City approves plans to redevelop hotel in downtown Los Angeles

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The Los Angeles City Council voted Tuesday to approve plans for a massive redevelopment of the Wilshire Grand Hotel. After two years of planning, a 13-1 vote approved plans for a groundbreaking development in downtown Los Angeles. The estimated $1.2 billion project will include a 45-story reconstruction of the Wilshire Grand Hotel with an accompanying 65-story office building.

image “I’m really amazed at how anyone could be opposed to this,” Councilman Dennis Zine said. “How anyone in their right mind would be opposed to this project that’s going to bring jobs, economy and help downtown Los Angeles.”

The agreement is between the city and two private companies, Thomas Properties and Korean Air. Council member Jan Perry says the project will bring in $22 million a year for the city’s general fund in 2015. Developers say it will bring in more than 7,000 construction jobs and 6,000 permanent jobs. The head of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, Maria Elena Durazo, is in full support.

“We ask you to not only support it, but to hold it up as an example that we want all employers and all developers to follow,” Durazo said.

The city council’s plans were met with some skepticism. Digital signage and LED lighting would cover the two huge buildings from top to bottom. Barbara Broide of the Coalition to Ban Billboard Blight said the signs could create a safety hazard to motorists on the 110 Freeway.

“You have abdicated your responsibility to protect our safety from these signs that are designed to catch the attention of all who pass,” Broide said.

The vast majority of the audience in city hall, however, was excited about the redevelopment.

“I just spoke to Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny and they both support this project,” said Kevin Norton, member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

The existing Wilshire Grand Hotel is set to be demolished in December as part of the approved agreement.

Local groups call for immigration reform

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Immigration reformers and community members gathered outside Our Lady of Angels Catholic Church Tuesday morning at a news conference held by the Full Rights for Immigrants Coalition.

“We are not animals,” said Helen DeLeon, one of the women speaking at the event. “We are humans, who have rights. And our children have rights. They have the right to be in Congress someday, to run for President someday.”

Many other local groups came to show their support. Peta Lindsay is with the ANSWER Coalition.

“I’m here as an organizer, as a woman, and more specifically as a black woman to urge Obama to keep his promise and implement comprehensive immigration reform now,” Lindsay said. “Black and Latina Women share a common cause. When it comes to poverty statistics, infant mortality and joblessness, women from both communities are racing to the bottom particularly during this economic crisis.”

The group’s main goals are comprehensive immigration reform and an end to immigration raids. Rosa Posades of the Full Rights for Immigrants Coalition called for overall immigration change but with special attention to women’s needs.

“The government should have a conscience,” said Posades. “They were born from women, too, so don’t be unfair to us.”

A specific problem raised was the breakup of families, of mothers and their children, when undocumented immigrants are deported. The Full Rights for Immigrants Coalition calls for less harsh punishment for people in the country illegally and more lenient requirements for legal immigration.

On the other side is Steven Camarota, director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies. He believes the United States should limit the rights of immigrants.

“Overall what we would want is to try and have an immigration policy that doesn’t flood the unskilled labor market, that doesn’t create so many strains for our schools and health care system, and one of the main ways to do that is to bring the numbers down on both the legal and illegal side,” Camarota said.

Camarota does not believe there will be any big changes made on the immigration front at the congressional level, but he is not averse to trying to reach a compromise with the community that demands reform.

“Maybe one this is we want to have an amnesty for some fraction of the illegal immigrants who are here, maybe Dream Act recipients, and in return we reduce the number of legal immigrants coming in, accordingly,” Camarota said.

In the meantime, the Full Rights for Immigrants Coalition continues to garner support for its April 16 march in downtown Los Angeles.

Streetcar will possibly help revitalize Los Angeles

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The downtown Los Angeles streetcar effort took a huge leap forward Tuesday. Results from a study show the new project will create thousands of jobs, more than a billion dollars in new development and millions more in revenue from tourism and consumer spending.

Los Angeles city council member Jose Huizar says these revenues will help benefit the city.

“With this streetcar, if you look at the numbers, in this economic time, how could we say no to this small investment that will bring so many jobs, economic development activity and connect all of downtown to make it a tourist destination, and also for Angelinos to enjoy?” Huizar said.

The $125 million project will run along a four-mile system, seven days a week for 18 hours a day. L.A. Live will serve as one of the anchor destinations for the streetcar.

AEG’s Tim Leiweke spoke about the streetcar plan’s overall importance to the city saying that, “this would be a vision that would connect all of downtown and suddenly give us an infrastructure so that we could go after every convention and every major event and bring it to downtown LA.”

The streetcar is expected to be ready for construction within five years.

More stories about public transportation:

Bus riders protest cuts to bus routes and services

Inglewood expands free trolley service

Unemployed call for MTA to speed up transit plans and create jobs

Activists seek new life for Downtown L.A. Theatre District

imageThe large electric sign that rose above Clune’s Broadway once read “The Time, the Place.”

Opened in 1910, Clune’s Broadway was one of the first two theatres built on Broadway in Downtown Los Angeles.

The Los Angeles Times described the theatre as “handsome” and “elaborate” upon its opening. Clune’s Broadway, which was also known as the Cameo Theatre, was built to be a “picture playhouse,” and that was what it remained during its 81-year-run as an operating movie theatre.

Today, Clune’s Broadway is no longer the “time” or the “place.” In fact, it is no longer a theatre. The seats are removed, the molding crumbled and the interior littered with boxes and unsold electronics.

Clune’s Broadway stands in the heart of Los Angeles’ historic Theatre District. The district is home to 12 theaters, many of which are shells of their former selves. The majestic buildings once awaited hoards of theatre-goers. Now, they prove mere interruptions to a landscape of magazine vendors, second-hand watch stores and lingerie shops.

Food Not Bombs takes alternative approach to feeding homeless

imageOn the Sunday after Thanksgiving, the temperatures downtown dipped into low 40′s. In Pershing Square, Angelinos glided around a skating rink which is ringed by trees decorated with Christmas lights. Nearby, a small line of L.A.’s down-and-out population formed up for a free dinner. The smell of greens and beans was in the air along with holiday music as a band of volunteers dished out the food. The volunteers brought with them large vats of food, along with hot sauce, plates and water, but one thing they didn’t bring with them is bombs.

The group serving dinner that night is the L.A. chapter of Food Not Bombs, an organization that cooks up vegetarian cuisine free of charge to create social change.

“We consider it a form of political protest, as our name implies, Food Not Bombs, against military spending, wasteful spending,” said long-time member Josh Haglund. “But what we actually do is collect food that would go to waste all across the world.”

The organization also takes an alternative view of what should be on the menu for the estimated 48,000 homeless in Los Angeles County. Their meals consist of vegan dishes with a variety of vegetables gathered from local farmers markets which they say are the antithesis to most charity meals.

“There’s a lot of people out there who are on medications and things like that and who have addiction issues and just trying to have them have a choice an option for a free, healthy meal is really important, I think, to people’s survival,” said member Alexandra Hong.

The L.A. chapter, which formed in 1996, is made up of a core group of six to eight people and additional volunteers who meet on Sundays to help cook. The overall organization (though they probably wouldn’t like to use that term) was created in 1980 in Cambridge, Massachusetts during anti-nuclear protests there, after demonstrators chanted, “Money for food, not bombs.”

The group soon began distributing free food for the protests and the idea spread across the country as new chapters formed. Though there are no official rules for each group, the principles of Food Not Bombs state that each chapter should be independent, without a “headquarters,” should always serve vegetarian food, and be dedicated to nonviolent action for change.

“There are different varieties of Food Not Bombs, but one thing they have in common is food and not bombs,” said volunteer Woodsin Joseph.

imageSome chapters actually do end up serving meat which is not encouraged because of health and food safety reasons. Aaron Linas, another volunteer, added that some chapters are more overtly political than others. He said some chapters will bring literature when they hand out food, but the L.A. chapter is not as political as those ones.

Joseph said that a few people balk at eating their food or cooking with them because of their campaign against military spending.

“I don’t understand why how could someone not be willing to cook with us simply because they think we’re too leftist,” added Linas. “And if too leftist means I don’t want more weapons made in this world, then that’s fine because you’re stupid because who the hell would want any more bombs made. It just doesn’t make any sense.”

That same Sunday, down on San Julian Street on Skid Row, people bundled up the best they could outside the Union Rescue Mission as Food Not Bombs set up their tables.

Steve Baratta is a customer and friend of the group who lives off of Franklin Avenue in East Hollywood. He said he has learned what the group is all about and has had some good discussions with them about their stance on the dangers of capitalism. But he said he’s not sure of the number of people lining up for food who know about the group’s philosophy.

“It’s a good question, actually. I don’t know how many people do know about the political aspect of it,” said Baratta. “I don’t know how many really know about the political value of it.”

In addition to giving food to the homeless, the L.A. chapter brings food to local protest events and social change organization meetings. Haglund said the food is valuable as a common denominator that everyone holds.

“If you’re sitting there with a plate of food and somebody else is sitting over there with a plate of food, you have something to talk about at least,” said Haglund. “And if you’re at an event when you don’t know people, it’s a way to bring people together.”

Downtown Los Angeles gets new Chrysler car dealership

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Los Angeles is the capital of the car world. The city is perhaps trying to be the car buying capital of the world. The Chrysler Group unveiled ambitious plans for its newest dealership, called Motor Village of Los Angeles. The dealership will be located on South Figueroa Street, just blocks from the Los Angeles Convention Center, the Staples Center and LA Live.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa supported the move, saying the presence of the auto dealership will be essential to the city’s economic comeback. It will create jobs and raise tax revenue. The mayor also announced a new partnership with the Los Angeles Federal Credit Union. Under the partnership, customers can get car loans with rates as low as 2 percent.

This partnership is a part of the city’s yearlong campaign called Shop LA, aimed at encouraging Angelenos to spend within the city. The dealership’s jewel will be its five-story glass tower, which will display Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge, Ram Truck and Fiat vehicles. It will open for business early next year.

Target comes to downtown Los Angeles in 2012

By: Kyle Tabuena-Folli, Laurel Galanter and Stephanie Sherman

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By 2012, locals can get everything from food to fashion at the new Target store in the 7th and Fig shopping center downtown. That is where Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa held a news conference to announce what he says is the biggest retail deal downtown has had in 20 years.

Villaraigosa: There’s no question about this. This is a reversal of a long trend of retail leaving downtown. This is a great day for downtown Los Angeles, for people who live here and work here as well.

The store will be more than 100,000 square feet. The lease is signed with Brookfield Properties. Representatives from Target say there will be a heavy emphasis on food and household products.

Some workers downtown say they are thrilled with the prospect of more shopping.

Worker: 7th and Fig, it needs that. It needs it because it’s dying. Little by little, all of these businesses are going away. There’s no traffic, there’s really nothing going on there, so I’m sure it will bring the shopping center back.

The shopping center has been without a major retailer since Macy’s left early last year.

Central Library helps prepare students for college

By: Stephanie Sherman

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Today, the Central Library in downtown is kicking off its seventh year of SAT and ACT preparatory courses for students. Unlike other programs, this will not cost students anything. Martin Gomez is a librarian out of the Central Library.

“This is a unique program,” Gomez said. “There is no other public library that I know of, certainly in California, if not in the U.S., that offers such a free program.”

Lorena is one of the students taking the class. She says the program has given her new goals.

“It’s making me want to go to college, and it makes me want to experience more stuff in life,” Lorena said.

The course offers seminars, workbooks and several practice exams for students.

Flower Market brings color to Downtown L.A.

imageA little after midnight, a shipment of baby’s breath arrived at the Los Angeles Flower Market.

It was not an unusual occurrence. In fact, that shipment arrived at that time each week. But the employees who unloaded the hundreds of bushels from the unmarked truck parked conspicuously on a deserted Wall Street did so with a sense of urgency.

Hastily thrown on a rusted metal cart, the flowers were wheeled into the market. With blue painter’s buckets as vases, the baby’s breath was quickly arranged on the market’s floor.

The baby’s breath—along with the tulips, roses and hydrangeas that resided in its immediate area—would be arranged once more before the sun came up, and again later that morning when the public gained admittance to the market at 8 am.

Pat Dahlson watched the flowers come off the truck and complete their journey to the concrete floor. It had been a long journey. The baby’s breath came from Columbia, he suspected. The orders for his stand did at least.

Dahlson drank coffee out of a Styrofoam cup, and as the clock neared 3 am, he offered it generously.

“It’s late,” he agreed, shrugging his shoulders, a veteran who had seen many a night shift reach the morning light.

Thirty-two years ago, Dahlson’s parents opened a wholesale flower stand at the Los Angeles Flower Market.

The Los Angeles Flower Market and the Southern California Flower Market house about 200 vendors within the two blocks now referred to as the Flower District.

“I’ve been here everyday for those 32 years,” Dahlson joked.

Mayesh Wholesale Florists Inc. was a family business, and it was as a family business that it grew and expanded. The company now has 17 locations in seven states. It also now employs Dahlson and all of his eight siblings.

“It’s the beauty,” said Dahlson, now the CEO of the company. “The business gets to you. It grows in your blood.”

* * *

imageMayesh Whole Florists Inc. specializes in high-end flowers, which Dahlson aptly described as “stuff grown in different parts of the world.”

While Dahlson claims the niche for exotic flowers in the market, importing is not a unique concept in the Flower District.

The district welcomes flowers from six continents daily.

“The flower market is completely different,” said longtime florist Chik Furuta. “In the old days, you used to have a lot of growers of domestic flowers. Now, 70 to 85 percent of the flowers are import flowers.”

Furuta travels to the district twice a week from Fountain Valley, Calif. to save 30 percent on his flower purchases.

“The cost of doing business in the U.S. is high, so they save money by importing,” Furuta said.

But Dahlson said that importing allows wholesalers the opportunity to do more than simply offer the lowest price.

“Importing has allowed us to have products at times of year when they didn’t exist before,” said Dahlson. “In years past when we relied only on California, you wouldn’t see the expanse of variety that we have any day of the week now because we’re searching around the globe for the product.”

Despite the obvious benefits to increased importing, California proves a hospitable environment for floriculture. Once the cut flower supplier to the United States, the state’s warm weather and temperate climate have attracted flower growers for decades.

“The first generation of Japanese-Americans was mostly growers. Italians came over and grew flowers in this region. So, it’s historical in that people grew flowers just like they did at home,” Dahlson said.

Fausto Orellana immigrated to the United States from Ecuador. Forty-five years ago, he moved his family business—the rose business—into the Los Angeles Flower Market.

Orellana imports roses and lilies from Ecuador through family connections for his store called St. Germain Flowers.

“It’s family,” his son Dennis Orellana reasoned, as he removed a recent shipment of pink roses from their boxes. “If you can’t trust your family, who can you trust?”

In fact, the only thing about Orellana’s business that isn’t family oriented is the name.

“My wife had the idea because it’s the saint for French for fate.” Orellana said, laughing. “It’s not really a family name. It’s just a French saint.”

* * *

Lacey Carter perused the plants at The Greenery. Feeling their petals briefly, she quickly jotted down notes on the small pad in her hand.

Dressed casually in a sweatshirt and jeans with her blonde hair tied back, Carter was among the few florists in the market at 2:30 am.

Carter commutes to Los Angeles twice a week from Bakersfield to take advantage of what she called the Flower District’s “good quality for a lot cheaper.”

Because she needs to be back in Bakersfield by 6 am, trips in the wee hours of the morning are a part of her normal routine.

A badge member of the district, Carter can attend the market’s wholesale hours—Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 2 to 8 am. And she always does.

“If you come when it’s open to the public, it’s insanely busy,” said Carter, adding with a shudder, “I’ve come a couple of times, and I’ll never come again.”

Furuta also comes during wholesale hours—and sometimes, before—to get the first pick of the flowers.

“I don’t preorder flowers, so I come and pick out my flowers twice a week,” said Furuta. “I just look for freshness and quality.”

It was that pursuit of “freshness and quality” that transformed a very daytime business—flowers need sun to grow—into an operation run primarily at night.

Before refrigerated trucks increased the shelf life of cut flowers, local growers would grow and cut their flowers during the day and bring them to a central distribution center at night.

“That’s how they did it because of what they had available to them,” said Dahlson.
“But now it only makes sense to stay that way because if we didn’t do distribution to our customers at night, traffic in and out of downtown Los Angeles would be so bad that I don’t know how [customers] would get here.”

“And the hours have evolved,” Dahlson added. “When I first started working years ago, you would see dozens of customers right here going crazy. Today, they’re not going to come until five in the morning.”

* * *

imageDahlson pointed out his niece, as she bustled around the stand collecting flowers. She is a designer for Mayesh Wholesale Florists Inc., a third generation wholesale flower vendor.

“We grew up in the business and that was the path we took,” he said.

But uncertainty remains as to whether their company will be around to employ a fourth generation.

Cut flowers and blooming plants, an estimated $8 billion industry, have been hit by the recession.

As extravagant events have began to be seen in poor taste, the need for large orders of flowers has dropped significantly. As have the purchase of single bouquets.

“Never before have flowers been viewed as “I can live without them,’” said Dahlson. “It’s a discretionary item so it took a hit.”

Dahlson hopes that the economy will turn around and with it, that people remember what makes flowers so important.

“They’re beautiful,” said Dahlson. “And if things are tough, you bring some flowers home, you put some flowers on the table, and it’s just a really nice way to brighten your day.”

A crisis of priorities: March 4 Day of Action, Downtown Los Angeles

Produced by Sixth Sun Productions