South LA kids get free bikes



imageA group of 42 lucky teens got free bikes and helmets and a lesson on cycling safety during a special event held on Monday afternoon in South LA.

The non-profit organization A Place Called Home and employees from United Health Care partnered up for the bicycle giveaway.

The 42 bikes were donated as part of an effort to fight obesity and promote healthier lifestyles by engaging youths in daily exercise and proper nutrition.

imageProfessional cyclist Chris Jones, who’s part of the UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team, played basketball with some of the kids and shared training and nutrition tips with the youths.

The teens were selected for the bikes because they’re involved in A Place Called Home programs.

A Place Called Home is a non-profit in South Central Los Angeles that offers a safe haven for underserved youth with the objective of helping them find direction in their lives through programs in education, arts, and well-being.

Kaiser to move in at Marlton Square



After more than 25 years of abandonment, plans for redevelopment and litigation, construction will finally begin in Marlton Square.

imageCouncilmember Bernard C. Parks proudly announced yesterday during an on-site press conference that Kaiser Permanente will be moving in to the current empty lot.

“Today marks a major achievement for the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw community,” said Parks. “Twenty-eight years ago, Mayor Tom Bradley mandated that the Santa Barbara Plaza be completely rehabilitated.

Now, twenty-five years later, we are here at the site once known as Santa Barbara Plaza, after many starts and stops to actually welcome a cornerstone and major tenant of the project Kaiser Permanente.”

Kaiser Permanente recently closed escrow on an 8.65-acre portion of land at 4033-4081 Marlton Avenue.

“Now we can begin planning an outpatient medical office building that brings medical services closer to our members living and working in the area,” stated Norair Jemjemian, Chief Operating Officer, Kaiser Permanente, West Los Angeles Medical Center.

Parks said the facility will not only “provide first-class health care to a community that is sorely in need of care,” it will “become an economic engine for new employees and provide a customer base for the surrounding shopping centers in the area.”

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Councilman Parks, surrounded by community members, celebrate the arrival of Kaiser Permanente to Marlton Square. (Photos: Melissa Runnels)

Marlton Square was previously known as the Santa Barbara Plaza. In 1984, Mayor Tom Bradley first called for redevelopment of the shopping center.

In 1996, former LA Laker and entrepreneur Magic Johnson won the exclusive right to negotiate and spent five years working with the city through the planning and entitlement process, but lost the deal in 2002 to Capital Vision Equities, a development group run by developer Chris Hammond. Unfortunately, Capital Vision Equities defaulted on the project in 2004.

In an interview with Intersections South LA in March of this year, Carolyn Hull, South Los Angeles Regional Administrator for the CRA/LA explained “Marlton Square was a tremendously difficult project to move forward with because of the multiple ownerships…There were over 40 owners and 30 tenants that had to be relocated.”

Another big problem was that the bank that loaned Capital Vision Equities $36 million to buy up the approximately 50 parcels of land, went bankrupt in 2006.

When Las Vegas-based USA Capital dissolved, it left over $962 million in assets with more than 6,000 investors. After bankruptcy settlement agreement was reached on December 29, 2010, Commercial Mortgage Managers (CMM) – became majority owners, with approximately 80% control of the total property, with the CRA/LA in possession or negotiations with the majority of the remaining 20% of the land.

According to Bernard Parks’ office, CMM is currently in negotiations to sell the remaining acres of Marlton Square. Several bids have been submitted for the retail portion of Marlton Square and a developer will be chosen soon.

“We have narrowed it down to two and once we have finalized our choice we will begin planning what will be built on the rest of the remaining land. It is our hope to build sit-down restaurants and shops but nothing is confirmed,” said Parks’ spokesperson Brittney Marin.

While the announcement of Kaiser Permanente’s development of the land is an accomplishment for Parks, the city has to approve the plans before construction can begin.

Here’s a video of the annoucement, by reporter Melissa Runnels:

Here’s a Marlton Square history timeline provided by Parks’ office:image

Wooten Center announces summer camp dates



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Students during Summer Fun Camp 2011.

School’s almost out for the summer. The last day of classes for schools in the LAUSD system is June 19. This means that parents will have to start thinking about how to keep their children occupied for the next two months.

The Al Wooten Jr. Heritage Center, which has been organizing low-cost summer camps for South LA kids since 2008, has just announced registration is now open for its Summer Fun Camp. This year’s camp will be held July 2 to August 24 with a full-day program Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Children ages 8-14 get to focus on fine-tuning their math, reading, writing, science and other skills, while having a little fun. Organizers take the kids out on weekly field trips.

The cost is $50 per week, per child, but there are family discounts for households with three or more children enrolled. There’s also a $30 registration fee per household.

“The Wooten Center has a heavy emphasis on college preparation from grades 3 to 12,” says executive director Naomi McSwain. “Our goal is to help students achieve their goals for higher education starting as early as possible.”

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Students during Summer Fun Camp 2011.

The objective of Summer Fun Camp is to prepare students for their next grade level. Organizers also hold “Monthly College Days” to expose students to college admissions requirements and extracurricular activities such as step dance.

Among the summer fun things planned: weekly field trips to World on Wheels, The California Science Center, Aquarium of the Pacific and Knott’s Berry Farm, included at no extra cost. There will also be a free basketball camp for girls and boys on the final week of the summer camp.

A Summer Fun Carnival will kickoff the summer camp on Saturday, June 16 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

To register for Summer Fun Camp, call camp director Alexis Marion at (323) 756-7203, ext. 29, or email [email protected] For more information, visit the center’s Web site at www.wootencenter.org.

About the Wooten Center

Housed in five buildings with a library, computer lab, teen room and a basketball court, it serves more than 400 students annually through its four programs: the CollegeTrek Afterschool Program for ages 8-18 and the Street Soldiers gang prevention discussion group for teens; The CollegeTrack College Readiness Program for high school students which provides SAT-prep classes, financial aid workshops, and assistance with admissions, financial aid and scholarship applications; And the Summer Fun Camp.

The Wooten Center is named after a 35-year-old man killed in a drive-by shooting in 1989 in Los Angeles. Wooten’s mother, Myrtle Faye Rumph, founded the center in 1990 to provide a safe and caring place for children to go afterschool.

South LA first graders talent show raises funds for trip



imageA group of 21 first grade students from KIPP Empower Academy (KEA) in South LA are heading to Orlando this summer. The six-year-old steppers and breakdancers, known as StepUP—BreakDOWN, recently won a national competition and were selected to perform at the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) School Summit, an annual learning and community-building event that attracts teachers, school staff, funders and community partners from all over the country who want to transform public education.

In order to attend the summit, the kids needed to raise funds for the trip. So, they held a talent show fundraiser this past Saturday. The event was a success and now the students will get a chance to participate in the KIPP School Summit.

imageThe support the students received “will give them an opportunity to show people from all over the nation that with hard work and perseverance, they can do anything,” said Mike Kerr, KEA founding principal in a statement.

In order to be on the step and breakdance team, the students must maintain good grades and demonstrate positive character at the South Los Angeles KIPP elementary school.

KEA is a college-preparatory, tuition-free public charter elementary school in South Los Angeles that serves about 230 kindergarten and first grade students in 2011-12, with plans to add one grade each year until it reaches capacity in 2014 with 550 students in kindergarten through fourth grade.

You can see an amateur video of Saturday’s performance here:

LAPD makes arrests in murders of USC students



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USC grad students Ying Wu and Ming Qu were shot to death on April 11.

Police told the LA Times that the cellphone of one of two USC graduate students murdered last month helped lead police to the men they believe are responsible for their deaths. Apparently, one of the men arrested on Friday took a cellphone from one of the victims and detectives were able to locate him by tracking the phone’s signals.

The LAPD arrested Bryan Barnes, 20, of Los Angeles, and Javier Bolden, 19, of Palmdale on Friday in connection with the murders of Ying Wu and Ming Qu. The Chinese graduate students were shot to death near the University of Southern California campus last month.

Barnes and Bolden were booked at LAPD’s 77th Street Station jail, where they are being held without bail pending arraignment.

During a press conference on Friday, Chief Charlie Beck said he was proud of his investigators who worked “tirelessly” on the case: “This was a case that reverberated throughout Los Angeles as well as internationally. This was a case that needed to be solved.”

Police sources told the LA Times that shells found near where the students were shot to death on April 11 linked the two suspects to two other attempted homicides.

24th Street Theatre directors make LA Weekly’s Best LA People



imageLA Weekly’s 2012 Best of L.A. PEOPLE issue came out on Thursday and 24th Street Theatre husband and wife team Jay McAdams and Debbie Devine were featured as part of what the publication calls “the coolest, most influential people in LA – people who are doing things their own original way.”

McAdams is the executive director and Devine is the artistic director of the wonderful 24th Street Theatre, that provides arts education and does community outreach in South LA.

Check out their profile here.

For the full list of this year’s LA PEOPLE, go here.

Public Allies brings leadership to South LA community



imageAs part of its ongoing efforts to build leadership within the community, Public Allies Los Angeles hosted an event yesterday at Mercado La Paloma promoting the work of organizer Paul Schmitz. The author of “Everyone Leads: Building Leadership from the Community Up” and the national CEO of Public Allies, spoke to a crowd of about 50 people interested in creating positive change within their community.

“It’s important to build leadership capacity, because it’s up to you to come up with solutions that will help change your neighborhoods,” Benjamin Torres, CEO of CDTech told the participants before introducing Schmitz.

image“Everyone Leads” is Schmitz’s first book. His focus is not on how to lead organizations, but about how to lead communities. Throughout the course of his presentation, he spoke about the importance of civic participation, community building and leadership, guiding the audience through some exercises.

Most of those present are part of the Public Allies program class of 2012. The 10-month intensive program, run by Public Allies Los Angeles affiliate CDTech, identifies young adults who want to make an impact and promote social change in their communities. The AmeriCorps program combines skills training, personalized coaching and active community building projects rooted in social justice framework, with full-time, paid fellowships and internships in nonprofit organizations.

“The goal of the program is to encourage allies to formulate projects that will impact and serve the needs of the community. It’s a practicum to create leadership and build coalitions to create change,” explains Vanessa Vela-Lovelace, senior program manager and director of recruitment of the Public Allies-CDTech program.

“It’s a fantastic action-oriented program where participants see how they change themselves and their community,” says Vela-Lovelace.

Public Allies Los Angeles says it has developed more than 200 young leaders since 1999.

The Public Allies class of 2012 is currently in its eight month of the program. There are 31 people participating, with about 15 from South LA.

The deadline for the next program is June 1st. If you’re interested in being a “public ally,” click here to apply to the 2013 program.

USC signs coliseum lease



imageWith a vote of 8-1, the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum Commission today approved a lease agreement with the University of Southern California that will give the university control of day-to-day operations of the stadium and neighboring Sports Arena for as long as 42 years.

Commissioner and City Councilman Bernard Parks was the only one to vote against the deal. In a 24-page letter he submitted to the commission, he expressed his opposition to the deal. Among his concerns, he didn’t like the idea of including a provision giving USC exclusive revenue for naming rights. He also opposed limiting the number of public events that can be held at the Coliseum, saying it didn’t include enough benefits to the surrounding community.

Parks has previously argued the process has been rushed. On his website, he states “Concerns over the preservation, accessibility and responsibility of the Coliseum are warranted, especially given the secretive nature in which this process has taken place.”

Negotiations between the commission and USC began in September.

Under the terms of the lease, the commission continues to oversee both buildings, but USC will control day-to-day operations, including scheduling of events and possible naming rights negotiations.

The state of California actually owns the land on which the Coliseum and Sports Arena sits. The state leased the land under a 100-year agreement that expires in 2054. The deal with USC gives the university an initial term of 20 years, with five renewal options that could extend it to 2054.

USC officials have said they’re committed to investing more than $70 million to replace the seats, fix the locker rooms and make any other renovations that may be needed.

Management of the Coliseum has been under scrutiny for months. Recently, six former Coliseum managers or contractors were indicted, charged with conspiracy, bribery and embezzlement, accused of stealing millions of dollars.

LéaLA returns to convention center



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The second edition of LéaLA, the Spanish Book Fair of Los Angeles kicks off today at the Los Angeles Convention Center, South Hall K. It runs through Sunday, May 13.

This free event seeks to encourage reading, promote and facilitate access to Spanish-language books, while recognizing the contributions of the U.S. Latino population, their culture and customs. LéaLA is an initiative backed by the University of Guadalajara at Los Angeles and the Guadalajara International Book Fair (FIL), the most important book fair in the Spanish-speaking world.

Due to the popularity of the inaugural LéaLA in 2011, this year, the book fair will be three times larger. The exhibit includes space for book sales, author talks and book signings, discussion forums, plenary sessions, poetry recitals, and an area for children with interactive workshops and storybook readings by celebrities.

More than 130 authors and 180 publishing houses from all of Latin America will participate in the event. There will be 200 stands. Last year, there were just 80.

The literary program will include international authors such as Sergio Ramírez, ex vice president of Nicaragua; Paco Ignacio Taibo, who will present his most recent novel “El Álamo”; Francisco Martín Moreno, one of the best-selling authors of Mexico and Enrique Krauze, historian, essayist, and Mexican author, director of the cultural magazine, “Letras Libres.”

LéaLA’s will also offer three concerts at the Nokia Theatre at L.A, for every evening of the book fair.

The concert line up is Gloria Trevi on Friday the 11th; Los Tigres del Norte on Saturday the 12th; and Calle 13, Illya Kuryaki and Los Valderrama Sunday the 13th. Those events are not free and require the purchase of tickets.

The first edition of LeaLA attracted more than 36,000 visitors, despite the fact that it took place at the same time as the LA Times’ Festival of Books. Organizers say they expect this year’s expansion of LéaLA to generate at least double the audience.

For more information on the schedule of events, click here

Application deadline for special scholarships



The Shawn Carter Scholarship Foundation offers scholarship opportunities to any under served students across the United States who want to pursue a college education.

The SCSF provides individual grants ranging from $1500 to $2500 to students who qualify. Students can reapply every year from first date of admission to graduation. The grant can be used to cover tuition expenses, books, lab fees, travel and some living costs. In return, all Shawn Carter Scholars are required to “give back” by doing community service and by being mentors to younger, aspiring Shawn Carter Scholars.

To qualify, applicants must be high school seniors, college students, or pursuing studies at a vocational or trade school. They must be U.S. Citizens between the ages of 18-25 and have a minimum GPA of 2.5.

The SCSF is unique because it offers scholarships to applicants with hardship circumstances, who would normally not be eligible, but dream of going to college or learning a trade. Among some of the previously accepted candidates: single mothers, children who attend alternative schools, students who have earned a GED, and students who have been previously incarcerated.

Interested students must complete an on-line application no later than the deadline date of May 15, 2012. Click here to apply.