South L.A. residents in desperate need of exercise opportunities

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Zumba class at Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza

More than 200 South L.A. residents participate in a free Zumba class at the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza. (Photo by Molly Gray.)

If you take a walk along the streets of South Los Angeles you could go miles without ever encountering a public park … or even more rare, an athletic facility.

In fact, if you type the word “gym” into Google Maps, only about half a dozen dots pop up in the 20 square miles between the 405, 10, 710 and 105 freeways.

This lack of fitness space is bad. Especially if you consider that South Los Angeles has higher rates of obesity than anywhere else in the city. [Read more…]

Community stepping in to help family of tragic Inglewood shooting

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imageAs the Lamas-Jimenez family begins to wade through the dust from a tragic shooting at their home early Saturday morning, community leaders and police departments have begun raising money for the surviving members of the family.

In the predawn hours of Saturday morning, a man broke into the Lamas-Jimenez home on the 4900 block of W 99th Street in Inglewood and opened fire on the family of six.

The father, Filimon Lamas,33, and his 4-year-old son both died as a result of the attack.

Tuesday morning, a vigil of more than a hundred candles, flowers and cards, had sprung up on the sidewalk outside of the family’s home and a half dozen neighbors were paying their respects.

Lamas’ sisters thanked the community for the overwhelming support Tuesday morning and said they were still in shock over their brother and nephew’s deaths.

imageVictim advocate Lita Herron consoles Emma Lome and Carmen Hernandez three days after the tragic shooting that took the life of their brother and nephew in Inglewood on Saturday, October 20, 2012.

“Seeing all of this, I’m happy for my brother because I know he deserves it. I know he was a hero,” said Emma Lome, Lamas’ sister. “God wanted him in heaven.”

His wife, Gloria Jimenez, 28, and two other children were also shot. They remain in stable condition. Only an 8-year-old boy who hid under his covers was not hurt.

According to the Los Angeles Times, investigators are working to confirm the identity of a body found in a burned down bungalow behind the family home.

The bungalow was being rented by Desmond John Moses, who police believe to be the shooter. An autopsy, that is expected to conclude early this week, should determine whether or not the body is that of Moses.

The Lamas family says Moses was upset over being evicted from the home and he may have blamed the Lamas-Jimenez family.

imageThis burned down bungalow home was being rented by Desmond John Moses, who is believed to have shot his neighbors before setting his home on fire and shooting himself in the head.

Meanwhile, community leaders and police have begun raising money for the family with two separate funds.

Civil rights activist Earl Ofari Hutchinson is helping the family cope with the aftermath of the tragedy. His organization, the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable, is donating $250 to the family fund.

“Any time you have this kind of violence, any time you have this kind of tragedy, that affects a whole family and children, it is nothing but a monumental tragedy,” Hutchinson said.

He is urging others to donate as well, saying that the financial burden of victims is often forgotten.

Additionally, Doors to Heaven Global Ministries on Manchester Boulevard in Inglewood is offering prayer and counseling services to the family and community members.

Another of Lamas’ sisters, Carmen Hernandez says the children are the family’s top priority. She said the children have stopped talking about what happened and asked if they could go to school this morning.

“We’re a big family … there are a lot of nephews and they are around and they’re almost always playing,” Hernandez said. “I think that it has been helping them a lot.”

Lome and Hernandez are hoping that their sister-in-law and her children will return home from the hospital this week.

Donations to the family can be made in the following ways:

Lamas Family Donation Fund
Account No. 5223
ICE Federal Credit Union
1 W. Manchester Blvd., Inglewood, CA 90301

Wells Fargo Fund
Account No. 4122412588
13545 Hawthorne Blvd., Hawthorne, CA 90250

Prop 36 aims to change “Three Strikes” law

Since 1994 California’s Three Strikes Law has put thousands of repeat offenders behind bars for life.

imageKelly Turner was sentenced to life in prison after a third strike conviction for check forgery.

The law was designed to stop violent criminals, but over the years it has also ensnared people like Kelly Turner.

Before three strikes, Turner was convicted twice of robbery and resolved to quit serious crime. But in 1997 she was sentenced to life in prison for forging a check at a department store.

“The amount of the check that got me arrested was $146.16,” Turner said, emphasizing that she couldn’t believe that was punishable by life in prison.

After serving 13 years of her life sentence, Turner was released when it was discovered that the court clerk had transcribed the judge incorrectly, thus nullifying the sentencing.

Now, she writes books and does public speaking hoping to educate one-time criminals so that they don’t end up where she did.

She also advocates for changing the Three Strikes Law, in hopes of helping to free hundreds of inmates she met while incarcerated.

“I know who they are on the inside and I know that their criminal behavior is beyond them, is behind them,” Turner said. “They are just not going to do that again.”

Many attempts to repeal or amend Three Strikes have failed when brought to public vote.

But Proposition 36 could change all of that. According to recent polls by Pepperdine University, 75 percent of people say they will vote yes on Nov. 6.

Analysts believe the change in opinion on the law is due to the poor economy and enormous state budget problems suffered in California.

imageProfessor Robert Nash Parker, Presley Center for Crime and Justice Studies, UC Riverside.

“There has been no successful attempts so far to reform it,” said Professor Robert Nash Parker, head of the Presley Center for Crime and Justice Studies at the University of California Riverside. “My hope had been that with the financial pressure, would finally come the recognition that this was not sustainable.”

State estimates show that California could save up to 70-million dollars a year with the proposed changes.

With today’s economic climate and state budget woes, that’s an appealing number.

Prop 36 revises the law to impose life sentences only when a defendant’s third felony is a violent one, freeing around 40 percent of current inmates serving life sentences under the Three Strikes Law.

But supporters of the current system contend that the extra cash isn’t worth having more criminals out on the street.

Additionally, they say that the Three Strikes Law as it currently stands it a major deterrent for potential repeat offenders.

“People got the message that if they committed a new felony they were facing an indeterminate life term,” said Tom Toller, a lead researcher with the California District Attorneys Association, an organization that opposes the Proposition.

The organization’s takes greatest issue with the proposition over the fact that it will take away discretion reserved for prosecutors and judges who decide whether to charge three strikes or not.

As it currently stands, a judge or prosecutor can include or exclude past crimes from individual case sentencing, but Proposition 36 would end that flexibility.

“There are already defendants who have benefited from leniency and the opposite side of that argument is that the ones who have not, clearly judges and district attorneys have felt an indeterminate life sentence was appropriate,“ Toller said.

Mural by Mexican artist restored and unveiled


Exactly eighty years after it was first unveiled, America Tropical was welcomed back into the public eye by members of the Mexican and arts communities.

The mural on Olvera Street is by world-renowned Mexican artist David Alfaro Siqueiros. It was completed in 1932, but was painted over within a decade. This was widely seen as an attempt to squelch political expression by Mexican immigrants.

The organizers made it clear, that this time the mural is here to stay. The nearly ten-million-dollar project was funded by the Getty and the City of Los Angeles and included restoring the painting and installing a protective canopy and sun shades to protect it from further damage from sun, rain and birds.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said Sequeiro’s work was an inspiration to political public artists all over the world. Villaraigosa spoke Tuesday morning about how the mural represents his Mexican grandmother’s journey to Los Angeles. She came here with nothing but a dream, he said in Spanish. “By conserving and displaying this masterpiece we are repaying our debt and honoring Siqueiros and his work” Villaraigosa said.

The mayor and others hinted at the challenges public art has faced in recent years. Ten years ago, the city of Los Angeles enacted a ban on signage that restricted murals, billboards and large-scale advertisements to designated parts of the city.

Rich advertisers began monopolizing space in the designated areas, which essentially silenced muralists and public artists. Over the last year, Councilman Jose Huizar has been pushing a mural ordinance to restore rights to public artists. “This is about history, it’s about censorship, it’s about art and it’s also about bringing Los Angeles together to a place that started the mural movement in the whole world,” Huizar said.

The ordinance, however, has been delayed because the city planning commission and artists can’t agree to the terms. Muralist Daniel Lahoda, the owner of LaLa Gallery and producer of the LA Freewalls Project, supports the ordinance.

“There’s such a great value in the public arts, there’s economic value, there is cultural value, aesthetic value and emotional value,” Lahoda said outside of Novelty Café, an eclectic coffee shop in the heart of L.A.’s arts district. “It just provides incredible energy overall to the lives of the community.”

Lahoda recently created a mural at the Skid Row Housing development. He believes that as long as property owners and community members support the art, the city should have no grounds to stop it. He said part of the problem is that the city makes money off illegal graffiti and doesn’t want to give up that revenue. “I have a hunch, a pretty strong hunch that the city attorney’s office is continuing to delay the mural ordinance specifically to maintain the power of the graffiti abatement community and their role in that community,” Lahoda said.

Representatives for the city attorney’s office did not respond to a request for comment. The mural ordinance is scheduled to be discussed at the city planning commission’s next meeting on Thursday morning.

Walmart renovation aims to bring affordable produce to Crenshaw

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The Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza Walmart celebrated a 5-month-long renovation this morning with a ribbon cutting, messages from community leaders and special reopening-day deals.

Clad in Walmart-blue uniforms more than 100 Walmart employees heard from company executives and community leaders.

“When the Walmart organization selected Baldwin Hills and the Crenshaw area as a location for its store,” said Bishop Charles E. Blake of the West Angeles Church in Crenshaw. “It was a significant turning point for our community an a significant investment.”

Walmart continued its legacy of investing in the community with a $50,000 grant given to Friends of the Expo Center — a nonprofit that serves the Exposition Park community.

The renovation included a new produce section, a sewing and crafts department, home furnishings and a redesigned floor plan for more convenient shopping. It’s part of a larger remodel of the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza. Capri Urban Baldwin, the company that manages the mall, has invested more than $35 million to transform the plaza.

The project has paid for a myriad of projects including new restaurants, such as Post and Beam, the new Rave Cinemas movie theater, a new children’s play area and family restrooms.

One of the most significant changes to the Walmart is the addition of a fresh produce section that community leaders said will lead to better health and longevity in the community. The area lacks adequate access to fresh fruits and vegetables, according to the CDC.

Shopper Teresa Worrell said the Walmart will help her get healthy food to feed her daughter, who attends elementary school in the area. “We had limited fruits in the store for years in Walmart,” said Teresa Worrell, a Crenshaw resident who was shopping for yogurt and milk in the new dairy section. “This is very, very helpful you know financial and health-wise.” image

“We are excited to welcome our neighbors and community members back to our newly remodeled store,” said store manager Synetria Peterson. “It will be a brand new shopping experience for the community, and one we are thrilled about. We look forward to serving our customers by focusing on what is important to them.”

But not everyone believes in Walmart’s mission. Several groups have protested Walmart’s presence in Crenshaw. “Walmart is anti-union, it pays low wages, in fact it doesn’t even pay living wages,” said Najee Ali, the founder of Project Islamic H.O.P.E. “And certainly Walmart employees can’t afford to buy into medical or dental insurance.”

Similarly, numerous groups are fighting a Walmart that is going to be built in Chinatown. “What we call mom and pop businesses are essentially put out of business because the Walmart prices are lower than the smaller businesses in the community,” Ali said.

But Councilman Bernard Parks, who attended the ribbon cutting ceremony, said that type of thinking is flawed. “The grocery industry has not invested in our community,” Parks said. “The mom
and pop stores cannot carry the burden of the needs in the community and if you look at the crowd here today they look like the community.”

imageLocal business owners weren’t as concerned about the Walmart as they were with the fact that people just aren’t buying groceries as much as they are eating out.

The Walmart, which opened in 2003, was one of the first businesses to open in the Crenshaw district after the 1992 LA Riots that devastated the area. Parks credits the store for major economic development. “They stepped in and hired locally from the community,” Parks said. “They also stepped in and began to be a part of the community because of their investment in the community.”

Expo Line critic Damien Goodmon sounds off

More than 700 Dorsey High School students have to cross the Expo Line train tracks at the intersection of Farmdale and Exposition in South L.A every day — a major concern of local residents.

Standing at the intersection this Monday afternoon, Damien Goodmon of the Citizen’s Campaign to Fix the Expo Line, Damien Newton of Los Angeles Streetsblog and Molly Gray of Intersections South L.A. watched the students cross in a mostly orderly fashion. The system of bells, lights and gates kept the students separate from the train when it slow-rolled into and out of the station.

As Metro prepares its weekend-long Expo party, reporters are highlighting the efforts of transit advocates to push the line forward for the last quarter of a century. Absent from the accolades is Goodmon, who has as much to do with the look of the Expo Line, especially at stations and crossings in South L.A. Where Fix Expo regularly lambasted elected officials, Metro, the Expo Construction Authority and anyone else that they felt dismissed their concerns about safety.

Goodmon isn’t looking for accolades — he doesn’t believe his work is done.

When asked about the station, and whether he was happy with it, Goodmon gave a complicated answer, “Absolutely not. But it’s hard not to claim victory when you see what they were going to do at this intersection and others … I want to believe the kids are safer than they would have been. Safe would have been grade separating it.”

Goodmon and Newton talked for almost an hour on Monday, but here are the highlights.

Buscaino, LAPD officers clean up empty land in South LA

imageCouncilman Joe Buscaino from District 15, joined law enforcement officers and other community activists Saturday to clean up an empty plot of land near 103rd Street and Grandee Avenue in Watts.

The plot was overgrown with weeds and had become a “magnet for trash, vermin and homeless encampments,” according to a release by Buscaino’s office.

“Enough is enough,” Buscaino said in the release. “We need to respond to the community’s concerns here. This is a main thoroughfare for students in the area. For them to see all this trash…completely unacceptable.”

Busciano was approached at the beginning of the month at a meeting of the Watts Gang Task Force and was joined at the cleanup by officers from LAPD’s Southeast Division, members of the Southeast Division Spanish Community Police and Advisory Board, the Watts Gang Task Force, LA Conservation Corps and the Bureau of Street Services.

“A cleanup like this, organized like this, hasn’t been done in years,” said Robert Martinez, Senior Lead Officer for LAPD’s Southeast Division, in the release.

He noted that a cleaner plot of land would bring positive changes to the lives of nearby middle school students who see the plot every day and will no longer have to look at signs of poverty and crime.

New map takes bicyclists through South LA

imageSouth Los Angeles organizers are urging people to explore their community in a new way: on their bicycles.

Ride South LA is new cycling map that guides riders through South LA, ending up at the Watts Towers.

Researchers and avid cyclists have been scoping the area for months to set up the route. it was tested by 60 riders in January — using social media mapping tools to gather data and information about which parts of the city people enjoyed and which they didn’t, according to a news release.

The map is available online and will be distributed at this weekend’s Ciclavia event in front of the African American Firefighter Museum on Central Avenue.

The map was compiled not only from rider feedback but also from photos submitted by riders. Those photos can be seen on the printed map.

The organizations behind this project are hoping for broad social change as people experience South LA in a different light.

“Social change with maps only happens if they are integrated into the community’s storytelling network,” said researcher George Villanueva of USC’s Metamorphosis Project in a news release. Storytelling must go “beyond media organizations, and include residents and community-based organizations.”

Ride South LA hopes to continue mapping the South Los Angeles community.

Other organizations behind Ride South LA include T.R.U.S.T. South LA, the Mobile Urban Mapping Project, the Mobile Lab, the Annenberg Innovation Lab and the East Side Riders Bike Club.

South LA residents push for organic food co-op

imageBahni Turpin was disturbed by the lack of organic food when she moved to Crenshaw in 2010. She was used to feeding her family with only chemical-free food. Even though she had moved, she found herself still driving back to Hollywood to do her grocery shopping.

“There is nowhere in our neighborhood where you can get the kind of food that (my family) eats,” Turpin says. “The farmer’s market even only has one farm that is certified organic.”

After unsuccessfully lobbying for health food chains to come into the area, Turpin decided to take matters into her own hands. She now wants to open a food co-op in Crenshaw — where people in the community pool their resources and open a store together.

Turpin and several other Crenshaw residents have started laying the groundwork for the South Los Angeles (SoLA) Food Co-op.

“I liked the idea of a co-op because we could have a store without having to own and work in it, and it could empower the community instead of begging for some big chain business to take our money,” Turpin says.

After attending a co-op conference in Berkeley, Calif., Turpin started to garner interest in her community. She put up a website, went to health food and community events and began holding regular information meetings.

So far, about 150 people have signed up on the co-op’s mailing list.

“We definitely need more,” Turpin says. “But it takes time. We’re aiming toward double.”

South LA as a whole is what experts call a “food desert” — where there is a lack of fresh produce, organic or otherwise. But fast food restaurants are found in a greater abundance than in other areas.

According to a report issued in 2011 by the United States Department of Agriculture, more than 81,000 people in Los Angeles County don’t have access to fresh produce.

That’s why Marie-Alise Recasner-de Marco opted in to the co-op.

“It’s ludicrous,” she says. “We are way behind other parts of the city. We have to drive to Santa Monica or West Chester to even go to a Trader Joe’s or Bristol Farms to get organic dairy.”

Recasner-de Marco is also a recent transplant into the Crenshaw area. She and her family moved into the Windsor Hills neighborhood in 2009. She was shocked at how poorly stocked the Ralph’s and Vons grocery stores were compared to those she had left in Hollywood.

Recasner-de Marco, who serves on SoLA’s steering committee, says she hopes to someday do 100 percent of her shopping at the co-op.

“It will be great to be able to keep our money here in Crenshaw, rather than sending it elsewhere and to be able to get the organic food that we care about eating,” she says. “That’s really important to my family.”

The SoLA co-op plans to offer competitively priced food — everything from produce to dairy to grains — in hopes of gaining traction in the community.

Although the co-op will be member-owned, you won’t have to be a member to shop there, Turpin says. Members will receive discounts, private sales and a say in what foods are offered.

Turpin is anticipating that the co-op will open in the summer of 2013 and that the buy-in will be between $200-300 — that can be paid in one lifetime installment or over several years.

The next community meeting will be held Tuesday, April 10 at 7 p.m. at Lotus On The Nile Wellness Center, 4307 Crenshaw Blvd.

LAUSD fighting to close Latino achievement gap