A little competition at Manual Arts gets students up and moving

imageManual Arts High School journalism students created audio slideshows that showcased their dancing skills through photography and personal commentary. Select students danced to traditional Latin music, while others documented the activity with their cameras. After choosing the best photos, the class split up into teams to record their thoughts.

Team 1: Ashley Howell, Teresa Valle, Dany Garcia
Team 2: Katherine Zepeta, Wendy Archila
Team 3: Oscar Sandoval, Joanna Harrison

Best Photographer: Ashley Howell
Runner-up Best Photographer: Dixia Aguilar
Winning Audio Slideshow: Ashley Howell, Teresa Valle, Dany Garcia

Watch two of the winning entires below, then click here to view all of the students’ work.

South LA neighborhood moves to action against prostitution

Tanya Stone protests the deterioration of her neighborhood. She fights for her children that are exposed to prostitution everyday.

Tanya Stone first noticed prostitution in her neighborhood about a year ago when she left for work at 6 a.m.

“We got kids to send to school… we don’t want to see that,” said Stone, 48, who lives near Western Avenue and Jefferson Boulevard.

Carrying a sign reading “End Slavery Now,” Stone was one of a small group of people protesting outside FAME Renaissance on Tuesday night, while more than 60 community residents and stakeholders gathered inside to discuss new initiatives against prostitution along Western Boulevard.

Organized by the LAPD and the Neighborhood Watch Against Prostitution, the meeting marked a tonal shift from informing neighborhood residents about the progress law enforcement and city officials are making against prostitution to offering ways the community can take action and get involved.

“Now, they’re coming on and saying, ‘What can we do?’” said LAPD Sgt. McGuyre, who heads the Southwest station’s vice unit, which handles prostitution-related crimes.

In 2011, LAPD Southwest made 300 prostitution-related arrests, a 39 percent increase from the previous year. About 40 percent of the total arrests were near 29th Street and Western Avenue.

We are “taking our community back as our community. We’re here to talk about how you can assist us,” said Tracy Hauter, LAPD senior lead officer for the Adams neighborhood. Hauter emphasized that the public comments portion of the meeting was not a “griping” session, but a time for those affected to make important suggestions.

LAPD Captain Melissa Zak, CD 8 North Area Representative Cathy Davis, City Attorney Sharee Sanders, and LAPD Senior Lead Officer Tracy Haute answer community questions at the meeting on Tuesday night at FAME Renaissance.

D’Lita Miller, 37, hoped to see the community take a more preventative instead of punitive approach. At 15 years old, Miller became a prostitute to support herself. About a decade ago, she left the trade. She now works as a family support and outreach coordinator for Saving Innocence, a non-profit that rescues underage victims of sex trafficking.

“Let’s not approach them as enemies. Let’s approach them as people that need help,” Miller said.

The last major community meeting on prostitution was held in June 2011, but some residents complained they haven’t seen much happen since then.

Cathy Davis, North Area field deputy for Councilman Bernard Parks, said their offices have worked on increasing lighting and trimming trees, but that severe budget limitations have reduced staff and resources.

The city budget allows for 300 trees for each council district, which equates to about 50 trees for the North Area neighborhood.

In the 2011-2012 fiscal year, Parks’ office prioritized tree trimming on Hobart Boulevard between 29th Street and 30th Street based on community complaints. However, Davis could not give an exact date when the tree trimming would take place and offered only a June 30th deadline.

Parks’ office is also working on creating billboards to raise awareness of the problem. Chief of staff Bernard Parks Jr., invited the community to voice their ideas on the content of the advertisement.

A protestor organizes against prostitution outside FAME Renaissance.

Other suggestions discussed were creating a website showcasing photos of johns, writing letters to johns if they’ve been spotted in a high-prostitution area, and putting up surveillance cameras and signs against prostitution.

Andrea Canty, education representative of the North Area Neighborhood Development Council however, stressed the need for less talk and more concrete results. NANDC covers the area between the 10 Freeway and Martin Luther King Boulevard from the 110 Freeway to Arlington Avenue.

“I wanted to see a plan of action [from the last meeting]… I wanted to see some tangibles,” said Canty, who hoped to use Tuesday’s meeting to recruit community members to join action committees.

Canty created the publicity and communication, tree trimming, surveillance, city services, church outreach and john letter writing committees to turn words into action.

“I have more confidence in the neighborhood,” Canty said. “We can make it happen because we are the ones who live here.”

David Chiu, who lives near Adams Boulevard and Western Avenue, felt encouraged by the meeting.

“It sounds like there’s an actual plan,” Chiu said.

LAPD and the Neighborhood Watch Against Prostitution plan to hold monthly meetings on the third Tuesday night. The next meeting is March 20 at 6:30pm at FAME Renaissance 1968 W. Adams Blvd.

South LA couple battles ongoing prostitution

imageThe intersection at 29th and Western, a popular corner for prostitutes. (Photos: Lisa Rau)

It’s a chilly Monday night in October, and instead of staying home and watching TV, Will Jones and Evie Smith drive around their neighborhood looking for “johns,” or men who pick up prostitutes.

They jot down license plate numbers of those they catch picking up women, compiling a list that is passed on to the local police. The couple has already shared more than 60 numbers, and has even posted a few on a community Twitter feed.

“We’re trying to make it very unfriendly to come here,” says Smith, who hopes exposing the johns will repel future prostitution activity.

On most nights, Jones and Smith’s neighborhood, just east of Western Avenue between 29th and 30th Street, is quiet. On other nights, residents can hear cars driving back and forth, making unnecessary u-turns and finally pulling over to park.

“At our house, we can hear the traffic pick up, and that’s when we know there are prostitutes on the corner,” says Jones, who has seen cars in a line down the block with men waiting for a chance to talk to the scantily clad women.

The street consists of mostly working families and retired seniors, many of whom start getting ready for bed by 10:30 p.m. But for Jones and his wife, their night is only beginning.

The crusading couple passes by six women, and calls it a slow night.

“It used to be every night,” Jones says. He points out that although prostitution has been curbed to a few nights a week in the past few months, it’s still an issue that affects him on a daily basis.

Often called the oldest profession in the world, prostitution is not new to South Los Angeles.

“It has been around as long as I’ve been in the City of Los Angeles, and that’s been since the 40s,” says City Councilman Bernard Parks, who served as LAPD chief of police between 1997 and 2002.

Popular prostitution spots have historically been restricted to Figueroa Street and parts of Western Avenue. However, due to increased law enforcement and newly introduced legal measures in those areas, activity has shifted north along Western Avenue and has spilled onto Jefferson Boulevard.

“It’s kind of like little fires all over the place. We’ll go trample out one fire, and another one will pop up somewhere else,” says Sgt. Brent McGuyre, who heads the LAPD Southwest station’s vice unit that focuses on prostitution in the area on Western between Adams and Vernon.

In April 2010, the Los Angeles City Attorney’s office obtained a court injunction banning 35 convicted prostitutes and five pimps from walking anywhere on a 6.5-mile stretch on Figueroa Street between Vernon Avenue and El Segundo Boulevard.

imageDubbed the Figueroa Corridor Project, the program was extended in early 2011 to include the Western Corridor, which encompasses McGuyre’s patrol area. A city attorney has been assigned specifically to prosecute all of LAPD Southwest’s prostitution-related arrests.

The result is a 65 percent decrease in prostitution-related crimes in that part of South LA, according to the City Attorney’s website.

Pinning crimes on higher-level prostitution criminals, however, proves to be difficult, says McGuyre, pointing to more prostitutes and pimps using cell phones and the internet to arrange meetings.

When caught, pimps are nearly impossible to convict because their cases require testimony from the prostitutes, who are often either too afraid or unwilling to come forward. Successfully prosecuted cases occur mostly when prostitute witnesses are younger.

“That’s the nature of the beast, unfortunately,” says Sonja Dawson, deputy city attorney and neighborhood prosecutor.

Although the City Attorney files most prostitution cases, budget cuts have made it difficult to keep up, says Mary Molidor, safe neighborhoods deputy for the City Attorney. Staff has been reduced from five to two people handling all the cases in South Los Angeles.

Sharee Gordon, deputy city attorney and neighborhood prosecutor, estimates filing more than 200 prostition-related cases between the two prosecutors since July 2011. She cites the perception of prostitution as a victimless crime as posing another challenge when prosecuting cases.

“They think it’s too low level. They think it’s two consenting adults,” Gordon says.

Jones couldn’t disagree more.

“If you think it’s a victimless crime, just think if you had prostitutes outside of your house every night. Prostitutes servicing johns outside your window,” Jones says. “The fact that you have to walk outside and see condoms on the streets, who wants that? Nobody.”

The road to action

Jones first began noticing the prostitution two years ago during his morning run.

“I would have to wake up on Saturday morning to drive to Venice Beach and see ladies — half naked women — standing on the corner. Then I started noticing condoms on the ground,” Jones recalls.

One night, Jones was up late finishing work, when he glanced outside his window and was shocked to see a woman performing oral sex in front of his house. Jones immediately called the police to report the incident, but was told by an officer to move out of the area if he didn’t want to deal with the prostitution.

“I was just so irate… that I started contacting everyone that I could find an email for: police, city council, media,” Jones says.

Prompted by her husband’s frustration, Smith also began reaching out to city leaders.

imageAfter getting no response, the couple began a Twitter account, @29thAndWestern, in April 2011 documenting the activity in their neighborhood with the hopes that their posts would go viral on the internet.

But what began as a way to vent soon became a campaign to raise awareness and alert the police.

“Twitter gave us a voice when no one was listening to us. We document in real time what is happening. It is out there for everyone to see. That makes it harder for the police or City Council to ignore the problem,” says Smith, who Tweets almost everyday.

The couple also began posting submissions from their less tech-savvy neighbors and directing their tweets towards non-profit organizations, their City Council representative Bernard Parks and their local LAPD police station.

Jones says most of their complaints fell largely on deaf ears until Parks, who represents Council District 8, organized a neighborhood meeting on June 22, 2011 inviting community members and representatives from the LAPD and City Attorney’s office.

Residents were able to voice their concerns over a lackadaisical response from the police department and quality of life issues, such as children seeing prostitution activity on their way to school, condoms strewn on front lawns, and evening noise.

“All of that is new to us, and it’s very ugly to look at and see in our community, says Sylvia Williams, who has lived in South LA all her life. “I’ve watched the neighborhood change and drastically go down.”

Williams’ mother and sister live on Western and Florence Avenue.

“From that meeting, we kind of got a blueprint of what the community saw and what they thought was important,” says Parks’ chief of staff Bernard Parks Jr.

However, Jones and Smith came away from the meeting disappointed.

“What really frustrated us at the meeting initially was that they had [said]… they’re not going to be able to get rid of prostitution… and how hard of a problem [it is] to combat,” Jones says. “In some ways, it sounds disingenuous because we know they’re not going to get rid of prostitution forever, but we’re just looking to get rid prostitution out of our block.”

“By the time anything happens, it’ll probably be 6 months later. I mean this is our daily life. It just doesn’t seem like a priority,” Smith complains.

Parks understands their frustration, but warns the community of having unrealistic hopes.

“When you’re talking to people, you hate to say you have to lower their expectations, but if a problem has been there for 60 years, there’s little expectation that it’s going to go away over night,” Parks counters.

Since the meeting, Parks’ office has pushed for daily police patrols along Western Avenue and secured street lighting upgrades. Tree trimming is set to begin early this year.

However, in emails obtained by Intersections South LA, Smith stated that although a few streetlights have been changed to LED lamps, street visibility has only slightly increased. Prostitutes continue to loiter in dark areas, such as alleyways. She wants to see signs put up in the area.

“We can look into it. Have to think about the cost and who will be paying. Our budget is limited,” wrote Cathy Davis, north area field deputy for Parks, in an email.

Smith sees these kinds of responses as unproductive, and wants more leadership from Parks.

“It’s like everything you think of, let’s do this let’s do that. There’s no support and it feels like you’re fighting the prostitutes, the johns and your city council. It’s just crazy,” says Smith, who has also suggested bringing in non-profits and building speed bumps.

Parks’ office is working on planning a follow-up neighborhood meeting to address concerns.

“The meetings only set a course and rechecks to see if we’re going on the right path,” says Parks, who sees his role as more of a facilitator between city resources and his constituents.

“If the community is looking for us to replace them, and that we then take those resources in their place and make them function to solve their problem, I think they and we have missed the boat,” adds Parks.

A night to remember

For their 11th anniversary, Jones and Smith left South LA to get away from the prostitution that had been plaguing their neighborhood. But new surroundings couldn’t erase the facts.

“We still talked about it then, [during] our romantic getaway,” Smith says. “It’s kind of depressing, I guess.”

If it seems like one lone couple is leading the charge in the neighborhood, it’s because they are. Over the course of this investigation, few people were willing to speak about the issue, and many deferred to Jones and Smith.

Richard Parks, head of the West Adams Neighborhood Association, which includes the 29th and Western neighborhood, refused to comment besides acknowledging prostitution as an issue his group is working on.

A November 2011 meeting agenda showed “Prostitution – Western Ave & Hobart Blvd between Adams & Jefferson Blvds” as the second item for discussion.

Repeated requests to speak with families who live on the block have also been rebuffed.

“We feel really alone sometimes. It is a lot. It’s almost like a third job. If we go out to dinner, we’re talking about it,” says Smith, who has tried to rally support among her neighbors by making meeting flyers and encouraging them to contact the police and other city officials.

“The last time I called my dad, he asked, ‘How’s the ‘ho’ patrol going?’” Smith says. “That’s how he greeted me on the phone, and that’s a little depressing in a way.”

Jones agreed. He plans to start a new business soon and would rather not be known as the person “that talks about sex trafficking all the time.”

imageDuring the day, the corner of 29th and Western is quiet.

“Everybody’s afraid of retribution. People don’t want to stick their head out and get hurt, Jones says. “We’re afraid as well of the possibility of violence. We’ve seen girls get beaten up by pimps.”

Will remembers a young woman, who looked about 13 or 14 years old, screaming for help in the middle of the night in June of 2010 as a pimp beat her right in front of the couple’s house.

As Jones dialed 9-1-1, Smith raced out the door yelling for the pimp to stop.

Only one other neighbor came out.

“Evie! Evie! It’s her choice. Let it go,” said her neighbor, caring more about Smith’s safety than the source of the commotion.

The police arrived five minutes later, after the man had forced the young woman into his car.

“It just makes me so angry… you’ll get the whole community out there to see a [car] wreck. Some girl is getting beat to an inch of her life, and nobody comes out of their house,” says an emotional Smith, as she wipes away tears.

It was the first time Smith ever filed a police report, and an incident that she’ll never forget.

LAPD joins the effort

After the neighborhood meeting, LAPD stepped up their efforts along Western Avenue. They encouraged patrols to randomly drive through the afflicted area and conduct more stings to catch prostitutes and johns.

LAPD Southwest also began following and regularly retweeting information posted on @29thAndWestern.

“The fact that LAPD Southwest is actually using [Twitter] to communicate with the community is very cool. It’s progressive,” Jones says.

These initiatives were a direct result of community participation, says McGuyre.

“We were able to get a lot more resources than we could for other areas where we don’t have that support,” McGuyre says. “It’s not that we wouldn’t have given our 100 percent effort, it’s just that it helps.”

LAPD Vice Division handles most prostitution-related crimes, but the unit also regulates gaming, bookmaking, alcohol licenses and pornography. As a result, Vice must split its time among crimes that need their full attention.

At LAPD Southwest, the Vice Division has eight people, and struggles to keep up with changing crime patterns.

“We could obviously use more officers. That’s always an ongoing battle,” says Sean Anderson, a senior lead officer with LAPD Southwest. It’s “not always easy, especially now with the budget and economy.”

Parks says law enforcement should focus more on how it allocates resources rather than how many resources it has. He suggests adjusting work schedules to 8-hour shifts spread out among more days. LAPD officers currently work 10-hour shifts on four days or 12-hour shifts on three days.

“They have more police officers than they had at any time in their history. I don’t understand how their answer to anything could be we’re shorthanded,” Parks says.

LAPD grew by 679 officers from 2005 to 2010, bringing the total up to nearly 10,000. When measured per capita, however, Los Angeles trails behind major cities such as New York.

While the New York Police Department has about one police officer for every 240 people, LAPD has about one officer for every 380 people.

Due to tight budgets, LAPD has also cut back on overtime hours, resulting in less time for officers to patrol, process criminals, write reports, and clock out on time.

“Before… if there were 20 prostitutes out there, we could keep arresting them,” McGuyre says. “But now I know about 4 hours before [the end of a] shift, I got to shut it down.”

Prostitutes, however, can work at any hour of the day, and when the policing ends, residents are left with little tools besides a phone call to the LAPD to stop the activity.

“A lot of [police] don’t care, because they see it everyday. If you see a person doing the same thing, [it’s like] ok we’ll arrest them. We’ll take them and lock them up. They’ll get out, and then they’re out doing the same thing,” Williams says.

Police officers cite difficult requirements that need to be met before making an arrest as a primary challenge. For prostitution, officers must prove that a person is loitering for prostitution or has taken action to engage in prostitution.

“In my head, I may know she’s a prostitute, but I can’t just pull up and [arrest her], I have to establish that fact,” Anderson said.

Prostitution is a misdemeanor crime, which means those who get arrested face relatively mild punishments, such as fines and jail time. However, California’s shifting of state prisoners to county jails is forcing police to release inmates charged with minor crimes earlier than normal to prevent overcrowding.

imageJones and Smith can hear traffic increase at the intersection of 29th and Western at night, when the johns slow down to talk to prostitutes.

Prostitutes and johns end up being some of the first let out. Many are held in jail for as little as one night and then released with probation.

McGuyre has even heard of a woman who was serving six separate probations for prostitution at the same time.

“I doubt that 98 percent of these girls once we arrest them are going to stop prostituting. I just am hoping they move somewhere else to be honest with you,” McGuyre says.

From January to October of 2011, Southwest Vice made 245 prostitution arrests, a 54 percent increase from last year.

“Unfortunately, like a lot of the crimes we deal with, we can’t solely arrest our way out of the problem. That’s where we try to get some other help, especially from the community,” McGuyre says.

A lone couple fights back

After witnessing a pimp severely beat a young woman in front of her house, Smith had a change of heart. Instead of approaching prostitution strictly as a penal issue, she looked for social alternatives.

“What woman really wants to be out there? What is her life story that she ended up standing on a corner?” Smith asks.

A careful search yielded few reputable programs in Los Angeles, so she approached the Mary Magdalene Project, a nonprofit based in Van Nuys that provides support services to prostitutes.

According to emails obtained by Intersections, MMP needed a community partner that would provide a venue for their group to meet once a week and support from judges, public defenders and city attorneys to create a prostitute diversion program that offers job training, education and other support services.

However, the city of Los Angeles has its own prostitute diversion program, which made it difficult to garner the support necessary to bring MMP to South LA, Smith says.

The City Attorney’s office sends qualified prostitutes to MMP, but it often depends on circumstances, such as where the prostitute is from and MMP program resources, Gordon says.

In the city’s prostitute diversion program, johns attend an eight-hour class, where speakers talk about the legal and health consequences of prostitution. Prostitutes are offered a five-week program that includes drug rehabilitation, job training and other social services.

Only first-time johns and prostitutes are allowed to participate in the City’s program. Those who finish are able to avoid incarceration. Multiple offenders face minimum jail times ranging from 45 to 90 days, which are often reduced because of jail overcrowding.

As a result, many prostitutes choose to serve their short sentences instead of completing the rigorous program. Those that do choose to enroll, often drop out or are caught prostituting again later. Repeat john offenders, however, are rare.

“A lot of times, [prostitutes] are too entrenched. Five weeks is not enough. It’s kind of like they go through the motions to get rid of the case, but it’s not really a life change,” says Gordon, who has seen girls as young as 13 years old selling their body.

Jennifer Jackson, a former prostitute in South LA and Oakland, says the desire to stop prostituting has to come from within.

“I wanted all along for my life to be in order. I wanted to be better. I wanted my kids, and I had to realize even without my kids, what about me? What about my life? What do I want for me?” Jackson says.

MMP declined to comment on the matter specifically, but Donna Sarrulo, outreach coordinator for MMP, says her organization has no plans to expand to Los Angeles in the near future.

Although Smith failed to bring MMP to South LA, she continues to follow up with city officials and police to check on their progress.

“I didn’t choose this. This came into my area. This chose us. If I was picking a cause — I don’t know — it might be save the animals or something, but not this,” Smith says.

A silver lining

After making a few rounds in their car, Jones and Smith drive home, breathing a sigh of relief. They had seen multiple women working the corners along Western Avenue, but the traffic on their street was quiet.

Jones started off, “Sometimes it seems so oppressing in our lives, but the encouraging thing is…”

“Tonight,” Smith interrupts. “This is a huge success.”

“We haven’t even called [the police]… for some reason, it’s working. A combination of all these different efforts is making progress,” says Jones, referring to the Twitter community and increased LAPD presence.

Although the couple has seen less prostitution in their neighborhood, they aren’t letting go of the fight anytime soon. In addition to their day jobs, they expect to continue tweeting, contacting media and putting pressure on city officials.

“Our worst fear is the police stop coming, and then it just goes back to a whole clown car of prostitutes parking in front of our house,” says Jones, recounting previous incidents.

If that happens, the couple is considering moving out of the neighborhood.

“There’s got to be a breaking point,” Jones says.

Until then, they hope their efforts will encourage others to get more involved and help build a better community.

“Maybe this is a pipe dream, but I am optimistic that the neighborhood is going to go back to the way it was,” Smith says. “I’m hoping we’ll be able to get our lives back.”

Will Jones and Evie Smith are not the couple’s real names. They have been changed to protect their identity.

Voices of 90037: Iona Diggs

imageFor the past four months, journalist and USC student Melissa Leu visited the monthly meetings of the neighborhood council Voices of 90037. During her time, she found out a lot about how hyper-local politics operate in underserved communities. Voices of 90037 represent the a strip just north of Watts. It sits between the 110 and Flower Street, south of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to 62nd Street.

Leu captures the challenges and inspiration of the Voices of 90037 through a series profiling members of the council.

Voices of 90037 Neighborhood Council Chair Iona Diggs has served on the council since its inception 8 years ago. Although she’s retired now, Diggs stays active in her community through volunteer work with the LAPD and neighborhood council duties.

Voices of 90037: Kenneth Ward

imageFor the past four months, journalist and USC student Melissa Leu visited the monthly meetings of the neighborhood council Voices of 90037. During her time, she found out a lot about how hyper-local politics operate in underserved communities. Voices of 90037 represent the a strip just north of Watts. It sits between the 110 and Flower Street, south of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to 62nd Street.

Leu captures the challenges and inspiration of the Voices of 90037 through a series profiling members of the council.

Kenneth Ward became an Area 1 representative for the Voices of 90037 Neighborhood Council to fight for his senior citizens. As a manager for Stovall Terrace, a senior citizen housing complex, Ward says being a board member is lots of hard work, but very rewarding. In his four years as a representative, he’s pushed to create a better community through more police patrols and expanding senior citizen housing.

Come back Friday, January 6, for the next profile!

Voices of 90037: Angelica Cookson

imageFor the past four months, journalist and USC student Melissa Leu visited the monthly meetings of the neighborhood council Voices of 90037. During her time, she found out a lot about how hyper-local politics operate in underserved communities. Voices of 90037 represent the a strip just north of Watts. It sits between the 110 and Flower Street, south of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to 62nd Street.

Leu captures the challenges and inspiration of the Voices of 90037 through a series profiling members of the council.

Voices of 90037 Treasurer Angelica Cookson moved from Mexico to Los Angeles nearly 4 years ago. Almost immediately upon arrival, she got involved with the Neighborhood Council and began her quest to increase community participation.

Come back Friday, December 30, for the next profile!

Voices of 90037: Carol Black

imageFor the past four months, journalist and USC student Melissa Leu visited the monthly meetings of the neighborhood council Voices of 90037. During her time, she found out a lot about how hyper-local politics operate in underserved communities. Voices of 90037 represent the a strip just north of Watts. It sits between the 110 and Flower Street, south of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to 62nd Street.

Leu captures the challenges and inspiration of the Voices of 90037 through a series profiling members of the council.

Voices of 90037 Vice Chair Carol Black has lived in South LA since 1954. Originally on the Vermont-Harbor Neighborhood Council, Black became one of the founders of Voices of 90037 when Vermont-Harbor was decertified about 9 years ago.

Come back Friday, December 23, for the next profile!

Voices of 90037 Neighborhood Council faces money freeze

Normandie Elementary School auditorium stood nearly empty at the start time of the Voices of 90037 Neighborhood Council meeting on Tuesday night. At about 6:30 pm, the room held more community members than board members.

Not until nearly an hour later did the last board member arrive, allowing the neighborhood council to reach a quorum and get started. A quorum is the minimum number of people needed to hold a meeting.

Below are some highlights from the night.

The Department of Neighborhood Empowerment (DONE) froze the neighborhood council’s bank account, because it does not have an approved neighborhood council budget on file for the current fiscal year.

Treasurer Angelica Cookson said that she and two other Board Members had personally dropped off the budget approved at last month’s meeting at DONE’s headquarters in Downtown Los Angeles.

Cookson cited DONE’s high employee turnover rate resulting in many shuffled papers lost in the transition process as a possible reason for the missing budget. She plans to follow up with DONE to clear up the confusion.
Until then, Voices of 90037 will not be able to access the $40,500 DONE distributed to each neighborhood council for this fiscal year.

LAPD Officer Sean Anderson gave his crime report before the official opening of the meeting.

· Chain snatching is still going on, but incidents have decreased since last month.

· Car break-ins are on the rise. Recently, a burglar broke into three cars in an underground parking lot in one night. Anderson warns residents to keep valuables stored in cars out of sight.

· LAPD is working on curbing prostitution along the S. Figueroa Corridor and Western Blvd. areas. Police stings are regularly being held to catch prostitutes and “johns.”

Any incidents relating to these and other crimes should be reported to the LAPD Southwest Division at (213) 485-2582.

imageRobert Whitman, the new Manual Arts High School principal, shed light on the current situation at his school. MAHS lost federal funding dedicated to reducing class sizes because it did not meet its student achievement goals for last year. As a result, student-teacher ratios have increased to 32:1 for 9th and 10th graders and 44:1 for 11th and 12th graders.

Whitman also wanted to draw attention to the need for more African-American parent support at the school. “It’s not unusual for me to go to a parent meeting and not see one African-American parent,” Whitman said. About 17 percent of the MAHS student body is African-American.

Two community programs were introduced during public comments.

Semaj Wilbert, a program assistant for the Vermont/Slauson Economic Development Corporation, introduced a new water conservation initiative aimed at residents to reduce their water and energy consumption. The non-profit offers free advice and educational resources on how to make homes and businesses greener. For more information, go to www.vsedc.org.

A new peacekeeping training program is being offered. Classes train and certify people on how to deal with gang-violence in their communities. The orientation will be held Oct. 27th at 6 pm on 1409 West Vernon Ave. For more information, call (323) 295-1904 or (213) 219-9204.

Neighborhood Congress brings together communities

Los Angeles is a sprawling city of diverse communities, but early Saturday morning, September 24 at the 2011 Congress of Neighborhoods, it became one voice.

“No one of us is the expert, but all of us together can figure out how to make our Neighborhood Councils work,” said BongHwan Kim, general manager at the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment.

Local neighborhood council board members and stakeholders arrived early Saturday morning at City Hall to attend the 2011 Congress of Neighborhoods.

Organized by community leaders and stakeholders, the meeting brought together about 600 people from 95 neighborhood councils for a day of training and community action.

“Neighborhood Councils are a core operation of our city,” Los Angeles City Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said during opening remarks. “This system has probably the most robust neighborhood participation in the country.”

Workshops ranged from introductory topics such as how neighborhood councils work and budgeting basics to more complex issues such as community outreach and ethics.

2011 Neighborhood Council Congress Chair Cindy Cleghorn spearheaded the planning committee. She said the purpose of the event was to create “an urgency and more excitement to be involved.”

“It’s important for us as Neighborhood Council representatives and volunteers to lead by example… to inspire others to do the same,” said Cleghorn, who also serves as a secretary on the Sunland-Tujunga Neighborhood Council.

Blanca Zacamitzin, a board member on the MacArthur Park Neighborhood Council since August 2010, said she hoped to apply what she learned at the Congress to solve problems in her area.

“What can I do to change my area?” Zacamitzin asked. “I get the most information I can take.”

Neighborhood Councils were formed by the City Charter mandate in 1999 to “promote more citizen participation in government and make government more responsive to local needs.” Neighborhood Council board members are charged with listening to their communities and representing them city government.

Click here for more photos and coverage of the Congress of Neighborhoods.

The Voices of 90037 struggle to get a quorum

As the clock counted down to the start time for the Voices of 90037 neighborhood council meeting, board members were left to wonder if they would even have enough people to start discussions.

They needed eight members to reach a quorum, but by 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday night, only four people had shown up on time for the first meeting since May.

“The person who loses when we don’t have a functioning board is the community. So let’s try to work together,” said Taneda Larios, a project coordinator for the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment, who had been invited to speak to the council on financial issues.

About 40 minutes later, the last board member finally trickled in.

Larios warned the council about the apparent lack of commitment by both board members and community participants.

“Had you not had quorum tonight, you would be on the path to exhaustive efforts, which would then lead to decertification of your council, which would leave your community without a neighborhood council and no one to speak on their behalf,” said Larios, who encouraged strengthening outreach efforts to fill vacant seats.

Neighborhood councils are charged with bridging the gap between the Los Angeles city government and local communities. Board members are elected or appointed to serve the neighborhood where they live, work or own property.

Voices of 90037 has filled 10 out of 15 seats, which leaves it a small cushion to reach the minimum attendance for a meeting when board members are absent.

If Tuesday’s meeting had not met a quorum, the board would have violated its governing rules. Larios could then file a complaint with the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment, which would then decide whether or not to disband the council.

Faith-based Representative Christine Hicks said some board members are “hanging on” to their seats because of a lack of public support for the council.

No one else is there to take on the seats, Hicks said.

The neighborhood council governs the area roughly between the 110 Freeway and Normandie Avenue, Martin Luther King Boulevard to the north and 62nd Street to the south.

An estimated 67,000 people live in the council’s governing area, said Board Member Kaypers Jackson.