South LA one location for next gun buyback program

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Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and LAPD Chief Charlie Beck on Tuesday announced the city is making it easier for residents to turn in guns. On May 4th, there will be four locations for gun buyback programs:  Elysian Park, Wilmington, South LA, and Van Nuys.  The program is aimed at reducing gun violence in the city.

“I encourage every Angeleno to turn in their guns and say no to senseless violence in our neighborhoods. We’re asking for your help in removing guns from our street.  Turn in your guns, keep weapons away from gang members and dangerous criminals,” said Villarigosa. [Read more…]

Barking and bustling at South L.A.’s newest animal shelter

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As you’re driving down Western Avenue in South LA, you might notice the jagged streets and boarded up stores. But what you may not expect to see is a modern oasis for animals. This “oasis” is the new South Los Angeles Animal Services Center that opened Thursday in Chesterfield Square.

Woman holding puppy

Woman holds a puppy at the opening of South L.A. Animal Services Center.


“You can bring your dog in for micro-chipping, and we will have a spay neuter clinic,” said the shelter’s director Jan Selder. “We offer adoptions, of course, every day, and advice, so we just want this to service the community in a complete way that the community needs.”

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa spoke at the opening. He emphasized the vastness of the shelter, which is the city’s second largest at 258 kennels. [Read more…]

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa endorses Curren Price for L.A. City Council

In a dramatic sign of the growing and diverse coalition behind a campaign to transform the 9th District, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has endorsed Sen. Curren Price for L.A. City Council.

The mayor cited Price’s deep roots in the 9th District, and his impressive record of achievement in the areas of immigrants’ rights, public safety, expanding healthcare coverage and providing opportunities in education.

“Curren Price was born in the 9th District, attended a school in the 9th, and then went on to serve residents and families in the 9th District in the legislature,” said Villaraigosa. “As State Senator, Curren Price helped champion the California Dream Act that expanded access to college for children of immigrants, he helped protect funding for neighborhood schools and for anti-gang programs, and he successfully expanded health care coverage for all families.”

Price welcomed the enthusiastic support from one of America’s most visible leaders, and said he looked forward to coming to City Hall and building on the progress that has been made during Villaraigosa’s time as mayor.

“Mayor Villaraigosa is a good friend who loves Los Angeles and cares deeply about its future,” said Price. “He understands that it will take a record of leadership, integrity and experience to move the 9th District forward, and a champion to fight for its fair share of resources and city services. The advances in public transit and neighborhood safety that have resulted from Mayor Villaraigosa’s leadership have set the stage for the 9th District to become a model for how diverse communities can unite behind shared goals, and make their neighborhoods a better place to live for our families.”

Mayor Villaraigosa’s support is the latest development in the campaign that demonstrates mounting support for Sen. Price’s campaign. Among elected leaders, Sen. Price’s City Council candidacy is also endorsed by Gov. Jerry Brown; Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom; former State Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez; Congressman and former L.A. City Councilman Tony Cardenas; Congresswoman Karen Bass; Congresswoman Gloria Negrete McLeod; L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas; L.A. City Council President Herb Wesson Jr.; and State Sen. Kevin de Leon.

Sen. Price has also won endorsements from the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO; United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA); SEIU; AFSCME Local 685, UNITE HERE; United Farm Workers; and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

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.

CicLAvia bike event draws 100,000 enthusiasts

Cyclists having a good time at the CicLAvia.

Approximately 100,000 bicycles, skates, rollerblades, walkers and dogs took to the streets on Sunday for L.A.’s fifth installment of the biannual CicLAvia bike festival.

With an expanded route, that added new spurs to Boyle Heights, Chinatown and Expo Park, more than nine miles of city streets were shut down to motor traffic from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

At a news conference in front of City Hall to mark the beginning of the event that promotes clean air and encourages people to get out of their cars and explore downtown, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said “I hope everyone discovers at least one new thing about L.A.”

Anthony, a Los Angeles teenager riding his bike with two other friends, believes that this type of event should be held more often. “I love it,” he said. “It keeps us out of trouble.”

L.A. held its first CicLAvia in October 2010. Ciclovías originated over thirty years ago in Bogotá, Colombia, as a response to city congestion and pollution as well as to provide an opportunity for young and old to have a place for safe, healthy and enjoyable recreation.

Los Angeles Urban League to honor Villaraigosa, others

imageAs Black History Month draws to a close, one group in South Los Angeles is just starting a celebration of the future of African Americans.

At a private event kick-off to be held Wednesday night, the Los Angeles Urban League will announce four community leaders who will be honored as “Enduring Legacies” for their contribution to African Americans and other minority groups in Los Angeles.

“Months like Black History Month are really important to preserve heritage as we come together in a melting pot society,” said Dannete Wilkerson, event director for the LAUL. “The freedom we have in America is very extensive … but there are still some imbalances that we need to pay attention to.”

The Urban League aims to honor individuals that it feels give proper focus to those imbalances.

This year’s honorees include Virgil Roberts, an entertainment lawyer and education advocate, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Robert Billingslea, corporate director of urban affairs at Walt Disney Co., and Luis Lainer, co-founder of Bet Tzedek, a nonprofit organization offering legal services to low-income people.

“Each of them are being honored to signify that they stand for the epitome of what we try to do at the league,” Wilkerson said. “They represent community leadership and continued effort in honoring the culture and community of the groups they represent.”

Whitney M. Young (far left) during a civil rights march in D.C.

The recognitions will be formally handed out at an annual celebration on April 25, honoring Whitney M. Young, Jr., an American civil-rights activist who played a large role in the foundation of the Los Angeles Urban League.

“(Young) really leveled the playing field for African Americans in Los Angeles,” Wilkerson said. “We try to honor people who share the same spirit and hope for equality.”

The LAUL will also be announcing an exhibit honoring 90 different organizations and community leaders in Los Angeles that have impacted the African American community, called “The 90 That Built LA.”

The exhibit will be held at the Museum of African American Art located on the third floor of the Macy’s department store at the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza and will open in the fall.

“The African American community, and these organizations in particular, have made significant contributions to the city of Los Angeles and we want to honor that,” Wilkerson said.

The 90 exhibit subjects were selected by the league and voted on by community members. They will be announced during the summer.

Non-Profit Day in Los Angeles

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imageJust as the public and private sectors were hit in the recession, non-profits have fought for support as funding declined. The mayor says the non-profit sector in LA is a 35 and a half billion dollar industry and employs six percent of the region’s work force.

The city established nonprofit day to acknowledge the industry and provide encouragement through these tough times.

Jacqueline Hamilton is the executive director of a small nonprofit organization called the Education Consortium of Central Los Angeles. ECCLA works to provide enriched educational experiences to K through 12 students.

Like many non-profits, ECCLA was hit by the economic recession.

“Well everything’s coming down to what measurable results you can provide…so we’re having to look at our funding model and trying to seek new supporters for the work that we do. The tightened economy has made it really difficult for us.”

At a news conference this morning, the mayor said nonprofit day is intended to encourage volunteer participation and donation. He noted that even as funding has decreased, the need for non-profits’ services has increased.

Hamilton commends the city’s efforts.

“I think LA city leaders recognize the important role that non-profit organizations play in meeting a wide range of civic needs. I welcome this raising the profile of non-profits by having a non-profit day…anything that calls attention to the important work done by the third sector, the non-profit sector of the economy is very helpful.”

In a similar effort, the Annenberg Foundation is hosting an event tonight in downtown la, highlighting the importance of non-profits. Ten organizations will give speed pitches in a competition to win a hundred thousand dollars in prizes.

Mayor prepares LA transit plan

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imageMayor Antonio Villaraigosa conceded Tuesday that the recession has overpowered Los Angeles’ best efforts to hang onto jobs. It will likely take ten years for Los Angeles to offer the same number of jobs it did before the 2008 recession. But he’s confident in the city’s ability to capitalize in the future.

The mayor sees light rail and subway development as the foundation for a robust local economy. Additionally, he visualizes public transportation as a catalyst for economic growth nationwide.

“Now, let me be clear: Transportation is the key to building our own road to recovery,” Villaraigosa told a Town Hall Los Angeles luncheon today. “We must avoid turning the wrong way down a one-way street into a double-dip recession. We’ve raised the money here in LA to build our own road to recovery – but we need the financing from Congress to break ground on that road now.”

Villaraigosa is working with California Senator Barbara Boxer to pass America Fast Forward, a Congressional bill which will increase the Department of Transportation’s Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act loan program to one billion dollars annually. Currently, its budget is $110 million each year.

America Fast Forward is modeled on LA’s 30/10 initiative. Undertaken in 2008, this program reduced 30 years of transit development to just ten years, funded by a half-penny sales tax increase and a federal loan. The mayor credited this program with almost 200 million fewer miles driven each year, plus 166,000 jobs over the project’s lifetime.

The rest of the nation, for whom America Fast Forward is designed, will “look to Los Angeles and Southern California, and our new subways, our railways, our roadways and our busways. It will be a catalyst not just for LA but for the nation, if we can adopt America Fast Forward,” Villaraigosa said.

Los Angeles transit is replete with success stories recently, Villaraigosa said: the city is a finalist for a $646 million TIFIA loan, which will allow it to complete the Westside subway system and regional connector lines between East Los Angeles and Long Beach. The second phase of the Orange Line, which already carries nearly five times as many passengers as the city predicted, will extend the rail line to Chatsworth in the San Fernando Valley. Both developments are 30/10 projects.

Also, Los Angeles will finish synchronizing its traffic lights by 2013. Currently, about 92 percent of lights work in time with one another – “We’re the only city that can say that,” Villaraigosa said. The resultant traffic streamlining will reduce carbon emissions by an estimated metric ton each year.

Finally, the city recently reached its 2005 benchmark of gleaning 20 percent of its energy from renewable sources. Villaraigosa calls Los Angeles “The only public utility in a big city to accomplish that goal.”

Despite these victories, a jobs crisis persists nationwide. Unemployment in California still hovers around 12 percent. Villaraigosa believes public transit can help rectify that impasse and simultaneously make U.S. cities greener, friendlier and healthier.

“The millions that we invest in transit flow to businesses large and small and create hundreds of thousands of jobs. So let’s make this clear: transportation investment equals jobs,” the mayor said.

Villaraigosa, Boxer, the bipartisan Senate Committee for Public Works and Senator John Mica (R-Florida), who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee, publicly support America Fast Forward. It will continue undergoing Congressional discussion.

Mayor kicks off Latino Heritage Month honoring prominent LA Latinos

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa made a special presentation to three Los Angeles Latino leaders during a packed City Council meeting this morning. The awards were handed out as part of the city’s activities kicking off Latino Heritage Month. This year’s theme is “Celebrating a Culture of Hope and Progress.”

Sal Castro, Cesar Millán and Fernando Valenzuela received awards from Mayor Villaraigosa.

Educator and activist Sal Castro received the Spirit of Los Angeles Award, world-renowned dog trainer Cesar Millán was honored with the Dream of Los Angeles Award, and former Dodger’s pitcher Fernando Valenzuela was presented with the Hope of Los Angeles Award.

Mariachi performers

A performance of mariachi music, Peruvian dance, and an appearance by Miss Latina contestants began the ceremony inside the City Council’s chambers.

Peruvian dancers

Outside on the South Lawn, the celebration continued with traditional food, arts and crafts, more dance and music and an opportunity for each man to speak about his own experience as a prominent Latino in Los Angeles.

In his introductions, the mayor commented that the celebrations of the day were a reflection of a place that “truly is a city where the world comes together.”

imageFernando Valenzuela, who grew up in Sonora, Mexico, joked that giving speeches was not his strong point, but offered his gratitude for the award and remembers thinking that L.A. was a great place to play baseball.

A left-handed pitcher who started a craze called “Fernandomania” in 1981, he became the only player in Major League History to win Rookie of the Year and the Cy Young Award in the same season.


Villaraigosa described Cesar Millán as someone who “embodies the success of the immigrant dream.”

“The Dog Whisperer,” which is both Millán’s nickname and the name of his television show, has several connections to South L.A.

Millán said that when he first arrived in L.A. from Mexico, he began walking dogs in Inglewood, but didn’t know that there was a law against walking dogs without a leash here. He came to the realization that he needed to start “training dogs and rehabilitating people” and opened his Dog Psychology Center, which was housed in South L.A. from 2002-2008.

For the final award, Sal Castro, known for his role in the 1968 East Los Angeles high school walkouts, said he would “accept this honor on behalf of the young people who have touched my life.” Several students from Sal Castro Middle School, who were on a field trip to City Hall, joined Castro in front of the stage.

In the mayor’s closing remarks, he referenced the California Dream Act, which would give qualified undocumented immigrants access to state scholarships and grants, saying that the three men honored today should be held up as examples of what can happen “if we let people follow their dream.” The California bill is currently sitting on Governor Jerry Brown’s desk.

But Villaraigosa wasn’t thinking just about Los Angeles or California. He mentioned the failure of Congress to address comprehensive immigration reform amidst a time of partisan grandstanding.

“The entire country would benefit from a Dream Act,” he said to thunderous applause. “It’s time to bring people out of the dark and into the light.”

imageToday’s Latino Heritage Month event also coincides with the celebration of Mexican Independence Day.

About Latino Heritage Month

This tradition started in 1968, when President Lyndon B. Johnson designated the week of September 15 and 16 as National Hispanic Heritage Week to commemorate the independence of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua on September 15 and Mexico’s independence on September 16.

In 1988, President Ronald Reagan extended the period of observance to a month-long celebration, from September 15 to October 15, to honor the cultures and traditions of Americans with heritage tied to Spain, Mexico and the Spanish-speaking nations of Central America, South America and the Caribbean.

On a national level, this year’s theme for the National Hispanic Heritage Month is “Renewing the American Dream.”

Los Angeles Urban League hosts spring symposium

imageThe theme for the Los Angeles Urban League’s Spring Symposium was “Place-Based Neighborhood Change: Successes, Challenges, and Opportunities” which focused on how lives can be improved one neighborhood at a time. Held on Monday at the California African American Museum, this event brought together some of the most experienced and dedicated community activists and organizations.

Blair Taylor, President of the Los Angeles Urban League, spoke about the importance of coming together to share ideas and not losing sight of the task of improving the lives of underserved communities.

Ed Dandridge led the first plenary session entitled “2011 State of Black Los Angeles Report and the Healthy Neighborhood Index.” Dandridge is the Senior Vice President and Chief Communications Officer for The Nielsen Company. He discussed how some data collected by Nielsen could help organizations target specific neighborhoods, which could help close the technology gap for lower-income families.

According to the report, Black Angelenos have made some progress. Over the last five years, both the Education and Health Indexes increased by five percentage points. The Employment Index also rose by four points. There was no change in the Criminal Justice Index, which remained at 70 percent. Still, the overall index shows that results for Black residents are only 71 percent of White residents. It concluded that even with increased funding to South Los Angeles, Black residents still face grave challenges in the work force, criminal justice system, housing and education. The Report also predicted that if index gains continue at their current rate, it will take 100 years to close the equality gap between African-American Angelenos and other races.

Place-based neighborhood change was the focus of the second session, led by Don Howard of the Bridgespan Group. They played videos that highlighted how neighborhood transformation can be achieved.

L.A. Urban League was noted for its involvement at Crenshaw High School and the 70 blocks surrounding the school. In the last three years, LAUL says crime in the neighborhood decreased by 25 percent and Crenshaw’s graduation increased by 58 percent.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa introduced Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, the keynote speaker. Johnson spoke of the work he is doing in Sacramento, saying he uses Los Angeles as a model.

Johnson made a plea for encouraging this generation of children, saying they are struggling due to lack of encouragement, support or guidance. He challenged the attendees to help others and be willing to make sacrifices, like those of the Civil Rights era.

In the afternoon, the group divided into breakout sessions focusing on education, health, safety, workforce and economic development and collaborative partnerships. Each session had a panel of experts who spoke of the work they were doing and discussed strategies and challenges they faced.

The event was sponsored by The California Endowment, the Weingart Foundation, the James Irvine Foundation, The Nielsen Company, FedEx and the Los Angeles Urban League.