Hyepin Im reflects on the Korean American community 20 years after the LA riots

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There’s a lot of soul searching going on in Los Angeles as we approach the 20th anniversary of the LA riots.

It’s a time that brought devastation to many Koreans living here as some rioters unleashed their anger on Korean shop owners.

Emily Frost spoke with Hyepin Im, the President and CEO of Korean Churches for Community Development. It’s an organization that works to build the capacities of Korean churches and nonprofits and fuel economic development.

During the conversation, Im addresses issues of language barriers and rates of poverty among Koreans in California.

Im welcomes all to a commemorative service for the riots on april 29th held by the Korean Churches for Community Development. http://www.kccd.org/

City offers rebates for electric vehicles

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image The Chevy Volt and the Nissan Leaf, the first all-electric vehicles to hit the market, went on sale this past December. The Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the Department of Water and Power are invested in helping these cars catch on. Today, they launched Charge Up LA. It’s a rebate program that will give electric car owners up to $2,000 toward the installation and cost of their in-home charger.

Villaraigosa boasted that this was another great pilot program to add to LA’s green campaign.

“We’re, like, the only city doing this,” Villaraigosa said. “I’m telling you this is something that really sets LA apart. Again, it’s not a hyperbole. This will be a game changer, and we will be the electric vehicle capital.”

The cost of the home charger is too expensive for some — but the city hopes that the rebate combined with increasing gas prices will make the cars more attractive. The average gas price today in LA County is $4.21.

But it’s not just about savings for the consumer — it’s also about reducing our reliance on fossil fuels and improving air quality. Dr. Joseph Lyou is the CEO of the statewide Coalition for Clean Air.

“We are still challenged here in this air district with the worst air quality in the entire nation,” Lyou said.

There are other environmental benefits. Most people charge their cars at home at night — they can go about 90 miles until they need to recharge. Nighttime is also when the DWP is able to use the most renewable energy from wind power. It’s windier at night, sending more wind power into the grid.

Ron Nichols, the general manager of the DWP, calls electric cars an elegant solution.

“That’s a double win for the environment.”

The DWP plans to subsidize 1,000 chargers that will cost $2 million — and depending on demand to spend up to $6 million.

In most cases, the $2,000 rebate will pay for the entire cost of the charger and installation — in some cases it will be cheaper.

If you’re thinking about going electric, act fast — the rebate option starts on May 1 and is on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Los Angeles mayor visits nation’s most expensive public school

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image Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa took a tour of the six shiny, state-of-the-art schools at the Robert F Kennedy complex. He wasn’t visiting for any special performance or opening. Instead, he visited to remind the public of education accomplishments during his term. The visit came after his “State of the City&#34” address last night, when Villaraigosa emphasized his commitment to school reform.

Los Angeles Unified School District Board President Monica Garcia guided Villaraigosa around:

“Mr. Mayor what is great about that auditorium — you can lift the back and it seats out to where we walked down…”

That’s just one of the incredible features of this new public school, just finished last year. It’s known to some as the “Taj Mahal” of public schools. It cost $580 million to build, making it the most expensive public school in the nation. Chuck Flores is the principal of New Open World Academy, one of the six pilot schools at RFK. His school focuses on technology and social justice.

“I mean, you know the cost of the campus that’s been in the news forever, but I think it’s really providing an opportunity for kids who’ve been disenfranchised for so long.”

Flores is referring in part to the fact that for years the district bused students out of the area to other schools. Now, if you live in a nine block radius, you can attend school here. Flores says the school’s amenities, like its beautiful library, create a better learning environment for students.

Oscar Jaramillo used to attend LA High School. Now, he’s part of the Ambassador School of Global Leadership at RFK.

“I have more opportunities and dreams to accomplish right here at ASGL,” Jaramillo said. “I know I love being an ambassador. I’m very proud of that so that we can all, like, become like global citizens around the world.”

The mayor also referenced our globalized world.

“There is no more important issue for a city if we want to be competitive in a world economy than to be educating a future generation,” Villaraigosa said.

But with six schools costing half a billion dollars, and a $350 million dollar deficit remaining, the city may not be able to build new schools like RFK anytime soon.

CicLAvia comes to Los Angeles for the second time

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So, what should we expect from the second round of CicLAvia — the open streets event that transforms miles of Los Angeles into a car-free park?

image “Bikes and people and skateboarders and families,” Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said.

“Blacks and Asians and Whites and Latinos, people in wheelchairs, every flavor of Los Angeles out on the street together,” echoed CicLAvia organizer Joe Linton.

The mayor’s excitement for Sunday is palpable at a preview event today. After all, he’s expecting his very famous bike friend, Lance Armstrong. Villaraigosa invited Armstrong to join when the superstar athlete texted him after the mayor’s July bike accident.

Armstrong texted: “Remember, stay on the bike.”

Not only did the mayor stay on his bike, but he pushed to make the second CicLAvia happen.
“LA is committed!” Villaraigosa said.

October’s CicLAvia was a huge success in terms of numbers and safety, board member Kyla Fullenwider said.

“We were hoping 30,000, 40,000, maybe 50,000.”

They got a turnout of 100,000, and they’re expecting that many this time, too.

“I think even the police department was surprised that it was such a peaceful, safe event,” Fullenwider said. “You know when you get a hundred thousand people on the street – who knows?”

Getting the first event up and running took a lot of grassroots organizing.

“You know, we really started to feel momentum come into place after that first one when everybody really saw what was possible,” Fullenwider said.

Fundraising the $100,000 necessary to make the event real was a little easier for the organization this time. And the city matched that contribution.

On Sunday, participants can join in anywhere along the route, which spans from Boyle Heights through downtown and all the way to East Hollywood.

Joe Linton’s advice: “Just show up and experience spontaneous joy in the city of Los Angeles.”

But CicLAvia organizers say the event is as much about fun as it is about creating a robust movement to make Los Angeles a greener, healthier and more civic-minded city.

After Sunday, there are two more CicLAvias planned for 2011 and, by October, the route will get longer.

The mayor assured everyone “there will be NO rain on Sunday.”

Time to tune up your bike, grab your sneakers, board or roller blades.

Incumbent Bernard Parks talks about his achievements

This story is a part of our series of interviews with the candidates for Los Angeles City Council Districts 8 and 10.

Listen to a story by Annenberg Radio News:


Emily Frost: Why are you running?

Bernard Parks: I’m running because I’ve had significant success in the first eight years of bringing back the community on a variety of levels. And I think we’ve turned the corner on a number of issues, whether it’s economic development or looking at the rails coming in, bringing in grocery stores for the first time in 25 years. I think the community is looking to see how this community can continue to flourish in the next four years.

Frost: How do you think you’ll respond to Governor Jerry Brown’s cuts?

Parks: Well, I think it’s going to affect us in that most of the cuts are cuts that are going to affect the county. But we will see the end result of it. Because those that can’t get those services are going to spill out into the city street. The thing that’s going to impact the city the most is if he’s successful in cutting the CRA. Then poor communities will certainly suffer in their ability to gather funds to help their community.

Frost: What’s your number one issue?

Parks: The number one issue for the district is increasing job growth.

Frost: What’s the most important thing we should know about you?

Parks: Integrity and honesty.

Frost: The most important thing about your district?

Parks: We have a district in transition, that for many decades has been ignored. There’s a great deal of frustration about being ignored. What you find when talking to people is that they’ll tell you that nothing is going on in their district. And then you start to recite to them things that are going on in their neighborhood. Just today I talked to a lady and I said, ‘Are you aware that there’s a Kaiser health facility going in on Manchester? Did you know that your library has brand new and increased number of Internet free access computers?’

Frost: What do you want people to have in mind on voting day?

Parks: The list of things that they gave me when I came into office. Many of them are achieved. They wanted to see dirt alleys paved. We paved 50 percent of them, 15 miles of dirt alleys. They wanted to see Vermont/Manchester come alive. We put a $100 million office building there. They wanted to see issues of Baldwin Hills shopping revitalization. They’ll get a new Staples, and Magic Johnson theater, a new Buffalo Wild Wings. They wanted to see public transportation. We have two new lines. We worked very hard to get Measure R passed so that we could fund public transportation, coming down Crenshaw Boulevard and the Expo Line. These are things that in each instance, we tried to make sure the community was heard and we listened to their needs. When they asked about the fact that there are no community cultural events in the district — we have now the Taste of Soul, we have the Leimert Park MLK parade, we now have jazz festivals in Leimert Park, we have fire works on the 4th of July. These are all things given back to the community that they asked for.

Read more interviews with city council candidates.

Community reflects on Rodney King beating 20 years later

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imageYou can’t hear much on the video tape. But the pictures of a man on the ground beaten by a crowd of police officers startled the nation. His name was Rodney King – a name that would become synonymous with Los Angeles Police Department brutality.

“When I watched the beating, it was a severe one. With a number of officers it just kept going on and on,” said Paul Skolnick, who worked as an assignment editor at KNBC at the time of the beating. His station was one of many that played the video shot by bystander George Holliday.

“The Rodney King beating brought to the forefront something that people knew about but seldom discussed and that was how people were treated by law enforcement and really in all city services,” Holliday added. “Moving on took quite some time. We still think about those incidents.”

For many African American residents, scenes of the beating touched a raw nerve.

Daphne Bradford, a teacher in South Los Angeles, said it reminded her of the civil rights era.

“They put the dogs on you and you were fighting for your rights,” Bradford said. “And you see this happening during your time and you’re like, really?”

Four white officers were tried in the beating of King, when they were acquitted in April of 1992. South Los Angeles and other parts of the city erupted in violence.

Bradford remembers that at the time she was heading home from a heated community meeting at First AME church.

“The one thing I remember and that I will never forget that when I drove I had to drive through the fire, the smoke and all that stuff,” Bradford said. “I was just hoping that the tires on my car didn’t melt. Because it felt like hell on earth. I was just praying all the way home that nobody shot my windows out, that nobody killed me, that my tires didn’t melt. That I could just make it.”

After she made it through a fire that was like an inferno, she knew she would make it through the rest of the riots.

The riots are painful memories for many Korean Americans as well.

Ae Kyung Kang was living in Gardena. The family had an auto parts business. When the riots broke out her husband wanted to get a gun, but Kang didn’t want him involved in the violence. The trauma of having her business looted and eventually closed is still fresh.

“We lost everything,” Kang said. “At the riots—many businesses is broke and they close out. After that our business is closed. Closed.”

Kang faults the police for not intervening: “They did nothing. Just chewing the gum and they laughing. And just watching.”

Civil rights activist Earl Ofari Hutchinson explains why Korean American store owners became targets in the riots.

“There was a feeling that they were disrespectful, that they were just in the community to make money,” Hutchinson said. “They wouldn’t hire you. That they weren’t part of the community – so they were easy and soft targets.”

Kang’s family went back to Korea and lived there for many years. They eventually returned to the United States and now own a dry cleaning business in Torrance.

Ethnic tensions and poverty, some of the things that led to the riots, still persist – but Police Chief Charlie Beck talked about what’s changed in the police department.

“Inargulably we are a much better police department in the intervening twenty years,” Beck said.

Beck said the L.A.P.D has an approval rating of 83 percent. In 1992, there were 90,000 violent crimes; last year, only 20,000.

The police department has changed as well. The police chief has term limits and serves at the pleasure of the mayor.

Jasmyne Cannick is a communications strategist in West Adams. She noticed changes in the L.A.P.D.

“We see a lot more black officers in leadership, a lot more black female officers on the street,” Cannick said.

Technology has changed things too, she added.

“I think people, especially officers are a lot more careful with what they do in public because everyone has a phone,” Cannick said. “Sixth graders walk around with phones; senior citizens walk around with video on their phones.”

Bradford still sees the history of the riots when she drives around South L.A.

“When you see a building that’s vacant, or just a lot there,” Bradford said. “You kind of think, I wonder if that’s still from 1992 when they burned it.”

What do you remember of the Rodney King beating and the 1992 riots? We want to hear from you.

Protesters demand Wells Fargo do more to stop foreclosures

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A crowd of about two dozen protesters squished their way into the bank, paying no heed to disgruntled staff and security guards. Their leaders held a letter demanding Wells Fargo participate in a state-wide program called “Keep Your Home California.” The “Keep Your Home” program is federally funded. If the bank reduces the homeowner’s principle, the program will match the difference dollar for dollar. But the protesters want Wells Fargo to participate.

Xaime Casillas was like many protesters holding their ground in the bank—he was getting closer to losing his home. Casillas welcomed his first baby last year, but when his newborn son suffered two heart attacks, he had to leave his job. He’s been in the loan modification process ever since and it hasn’t been going well. He’s angry with the banks.

“It’s like the banks have a shredding machine that you’re using to fax in all your documents to get a loan modification. And it seems like it just goes right into the shredder.”

Casillas’ lender is Chase Bank. He was so close to getting a modification, but then they claimed to not have a crucial page of the agreement and closed his case. Casillas isn”t buying it. He believes the prolonged modification process allows the bank to tack on fees and to keep the homeowner paying, rather than abandoning ship.

“Call them up. They lost this, they lost that. They don’t really care about you.”

The TARP bailout still stings for these homeowners. To them, it doesn’t seem right that taxpayers bailed out the same banks that are now denying them help.

Peggy Mears’ home is also in trouble. But she wasn’t about to give up.

“We will take it to the streets, you will see Egypt in California.”

The Los Angeles Police Department arrived later and said that a lot of police officers are also facing foreclosure. The protesters crossed the street to the Attorney General Kamala Harris’ office. They delivered 10,000 signatures demanding action against the biggest banks.

Wells Fargo released a statement that have agreed to participate in the “Keep Your Home California” program and that they will continue to work with homeowners, non-profits and elected officials to stop foreclosures.

Hai-me Caseehas was resigned but determined.

“I might lose my home, but I’m still gonna help other people keep theirs.”

Basketball players teach healthy living at local elementary school

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The schoolyard of Para Los Ninos Charter School in East Los Angeles transformed into a stage for two very bubbly, very tall Harlem Globetrotters. “Special K” and “The Shot” were there to show off their basketball tricks, but they were also there to spread the gospel of healthy living to a crowd of low-income, mostly Latino students.

I went to cover the show, but I had some competition.

A group of four girls surrounded me, notebooks in hand.

“I’m wearing a press pass. It’s so they can know we’re on the newspaper team,” said one.

The third and fourth graders sitting atop bleachers in the noonday sun, could hardly contain their excitement when the players’ coaching session was over and the real show began. The Globetrotters spun balls on their heads, fingers and even shoulders.

Health is a major priority at the school. Nearly all of the students qualify for free or reduced lunches. They’re catered by Unified Nutrimeals. Principal Judy Perlmutter describes the lunches as “low sodium, no high fructose corn syrup, fresh fruit and vegetables every day.”

Still, it’s a hard battle with a McDonald’s literally next door to the school. The students’ parents work in the factories near the school, some are living in temporary hotels downtown or shuttle from far away – they’re working class families.

And so complete chaos broke out when each student was given two tickets to a Globetrotters show. Kids leapt from the bleachers and started swarming and tackling the two Globetrotters with such sheer excitement that they knocked one of them to the ground.

The coolest trick of the day: “He passed the basketball onto her finger. It was so crazy,” reported an excited student. Crazy indeed.

Mark Ridley-Thomas has proposal for juvenile justice reform

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About 20,000 young people are on probation in Los Angeles County right now, and more than 40 percent of these youths will head right back to jail. Board Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas commissioned a report on making transition back into society more successful, and it makes some serious charges.

“We need to be smart about reentry,” Ridley-Thomas said.

The report found that some county juvenile detention camps have good reentry programs; some, but not all. The programs make sure that young people have a safe place, healthcare, addiction treatment, a support system and a plan for avoiding gang life before they leave. But the report argues that these transition services need to become institutionalized.

The researchers pointed to a few exemplary Los Angeles-based organizations as models for the Department of Corrections.

New legislation means a fair break for low-wage workers

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Blanca Moran’s eyes filled with tears. It was hard to look back on her years as a janitor with the cleaning company KBM. She spoke through a translator.

“She worked from 7 p.m to 6 a.m. in the morning. She didn’t get any rest breaks, no lunch period, she actually became sick with anemia because she didn’t have a time to eat.”

Today, Moran joined other janitors, taxi drivers, car washers and day laborers on the steps of City Hall to stand up for low-wage workers who are not getting paid enough for their work. Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles report 654,000 low-wage workers lose more than $26 million each week in Los Angeles through unfair labor practices.

Businesses guilty of worker exploitation are not just hurting poor families, said UCLA’s Kent Wong.

“It means that they’re getting an unfair advantage over other businesses that are doing the right thing and are honoring labor laws and paying their workers a living wage,” Wong added.

Hope for workers comes in the form of a city council ordinance that is being drafted now and is expected to pass early next year. The ordinance would allow laborers to report abuse to police and the city attorney and would make it a crime to cheat workers.

Councilmember Richard Alarcon is championing the new regulation.

“It’s not okay to cheat people out of their wages, it’s just like stealing,” Alarcon said.

In a city with a high foreign population, it is easier to get away with abuse because immigrants do not always know their rights. Car washes in particular have a bad track record in this city, said organizer Isabel Rojas.

“People are told to show up like at 8 in the morning, and they don’t start getting paid until the first cars roll in, so sometimes that means that they don’t get clocked in until like 11 or 12,” Rojas said. “On days that they get sent home early because there’s no work, they don’t get paid for that waiting time.”

The Clean Car Wash Campaign has helped workers take matters into their own hands. At the Wilshire Car Wash, workers were fired for fighting for better treatment, but with the campaign’s help, they got their jobs back.

Even before the new ordinance becomes a law, Alarcon and labor groups are urging businesses to start playing fair on their own. Stealing wages increases levels of poverty and in the end hurts us all, Alarcon said.