Belizean conch fritters at South LA’s Joan and Sisters Restaurant

Samuel Bevans, owner of Joan and Sisters | Logan Heley

Samuel Bevans, owner of Joan and Sisters | Logan Heley

At Joan and Sisters Restaurant in South L.A.’s unofficial “Little Belize” neighborhood, cooks serve up conch fritters, rice and beans — all typical foods of Belize that represent the Central American country’s wide-ranging ethnic influences.

Belizeans can be Black Creoles of slave descent, Hispanic Mestizos of Mayan and native descent, or Garifuna, a group whose ancestors are a mix of Carib Indians and West Africans arrived from wrecked Spanish slave ships in 1635. East Indians, Middle Easterners and East Asians have also made their way to country on the coast of the Caribbean.

Jerome Straughan, a Black Creole from Belize, moved to the U.S. in 1980. In his Ph.D. dissertation about Belizeans in Los Angeles, he wrote that Belizeans can more easily interact with other ethnic groups in L.A. than in other places, because the city is so diverse. [Read more…]

South LA health clinics waiting for Obamacare


St. John’s Well Child and Family Center in South Los Angeles delivers comprehensive health care and medical guidance to one of the nation’s poorest communities. What of Obamacare? St. John’s counselors aren’t certified to enroll anyone in the Affordable Care Act exchanges yet, but they will be soon.

To learn more details about Obamacare in South L.A., listen to an audio story from Annenberg Radio News:

Deep-seated problems at USC surface during campus forum

Standing shoulder to shoulder, looking for answers, they were not going to let anyone pass. A dozen deep and three times as wide, they stared down those on the opposing side. The seated audience separated them, but the stares from the seats were just intense. LAPD_DPSPanel

Eight stared back. It was hot. Not just from the lack of air conditioning. Hundreds of heated bodies crammed the Ronald Tutor Campus Center Ballroom. Hundreds more hoping to be let in.

A movement that began on social media showed its strength Tuesday night, May 7, during a forum about the police response to an off-campus party early Saturday morning near the University of Southern California campus. Those at the party were predominately black USC students and many were there to celebrate their upcoming graduation, party host Nate Howard said. Students are wondering why Howard’s party was shut down by the Los Angeles Police Department and why another, with mostly white students, just across the street was treated differently. The LAPD, city and university officials and black student leaders came together for the discussion and took comments from an animated crowd.

“What actions were taken to ensure student safety?” One party attendee asked. “Was it the handcuffs? Was it the intimidation?”

“You shouldn’t be upset because you were profiled incorrectly,” a recent USC graduate said. “You should be upset because you were profiled period.”

Nearly 80 LAPD officers in riot gear, at least one carrying a rifle, with a police helicopter in the sky responded to what started as a noise complaint early Saturday morning, according to videos and police reports. The first responding officer to the house near the intersection of 23rd and Hoover Street tried shutting the party down but felt threatened and called for help. Police throughout the city heard the call for help and car after car arrived at the scene. Officers from USC’s Department of Public Safety usually respond first to noise complaints in the surrounding community, but that night the call went straight to LAPD.

“In a perfect world, it would have been nice to get DPS there to handle it, but that’s not the way it happened,” Bob Green, LAPD Deputy Chief of Operations-South Bureau said in an interview.

DPS did arrive on the scene eventually. There is no indication that in the approximately hour-and-a-half between the original call to LAPD and the time they were able to respond around 2 a.m. that any communication with DPS was made.

The party across the street was just as loud and had about as many people as Howard’s party, according to attendees. Witnesses said Howard’s party was told to shut down first. Police then told the other party to turn off their music and stay inside, which they did. The situation outside Howard’s graduation party escalated.

Pictures show students holding hands, protesting against the actions of the police. Attendees said officers were disrespectful and overly aggressive. Police said some students were trying to intimidate officers, including circling an officer making an arrest. Video and audio from LAPD have not been released. Six individuals from Howard’s party were ultimately arrested and charged – four with failure to disperse and two for interfering with an officer’s investigation.

Partygoer Sarah Bowie Tither-Kaplan from across the street confronts the panel with her account of what happened.

Partygoer Sarah Bowie Tither-Kaplan from across the street confronts the panel with her account of what happened.

“These students were not treated with respect,” Sarah Tither-Kaplan, an attendee of the party across the street, said at the forum. “My house was treated with respect. The only difference between the two parties was that racial component and if you’re going to deny that then I’m sorry, I’m just not going to stand for it.”

DPS Chief John Thomas was out of state that weekend. After watching video of what happened, he said he was “very disappointed” by what he saw from his officers. He said he expects DPS officers to be proactive and intervene on behalf of students when police officers confront them. Since becoming chief at the beginning of the semester, people have questioned Thomas’ decision to give his personal phone number to students. But that night students were the main way he stayed updated as DPS and LAPD supervisors dealt with the fluid situation.

“The first call I got wasn’t from DPS,” Thomas said in an interview. “It wasn’t from LAPD. It was a student at the scene who said ‘Chief Thomas, get out here. This is chaos…’ And it’s very disturbing to me to see that same student handcuffed lying on her stomach. She was talking to me and I’m thinking to myself ‘How did this happen?’”

Students and a parent at the forum asked how LAPD and DPS could be so out of sync when the organization’s senior administrators boast about a great mutual relationship. Just last spring USC President C.L. Max Nikias announced with Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and LAPD Chief Charlie Beck that the university would be spending at least $600,000 to hire four on-campus LAPD officers. More recently this semester students have complained about LAPD officers giving out tickets for bicycle infractions when previously they had not. Many students felt the bike tickets were unnecessary and unfairly targeted USC students. Panelists suggested incidents like last Saturday’s could be prevented if law enforcement responders understood the dynamics of college life at USC.

“I think a lot of that had to do with just the posturing of position and the way the police showed up,” Thomas said. “Our students are not used to that. And I don’t want them to get used to that.”

For many in the ballroom, LAPD’s reaction was an obvious case of racial profiling and excessive force. In an opening statement at the forum, LAPD Captain Paul Snell said he did not believe at that point the police reaction Saturday morning was race-based. When Commander Bill Scott of LAPD’s South Bureau asked the audience who thought the incident was based on race, nearly every hand raised. Several speakers from the crowd compared last Saturday’s incident to the 1992 LA Riots, which were sparked after a jury acquitted one Latino and three white LAPD officers accused in the videotaped beating of Rodney King.

In 1992, the USC campus was almost completely untouched by the rioting. According to the incoming Daily Trojan editor at the time, Mike Carlson, USC remained unscathed because of good ties with the surrounding community.

“At least talking to people in the community when I was out and about I got the impression that they saw USC as an asset, an institution that was doing things for the neighborhood, for the community and so why would they really want to destroy it or hurt it in any way,” Carlson said in an interview last year.

But Thomas, the DPS Chief and a South LA native, is not so sure those strong community relationships exist anymore. He said the forum would be a waste of time if students did not begin to make better efforts to engage their neighbors.

“Our students will go to the other side of the world to make a difference,” Thomas said. “I’m just asking that they make a difference in the neighborhoods around USC. I don’t think there’s any better investment.”

One member of the community who claimed to have lived in the area since 1984 enthusiastically supported what students are calling the “USChangeMovement,” which developed in the aftermath of last Saturday’s incident. Even so, he thought the needs of non-students living in the area were not being fairly heard.

“When you’re trying to get enough sleep so you can go to work the next day and you have some young kids making noise until 3 or 4 in the morning,” the man said at the forum. “This has to stop.”

University officials do not anticipate off-campus partying to stop anytime soon. It generally costs more money to host an event on-campus than off because of facility fees and new security measures, according to student government sources. The new security policies were in response to the shooting that occurred at the Campus Center last Halloween. The measures restrict nighttime access to campus and require additional security at all campus events.

For large events, like Springfest, the new measures can cost student organizations thousands of dollars, according to members of the Undergraduate Student Government. Dr. Michael Jackson, vice president for Student Affairs, said facilities are available for on-campus social activities, but the administration and student groups need to “figure it out” when it comes to cost concerns. The forum left Jackson hopeful more progress would be made on campus through the work of students.

“In my 18 years I don’t think I’ve seen such a passionate response to a problem besides a football victory or loss and that, in some ways, is quite beautiful,” Jackson said.

The panelists all agreed that new strategies to educate officers on the dynamics of college life at USC need to be a priority. One student suggested more programs where LAPD officers interact with students in athletic events. Thomas said this party was not much different than other parties at USC. He and several others said the way an officer first interacts with the partygoers is essential in preventing another incident like last Saturday’s from occurring.

In the meantime, the message from LAPD was they are listening.

“My daughter would’ve been at that party,” Scott, the LAPD commander, said. “We had a family event over the weekend or she would’ve been at that party. She had friends at that party. We care.”

Local businesses desire better job training

901 Bar & GrillWith the race for the Ninth District City Council seat underway and elections next month, the spotlight is on the district’s economy.

Both candidates, State Senator Curren Price and Los Angeles City Council aide Ana Cubas, are highlighting job creation in their campaigns. But with about 15 percent of registered voters in the district participating in the March primary, local businesspeople and residents alike do not seem to be holding their breath for any quick changes. [Read more…]

9th District Candidate Closeup: Curren Price

image Curren Price, second from the left, with County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, City Council President Herb Wesson and Los Angeles Congresswoman Karen Bass.

When Curren Price opened his campaign headquarters to kick-start his race for the Ninth District Los Angeles City Council seat, he was joined by some of the city’s most prominent elected officials.

No other candidate running has taken photos with the City Council president, a Los Angeles County supervisor and a U.S. congresswoman – at least not all at once and while holding the candidate’s campaign signs.

Of all the candidates running to represent the Ninth District, Price has the most experience, high-profile endorsements and campaign cash, which makes him seem as the clear front-runner in the March 5 primary election. Price said he has experience making laws, something most of his opponents can not claim, and he has served a portion of the Ninth District before as a senator for the 26th District.

“I’m excited about the prospects of serving in the Ninth, of coming back home, and being a part of a process that’s going to really revitalize and rejuvenate the Ninth District,” Price said.

City redistricting in 2012 removed much of downtown from the former “Great Ninth” and added USC and L.A. Live to what Price now calls the “New Ninth.” Price said he is pleased that the redistricting “preserved the voting power of minorities.” He said making sure South L.A. gets its fair share of the city’s resources is a major priority for him.

In January, eight candidates filed their most recent finance report. Los Angeles Police Department Deputy Chief Terry Hara leads the pack with over $220,000 in cash on hand. Price is the only other candidate with over $100,000.

Some of his opponents have called Price a carpetbagger, a man seeking office wherever he is most likely to be elected. Supporters say those attacks are false and distract voters from what really matters in the race. On campaign materials and his websites, Price says he was “born and raised” in the Ninth District, which is true.

image Photos from Curren Price headquarters.

Price, who was born at Queen of Angels Hospital, attended Normandie Avenue Elementary School then Morningside High School, in what is now Los Angeles’ Ninth District. He majored in political science at Stanford University and graduated with a law degree from Santa Clara University in 1976.

In a district where going to college is far from a guarantee for many students, Price believes his own educational background should not unnerve voters.

“I think every kid growing up in the Ninth should have those options, should have those opportunities,” Price said to a group of supporters.

Price left California in 1979 and spent the next 10 years in Washington, D.C. working for international companies specializing in communications infrastructure. He returned in 1989 to become a deputy for two members of the L.A. City Council, Robert C. Farrell and his successor, present Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. Current Los Angeles Council President Herb Wesson began his political career as a council staffer as well. He said for Price and himself that experience was invaluable.

“We know how to do things hands-on and don’t have to rely solely on staff because everything we’ve asked our staffs to do we’ve already done it,” Wesson said.

Price found his first political break when he was elected to the Inglewood City Council in 1993. He was defeated for mayor of Inglewood in 1997, but then returned to his council seat in 2001. In 2006, he was elected to the State Assembly and overwhelmingly won re-election in 2008. Victorious in a special 2009 California State Senate election, Price currently serves part of the Ninth Council District in Sacramento. According to Wesson, the relationships Price has in the state capital will help him if he is elected because many residents call the city asking for things that are actually controlled by the state.

L.A. County Supervisor Ridley-Thomas described Price as a “consensus builder.”

“He’s someone who you can easily talk to,” Ridley-Thomas said. “He’s not standoffish; he’s not one who will put you off. He will listen to you and he will mobilize his staff to help you.”

At campaign events Price talks about improved public safety, more attention to public works including street cleanups and potholes and more incentives for local businesses. In 2007 and 2009, the University of California Student Association awarded Price “Legislator of the Year” for his work to increase access to Cal Grants for students, among other initiatives. For young voters, Price notes his efforts that led to laws allowing 17-year-olds to preregister to vote and dependents under 26 years old to stay on their parent’s healthcare plans before it became the national law.

With his past elected experience, Wesson believes the obvious next step for Price is a seat on the L.A. City Council.

“I think that it’s a natural progression for him to come home and back to the people that live in the area where he grew up and went to school,” Wesson said. “He is a homegrown product.”

Student turnover, not economy, frustrates 2-9 Café owner

imageWhen employees leave him high and dry on a busy Friday night, the restaurant manager of the 2-9 Cafe does not think twice about picking up the slack. He quickly clears a table, places an order for patrons, and delivers food to a group of hungry customers. For Garinn Morton, this is just one of the many obstacles he has overcome as the owner of this establishment.

The 2-9 Café sits at the intersection of the University of Southern California’s Greek Row, the University Village and one of the largest areas of off-campus student housing. To many, the location would seem like a jackpot for a restaurant owner, but the restaurant’s demographic has been its biggest worry.

“I don’t know if you’ve been here in the summertime, but it’s a ghost town around here,” said Morton.

Aside from holiday breaks, every year, Morton loses 20 percent of his business. That is because every year, and often every semester, students that live near the café move further away or graduate. Something as simple as a move to the other side of campus can keep a student from returning. According to Morton, graduates also steer clear of the restaurant because there is a stigma associated with visiting USC right after graduation.

“You can’t get caught up in making profit,” Morton said. “It’s a very simple game. You’re either not making money, you’re breaking even, or you’re making money.”

Morton plans to combat these problems by starting a “Trojan Country Card” for students. USC students would give their email address, local street address and year in school. In return, they would receive special deals for cardholders only. The cards would be scanned on all purchases at the 2-9 and it would help Morton track his regulars in order to entice them to come more often.

Parker Finley, a senior majoring in aerospace engineering, began frequenting the 2-9 when he lived nearby during his sophomore year. Once Finley turned 21, he said he went weekly. Now that he lives on the Row, he goes once every couple weeks. His reason for going is simple.

“It’s convenient and has cheap beer,” said Finley.

Morton bought the 2-9 in August 2011 as part of the T.K. Burgers group, which also owns six other restaurants in Orange County. T.K. wanted to expand their reach into Los Angeles. According to Morton, when scouting possible expansion sites, the group looks for buildings with a natural and hip feel, like the 2-9. Morton’s short-term goal is to just break even. Five years from now he hopes the location is still operating.

“Trying to find excuses isn’t going to bring one more person in here,” said Morton. “You just gotta find your best way to navigate through it.”

Hara targets USC early in Ninth District council race

By Logan Heley

imageWalking down Trousdale Parkway or outside of the Lyon Center on the University of Southern California campus, it’s likely you’ve seen or even talked to the people working at Terry Hara’s city council campaign booth. It’s also likely you haven’t seen or talked with any of his rivals, at least not yet. The reason: Hara has made USC central to his early campaign strategy while his opponents have yet to establish much of a presence on campus.

The Hara campaign claims to be the only operation on campus “24/7” and its booths on Trousdale and the Lyon Center have been active for over a month. Go on Hara’s website and the first picture you’ll see is of him talking with young people in Trojan gear at the Von KleinSmid Center. With elections just under a month away, Hara’s campaign for the Los Angeles City Council 9th District seat has a commanding fundraising lead, with nearly twice as much cash on hand as the next candidate.

USC joined the 9th District last year after a contentious redistricting fight that took much of Downtown Los Angeles, and its political bargaining chips, out of its boundaries. One candidate running, David Roberts, a former USC employee, said the new 9th District might be the poorest in the city, if not in the entire state. The 9th District has been represented by Jan Perry for the last 13 years. Perry is now running for mayor.

Hara has been part of the Los Angeles Police Department for 33 years and currently serves as one of eight Deputy Chiefs, the first Asian American to hold that position. That’s one reason why his USC point man, Nick Paladines, who graduated from USC in December, said some people don’t recognize him.

“He’s been in the police, not politics,” Paladines said.

Involving the “top of the district,” referring to USC, in the election is important because it boasts the highest concentration of people and the university is the largest promoter of jobs in the district, Paladines said. Recent violence on and near the USC campus also offers an opportunity for Hara to show off his public safety credentials. In meetings with students, Hara likes to bring up the story of when he caught the serial rapist who had been targeting USC students in 1981 after going undercover.

Paladines believes it’s more important for students to be registered to vote at their USC address rather than in their hometown because students spend most of the year in school. Paladines said that only around 3,000 USC students are even registered to vote.

“It’s their neighborhood; we’re just trying to get them involved in it,” Paladines said.

Some USC students are taking that message to heart. The Hara campaign said it has about 30 USC students working for the candidate. In addition, the Beta Omega Phi fraternity, an Asian-interest chapter, decided to stick one of his lawn signs in their front yard and endorse Hara after he made a presentation at their house.

“He had some pretty good ideas and he has USC students’ safety in mind,” said Jeffery Liu, Beta Omega Phi’s president.

Hara’s rivals say they’ve reached out to USC students, but will step up their efforts soon with on campus events like a two-candidate forum at USC on Tuesday.

“You will definitely see an immediate increase (in on-campus campaigning),” said Mike Davis, council candidate and former state assemblyman for the USC area.

Other notable candidates in the race include Roberts, Ana Cubas, a former L.A. city council aide, and Curren Price, a state senator.

Thomas Wong, a second-year Price School of Public Policy graduate student and Hara staffer, believes this election should be important to USC students. “This election actually has more direct consequences on our own neighborhoods than a presidential election does, but (students) kind of tune it out,” Wong said. “So I have hopes that more people start to pay more attention to these kinds of races.”