• We Stand with Jeannine Pearce.

    Sex, Lies and Recall

    • 05/03/2018
    • Melina Paris
    • News
    • Comments are off

    Business versus Labor Champion: The power struggle behind efforts to recall Jeannine Pearce in Long Beach

    By Melina Paris, Staff Writer

    There are many stories to tell about the former Navy port city of Long Beach, known as the “Iowa by the Sea.”  The city has evolved over the years, some even say it now reveals a new tale of two cities.

    The first city has successfully harnessed the tourism sector as a host to global travelers. Long Beach, especially downtown, is home to a number of high-end hotels such as the DoubleTree by Hilton, The Renaissance, Hotel Maya, The Hyatt Regency and The Westin, with more on the way. In April, the New York Times reported that Seattle-based real estate investor, American Life Inc. had plans for a 29-story glass high-rise adjacent  to a redevelopment of the city’s civic center.

    The second city belongs to the residents, many who work in the hotels.

    A 2009 Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy report, Tale of Two Cities, stated that the “second” Long Beach consists of the surrounding working-class neighborhoods where poverty concentration is listed as sixth highest in the nation by the Brookings Institution.

    Long Beach District 2 Councilwoman Jeannine Pearce represents both.

    Some say that the power struggle between the business and labor communities that divide the city have led to the effort recall the councilwoman. An effort anchored by the events of one night.

    The anchor

    Despite the end of an extramarital affair months earlier, Pearce’s former chief of staff Devin Cotter and she celebrated his birthday on a June night in 2017. Pearce was driving when an argument erupted between them. She pulled over to the center median of the 710 Freeway.

    The Committee to Recall Council Member Jeannine Pearce issued a press release, August 2017, accusing Pearce of domestic violence and sexual harassment against Cotter from that June night. No arrest has been made and no charges have been filed against Pearce. Recall proponents also claimed that Cotter was kept on the payroll after he left his position. This has not been confirmed. Reports from the Long Beach Police Department and California Highway Patrol state that the CHP initially spotted Pearce’s car and stopped to investigate and subsequently called LBPD to assist in what appeared to be a domestic violence situation. Pearce was given a DUI test, which she passed.

    That night set the framework for the efforts to recall Pearce in August. It has become the cover story for what has ostensibly become an effort by the hotel industry to take out a political opponent supported by the hotel workers’ union. For many, it was a harsh reaction to a personal incident. Many wonder what is behind such a strong reaction to a personal issue. These type of situations are common in and out of politics. In fact, in the recent past both Democratic frontrunners for California governor had similar personal situations. Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa both had extra-marital affairs while in office, but neither man faced a recall. As we know, Donald Trump has had his share of infidelities.

    “So, while yes, I had a personal mistake; Gavin Newsom had personal mistakes,” Pearce said. “He’s running for governor, likely going to win. Villaraigosa, another gubernatorial candidate, he’s likely going to stay in politics. There wasn’t a recall campaign against these men [who made] mistakes. The only reason that this recall campaign has teeth is because of $180,000 funded by the hotels for my advocacy for women speaking out.”

    Pearce said she has tried to remain private about the incident because it was already well-documented in police reports.

    As an elected public figure, she is more vulnerable to scrutiny.

    Nevertheless, she believes her personal life is being used as red herring to mask political attacks on a progressive politician.

    The two groups behind this effort are The Committee to Recall Jeannine Pearce and a well-funded group called Friends of Long Beach. Ian S. Patton manages the committee supporting the recall. He also owns Cal Heights Consultancy, a political consulting firm. Patton initially responded to an interview request but did not follow through by press time.

    Victor Sanchez, the director of The Long Beach Coalition for Good Jobs and a Healthy Community, which is anchored by LAANE, knows Pearce from her work through city council. He said the recall effort is unfortunate.

    “It’s really about power,” Sanchez said. “When you follow the money you get a clearer picture of what this is about. It’s about a larger power struggle in the city and you have a few interests that are trying to use a personal issue as a front and as a means to take back power in Long Beach.  Jeannine has been a champion and is meeting the immediate needs for her constituents. We’ve seen nothing less from her. She is a great partner. We’re obviously continuing to do our work within council but the thing I would be able to say is that you just have to follow the money and you will see what this is about.”

    The players behind the recall effort

    The Friends of Long Beach is made up of local hoteliers and developers, including, American Life Inc. Pearce said the group was formed by former Long Beach Mayor Bob Foster and labor consultant, George Urch. Foster did not respond to an interview request and his affiliation with Friends of Long Beach is not confirmed. However, longbeachreport.com reported that Friends of Long Beach supported Robert Garcia for Mayor under the belief he would continue many of Foster’s policies The recall campaign disclosure statement lists the major hotels and businesses that have put money behind this effort, totalling $180,000. They are American Life Inc., The Breakers, Long Beach Hotel Properties, Pabst Kinney, Kristie M. Pabst, Reed and Davidson LLP, Hotel Maya and The Marriot.

    Pearce has a long history of supporting workers’ rights in Long Beach. Ten years before she ran for city council, Pearce was a community activist working with Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy in the fight to improve working conditions and to pass a living wage ordinance for hotel workers. This culminated in two ballot measures from 2013 to 2016: Measure N and Claudia’s Law.

    Measure N was a Long Beach living wage ballot initiative to support low-wage hotel workers, which passed in November 2013. Claudia’s Law was named after a female Long Beach hotel worker who sustained a cerebral hemorrhage after working a 14-hour shift at the Long Beach Renaissance Hotel. Claudia’s Law would have limited the work loads of hotel employees and required hotels to supply staff with panic buttons as protection against sexual harassment and assault. Long Beach City Council rejected the proposal in a 5 to 4 vote in 2017.

    A Tale of Two Cities

    After losing 100,000 jobs in the late 70s from defense spending cuts and closure of the naval base and aerospace plants, Long Beach began a redevelopment plan. The plan was based in trade and tourism being the most significant parts of the economy. Long Beach transitioned from a manufacturing-based economy to a service-based one.

    The Tale of Two Cities showed the city tax dollars that go to the major hotels since the 1980s. It cites that more than $2 billion of private and public investment has been made in the hospitality and tourism industries in Long Beach.

    After making $2 billion in investments, the influence hotel’s and developers have on Long Beach city politics is obvious. Long Beach aims to realize huge economic progress, progress that ideally should be good for the entire city. The Tale of Two Cities conclusion lists factors behind the emphasis on tourism, one being that successful redevelopment efforts should capitalize on natural assets of an area. For Long Beach that means taking advantage of its coastal location. Tourism and hospitality have also been fast growing sectors of the U.S. economy.

    Joining the city’s economic fortunes to tourism is not new to Long Beach. Between 1900 and 1920, city leaders tried to make Long Beach the Coney Island of the West. It never quite materialized and Long Beach became a military, industrial and port town. Today, with revitalization of those sectors unlikely, the question is: “Can the currently conceptualized tourism-based strategy halt the erosion of the middle class and replace outsourced jobs and downsized areas with good jobs”

    Pearce spoke about the recall effort and her background with LAANE.

    She explained LAANE’s position: Its organizing efforts are based on the idea that because tax subsidies are given to hotels, Long Beach residents should be able to reap the benefits of having a good paying job in return.

    “The Hyatt was one (hotel) that received rent free for 10 years that was on city land,” Pearce said. “Long Beach has a long history of trying to make it easy for hotel developments. The Westin and The Renaissance also received a large subsidy.”

    LAANE worked toward getting the Long Beach City Council to pass a living wage for hotel workers. It was unsuccessful. Then in 2010, The Long Beach Coalition for Good Jobs, of which LAANE is a coalition member, changed their mission from just policy to becoming an organizing and leadership development organization. A subgroup, called Long Beach Rising was started to bring everybody in for representation. For two years their focus was on base building and leadership development.

    In 2012, Long Beach Coalition for Good Jobs began a field campaign to support a living wage for hotel workers, Measure N. When they were not able to get the city council to pass measure N, they took it to the voters. Pearce was a co-lead on that campaign, which won with 64 percent of the vote. The power shifted for hotel and low-wage workers and for the progressive movement. After Measure N was passed, a worker retention policy was passed that stated that if the Long Beach Airport and Convention Center changed operators, they would need to retain their workforce. This happened after new operators were coming into convention spaces, laying off employees and hiring new ones at lower wages.

    “After Measure N, you saw tourism go up in Long Beach,” Pearce said. “I firmly believe that you have social justice tourism out there that says, here is a city that cares enough about their employees, their residents, their neighbors, to pass policy to protect them. I want to check out that city. That’s why people go to Seattle. That’s why people go to Portland. And, Long Beach should be a city where we can say, ‘We’ve got a thriving tourism industry that respects its workers.’”

    A large base of people were fighting for progressive issues and were walking door-to-door for progressive candidates and the mayor’s race. The next round of elections in 2014 saw progressives, Rex Richardson, Roberto Uranga and Lena Gonzalez win.

    Pearce as advocate

    When the 2016 election came up and Councilwoman Suja Lowenthal chose not to run, Pearce decided to take a chance. She knew that hotel workers, truck drivers, those living on some of the corridors with the highest asthma rates, probably weren’t going to have a voice. So, she decided to run. Pearce said many people believed Eric Gray, her opponent, would win. He had the support of the Long Beach Police Officers Association and he had Foster’s support.

    “It was old guard Long Beach and new guard Long Beach,” Pearce said. “We were at this time of this shift and when voters have to decide, ‘Do we go backwards or do we progress forward?’ That’s the tug and pull that you see on council right now.”

    Pearce was elected into office July 2016. In June, 2017 the incident with Cotter occurred. In September 2017, Claudia’s Law was put on the agenda with Lena Gonzalez leading it.

    Pearce said the hotels’ response to Claudia’s Law was that there was no sexual harassment happening and they opposed supplying their staff’s with panic buttons.

    “I was elected based on the premise that I was going to fight for these women,” Pearce said. “It was really clear to everybody who I was during my campaign. In September, the vote happened. Unfortunately it didn’t pass.”

    Pearce continued, saying her opponents will try to get her to talk about details of her personal life. They say she never publicly apologized but she counters that she did, four or five times. Pearce attended an outpatient program for two weeks and she sees therapists regularly.

    The money talks

    Pearce said she has to govern for everybody and that includes those who feel they haven’t had a voice. Pearce was told by her predecessor that some people in downtown don’t feel like she is listening to them as much.

    “I know a lot of these people were upset by the Westin Hotel pickets,” Pearce said. “Before they went union, there were picketers every morning, right across the street from residents and so that’s what I think stirred the pot.”

    Downtown residents often complained of the loud early morning protests in front of the hotel, where picketers used bull horns and noisemakers.

    Pearce said she has a problem with the hotels that come to the city and the taxpayers asking for transient occupancy tax deals, for subsidies to come here. Then “based on not wanting to protect their housekeepers, … then ask taxpayers to foot the bill for an election that the majority of these folks don’t want.”

    So, in this tale of two cities an industry of hoteliers and developers has put $180,000 into a the recall of a council member who advocates for the labor within these hotels. This tale is an old story that has resurfaced in a city on the cusp of  major growth. In a New York Times story, After Years of Decline, a California Port City Sheds Its Past, Mayor Robert Garcia said the downtown is being reborn and recreated.

    “We’ve got the welcome mat out,” Garcia said. “We’re constantly meeting with folks, hosting forums for development interest.”

    Garcia’s office was contacted for this article, but Communications Director Veronica Quezada said the mayor was not available for this interview.

    Piercing the truth

    Pearce said she realizes that people want to know a couple things.

    “They want to know if I was driving under the influence,” she said. “They want to know if I caused the damage to that gentleman’s face. I was drinking responsibly. I ate. I drank minimally and I did not make those marks to his face.”

    She said it has made her hyper-aware of how difficult it is to share a story and not be victim-shamed.

    “It was a night that made me realize that I was going to have to get a restraining order and that it wasn’t a safe situation to be in,” she said. “The fact is, with narcissists, every time that you regain a little bit of the power that they have managed to take away from you, the more rage they have. That’s really at the crux of what happened that night.”

    She elaborated on the events of the night, as Cotter was getting in her car.

    “I said to myself, ‘What am I doing?’” she said. “I remember he got in my car and had some kind of attitude and I pulled over and said, ‘If you’re going to have an attitude, get out of my car,’ and he said, ‘No, I’ll be fine.’”

    Looking back, that’s exactly when she should have kicked Cotter out of her car, she said.

    “From that moment on it was the most anxiety driven evening that I can recall having,” Pearce said. “The only thing that mattered was, [that] it was abusive [and] it was sick … Because I didn’t have a mark on my body, I was dubbed the abuser. The wounds that women and men face through narcissistic abuse are often harder to get over than physical violence because [with] physical violence they see it, they understand it, they believe you.

    “The officers that night told me to get a restraining order. They said, ‘If you see him again call 911.’ If they hadn’t told me that I might not have called 911 when he showed up at my house later. Because your mind doesn’t work the same way when you’re under attack.

    “So that happened but that’s not why I’m being recalled. These guys are trying to re-traumatize me re-abuse me, victim blame. That’s why women don’t speak out.”

    Pearce said that one thing that has kept her in office and to fight the recall is believing that nothing that horrible could have happened to her without a reason, without being able to share her story. She hopes people in similar abusive situations realize it’s not their fault and that  there is help out there.

    The recall campaign has until May 9 to gather 6,400 signatures. Then it would go to a November election. If enough signatures are turned in by May 3, that would trigger a special election. A special election would cost the city taxpayers up to $275,000. Should they be successful in recalling Pearce, there would then be another special election costing the taxpayers up to another $275,000.

    To view The Tale of Two Cities report visit: https://tinyurl.com/LBTale-Two-Cities

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  • May Day Coalition in L.A.: Together We Fight Back

    The May 1st march and rally demands protection for all workers, calls on Immigration and Customs Enforcement to stop family separations and raids, and urges all Angelenos to get involved.

    Together We Fight Back is an invitation for all Angelenos to take to the streets at noon May 1 on the corner of 6th Street and Olive Street.

    The May Day Coalition of Los Angeles will promote three main issues throughout the one mile route:

    1) Defend, protect, and respect worker rights.

    2) Fight against the anti-immigrant agenda and stop the cruel separation of families by ICE.

    3) Underline the importance of civic engagement in this year’s midterm elections.

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  • Great Performance, Timely Topic Makes for Watchable “Extremities”

    By Greggory Moore, Curtain Call reviewer

    It’s one of the better-known premises in modern theatre: a man breaks into a house to rape a woman, but she fends him off, injuring and taking him prisoner. She knows it’s his word against hers, and with him threatening to come back and finish the job, does she try her luck with the police or mete out her own version of justice?

    Despite its simplicity, William Mastrosimone’s Extremities is a bit difficult to pull off. Because the play’s intensity peaks so early in a scene whose resolution we already know, it’s completely up to the actors to sustain the audience’s interest for the next 80 minutes, which unfold without the benefit of a single scene change and more or less in real time.

    On this count, the Garage Theatre is largely successful. In the pivotal role of Marjorie, Maroon Stranger is fantastic. All at once Marjorie is a victim and a survivor, scared and empowered, confused and decisive, sad and angry, engaged and withdrawn. Stranger plays all of it perfectly. Her big moments are excellent, but perhaps even more impressive is her subtlety, letting us see how much is happening behind her eyes. This is one play where the close confines of a black-box space like the Garage are a huge advantage. This is a performance you want to see up close and personal.

    If Marjorie is a role challenging for its number of facets, would-be rapist Raul is the opposite. He is a sociopath, completely unsympathetic and irredeemable. A bad actor could turn such a pure villain into pure caricature—I mean, it’s pretty much written as a caricature (which is not really a flaw)—but Nicholas B. Gianforti makes him real, monstrous and menacing but also flesh and blood. We believe him—there really are monsters in the world—and together he and Stranger make their opening encounter nearly every bit as harrowing as it should be. For most of it we are truly in the room, watching a real assault, and because of that we’re on board for the rest of the play.

    Unfortunately, from this point onwards we find little bits of sloppiness that remind us we’re watching a piece of fiction.  Reference is made to Raul’s being hogtied, but his feet are never bound, making for a double gaffe when he sits idly during a moment where clearly he would kick Marjorie. Later, one of Marjorie’s roommates asks whether she can loosen the noose around Raul’s neck (because otherwise he won’t be able to swallow the food she’s giving him), yet we clearly see the noose hanging like a loose necklace. There’s also no cause to hand-feed him, as his bonds don’t come close to preventing him from reaching his mouth.

    In fact, the overall physicality is too restrained. That’s not really a problem during the attempted rape, but the rest of the physical action never feels as believable. Gianforti never truly struggles to free himself, asking for us to suspend our disbelief in a play that pays off most handsomely if we don’t have to.

    Pretty clearly part of the reason he never truly struggles is that the fireplace in which he’s confined for most of the play is not built sturdily enough to withstand any real thrashing about. It’s the only weakness in Rob Young’s solid set design, which otherwise helps us feel immersed in the action.

    Despite a compelling premise, at times Mastrosimone’s text seems overly much like he’s going down a checklist (debate about whether Marjorie dresses like she wants it—check; turn the tables on the would-be rapist—check; convenient confession—check), rather than the characters’ words emanating organically from the deep emotional well such a situation would draw from. That failing (which, to be fair, is minor, not fatal) makes the acting all the more important. So it is a tribute to the cast—especially Maroon Stranger—that the Garage’s production works as well as it does.

    Extremities at The Garage Theatre
    Time: Thurs-Sat 8 p.m., Runs through May 5 
    Cost: $18–$25 (Thursday tix are 2-for-1)
    Details: (562) 433-8337, TheGaragetheatre.org
    Venue: 251 E 7th St. (Just off Long Beach Blvd.), Long Beach

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  • George Takei, in Allegiance, the musical

    Allegiance — An Asian American Story in the Age of Trump

    By Mark Friedman, RL contributor, environmental and labor activist in the Torrance Refinery Action Alliance

    There is a lot a musical about the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II has to carry in the age of Trump. Allegiance, the musical utilizes a deep talent pool of under-utilized Asian American talent in song, dance and acting chops.

    The cast of characters featured George Takei, of famed Star Trek Sulu, as well as phenomenal young actors Elena Wang, Ethan Le Phong, Hannah Campbell, Frank Suzuki and others.

    Allegiance revisits the history that was set in motion by United States’ entry into World War II and President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s issuance of Executive Order 9066, which gave the War secretary power to define military zones from which people could be excluded. Ultimately, 120,000 Japanese Americans on the West Coast, most of who were native-born, were forced to abandon their homes and property to be relocated to inland camps.

    The musical tells this story through the experience of the fictional Kimura family, farmers from Salinas, Calif. The Kimura family could just have easily been abalone farmers off the San Pedro peninsula or fishermen based on Terminal Island.

    At a time when the current administration is continuing and escalating the policy of deportation of immigrants who have served in this country’s armed forces, ripping families with no connection to violent crime and the deportation of youth born in the United States, retracting the promise of citizenship.

    Allegiance director, Snehal Desai, drew a clear line connecting the justification used to get Japanese Americans to comply with executive order during World War II and the policies the Trump Administration has used against Muslim Americans.

    “In this era of Muslim bans and discriminatory immigration policies, there could not be a more vital and important time to bring Allegiance home to Los Angeles, and especially Little Tokyo, where so many still remember the day when the US government forced their families to leave their communities and homes.”

    The family patriarch, Tatsuo (played by Scott Watanabe), built the farm from nothing and dreams of a better life for his children: Sammy (Ethan Le Phong), whom he’s pushing to be a lawyer, and Kei (Elena Wang), who ended up raising Sammy after their mother died. Further bonding the family is Tatsuo’s father (Takei).

    Allegiance attempts to recall the anguish and conflict Japanese Americans where on the one hand, they felt the patriotic pull to “do their part” as Americans by enduring the war effort. The other side of that anguish, however, is the unwillingness to swallow injustice as Americans, born and reared in the United States. In Allegiance, this played out in the divisions between those who refused to sign a loyalty oath (Scott Watanabe) and those who chose to enlist in the U.S. Army.

    There were divisions within the Japanese population, between those who refused to sign a loyalty oath (Scott Watanabe), and others who enlisted in the army to prove their loyalty to the United States (Ethan Le Phong playing a young George Takei). Those who refused to sign the loyalty questionnaire (designed to divide the community) were sent to special prison camps for “troublemakers.”

    There and elsewhere they resisted, organized demonstrations in the camps, smuggled letters out to newspapers, burned their draft cards. Some were killed in the camps, especially at Tule Lake. Those who fought to enlist in the military to prove their patriotism were put in all Japanese regiments led by white officers.

    Though prevented from serving in the Pacific theater, Japanese American regiments like the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the 522nd Field Artillery Battalion served with distinction. The choices they made aren’t much different from the ones immigrant soldiers who defended American interests abroad in our most recent wars.

    Original songs interspersed with spoken dialogue gave the audience an appreciation for the actors’ capabilities while clarifying historical developments. While Allegiance aims to be a Japanese American story told by Asian Americans, it still recognized instances of the ally-ship of white workers. One notable portrayal was the white nurse (Natalie Holt McDonald) assigned to the camp who not only medically and later politically aided the family (although she was forbidden to), but ended up falling in love with the protagonist, as a youth, played by Ethan Le Phong.

    Se Hyun Ho and Adam Flemming should probably win set design awards for their use of projected images that aided in providing continuity Allegiance’s storytelling. Among the imagery used was the dropping of atomic bombs on the Japanese cities Hiroshima and Nagasaki—bombings that were justified as a means of hastening the end of the war. This was despite the fact that Japan had agreed to surrender through a Russian brokered peace.

    The play’s narrative and songs were inspiring. The songs refrain “it is up to us to save ourselves. We are ready to fight.”  A clear clarion for what all of us must do today in this decade long period of grinding assaults on working people, on our living standards and health and devastation of the environment.

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  • Earth Day and Pride Film Festivals It’s a Wild World

    • 04/23/2018
    • Melina Paris
    • Culture
    • Comments are off

    By Melina Paris, Music Columnist

    Beginning Earth Day weekend and extending into May, venues through the Los Angeles Harbor Area and Long Beach will be hosting film festivals. At San Pedro’s Warner Grand Theatre, the Palos Verdes Land Conservancy will be hosting a screening of Jane, the critically acclaimed National Geographic documentary about Jane Goodall’s commitment to preserving land for chimpanzees. This screening will take place at 5 p.m. April 21 after beautification activities at the White Point Nature Preserve and a guided ranger walk.

    The Art Theatre in Long Beach is hosting the Earth Day Film Festival on April 21 and 22, featuring  the International Ocean Film Tour,  Straws,  A Plastic Ocean and An Elephant Love Story.

    The International Ocean Film Tour will be featured on April 21. The film features the best ocean adventures, water sports and environmental documentaries of the year. Following the screening, the film’s producer Henry C. Lystad and interim vice president of husbandry and curator of fish and invertebrates at the Aquarium of the Pacific, Sandy Trautwein will lead a Q-and-A after the film.

    On April 22, Straws will be presented at 10:30 a.m. followed by a  Q-and-A with Primal Alchemy caterer Chef Paul Buchanan, John Sangmeister of Gladstones and Long Beach resident, Steve Rice, who collects thousands of discarded plastic straws every month. Straws highlights a continuing effort to promote a local initiative which encourages Long Beach restaurants to educate diners on the harmful effects plastic straws have on the planet.

    Also on April 22, A Plastic Ocean, will screen at 11:30 a.m. In the adventure documentary, a team of international scientists reveals the causes and effects of plastic pollution, followed by a  Q-and-A with a Long Beach youth panel.

    At 2 p.m., the same day,  Love and Bananas: An Elephant Love Story will be featured, followed by a  Q-and-A session with writer, director and producer of the film Ashley Bell.Time: 11 a.m. April 21 and 10:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. April 22

    Cost: $8.50 and $11.50 respectively.

    Details: www.arttheatrelongbeach.org

    Venue: The Art Theatre, 2025 East 4th Street.


    Foreign Language Film Festival

    Long Beach City College’s six-day Foreign

    Language Film Fest is launched with a lecture by Gregorio Luke titled, Gay Greatness at 6 p.m., April 19 at the Carson campus, in Room T-1200. Luke is an expert in Latin American art and culture. His talk celebrates the accomplishments of the LBGTQ people in art, history, and culture.

    Luke, an accomplished speaker and scholar was named 2010 Artist of the Year in Long Beach. He is the former director of the Museum of Latin  American Art and cultural attaché of Mexico in Los Angeles.

    Contracorriente (Undertow) screens at 6 p.m. April 27 at LBCC’s Pacific Coast Highway campus in Dyer Hall. Winner of the World Cinema Audience Award at Sundance 2010, Contracorriente deals sensitively and elegantly with the dilemma faced by those who find themselves in love with two people at the same time. When those loved ones are of different genders, the emotions become even more conflicted.

    A discussion led by Eric Carbajal, professor of Spanish American literature and culture at California State University Fullerton will follow.

    Tschick (Goodbye Berlin) shows at 6 p.m. May 4 at the Carson campus in Room D-135. A 2016 German comedy-drama depicts two teenage outsiders from Berlin who go on an eccentric road trip through East Germany during the summer holidays. Following Tschick will be a discussion by Robert Blankenship, assistant professor of German at California State University Long Beach.

    Mine Vaganti (Loose Cannons) shows at 6 p.m. May 11, Carson campus room D-135. In the 1960s on a trip home from Rome, Tommaso decides to tell his parents the truth about himself. But when he is finally ready to come out in front of the entire family, his older brother Antonio ruins his plans.

    A discussion follows the film with Dr. Leonilde Callocchia, cultural attaché at the Italian Cultural Institute in Los Angeles.

    Close Knit is featured at 6 p.m. May 18 at the Carson campus, Room D-135.  The  film is about a daughter neglected by her mother, a gentle uncle and his transgender lover, an angsty boy who recognizes a sense of himself as gay. A warm “knitting” reorganizes unconventional family.

    Chavela will screen at 3 p.m. May 19 at the Carson campus in Room T-1200. Mexico’s most beloved lesbian Rancheras icon, Chavela Vargas is a rebellious, solitary and profoundly wounded trailblazer. This lyrical love letter interweaves never-before-seen interview footage and mesmerizing musical portraits of Chavela’s most famous soul-gripping songs. Chavela is followed by a discussion with Gregorio Luke.

    The last day of the festival, May 19 at 3 p.m. there will be a live mariachi performance by Mariachi Acoiris.

    Admission is free.

    Details: FLFilmFest@gmail.com

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  • Babouch Moroccan Restaurant: Casablanca for the 21st Century

    By Richard Foss, Dining and Cuisine Writer

    A great restaurant experience takes you out of your everyday world. You live in the moment for a while, basking in attentive service and the sensory experiences associated with fine food. After the time away, you return to everyday life a bit more ready to deal with its trials.

    Among the many fine dining options in the Harbor Area, one is incomparably ahead of the others when it comes to immersion in another place and time. For 40 years, Babouch has welcomed visitors to its fantasy of a Moroccan palace on Gaffey Street. Brothers Yousef and Kamal Keroles opened the restaurant in 1978, and although it is under new ownership the experience remains the same.

    The exterior is plain and white, but inside there is a riot of color. Patterned fabrics cover almost every surface from the Moorish carpets on the floor to the tent-like pleated ceiling. The lighting, with leaded glass and stamped tin lamps, adds to the exotic atmosphere.

    You’re led to a low mosaic-patterned table, where you are seated on couches with pillows, just as you would be at a Moroccan home. (A note for those who wonder how comfortable this is: it’s a slightly unusual posture for those who are used to taller chairs, but even the person at our table who recently had hip surgery had no complaints.)

    Menus are offered and a staff member comes by with a ewer and a basin to wash your hands with scented water. This is part of the ritual of a Moroccan meal. It was once a necessity because Moroccans usually eat with their fingers. Forks are provided, but most people still follow traditional custom and don’t use them.

    Meals can be ordered a la carte or as a set dinner, since the price difference is only a few dollars almost everyone orders the works. This includes lentil soup, salads, and b’stilla, the chicken and egg stuffed pastry that is one of Morocco’s favorite items. As much food as that is, on our most recent visit we tried a starter in the form of “spicy cigars.” These are essentially egg rolls made with flaky pastry, stuffed with a mildly spiced beef-and-onion mixture and topped with a line of hot mustard. I would order them again but ask for the mustard on the side.

    Bowls of cumin-spiced lentil soup began the meal, followed by salads. Separate portions of pickled carrots, chopped tomatoes, and an eggplant and vegetable puree are served over a lettuce mix with minimal dressing. The fragrant but not hot spicing in each element is reminiscent of Spanish food — no surprise, since southern Spain was under Moroccan rule for hundreds of years. Those who get in the spirit of things will take pinches of the hot bread served with this course to pick up the salads; it’s tricky at first but you quickly get the hang of it.

    The next course is the b’stilla, layer after layer of flaky dough wrapped around a mixture of shredded chicken, boiled egg, nuts, and spices, then topped with cinnamon and powdered sugar just before serving. They arrive too hot to eat, and pros will poke a hole in the top and wait a minute or two to let out the steamy heat. These smell so good that you’ll probably risk burning your tongue by starting early; it’s a good idea to have some water ready.

    We did, but we also had wine, which the Moroccans have made for centuries. In the spirit of experimentation we ordered the house California Chardonnay and the Moroccan version by Thaleb. Somewhat to our surprise, the Moroccan was the clear winner. It’s not going to keep the premium French or Napa winemakers up at night worrying, but it’s a nice unoaked wine with floral and fruity notes.

    Our main courses were chicken cooked with lemon and olives, rabbit in paprika sauce and lamb stewed with onions. All were slow-braised in the clay pot called a tagine, a style of cooking that renders meats meltingly tender. North African cooking often pairs olives and tart pickled lemon with complex mélanges of spices so that no single flavor dominates and that was the case with each of our items. The chicken had an agreeable saltiness and was most citrusy, while the paprika and pepper in the rabbit sauce made us think of someone making Hungarian goulash in Tangier using local ingredients. The lamb with onion was most down to earth, a pot roast in rich gravy with a touch of the exotic. Each entrée was served with steamed vegetables and some fresh couscous that served to mop up the gravy. We paired these with Moroccan syrahs and cabernet alongside a California cab and the syrah won this time.

    Dessert is included with all meals and involves mint tea served with a Moroccan pastry made by dropping dough in boiling oil and frying it until crisp, then coating it with honey. If you’re thinking that sounds like the Pennsylvania Dutch funnel cakes that are a staple at county fairs, you’re right. Both cultures had the same idea, though the Moroccan version is lighter and lacier than anything you’ve had at a county fair.

    As we ate, the woman reading Tarot cards at a nearby table had changed into a variety of veils. As we left, she was starting to belly dance. The cards and the dance are native to Egypt, not Morocco, but we were happily full and not inclined to quibble. Dinner for three, with a starter and two glasses of wine each, ran $135 — pretty remarkable for a few hours immersed in the sights, sounds, scents, and tastes of another continent. After four decades, Babouch is in good hands and is still doing what it does well — a rare outpost of a high civilization by the side of a busy street.

    Babouch is at 810 S. Gaffey in San Pedro. Open daily for dinner only. Reservations recommended.

    Details: (310) 831-0246


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  • Cost of Avoiding Safety Could be Deadly

    By Sally Hayati, President of the Torrance Refinery Action Alliance and James Preston Allen, Publisher

    Residents of the greater South Bay and Harbor Area are weary of living in fear of an accidental release of hydrofluoric acid, HF, at the PBF Torrance and Valero, Wilmington refineries.

    Both refineries employ modified HF, MHF, claiming it is safe. But, as Rep. Ted Lieu,  of Torrance says, we’ve been hoodwinked. An investigation by eight independent South Bay scientists proves MHF has no safety advantage compared to hydrofluoric acid. Recent conclusions by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, the Environmental Protection Agency and the South Coast Air Quality Management District are consistent with this finding. Even the US Department of Justice sued ExxonMobil to enforce the Chemical Safety Board’s subpoenas for MHF information and the DOJ is appealing the court’s denial for subpoenas related to MHF.

    Like HF, accidentally released MHF forms a dense acid fog that hugs the ground and drifts with air currents. The acid plume resulting from the release of 50,000 pounds of MHF in the settler tank, nearly struck in 2015, could have killed or seriously harmed tens of thousands of people in a 16 mile path… Even if 90 percent of the released acid were successfully “mitigated” by emergency systems, the remaining 5,000 lb. fog plume could still create a five-mile path of death or significant and irreversible harm. This is not “safe.”

    Our earthquake-prone region is the second most densely populated area in the United States to have refineries still using HF and MHF. Well over 1 million people are threatened. All other California refineries perform alkylation with sulfuric acid, a liquid that remains on refinery grounds upon release. Chevron is voluntarily converting its only HF unit, in Salt Lake City, to use another safe alternative.

    Refinery supporters, however, employ economic scare tactics to oppose MHF replacement. They inflate the estimated cost to $600 million to $900 million, even though technology providers’ estimates and ongoing builds and conversions show a $300 million to $400 million cost. Certainly affordable, given the recent tax breaks refineries received from Washington.MHF replacement will not cause the refineries to shut down or result in economic disaster in California. Jobs will be created during the construction, not lost.

    Industry says deadly MHF must stay because replacing it would raise gas prices just like the 2015 Torrance refinery explosion did. However, unlike explosions and earthquakes, the market can plan for MHF replacement. California refineries would build alkylate inventory to fulfill demand during alky unit downtime, which will be shorter than the full transition period. If temporarily needed, alkylate can be — and commonly is —imported to California.  MHF replacement will be much less disruptive and downtime for the alkylation units at PBF Torrance and Valero, Wilmington will be shorter that the four-year transition time, much of which is dedicated to planning, design, and permitting. MHF unit shutdown times would be about six months for Torrance (build a new unit while operating the old), and one year for Valero (convert MHF unit to use safe technology).

    PBF brags that it paid pennies on the dollar for a refinery worth $1 billion and predicts Torrance will be its most profitable refinery. Shareholders will not allow PBF to abandon the refinery; PBF never tells shareholders that it plans to when the subject comes up. PBF has not been flagged as a bankruptcy hazard due to AQMD Rule 1410. PBF doesn’t plan to abandon the refinery. It wants to scare residents into thinking they have a stake in preserving MHF. We don’t.  The California economy will survive the temporary disruption and benefit from eliminating the risk of mass casualties, lowered property values and massive area business losses from an accidental MHF release. The oil industry might accept the risk of a disaster as a cost of doing business, but the community won’t.

    It’s time to call the bluff of the corporate blackmailers. It’s time to reject the discredited claims of interested parties in favor of the credible studies of independent investigations. MHF is just as deadly as the original.

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  • Founder Kamal Keroles is Happy to See Babouch in Good Hands

    • 04/20/2018
    • Terelle Jerricks
    • Dining News
    • Comments are off

    By Terelle Jerricks, Managing Editor

    On April 28, Kamal Keroles and all in the Babouch Moroccan Restaurant family are going to celebrate the restaurant’s 40th anniversary and the passing of the torch to its new owners, Trina Mendoza and Jasiree Fournier.

    Kamal Keroles and his younger brother Youssef Keroles opened Babouch in April 1978. Kamal studied marketing and business administration and his brother culinary arts in San Francisco.

    “We don’t like to drive to work,” Kamal said. “The family lives here and we thought that the competition wouldn’t be as severe here.”

    Kamal said he noticed people in Los Angeles are generally willing to drive to eat at a good Moroccan restaurant.

    “That’s what happened to us when we found a good location,” he said. “People from all around began to come here.”

    Kamal didn’t start off knowing he was going to open a restaurant. The idea of running his own business or becoming a restaurateur wasn’t a foreign idea to him. He noted that many members of his family have gone into business for themselves — businesses ranging from gas stations to restaurants, even a pharmacy.

    Their passion for Moroccan cuisine was born when they worked as apprentices to the great Moroccan Chef Mehdi Ziani, who was the personal chef for Hassan II of Morocco.

    Kamal was born and raised in Egypt. But because of his apprenticeship with Mehdi Ziani, he traveled frequently to Morocco to absorb the culture and bring back authentic décor for his restaurant.

    “Moroccan cuisine is one most popular cuisines in the world behind French, Chinese and possibly Indian cuisines,” Kamal said.

    Kamal counts the years after Babouch first opened as the most exciting.

    “A lot of times we had fundraisers here at Babouch,” he said. “We always wanted to try to get involved in the community with different groups and organizations. That was a lot of fun.”

    Kamal noted that it wasn’t until he added a catering dimension to their services that Babouch became as successful it did.

    He recounted the relationship formed with the former New Figueroa Hotel in Los Angeles, which was known for its Moroccan style décor. Kamal noted that Babouch would receive a lot of requests to hold weddings at their restaurant until it was realized the restaurant couldn’t accommodate 200 guests. The New Figueroa Hotel was often the wedding party’s next destination. But when it discovered that the hotel didn’t have a large kitchen, the wedding party would hire Babouch Moroccan Restaurant to cater the wedding. This happened a few times before the restaurant and the hotel decided to form a partnership.

    The partnership endured for 10 years before the hotel was sold and underwent a complete makeover, moving away from the Moroccan  décor.

    After 40 years of operating Babouch, Kamal said he was extremely happy he was able to hand-off the restaurant to people who love it as he did and would keep it largely the same way. If anything, the new owners, Trina and Jasiree plan  to cast Babouch in the mold of the Hollywood Golden Age film,  Casablanca, in a bid to add an extra layer of romanticism to the restaurant.

    One might say,  they are going to play it again, Sam.

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  • Human Trafficking Awareness and Prevention

    On April 26, the YWCA in San Pedro is hosting informational meeting regarding human trafficking and exploitation. Among the panel of speakers who will be presenting and answering questions on this pressing 21st century issue, includes The Coalition to Abolish Slavery Los Angeles taskforce coordinator, Becca Channel and Cherise Charleswell MPH from  Journey Out, a nonprofit organization that helps victims escape lives of sex exploitation and sex trafficking.

    The community, including youths, parents and concerned individuals are invited to this educational event. A continental breakfast will be served at the start of the event followed by an hour and half long program.


    Time: 7:30a.m., April 26

    Cost: Free

    Details: ywcaharbor.org

    Venue: 437 W. 9th Street, San Pedro

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  • Talk on Surviving Capitalism in the Trump Era at Occidental College

    Economist Richard Wolff returns to Los Angeles to discuss the divisive crisis of capitalism under President Donald Trump and to outline better solutions. Author of Capitalism’s Crisis Deepens: Essays on the Global Economic Meltdown and Democracy at Work: A Cure for Capitalism.


    Time: 7 p.m. April 23

    Cost: $12.50 to $25

    Details: tinyurl.com/Richard-Wolfe

    Venue:  Occidental College, Choi Auditorium, 1600 Campus Road, Los Angeles

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