Inglewood oil field controversy near an end

By Natalie Ragus

imageAn end to the 2.5-year-long legal battle over the Inglewood Oil Field may be in sight.

Superior Court Judge James Chalfant recently ordered the Culver City and other parties involved in a collection of lawsuits against Los Angeles County and the field’s operators, the Plains Exploration and Production Company, to settle by June 29 or go to trial this summer. Under Chalfant’s order, the trial— which records indicate the court delayed on at least four occasions to give the parties more time to reach a settlement—won’t be delayed any longer.

The cases center on whether the Baldwin Hills Community Standards District, or the rules that govern field operations, violated the California Environmental Quality Act by not going far enough in protecting the environment and the health of residents in surrounding neighborhoods.

As the parties look forward to finally closing the books on one of the costliest and lengthy CEQA litigation processes in Culver City’s history, the field’s future remains uncertain. What happens next largely depends upon whether the parties settle or whomever Chalfant rules in favor of following the trial.

But regardless of whether the case reaches a resolution through a settlement or a trial, the parties involved in the suit will eventually have to heal the rifts that have come between them in order to move forward.

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Monte ‘M-Bone’ Talbert killed in drive-by shooting

imageA vigil was held Monday evening in honor of 22 year-old M-Bone, born Monte Talbert, a member of the popular rap group Cali Swag District. Talbert was killed in a drive-by shooting after being shot twice in the head Sunday night while sitting in a vehicle. The vigil was held in Inglewood, Talbert’s hometown, near the intersection of La Brea Avenue and Hazel Street where he was gunned down.

The gathering was organized by Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable founder Earl Ofari Hutchinson and facilitated by Eddie Jones, president of the Los Angeles Civil Rights Association.

Cali Swag District exploded onto the music scene in 2010 with the song “Teach Me How to Dougie”, an ode to Hip Hop pioneer Doug E. Fresh. They are signed to Capitol Records and are expected to drop their debut album this year. The song was so popular that a dance craze soon followed. First Lady Michelle Obama even incorporated the dance into her “Let’s Move” campaign.

Celebrity news site TMZ is reporting that his death is possibly linked to a Twitter beef over a woman. Friends have told police that Talbert was allegedly threatened by someone who lived in the same building as the woman and the two men exchanged jabs on online. Police are investigating why he was found dead in a car registered to the woman in question.

Community members, fans and the family of Talbert came out in hopes of getting more information about his death and to encourage the community to stop the violence.

Community and Gang Prevention Activist Lita Herron gave an impromtu speech to the crowd about breaking the code of silence that stifles the police’s ability to solve a crime.

Jones spoke of his own devastation upon hearing about Talbert’s death because he grew up with his father.

Hutchinson delivered an impassioned plea for justice to be served by finding the killer.

Talbert’s grandmother, Mary Alice Phillips, spoke on behalf of the family thanking everyone for their support.

A parked car began to loudly play Talbert’s hit song as the vigil came to a close and people began to sing and dance along to the music. It was very reminiscent of the scene in Brooklyn, NY in the mid 90s after the funeral of rapper Biggie Smalls. Yet for the music world and Inglewood community, this type of celebration is one they would rather not have.

The Inglewood Police Department is asking anyone with information to come forward and call its homicide division at (310) 412-5246 or its 24-hour anonymous hotline number, (888) 41 CRIME, or (888) 412-7463.

Inglewood Teachers Association protests potential layoffs

Protesters gathered outside Bennett-Kew Elementary School in Inglewood Wednesday to protest the budget cuts that potentially could lead to the layoffs of over half of the Inglewood Unified School District’s employees.

Read the complete story.

Feeding Our Families forum talks food justice issues

At a community center in Inglewood, about a dozen people came to attend the Social Justice Learning Institute’s Feeding Our Families forum.  They talked about food justice, the idea that all communities should have access to healthy, affordable, organic, locally grown and culturally relevant food. 

Inglewood is considered a food desert.  This means that most people live more than a mile from a store that could provide the community with healthy options.  Communities that are far from food sources have higher obesity rates, diabetes rates and heat failure.

Panelists sat at a white, collapsible table at the front of the gym.  Community members faced them on blue folding chairs, arranged in two semi circles around the speakers.  The sound of rain pounding outside echoed dully through the auditorium.

The panelists included Trina Williams, a advocate for education and a member the Inglewood Unified School District Board of Education; Megan Bomba, a project coordinator with the Urban and Environmental Policy Institute at Occidental College, and; Julie Sheppick, Director of Communication & Fund Development for Women Organizing Resources, Knowledge and Services (WORKS).

Together with facilitator Danielle DeRuiter-Williams, the Social Justice Learning Institutes’ food justice coordinator, the three panelists discussed how to bring more food choices to Inglewood and how the community can get involved. 

The bottom line, agreed the panelists, is the push must come from within the community.

“You have to start where you at, use what you got, do what you can,” said Williams.

During the question and answer portion, the intimate group started a conversation.  They shared personal experiences and challenges when it comes to eat healthy foods.

Adriane Banks came to the meeting because changing her diet improved her life.  She has lost 40 pounds through eating healthy and walking with her kids.

Barry Hargress happened upon the auditorium while on an errand.  But he stayed for the forum.

“My son gave me an errand,” he said.  “I’m supposed to pick up a box of chocolate donuts on the way home.”

He said he wants his kids to eat better.  Not him, he’s a lost cause.  But he wants better for his children.  People chimed in to give him advice with his kids and said he should also push for a healthier lifestyle for himself.

An elderly woman in a leopard-print hat also chimed in.

“I come to a lot of community meetings,” she said.  “This is the first time I’ve ever stayed longer than 15 minutes.  It’s also the first that I’ve seen a group that’s committed to doing what they know is the right thing to do. “

The panelists praised the community members for coming and having so much passion about food justice. 

Environmental conference encourages teens to turn ‘green’

imageAbout 80,000 chemicals used in products are manufactured in the United States and almost all have not been tested for safety, a scientist told dozens of teens, parents and educators Saturday at an environmental education conference near Inglewood.

“We’re all being exposed to this,” said Renee Sharp, senior scientist and director at the Environmental Working Group. Many of these chemicals are associated with cancer, autism and asthma.

The conference was aimed at encouraging students to launch green movement groups in their schools. Teens Turning Green, a national student-led environmental advocacy organization, hosted the event.

“You are the most powerful people on Earth,” said Judi Shils, founder of Teens Turning Green. Shils told the teens that they have the most influential voices in persuading legislators to make changes because they do not expect the passion that some teens have.

“My goal is to let every kid in here know that you can change the world,” Shils said.

The presenters said that even simple changes, like persuading schools to replace toxic whiteboard markers for refillable, non-toxic ones, make a big difference.

“If you guys try to talk to your legislature, it’s harder for them to say no,” Sharp said.

The audience learned about topics ranging from the harmful effects of pesticides to what kind of harmful chemicals are found in cosmetics and household products.

One prevailing piece of advice was for teens to pick one area of their life and make a pledge to change a behavior into a more socially responsible one, whether it is using reusable bags instead of plastic bags or limiting showers to four minutes.

imageJordan Howard, 18, an environmental advocate who has opened for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, said that education changed her once skeptical perception about the green movement. After taking environmental classes, Howard said she learned practical solutions for how she could make a difference.

“It really inspired me because I saw that the green movement was real,” Howard said. “We have the influence and we need to start using that influence in a right way.”

Listen to Howard’s speech at the conference:

Many teens at the conference said they wanted to learn how to make decisions that were better for their environment.

“Start in your local community,” said Anna Cummins, co-founder of 5 Gyres, a non-profit research group to end plastic pollution. She advised the teens to find their passion and make their activism fun.

Cummins, who researches plastic pollution in the ocean, said that pollution is “not just a litter issue, it’s also potentially a public health issue.”

Many of the presenters talked about the possible links between the chemicals in products to diseases, cancer and other illnesses, and they suggested organic food as the healthier, “greener” alternative.

“This green movement is a healthy movement…that will help us save ourselves from diseases like cancer and diabetes,” Howard said. “Once you care about the earth, you begin to care about yourself, and you begin to care about the people that are around you.”

Logo courtesy of Creative Commons

Inglewood welcomes growing art community

imageWhen Renée Fox moved to Inglewood five years ago, the local arts scene was starting to come into its own. She came for the reasons that many fellow artists moved to Inglewood—namely that rents in nearby artist enclaves were too just high.

“I thought about working in Culver City or Venice but getting a space there is so expensive,” Fox said. “And I had heard so much about this place. Inglewood has a great small town feel.”

Fox is now at the center of a burgeoning art community as the curator of the Inglewood’s Beacon Art Building. It is an unassuming structure off a busy section of La Brea Avenue; there was a series of commercial spaces there earlier. Inside is the familiar white box of a museum gallery, with artworks adorning the white walls. Right now, this is the only art gallery in Inglewood.

The building is the brainchild of Scott Lane, who saw the emerging art scene as a way to occupy– and beautify– many of the vacant building in the town. He found Fox through a Google search of local artists and hired her to run the space.

On the ground floor of the building is a gallery featuring work by up-and-coming as well as established artists. For the next few months, the exhibitions in the gallery will be guest-curated by prominent Los Angeles art critics.

Although Fox works within Inglewood’s tight-knit community of artists in town, she sees the work of the gallery as something that extends far beyond city limits.

“Inglewood is a very connected city, surrounded by so many freeways,” Fox says. “I don’t like to think of a show as being centric to any area. Right now we’re showing six artists. Five are L.A.-based; one is from Israel.”

Above the gallery are a series of lofts, where artists can rent space and create their works. Lane describes the situation in Inglewood as the perfect storm for an exploding scene.

“The high rents and the trendiness of many of the other artist areas are kind of a turn-off to the Bohemian class,” Lane said. “Since we opened it up a few years ago, it’s gotten bigger and bigger.”

Gentrifying areas through an arts scene has been a common theme for many of L.A.’s once derelict parts of town. Venice, Culver City, North Hollywood and most recently Downtown LA were all buoyed by incoming artists looking for a cheap place to rent space and show work.

It’s something with which artist Steve Hurd is very familiar. He’s been in Inglewood for 20 years and has seen many areas rise and fall from the movements of the creative class. But he’s impressed with what Fox has been bringing to the area.

image“Renee is part of this new renaissance over here,” Hurd says. “She fits in well with the older art community and the new people coming out of nearby art schools like Otis [College of Art and Design].”

Fox sees something special in the area beyond just a refuge from the higher prices. Inglewood, she says, is an area that embraces community and small business in a way that promotes independent establishments.

“I was so proud of the city for voting to oust Wal-Mart a few years back,” Fox says. “There is a great patchwork of different cultures that creates such an inspiring environment.”

Running a gallery is only half of her life in the art world. She also creates her own work—using colored pencil on paper as her medium. Fox aims for her artwork to be “conscious expanding and a reflection of our times” and focuses on depictions of the natural world. A recent piece, “Bad Seeds” is a series of pointillist images of tree seeds, bathed in the soft colors you might see in a California sunset.

Her work as an artist, though, is very different from the curating duties. When creating a show she takes pains to make sure that there is distance from her own pieces.

“We focus a lot on new genres and things like multimedia that push the envelope,” said Fox. “I love doing my own work, but it’s very satisfying when you can affect so many other artists.”

Images from an exhibit at the Beacon Art Building titled “Densities: Line Becoming Shape, Shape Becoming Object” curated by Peter Frank:

Photos courtesy of Renée Fox
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Inglewood Unified principal takes hands-on approach to education
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Inglewood Unified principal takes hands-on approach to education

imagePrincipal Richard Barter makes it his business to know the names of all 750 students at Oak Street Elementary School in Inglewood.

When Barter steps onto the playground, he’s welcomed by rousing choruses of “Hi, Mr. Barter!”

Smiling warmly under his bushy moustache, he replies, “Hi, Chris. Hi, Anthony. Hi, Fatima.”

He often joins the students outside for recess, during which he emerges wielding a boom box, hula hoops and jump ropes. On a recent morning, children ran toward Barter as he threw a yellow hoop over his head and began swirling to the music.

“I realized when I first became principal that I could not say, ‘Hey, you in the blue shirt.’ The children wouldn’t turn around,” said Barter, who recently began grading tests in his free time to get to know the students even better.

“It gives me a personal connection with the child. Because then I can say, ‘Hey, you passed the division test. I’m really proud of you.'”

Barter’s involvement would be appreciated at any school. But in the Inglewood Unified School District, which has experienced declining enrollment in part due to the increased presence of local charter schools, Barter’s good reputation has helped retain current students and recruit new ones.

“Mr. Barter is a one-of-a-kind principal,” said Xol Isaiah Gonzales, a fourth-grade student who transferred to Oak Street Elementary this year. “I never met any principal who has fun like that.”

Gonzales and his schoolmates were quick to add that Barter frequently makes them laugh, usually by dancing on stage during school events or dressing up for Halloween. They giggled when describing how Barter played basketball with students while dressed up as a cereal box one year.

“He’s just so involved with these kids, ever since I’ve known him,” said Rodtego Roth, a campus plant manager whose children were taught by Barter at Clyde Worthington Elementary. “And that’s the thing: keeping them busy in activities.”

In his 10 years at Oak Street Elementary, Barter has initiated dozens of student activities at the school, which runs from Kindergarten through sixth grade. Some of the activities include soccer, basketball, students vs. faculty athletic competitions, multiple levels of choir, glee club and a special group—the only in Inglewood Unified School District—that practices baile folklórico, a traditional form of Mexican dance.

“We’re always involved with the City of Inglewood through the different programs,” said Norma Rosales, a school clerk whose third-grade son dances in the baile folklórico group. “They’re always calling us to perform.”

School performance groups also regularly appear at city-sponsored events, nursing homes, local churches and parades, including the 2010 Westchester Christmas Parade.

“The more that you have for the children, the less discipline problems that you have,” said Barter, who doles out more certificates of achievement than detention slips.

imageBarter’s office hardly seems the place where students come when they get in trouble. Crayola-brand crayon memorabilia and art fill the shelves and cover the walls. A picture frame decorated with crayons displays the message: “It’s okay to color outside the lines.”

Barter puts creative philosophies to use, such as when he accepted a request to host a polling place for Election Day 2010 in the cafeteria. He simultaneously scheduled student body campaign speeches and elections to occur on stage while Inglewood residents voted on the floor. The student elections were a first for Oak Street Elementary, to his knowledge.

“It was kind of bizarre because they were having the mayor’s election. It was like as if they were there to vote for me,” said Paola Camacho, the sixth-grade student who was elected president. “I think he places an emphasis on having role models for the lower grades because they might not have any older brothers or sisters.”

Barter has implemented several mentoring programs, including pairing older students with younger ones for tutoring sessions during recess and lunch periods. He is currently developing a program that will invite reading tutors from Loyola Marymount University, where he received a master’s degree in educational administration.

“He’s just such a dedicated servant,” said the Rev. Kristian Johnson, pastor of First Lutheran Church in Inglewood. “He’s very relational with everyone and very proactive in making the school the best it can be.”

In 2010, Oak Street Elementary scored an Academic Performance Index score of 826, placing it third in California for an elementary school of that size. Students from economically disadvantaged families make up more than half of the school’s student population, according to the California Department of Education.

Last Thanksgiving, Johnson’s parish received a grant from Thrivent Financial for Lutherans to purchase turkeys, and Barter helped place them with school families that had difficulty affording a complete Thanksgiving meal. He has also been known to help parents pay for the school’s regulatory uniforms and laundering services.

In addition to his behind-the-scenes altruism, Barter regularly honors student achievements publicly, whether for academic, athletic or community service-based merits. He has forged partnerships with Inglewood businesses such as LAX Tacos and Shakey’s, which donate certificates and prizes to students.

“The children, I think, for the most part are happy. And when you have happy children, I think they go home with that happy feeling,” said Barter, who added that whenever he needs a pick-me-up, he just visits one of the kindergarten classrooms.

“They really do make me smile from ear to ear.”

Photo Credit: Lisa Rau

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Inglewood pays tribute to legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.

imageBelieve. Achieve. Succeed.

This uplifting triad echoed through Inglewood, Calif., Saturday morning as hundreds of community members filled the Tabernacle of Faithful Central Bible Church to honor the accomplishments of Martin Luther King Jr.

The words composed the 28th Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day Celebration theme, which also prompted the city’s annual student speech and art competitions.

“This was about the children and their understanding of assimilation and of Dr. King’s legacy,” said Inglewood Mayor Daniel K. Tabor, who moved to the city in 1966 as a sixth-grade student at Clyde Woodworth Elementary School. “The confidence they have is beyond awe-inspiring. They’re getting it from their instructors at school and from their parents who tell them that they can achieve what they set out to do.”

Monroe Middle School student John Cruz, one of the four speech competition winners who spoke in front of the church audience, displayed his self-assurance both on and off the stage.

“It felt good telling everyone what I feel about the dream of Martin Luther King [Jr.] because I hope one day I can turn it into a reality,” Cruz said. “Someday, I hope there will be a bigger crowd to hear. Really big.”

Student competition winners presented their speeches and art during the two-hour ceremony, which included performances by spoken-word artist Azure Antoinette, the Inglewood-based Parent Elementary School Choir and the Spirit of David Choir, which was a finalist in a national choir competition hosted by Verizon Communications, Inc., at Staples Center in October. KTLA Morning Show host Michaela Pereira served as mistress of ceremonies and actor Gbenga Akinnagbe served as grand marshal.

The annual celebration strikes a personal chord with Inglewood, as the city was one of the first in the nation to declare Martin Luther King Jr. Day a legal holiday, according to the City of Inglewood website. But due to recent budget cuts, an annual march to Hollywood Park following the church ceremony was removed from the agenda. The three-mile crossing symbolized civil rights marches from the 1960s.

“We always want more people here, and we need more advertising,” said Inglewood Unified School District Superintendent Gary McHenry, who noted that last year’s march brought more than 1,000 students from across the 19 public schools in the district. “This is an important event that celebrates how Martin Luther King [Jr.] awoke the consciousness of a nation.”

Families with young children made up most of the audience at the youth-centered celebration, but some attendees stood solo as longtime veterans of Martin Luther King Jr. events.

“There are some people who, no matter what type of event that honors Dr. King, they’ll be there,” noted Sabrina Barnes, director of Inglewood’s Parks, Recreation and Community Services.

William Brown, retired U.S. Postal Service employee and Inglewood resident, expressed unease at this year’s smaller turnout.

“Normally, it’s packed,” Brown said. “What really bothers me is that Dr. King and his followers paved the way for people to be where they are today. It seems to me that some people have forgotten that.”

After the event, organizers encouraged attendees to continue the celebration beyond the morning’s ceremonies, such as at the Martin Luther King Jr. Peace & Unity Parade Celebration in Long Beach, Calif., at which a festival was held until 5 p.m.

“We all have a responsibility to make sure that the young individuals see Dr. King’s vision,” Barnes added. “We, not just African-Americans, but we as a community and nation. He was speaking for everyone who suffered an injustice.”

Photos courtesy of Creative Commons

Inglewood expands free trolley service

imageInglewood residents were relieved on Monday when the city’s free trolley service added an additional seven daily stops throughout the city. This expansion follows a year-long protest by city residents to keep the service from being eliminated by budget cuts.

The I-Line Trolley Route was approved for termination one year ago, due to required expense cuts. Since Sept. 2009 residents of Inglewood have petitioned to both continue the service and add new stops at shopping areas.

“This new trolley route took a lot of work to bring about,” said Mavis Pilar, Inglewood resident and frequent user of the I-Line transportation service. “Last year the city wanted to remove it altogether, but they don’t realize the number of people in this city that get around by this free transportation.”

The current annual cost of the program is $107,000, according to the city’s Finance Department. About $65,000 of the expense is covered by grant funds, said Sabrina Barnes, the Parks, Recreation and Community Services director.

Six stops were eliminated from the old route because “no one used them,” said Inglewood City Councilman Eloy Morales, Jr. in an interview. “Now, I hope we can continue to offset the costs and encourage as much ridership as possible.”

After city staff conducted surveys, studied proposed routes and received recommendations from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), City transportation and GIS engineers, the City Council approved the continuation of the I-Line Trolley Route, according to Sabrina Barnes, The Inglewood City Council approved the motion to keep and expand the shuttle on Aug. 10.

The route’s new configuration takes approximately one hour. It includes seven new stops, including one in the business district on Century and Crenshaw, and on Pincay Drive to accommodate Carlton Square and Briarwood. Other stops include Prairie and Hardy, Century and Doty, Century and Club, Century and Village, Crenshaw and Hardy, and 90th and West Carlton.

“We basically let them know that they need to cut funds from other places, and not from our daily lives and our paychecks. Because without that service, a lot of us would be stranded. How do they think we get to work?” Pilar said.

“I am glad that we did the surveys,” said Morales. “They showed that I-Trolley really works.”

The I-Line Trolley Shoppers Shuttle Service began in 1986, providing free transportation for all ages on a fixed route that connected shopping areas, public service agencies, the Inglewood Senior Center, five senior housing complexes, and connection points to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) bus service. Since its beginning the length of the route has been modified five times in response to citizen petitions.

The Service is funded by City Proposition C funds and Proposition A Incentive grants from the MTA. These funds are purposed for parks, recreation and community services, senior transportation, contract services and general transportation.

Since the I-Line is granted by the MTA, the association’s staff has been involved in setting up data collection and reporting systems to evaluate the new route. They have also worked with the Public Works Department in acquiring and installing new signs, and producing road work needed to accommodate the new stops.

A statement released by the Inglewood Parks, Recreation and Community Services Department estimated a cost of $1,500 for new signs. This is the only major additional expense created by the new I-Line Trolley Service route.

Free Trolley service operates Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to noon, and from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Each loop begins and ends at the Inglewood Senior Center, located at Vincent Park, 330 Centinela Avenue. Signs displaying the number to the trolley dispatch office are posted at the stops to offer easy access to information on the trolley’s location.

Local park transforms into new playground

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The park’s change came at a good time; Ashwood Park is the only park in the area. KaBOOM!, a nonprofit organization that deals with community development, helped sponsor the park’s construction. Home Depot and Inglewood Little League also sponsored the transformation of the park.