year old son are now completely moved in to their new home at the Vernon Village Park on the 4600 block of 52nd Drive, although the site doesn’t officially open until next week.

Newly built Vernon Village Park is located on the 4600 block of 52nd Drive.  (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Newly built Vernon Village Park is located on the 4600 block of 52nd Drive. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

“I wanted something closer to work and after learning about the pricing I took a chance,” she told EGP. “I needed a change” and this is it.

When fully occupied, the Vernon Village Park will house 102 new residents, doubling the size of Vernon’s residential population. It’s one of the key reforms adopted by the city  to stave off efforts in 2012 to disincorporate the city amid allegations that, lacking a true electorate, city officials controlled elections, obscenely raised their own salaries, and evicted anyone who opposed them from city-owned homes.

On any given day there are about 50,000 people working at Vernon’s 1,800 businesses.

But with only about 110 residents and just 66 registered voters, incumbents rarely faced challengers.

“Vernon Village Park is a momentous event in the life of a city that has proudly called itself ‘Exclusively Industrial,’” reflected Mayor W. Michael McCormick, the longest sitting member on the city council.

On Monday, as she waited for her furniture to arrive, Ramirez told EGP she does not like to judge anyone by what’s gone on in the past.

“I’ve worked in Vernon for 16 years, it was my second home,” she said. “I came here with an open mind.”

The 45-unit housing project has one-, two- and three-bedroom apartment units. Tenants were qualified based on gross annual incomes that range from no more than $34,260 for one-person to $56,760 for a six-person household.

Rents range from about $687 for a one-bedroom to $1,272 for a three-bedroom unit, very affordable for the region. Section 8 is accepted.

Ramirez said moving to Vernon will save her over $225 in rent every month, not to mention the two-bedroom apartment is brand spanking new and much larger than her old apartment on Huntington Drive in El Sereno.

She happily pointed out the granite countertops, fans, carpeting and even her new walk-in closet.

Francis Ramirez opens the door to her new home located in the freshly-built Vernon Village Park.  (EGP Photo by Nancy Martinez)

Francis Ramirez opens the door to her new home located in the freshly-built Vernon Village Park. (EGP Photo by Nancy Martinez)

“Everything is new, I get to break it all in. I’m even making my guests take off their shoes when they walk in,” she said excitedly.

When plans for the new housing were first announced in 2013, some critics raised concerns about the wisdom of building homes in an area with so many environmental problems, like the hazardous waste violations fueling headlines and protests at the now shuttered acid-lead battery recycler Exide Technologies.

But Ramirez says she is not at all concerned.

“I have worked in Vernon for years and have never had any health issues,” she rationalized.

Built by Meta Housing Corporation on two-acres of city-owned land leased to the developer for $1 a year for 65 years, amenities at the gated, non-smoking community include a community building, laundry room, computer lab, tot lot and onsite parking. Solari Enterprise Inc. will provide on-site management.

According to Meta Housing, people who already work in Vernon will occupy eleven of the 45 apartment units. Three others are being rented to people who lived within a mile of the property, with the remainder of tenants coming from all over Los Angeles County.

“We are extremely pleased these apartments will help so many young families,” said Michelle Espinosa Coulter of Meta Housing.

Ramirez says her neighbors have so far been very quiet and keep to themselves, but she expects the place to get livelier once the official opening ceremony takes place July 25.

“It’s a really small community we have here, so it will be nice if they turn this place into the new heart of the city,” she said, noting that many units appear to be occupied by young couples with children.

The area is familiar to her son Daniel Mendiola,who grew up in nearby South Gate. He told EGP he would often drive by the vacant lot but never thought he would one day live there.

“The location is convenient for me,” he said, explaining that he hopes living near so many companies he’ll “have more luck finding a job.”

Ramirez says she will register to vote and plans to attend city council meetings, which to date are usually only attended by city staff and representatives of local businesses.

Councilwoman Luz Martinez said the opening of the housing community makes good on a “pledged to double our city’s residents.” She said she looks “forward to meeting the city’s new families.”

In the meantime, Ramirez will have to learn her way around her new neighborhood, which borders the city of Maywood. She has already found a couple of grocery stores to shop at and her go-to gas station, all outside of Vernon.

But what excites Ramirez most is that her new address means her morning commute to work will drop to just 10 minutes.

“Now there’s no excuse for being late.”

Update; 7-20-15 to correct Vernon Park Village with Vernon Village Park.

Boy Scouts de Vernon Retiran Banderas Estadounidenses

July 1, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

Había cientos: banderas estadounidenses dañadas por años de exposición al sol y la contaminación, muy lejos del vibrante rojo, blanco, azul y de sus “gloriosos” días.

La semana pasada, la Cámara de Comercio de Vernon organizó una ceremonia para retirar las banderas descoloridas y rotas que habían recolectado de empresas y casas de la zona y que estaban en peligro de ser desechadas en un bote de basura, una falta de respeto extrema para el final del símbolo más conocido de la independencia de Estados Unidos, la bandera americana de color rojo, blanco y azul.

Read this article in English: U.S. Flags Retired in Vernon Ceremony

Este sábado, gente de todo el país exhibirá la bandera como parte de su celebración del Cuatro de Julio. Muchos no tienen idea de que hay una etiqueta que va con el ondeo, el cuidado y la eliminación de la bandera cuando está en mal estado.

El jueves pasado la Tropa 419 de los Boy Scouts dirigió la ceremonia de la bandera en la estación de bomberos de Vernon. La tropa se encuentra en Vernon, pero ninguno de sus miembros viven en la ciudad. Algunos de los más jóvenes, conocidos como cub scouts, asisten a la Primaria Vernon; la mayoría vive en las ciudades vecinas de Cudahy, Maywood y Huntington Park. Se reúnen en la estación de bomberos de Vernon.

Para el Boy Scout Andrés Soto, de 12 años, expresar lo que siente cuando ve la bandera de Estados Unidos no es fácil, él sólo sabe que está orgulloso del país que llama hogar y agradecido con todos los hombres y mujeres que lucharon y que continúan luchando, para mantener al país seguro.

“Mucha gente piensa ‘es sólo una bandera’”, que se puede tirar, pero debería ser respetada”, dijo Soto. “Hemos tenido que hacer mucho para tener nuestra bandera, que representa años de lucha y de las leyes y los cambios que hemos tenido desde entonces hasta ahora”, agregó.

Boy Scout Connor Esquivel,11, y miembros de la Tropa 419 participan en una ceremonia de retiro de la bandera el 25 de junio en la estación de Bomberos No. 1 de Vernon. (EGP foto por Nancy Martínez)

Boy Scout Connor Esquivel,11, y miembros de la Tropa 419 participan en una ceremonia de retiro de la bandera el 25 de junio en la estación de Bomberos No. 1 de Vernon. (EGP foto por Nancy Martínez)

Según el código de la bandera de Estados Unidos, las banderas desgastadas, rotas y descoloridas no se deben ondear, deben retirarse con dignidad, de preferencia con la quema. Hay organizaciones de todo el país, como La Legión Americana, los Veteranos de Guerras Extranjeras y los Boy Scouts de America que entienden cómo se retira adecuadamente una bandera, y muchas divisiones tienen ceremonias de retiro en el Día de la bandera o los días de fiesta militares.

María Fremd trabajó en Exide Technologies por 56 años antes de que cerrara la planta en la primavera. Regresó a Vernon la semana pasada con varias banderas que ya no estaban en buenas condiciones. “Todo el mundo estará ondeando sus banderas esta semana”, dijo Fremd, “es el momento perfecto para retirar la bandera vieja y hacer espacio para una nueva”.

Fremd dijo que no soportaba ver “las banderas rotas”.

Las ceremonias de retiro de la bandera por lo general se empapan con la tradición y la formalidad y la ceremonia de Vernon no fue la excepción. Las banderas se exhibieron a la audiencia compuesta por policías, bomberos, funcionarios de la ciudad y otros. La historia detrás del símbolo nacional—el himno americano—fue explicado antes de que las banderas se cortaran en pedazos y se colocaran en el fuego.

El Boy Scout Connor Esquivel, 11, estuvo a cargo de iniciar el fuego, donde los restos de rojo, blanco y azul eventualmente ardieron en llamas. Él dijo que la bandera le recuerda que Estados Unidos es un país libre. “La bandera se ondea sobre la mejor nación”, dijo emocionado.

Alex Duran ha trabajado en Vernon por 25 años y dice que el simbolismo de la bandera tiene un significado especial para él: “Me encanta el hecho de que el blanco representa la pureza, el azul representa la valentía y rojo simboliza toda la sangre derramada por aquellos que han servido a su país”, dijo Durán. “Me recuerda lo bendecido que soy”.

“Cuando veo la bandera pienso en un infante de marina”, dijo Fremd, quien es voluntaria en el Campo Pendleton de la Base Marina.

El alcalde de Vernon Michael W. McCormick es jefe de la tropa de Boy Scouts. Le dijo a EGP que la mayoría de las personas no se dan cuenta de que hay una manera correcta de deshacerse de una bandera y recomienda que los residentes se contacten con sus ciudades, boy scouts locales o grupo de veteranos cuando tengan una bandera que ya no está en buena forma.

“Muchas de las 30.000 empresas en Vernon ondean la bandera de Estados Unidos”, explicó Marisa Olguín, presidenta y directora ejecutiva de la cámara de Vernon. La ceremonia es propia de una ciudad industrial, dijo. “Esto demuestra nuestro firme orgullo cívico”.

Para Jason Rosa, bombero de Vernon y ex oficial de la Marina, esto significa mucho más.

“Cuando piensas en lo que la bandera simboliza, todas las personas que han muerto por la bandera, lo menos que podemos hacer es retirarla con respeto”.


La Cámara de Comercio de Vernon tiene a la venta de nuevas banderas y los ingresos se destinarán Tropa 419 de Boy Scouts de la zona de Vernon. Para más información, llame al (323) 583-3313.


Twitter @nancyreporting

U.S. Flags Retired In Vernon Ceremony

July 1, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

There were hundreds of them: U.S. flags battered by years of exposure to sun and pollution, a far cry from the vibrant red, white and blue of their “Old Glory” days.

Last week, the Vernon Chamber of Commerce hosted a ceremony to retire faded and torn flags they had collected from area businesses and the homes of individuals that were in danger of being discarded in trash bins, a disrespectful end to the best-known symbol of U.S. independence, the red, white and blue American flag.

Lea este artículo en Español: Boy Scouts de Vernon Retiran Banderas Estadounidenses

This Saturday, people all across the country will display the flag as part of their Fourth of July celebration. Many will have no clue that there’s an etiquette that goes with flying and caring for Old Glory and for disposing of the flag when it falls into disrepair.

Boy Scout Troop 419 led last Thursday’s flag ceremony at Vernon Fire Station 1. The troop is located in Vernon but none of its members actually live in the city. Some of the younger Cub Scouts attend Vernon Elementary; most live in the bordering cities of Cudahy, Maywood and Huntington Park. They meet at the Vernon Fire Station.

Members of Boy Scouts of America Troop 419 held a special flag retirement ceremony June 25 at Vernon Fire Station 1. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Members of Boy Scouts of America Troop 419 held a special flag retirement ceremony June 25 at Vernon Fire Station 1. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

For 12-year old Boy Scout Andres Soto, expressing what he feels when he sees the U.S. flag does not come easy, he just knows he’s proud of the country he calls home and grateful to all the servicemen and women who fought, and are still fighting, to keep the country safe.

“A lot of people think ‘it’s just a flag,’ that could just be thrown away, but it should be respected,” Soto said. “We’ve had to do a lot to get our flag, it represents years of fighting and the laws and changes we have had from then to now,” the scout said.

According to the United States Flag Code, worn, torn and faded flags should not be flown but retired with dignity, preferably by burning. There are organizations across the country, such as The American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars and Boy Scouts of America that understand how to properly retire a flag, and many chapters hold retirement ceremonies on Flag Day or military holidays.

Mary Fremd worked at Exide Technologies for 56 years before the plant’s closure in the spring. She returned to Vernon last week with several flags no longer in good condition. “Everyone will be waving their flags this week,” said Fremd, “it’s the perfect time to retire an old flag and make room for a new one.”

Fremd said she could not stand seeing “the flags in a ratty state.”

Boy Scout Connor Esquivel, 11, was charged with starting the fire where the remnants of red, white and blue would eventually go up in flames. He said the flag reminds him that America is a free country. “The flag flies over the best nation,” he said excitedly.

Flag retirement ceremonies are usually steeped in tradition and formality and Vernon’s ceremony was no exception. The flags were displayed to the audience of police, firefighters, city officials and others. The history behind the national symbol – the star spangled banner – was explained before the flags were cut into pieces and placed into the fiery pit.

Alex Duran has worked in Vernon for 25 years and says the flag’s symbolism holds special meaning for him: “I love the fact that white stands for purity, blue stands for valor and red stands for all the blood shed by those who have served their country,” Duran said. “I’m reminded how blessed I am.”

“When I see the flag I think of a Marine,” said Fremd, who volunteers at the Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base.

Vernon Mayor W. Michael McCormick is the troop’s scoutmaster. He told EGP most people don’t realize there’s a proper way to dispose of a flag and recommended that residents contact their city, local boy scouts or veteran’s group when they have a flag that is no longer in good shape.

A ceremony like this is befitting of an industrial city like Vernon, said Marisa Olguin, president and CEO of the Vernon Chamber. “Many of the 30,000 businesses in Vernon fly the U.S. flag,” she esplained. “It shows our strong civic pride.”

For Vernon Firefighter Jason Rosa, a former Navy officer, it means so much more.

“When you think of what the flag symbolizes, all the people that have died for the flag, the least we can do is retire it with respect.”

The Vernon Chamber is selling new flags and proceeds will go towards the Vernon-area Boy Scout Troop 419. For information, call (323) 583-3313.


Twitter @nancyreporting

Vernon Food Producer Recalls Spinach Dip

July 1, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

 Failure to list a possible allergen has resulted in Vernon-based La Mexicana Food Products voluntarily recalling its Spinach Dip. The company said the products’ label failed to list milk, as a sub-ingredient of the listed ingredient, sour cream.

According to the company, people who have an allergy or severe sensitivity to milk run the risk of a life threatening allergic reaction, anaphylaxis, that requires immediate medical attention if they consume the product.

La Mexicana Spinach Dip is packaged in a 14-ounce clear plastic cup. The product is white in color, with pieces of spinach visible throughout. The lid has a green and yellow circular border with “La Mexicana” in white lettering.

Customers should return the product to the place of purchase for a refund, the company said.

Vernon Councilwoman Questions Budget

June 4, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

For the first time in a long time, a Vernon city councilmember asked city staff some tough questions about the $380 million proposed budget for 2015-2016 the city council would ultimately unanimously approve.

Councilwoman Melissa Ybarra asked department heads Tuesday to cut their budgets 5 to 10 percent to help businesses facing increases in fees. She said she was not pleased that the departments have proposed a budget that’s been balanced “on the backs of businesses.”

“We’re raising rates for businesses but I don’t see [the city] cutting back,” she said.

Ybarra question whether staff had determined if the increases to city fees approved last year and again last month had caused any businesses to leave the industrial city.

Vernon’s Indepenpendent Reform Monitor John Van de Kamp addresses the city budget during Tuesday’s council meeting. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Vernon’s Indepenpendent Reform Monitor John Van de Kamp addresses the city budget during Tuesday’s council meeting. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

It was an unusual exchange in a city where councilmembers routinely approve staff recommendations with little public discussion.

Vernon’s independent reform monitor, former Attorney General John Van de Kamp, congratulated Ybarra for her questioning of the budget details and changing the tone of council meetings in the city.

“It’s very refreshing [after] having sat here for years, to hear a councilmember ask these types of questions,” Van de Kamp said.

“These are the questions that need to be asked regularly at council meetings.”

Responding to Ybarra, City Administrator Mark Whitworth shot back that Vernon  – home to 1,800 business but only about 110 residents – has an occupancy rate of 95.6 percent, one of the highest in Los Angeles County.

He said the city’s utility and other business-related fees are 60 percent of what neighboring cities are charging.

“Granted, there will always be a few people that want it to return to the way it was 20 years ago, we just don’t have the reserves or cash balances for that anymore,” Whitworth said.

In 2011, Vernon faced a $16 million deficit but has since managed to turn its finances around.

Not satisfied, Ybarra pressed staff to justify why they are adding 19 new positions to the city payroll and the city’s retirement fund.

Whitworth said the city’s past financials woes had forced reducing the number of city employees from 322 in 2007 to the current 255.

“I not only cut staffing, I gutted it,” he said.

Police Chief Daniel Calleros and Fire Chief Michael A. Wilson each said their department’s personnel had also been cut to the “bare bones.”

If employees can’t be cut, can you cut other areas of department spending, countered Ybarra.

“Can you answer me right now, can you cut another 5 to 10 percent overall?” she asked the department heads.

Carlos Fandino Jr., director of electric and gas justified his department’s staffing increase, saying the cost was being offset by a significant decrease in what the department would spend for supplies and services.

“Reducing by 5 percent is doable, but understand there are consequences,” he warned.

The only way to cut the budget further is to cut capital projects and infrastructure, said Public Works Director Kevin Wilson.

Ybarra reminded staff that any increase to fees or reduction in services directly affects the business community.

“We’re asking the businesses to pay for it because we’re not like other cities, we don’t have the residents to get additional revenues from,” she said.

“Is there any way to cut spending a little more,” she asked one final time.

Finance Director William Fox said he too doesn’t want to see costs go up but explained the budget is already very tight. He said the city had reduced expenditures $3 million compared to last year.

Peter Corselli of U.S. Growers Cold Storage regularly attends council meetings. He thanked Ybarra for putting staff on notice and making them answer some hard questions.

Corselli said he’s opposed to the new fee structure and demanded the city to conduct a new study to determine if the city is as competitive as it says it is.

“If you want to silence your critics redo the study,” he said.

Van de Kamp agreed that the city’s rate are competitive but said they may no longer reflect historical margins previously cited.

“I urge the city to report what’s different, it’s important to the business community,” he said.

Before being elected in February, Ybarra told EGP she was not one to shy away from asking tough questions. She was elected during a special election to fill the seat left vacant by the death of her father, Michael A. Ybarra.

Like her father, Ybarra told EGP she would stand up for the business community.

Grupo Asesor de Exide se Reúne

June 4, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

Desde hace unos años, la Iglesia de la Resurrección en Boyle Heights ha sido el epicentro del movimiento para cerrar la planta de baterías de reciclaje Exide localizada en Vernon, un papel que continuó desempeñando la semana pasada como anfitriona de la primera reunión de un nuevo comité asesor encargado de supervisar el cierre de la controversial planta y la limpieza de contaminación de plomo y arsénico que dejó a su paso.

La reunión del 28 de mayo tuvo todas las características de una reunión tradicional del consejo de la ciudad o de la comisión, incluyendo la agenda requerida, minutos y el seguimiento del procedimiento parlamentario.

Read this article in English: Exide Advisory Group Assembles

En muchos aspectos, fue un paso sólido hacia el futuro para una comunidad que siempre se había sentido marginada por los reguladores estatales de contaminación.

“Aquí es donde empieza la asociación”, Barbara Lee, directora del Departamento de Control de Sustancias Tóxicas (DTSC), dijo con entusiasmo en la reunión inaugural del Grupo Asesor de Exide.

Con 37 miembros, el comité generalmente grande está compuesto por personas que representan a la comunidad, los organismos reguladores y funcionarios electos.

Debido a que la comunidad afectada es tan grande, nos pareció que un mayor número de miembros del comité sería apropiado, dijo la portavoz de DTSC Sandy Nax.

El comité se reunirá una vez al mes para revisar aspectos específicos del proceso de cierre, y para plantear preguntas como lo hicieron la semana pasada en temas tales como dónde se moverá el suelo tóxico. Los miembros del comité son el enlace entre los reguladores comunitarios y estatales que realizan el trabajo del día a día en la limpieza de los productos químicos tóxicos en la planta y en las comunidades cercanas.

La planta de Exide en Vernon será demolida en un plazo de 19 a 22 meses. (EGP foto por Nancy Martínez)

La planta de Exide en Vernon será demolida en un plazo de 19 a 22 meses. (EGP foto por Nancy Martínez)

El comité asesor se formó en respuesta a una avalancha de opinión pública negativa resultante de la mala respuesta de DTSC a las preocupaciones de la comunidad acerca de los productos químicos tóxicos que se arrojan ilegalmente de la planta de Vernon actualmente cerrada.

Lee, quien asumió el cargo más alto de DTSC hace apenas unos meses, se comprometió a principios de este año para asegurarse que se le otorgaría la palabra a la comunidad en el futuro. El comité asesor ayuda a Lee a cumplir esa promesa.

El subdirector de DTSC Jim Marxen dijo que el trabajo de la comisión pretende complementar las audiencias públicas que se llevarán a cabo. Ellos le darán a la comunidad otra oportunidad de expresar sus preocupaciones durante el proceso de cierre, dijo.

“El grupo estará involucrado desde el principio en el proceso”… ayudando a lograr un cambio y “ahorrarse el tiempo de cada uno” al “comunicar las necesidades de la comunidad”, dijo Marxen.

Se espera que los miembros de los comités consultivos vengan preparados para compartir ideas y proporcionar comentarios sobre el cierre y materiales de limpieza relacionados, y la preparación de los documentos necesarios para cumplir con la Ley de Calidad Ambiental de California (CEQA).

“Nunca hemos demolido una instalación de este riesgo”, señaló Jane Williams de Ciudadanos del Desierto Contra la Contaminación.

En primer lugar, el grupo debe contratar a un asesor técnico para explicar el alto volumen de datos de los miembros del comité técnico y revisarlos antes de tomar acción.

El comité también debe seleccionar un copresidente de la comunidad para unirse a Lee y a Barry Wallerstein director del Distrito de Gestión de Calidad del Aire de la Costa Sur para la moderación de las reuniones y establecer el tono para los debates.

Mirando alrededor de la sala de la semana pasada, Mark López con East Yard Communities señaló que sólo una cuarta parte de 37 miembros de la comisión no representan ya sea a un funcionario público o una agencia pública.

“Es un poco preocupante”, dijo.

Pero de acuerdo con Lee, más de un tercio de los miembros del comité son de la comunidad.

“Realmente tratamos de ser inclusivos”, dijo. “Quiero que el grupo sea eficaz”, agregó, explicando por qué no cree que sea una buena idea agregar más personas a la comisión.

La reunión del jueves pasado demostró que el grupo refleja muchos puntos de vista, y que los miembros están dispuestos a hablar con franqueza acerca de nuestro trabajo, dijo Nax.

Marxen dijo a los miembros del comité que ellos están encargados de comunicar y educar a sus respectivos constituyentes sobre el proceso de cierre, que comenzó formalmente en abril.

El cierre permanente viene después de años de violaciones de residuos peligrosos por Exide que expusieron a más de 110,000 personas en los barrios y ciudades del Este de Los Ángeles a Maywood a niveles tóxicos de arsénico y plomo, productos químicos conocidos por causar cáncer y trastornos neurológicos, problemas de aprendizaje y otras cuestiones de salud.

En marzo, la oficina del Fiscal de EE.UU. llegó a un acuerdo con Exide que permitiría a la empresa y a sus ejecutivos evitar la persecución penal a cambio del cierre definitivo de la planta de Vernon y la limpieza total del sitio y propiedades que hayan sido contaminadas.

La primera fase de cierre que incluirá la demolición de edificios, se espera que tome entre 19 a 22 meses, según el DTSC.

La próxima reunión consultiva se llevará a cabo en junio en la ciudad de Maywood. Las reuniones están abiertas al público.


Twitter @nancyreporting

Exide Advisory Group Assembles

June 4, 2015 by · 1 Comment 

For the past couple of years, Resurrection Church in Boyle Heights has been the epicenter of the movement to close down the Exide battery-recycling plant in Vernon, a role it continued to play last week as host to the first meeting of a new advisory committee charged with overseeing closure of the controversial facility and the cleanup of lead and arsenic contamination left in its wake.

The May 28 meeting had all the trappings of a traditional city council or commission meeting, including the requisite agenda, minutes and following of parliamentary procedure.

Gone were the loud protests and chants of past meetings in the Church Hall.

In many ways, it was a solid step into the future for a community that had long felt marginalized by state pollution regulators.

The inagural meeting of the Exide Advisory Group was held May 28 at Resurrection Church in Boyle Heights.  (EGP Photo by Nancy Martinez)

The inagural meeting of the Exide Advisory Group was held May 28 at Resurrection Church in Boyle Heights. (EGP Photo by Nancy Martinez)

“This is where partnership begins,” Barbara Lee, director of the Department of Toxic Substances Control, said enthusiastically at the inaugural meeting of the Exide Advisory Group.

At 37 members, the unusually large committee is made up of people representing the community, regulatory agencies and elected officials. Because the impacted community is so large, we felt that a larger number of committee members was appropriate, said DTSC Spokesman Sandy Nax.

The committee is scheduled to meet once a month to review specifics of the closure process, and to raise questions as they did last week on such things as where toxic soil will be moved. Committee members are the liaison between the community and state regulators performing the day-to-day work on the cleanup of toxic chemicals at the plant and in surrounding communities.

“Now we have the tools and all the stakeholders involved…you really can bring about change” Lee told the group.

The advisory committee was formed in response to an avalanche of negative public opinion resulting from DTSC’s poor response to the community’s concerns about the toxic chemicals illegally spewing from the now-closed Vernon plant.

Lee, who took over the top DTSC post just a few months ago, pledged earlier this year to ensure the community would have its say in the future. The advisory committee helps Lee make good on that promise.

DTSC Deputy Director Jim Marxen said the committee’s work is intended to compliment the public hearings that will take place. They will give the community another opportunity to voice their concerns during the closure process, he said.

“The group will be involved early on in the process” … helping to bring about change and “save each other time” by “communicating the needs of the community,” Marxen said.

Advisory committee members are expected to come prepared to share ideas and provide comment on closure and cleanup related materials, and preparation of documents needed to comply with CEQA, the California Environmental Quality Act.

“We have never demolished a facility of this risk,” pointed out Jane Williams of Desert Citizens Against Pollution, referring to the magnitude of the hazardous waste cleanup

First, however, the group must hire a technical advisor to explain the large volume of technical data committee members will be asked to review before they take action.

The committee must also select a community co-chair to join Lee and South Coast Air Quality Management District Director Barry Wallerstein in moderating the meetings and setting the tone for discussions.

Looking around the room last week, Mark Lopez with East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice pointed out that only a quarter of the committee’s 37 members do not represent either a public official or public agency.

“It’s a little concerning,” he said.

But according to Lee, over a third of the committee’s members are from the community.

“We really tried to be inclusive,” she said. “I want the group to be effective,” she said, explaining why she does not think it a good idea to add more people to the committee.

Last Thursday’s meeting demonstrated that the group reflects many points of view, and that members are willing to speak frankly about our work, said Nax.

Marxen told committee members that they are tasked with communicating and educating their respective constituencies about the closure process, which formally started in April.

The permanent shut down comes following years of hazardous waste violations by Exide that exposed over 110,000 people in neighborhoods and cities from East Los Angels to Maywood to toxic levels of arsenic and lead, chemicals known to cause cancer and neurological disorders, learning disabilities and other health issues.

In March, the U.S. Attorney’s office struck a deal with Exide that would allow the company and executives to avoid criminal prosecution in exchange for the permanent closure of the Vernon plant and total cleanup of the site and properties found to have been contaminated.

The first phase of closure which will include the demolishing of buildings, is expected to take between 19 to 22 months, according to DTSC.

The next advisory meeting will take place some time in June in the city of Maywood. Meetings are open to the public.

Congresswoman Recognizes Artists

May 18, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard honored five young female artists this week during her 22nd Annual Student Art Competition.

“Every year, I eagerly look forward to this Art Competition,” said Roybal-Allard. “It’s such a wonderful way for our local youth to share their creativity and talent with the community. It also reminds us of the positive impact that art and art education can have on students’ academic performance, self-esteem, and confidence.”

(Office of Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard)

(Office of Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard)

The winners received scholarships and money for art supplies. The first place winner Justine Muñoz will have her artwork displayed in the U.S. Capitol.

All submitted entries will be on display to the public through June 5 in the lobby of the Citadel Outlets in Commerce.

Pictured: (Left to right) 1st Place winner Justine Muñoz, People’s Choice Award winner Batoul Akil, Congresswoman Roybal-Allard, 3rd Place winner Lelilani Gonzalez, 2nd Place winner Sabrina Claros, and Honorable Mention winner Karla Maria Jacome.


DTSC Discloses Soil Sampling Results to Residents

May 7, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

Over 8,600 soil samples taken from properties north and south of the Exide Technologies plant in Vernon provided no indication that there is a defined pattern of lead distribution in the area, according to officials from the Department of Toxic Substances Control.

Both low and high concentrations of lead – a chemical known to cause neurological damage – were found throughout the 146 residential properties tested in the expanded assessment area, according to the data used to see how far lead concentrations extend from the plant site.

“We need to continue to do our homework,” said Rizgar Ghazi, division chief of permitting at DTSC. But “we still hold Exide responsible,” he assured EGP. “We are just trying to see what Exide is responsible for and make them clean it up.”

The testing was conducted as part of DTSC’s 2013 stipulation order with Exide, which requires the company to test and cleanup any contamination caused by their emissions.

Soil removal and remediation was completed at 67 homes near the Exide Technologies plant in Vernon.  (DTSC)

Soil removal and remediation was completed at 67 homes near the Exide Technologies plant in Vernon. (DTSC)

In March, the U.S. Attorney’s Office struck a deal with Exide to close the Vernon plant in lieu of facing criminal charges related to decades of hazardous waste violations and exposing over 110,000 eastside residents to cancer-causing emissions.

On Wednesday night, DTSC officials met one-on-one with residents whose homes have already been tested for lead to explain the results of those tests.

Saturday meetings have been planned for later in the month and in early June to accommodate residents who could not attend Wednesday’s meeting.

“We are working in a very complex environment,” said Ghazi. “This is the first of a series of meetings,” he told EGP.

The additional data was collected late last year when the state agency began cleaning up some of the properties in Boyle Heights, East Los Angeles and Maywood that had previously been tested for contaminated soil. According to DTSC, 60 to 80 samples, taken at different depths and increments, were obtained from each property.

Ghazi said the agency did not find any concentrations of lead “that would constitute a danger.”

He told EGP that the industrial landscape in eastside communities, which includes a high number of freeways, rail yards and other similar industries, has contributed to the concentrations of metals and chemicals in the area.

In late 2013, testing began in the original assessment area that included 217 residential properties. As of last week, the cleanup at 76 homes has been completed and over 3,900 tons of soil removed from the properties.

DTSC officials expanded the original assessment area an additional mile from both the northern and southern borders based on modules prepared by the South Coast Air Quality Management District to determined which areas would most likely be impacted by Exide emissions.

Last month, eastside residents complained to DTSC Director Barbara Lee that the assessment area should be enlarged to include more communities near the Vernon plant.

Responding to complaints from residents that their concerns have fallen on deaf ears over the years, DTSC has announced the formation of an advisory committee to oversee the agency’s closure of the Exide plant and cleanup of surrounding residential properties.

DTSC is currently accepting applications from people interested in serving on the committee, however the size of the committee has not yet been decided.

Ghazi told EGP the committee will be all-inclusive and there are no requirements for members. However, he stressed the agency would prefer residents who live in the assessment area.

“This partnership will provide an open dialogue for the community to be apart of the process,” he said.

By May 15, Exide must submit to DTSC its plan for safely removing buildings on the site and for the clean up of hazardous waste, including soil and groundwater contamination.

DTSC will review the plan to determine if there are any deficiencies that need to be addressed. Once approved, the agency will prepare a CEQA document and present the draft plan to the public.

DTSC expects to hold public hearings on the closure plan and CEQA document by Fall 2015.

The demolition of the buildings and structures at the Exide plant is expected to begin Spring 2016 and continue for 19 to 24 months.

710 Freeway Reopens After Tanker Truck Fire

April 28, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

Cities along the 710 Freeway suffered the impact of heavy traffic after a tanker truck loaded with gasoline tipped onto its side and burst into flames on the southbound Long Beach (710) Freeway in the city of Bell on Sunday afternoon.

The tanker, which fire officials said was hauling 8,500 gallons of gasoline, overturned about 3:25pm on the southbound freeway near Florence Avenue and catching fire and sending a plume of smoke that could be seen for miles.

The rig’s driver was freed by firefighters, and no injuries were reported, county fire dispatcher Cheryl Sims said.

The crash and fire shut down all freeway lanes in both directions between Bandini Boulevard to the north and Florence Avenue to the south, backing up traffic for miles.

The blaze, however, which grew into a second-alarm fire, was knocked down at 4:15pm Sunday. No other vehicles were involved, Sims said.

The inferno heavily damaged the roadway surface, leaving the entire southbound freeway closed Sunday overnight and through much of Monday. Late Monday morning, authorities closed the transition road from the southbound Santa Ana (5) Freeway to the southbound 710 Freeway to limit traffic from entering the affected area.

The north side of the freeway was reopened just before 9:30pm Sunday, but the southbound side remained closed, CHP Officer Peter Bishop said Monday.

City of Commerce City Administrator Jorge Rifa told EGP the accident jammed traffic on city streets after the CHP decided to divert freeway traffic  to Washington Boulevard, inconveniencing local residents and businesses in the area.

He said the City made deployed public safety units to the area to help move “the diverted traffic as quickly as possible through the city.”

“As soon as we were aware of the accident, the City posted on its social media page to inform residents,” Rifa said.

California Highway Patrol officials reopened all the southbound lanes at Florence Avenue on Monday at about 4:45pm, according to CHP Officer Patrick Kimball.

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