Actor Hill Harper joins Crenshaw students for book signing

imageStudents at Crenshaw High School in South Los Angeles unveiled a book Wednesday that they wrote about their year-long effort to visit the White House.

The students signed copies of their book, “Journey to the White House: An Educational Blueprint for Change in Action,” alongside actor Hill Harper from CSI: NY. Harper was also signing copies of his books “Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny” and “Letters to a Young Sister: DeFINE Your Destiny.”

“We’re all in this together,” Harper said of his passion for helping students. “Education is what we need to be focused on.”

The student authors are part of the Crenshaw Digital Media Team that meets after school to learn about photography, video and other media tools. Their book is being published both in paper and as an eBook.

The journey began when their teacher and mentor Daphne Bradford, founder of the non-profit organization Mother of Many challenged her students to become the type of 21st century classroom that President Obama envisioned in his 2010 Blueprint for Change in Education.

The students wrote letters to the President asking to be invited to the White House. When their requests when unanswered, they decided they needed to make a bigger impression.

They put their multimedia skills to use and created video letters and burned them to a disc, that Bradford was able to hand directly to President Obama when he was in Los Angeles for a rally.

“Once we got invited to come, we had to fund-raise and we made calendars and went around to businesses and organizations,” said Trestan Fairweather, a 17-year-old senior at Crenshaw High School.

When the students got to the White House In September of 2010, they were given a tour by the White House chef and they established a partnership with the White House kitchen to start growing food at home to better the community.

Fairweather’s first impression of the White House was just how enormous it was.

“It was very, very, very big,” he said. “Almost too big for just one family.”

The students also met with the President’s web team who showed them how the White House media presence — Twitter, Facebook, photos, etc. — is run.

“They had really cool advice on how to run our own media too,” Fairweather said.

The book signing was sponsored by the NAACP Beverly Hills/Hollywood chapter.

“We felt this was another opportunity to help these students see a different future for themselves,” said the chapter president Ron Hasson. “We thought Harper could really relate to the kids and give back.”

Order hard copies of the book at ($25.00), digital book purchase for $19.99 at the Barnes and Noble Nook store, iBookstore and ePub at

Elections needed for neighborhood councils, Parks says

imageOne thing was clear after Thursday night’s special city council committee meeting: the neighborhood councils need change. And fast.

Neighborhood council systems are established in several major cities throughout the country, including Tacoma, Wash., and San Diego, Calif.

In communities like South Los Angeles, neighborhood councils are supposed to function as an extension of the city council that involves resident participation. They are supposed to be responsive to local needs and serve as the voice of their constituents to the city government.

Several neighborhood councils make up South Los Angeles including the Empowerment Congress north, central and west councils, the Vermont Harbor Neighborhood Council and the Vernon/Main Neighborhood Council, to name a few.

After holding four special committee meetings throughout the city, Councilmember Bernard Parks said he heard complaints across the board about the 12-year-old neighborhood council system — everything from the councils needing clearly defined rolls to calls for dissolution of the whole system.

“From listening to the four meetings (the election process) seems to be the No. 1 issue,” said Parks, who was recently appointed chair of the Education and Neighborhoods Committee of the Los Angeles City Council.

Elections in the various councils has been cancelled for the last year in an attempt to save money, but council board members and stakeholders urged Parks to reinstate them so that they could elect their peers, rather than having only appointed representatives.

The Department of Neighborhood Empowerment is a network of 90 neighborhood councils throughout Los Angeles and many of the complaints heard Thursday were about its failure to hear complaints from shareholders about abuses of power by members of the councils.

Nora Sanchez from the Greater Echo Park area said she filed a grievance in 2009 because her council wouldn’t provide materials translated into Spanish — a language she believes is spoken by many of the residents in her neighborhood.

“They want the Latinos’ help once it comes time to voting,” Sanchez said. “But they don’t care the rest of the time (if we are informed).”

After getting the runaround for years, Sanchez simply stopped going. She now hopes that Parks will be able to reform the system.

David Rockello, president of the Rampart Village Neighborhood Council, said an easy way to fix the grievance process would be to put everything online.

“There are no forms, there is no real, formal way to complain,” he said. “It’s a venting and a catharsis that people need if there are issues in their neighborhood.”

But reform isn’t good enough for Ida Talalla, an Echo Park resident who previously served on her neighborhood council. She wants the system obliterated, or at least the Great Echo Park Elysian Council.

“The council needs to be investigated by the FBI and de-certified,” Talalla said. “We are going to be the Bell City poster child of neighborhood councils.”

Talalla said that she was pushed out of her neighborhood council as a result of the appointment system that replaced elections and when she tries to voice her opinion now, she said she is verbally harassed and laughed at.

“What does it take to be heard?” she asked Parks.

Parks will be meeting with his committee in the coming weeks to sort through what was said at the various public meetings and make recommendations to the full City Council.

Redistricting Q&A: What is it all about

imageThe opinions have been heard and the votes cast, but do you really understand the fuss over redistricting Los Angeles’ city council districts?

The redistricting commission sent official recommendations to the city council last week — a final map that included significant changes to South Los Angeles districts.

Public hearings on the maps will be held today at 4 p.m. at the Port of Los Angeles, Harbor Commission board room, tomorrow at 4 p.m. at the Van Nuys City Hall council chamber and Wednesday at the City Hall council chamber.

Before you head out to voice your opinion, read this simple Q&A with USC Professor of Political Science Christian Grose about what redistricting actually is and why it’s so important.

Intersections: What is the purpose of drawing new districts every ten years and what is the process supposed to achieve?

Professor Grose: There is a pretty general reason why districts are redrawn at the city, state, congressional levels and that is shifts in population. People move in to areas, people leave areas. Ever since the 1960s, a Supreme Court case has required that legislative districting be approximately equal in population.

City districts also try to achieve population equity standards. Districts are redrawn so that basically each voter is treated equally and that there aren’t some districts with relatively few people and some districts with lots of people.

Intersections: Are there other factors that play into the redistricting, such as wealth of an area, ethnic makeup or politics?

Professor Grose: There is no constitutional mandate regarding wealth of districts or anything of that sort. I know some of the complaints of the districts were that Jan Perry and Bernard Parks weren’t happy because the wealthier areas of their current districts were moved into other districts. That could have an impact representationally on the districts.

The population equity is the first thing that has to be done and the second thing is that voting rights needs to be followed — basically voting rights protections for minority groups that had previously experienced discrimination. They make every vote equal.

And of course, there are a number of other factors that come up like politics. This is a very political process and in the case of South L.A., [council members Jan Perry and Bernard Parks] were on the losing side of the redistricting commission so they have a pretty good right to complain because of the way the political maneuvering went on the commission. I know what’s definitely happened is that [Council President Herb] Wesson, who is the city council chair, his appointee and other members of the city council, have basically boxed out what Perry and Parks represent on the redistricting commission. So part of what is going on is just a power play at the city council level.

Intersections: You mentioned voter rights protections, what can an ethnic group benefit from being part of a majority-minority district?

Professor Grose: All the councils have an equal vote, so what matters is who is in the majority in each district and who is in a winning coalition within each district and who is in a losing coalition in each district.

But to take a step back, in L.A. it’s so multiethnic and multiracial that there are going to be numerous majority-minority districts — which is not the case when redistricting is done in other cities. Demographically the city is so diverse that you have a reasonable chance of having a majority-minority district in the city.

South L.A. is heavily African American and Latino. Depending on what part of South L.A., the districts are potentially going to be majority Black and majority Latino. Before this redistricting there were three districts that elected African American city council members, they were not African American majority districts, as far as I recall. So what’s going in South L.A., is districts are being drawn that are majority Latino plus majority African American, but not just one.

Intersections: What impact does moving districts have on voters and residents in a particular area? For example the parts of Downtown that have been moved out of Jan Perry’s District Nine?

Professor Grose: Any time there is significant redistricting there is a huge impact. A lot of the voters have gotten used to having Jan Perry and now a decent part of Downtown has been cut out of her district, so the voters there who may have wanted to keep her are going to have to learn about a new member of the council.

They’re going to have to interact with them and there is certainly a lot of learning that is going to happen with voters. So the loss is really the relationships that have already been established with the incumbent council member and the current voters — voters that have been shifted have to reconnect with new members of the council, existing coalitions that may have been established have to be worked out and so on.

Los Angeles Urban League to honor Villaraigosa, others

imageAs Black History Month draws to a close, one group in South Los Angeles is just starting a celebration of the future of African Americans.

At a private event kick-off to be held Wednesday night, the Los Angeles Urban League will announce four community leaders who will be honored as “Enduring Legacies” for their contribution to African Americans and other minority groups in Los Angeles.

“Months like Black History Month are really important to preserve heritage as we come together in a melting pot society,” said Dannete Wilkerson, event director for the LAUL. “The freedom we have in America is very extensive … but there are still some imbalances that we need to pay attention to.”

The Urban League aims to honor individuals that it feels give proper focus to those imbalances.

This year’s honorees include Virgil Roberts, an entertainment lawyer and education advocate, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Robert Billingslea, corporate director of urban affairs at Walt Disney Co., and Luis Lainer, co-founder of Bet Tzedek, a nonprofit organization offering legal services to low-income people.

“Each of them are being honored to signify that they stand for the epitome of what we try to do at the league,” Wilkerson said. “They represent community leadership and continued effort in honoring the culture and community of the groups they represent.”

Whitney M. Young (far left) during a civil rights march in D.C.

The recognitions will be formally handed out at an annual celebration on April 25, honoring Whitney M. Young, Jr., an American civil-rights activist who played a large role in the foundation of the Los Angeles Urban League.

“(Young) really leveled the playing field for African Americans in Los Angeles,” Wilkerson said. “We try to honor people who share the same spirit and hope for equality.”

The LAUL will also be announcing an exhibit honoring 90 different organizations and community leaders in Los Angeles that have impacted the African American community, called “The 90 That Built LA.”

The exhibit will be held at the Museum of African American Art located on the third floor of the Macy’s department store at the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza and will open in the fall.

“The African American community, and these organizations in particular, have made significant contributions to the city of Los Angeles and we want to honor that,” Wilkerson said.

The 90 exhibit subjects were selected by the league and voted on by community members. They will be announced during the summer.

Redistricting changes for South LA one step closer

imageAfter what turned into a nine-hour-long meeting on Wednesday, the Los Angeles Redistricting Commission has moved one step closer to solidifying major changes to the city’s council districts, including those in South Los Angeles.

The commission voted Wednesday night to move the Leimert Park and Baldwin Hills area out of Councilman Bernard Park’s 8th District, and into District 10, represented by City Council President Herb Wesson.

Additionally, Councilwoman Jan Perry lost most of Downtown Los Angeles from her 9th District, including the financial district, Little Tokyo and the Civic Center. Under the new boundaries, District 9 retains only the Staples Center and L.A. Live.

The commission also moved the University of Southern California out of Park’s district and into Perry’s.

All of these moves, which were opposed by the majority of public comment at Wednesday night’s meeting, could serve to further impoverish South Los Angeles, said David Roberts, the 9th District’s representative on the commission.

“It becomes more difficult, especially in the case of Downtown, opportunities to leverage resources from a more affluent, wealthier (area) to south of the 10 Freeway,” said Roberts, who opposed the changes to Districts 8 and 9.

In short, by losing Downtown, Perry’s district becomes one of the poorest districts in the city and will no longer be able to afford much of the redevelopment she has been able to accomplish in the past.

One such example is the South Los Angeles Wetlands Park that opened last week, which was funded in part by resources generated from Downtown, Roberts said.

The case is similar in District 8, which is losing its most thriving economic area to District 10.

“(Leimert Park and Baldwin Vista) are the wealthiest parts of the district … not only economically, but politically too because this is where the Black middle class is,” said Earl Hutchinson, president of the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable. “So you’re essentially lopping one of the parts of the district that has economic and political clout.”

Blighted communities in South Los Angeles, in both the 8th and 9th districts, are at great risk for losing resources that fund not only redevelopment of the area but social programs, as well.

“I think there is reason for deep concern on the part of the elected officials and constituents in these areas,” Hutchinson said. “The greatest concern is that we in fact will be even further marginalized at City Hall. Our needs, our wishes have not been taken into consideration by the commission.”

In an ideal world, communities like South Los Angeles, should benefit from where district lines are drawn because resources are allocated evenly, giving underserved communities a greater voice, which is crucial now that the Community Redevelopment Agency has been closed down.

“The CRA used to take care of the issues of blight and poverty, but those tools don’t exist anymore to improve the quality of life for those very vulnerable residents,” Roberts said. “And South LA is where those issues are most acute.”

The map approved last night will be available online Saturday. The next schedule hearing is Wednesday, Feb. 22 at 4 p.m. at Los Angeles City Hall.

Mortgage help offered at Convention Center this weekend

imageHomeowners in South Los Angeles who are struggling with their mortgages or being threatened with foreclosure can seek help this weekend at the Los Angeles Convention Center.

The Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America’s American Dream Tour will be in Los Angeles from Thursday through Monday and all services are completely free.

NACA experts are offering same-day solutions for those hoping to reduce their monthly payments by helping them negotiate with their lenders. They take into consideration budget, income and hardships as well as previous loan information to create modified mortgages.

Those looking to buy homes can sign up for the corporation’s own mortgage plan that touts no downpayment and a 30-year fixed interest rate.

Walk-ins are welcome, but NACA urges people to register online to give lenders time to prepare their file and speedup the day-of process.

You can also visit the registration page to find a list of necessary documents to bring to the workshop.

Reward offered for information in homicide case

imagePolice are looking for three suspects in the stabbing death of 75-year-old Min Yin late last year. The Los Angeles City Council is offering a reward of $50,000 for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of the people responsible for his death.

Yin was assaulted Sept. 2, 2011 at men’s and boy’s clothing shop Joy & Louis Corp at 1320 E. 18th St. near South Central Avenue just south of the 10 Freeway.

Two men entered the shop as a third was exiting, and police say, one of the men stabbed Yin.

Yin, who lived in Arcadia but worked at Joy & Louis, was transported to LAC-USC Medical Center, where he died from his injuries on Dec. 26, 2011.

All three of the men who were in the store are suspects. The man who was seen on video exiting the store is described as a Latino, about 40 years old, six feet tall, weighing about 180 pounds.

imageThe second suspect is thought to be in his 20s, with a tattoo on the left side of his neck, short dark hair and is heavy set at 5 foot, 4 inches.

The third suspect is in his early 30s, is between 5 foot, 5 inches and 5 foot, 8 inches and weighs about 200 pounds. Both are Latino.

Police have released sketches of two of the suspects. Police consider all three armed and extremely dangerous.

Anyone with information can contact Detective Arroyo at 213-486-6840. Anyone wishing to remain anonymous should call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477).

South LA homeowners urged to do energy upgrades

imageLisa Brown received a home energy makeover from Energy Upgrade last Spring.

Lisa Brown remembers rarely having to turn the air conditioner on in her home last summer — making her energy bill unrecognizable.

Last year, Brown, who is an insurance agent in Los Angeles, won a home energy makeover contest from Energy Upgrade California, a program encouraging California residents to make their homes more energy efficient.

“It’s great, now that my home has been upgraded the temperature always stays the same in my house, I don’t get dust coming up through the floorboards anymore either,” Brown said.

Brown lives in a one-story ranch style home in Baldwin Hills and as part of the contest she had new insulation, heating, toilets, shower faucets and a new water heater installed.

“Our energy bill is about 20 percent lower than we were paying before the upgrade,” Brown said.

Additionally, Brown’s home value jumped up $30,000 — a 6 percent increase from its previous value of $495,000.

Through the Energy Upgrade program, South Los Angeles residents are eligible for up to about $5,300 in rebates when they make similar upgrades to their home.

Homeowners who take part in the program can receive up to $4,000 in rebates from the county, as well as up to $1,280 in rebates from Southern California gas while funds last.

imageInsulation added to Lisa Brown’s crawl space prevents dust and cold from coming up into her home.

Participants can choose one of three upgrade packages offered by Energy Upgrade. The basic package includes attic insulation and appliance safety testing among other installations — upgrades that are estimated to amount in a 10 percent savings on your energy bill.

“We really want people to be looking at their home as a comprehensive energy system and how they can make it more efficient,” said Doris Do, project manager for the Energy Champions program – a pilot program that is part of Energy Upgrade California in Los Angeles County.

But there are other reasons to complete the upgrade as well, including health issues, money savings and the environment.

“Upgrading your home will greatly reduce the amount of indoor air pollution that causes a lot of health problems with young children,” Do said.

The average cost of a basic upgrade in Los Angeles County is about $6,600, but it varies per house based on the size of the house and extent of the project. Rebates vary based on the amount of work done.

“We know it’s a large chunk of money for people to put up front, but we think it’s an investment that people should make, especially while rebates are available to help with that cost” Do said.

Energy Upgrade has several financing options, including lower interest rates for low-income families.

To participate in the program, homeowners need to use designated contractors, found on the Energy Upgrade website and set up an assessment and to complete upgrades.

Another benefit of the Energy Upgrade program is that participants can designate local organizations that the Coalition has designated as “energy champions” and the program will donate to those organizations.

There are about a dozen energy champions in the South Los Angeles area, including the Education Consortium of Central Los Angeles (ECCLA) that works to improve education throughout Central and South Los Angeles.

Each time the organization is designated for a basic upgrade it will receive $100. For an advanced upgrade, the organization will receive $500 from the program. Participating homeowners will need to submit a Homeowner Action Form at the time of their upgrade to make sure their organization receives the donation.

“We really hope that people who see the program and use the program will designate us as their energy champion,” said Jacqueline Hamilton, executive director of ECCLA. “That way, they can benefit local schools and do a lot of good without costing anything from their pocket.”

Clinic to expand services in South L.A.

Angela Cruz wouldn’t have access to health care without St. John’s Well Child and Family Center. The South Central Los Angeles resident lives near St. John’s clinics at Hoover and West 58th Streets.

“St. John’s is vital to this community. Because whether or not we have money to pay for health insurance, we are able to receive medical services and attention,” Cruz said through a translator.

imageThe St. John’s clinics are located on the corner of Hoover Street and W 58th Street in South Central.

On Wednesday morning, St. John’s broke ground for an expansion project on two of its clinics.

The clinics provide health care services for residents of South Central Los Angeles. The organization hopes that the expansion will help it serve an additional 8,968 people a year.

“We are throwing the first punch in creating a health reform zone in South Los Angeles because our community deserves nothing less,” said St. John’s President Jim Mangia.

imageJim Mangia

With the expansion, 15 exam rooms and eight dental chairs will be added to the Louis C Frayser and S. Mark Taper Health Centers. The project is projected to cost $11.2 million.

St. John’s provides more than 100,000 health care visits a year in South Los Angeles where the lack of health care access is staggering compared to the other parts of the state.

In South Los Angeles the ratio of residents to physicians is 8,603:1, while the statewide ratio is only 190:1, according to St. John’s.

L.A. Care is a public health plan that helps low income individuals and families afford health services. The organization refers a lot of their clients to St. John’s clinics. Its president, Howard Kahn, said the St. John’s expansion is a step in the right direction to providing universal health care by 2014 as part of the Affordable Care Act.

“We need an expanded St. John’s to deal with the heal needs of South Los Angeles,” Kahn said. “When health reform rolls out there are going to be a lot more people eligible for this care and the expansion will help us provide that.”

The project is set to be complete by the Spring.

BusinessSource Center to open in South LA

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announced today that six BusinessSource Centers will be reopening across Los Angeles, including a location in South Los Angeles.

The centers are designed to offer real-world expertise, training and support for small businesses in their vicinity, according to a press release from the mayor’s office.

“Small businesses are the backbone of our local economy,” Villaraigosa said. “We are reopening the BusinessSource Centers to give entrepreneurs the tools they need to create jobs and grow their businesses.”

The South Los Angeles BusinessSource Center, which is run by the Vermont Slauson Economic Development Corporation on Slauson Avenue, will offer services from helping businesses navigate city permits and regulations to marketing and financial management workshops.

Other locations include East Los Angeles, Central/West Los Angeles, the Harbor area and two locations in the Valley.

The centers are part of the mayor’s campaign to create jobs that includes his proposals for improving LAX and the Port of Los Angeles as well as creating a new transportation network in the city.