South LA’s 8th district begins redistricting discussions

The results of the 2010 census have led to a spate of efforts to re-draw political lines at all levels, from Congressional districts to State Senate boundaries.

While those efforts have attracted considerable notice and controversy, less attention has fallen on this decade’s City Council redistricting process, which begins formally on Nov. 28.

A commission will ultimately make recommendations for the new shapes of the city’s 15 council districts, which will then be voted on by the current council members before March.

Los Angeles City Council Redistricting…Why Should I Care?” a flier reads, somewhat plaintively, and on a drizzly Friday night, not many were up to the challenge.

In South LA, Councilman Bernard Parks and District 8 Commissioner Tunua Thrash held a pre-meeting at the Constituent Service Center, designed to engage and prepare residents to make formal statements when the hearings begin the week of November 28.

Despite the lure of free sandwiches, just over a dozen people turned out; most were Councilman Parks’ employees and only a handful were residents.


“It’s extremely important that we have community members come out and testify and talk about what is their community, not only from a perspective of describing who the people are, describing what are some of the resources in those communities, but even going so far as to telling of us what are some of the boundaries in your community, what areas would you not like to see split apart,” Thrash said.

The redistricting process at every level borders on the arcane. The 21-person redistricting commission comprises one member appointed by each councilmember, as well as an additional commissioner for Council President Eric Garcetti. The City Controller and City Attorney also get one each, while Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa appoints three representatives on the commission.

The group is tasked with holding a series of public meetings before hashing out the lines. They will also consider the size of each district, natural boundaries, and “communities of interest,” a term that Thrash and Parks stressed had broad meanings, ranging from distinct neighborhoods to similar demographics, or even the areas under the flight path of an airport.

The commission will also consider the Voting Right Acts, a federal mandate that redistricting cannot discriminate against minority groups.

The boundaries for the 8th District, which saw just over 5 percent growth in the last decade, are not expected to move dramatically.

“The one thing that’s unique about the 8th District is our numbers are such that we can actually remain exactly the way we are,” Parks said. “The dilemma is that there are many districts around us that are in need of boundary changes to gain population, and that’s going to be the push and pull, as it relates to dealing with those districts.”

Although the three districts to its north and south were also mostly stable, downtown’s 9th District, to the east, rose at nearly twice that rate to overcome the 8th in population. (You can find a useful map of the council census data here at blogdowntown).

Because the 8th District is partially surrounded by other cities, including Culver City and Inglewood, which are not affected by redistricting, the areas where lines could be redrawn are limited. Some of Parks’ aides worry that few of the possibly affected residents, many of whom are not politically active, will turn up to contest those changes.

District 8 will hold its first official redistricting meeting on Dec. 12 at the Expo Center.

Industrial pollutions takes its toll on southeast Los Angeles

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Residents of southeast Los Angeles cities like Maywood and Vernon live along one of the country’s busiest shipping and manufacturing corridors. The area is also highly polluted.
California Watch reporter Janet Wilson found one Maywood family who agreed to take medical tests to find out how that affected their health. She spoke to us about her reporting.

WIC fears budget cuts will take a bite out of food programs

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WIC’s initials stand for “Women, Infants and Children,” and in Los Angeles, it serves 300,000 of them with healthy foods each month. Unlike food stamps, the program is limited to pregnant women and children under five, and provides vouchers for specific items.

One recipient is Alejandra Delfin, a mother of three, who says WIC provides a majority of her children’s food.

“They like the cereals, they like the fruits, they like nectarines,” she said. “They like peanut butter, the bread they give too, milk, eggs…they like everything WIC gives.”

Beyond the groceries, Delfin says, WIC is part of her community. She has been coming to the office on the corner of Washington Boulevard and Vermont Avenue for ten years, since she was pregnant with her oldest son. Her workplace is only doors away.

Inside the bland strip mall storefront, she sees familiar faces – Celia, Sandra, Alba – who have walked her through everything from how to breastfeed to the best afternoon snacks. Her son does well in school, she says, because she learned how to feed him a healthy diet.

Kiran Saluja, the deputy director of WIC in Los Angeles, says that is the kind of support the program aims to give.

“We are the extended family,” she says. “People don’t have those any more. We are the tios, and the tias, and the aunts.”

But, Saluja says, federal spending cuts could put tens of thousands of the people using WIC on a waiting list for aid. Pregnant women, the main focus of the program, would be given priority.

“If these cuts go through that would be the cruelest cut of them all, because we’d be telling a mother who’s pregnant, and maybe has a three-year-old, ‘We can serve you, but we can’t serve your three-year-old,'” Saluja says. “And no mother can do that.”

The cuts could also have a broader economic impact on the community, affecting stores like Mother’s Nutritional Center, a chain that sells only WIC foods.

“You can send a child into our store with five dollars, and they won’t be able to buy anything except nutritious products,” boasts manager Nancy Knauer. “They won’t be able to buy candy, liquor, cigarettes, snacks, everything is healthy.”

But Knauer worries that cuts to the program would lead the store to lay off some of its employees, 80 percent of whom are also WIC recipients.

“If we have to lay off people, then it really affects the community also,” she says. “The spending power – last year, more than 4.6 billion dollars nationwide was spent on WIC. So if that money is taken away, it affects every local community that we operate out of.”

That community includes people like Francy Anino, the mother of three-year-old twin boys. As she watches them playing with a puzzle in the WIC office, she admits that she doesn’t know what she would do without the aid.

“Spend a lot of money that I don’t have?” she says with a laugh. “Borrow money from people? I don’t know. I only have a part time job. It’s insane how much it’s helped.”

The proposed cuts to WIC are part of a bill that would reduce federal spending by $40 billion. Lawmakers who support it say that it is necessary to address the country’s growing budget deficit. Congress is expected to vote on the measure later this fall.

Law enforcement officials praise success of South LA task force

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imageLos Angeles Police Department Chief Charlie Beck said Tuesday he was proud of the results from the second year of Save Our Streets, a three-month collaboration between South Los Angeles police officers and the FBI.

This summer, the task force solved 50 murders, 85 percent of them gang-related. They included the Christmas Day shooting of Kashmier James ,who was killed in front of her 3-year-old daughter, and the killing later that week of Taburi Watson a 14-year-old boy riding his bicycle.

LAPD Deputy Chief Pat Gannon said the program helped bring closure to families who otherwise might never find answers.

“The homicide detectives, they do what they do, they get out at all hours of the night, they pull their hair out trying to find witnesses and people to cooperate in investigations, and they do it for the families,” he said. “The bond that they actually have with these families is actually unbelievable. But there’s a lot more work to be done.”

That work includes nearly 1,000 more unsolved homicides, some dating back to 1978. South Los Angeles remains far from safe, as a deadly shooting Tuesday at Algin Sutton Park on Hoover Street illustrated.

But Beck, and Stephen Martinez, the assistant director of the FBI in Los Angeles, worry that the program might not be renewed for another year. It relies on hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal funds to pay FBI agents and allow LAPD officers to work overtime, as well as to support an effort to digitize years of records.

“It is a sad but true statement to say that our ability to solve crime is often hampered by lack of funds,” Beck said. “When we can get federal funds, and we can get federal support, we can make a lot of progress, as has been evidenced by this task force.”

Gannon said the LAPD could use the help.

“The work goes on,” he said. “With the resources, without the resources, we seem to get the job done. But having the FBI really puts a jump-start, a kick-start into some of the cases that may have fallen behind.”

Beck said he’s hoping for a decision on the funding within the next six months, so that the program could be re-instated for next summer.

California provides a golden opportunity for presidential fundraising

imagePresident Barack Obama spoke to an enthusiastic audience last night at Hollywood’s House of Blues, where he promoted his jobs bill, urged the crowd to stay motivated, and dealt with the odd heckler. But with tickets starting at $250, the focus of the event was fund-raising.

The president is just one of several candidates to hit the Golden State. Earlier this month, Mitt Romney also stopped by for a breakfast in Southern California, and Rick Perry attended six fundraisers across the state. (Track 2012 candidates’ events at Politico.)

“Whether you’re Barack Obama or one of the Republican primary candidates, it doesn’t hurt to talk to California voters, but what you’re most interested in is California donors,” said Dan Schnur, the director of USC’s Unruh Institute and a former GOP campaign operative.

Wealthy Californians have long made the state a hub for fundraising efforts. In 2008, Barack Obama raised $77.8 million in California, more than any other state.

But fund-raising prowess doesn’t necessarily translate into electoral influence. California’s 2012 primary has been delayed until June, meaning GOP primary voters will likely head to the polls too late to be decisive in choosing a Republican nominee, and California’s continuing status as a solid blue state renders it unlikely to prove decisive in the general election. Schnur said Californians’ wallets may speak louder than their ballots.

“California’s very relevant in terms of fundraising,” he said. “California’s very relevant in terms of the message the state sends to the rest of the country. But it’s tough to see the state mattering in how the GOP picks its nominee. And it’s difficult to see the state making a difference in the general election.”

That doesn’t mean courting voters isn’t important. A new poll from the Public Policy Institute of California puts the president’s approval rating among likely California voters below 50 percent for the first time since his election.

Dean Bonner, who conducted the poll for the PPIC, said even people who don’t approve of President Obama’s performance might cast a vote for him, but that the numbers illustrated an enthusiasm gap which could hurt fund-raising efforts.

“In a place like California, [the president] is still able to come here and raise money,” he said. “It might not be as much as it was in the past. People in 2008 were very happy to donate to the president, both donors who were big and small, because people showed a lot of enthusiasm.”

Bonner said major donors, including Democratic bundlers in Los Angeles and the Bay Area, are likely to stay involved in the Obama campaign. The remaining question is whether the millions of small donors who contributed to the 2008 election are still willing to say, “Yes, we can.”

Anti-gang operation makes hundreds of arrests

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imagePolice and FBI agents announced hundreds of arrests made as part of a three-month program called Save Our Streets.

The program was designed to help overworked South Los Angeles police. On average, they resolve less than half of their gang cases.

FBI Assistant Special Agent in Charge Robert Clark said unsolved murders can lead to a loss of faith in law enforcement.

“All too often it’s the case when a family member is murdered, they don’t know what’s going to happen, they don’t understand the process,” he said.
“It becomes very frustrating wondering what’s going on, are they going to solve the case, are they going to catch anyone, and they become extremely disenfranchised with the police department and the criminal justice system.”

Clark said the Save Our Streets program solved more than 70 percent of its cases. That included an arrest in the murder of Kashmier James, a 25-year-old woman shot on Christmas in front of her young daughter.

“I had the opportunity to meet with the family of Kashmier James, and they could not have been more thankful,” he said. “Certainly we will never be able to bring Ms. James back, but we are able to allow that family to begin the process of healing because they know that justice has been served.”

Law enforcement officials are touting the 168 arrests made since July, but they also acknowledge thousands of cases remain unsolved.

Clark said he hopes the program will continue, but that the reduction in crime levels could make it less of a priority. The final decision lies with FBI and police management.

Angelenos celebrate different Thanksgiving traditions

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Read what different people had to say about their traditions:

My thanksgiving celebration is a fairly traditional one.

I celebrate for a long, long, time.

In Taiwan, we didn’t consider Thanksgiving as a very meaningful holiday, but we do celebrate it.

When I was young, we had kind of a different Thanksgiving. There’d be a lot of American traditional food but also Korean food. But nowadays, we celebrate it more traditional American style, with turkey and mashed potatoes.

Chicken, fruit, salad, everything vegetable.

Maple syrup for salads and stuff, and also they like the cranberries with flavoring.

Sometimes, we just buy chicken from Costco, and enjoy the chicken.

I’m not a good cooker, so I don’t really do anything.

Basically, we just wait for family to come over, or we go to my mom’s house.

The whole family gets together. Each member of the family bakes or cooks something, and brings it to the table, and we prepare the food together, we laugh, we make jokes, we watch football on TV and basically have time to spend together with family members.

Photo courtesy of The Boston Globe

Los Angeles Police Department officers work civilian jobs

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Los Angeles’ citywide hiring freeze is causing staffing problems in the police department. The Los Angeles Police Department cannot hire enough non-officers for support jobs. Instead, officers are being taken off the streets to do jobs formerly held by civilians, including everything from typing reports to maintaining vehicles.

Since police officers earn higher salaries than civilians, this ends up costing the city more. It would seem like an obvious solution to stop the freeze and hire more non-officers. But in city politics, nothing is that simple.
As council president Eric Garcetti explains, unfreezing those jobs means hiring fewer police officers.

“If you’re saying one is cheaper than the other, you have to get rid of the ones that are more expensive,” Garcetti said. “So that means reducing the overall police department force in order to hire those civilians.”

Cutting police officers goes against one of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s top priorities, maintaining Los Angeles’ police force at 9,963 members. But council member Tony Cardenas questions whether the focus on that number was hurting the department.

“To just claim a particular number of sworn officers is one thing,” Cardenas said. “And perhaps for the campaign trail, that’s something appropriate. But when it comes to budgeting, we’re going to be lying to the public by saying we have 10,000 officers, but the public doesn’t have 10,000 officers on the streets of Los Angeles.”

Rosendahl agrees.

“The reality is, we have to deal with the sacred number of 9,963,” Rosendahl said. “If it’s so sacred, why are we putting full-time able-bodied officers into civilian jobs? So let’s deal with reality where the rubber is now hitting the road.”

For council members, that could mean unpopular steps like voting against new police officers.

“The key is, whether you have the will to do it, and we’ve ignored it each and every time it comes up,” said council member Bernard Parks. “Every time there’s a class to be hired, we hire it and we go blindly through and we keep cutting civilians and you’re going to have the full level of sworn personnel, but not enough civilian support to cause them to be effective.”

The council voted unanimously to refer the issue to the public safety and budget committees.

Democratic politicians attend labor rally

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Despite the background music, there was not much running going on at this get-out-the-vote labor rally. While democrats elsewhere are scrambling, in Los Angeles, they seemed ready to celebrate.

John Chiang: We are seven hours and 23 minutes from a huge victory. I count the minutes, and I am a math man.

That is democratic State Controller John Chiang, who is expected to win re-election.

Other candidates there included United States Congress hopeful Karen Bass and incumbents Xavier Becerra and Lucille Roybal-Allard.

Few of them face more than token opposition, either. Los Angeles County democrats have nearly a 30-point lead in registration over republicans. That lack of competitive races in Los Angeles poses a challenge: getting voters excited for a midterm election.

Chiang says that is crucial.

Chiang: We need help from the top to the bottom of the ticket because every single elected official makes a difference.

United States Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis also sounded optimistic. But the former Los Angeles Congresswoman called on the crowd to boost the turnout in California.

Solis: Today’s a special day. We’re going to change the course of California. And I just got word from back East, from some of our friends, that the voter turnout is surprisingly high in the Northeast. So please understand, if they can do it, you can do it.

Antonio Villaraigosa: I can tell you that at my own polling place, it looked like people were coming in greater numbers than you might expect. My hope is that people do go out and vote because this election matters.

But the Los Angeles mayor and other Los Angeles democrats have focused their attention largely on other races.

Villaraigosa and Bass have campaigned for more vulnerable democrats in other states, including Colorado, Kansas and Mississippi.

Schools punish not praise, say South L.A. students

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It was more than 30 years ago that Rosyln Broadnax dropped out of Fremont High School. She had been failing most of her classes, but no one seemed to care – or even notice. She swore things would be different for the next generation.

“When I had my child, I started looking back over my years in the school system,” Broadnax said. “And I promised and vowed that I would never, ever allow my child to go through what I went through.”

But graduates of South Los Angeles’ public schools say not much has changed. Some say they feel disrespected at school – like the students are there to be kept in line, not to learn.

“There was a lot of yelling from the principals,” said Chinyere Garner, who just graduated from Westchester High School. “Yelling at the kids about what we’re not supposed to be doing, like we’re not at school, like we’re at boot camp or something.”

For Garner, not finishing was never an option. But she was frustrated by what she sees as skewed priorities. At her school, she says, finding a security guard is easier than finding a counselor. And sometimes, she spent more time trying not to get in trouble than studying. Garner, who lived two hours away from her school, admitted that she had difficulty getting to class on time. But she felt the punishment for that offense was excessive.

Students who are even a few minutes late to class face getting tickets, often carrying fines they cannot afford to pay.

“I’ve always been at risk for truancy tickets, but I would dodge them,” Garner said.”Like, literally, I wouldn’t go to school if I saw the police car right there. I would climb the gate, go around the back, because I can’t…I’m not going to risk a ticket just to go to school.”

Now, Garner is joining other students to protest. Her group, the Community Rights Strategy Center, shows up regularly at school board meetings.

Another member is Claudia Gomez. She was kicked out of three schools in six months, mostly for fighting. She says the consequences just made her problems worse.

“When you’re in a new place, I mean, you don’t know what’s going to go on, you don’t know anybody,” she said. “So everybody feels threatened by other people that we didn’t know.”

She turned a corner when she found an alternative school that focused on channeling anger into social action. She said she wishes she had been taught those lessons earlier.

“I would have just tried to speak more instead of using violence, because violence was the number one retaliation,” she said. “Just, you don’t get me, so I’m going to go after you. Now, I would talk.”

She does not know how much of a difference she will make – but for now, finding her voice is enough.