South LA voters could play tiebreaker in the mayoral election

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imageIn Tuesday’s mayoral election, about one-third of voters cast their ballots for Councilman Eric Garcetti and one-third for Wendy Greuel, propelling both candidates on to the May 21 runoff election. In the coming months, it’s all eyes on that remaining third–a group that includes many South L.A.voters.

Most of Garcetti’s votes came from the Westside through Hollywood and out into the East side. Greuel cleaned up in the Valley, where she used to be a councilwoman. Conservative Kevin James picked up more than 16 percent of the vote–with pockets of support scattered around the city. Councilwoman Jan Perry got just shy of 16 percent of the vote–with the vast majority of her votes coming from South L.A. Perry took 60 or 70 percent of the vote in some South LA neighborhoods.

“She dominated in South L.A.,” said Kokayi Kwa Jitahidi of The South Los Angeles Power Coalition. “Which puts her and her voters in a very, very strong position to determine who the next mayor will be.”

South L.A.’s voters–many of whom are African-American, could go either way in May.

“I think they’re up for grabs,” said former Los Angeles Daily News Editor Ron Kaye. “The question is will anybody vote? And is anything at stake that makes people want to vote?”

Perry’s primary campaign was more critical of Greuel than it was of Garcetti, which may improve Garcetti’s chances with her supporters. And many Latino groups have thrown support behind Garcetti, which could be significant in South LA, where more than 60 percent of residents are Latino. The Latino Coalition of Los Angeles PAC–an organization focused on representing the political interests of South American and Central Americans–officially endorsed Garcetti before the primary.

“Garcetti is a coalition builder,” said Latino Coalition president and founder Raul Claros. “He’s embraces the Latino coaltion’s focus.”

The group is also backing Ana Cubas in the Council District 9 election.

“When we met with them, Cubas and Garcetti had a comprehensive, logistical, practical and concrete plan for South LA,” said Claros.

Jitahidi said both Greuel and Garcetti have made promises to South L.A., and wants someone who will keep their promises to be elected. He said Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa courted South L.A. in his mayoral campaign, but failed to deliver on his pledges.

“Both of them have given rhetoric to working with South L.A.,” Jitahidi said. “I think whoever wins has to be committed to actually making those promises true. I think only way we do that is if South L.A. really organizes in a coordinated and consistent way.”

He says he’ll be focused on boosting voter turnout. Turnout around the city was just 16 percent Tuesday, and even lower in South L.A.

Manual Arts teachers march against school overhaul plans

imageThere are some big changes coming to South LA’s Manual Arts High School, and not everyone is excited about them.

The school has been awarded a $1.9 million School Improvement Grant (SIG) from the California Department of Education. The grant requires major structural changes to Manual Arts, including replacing half of its teaching staff.

Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) asked all Manual Arts teachers to reapply for their jobs. Those who aren’t hired back will be shuffled to other schools in the district.

imageSome, like Manual Arts teacher Daniel Beebe, see this effort to turn the troubled school around as misguided.

Beebe teaches history and is chapter chair for United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), the union that represents LAUSD staff. He and dozens of other teachers, students and union representatives marched in front of Manual Arts on Thursday to bring attention to the restructuring and its effect on teachers and students alike.

“You have a lot of hardworking teachers and hardworking students, and we should be supporting that progress instead of starting over every year or two with something new,” Beebe said.

The union requests that the Manual Arts’ administration retain teachers who have expressed a desire to stay at the school. But many teachers, Beebe included, chose not to reapply for positions at Manual Arts.

A few dozen Manual Arts students participated in the afterschool demonstration, holding signs or wearing homemade T-shirts voicing support for their teachers.

“There are good teachers here, and students need them,” said Jennifer Cardozo, a Manual Arts junior. “I don’t think they should be throwing that away just for some grant.”

Beebe and the teachers’ union argue that replacing half the school’s staff is not only damaging to the school’s sense of community, but also goes beyond what’s necessary to fulfill the requirements of the new grant.

imageBetween 30 and 40 percent of Manual Arts’ teachers were shifted just last year, according to UTLA. And one-third of the schools’ staff has been reassigned to the new Augustus Hawkins High School when it opens in the fall.

“With those displacements, we’ve already met the requirements of the SIG grant,” Beebe said. “This is just being used as an excuse to push out teachers that they want to get rid of.”

Another requirement of the grant is that the school’s principal be replaced. But that isn’t happening at Manual Arts, another fact that angers the marching teachers.

“Principal go! Teachers stay!,” a group of student demonstrators chanted from the sidewalk, as Principal Robert Whitman stood just feet away on the school’s front steps.

Whitman took up his post as principal at Manual Arts less than a year ago, and will remain through the restructuring.

Beebe sees this as “bending the rules,” and says that same flexibility should be applied to the teachers who will be displaced.

Whitman declined to comment.

Manual Arts is one of three LA schools managed by independent nonprofit LA’s Promise. The teachers’ union is unhappy with the group’s management of the school over the past three years — pointing to shortages of books and classrooms, five bell schedule changes and last year’s staff reduction.

imageTravis Miller, a ninth grade English teacher at Manual Arts attributes the school’s problems to “constant administrative mismanagement.” In his 12 years at the school, he says he’s answered to 10 different principals.

Miller says he doesn’t see how replacing teachers will deliver results.

“It makes no sense to get rid of the teachers and keep the administration,” he said. “At GM, they’d never say, ‘Our cars aren’t selling, so let’s fire everyone on the line and keep everyone that’s running our company.’”

Spokespersons for both LAUSD and LA’s Promise declined to comment on the planned restructuring.

In order to receive the School Improvement Grant funding, Manual Arts will be required to increase student achievement in reading and math.

Watch a short video of students protesting at Manual Arts:

CSU professors strike for higher pay

imageHundreds gathered to picket in front of CSU Dominguez Hills Thursday. The Carson campus is one of two CSU campuses staging walkouts. The other is CSU East Bay, but professors from Cal State’s 23 campuses around California joined the protest. The strike comes just one day after CSU student protests over a nine percent tuition hike turned violent.

The strike is being staged by the California Faculty Association, or CFA, the union that represents CSU professors. They’re calling for a quarter-percent pay raise and urging CSU Chancellor Charles Reed to shift his priorities to focus on students.

The California Faculty Association is the union that represents CSU professors. While roughly half of all CSU professors boast CFA membership, the union negotiates on behalf of all 44-thousand educators in the system, members or not.

The message from the professors is clear–you can’t put students first if you put teachers last.

“I got two kids, can’t afford daycare,” said Steve Jobbitt, a history professor at Cal State Fullerton. “With the money they pay me up at Cal State Fullerton, I can’t even afford the cheapest subsidized housing. That just goes to tell you. Take a look at the cost of living. Take a look at what we earn and what we invested in our education. I’m going deeper into debt now than when I was a graduate student.”

When adjusted for inflation, Cal State professors are making less on average than they were in 1998. Chancellor Reed maintains that the university system cannot afford to offer the professors a pay raise. He estimates the quarter-percent pay raise translates to $20 million per year.

But Jobbitt and the others insist the strike is about more than salaries. It’s about the quality of education for California’s students.

“Truthfully, if you look around here, everybody here isn’t here about money,” said Lillian Taiz, CFA President. “They’re here about trying to preserve the education for our students–the road to the middle class–to improve middle class jobs. We’re just like everybody else is the country that is sick and tired of being sick and tired.”

Some students joined in support of the striking professors. Gavin Centeno is a junior at CSU Dominguez Hills. He skipped classes today to stand with the professors.

“They sacrifice so much for us. It’s time that we need to support them. In essence, when we support them, we’re supporting our education,” Centeno said.

Fourth-year Fredit Figueroa is another Dominguez Hills student. He wasn’t intending on skipping classes today, but all three of his were cancelled.

“Campus is looking pretty empty today. At least half of the students are missing, half of the faculty. I’ve never seen it like this before,” said Fredit, who was not involved in the protest, but supportive. “I think this is great, someone is finally doing something. Tuition has been going up every year. I started out paying $1,800 and now I’m paying $4,000 already.”

Tuition is also an issue for Cal State LA student Semein Abbay.

“We have to pay more tuition, while the administration and Chancellor Reed are getting raises and it’s coming out of our pockets, so I’m here fighting against that,” Abbay said.

Liz Chapin, a spokeswoman for Chancellor Reed’s office, said students shouldn’t be put in the middle of negotiations between the union and CSU and any effort by the union to do so in unacceptable. She said that while they share frustration about cuts to the system, they’ve had to go to great lengths to keep the doors of its campuses open.

Conference in L.A. to reform drug policy

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Forty years after President Nixon declared the “war on drugs,” polls show the majority of the country believes drug policies are failing. The 1,000 people who gathered at the International Drug Policy Reform Conference certainly feel that way. They are calling for an end these anti-drug policies.

Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom delivered the welcoming remarks at day one of the three-day event, telling the crowd that California is the right venue for drug reform policy discussion.

“We’re a state of dreamers, of doers, of entrepreneurs, of innovators,” Newsom said. “A state that certainly been on the front lines of reconciling the abject failure that has been 40 years, this failed war on drugs.”

Newsom pointed to swollen prison populations in the state and nationwide and the costs associated with incarceration as proof of the failures of current drug policy.

In 1980, there were 500,000 people incarcerated in u-s prisons. Today, that number is 2.3 million. The number of people incarcerated for nonviolent drug offenses has increased twelve fold since then. Prisons are overcrowded and under funded.

On the other side of the aisle, GOP presidential candidate Gary Johnson showed support for the drug reform movement, espousing a more libertarian view on drug policy.

“The best thing that government can do for you and I is to empower us to make decisions that only you and I can make,” Johnson said. “That’s the bedroom, that’s what we put in out own bodies, and it goes on and on and on.”

One of the timely issues the conference aims to tackle is marijuana legalization. A Gallup poll last week showed that a record-high 50 percent of Americans now favor legalization. Conference organizers called the results a sign that the drug reform movement is picking up speed. image

The conference attracted people for a variety of reasons.

Twenty-seven-year-old Chantelle Yandaw came from Florida.

“I’m here to learn more about the reform movement after writing an undergraduate thesis about the war on drugs and the crack cocaine and powder cocaine disparities,” Yandaw said.

Maureen Taylor works with the Michigan Welfare Rights Association. She says drug policies especially hurt poor people.

“We wanted to be invited so that we could talk about the relationship between poor, low-income people and drugs,” she said.

Peter Christ co-founded an organization called Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, or LEAP, after years as a police officer brought him to the conclusion that drug laws did more societal harm than good.

“The problem is when you have consensual adult activity and you make that activity illegal, you create crime in your society,” Christ said. “And if that activity has a monetary connection to it, you also create violence in your society.”

Gavin Newsom told the crowd that one of the biggest problems with drug reform is that politicians are scared to speak out, holding different opinions of drug reform in public than they do in private.

“My gosh, if I could just tape-record the private conversations, it would just break your heart,” Newsom said. “It wouldn’t just upset you, it would break your heart. We know better, we’re just not doing better.”

Central American leaders call for TPS extensions

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imageImmigrant leaders from Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador gathered outside the federal building in downtown Los Angeles today to call for an extension of the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) agreement that guards undocumented nationals from those countries against deportation.

Honduras and Nicaragua’s temporary protected status agreements began in 1999, after Hurricane Mitch destroyed much of their infrastructure. It began for El Salvador in 2001, after a series of earthquakes. The Department of Homeland Security has routinely extended these agreements since and the next round of extensions is expected to occur on schedule.

More importantly, the leaders want to remind the nearly 300,000 nationals from these three countries who will be eligible to extend their protected status to do so to avoid deportation.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced last week that the Obama administration has deported a record number of undocumented immigrants over the past year. For the Central American groups, extending these TPS agreements is only a small band-aid for a much larger problem. The ultimate goal is comprehensive immigration reform, citizenship for all undocumented Central American immigrants.

“We are living in the worst times in terms of anti-immigrant sentiment of the United States, said Francisco Rivera, President of Central American Round Table. “It’s in the best interest for the national security of this country to give a solution.”

While they want the TPS programs extended, the leaders note that beneficiaries end up spending a significant amount of money to participate. Julio Cardoza of Casa Nicaragua says the U.S. government has earned 60 million from Central American immigrants over the past decade from program fees for work permits.

“I think it’s enough money that they took from these people. We are supporting the economy, because it’s a tremendous amount of money,” Cardoza said. “That’s why we believe, in order to make justice for these people, we are asking to give them residency.”

The Department of Homeland Security is expected to announce expansion of the TPS program by November fifth.

Thousands receive medical care at four-day clinic event

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imageToday was the first day of a four-day health clinic in The Los Angeles Sports Arena that’s expected to bring in five-thousand uninsured and underinsured patients seeking basic health care.

With two million uninsured residents living in Los Angeles County, the demand for free health care is high. Thousands waited in line Monday to receive wristbands to secure a spot at today’s massive clinic.

Robert Carvajal came with a toothache that’s been bothering him for months.

“I’m here to have a tooth extracted because I’m in a lot of pain every day,” Carvajal said. “It looks like the doctor’s pretty good. He’s being very patient and very caring. Hopefully it’s going to be a good job.”

Robert hasn’t received any dental care since he was in prison, over a decade ago. He says that without today’s event, he’d have had no way of dealing this. After the extraction, he planned to have both his knee and wrist examined.

The massive clinic is organized by CareNow, an Los Angeles-based nonprofit group. Eight-hundred medical professionals volunteer their services and manufacturers donate medical supplies and equipment.

Dental care is the number one request at CareNow’s clinics, followed by vision care.

Seven-year-old Imani Gilliam came to the clinic with her mom and little brother because she’s had trouble seeing the board in her classroom.

“I think it’s great because you can learn…and see better,” Imani said.

For the first time this year, the event also includes follow-up care. Patients who need to follow-up or have a condition that can’t be treated on the floor will schedule an appointment with a clinic in the area.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas held a news conference with CareNow officials, praising the effort to address the health care crisis in Los Angeles and throughout the nation. Ridley-Thomas shared that he saw people he went to high school with at nearby Manual Arts High School standing in line to receive dental care.

Ridley-Thomas had a message for opponents of federal healthcare coverage.

Stand in these lines and tell the people who are here seeking care that you wish to deny them the opportunity to feel better and reach their full potential,” Ridley-Thomas said.

A full range of medical services were available today. Aside from dental and vision services, there are women’s health professionals, physicians providing private consultations for a range of health issues, chiropractors, STD testing, even acupuncture therapists.

The CareNow clinic will run through Sunday, seeing twelve-hundred patients each day.

Family Alleges Misconduct in Inmate’s Death

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image The family of Jorge Rosales gathered outside the Twin Towers Jail in Los Angeles today to mourn and call for justice.

The family filed a wrongful death claim against the county of Los Angeles and Sheriff Lee Baca on Tuesday. The claim alleges that the October 6 death of the 18-year-old was the result of injuries inflicted by a Sheriff’s deputy two days prior.

Rosales’s mother Maria says she received a call from her son two days before his death. Rosales told her he’d been injured and was not receiving the medical care he needed.

Attorney Luis Carrillo says Rosales was facing robbery charges out of a Compton court, but had not gone to trial. His unexpected death leaves his family looking for answers.

“I can’t believe what happened to my brother,” Oscar Rosales said. “I’m lost. I really want to know what is the truth and what is the cause of his death.”

“This is something that nobody should go through,” said Jorge’s twin sister Maria. “They should pay for what they did. It’s not going to bring back my brother, but I just want nobody to go through this–that’s all.”

Michael Gennaco, who heads the Sheriff’s watchdog agency, says that Rosales was punched in the head by a deputy when he made a break for an elevator.

The agency released a report today, emphasizing the difficulties of investigating misconduct.

“We talked about some of the challenges of proving that excessive force has occurred or even disproving that is has occurred because of the limitations on evidence available in a jail setting,” Gennaco said.

The claim by the Rosales family is one of many recent public allegations of abuse and misconduct in L.A. County jail system.

The ACLU called for Baca’s resignation last month after releasing a report with sworn declarations from eyewitnesses who said they’d seen deputies use unnecessary force on inmates.

The FBI has been investigating this very issue in L.A. County prisons. Last week, the Los Angeles Times reported that a Sheriff’s rookie quit his job after he was forced to beat a non-violent, mentally-disabled inmate.

Baca announced Sunday the formation of a task force to investigate the 78 allegations of abuse in the county jail system.

A spokeswoman for the Sheriff’s Department said Baca was not commenting on the Rosales case at this time.

Union demands LAUSD rehire laid-off teachers

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imageUnited Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) is calling on the district to rehire 1,200 teachers and support staff that were laid off last spring due to budget cuts.

UTLA held a news conference today in front of Manual Arts High School in South Los Angeles–a particularly troubled school where 3,000 students learn in a space built for 1,000.

The problems at Manual Arts are about more than dealing with reduced resources. The school is currently under the management of a non-profit reform group and its influx of students is the result of a move from a year-round schedule to a traditional calendar this fall.

Representatives at the conference demanded the school district use its year-end surplus of $55 million from last school year to ease strained schools.

UTLA president Warren Fletcher says the biggest problem in LAUSD schools is overcrowded classrooms.

“We have gigantic class sizes. We have Algebra 2 classes with over 50 students. We have P.E. classes with over 80 students,” Fletcher said. “If you’re a seventh-grader and you’re in one of those ridiculously overcrowded classrooms–well–you don’t ever get to be in seventh grade again, so it is something that needs to happen now. The children can no longer wait for this.”

Manual Arts is one of two Los Angeles high schools that has been managed by independent non-profit L.A.’s Promise. The Los Angeles Times reported today that LAUSD officials are poised to retake substantial management control of the school.

While UTLA has been a critic of L.A.’s Promise, it says the district’s hoarding of its surplus funds is to blame for the troubles at Manual Arts and schools like it.

History teacher Daniel Beebe says the lack of staff is at Manual Arts is a problem

“Obviously, when you add eight, nine, 10 students to a classroom, it cuts down your ability to give the students the support and attention they deserve,” Beebe said.

A controversial state law, AB 114, was passed with the budget that prevents school districts from laying off teachers during budget shortages. UTLA says that under the law, the district has the go-ahead to bring teachers back into the classroom.

“This is a serious, serious matter, and the money is there to alleviate it,” Fletcher said. “The school board and the superintendent need to act now. We have already burned a month of school. We can’t burn a whole school year.”

Spokespersons for both LAUSD and L.A.’s Promise said they were unable to comment.

Civil rights activists denounce prominent Obama critics

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imageA small crowd holding “Obama 2012” campaign signs stood on the sidewalk outside talk show host Tavis Smiley’s headquarters today. They were there to denounce Smiley and Author Cornel West’s call to challenge the president in 2012.

West and Smiley have been critical of President Obama’s economic policies, arguing that the president hasn’t done enough to help the black community, which has been hit particularly hard by the recession. The two went on a national “poverty tour,” highlighting the plight of poor communities across the nation.

Najee Ali of project Islamic hope insists that today’s demonstration was not a protest against Smiley and West.

“I have respect for Cornell West and Tavis Smiley, but that doesn’t mean I have to agree with them on their opinion on the president of the United States,” Ali said. “You don’t speak for us. We support president Obama and his policies.”

Ali called the Smiley-West poverty tour “nonsense” and said that if the two men were serious about addressing poverty, they’d get behind president Obama and his jobs bill.

Claire Gentry showed up to support the president. She says criticism of this administration by two leading black figures is unproductive.

Unless they have actually run something themselves “a complex entity such as the United States of America, they have no idea how difficult the situation is. It’s the most difficult economic environment since the 1930s.”

Smiley, West, and others said they’re seeking progressive primary challengers who can debate Obama on policy issues. Ali and others see their efforts as divisive to the black community.

“We cannot turn against each other,” Ali said. “We have to lift each other up. That’s our message to Tavis and Cornell West. Lift the brother up. Stop tearing him down.”

A spokeswoman for Tavis Smiley declined to comment on the protesters’ criticisms.

Villaraigosa and MTA Board adopt local hire policy for construction projects

imageLos Angeles has a reputation as the ultimate car city, but thousands of its residents still rely on public transit.

These riders tend to earn less than average LA County residents, which means even small fare increases can pose a challenge.

Bonnie Stillwater, a single mother, said both she and her daughter rely on the bus.
“The fare increases are so high, it takes one-fifth of my monthly income to pay for bus passes for me and my daughter,” she said.

Stillwater was one attendee at the Don’t X Out Public Transit rally in Mid-Wilshire on Tuesday. More than 20 such rallies were held across the country, protesting a proposed 37 percent budget cut to transit funding. If the cut passes Congress, it could lead to longer wait times and fewer buses.

Ryan Wiggins, the Southern California organizer for Transportation for America, said those cuts would primarily hurt people like Stillwater.

“Those people who don’t have a car, don’t have access to vehicles, who depend on both rail and bus to get to their places of work, will feel the brunt of the impact,” he said.

Wiggins said the cuts would also lead to less frequent maintenance of buses and delay the building of new rail projects.