Proposition D on the May ballot

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Bill Rosendahl Prop D

City Councilman Bill Rosendahl said Proposition D means “life.”

Proposition D would shut down more than 90 percent of the city’s marijuana dispensaries and put new regulations on the industry and tax sales of the drug

Councilman Bill Rosendahl uses medical marijuana to treat his cancer.

“I can tell you from a health stand point, I would not be alive,” he said, “I would not be standing here right now if it wasn’t for the medicinal use of marijuana. D means life.” [Read more…]

Redistricting lawsuit filed on behalf of South LA voters

imageAttorney Leo Terrell filed a lawsuit in federal court on behalf of residents in the 8th, 9th and 10th Council Districts, alleging that city officials used race as the basis for redrawing boundary lines for those districts.

Terrell accused the City Council of redrawing the boundaries to create a predominantly African American voting bloc in the 10th District represented by Council President Herb Wesson, who is African American. Many of the black neighborhoods represented by 8th District Councilmember Bernard C. Parks, who is also African American, were taken out of the 8th and put into Wesson’s district.

Parks has said moving those neighborhoods out of the 8th District has been economically disastrous for his district.

“Over the last two years we were leading the city in creating jobs, but the 30,000 jobs were taken out just by the drawing of a line. This community leads the city in homelessness, unemployment and foreclosures,” Park recently told Crenshaw Chamber of Commerce.

In a news release, Terrell said,” Key Redistricting Commission and City Council members redrew the City Council district boundaries, with the explicit purpose of increasing the African American voter registration percentage in District 10, and increasing the Latino voter registration percentage in District 9.”

District 9 is now represented by Jan Perry, who is African American. Perry is termed out and running for mayor of Los Angeles.

Terrell also points to how redistricting “diluted the voting power of the Asian American community” by breaking up parts of Koreatown and Downtown Los Angeles and moving them into other districts. The redistricting commission moved much of the downtown neighborhoods out of District 9, leaving it with mostly low-income neighborhoods in South Central Los Angeles. Voters will be electing a new city council member in District 9 on Tuesday.

“Shame on this city when minorities disenfranchise minorities,” Terrell told the Los Angeles City Council today.

Councilmember Herb Wesson did not comment on Terrell’s lawsuit.

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.”

Buckingham Place senior apartments finally open

The Buckingham Place Senior Apartments in Marlton Square is no longer an abandoned and vacant building. After more than 10 years of delays, South LA seniors were finally able to move in to the updated and brand new complex.

The affordable housing project for seniors in South Los Angeles, which originally broke ground in 2002, was finally recently completed and tenants have moved in to the community. The four-story building has 70 one and two-bedroom apartments, a community room and a courtyard area with benches and outside barbeques. The units are for low to moderate income seniors.

The opening of the Buckingham Place Senior Apartments is a milestone for Councilmember Bernard C. Parks, who for years tried to push forward the Marlton Square redevelopment project on the site of the old Santa Barbara Plaza. For Parks, the grand opening “brings to a conclusion a ten-year project that makes a very positive impact on housing for seniors within the local community.”

Just three weeks ago, Parks announced that Kaiser Permanente would become the anchor tenant for the long-awaited Marlton Square Redevelopment Project.

“This accomplishment, along with recently securing Kaiser Permanente as a neighboring tenant in Marlton Square, is a positive sign for future development in the surrounding area,” said Parks.

Bids for the sale of the remaining acres of Marlton Square are currently under review and Parks’ office says a developer will be chosen soon.

Reward offered in 1989 hit and run that killed 3 year-old

The Los Angeles Police Department and Crime Stoppers Los Angeles have reopened a 23 year-old cold case with the hopes of finding the person responsible for the hit and run death of 3 year-old D’Ancee Nathanial Barnes. The boy was the son of Carson Councilmember Mike Gipson and wife LeCresha who say they want justice for the death of D’Ancee.

“Even though it’s been 23 years, for us as a family, it’s like it happened yesterday,” says Gipson. “A part of our family is missing and gone forever and we just want justice for D’Ance.”

Carson Councilmember Mike Gipson and wife LeCresha make an emotional plea for anyone who has information on the hit and run driver responsible for the death their son D’Ancee to come forward.

On Saturday, Councilmember Bernard Parks announced a $50,000 reward at the South Los Angeles intersection of Van Ness and 65th Place, where the little boy was struck by a hit and run driver at approximately 8:55 p.m. on March 18, 1989.

According to the LAPD, a driver in a 1974-1985 white or light brown 2-door Cadillac was travelling north on Van Ness Avenue towards Gage Avenue when she hit the small boy as he ran into the roadway.

The driver is described as a 32-34 year old Black female with black hair, approximately 5’6” tall and weighing 110-120 pounds. She stopped briefly after the impact before continuing northbound on Van Ness Avenue. She has never been identified.

The reward was initiated by Los Angeles City Councilman Parks and supported in the council by a vote of 13-0, for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of the suspected driver.

To help bring attention to the 23-year-old crime, Clear Channel Outdoor and CBS Outdoor has donated billboards that will be erected near the intersection where the accident took place. Also, on June 30 at 11:30 p.m. KCAL 9’s Crime Stoppers Case Files will air a re-enactment of the crime.

The L.A.P.D. South Traffic Division is asking that anyone with information regarding this incident to please call Detective S. Smith or Investigator R. Mendoza at (323) 421-2500 or (877) LAPD-24-7.

Kaiser to move in at Marlton Square

After more than 25 years of abandonment, plans for redevelopment and litigation, construction will finally begin in Marlton Square.

imageCouncilmember Bernard C. Parks proudly announced yesterday during an on-site press conference that Kaiser Permanente will be moving in to the current empty lot.

“Today marks a major achievement for the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw community,” said Parks. “Twenty-eight years ago, Mayor Tom Bradley mandated that the Santa Barbara Plaza be completely rehabilitated.

Now, twenty-five years later, we are here at the site once known as Santa Barbara Plaza, after many starts and stops to actually welcome a cornerstone and major tenant of the project Kaiser Permanente.”

Kaiser Permanente recently closed escrow on an 8.65-acre portion of land at 4033-4081 Marlton Avenue.

“Now we can begin planning an outpatient medical office building that brings medical services closer to our members living and working in the area,” stated Norair Jemjemian, Chief Operating Officer, Kaiser Permanente, West Los Angeles Medical Center.

Parks said the facility will not only “provide first-class health care to a community that is sorely in need of care,” it will “become an economic engine for new employees and provide a customer base for the surrounding shopping centers in the area.”

Councilman Parks, surrounded by community members, celebrate the arrival of Kaiser Permanente to Marlton Square. (Photos: Melissa Runnels)

Marlton Square was previously known as the Santa Barbara Plaza. In 1984, Mayor Tom Bradley first called for redevelopment of the shopping center.

In 1996, former LA Laker and entrepreneur Magic Johnson won the exclusive right to negotiate and spent five years working with the city through the planning and entitlement process, but lost the deal in 2002 to Capital Vision Equities, a development group run by developer Chris Hammond. Unfortunately, Capital Vision Equities defaulted on the project in 2004.

In an interview with Intersections South LA in March of this year, Carolyn Hull, South Los Angeles Regional Administrator for the CRA/LA explained “Marlton Square was a tremendously difficult project to move forward with because of the multiple ownerships…There were over 40 owners and 30 tenants that had to be relocated.”

Another big problem was that the bank that loaned Capital Vision Equities $36 million to buy up the approximately 50 parcels of land, went bankrupt in 2006.

When Las Vegas-based USA Capital dissolved, it left over $962 million in assets with more than 6,000 investors. After bankruptcy settlement agreement was reached on December 29, 2010, Commercial Mortgage Managers (CMM) – became majority owners, with approximately 80% control of the total property, with the CRA/LA in possession or negotiations with the majority of the remaining 20% of the land.

According to Bernard Parks’ office, CMM is currently in negotiations to sell the remaining acres of Marlton Square. Several bids have been submitted for the retail portion of Marlton Square and a developer will be chosen soon.

“We have narrowed it down to two and once we have finalized our choice we will begin planning what will be built on the rest of the remaining land. It is our hope to build sit-down restaurants and shops but nothing is confirmed,” said Parks’ spokesperson Brittney Marin.

While the announcement of Kaiser Permanente’s development of the land is an accomplishment for Parks, the city has to approve the plans before construction can begin.

Here’s a video of the annoucement, by reporter Melissa Runnels:

Here’s a Marlton Square history timeline provided by Parks’ office:image

USC signs coliseum lease

imageWith a vote of 8-1, the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum Commission today approved a lease agreement with the University of Southern California that will give the university control of day-to-day operations of the stadium and neighboring Sports Arena for as long as 42 years.

Commissioner and City Councilman Bernard Parks was the only one to vote against the deal. In a 24-page letter he submitted to the commission, he expressed his opposition to the deal. Among his concerns, he didn’t like the idea of including a provision giving USC exclusive revenue for naming rights. He also opposed limiting the number of public events that can be held at the Coliseum, saying it didn’t include enough benefits to the surrounding community.

Parks has previously argued the process has been rushed. On his website, he states “Concerns over the preservation, accessibility and responsibility of the Coliseum are warranted, especially given the secretive nature in which this process has taken place.”

Negotiations between the commission and USC began in September.

Under the terms of the lease, the commission continues to oversee both buildings, but USC will control day-to-day operations, including scheduling of events and possible naming rights negotiations.

The state of California actually owns the land on which the Coliseum and Sports Arena sits. The state leased the land under a 100-year agreement that expires in 2054. The deal with USC gives the university an initial term of 20 years, with five renewal options that could extend it to 2054.

USC officials have said they’re committed to investing more than $70 million to replace the seats, fix the locker rooms and make any other renovations that may be needed.

Management of the Coliseum has been under scrutiny for months. Recently, six former Coliseum managers or contractors were indicted, charged with conspiracy, bribery and embezzlement, accused of stealing millions of dollars.

South LA councilman urges respect for legal process in Trayvon Martin case

By Kunal Bambawale, Annenberg Radio News

Listen to this audio story:

Some of the pastors at McCoy Memorial Baptist Church on 46th Street in South L.A. wore hooded jackets to express their solidarity with 17 year-old Trayvon Martin—who was wearing a hoodie when he was shot.

As the twenty-odd churchgoers held hands in mourning, pastors called for the arrest of George Zimmerman, who says he shot Martin in self-defense.

imageBut Eighth District Councilman Bernard Parks urged respect for the legal process.

“I don’t think we right a wrong by having no investigation. I think the investigation will clarify in everyone’s mind what actually occurred and will then become the basis of what happens in court,” said Parks.

The shooting, on February 26th in Sanford, Florida, has sparked a national debate about so-called “Stand Your Ground” laws.

Here in California, you can only use deadly force to protect yourself in your own home, and only when an intruder is threatening you with severe injuries or death.

But in Florida, where Martin was shot, you can also “stand your ground” in a vehicle or public place. If the investigation concludes that Martin initiated the violence, then Zimmerman was legally allowed to use his gun to defend himself.

But Councilman Parks believes that even calling the law “Stand Your Ground” is confusing.

“When you hear these little slogans like ‘Stand Your Ground,’ it defeats the whole purpose of explaining the law. So I don’t think people are interpreting the law, as what I can see the intent is, because I’ve heard variations that say, you can just be frightened and shoot. I don’t know of any law on the books that says you can indiscriminately shoot people.”

The case has spurred civil rights protests across the country, as well as here in Los Angeles. Monday morning, a group of more than a hundred students from Fremont High School in South L.A. marched to demand justice for Trayvon Martin.

South LA preachers pray for Trayvon
by Lensa Bogale

imageMembers of the Baptist Minister’s Conference gathered together Monday to pray and oppose the injustices of 17-year old Trayvon Martin’s murder, who was shot dead last month while unarmed in Sanford, Florida.

28-year old Zimmerman, the shooter, has recently alleged that Martin approached him from behind, punched him, and then proceeded to bang his head into the sidewalk, causing him to shoot the teen out of self-defense.

Martin’s parents are now in the midst of defending their slain teenage son against these recent accusations and are also criticizing the police for providing confidential information about their son’s suspension from school due to marijuana possession.

Pastor Dr. Wendell Davis Sr., who preached during a church service following the gathering, is one of several that empathize with Martin’s parents.

“It was a grown man preying on a child and a child fighting for his life, that is what we have to keep the focus on,” said Davis. “I don’t care what he was [racially], it was a child being murdered.”

The case has ignited public debate on race, because Martin was African American and Zimmerman is of Caucasian and Hispanic decent. Civil rights leaders have led a number of protests in Sanford as well as across the United States.

Sybrina Dulton, the mother of the 17-year old, spoke before a congressional panel in Washington D.C. on Tuesday calling for justice for her son’s death and to talk about racial profiling and hate crimes issues.

Davis specifically addressed the isuse of racial tensions in South Los Angeles, “We know we have black [African American] on brown [Latino] crime in South L.A. and we know we have internal issues within our communities and we are working on that, that’s what this conference is partially about.”

The Police in Sanford maintain their stance that Zimmerman’s story is consistent with the evidence in the Trayvon Martin shooting and the 28-year old has not yet been arrested.

“Speak against violence to anyone or any person no matter what their race, dress, or sexual preference may be,” says Davis. “And say in solidarity ‘that was wrong.'”

City Council approves redistricting map

imageHundreds of furious South LA residents attended today’s Los Angeles City Council meeting to protest the proposed redistricting map they believe would weaken the influence of African Americans and severely disrupt their community.

“They’re going to take established communities and divide the neighborhoods, so they’ll lose influence,” said Jacqueline Arkord, as she waited to enter the council chambers.

“I’m not happy about what they’re trying to do with our community,” complained Joyce Stinson. “We as black people don’t have a say so. We’re here to make a stand.”

For three hours people from different districts of the city pleaded with the council to not make the proposed changes. At times, the testimony was explosive.

Korean American attorney Helen Kim, a member of the Redistricting Commission, testified that the process had been flawed and that the redrawing of the map had been done in secret back room meetings. Grace Yoo, the executive director of the Korean American Coalition, said they will sue over the new map.

In a heated exchange, a man accused Council President Herb Wesson of being an “Uncle Tom,” eliciting a strong reaction from a livid Wesson.

Not all public comments were against the proposed map. State Senator Curren Price, who represents much of South LA, was booed by the audience when he stated he was in favor of the new boundaries.

imageDespite the contentious public testimony, the City Council approved the map with new boundaries for the 15 council districts.

The vote was 13-2. Council members Bernard Parks and Jan Perry, who represent South LA districts 8 and 9 and who have been the most vocal critics of the proposed map, were the dissenting votes.

The approved map removes a big chunk of downtown from Perry’s district, just leaving her the area around the Staples center, and takes USC out of Parks’ district. On a bright note for Parks, the Rules, Elections and Intergovernmental Relations Committee approved an amendment earlier in the day that will keep parts of Baldwin Hills Estates in his district.

If not for that amendment, Parks’ place of residence would have been cut out of District 8, forcing him to either move or abandon his seat (council members must live within the district they represent). He has another three years left on his third and final term in City Council.

Perry will term out of her current seat next year, so the fact her downtown L.A. home residence has been left out of her district is not an issue for her. She is running for mayor in 2013.

In an unusual move, Perry addressed Wesson after the vote, apologizing for not having voted for him to become Council President. If she hadn’t been so critical of him, she said, perhaps her district wouldn’t have been sacrificed. “I feel your wrath, I feel your power,” she stated.

Wesson denied having used the redistricting process to punish Perry for not supporting his presidency.

“A great injustice has been done to the people of Los Angeles. Hundreds of people came out today in protest of what they viewed as maps that did not respect public testimony and the democratic process,” said Perry in a statement. “I am deeply offended and saddened that City Council insisted on rushing a process that will have enormous impacts on the future of communities for the next decade.”

Shortly after the vote, Parks sent his constituents an email saying the new city council district boundaries will “turn South LA Districts 8 & 9 into poverty pits, stripping away thriving business districts and economic engines, leaving little opportunity for new development and new jobs.”

The process is now in the final phase. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has yet to sign it. Parks is asking the mayor to veto the proposal.

Both Parks and Perry, whose districts will now be the poorest in the city, have vowed to sue over the new map.

Elections needed for neighborhood councils, Parks says

imageOne thing was clear after Thursday night’s special city council committee meeting: the neighborhood councils need change. And fast.

Neighborhood council systems are established in several major cities throughout the country, including Tacoma, Wash., and San Diego, Calif.

In communities like South Los Angeles, neighborhood councils are supposed to function as an extension of the city council that involves resident participation. They are supposed to be responsive to local needs and serve as the voice of their constituents to the city government.

Several neighborhood councils make up South Los Angeles including the Empowerment Congress north, central and west councils, the Vermont Harbor Neighborhood Council and the Vernon/Main Neighborhood Council, to name a few.

After holding four special committee meetings throughout the city, Councilmember Bernard Parks said he heard complaints across the board about the 12-year-old neighborhood council system — everything from the councils needing clearly defined rolls to calls for dissolution of the whole system.

“From listening to the four meetings (the election process) seems to be the No. 1 issue,” said Parks, who was recently appointed chair of the Education and Neighborhoods Committee of the Los Angeles City Council.

Elections in the various councils has been cancelled for the last year in an attempt to save money, but council board members and stakeholders urged Parks to reinstate them so that they could elect their peers, rather than having only appointed representatives.

The Department of Neighborhood Empowerment is a network of 90 neighborhood councils throughout Los Angeles and many of the complaints heard Thursday were about its failure to hear complaints from shareholders about abuses of power by members of the councils.

Nora Sanchez from the Greater Echo Park area said she filed a grievance in 2009 because her council wouldn’t provide materials translated into Spanish — a language she believes is spoken by many of the residents in her neighborhood.

“They want the Latinos’ help once it comes time to voting,” Sanchez said. “But they don’t care the rest of the time (if we are informed).”

After getting the runaround for years, Sanchez simply stopped going. She now hopes that Parks will be able to reform the system.

David Rockello, president of the Rampart Village Neighborhood Council, said an easy way to fix the grievance process would be to put everything online.

“There are no forms, there is no real, formal way to complain,” he said. “It’s a venting and a catharsis that people need if there are issues in their neighborhood.”

But reform isn’t good enough for Ida Talalla, an Echo Park resident who previously served on her neighborhood council. She wants the system obliterated, or at least the Great Echo Park Elysian Council.

“The council needs to be investigated by the FBI and de-certified,” Talalla said. “We are going to be the Bell City poster child of neighborhood councils.”

Talalla said that she was pushed out of her neighborhood council as a result of the appointment system that replaced elections and when she tries to voice her opinion now, she said she is verbally harassed and laughed at.

“What does it take to be heard?” she asked Parks.

Parks will be meeting with his committee in the coming weeks to sort through what was said at the various public meetings and make recommendations to the full City Council.