• Demonstration Set for Most Recent Unarmed Man Killed by LBPD: RL NEWS Briefs June 2, 2015

    LONG BEACH — A demonstration is scheduled to demand police transparency after 20-year-old Ferad Morad was killed by a Long Beach Police Department officer.

    The demonstration will take place at 4 p.m. June starting from Lincoln Park and continuing twice  around the Long Peach Police Department.

    Officials said  Morad, who they believe was under the influence of some type of drug, threatened to attack an officer. Officers tried using a Taser, when that didn’t work, they opened fire.

    LBPD officers were dispatched to the 4600 block of East 15th Street at about 7:30 p.m. They were responding reports from the Long Beach Fire Department that Morad, who was acting violently, had jumped through the glass of a second-story window, officials said. The recent release of the 9-1-1 call for the fire department shows that the caller not only indicated that Morad was acting “a little violent” but also was unarmed.

    A 12-year veteran officer found Morad in an alley. He reportedly had a large cut and was covered in blood. The officer then commanded Morad to stop walking so he could be given medical treatment, but Morad advanced toward the officer and threatened to attack him, having used his Taser with no avail, the officer opened fire, officials said.

    Morad was taken into custody and fire personnel began life-saving measures before transporting him to a local hospital. He was later pronounced dead.

    The incident is pending an investigation by the LBPD and the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office. The officer has not been identified. The officer, whose name has not been released, has been assigned to a non-field position pending the investigation. This is the fourth officer-involved shooting in Long Beach and the second fatal shooting this year.

    Family members, who were notified of Morad’s death on May 29, reportedly have told other media outlets that Morad was planning to attend Cal State Long Beach in the fall. At El Camino Real Charter High School he excelled at speech and debate. A vigil will take place at 8 p.m. June 3 at Warner Center Park in Woodland Hills.

    A crowdfunding page has been set up at GoFundMe  to help cover funeral expenses for those interested in helping.

    Details: www.gofundme.com/vuxmz4, www.facebook.com/events/413130255555995
    Venue: Warner Center Park, 5800 Topanga Canyon Blvd., Woodland Hills

    Suspected Gang Member Charged with Human Trafficking

    LONG BEACH — On May 28, Leevi Matuni Maseuli was charged with human trafficking and causing bodily injury of woman, Long Beach Police Department officials said.

    The suspect is suspected of forcing the woman to have sex for money and causing severe injuries, including traumatic injuries to her face for more than two months. If she did not make $500 a day, she was severely punished.

    Maseuli was arrested May 21. The woman came to the attention of detectives on May 20. She was immediately taken to a local hospital and offered services.

    Maseuli is being at the Men’s Central Jail on $225,000 bail.

    His next court appearance is on June 12.

    Anyone with information regarding this investigation should call: (562) 570-7219.

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  • HCBF Appoints New Executive Director: RL NEWS Briefs June 3, 2015

    HCBF Appoints New Executive Director
    SAN PEDRO — On June 2, the Board of Directors of the Harbor Community Benefit Foundation announced the appointment of Ben Schirmer, a San Pedro resident, as its new executive director.
    Schirmer has worked in San Pedro since 2003. For the past 12 years, he has served as the executive director of Rainbow Services, an agency that provides comprehensive services to victims of domestic violence and also advocates for the issue at state and local levels.
    During his tenure there, he led the agency through several stages of growth including the completion of a new emergency shelter, the addition of a second community center and the renovation of its existing community center.
    Schirmer succeeds Mary Silverstein, the first executive director of the
    The Harbor Community Benefit Foundation was formed through a historic agreement between the Port of Los Angeles and17 environmental and community groups, resolving community concerns about the impacts of the TraPac project approved by the Port in 2008.

    Harbor Commissioners Adopt POLB Budget
    LONG BEACH — On June 2, the Long Beach Board of Harbor Commissioners approved an $829 million budget for the Harbor Department’s next fiscal year, including more than a half a billion dollars for capital improvements at the Port of Long Beach.
    The budget, which will be presented to the Long Beach City Council for its consideration, designates $555 million for capital investments including the port’s major terminal redevelopment and bridge replacement projects.
    For the fiscal year starting Oct. 1, 2015, the budget anticipates a 6.1 percent increase in operating revenue over the current fiscal year’s income. The Harbor Department generates revenue from goods movement through the Port of Long Beach, and receives no taxpayer revenue to operate.
    Also, the newly approved budget includes the anticipated transfer of $17.74 million to Long Beach’s Tidelands Operating Fund, which is used for beachfront improvements in Long Beach.
    The biggest pieces of the capital improvement budget are the ongoing Gerald Desmond Bridge Replacement Project and the Middle Harbor Redevelopment, which is building the greenest container terminal in the world. Other improvements include sewer and street projects, dredging and rail improvements.
    The budget also includes funds for planning activities for the port’s “Energy Island” concept of enhancing energy security and sustainability, and for ongoing improvements as part of the critical “supply chain optimization” efforts to boost efficiency at the San Pedro Bay ports.

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  • LB Director of Technology, Innovation Appointed: RL NEWS Briefs June 2, 2015

    LB Director of Technology, Innovation Appointed
    LONG BEACH — City Manager Pat West named Bryan M. Sastokas director of technology and innovation. His appointment will be effective June 15.
    The Department of Technology and Innovation plans and develops the technology infrastructure for the city. The department works emphasizes transparency, openness and civic engagement. The department also runs LBTV, the city’s cable channel.
    Mr. Sastokas is replacing Curtis Tani, who retired in September 2014.
    Sastokas earned a master of science in management from Cambridge College. He attended undergraduate school with a focus on computer engineering at Pennsylvania State University, completed graduate studies at Harvard University in software engineering, and earned a graduate certificate in senior executive leadership from Georgetown University.
    Sastokas, a technology executive with 20 years of experience in the public and private sectors, has served as chief information officer for Oakland since 2014, where he is responsible for overseeing technology initiatives and for the delivery of information technology services. Prior to joining the City of Oakland, Sastokas had executive positions with Modesto, Calif, Coral Springs, Fla., and with several private sector companies including: the Universal Service Administrative Company; John Hancock Financial Services; Bay Networks, Inc; and Stream International Inc.
    Under Sastokas’ leadership, his cities have been ranked in the Top 10 by the Center for Digital Government and a recipient of the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. Professionally, Sastokas has been recognized nationally as one of the “Premier 100 IT Leaders” by Computerworld, named one of Government Technology’s “Top 25 Doers, Dreamers and Drivers for 2015”, and has been acknowledged by the San Francisco Business Times & Silicon Valley Business Journal as a “Community Champion” in the 2015 Bay Area CIO Awards.

    Ports Create Supply Chain Working Groups
    LONG BEACH — On May 27, the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach announced the creation of working groups focusing on peak operations and terminal optimization to develop ways to strengthen the competitiveness of the San Pedro Bay port complex.
    Participants in the issue-specific working groups will be drawn from goods movement industry stakeholders, including shipping lines, cargo owners, labor, railroads, trucking interests, equipment owners and more.
    The Peak Season 2015 working group will be the first to meet — in early June — kicking off a series of intensive sessions. The job of this first working group will be to drill down on this year’s peak demand needs at the port complex. The mission of the supply chain optimization effort overall is to build upon the economic benefits the port complex provides to the region.
    The seven working groups are Peak Season 2015, Container Terminal Optimization, Chassis, Off-dock Solutions, Key Performance Indicators/Data Solutions, Intermodal Rail, and Drayage.
    The ports’ Supply Chain Optimization effort springs from an agreement approved by the Federal Maritime Commission earlier this year that allows the neighboring ports to discuss new efficiencies and other improvements that would improve the ports’ business competitiveness, environmental sustainability and security.
    The Supply Chain Optimization Steering Committee – comprised of port leaders – is reaching out to stakeholders across the industry for participants for the seven working groups, starting with the Peak Season 2015 working group.
    In addition, the ports will convene advisory groups of additional environmental, industry, community and government stakeholders to be asked for input on proposals put forth by the working groups.

    LACCD, LA Regional Career Pathways Project Wins $15 Million Grant
    LOS ANGELES — On May 29, Mayor Eric Garcetti announced that the Los Angeles Community College District has received a $15 million California Career Pathways grant to help prepare more Angelenos for jobs in high demand and high growth sectors.
    The funding is secured in part by the Los Angeles Economic and Workforce Development Department.
    The grant will expand on the existing partnership between the City of Los Angeles Workforce Investment Board, the Economic and Workforce Development Department, the Los Angeles Unified School District and the Los Angeles Community College District.
    Funding from this grant will go towards career readiness programming at the City’s YouthSource Centers, a network of 16 organizations that offer intensive education and job training assistance, paid work experience, work readiness career exploration and college preparation for youth ages 14 to 24. The YouthSource System is managed by the Economic and Workforce Development Department.
    This grant is a portion of $244 million awarded by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson to 40 programs that blend academic and career technical education, connect employers with schools and train students for jobs in high-growth fields, including: information technology, advanced manufacturing, health care and software development.
    In addition to the $15 million in direct funding, the grant includes more than $1.7 million of in-kind and matched resources that will help further expand Career Pathways Trust funding and enable the partnership to serve more than 6,000 participants in total. The partnership will work with more than 95 employers to offer more than 1,800 internship opportunities that allow students to get first-hand exposure to the world of work and better prepare for post-secondary education.
    The grants are provided through the California Career Pathways Trust, the largest program of its kind in the nation, providing nearly $500 million in career tech grants over a two-year period.

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  • Oldest Harbor Area Synagogue Breaks Ground

    Temple Beth El, which is entering its 93rd year, is getting a significant facelift.  On May 31, the synagogue had a ground breaking ceremony for a remodel that promises to enhance the facility with a building that mirrors warmth and spiritual richness.

    The congregation is led by Rabbi Charles Briskin, Cantor Ilan Davidson and director of education and programs, Debi Rowe, the congregation is affiliated with the Union for Reform.

    Temple Beth El Ground Breaking

    Members of Temple Beth El write good wishes on the lumber for a building. Cantor Ilan Davidson, far right, also participates. Photo by Dr. David Feldman.

    The much-needed renovations will address safety (e.g., handicap access, sprinklers) and security (funded by a Homeland Security grant).  The project will also address maintenance concerns (e.g., bathroom, social hall upgrades).  The facility will enjoy new functionality (e.g., new technology, front entrance ramp) as well.

    The roots of Temple Beth El were planted in 1922 when the first organized Jewish religious services held in San Pedro took place at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Daniel Leven. There were 25 known Jewish families living in San Pedro at the time.

    Prior to 1922, a group of Jewish men had formed a social club that met in a photographer’s studio on Beacon Street. In 1923, their wives established the San Pedro Jewish Sisterhood, dedicated to supporting a Jewish community and giving aid to the poor and needy in our community. These women donated the synagogue’s first Torah scroll in 1928 and became, in time, the primary force in raising funds for the growth of the community.

    As services and activities continued and grew, the “founding” men and women raised the money to build a Jewish Center. The San Pedro Jewish Sisterhood held the grant deed for the center.  In 1935 the San Pedro Jewish Community Center was dedicated at the corner of 19th and Cabrillo streets (now currently the home of the Italian American Club).

    By 1938, about 75 Jewish families lived in San Pedro and the name “Congregation Beth El” was adopted.

    It soon became clear that the Jewish community would outgrow the original facility and in 1942, several lots on Seventh Street were purchased for future development, though that was not to happen until 1955, when the San Pedro Jewish Sisterhood sold the building at 19th and Cabrillo Streets and donated the proceeds to the construction of the current facility on Seventh Street.

    In 1956, the Torah Scrolls were brought to the new location, which comprised classrooms, offices, a kitchen and the combination Social Hall-Sanctuary.  In 1959, the charter was changed one last time and the congregation became Temple Beth El, a Reform congregation affiliated with the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (now known as the Union for Reform Judaism).

    As the community grew into the 1980’s, the Seventh Street facility was enlarged and on November 10, 1985 the congregation consecrated the location.

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  • Community Groups Host People’s State Of The City

    LONG BEACH– People from 15 community-based organizations gathered Long Beach residents together for the fourth annual People’s State of the City on May 27, at Stephens Middle School in Long Beach. The free event attracted individuals from across the city to dialogue on issues affecting residents including jobs, housing, education, immigration, environmental justice and neighborhood safety.

    The program promotes civic participation, voter engagement and community organizing among historically underrepresented communities.

    Member organizations of Long Beach Rising! include Anakbayan Long Beach, Building Healthy Communities: Long Beach, California Faculty Association Long Beach Chapter, Clergy & Laity United for Economic Justice, EndOil, Filipino Migrant Center, Housing Long Beach, Khmer Girls in Action, Long Beach Area Peace Network, Long Beach Coalition for Good Jobs & a Healthy Community, Long Beach Latinos in Action, Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, The Long Beach Time Exchange, The LGBTQ Center of Long Beach and Unite Here Local 11.

    “It is a special time where we can look to our neighbors and say, ‘We live in a great city, but there is work to be done to transform it into a great and equitable city,” said Ernesto Rocha, an organizer with the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy’s Clean and Safe Ports project.

    This year’s event included musical performances, a theatrical skit titled, A Day in the Life of a Hotel Worker, a video featuring local residents and a presentation on the state of the city. Throughout the presentation, audience members were polled on issues such as their support for higher wages and protections for renters in Long Beach.

    Nikole Cababa, an organizer with the Filipino Migrant Center called on audience members to get involved with local campaigns that promote equity in Long Beach and sign a “progressive pledge” to support living wages, election reform, environmental justice, and affordable housing.

    “We can learn and accomplish so much more together through collective action, and this event is one example of the unity emerging from our neighborhoods,” Cababa said.

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  • Despite Talk, Long Beach Nowhere Close to Bringing Medpot Back

    We do owe the public a resolution on this issue, with a responsible timeline.
    –Mayor Robert Garcia, February 2015

    The cannabis landscape in the United States has gotten a whole lot greener since September 10, 2013, the night the Long Beach City Council unanimously voted to draft a new ordinance allowing medical marijuana dispensaries to return to the city. Four states have legalized marijuana for recreational use. The California Democratic Party has inserted into its platform a plank calling for “the legalization, regulation and taxation of marijuana, in a manner similar to that of tobacco or alcohol.” The police chief of Washington, D.C. has publicly stated that “[a]lcohol is a much bigger problem [than marijuana],” and that “[a]ll those [marijuana-related] arrests do is make people hate us,” while generating unnecessary paperwork and court appearances. Congress has even prohibited the Drug Enforcement Administration from conducting any more raids on retail operations sanctioned in states like California that allow medpot.

    Nonetheless, nearly two years later cancer patients who cannot fend for themselves must induce providers to break the law in order to get medpot within city limits. And it’s looking increasingly likely that nothing will change before California jumps on the legalization bandwagon.

    Seem unlikely in a city whose residents look so favorably on cannabis that over four years ago they voted in favor of legalizing marijuana for recreational use? Read on to get a lay of the land.

    After the September 2013 city council meeting that started the current process, it was more than four months before the Planning Commission began work on a new medpot ordinance. Eight months later, the commission finally provided the city council with its draft ordinance, which proposed allowing 18 dispensaries citywide under tight restrictions.

    However, the city council did not pick up the matter until a February 10, 2015, study session, where it created a Medical Cannabis Task Force of two citizen representatives from each council district to report to the city council in April with input concerning what the eventual ordinance should look like.

    The one councilmember who voted against this action was Suzie Price. Price says her “nay” vote was not because she opposes dispensaries or the task force, but because the plan as outlined was unrealistic.

    “Frankly, it seemed to me like it [i.e., the timeline] was a little more for show than it was real,” she says. “It was more about trying to send a message to people who wanted to move this along than realistic […] We voted on this timeline that was absolutely insane considering what we were asking [the task force] to do […] That gives people a false expectation.”

    Price was right, as the task force did not hold even its first meeting until April 1. Moreover, the five meetings since then have be decidedly unproductive—a fact of which many task force members seem keenly aware. During the May 13 meeting, for example, Member Greg Leifan wondered aloud when the task force would take any action—and whether they even had in place the mechanics for such.

    That question was on full display when the task force spent 45 minutes attempting to hammer out how they could compile a list of “tentative suggestions” to bring back at the end of the task force’s life so as to decide whether they want to recommend any or all of them to the city council.

    “We’ve had three meetings, and we really haven’t done anything,” said Member Adam Hijazi during the discussion. Member Joe Sopo concurred: “Going for three-and-a-half hours and doing nothing I feel is non-productive.”

    But two weeks later things were no better, with the task force still struggling with the logistics of compiling those tentative suggestions. Member Adam Herzberg called the process a “circus of absurdity,” adding, “This committee has been absolutely useless to this point.”

    For all this, the Medical Cannabis Task Force is purely advisory, and the city council is under no obligation to pay heed to any of its recommendations.

    One organization with no desire to see the process move forward is the Long Beach Police Department. Since the city council’s September 2013 signal of intent to reintroduce dispensaries, the LBPD has remained active on the cannabis front, arresting 780 people for marijuana offenses, issuing 683 citations, and serving 70 search warrants.

    According to Deputy Chief David Hendricks, a guest speaker at the May 27 Medical Cannabis Task Force meeting (the first from whom the task force has heard), the LBPD regards the distribution of marijuana—including for medicinal purposes—as a felony. When questioned by a task force member as to whether it would be better for the city to have licensed dispensaries in place of unlicensed delivery services—of which over 50 can be found locally via listings such as WeedMaps—Hendricks acknowledged no distinction. “I don’t think either one is good for the city of Long Beach,” he said. “[…] It’s illegal, pure and simple.” When asked whether the department has a mechanism to allocate its drug-related resources based on the relative harm of respective drugs, Hendricks demurred: “I don’t feel the need to address whether one [drug] is worse than another.”

    Hendricks acknowledged that in the past the department’s resource allocation toward dispensaries—including the full-time work of eight detectives and one supervisor—has come at the expense of the department’s ability to address not only other drug-related crime but also property crime and even violent crime. And he says this will again be the case if the City allows dispensaries.

    The LBPD’s willingness to prioritize its resource expenditure in such a manner is nothing new. Former Chief Jim McDonnell repeatedly inveighed upon the city council to ban dispensaries by claiming their presence “negatively impacts our ability to be able to address [crimes such as] human trafficking, prohibited possessors of guns, gang crime, and violent crime.” (McDonnell, who is now sheriff of Los Angeles County, is slated to address the task force on June 3.)

    City Manager Pat West supports the LBPD’s contention that other areas of law enforcement must suffer if dispensaries come back to town. “[T]he Police Department would need to decide which current enforcement operations would be reduced to provide a marijuana enforcement detail,” he wrote in a memo dated March 24, 2015.

    Nonetheless, the LBPD is pushing for any ordinance to include “seed to sale” tracking and the mandate that all cannabis be cultivated within city limits, unusual requirements (absent, for example, from L.A.’s medpot ordinance) that would increase the LBPD’s resource commitment, as opposed to minimizing it.

    According to West, “[E]ven if additional resources were found, there would need to be a minimum of a one-year preparation period” to get an approved ordinance up and running. So with the Medical Cannabis Task Force virtually certain to extend past its current June 17 deadline (city staff have speculated that an August conclusion is more realistic), it is looking like marijuana could be legal for recreational use statewide before Long Beach is again home to a single medicinal dispensary.

    Does that pace fit with Mayor Robert Garcia’s February 10 assertion that the city council “owe[s] the public a resolution on this issue, with a responsible timeline”? Garcia declined to comment.

    “It’s time for all of us to step up and step in and lead once again in California, just as we did in 1996,” said Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom at the 2014 California Democratic Party Convention. “We did just that with medical marijuana. But for almost 20 years now, we’ve sat back admiring our accomplishment while the world, the nation, and states like Colorado and Washington have passed us by. ”

    Just as other states have left California behind on the cannabis question, locally Long Beach has been left behind by Los Angeles, San Pedro, and most recently Santa Ana. Exactly why Long Beach is lagging may—or may not—be a complicated question. But the simple truth is that this city whose residents heavily favor allowing dispensaries to come back to town won’t be getting them anytime soon.

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  • Vladovic Wins, Again

    By Zamná Ávila, Assistant Editor

    The results are in. Los Angeles Unified School District Board President Richard Vladovic held on to his seat, following the District 7 elections May 19.

    The low-turnout race yielded Vladovic his largest margin going in to his third term in office. He received 9,282 votes out of 16,600 (55.91 percent), compared to 44.08 percent garnered by his opponent, Lydia Gutierrez.

    The election was amidst a federal grand jury investigation into a technology program that took place in 2014, a search for a new superintendent and negotiations with United Teachers Los Angeles.

    A retired educator who has worked as a principal, social studies teacher, administrator and superintendent for the West Covina Unified School District, Vladovic drew the support of political action committees from pro-charter advocates and labor groups. However, Vladovic would not say whether he agreed or disagreed with charter schools due to state law, which states that approval of charters must take place if they demonstrate they are fully funded and have a solid education system.

    Gutierrez, by contrast, opposes charter schools. She believes a school must first fail in order to transition to a charter.

    In February, Vladovic said he supported raising teachers’ salaries more than 4 percent but was not more specific because he was part of the collective bargaining process.

    His campaign website describes him as an advocate for smaller schools who fights to take schools off year-round calendars. It also describes him as a champion for the arts, “building and sustaining mentorship and dropout prevention programs.” One of Vladovic’s top priorities was to convince the California legislature to increase education funding.

    On her website, however, Gutierrez wrote that LAUSD “is poorly run in three areas: finances, administration and lack of academic goals…” In fact, she accused the district of misusing funds and lacking oversight of money during a Feb. 6 debate, noting the $139 million in payouts to child abuse scandal victims and the new MiSiS computer system that reportedly cost millions of dollars to fix. She also heavily criticized the district’s billion dollar iPad controversy.

    Gutierrez did not have major endorsements or campaign money. The teacher-turned-aerospace-industry administrator was endorsed by the Los Angeles County Republican Party and Election Forum, an evangelical Christian group. She reported $37,844 in campaign contributions and $39,799.19 in expenditures as of May 13.

    She finished the 2015 March 3 primary only five percentage points behind Vladovic. Both candidates were challenged by a third candidate, Euna Anderson.

    The 2015 election was not Gutierrez’ first run in education politics. In 2014 and 2010, she ran as a candidate for the California Superintendent of Public Instruction seat and lost. In 2008, Gutierrez ran for the California State Senate in District 25 as a Republican. She won in the Republican primary but lost in the general election.

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  • Truckers Reclassification Plan Advances

    By Paul Rosenberg, Senior Editor

    On May 19, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to move forward in developing a plan to support misclassified port truck workers. The plan focused on five recommended areas of action, presented in a report from the county’s Department of Consumer and Business Affairs.

    The motion was advanced by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, one-time head of the Los Angeles chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

    “The issue of wage theft is one that we should all be concerned about,” Ridley-Thomas said. “Businesses that follow the law should not be undercut by those that lower their labor costs by cheating.”

    Another active supporter was Supervisor Hilda Solis, former secretary of labor during President Barack Obama’s first term.

    “I wholeheartedly support this,” Solis said.

    Specifically, while noting that the county’s authority to act was limited by the powers granted to other jurisdictions, the report noted that action could be undertaken in each of these areas:

    • To help prevent wage theft violations by conducting outreach and education workshops for workers and employees

    • To provide information and referrals for those seeking to file wage theft claims;

    • To “[p]artner with other government al agencies to share information and monitor the constantly evolving situation at the ports”

    • To use its contracting power as a market participant by prohibiting county departments from contracting with companies that have wage theft judgments against them

    • To support three pieces of state legislation that would encourage resolution of the ongoing industry-wide struggle: Senate Bill 588, which would facilitate collection of judgments by the Labor Commissioner Assembly Bill 621, which would provide an amnesty program for port trucking companies that enter into a consent decree with the labor commissioner prior to Jan. 1, 2017 to convert all their drivers to employee status; Assembly Bill 970, which would give the labor commissioner increased enforcement authority to issue citations for violations of local wage laws and other worker protections when encountered in the field—a power that already exists in hearing situations

    Before voting, the supervisors heard public comments, including the testimony of three port drivers, who vividly illustrated the deceptive and illegal practices they were fighting against.

    “Many weeks I make far less than the minimum wage,” said David Linares, a driver with Pac-9 for seven years. “Some weeks I even owe the company to work…In December 2014, the California DLSE [Division of Labor Standards Enforcement, also known as the Labor Commissioner’s Office] determined that I was one of four Pac-9 drivers misclassified as independent contractors. Pac-9 was ordered to pay us a total of $254,627 in back wages stolen from our paycheck, and penalties; 43 additional drivers have filed claims valued at more than $6.25 million. If every driver of the company were to file a claim, the company would face an additional liability of at least $12 million.”

    Also testifying was Alfredo Reyes, a driver for XPO Logistics with 20 years of experience in port drayage.

    “I first went on strike last November to protest misclassification, and since then, XPO has been retaliating against me, cutting my loads and I’ve been falling further and further into debt,” Reyes testified. “I am one of many drivers who have filed wage claims and lawsuits against the company for misclassification. We have filed lawsuits that amount to potential liabilities of more than $5 million. The California Superior Court has ruled that XPO owes an additional $2.2 million to just seven XPO drivers, making the potential liability in California alone of more than $160 million.”

    Yet, Reyes went on to note, XPO clearly has the money.

    “While we were on strike a few weeks ago, XPO announced they were spending $3.5 billion to buy a French company,” Reyes said. “Days later, they announced the purchase of another U.S. freight company, Bridge Terminal Transport, for $100 million. We believe that the money they’re spending buying other companies and passing on to shareholders is money they have stolen out of our pockets.”

    The companies are lawless, Reyes said.

    “These companies are knowingly breaking the law for profit and they are doing it right here in your county,” he concluded.

    “Until recently, I drove for port trucking company QTS,” Felix Umana said. “Like Daniel and Alfredo, I was misclassified as an independent contractor, but unlike my brothers, the company I drove for from 2011 to 2015 took the cheating way out. They filed for bankruptcy and reopened under another name rather than pay us what they owed us.”

    He went on explain the QTS was just one of several companies owned by Eric Yu.

    “The same day QTS filed for bankruptcy, QTS management created a new company CSJJ express to which it then began shifting its work essentially starving QTS of the income needed to pay our claims,” Umana said. “Our attorney in the class action suit has filed in court to connect the assets of QTS with Mr. Yu’s other businesses, but with this you should see the kind of corrupt businesses we are dealing with at the ports.”

    Rani Narula Woods, the deputy political director of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, also testified. She took note of the fact that the Los Angeles City Council was in session voting on a historic $15 per hour minimum wage hike.

    “Just a few blocks down the way in city hall chambers, the most wide sweeping legislative step towards wage equality and wage theft protection in our nation is taking place,” Woods said. “As you know, Los Angeles is the wage theft capital of the country. In the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, this rings particularly true.”

    The sharp contrast between Los Angeles’ historic vote and the plight of port truckers was also underscored by Julie Gutman-Dickinson, local counsel for the Teamsters Port Division, who also represents a number of port drivers.

    “Ironically, at the same time that we work to raise the minimum wage to bring hard working members of our community out of poverty, there remain thousands of misclassified drivers working below the current minimum wage and some weeks even receiving negative paychecks,” Gutman-Dickinson said.

    “[The companies responsible] have been like robber barons,” she said. “[They have been] getting away with breaking the law for profit, making money on the backs of taxpayers by avoiding high payroll taxes, costly payments for unemployment insurance, disability insurance, workers’ compensation.”

    She concluded by saying that they appreciate all the five actions that this board is intending to move forward with. The report back for final action is expected in 60 days.


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  • Sardine Fishery Collapse is Ominous Warning of Worse to Come

    By Paul Rosenberg, Senior Editor

    On April 13, federal regulators meeting in Rohnert Park, just outside Santa Rosa, Calif., cancelled the next sardine fishing season, starting July 1, due to a devastating collapse in the West Coast sardine population, which is down 91 percent from 2007. Later that same week, they approved an immediate halt to sardine fishing. It was a drastic response to a drastic situation, but only one small harbinger of the massive changes that may come to our oceans as result of global warming in the decades and centuries ahead, making large portions of the ocean inhospitable to most life, a situation similar to what happened to the oceans when the last ice age ended.

    The decisions came from the Pacific Fishery Management Council, a 19-member policymaking organization made up of fishery representatives from California, Oregon, Washington and Idaho.

    “While this is a sad day for all those dependent on a healthy sardine fishery, it is actually a good thing that this council is addressing the problem directly, something you don’t always see across the nation or certainly, internationally,” said Council member Frank Lockhart. He then pointed to previous actions: “This council cutback on salmon with extensive closures a decade or so ago, and the Klamath and Sacramento stocks rebuilt fairly quickly. This council also cut back on lingcod and other groundfish catches in the recent past, and those stocks are also rebuilt. This action today paves the way for the sardine population to rebuild as soon as the ocean cycles permit.”

    But conservationists, notably the international conservation group Oceana, have been fighting for almost a decade to implement stricter regulations that would pro-actively protect against such drastic collapse in the first place. The sardine population peaked in 2007, according to a March 19 report by scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Sardine stocks reached almost a million tons in 1999, but fell to less than 400,000 in 2003. They rebounded to more than a million tons in 2007, but have been declining relentlessly ever since. They reached a low of just under 97,000 tons in the 2015 projection contained in the report. This is the lowest level recorded in six decades, since the period following the industry’s momentous collapse in the 1940s. Prior to that, stocks were estimated to be more than 3 million tons—30 times what they are today.

    Yet, even as the biomass plunged below 600,000 tons after 2011, the “exploitation rate” (catch divided by the biomass) skyrocketed. From 2005 through 2011, the exploitation rate varied little from year to year, averaging 7.9 percent for American fishermen, 11.6 percent total. But in 2012, the figures jumped dramatically to 20.6 percent for U.S. fisherman and 26.8 percent total. They inched up even higher the next year, before falling to the mid-teens this past year. When the 2015 projection fell below 150,000 (about last year’s level), that triggered the requirement for the season to be canceled.

    Oceana’s California campaign director, Geoffrey Shester called the move “a huge step” when it was announced. “The council’s closure of the directed sardine fishery acknowledges the severe crisis in the sardine population,” Shester said. “Yesterday’s vote is a first step toward recovery of this important forage species.”

    A press statement from Oceana went on to stress the systemic ecological effects of the sardine collapse. Sardines—like anchovy and herring—are what’s known as a “forage fish.” They swim in huge schools and play major roles in the diets of a wide range of larger fish and other animals.

    “We have been seeing the impacts of a collapsing sardine population on sea lions and seabirds for years now,” added Ben Enticknap, Pacific campaign manager and senior scientist with Oceana. “Sardine are also prey for recreationally and commercially important species like Chinook salmon and albacore tuna, so the effects of a lack of sardine could have much wider impacts.”

    Sea lion pups have been dying in large numbers for three years now. In April, the National Marine Fisheries Service reported that a record 2,250 starving and stranded sea lions, mostly pups, have washed up on Southern California beaches so far this year. This is a tally 20 times the average over the past decade, and twice the number documented in 2013, the previous worst year. Lack of prey is the primary cause, but the crash in sardine populations may be only part of the picture, as the shifting of warmer waters farther north—a result of shifting wind patterns that’s also contributing to California’s drought—is also thought to play a role.

    This underscores another increasingly important point: the growing need to understand and anticipate complex systemic interactions. The Fishery Council has begun moving in this direction with its April 2013 adoption of its Fishery Ecosystem Plan. According to its website, “The purpose of the FEP is to enhance the council’s species-specific management programs with more ecosystem science, broader ecosystem considerations and management policies that coordinate council management across its Fishery Management Plans and the California Current Ecosystem.”

    This year, in a move applauded by Oceana, the council adopted its first amendment to the FEP, protecting unfished and unmanaged forage fish species. Again, its website explained: “The council’s objective is to prohibit the development of new directed fisheries on forage species that are not currently managed by the council, or the states, until the council has had an adequate opportunity to assess the science relating to any proposed fishery and any potential impacts to our existing fisheries and communities.” This reflects a maturing understanding that ecosystems are complex and that human markets for seafood can easily upset balances we don’t even know exist.

    One example of this understanding comes from a just-released study showing that over-fishing intensifies, though it does not prolong, normal boom-and-bust cycles in forage fish populations. It’s known from the geological record that forage fish populations go through boom-and-bust cycles naturally—a point that industry advocates repeatedly harp on to argue against over-fishing limits. The new study, conducted by a team led by Timothy Essington, a marine biologist at the University of Washington Seattle, analyzed time-series data for fish populations amounting to almost two-thirds of the global catch of forage fish.

    Essington’s team found that “Forage fish population collapses shared a set of common and unique characteristics: high fishing pressure for several years before collapse, a sharp drop in natural population productivity and a lagged response to reduce fishing pressure.” They also found that lagged response “can sharply amplify the magnitude of naturally occurring population fluctuations,” making crashes much worse than they would otherwise be—exactly what seems to be happening with West Coast sardines. Consequently, they advise, “A risk-based management scheme that reduces fishing when populations become scarce would protect forage fish and their predators from collapse with little effect on long-term average catches.”

    Of course, implementing such practices ought to take place within a broader framework that helps secure the long-term viability of small operators, those who have the smallest share of responsibility for over-fishing, but are least able to survive a suspension in fishing operations. As with the struggle to clean up port trucking, to work properly, environmental protection requires a social justice dimension as well.

    But this only takes into account existing conditions, and the one thing we know is that conditions are changing. Perhaps the most relevant large-scale threat to consider is the growth of “oxygen minimum zones” (OMZs), which can profoundly alter ocean environments on a scale spanning thousands of nautical miles. This threat was the subject of a recent article in National Geographic. As that article explained:

    These are not coastal dead zones, like the one that sprawls across the Gulf of Mexico, but great swaths of deep water that can reach thousands of miles offshore. Already naturally low in oxygen, these regions keep growing, spreading horizontally and vertically. Included are vast portions of the eastern Pacific, almost all of the Bay of Bengal, and an area of the Atlantic off West Africa as broad as the United States.

    Globally, these low-oxygen areas have expanded by more than 1.7 million square miles (4.5 million square kilometers) in the past 50 years.

    It’s a matter of debate how much global warming has contributed to this expansion, and how much is simply due to climate variability—a familiar tale. But it’s much more certain that continued global warming will only make this problem get worse—just as OMZs expanded significantly in the past when natural processes were responsible for heating up the planet. This subject was explored in a paper written by a team headed by Sarah Moffitt, a post-doctoral researcher at the University of California Davis, working at the Bodega Marine Laboratory.

    OMZs did not exist during the last ice age, around 20,000 years ago, but they appeared as the glaciers melted and the planet warmed. The timing of their expansions was “regionally coherent,” but not simultaneous on a global scale. As the paper explains, “OMZs are tightly coupled to upwelling systems and Eastern Boundary Currents, such as the California Current, the Humboldt Current and the Benguela Current.”

    The California Current is the coldwater current running from British Columbia to Baja California, which has a submerged warmwater counterpart, the north/south California undercurrent. A 2008 study headed by Steven Bograd, a NOAA oceanographer, found large declines in dissolved oxygen in the southern California Current System over the period of 1984 to2006, with the OMZ starting as shallow as just 100 meters deep in some places.

    A 2010 paper, “Ocean Deoxygenation in a Warming World,” by lead author Ralph Keeling, director of the Scripps CO2 Program at UC San Diego, looked at future projections from a suit of ocean/climate models. “Ocean models predict declines of 1 to 7 percent in the global ocean O2 inventory over the next century,” he wrote, “with declines continuing for a thousand years or more into the future.” He noted that “Significant deoxygenation has occurred over the past 50 years in the North Pacific and tropical oceans, suggesting larger changes are looming.”

    Two distinct sorts of processes caused by global warming are reflected in the models, Keeling noted—gross heating of ocean water, which reduces the solubility of oxygen, and “changes in ocean circulation and biology.” Elaborating on the later, the paper continued:

    The most important cause of these changes is the effect of global warming on upper ocean stratification, particularly at high latitudes, where reductions in surface density result from both warming and freshening due to an enhanced hydrological cycle.

    Even now, Keeling noted, “much of the North Pacific…can be considered an OMZ.” Furthermore, “The relative rapidity of O2 decreases in the subarctic Pacific and in coastal upwelling regions off the west coast of North America raises the specter of imminent impacts on marine habitat and fisheries,” meaning even more of what we’ve already seen, with no end in sight.

    “Even if the recent O2 variability in the North Pacific has been partly naturally driven, the implications for the future appear ominous,” the paper said. “The declines over the past 50 years demonstrate that O2 levels in the thermocline [range where temperatures drop with depth] of the North Pacific are highly sensitive to climate changes.”

    Furthermore, looking at oxygen declines on the North American shelf, from British Columbia to Baja California, the paper attributes them to “a combination of factors acting in concert,” including “declines observed as far away as the subarctic and equatorial Pacific,” along with local factors as well. “It is worrisome that all of these factors may be amplified in the future by continued global warming,” Keeling warns.

    The paper’s summary leaves us with a final warning:

    The relative rapidity of O2 decreases in the subarctic Pacific and in coastal upwelling regions off the west coast of North America raises the specter of imminent impacts on marine habitat and fisheries.

    Which means that the actions taken so far by the Pacific Fishery Management Council are almost certainly only the beginning. A time for new thinking is at hand.



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  • Santa Barbara Oil Spill Highlights Local Concerns

    Plains All American, the corporate parent behind the Rancho LPG facility, has gained national attention for its abysmal safety record after a 24-inch pipeline owned by a Plains subsidiary, Plains All American Pipeline, burst near Refugio Beach in Santa Barbara County on May 19.

    The burst released up to 105,000 gallons of oil, five times the amount originally reported by the company. An estimated 21,000 gallons reached the sea, producing a nine-mile oil slick, which brought out hundreds of local volunteers to clean up as the oil washed back ashore. The 11-mile-long pipeline, part of a larger multi-county network, can pump 6.3 million gallons per day.

    Although Santa Barbara County requires pipelines in its jurisdiction to be equipped with automatic shut-off valves (so sensitive they can detect a 20-barrel loss over a 20-hour period), the pipeline in question was the only one in the county without such equipment, according to the Santa Barbara Independent. This is a result of Plains’ corporate predecessor successfully fighting regulatory oversight, much as has happened at Rancho. The oil spill is in the same general area as the 1969 off-shore spill that supercharged the environmental movement and inspired the first Earth Day in 1970.

    In covering Plains’ involvement, Al Jazeera America has called attention to “a long history of safety and environmental violations by the company in the United States and Canada,” citing news reports and Environmental Protection Agency records, including a 2010 settlement with EPA for $3.2 million in civil penalties covering 10 oil spills. At the time, the EPA said Plains and its subsidiaries, “have agreed to spend approximately $41 million to upgrade 10,420 miles of crude oil pipeline operated in the United States.” Al Jazeera also cited the rupture of a pipeline in Atwater Village almost exactly one year earlier, which released more than 18,000 gallons of crude oil into city streets.

    The Los Angeles Times cited federal records saying the company “has accumulated 175 safety and maintenance infractions since 2006,” but that figure only covers Plains Pipeline, the most extensive of three Plains All American subsidiaries identified by Random Lengths News listed by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration in its online database.

    Altogether, Plains subsidiaries had 206 violations over this period (4.5 percent of the total reported), with damages totaling $26.8 million. The most common causes were corrosion, followed by material and/or equipment failure. The average of more than 21 spills per year amounts to almost one every two weeks. Only two other entities had more spills reported over this period: Sunoco Pipeline LP had 232 and Enterprise Products Operating LLC had 208.

    —Paul Rosenberg, Senior Editor



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