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.

Evicted South Central Farmers protest land vote

imageIn a 4-0 vote, the Los Angeles City Budget and Finance Committee approved Councilwoman Jan Perry’s request to make changes in a land deal that would release a developer from allocating land for a park. It’s now up to the L.A. City Council to make a final decision on the future of that land.

Monday’s vote prompted harsh criticism from South Central Farmers spokesman Tezozomoc, whose sustainable farming group was evicted from the property in 2006 and has been cultivating land in Bakersfield since then.

“I think Jan Perry needs to own up to the fact that she got caught making a back-room deal,” he said.

Councilwoman Jan Perry helped broker the deal in 2003 in which the City of LA sold the land to real estate developer Ralph Horowitz, requiring him to donate 2.6 acres for use as a park.

Perry is now advocating for the Libaw-Horowitz Investment Company, which owns the lot at the corner of 41st and Alameda Streets, to keep that land, which had been previously designated as green space. Instead, she’s proposing the company pay $3.6 million to renovate existing facilities such as the Pueblo Del Rio Housing Development, Fred Ross Park and Ross Snyder Park.

In a written statement, Perry told Intersections South LA that the site is not a safe or healthy location for park space due to its industrial zoning and location along the heavy-traffic Alameda corridor.

She also specified that renovations would “include a running track, children’s play equipment, basketball courts and programming dollars.”

Members of the South Central Farmers and community residents denounced the deal during public statements at the meeting and claimed Perry was breaking her promise in order to appease the developer.

Libaw-Horowitz is currently in escrow with a group of clothing manufacturers known collectively as PIMA Development. PIMA wants to build factories on the land in a deal Perry said would create 900 jobs in the district.

“A garment manufacturer is a good use of the land,” Perry said in a statement.

PIMA spokesman Myung-Soo Seok, who was joined at the meeting by PIMA employees and supporters, told the committee his group needs to buy all 14 acres of the land in order to “consolidate operations” at a new corporate headquarters, while also “preparing for future growth” that Seok said would enable further job creation.

Tezozomoc was skeptical of the jobs assessment offered by Perry and Seok.

“Jobs has always been a fantasy number,” said Tezozomoc. “Nobody spoke about living-wage jobs — all of these jobs are exploitive.”

Michael Feinstein, spokesman for the California Green Party, who spoke out against the deal during the meeting, said Perry’s attempt to release Libaw-Horowitz from its pledge is set against a political backdrop.

“What Jan Perry is trying to do here is show big developers that she can deliver for them, because she needs the money to raise to run for mayor,” Feinstein said.

Live-Tweeting on Election Day 2011

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    OPINION: A field report from the Public School Choice 2.0 Advisory Vote

    imageBy David Lyell (left), L.A. Unified Teacher

    As a tax-payer and teacher who has taught at Rosemont Elementary School, I decided to make my voice heard Saturday, January 29 at about 2:30 p.m., for the Advisory Vote for Central Region Elementary School #14. The question: to hand the school over to charter operators, or a group known as United Teachers Los Angeles/Echo Park Community Partners.

    For the uninitiated, Public School Choice is the latest gimmick marketed as reform by our current Los angeles Unified School district board of education, board member Marguerite LaMotte excepted. The board doesn’t actually have to follow the Advisory Vote, so, in essence, the voting process is designed to give you the impression that the board is doing something meaningful to improve education. They’re actually doing quite the opposite.

    There were probably about a dozen people on the sidewalk handing out pamphlets, and I couldn’t tell which side had more numbers. When I got out of my car, a woman introduced herself, said she was a teacher at Rosemont Elementary, wanted to talk to me about the vote, and handed me a piece of paper. The small black-and white pamphlet listed some charter school scandals, their focus on refusing services to disabled students, those who don’t speak English, and a desire to pay teachers half what we make now. It also listed how the UTLA/Community plan would offer the opportunity to learn two languages (the opposing plan would only offer multi-lingual curriculum after being open for five years), adherence to Board of Education guidelines and oversight, Special Education programs, weekly field trips, and partnerships with museums, concert halls, universities and local businesses.

    imageI listened as this teacher passionately described how a group of unproven business people were coming into a community in which she has worked for years, cares so much about, and has given so much of her life to. I had heard about people being bused in to vote the last time this charade known as reform took place, and asked if she had seen any buses. She said that the charter operators had brought several busloads.

    I walked towards the entrance to the actual polling site, and a smiling woman handed me two large double-sided color glossy flyers with “Camino Nuevo” written on it. We briefly spoke in Spanish, before the language barrier finally caught up. Another woman intervened, said she lives in the community, and that Camino Nuevo is a community-based organization of parents interested in operating the school.

    I asked if anyone had been bused in to vote because that’s what the teacher had told me.

    “They’ll tell you anything. They just care about their jobs,” she responded.

    When I repeated my question, she said there was in fact a bus, one bus, with about five people. Surely no one would bring a bus with only five people, I asked. Yes, she insisted, that was the case.

    I asked about their funding, and she said it came from the school board. I asked what other funding sources they had. She said she did not know. I gently pressed, and she reiterated that she did not know. She brought over a young gentleman she described as a current high school and former Rosemont student. He didn’t know where their funding sources came from either. I asked how they expected me to consider voting for their proposal if they could not even tell me where their funding came from. Neither had an answer.

    Voting was simple. I didn’t have to provide any documentation to prove that I had any connection to the community whatsoever.

    In less than 30 seconds of research online, I discovered what neither of these two charter school advocates could tell me: who they were working for. Camino Nuevo’s Donor list reads like a “Who’s Who” of charter school proponents, including The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

    Who else but a billionaire with a $147 million-dollar mega-mansion overlooking Lake Washington and zero public school classroom teaching experience whatsoever is better qualified to reform education? Gates wants to increase class sizes and videotape teachers so a panel of six-figure bureaucrats can scrutinize every twitch and tell teachers what they already know. He’s also a strong proponent of value-added teacher evaluations, and his beloved foundation hasn’t even bothered to respond to phone calls and email seeking comment after it was revealed that they’ve been intentionally withholding data from researchers.

    Our current school board majority is hoping you’re not smart enough to realize that by simply offering a “choice,” we’re not all of a sudden going to magically skip down gumdrop lane to 100 percent literacy and graduation rates. Their best idea is to give more of your tax-dollars to some of their friends, people who already have so much money and time on their hands that they don’t even know what to do with themselves.

    Please vote March 8 in the Los Angeles Board of Education election for Marguerite LaMotte in District 1, a candidate sincerely interested in doing what our current board majority has refused to do for years: address the achievement gap.

    Read more from David Lyell at

    Read David Lyell’s other opinion pieces on Intersections South LA:
    Value-add assessments: has the data been cooked

    The school board election: what LA Unified doesn’t want you to know

    John Deasy announced as new lausd superintendent

    Photo courtesy of Robert D. Skeels

    Community gathers to spread word on Props 24 and 25


    imageMembers of the South Los Angeles community gathered Saturday to be part of over 200,000 people throughout California to walk in neighborhoods to educate residents on Propositions 24 and 25. Prop. 24 would repeal corporate tax loopholes and restore over one billion dollars to the state budget. Prop. 25 would establish a simple majority for passing the state budget, rather than the two-thirds vote California currently has.

    Both Propositions, if passed, would ultimately bring more money to the education budget of the state.

    Listen to the audio story:

    It was a Saturday morning four days before the midterm election and 40 people gathered on a cement patio outside a building on Florence Avenue in South Los Angeles. Community members, teachers and students gathered at the offices at the community organization SCOPE (Strategic Concepts in Organizing and Policy Education.) They have one common goal: to create change in California.

    They hope change will come with Propositions 24 and 25. Two of the many Props on the midterm ballot. Prop. 24 would repeal corporate tax loopholes and restore over one billion dollars to the state budget. Prop. 25 would establish a simple majority for passing the state budget, rather than the two-thirds vote California currently has.

    Andrew Carrillo gave up his Saturday to walk precincts. He’s a teacher at 32nd Street USC Magnet. He says he hasn’t canvassed since 1982 but these propositions pushed him to get the word out.

    “They are important to me because our government is dysfunctional. This is a small small step, but an important step to make it a little more functional.”

    Many of the students and teachers walking on Saturday had one agenda: get more money for education. It’s no secret California’s economy is in disarray. And a budget in the red affects schools.

    Michael Husinger was one student self-motivated to walk on Saturday. He’s a 15 year old from Crenshaw High School. He says Props 24 and 25 give him the chance for a better education.

    “Well one, it improves the schools, so better education for me, and also for my family like my little brother and sisters and everything.”

    Husinger is in the Social Justice and Law Academy so politics is a big draw for him. He and his classmates were part of a larger group of over 200,000 people were working over the weekend to get out the vote. Teacher and activist David Rapkin believes there is power in numbers.

    “The differences that usually keep us separate need to be broken down. There is nothing like students and teachers walking together to symbolize that and create a reality.”

    If Props 24 and 25 pass, the state is bound to direct more money to schools.

    Candidates compete for 33rd District seat

    On June 8, voters will decide who will win Congresswoman Diane Watson’s 33rd District seat when she leaves office. On February 17, Watson announced she did not want to seek re-election this year because she wanted to spend time with her 100-year-old mother.

    Whoever replaces Watson will work in one of the most diverse districts in California, Watson, who represented the district since 2001, said. There is a large population of South Koreans, the largest outside of South Korea, as well as a large number of Hispanics. The 33rd District is also home to Armenians, Pacific Islanders and African Americans.

    Democrats in the upcoming race include Karen Bass, Morris F. Griffin, Nick Juan Mostert and Felton Newell. James L. Andion, David C. Crowley II and Phil Jennerjahn are the republican candidates.

    Though Watson highly endorsed Bass, Bass said she will not take any part of this election for granted. The speaker emeritus of the California State Assembly said she has continued to walk neighborhoods, attended house meetings and sought endorsements.

    “I feel that it is important for me to work at this level right now in terms of going to Congress,” Bass said, referring to Republican Scott Brown’s January victory over Martha Coakley for the late Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat. “Also, I think it is a question of respect. Respect for voters.”

    For about 30 years, Bass has been involved in foreign and domestic issues. She founded Community Coalition, a community-based social justice organization. She started the organization about 20 years ago to deal with issues like drugs and crack cocaine addiction, which Bass said led directly to the “explosion” in foster care. Other issues Bass has addressed include criminal justice reform, health care and affordable housing. Bass also became the first African-American woman to be elected Speaker of the California State Assembly.

    When Bass was first elected to the Assembly, she organized People’s Council, a group of volunteer community leaders who attempted to involve constituents in the public policy process. If she is elected June 8, she said she will possibly use a similar strategy to address issues in the 33rd District.

    “I don’t know what I will create this time, but what I plan to do is bring together the leaders who are in the People’s Council and do a half-day retreat and say, ‘Now it is a congressional district. What do you think we should do, how do you think it should be organized?’” Bass said.

    One current focus is policy issues, Bass told the Los Angeles Watts Times. Though her main focus is not on campaign promises, health care, jobs and advancement of green technology remain areas of interest for Bass. Her main focus, however, is on June 8.

    “From June 8 on, if I am successful, I will have six months” to work on policy matters, Bass said. “I need to learn the federal process. So I could make up stuff, but I do’t want to do that. After June 8, that’s when I want to spend the time learning the federal system and trying to see what is realistic.”

    Voter apathy threatens Inglewood’s special election

    What if there were an election and no one voted? That’s what happened in Inglewood, or nearly so. In the November 3, 2009 countywide election, only 86 Inglewood voters cast ballots– less than one twentieth of one percent of the city’s electorate.

    Inglewood’s 0.18 percent turnout took place during L.A. County’s consolidated elections. By comparison, turnout rates in other cities for the same election included 8 percent in Compton, 10 percent in Pasadena, and 11 percent in Lancaster, according to the Los Angeles County Registrar’s Statement of Votes Cast. Ballots consisted mainly of city council and school board races.

    The specter of low voter turnout concerns Inglewood leaders and community activists, especially in light of an upcoming special municipal election slated for June 8 to fill the mayoral seat vacated by Roosevelt F. Dorn, who pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor conflict of interest charge in January.

    “Nobody believes in government anymore because there are so many crooks, and people don’t care. There is no care in the government anymore,” said Stacie Williams, a community activist and advocate for youth facilities and housing. “It’s just a lack of professionalism and a lack of care in the city of Inglewood and that needs to stop.”

    But the publicity surrounding Dorn’s departure may have the opposite effect, actually increasing voter turnout, said Michael McDonald, a voting expert at George Mason University. “It raises the profile of the election,” he said. “People are talking about it and anything that helps communicate to people that there’s an election will improve the turnout.”

    A recent election that was strictly municipal fared somewhat better, by comparison. On June 12, 2007 about 18 percent of the city’s registered voters cast ballots in a runoff for council district 1. The victor, Daniel Tabor, won by 200 votes.

    “It [was] a local special election,” McDonald said. “Those are the kind of races that tend to draw the lowest level of turnout.”

    Yvonne Horton, Inglewood’s city clerk, said the city’s voter turnout is “no more poor than others.” She said she does plan to do her part to raise awareness about the upcoming election.

    “I am going to keep on asking them, every Tuesday [during council meetings] and every time I go out,” Horton said. “We can always try, [but] we can’t make people vote.”

    Inglewood voters, like voters everywhere, are far more likely to turn out for a presidential race, said Michael Falkow, Inglewood’s chief information officer. About 84 percent of Inglewood voters cast their ballots in the last presidential race. It was a voting rate that reflected the enthusiasm generated by Barack Obama’s candidacy, which helped push voter turnout nationwide to a 40-year high, according to the Associated Press.

    But within the context of national and statewide turnout rates, Inglewood’s voting rate in that election was about average. “The president is the most visible political symbol of America,” said Curtis Gans, an expert in citizen political participation in the U.S at the American University in Washington. “We have an eroded community; therefore fewer and fewer people are participating in local government and the people that do participate tend to be the same people.”

    Falkow said that city leaders are hopeful that increased community attendance at city council meetings in the wake of Dorn’s departure will translate into ballots cast in June. But he is skeptical.

    “I highly doubt that they’re all coming out just because the Mayor resigned,” Falkow said. “I would think that they’re coming out because they are finding out a lot of things about what’s going on that maybe they didn’t know.”

    In the case of Inglewood resident Raynald Davis, that is exactly what happened.

    “I want the city council to be transparent and let us know what is happening,” Davis said. “Tell us what we need to know, not what we want to hear.”

    According to Gans, it is up to the city to restore the confidence of its residents in local government and inform them of what they stand to lose if they don’t cast their votes.

    “They need to improve education, promote civic values, reduce the negative impact of media, strengthen unions, and change the way candidates conduct their campaign,” Gans said.

    More on Inglewood’s political struggle: