• Signal Hill Mother, Boyfriend Charged in 2014 Death of 2-Year Old Son: RL NEWS Aug. 13, 2015

    Signal Hill Mother, Boyfriend Charged in 2014 Death of 2-Year Old Son

    SIGNAL HILL — The Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department Homicide Bureau filed felony charges against 25-year-old Jessica Cereceres and her 23-year-old boyfriend Samuel Aguilar in connection to the death of Cerecere’s 2-year old son Josue Maldonado.

    The alleged incident took place on Aug. 10, 2014. A report was issued to Signal Hill police officers of the baby not breathing. Though several life-saving measures were attempted they were unsuccessful and Josue was later pronounced dead at a local hospital. A death investigation was preformed soon after by the Los Angeles County Sheriff. Aguilar was arrested in December on account of witness intimidation and dissuasion and was later charged with murder, felony child abuse and spousal assault.

    His bail has been set at $1.3 million. Cereceres cooperated with the investigators and appeared before the Long Beach Superior Court for a hearing, where she was convicted of felony child endangerment and arrested. She is being held at a $200,000 bail.

    Anyone with information about this incident is encouraged to call (323) 890-5500 or visit http://lacrimestoppers.org.


    Former SPHS Substitute Charged for Having Sex with Students

    Michelle Yeh

    Michelle Yeh

    SAN PEDRO — On Aug. 11, Michelle Yeh, a former San Pedro High School substitute teacher was charged on with was charged with four counts of unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor under 16, two counts of oral copulation of a minor under 16, and two counts of lewd acts on a child 15 years of age. Both students were boys.

    Prosecutors say the 29-year-old Michelle Yeh pursued relationships with many students.

    She was charged with four counts of unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor under 16, two counts of oral copulation of a minor under 16, and two counts of lewd acts on a child 15 years of age, according to a press release.

    Yeh was arraigned, on Aug. 12, at the Long Beach Superior Courthouse. Prosecutors asked for $250,000 bail. The woman faces up to nine years and eight months in state prison.


    Long Beach City Council Votes on Motion to Study Minimum Wage Increase

    LONG BEACH– On Aug. 11, the Long Beach City Council unanimously voted to initiate a study by the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation to examine the potential impacts of raising the minimum wage in Long Beach.

    Vice Mayor Suja Lowenthal authored the motion, which requested that a study be made about the effects on the city and business, as well as exploring possible incentives for businesses to comply.

    More than 100 low-wage workers and community members spoke in support of raising the minimum wage at both a press event and a hearing at Long Beach City Hall.

    The Long Beach City Council took steps later that evening to kick-start the process of raising the minimum wage by commissioning the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation to study the economic impacts. The city council also moved the issue of wage enforcement through the city manager, who will report back. The council is expected to review the study in the coming months. Mayor Robert Garcia expressed support for the proposed study earlier this month.

    “I commend the Council for its decision to move forward with this important study on the impacts of a minimum wage for Long Beach, as well as possible incentives for businesses and nonprofits,” Garcia said in a statement. “I am committed to ensuring an objective and thorough examination of this issue that includes all voices and perspectives, and I want to encourage residents, workers, employers and everyone in the community to participate in that process.”

    The study is expected to take approximately three months to complete.

    Read More
  • Proposition 47 Reclassification Clinics: RLn ANNOUNCEMENTS Aug. 13, 2015

    Aug. 15

    Proposition 47 Reclassification Clinics

    Get free help filling out the reclassification application. Thanks to new law called Proposition 47, you may be able to get non-violent felonies reclassified to misdemeanors. Qualifying felonies are:

    • Simple drug possessions
    • Shoplifting under $950
    • Petty theft under $950
    • Forgery or insufficient funds under $950
    • Receiving stolen property under $950

    Bring a Copy of Your Criminal Record, (Docket or Rap Sheet)
    To obtain your record: Visit any criminal court in every county where you have a conviction. Ask the clerk’s office for the complete print-out of your criminal docket. (Free in Long Beach, while you wait) or visit any local live scan office to RAP sheet; the cost is $35 to $60 (2 to 4 weeks).
    Time: 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. Aug. 15
    Cost: Free
    Venue: Centro C.H.A. Inc.,1900 Atlantic Ave., 2nd Floor, Long Beach

    Aug. 26

    West Division Forum

    Join Cmdr. Smith at the West Division Leadership Forum. A Long Beach Police Department, gangs detective will give an overview on gangs. Spanish translation will be available.
    Time: 6 p.m. Aug. 26
    Cost: Free
    Details: (562) 570-3461; Jose.Vazquez@longbeach.gov
    Venue: Long Beach Police Department, West Division,1900 Atlantic Ave. 2nd floor

    Sept. 13

    Nutcracker Auditions

    The Peninsula School of Performing Arts will be hosting auditions for The Nutcracker to be performed at the Norris Theatre on Nov. 20, 21, 28 and 29.
    The performing arts school is looking for gingersnaps (children ages 5 to 7 years old) at 9 a.m., for mice soldiers and clowns (children 7 to 10 years old) at 10 a.m., party scene boys and girls, and angels (children 10 to 13 years old) at 11 a.m., and more advanced roles at 12 p.m.
    Time: 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. Sept. 13
    Details: pspsdance@gmail.com, www.pspadance.com.
    Venue: 2325 Palos Verdes Drive West, Palos Verdes Estates

    Read More
  • Sanders Gets Huge Welcoming Support in LA

    Video by Adam Adame

    LOS ANGELES — More than 27,000 supporters eagerly attended presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’ Wild West Tour, Aug. 10, at the Los Angles Memorial Sports Arena. The independent candidate, who caucuses with Democrats, gave his populist message calling for an end to big money in politics and yawning income inequality.

    Read More
  • Northbound Alameda Street Closure: RLn ANNOUNCMENTS Aug. 12, 2015

    Aug. 14

    Northbound Alameda Street Closure

    All northbound lanes on Alameda Street from O Street — just north of Pacific Coast Highway — to Sepulveda Boulevard will be closed to repair a damaged overhead bridge through Aug. 14. Take Pacific Coast Highway to State Route 103, turn left onto Sepulveda Blvd and right onto Alameda Street. Southbound lanes will not be affected.

    Aug. 18

    Long Beach City Council MeetingLong Beach City Hall

    The Long Beach City Council will consider declaring an ordinance related to expediting the permitting process and fees for small rooftop solar energy systems, during its 5 p.m. Aug. 18 meeting, at Long Beach City Hall.
    Time: 5 p.m. Aug. 18
    Details: http://longbeach.legistar.com/Calendar
    Venue: Long Beach City Hall, 333 W. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach

    Aug. 19


    In partnership with UNCODED, WE Labs will be hosting a Meet The Angels event with Pasadena Angels.
    If you’ve ever wanted to know how angel investing works or you’ve got some questions for living, breathing angel investors, then this is the event for you.

    Time: 6 p.m. Aug. 19
    Details: lincoln@welabs.us; RSVP REQUIRED
    Venue: WeLabs, 235 E. Broadway, Suite 800, Long Beach

    Aug. 21

    Cultural Grants Program

    The Department of Cultural Affairs is accepting proposals for its 2016-2017 Cultural Grants Program for nonprofit arts and cultural organizations (and for social service nonprofits partnering with arts organizations). The deadline for online submission is 11:59 p.m. Aug. 21. Hard copies should be postmarked by August 24.
    These cultural grants support public-benefit arts projects, arts education initiatives, or cultural programming to take place between July 1, 2016, and June 30, 2017.

    Aug. 25

    Free PR Plan Developed For Your Business

    As a mid-term project, Cal State Long Beach students in an upper-grade public relations class named public relations campaigns, will be assigned to develop a comprehensive and customized public relations plan/proposal at no cost for owners of local small businesses. A customized public relations plan can be an essential part of a company’s overall marketing strategy — such a plan can accomplish many things, including raising awareness of, and generating demand for, the company’s products and/or services.
    If you are interested in having a free public relatiosn plan developed for your business please provide by Aug. 25 the following information:

    • Your name
    • Phone number
    • Company web site URL address (if you do not have a web site please provide a brief description of your business and, if and how you utilize social media; 1-3 sentences)

    Once again, the deadline for submitting this information is August 25th. Students will consider all submissions and they will select the businesses they want to develop PR plans for.  If your business is selected, you will be contacted in September to set up fact-gathering meeting(s) at your office with the student. Final plans will be presented and submitted to you in late October.
    Details: (562) 243-2615; lissette@estrellapr.com

    Aug. 27

    Emergency Preparedness

    You are invited to participate in a training program designed for Long Beach Community Partners and Neighborhood Organizations to learn how to develop emergency response plans.  This informative training will discuss:
     Personal preparedness, and the four steps to getting ready for a disaster.
     Organizing your community with the American Red Cross.
     Preparedness training with Long Beach Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) members.
    Time: 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Aug. 27
    Details: (562) 570-1010; http://goo.gl/forms/JsZUXkqxJV.
    Venue: Emergency Communication and Emergency Center, 2990 Redondo Ave., Long Beach

    Sept. 13

    Nutcracker Auditions



    The Peninsula School of Performing Arts will be hosting auditions for The Nutcracker to be performed at the Norris Theatre on Nov. 20, 21, 28 and 29.
    The performing arts school is looking for gingersnaps (children ages 5 to 7 years old) at 9 a.m., for mice soldiers and clowns (children 7 to 10 years old) at 10 a.m., party scene boys and girls, and angels (children 10 to 13 years old) at 11 a.m., and more advanced roles at 12 p.m.
    Time: 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. Sept. 13
    Details: pspsdance@gmail.com, www.pspadance.com.
    Venue: 2325 Palos Verdes Drive West, Palos Verdes Estates

    Read More
  • Garcia Seeks Update to Long Beach Plan for LA River: RL NEWS Briefs, Aug. 11, 2015

    Garcia Seeks Update to Long Beach Plan for LA River

    LONG BEACH — Mayor Robert Garcia has asked the Long Beach City Council to direct the city manager to update the Long Beach “River Link” plan. The mayor’s proposal will be in the Aug. 18 agenda.

    For more than 50 years, the primary purpose of the Los Angeles River was flood control.

    The plan was created to outline the city’s efforts to restore and enhance the Los Angeles River in Long Beach, as well as plans to revitalize the entire length of the river in a collaborative effort with the LA River Revitalization Corp.

    The River Link was created in 2007, and more recent developments are not presently included in the plan – most prominently, to explore an integrated vision for the entire 51 miles of the Los Angeles River.


    New Board President Emphasizes Fiscal and Social Responsibility

    Lori Ann Farrell Harrison

    Lori Ann Guzmán

    LONG BEACH — On Aug. 10, Newly elected Long Beach Board of Harbor Commissioners President Lori Ann Guzmán outlined priorities for her one-year leadership term.

    Guzmán seeks to set strategic goals to attract more cargo and to handle that business in an environmentally sustainable way. She also aims to broaden the Port of Long Beach’s social responsibility outreach and she said more people should be encouraged to lend their voices to the public dialogue on how the port is run.
    Guzmán called on the port to rededicate itself to the landmark Green Port Policy, and look at operating in the local community as a privilege and responsibility.
    She also stressed the importance of working with city leaders, including Mayor Robert Garcia and the Long BeachCity Council.
    Also, Guzmán announced she will resume using her given name – Lori Ann Guzmán. When appointed to the Harbor Commission in 2013, Guzmán was known as Lori Ann Farrell. She married Long Beach Director of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Communications Reggie Harrison, becoming Lori Ann Farrell Harrison.
    She shared that, following her recent marriage and family discussions, her role as a mentor and role model in the community can be strengthened even further by honoring her cultural heritage and the roots of her family.
    Guzmán was elected president by her fellow commissioners on July 27. Commissioners also selected Lou Anne Bynum as vice president and Tracy Egoscue as secretary, giving the board an all-female officer slate for the first time in its history.
    Guzmán, director of finance for the City of Huntington Beach, also thanked her colleagues there for their support in her new role.

    Garcetti Announces Completion of Los Angeles Reservoir Cover Project

    LOS ANGELES — On Aug. 10, Mayor Eric Garcetti announced the release of 20,000 small plastic “shade balls” onto the surface of the Los Angeles Reservoir.

    The plastic balls protect water quality by preventing sunlight-triggered chemical reactions, deterring birds and other wildlife, and protecting water from rain and wind-blown dust. The shade balls will also prevent the annual loss to evaporation of about 300 million gallons of water.

    Dr. Brian White, a now-retired Los Angles Department of Water and Power biologist, was the mastermind behind the idea of using shade balls for water quality. The idea came to him when he learned about the application of “bird balls” in ponds along airfield runways. Holding enough water to supply the entire City of Los Angeles for up to three weeks, a total of about 3.3 billion gallons, the Los Angeles Reservoir is at the Van Norman Complex in Sylmar. The shade balls are in place at Upper Stone, Elysian and Ivanhoe reservoirs.

    The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power is the first utility company to use this technology for water quality protection. This deployment marked the final phase of an effort that involves the deployment of 96 million shade balls to the 175-acre reservoir owned and managed by LADWP.  At 36 cents each, the balls require no construction, parts, labor or maintenance aside from occasional rotation. A second, $100 million ultraviolet treatment facility is due to break ground next — allowing LADWP to meet regulatory timelines, save more than $250 million in capital improvement costs and further reduce water losses.


    Garcetti Announces $50 Million Fund for Affordable Housing

    LOS ANGELES — On Aug. 10, Mayor Eric Garcetti announced the expansion of the New Generation Fund, which will bring an additional $50 million to create, preserve and retrofit affordable housing in Los Angeles.

    The fund offers pre-development and acquisition funding through a public-private partnership between Los Angeles and a group of banks, financial institutions and community development financial institutions. The renewed fund will continue to invest in developments that address the City’s goal of integrating affordable housing with neighborhood amenities, public transportation, social services and energy conservation.

    In this latest round of funding, the city’s commitment of $10 million has been used to leverage the $50 million that will be made available on a revolving loan basis to affordable housing developers.

    Since its 2008 inception, the New Generation Fund has provided more than $69 million for the construction and preservation of 1,355 affordable apartments including the historic rehab of the Rosslyn Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, construction of the Metro in Hollywood, a transit-oriented development and the construction of Riverwalk at Reseda

    Read More
  • Two Men, One Kidney, and a Bond for Life

    It was during a routine physical sometime around 1960 that the then-teenage David Braunstein was alerted to the fact that something was not quite right with his kidneys. His urine contained a bit too much protein, doctors told him. But he was a young man without symptoms, and it wasn’t like he was given specific instructions about what he should and shouldn’t do in relation to the issue, so he didn’t give it much thought.

    But about a quarter-century later a routine checkup revealed high levels of creatinine in Braunstein’s blood, and his physician sent him to a nephrologist. Braunstein was instructed to change his diet, and thus began a lifetime vigil of monitoring his blood.

    Then came that day in September 2013, when during one of his bimonthly visits to the nephrologist, the gravity of his situation was made plain.

    “The doctor said, ‘Can you bring your wife in? […] You’re going to have to think about what you’re going to do when your kidneys go,'” Braunstein recalls. His kidney function was down to 20%, he and wife Terry were told. “[…] They immediately put me on the wait list [for a kidney transplant], because they said, ‘You’re going to need it.'”

    The Braunsteins were more pragmatic than fearful. They educated themselves about their options. They learned, for example, that location can be a major determiner of how long an individual must wait for an organ, with population-dense Los Angeles County having on of the longest wait time in the country.

    But with a median wait time of over four years and over 100,000 people on the list nationwide, the best option, by far, would be to obtain a live organ from living donor. And so Terry wrote an open letter explaining David’s plight and put it out to the community.

    Within 24 hours, Marco Schindelmann answered the call, despite the fact that he and David were acquainted little more than professionally, having worked together when Braunstein did some consulting work for the Arts Council of Long Beach, of which Schindelmann is president.

    “A voice inside my head said, ‘You gotta do this,'” Schindelmann says. “I just wanted to make sure I knew what I was saying yes to. I wanted to go in with my eyes open, because [after committing] I didn’t want to suddenly back out.”

    Schindelmann spent the next day reading up on kidney donation at the Mayo Clinic’s Website. He learned that generally kidney donors suffer no adverse long-term effects from the process (he already knew that only one kidney is necessary to live a normal life), and that the life expectancy of kidney donors was the same as that of non-donors.

    One lingering concern was the possibility of a rise in blood pressure that would need to be permanently treated with medication—a prospect Schindelmann very much wanted to avoid—because high blood pressure can damage kidney function. But after a doctor told him it was reasonable to expect to avoid this eventuality so long as he maintained his healthy lifestyle, Schindelmann was all in.

    But the pair was far from their mutually intended destination. First there was a battery of tests not only to determine whether Braunstein and Schindelmann were a physical match, but psychological tests to ensure that Schindelmann was in a proper state of mind to undertake such a mission. “How do you feel about an assault and battery being perpetrated on you that will permanently compromise your health,” Schindelmann recalls being asked by a doctor.

    “He said to Marco, ‘You must be crazy to want to do this,’ relates Braunstein, who was in the room at the time. “We were like, ‘Is this guy a plant? Is this part of their way of flushing out the people who aren’t really up to it?'”

    But Schindelmann appreciated such bluntness, another dose of which he received when he met with a friend of the Braunsteins who had donated a kidney to her husband.

    “David said [to the donor], ‘Can you believe that they said’ and he repeated the ‘assault and battery’ thing,” Schindelmann says. “And she said, ‘Oh, I wish they would have told me that, because it’s that and even worse.’ She went into gory details about how horrible she felt. She said the first day or two you want to die, and for the next week you don’t feel like yourself. […] And then she had complications. A month later she had tremendous abdominal pain and had to go to the emergency room. […] You could see Terry get her Jewish-mother look on her face, like, ‘Oh my God, we’re putting you through this!’ and sort of wringing her hands.”

    Braunstein admits he would have been unlikely to do what Schindelmann is doing were the tables turned, though he says that has a great deal to do with how ignorant he was about kidney donation prior his crisis.

    “I didn’t know anything about it, anything,” he says. “[…] “I never thought about the fact that you need only one kidney to live. I didn’t know that people who donate kidneys live as long as everybody else. […] My first reaction [to the prospect of being a donor] would have been, ‘Hell no!’ My body part? [Laughs] I mean, give me a break.”

    But not only was Schindelmann willing to donate a kidney directly to David: if they weren’t a match he was willing to donate his kidney into a pool so that David would be eligible for a live matching organ far sooner than if he were on the wait list without being part of the pool. And with his kidney function down to 11% by October 2014, he was running out of time.

    “Marco said, ‘Don’t worry about it: you’re getting a kidney even if we don’t match,'” Braunstein says. “He was just terrific about it. Everything he’s done was to put me at rest. In his mind it was done, and he was going to make sure it was as easy as possible. Marco is a special guy. He has that combination of compassion and bravery. It takes both to do something like this. Everyone feels for you, but to do something…. And he won’t even let me buy him dinner! He’s a tough guy to be generous with. […] If Marco hadn’t volunteered, and I was set on getting a live organ, I would probably be in India right now.”

    The transplant, originally scheduled for December, was delayed when doctors found that Braunstein needed bypass surgery to get his heart proper shape to receive a kidney. More waiting ensued when it was decided that the procedure would take place not at the Scripps Institute in San Diego, but closer to home at UCLA Medical Center, a switch that necessitated Braunstein and Schindelmann’s going through screening process all over again.

    But again the results proved favorable, with the pair deemed a match, a scenario Schindelmann found more aesthetically and emotionally pleasing than if he donated to the kidney pool.

    “Terry said, ‘You’re part of our family now,'” Schindelmann says. “This whole process feels more like a kidney adoption than a kidney transplant. I’ll feel comfortable with them incorporating me into their family because there will literally be a flesh-and-blood tie.”

    Nonetheless, Schindelmann says that a phenomenon he was warned about is the possibility of being treated as a hero leading up to and immediately after the surgery, then being more or less forgotten in the longer term. That is especially common if the transplant doesn’t take, a situation in which the entire process will have been for naught.

    But Schindelmann was not concerned about hero worship. Nor did he fear the slight possibility of dying on the operating table (a risk that comes with any such procedure). Nonetheless, he admitted to a level of low-grade fear concerning other slight possibilities, including cognitive impairment, and damage to his vocal cords than can result from intubation (Schindelmann is an opera singer/coach), and other losses of function.

    Nonetheless, Schindelmann and Braunstein went under the knife on July 29, and the result was a bit anticlimactic. Schindelmann had what he calls “a degree of discomfort” upon awakening, but far less than he was expecting. He was discharged from the hospital a day early—as was Braunstein—and once at home in La Habra never took any of the pain medication he was prescribed. He even attended an Arts Council board meeting on August 3, not even five days removed from surgery.

    On Braunstein’s end, the closest thing to drama has been what he labels as a shift in his spirituality, despite the fact that he’s not “spiritual” in the traditional sense.

    “Being ‘blessed’ was never a word I used,” he says, his new kidney celebrating its first week in its new home by functioning at what doctors say is an impressive level. “[…] You don’t control your life. You control nothing about your future. You can plan it, you do the best job you can, but life happens. The fact that I’m surrounded by people who care and are willing to extend themselves—like Marco and my family and my friends—gave the term ‘being blessed’ meaning for me. […] I’ve really come to understand differently what others can do for you, and how you have to appreciate that. The world moves on, and if you don’t have a support system and friends that can step up for you, it’s a different world.”

    And so it is for Marco Schindelmann and David Braunstein, each of whom has benefited from the process. The kidney donation itself may be the least of it. For all we know of the future, in the kidney may not take. But beyond mere blood and organs, we are mind and soul. By way of the generosity of one man and the gratitude of another are two among us forever changed, bonded by a reciprocal caring that no weakness of the flesh can touch.

    To register to be an organ donor, go here.

    (Photo credit: Samantha Smithstein)

    Read More
  • Multiple Victim Stabbing and Officer-Involved Shooting: RL NEWS Briefs Aug. 10, 2015

    Multiple Victim Stabbing and Officer-Involved Shooting

    LONG BEACH — Police killed a man after he allegedly stabbed and injured six people on Aug. 7, in the 3200 block of East Artesia Boulevard in Long Beach.

    The suspect has been identified as Derrick Lee Hunt, a 28-year-old resident of Long Beach. The motive for this crime remains unclear. Any previous criminal history of Hunt is not being released.

    When Long Beach Police Department officers responded to the call at about 8:15 p.m. that night, they found several people had been stabbed. The crime spree started at a multi-unit apartment complex on the north side of the 3200 block of East Artesia, where Hunt stabbed a woman and two men. Hunt then proceeded across Artesia Street and entered a convalescent home on the south side of the street, where he stabbed three women.

    Hunt was shot and killed at the scene. A knife was recovered.

    Five out of the six victims were taken to local hospitals and the one was treated at the scene for superficial sounds. Anyone with information regarding this incident is urged to call (562) 570-7244 or visit www.lacrimestoppers.org.


    San Pedro Town Square Design Firm Chosen

    SAN PEDRO — On Aug. 4, the Los Angeles Harbor Commission approved a three-year $2.34 million contract with Populous for the San Pedro Town Square and Ports O’Call Promenade projects. Populous is a renowned Engineering and Design firm with signature sports stadium, waterfront and convention center projects found around the globe.

    Design work for both projects will commence immediately and is expected to be complete by the end of 2016. Construction for both projects is currently scheduled to start in mid-2017, and be completed in 2019. The engineering and design work will also include future alignment recommendations for the red car trolley.


    Owner of Orange County Real Estate Investment Firm Found Guilty in Fraud Scheme

    SANTA ANA — On Aug. 7, the CEO of a now-defunct Southern California real estate investment firm was convicted this afternoon of federal fraud charges for perpetrating a scheme that ended with the bankruptcy of the company and hundreds of investors collectively losing as much as $169 million.

    Michael J. Stewart, 68, who lives in in San Clemente, was found guilty of 11 counts of mail fraud following a nine-day jury trial. Stewart owned and was the chief executive of Pacific Property Assets, which had offices in Long Beach and Irvine. Along with co-defendant John Packard, Stewart created Pacific Property Assets in 1999 to purchase, renovate, operate, and resell or refinance apartment complexes in Southern California and Arizona. Typically, the company financed property acquisitions through mortgages, and it raised money from private investors to pay for renovations to the properties. After several years, the company would refinance (or sometimes sell) each property.

    Although the company’s apartment rental operations were not profitable, it was able to raise cash through refinancing and selling properties. As real estate values were generally increasing until about 2007, the properties were refinanced at ever-higher values, which enabled Pacific Property Assets to use the extra refinancing proceeds to not only pay off the original mortgages, but also to make payments on other loans, make payments to investors, to pay other business expenses, and to pay Stewart and Packard. In its 10 years of operations, Pacific Property Assets acquired more than 100 real estate properties and raised hundreds of millions of dollars from hundreds of investors. As Stewart told prospective investors, from 2004 to 2007, the company was named three times to Inc. magazine’s list of the fastest growing privately held companies in the United States, was a regional finalist in Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year Program, and was listed by the Orange County Business Journal as one of fastest growing businesses in Orange County.

    But as the government argued at trial, by the end of 2007, when the real estate market began to decline and credit became scarce, the company’s business model was no longer feasible. As the value of the company’s properties was falling, Pacific Property Assets could no longer raise money by refinancing its properties with increasingly large mortgages or selling properties at a profit. Furthermore, the company faced large debt payments to its mortgage lenders and private investors, while it was continuing to lose money in its business operations. In May 2008, Pacific Property Assets’ controller warned Stewart and Packard that without a new source of funds, the company faced losing as much as $2 million dollars per month. Emails between the owners revealed that they projected that trend to continue.

    To keep Pacific Property Assets afloat, from early 2008 through April 2009, Stewart and Packard raised more than $34 million dollars from new investors, many of them elderly and retired persons investing their retirement funds in the company. For example, one 74-year-old investor testified at trial that in early 2009, shortly after her husband died, Stewart’s staff persuaded her to invest virtually all her retirement savings in Pacific Property Assets. The defendants used those new funds to pay earlier investors, mortgage lenders, other company expenses, and Stewart and Packard themselves – including annual salaries for the two co-owners of $750,000 and hundreds of thousands of dollars in additional compensation. Packard testified at trial that in 2008, he and Stewart knew that the company was dependent on these investor loans to make its monthly debt payments and continue operating, and was unable to raise money through other means. The company’s former director of investor relations further testified that during that period, Stewart began to pressure her and others to raise more money from investors.

    Evidence introduced at trial also showed that Stewart misrepresented Pacific Property Assets’ financial condition, claiming that its business model was still working and that the company was still financially stable and able to raise money through refinancing. In particular, Stewart created and provided to investors fraudulent financial statements, claiming that the company had made millions of dollars in income in the first half of 2008 (it had actually lost millions), and Stewart arranged with Packard to temporarily deposit $2 million dollars into a company bank account to make the company’s cash position look stronger for investors, then quickly withdrew the funds from the account without reflecting the withdrawal in the balance sheet given to investors. Stewart and Packard also concealed from investors the fact that the business had effectively become a Ponzi scheme, using funds from new investors to pay back earlier investors.

    In the last investor offering in early 2009, known as the opportunity fund, Stewart told investors that their funds would be used to purchase new real estate properties. In fact, none of the over $9 million raised was used for that purpose.  Instead, the money was used to pay earlier investors and banks, to pay Stewart and Packard, and to pay Pacific Property Assets’ bankruptcy attorney. Stewart continued to raise money from investors until late April 2009, when he abruptly informed investors that the company was suspending their monthly interest payments. Several investors testified at trial that even in mid-April 2009, after the company had begun to default on some of its bank and investor loans, Stewart personally solicited investments from them in the opportunity fund, claiming that the company was financially sound and their funds would be used for new real estate projects.

    Pacific Property Assets and a group of related companies filed for bankruptcy in June 2009. When the bankruptcy was filed, the company stated that it owed 647 private investors more than $91 million, and it owed banks approximately $100 million. The Chapter 11 trustee appointed in the bankruptcy case later estimated the total investor losses at $169 million, and predicted that investors would receive, at best, “pennies on the dollar” through the bankruptcy process.

    Stewart, who was remanded into custody following the verdicts, faces a statutory maximum sentence of 220 years in federal prison when he is sentenced, Nov. 2.

    Pacific Property Assets co-owner Packard pleaded guilty to one count of mail fraud in November 2014 and is scheduled to be sentenced Nov. 9.


    Garcetti Signs Gun Safety Ordinance

    LOS ANGELES — On Aug. 7, Mayor Eric Garcetti signed into law a gun safety measure that bans the possession of large-capacity magazines inside of city limits. This ordinance prohibits the ownership of magazines that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition.

    The measure was introduced by Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Krekorian and passed on July 28.
    This law was initially drafted following the tragedy that occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2013, which resulted in the deaths of 20 children and 6 adults. Over the past 10 years, more than 1 million people have been killed or injured by guns and, on average, a mass shooting has occurred once every two weeks. This measure will not only help prevent mass tragedies, but also reduce gun violence on streets and in neighborhoods.
    As this measure was signed into law, the Los Angeles City Council continues debate on two subsequent gun safety measures.

    Read More
  • Agencies Get Grant to Fight Domestic Violence in LGBTQ Communities

    LONG BEACH — Aug. 5, The Center Long Beach and Interval House Crisis Shelters & Centers for Victims of Domestic Violence announced that they received grant from the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services to expand domestic violence education, outreach and support within the LGBTQ community.

    The three-year grant is one of only three awarded in the State of California by California Office of Emergency Services. Funding will enable The Center to build its capacity to serve domestic violence victims in the LGBTQ community through increased support services at The Center and expanded community education in partnership with Interval House. With nearly $500,000 in funding over a three-year period, the project will now be able to provide an unprecedented level of care to victims of domestic violence seeking support in Long Beach.

    Read More
  • Iranian Nuclear Deal Implies New Chance For Righting Old Wrongs

    By Paul Rosenberg, Senior Editor

    On July 14, the United States and Iran announced the conclusion of an historic agreement, dramatically rolling back Iran’s nuclear activities.

    The two countries also agreed to an intensive inspection regime effectively confining Iran’s nuclear program to peaceful energy-production in exchange for lifting of sanctions over time.

    The content of the deal was all about Iran’s nuclear program, but the context was a long, troubled relationship. For the American side, it stemmed from the 444-day Iran hostage crisis, which began on Nov. 4, 1979 and involved 52 embassy personnel. For the Iranian side, it stemmed from the 1953 CIA-backed coup, launched from that embassy. The coup overthrew the elected government of Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh because it intended to nationalize the oil industry, threatening the holdings of the company which later became BP. Because of that history, Iranians know the hostage crisis as “the Conquest of the American Spy Den.”

    Because Americans are largely ignorant of that history, the hostage crisis is widely, but mistakenly, seen as an inexplicable act of evil. Also missing from most Americans’ knowledge is the existence of damning evidence that the crisis ended when it did — the day Ronald Reagan was inaugurated as president — because of a secret deal the Reagan campaign struck with Iran. The deal constituted the beginning of what became the Iran-Contra Affair. A congressional committee obtained that information in January 1993, but left it out of a report which cleared the Reagan campaign of the charges, in the hope of fostering a spirit of bipartisan cooperation. So the two countries’ history is not merely troubled, but shrouded in secrecy, misinformation and misunderstanding.

    Three European countries, plus Russia and China, also negotiated the deal, meaning there were a great many historical, as well as prospective, agendas in play. If the deal was not reached, there was little prospect that the joint sanction regime could have been maintained, much less tightened. This helps explain why it was quickly approved by the United Nations Security Council in less than a week..

    The deal was strongly supported by America’s bipartisan foreign policy establishment, as well as the American people. It could fundamentally alter the course of history in the region, where America has been fruitlessly bogged down in counter-productive conflicts since the 1980s by proxy, and since 2002 with its own troops. But it is bitterly opposed by the anti-Barack Obama GOP and a shadowy network of big funders, including right-wing, multi-billionaire, casino-owner Sheldon Adelson, who spent more than $100 million helping the GOP take over the Senate this past year. An intense storm of fear-mongering disinformation is expected as the GOP tries to stampede enough Democrats into joining them to pass a veto-proof rejection of the deal in the next 60 days.

    “Today, after two years of negotiations, the United States, together with our international partners, has achieved something that decades of animosity has not — a comprehensive, long-term deal with Iran that will prevent it from obtaining a nuclear weapon,” President Barack Obama said. “This deal demonstrates that American diplomacy can bring about real and meaningful change — change that makes our country, and the world, safer and more secure.”

    Coming just two weeks after Obama announced the resumption of diplomatic ties with Cuba, it sent a clear—if belated—signal of Obama’s commitment to diplomatic approaches to advancing America’s foreign policy influence, in sharp contrast to the disastrous, military-based failures of his predecessor.

    “Today, because America negotiated from a position of strength and principle, we have stopped the spread of nuclear weapons in this region,” Obama said. “Because of this deal, the international community will be able to verify that the Islamic Republic of Iran will not develop a nuclear weapon.”

    Obama also noted the deal provided that “Iran will remove two-thirds of its installed centrifuges — the machines necessary to produce highly enriched uranium for a bomb” and that “Iran will also get rid of 98 percent of its stockpile of enriched uranium.”

    The deal also provides for an intrusive inspection regime, and automatic re-imposition of sanctions if Iran violates the deal—key elements in ensuring Iran’s compliance.

    Republican leaders were quick to condemn the deal, invoking broad-based fears, without any attention to the actual content of the deal.

    GOP House Speaker John Boehner acted typically cynical, claiming the deal would only “embolden” Tehran. “Instead of stopping the spread of nuclear weapons in the Middle East, this deal is likely to fuel a nuclear arms race around the world,” he added—though without any explanation how that would come about.

    In sharp contrast, the vast majority of nuclear weapons experts supported the deal, as did a large segment of the foreign policy establishment. A letter of support from more than 100 former U.S. ambassadors called the deal “a landmark agreement in deterring the proliferation of nuclear weapons.”

    In an exhaustive press conference the next day, Obama contrasted the deal with its alternative:

    With this deal, we cut off every single one of Iran’s pathways to a nuclear program — a nuclear weapons program, and Iran’s nuclear program will be under severe limits for many years Without a deal, those pathways remain open; there would be no limits on Iran’s nuclear program, and Iran could move closer to a nuclear bomb.


    Later, Obama put it even more bluntly:

    [T]here really are only two alternatives here: Either the issue of Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon is resolved diplomatically through a negotiation, or it’s resolved through force, through war. Those are the options.

    While five other nations were involved, it was the first diplomatic agreement involving Iran and the United States since the Iranian Revolution in 1979, which, again, was rooted in a 1953 coup. So it’s been more than half a century since most Iranians had reason to trust America’s government — even though American culture there remains popular.

    Here in America, the deal comes after a decade-and-a-half of frustrating U.S. military involvement in the region. So, the deal represents welcome news of a turn toward peace in the region. Since a tentative framework was announced earlier this year, the American people have generally supported the deal despite considerable levels of confusion and misinformation, much of it rooted in partisan polarization. The idea that Obama’s diplomacy might succeed, where George W. Bush and Dick Cheney’s warmongering has failed, is a bitter pill the GOP simply can’t accept, regardless of the facts.

    While a great deal of propaganda has focused on the supposed threat to Israel, American Jews have supported the deal since the framework was announced. A late May/early June poll found 59 percent of American Jews supported the agreement, broadly described, but that figure jumped significantly — to 78 percent — when a more detailed description was presented. Against this broad popularity, a kind of denialism — similar to that around global warming — seems to be creeping in, coalescing around talking points disconnected from the actual facts of the deal.

    As examples of support in March, a CNN/ORC poll found that Americans favored the negotiations 68 to 29 percent; an ABC News/Washington Post poll found support for a deal like the one finally reached at 59 to 31 percent; and a poll by the University of Maryland Program for Public Consultation found the deal was supported by 61 to 36 percent over the alternative of increasing sanctions to try to get Iran to abandon nuclear power as well. The next month another CNN/ORC poll found that Americans favored such a deal by 53 to 43 percent, while a Quinnipiac University poll found 58 to 33 percent support.

    But these last two polls showed the growing impact of partisan polarization. In the March CNN/ORC poll, GOP respondents had favored negotiations, 65 to 28 percent — almost as much as Democrats, 77 to 21 percent. But in the April polls, they opposed the framework deal, 60 to 38 (CNN) and 56 to 37 (Quinnipiac).

    Connected to the opposition, many Americans had a vastly exaggerated sense of fear, distrust and threat from Iran, which can’t be justified based on facts. For example, in the April Quinnipiac poll, 63 percent (including 84 percent of Republicans) said the Iranian nuclear program was a “major threat” to the well-being of the United States, while 26 percent said it was a “minor threat.” But even if Iran had developed nuclear weapons, it has no long-range bombers nor intercontinental missiles which it would need to bomb the United States — and no prospect of developing either for decades, if ever. So these fears have no foundation in reality — just like the run-up to the Iraq War. Only 7 percent answered realistically that Iran’s nuclear program was not a threat. There were similar figures from an April NBC News poll: 53 percent major threat, 37 percent minor threat, 8 percent not a threat at all.

    Similarly, a Monmouth University poll just before the deal was announced asked how much people would “trust Iran to abide by the terms of such an agreement” Only 5 percent said “a lot,” 35 percent “a little,” and 55 percent “not at all.” But the deal is not based on trust. It’s based on highly intrusive inspections—and the fact that Iran getting caught breaking the rules will mean automatic reimposition of sanctions, known as “snap-back.” So the very question itself is misleading.

    Both these questions show strong evidence of irrational fears, based on cultural stereotypes and a slanted view of history. These fears, rather than any facts, will be key to GOP efforts to block the deal in Congress.

    A more defensible question is how confident people are that the agreement will keep Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Here the results are similar. In the March ABC News/Washington Post poll mentioned earlier, 4 percent were “very confident,” 33 percent “somewhat confident,” 26 percent “not so confident,” and 34 percent “not confident at all.” Still, 59 percent supported the agreement, suggested perhaps a lack of confidence in their own lack of confidence. In short, there’s a good deal of confusion.

    As with global warming, there’s a good deal of hidden money feeding that confusion, which expresses itself through the creation of a massive fear-mongering propaganda machine.

    “Though light on nuclear policy experts, the groups working to kill a deal with Iran are exceptionally well funded, heavily staffed, and relentless in their bombardment of the media and the Congress with ‘fact sheets,’ reports, letters, visits, and tweets,” wrote Joe Cirincione, an arms control expert who heads the Ploughshares Fund, in a recent piece, “Overwhelming Expert Consensus Favors Agreement with Iran.”

    Not only did Cirincione review the various expressions of expert support for the deal (such as an April letter supporting the negotiations from a bipartisan group of more than 50 former national security and military leaders), he also dug into how that consensus has been obscured, both in the media and within the halls of Congress. The media’s tendency to sensationalize makes it particularly vulnerable to misleading hype. But regarding Congress, he wrote:

    The distorted impression that nuclear policy experts are evenly divided or that most are critical of the deal also stems from the imbalance of witnesses on congressional panels. It is difficult to find an expert in favor of the Iran agreement on any witness list in the Republican-controlled Congress.

    In the past 18 months, Congress has staged 21 public hearings on the Iran agreement, calling 41 witnesses. Of these, four have been witnesses from the administration while 36 came from non-governmental organizations. Of the outside witnesses, an overwhelming 28 were clear critics of the Iran agreement and only 7 could be called supportive. That is a ratio of four to one, critics to supporters.

    Moreover, several of the most critical witnesses testified multiple times, appearing in three, four, or even six different hearings.

    Behind all this is the influence of Sheldon Adelson and other wealthy donors. Adelson once proposed launching a first-strike nuclear attack against Iran

    “Among the many groups engaged in advocacy over a potential deal between Iran and world powers, United Against Nuclear Iran  stands apart as by far the most mysterious,” investigative reporter Eli Clifton wrote, shortly before the deal was signed.

    While United Against Nuclear Iran had announced a “multi-million dollar” ad campaign against the deal, its finances had long been shrouded in secrecy before Clifton discovered that Adelson was one of two top funders of the group, with even more money coming from billionaire Thomas Kaplan.

    Both Adelson and Kaplan have strong ties to Israel, but as already noted, American Jews as a whole are notably more supportive of the Iran deal than the public at large is, so they cannot credibly claim to represent Jewish American opinion. While Adelson and his wife give almost exclusively to the GOP and right-wing dark money groups, “Kaplan gives to both parties,” Clifton noted, but since before 2012, he’s favored the GOP “at a ratio of roughly 10 to 1,” adding that:

    The Adelsons, for their part, were reported to have spent $150 million to support Republican candidates in the 2012 election and contributed up to $100 million to support Republicans in the 2014 Senate midterms—not to mention a host of right-wing pressure groups that enjoy the Adelsons’ largesse.

    Hostilities between Iran and the United States had their origins in the pockets of British oil oligarchs in the 1950s. Today, it’s a different set of oligarchs who keep fanning the flames, but the same question remains: Will the popular desire for peace and democracy prevail? Or will the same old lies of wealth and power prevail once again, bringing decades more of needless suffering?

    Read More
  • Palos Verdes Art Center Displays A Garden of Excesses

    By Andrea Serna, Arts and Culture Writer

    The Palos Verdes Peninsula, with its rolling hills covered with lush trees and fauna, has some of the most beautiful gardens in all of California. It’s a setting fit for the works of artist Ángel Ricardo Ricardo Rios.

    This month the Palos Verdes Art Center honors the beauty of nature, with its newest exhibition, A Garden of Excesses. The show features paintings, drawings, and monumental, inflatable sculptures by the artist.

    Ricardo Rios presents an abundance of vibrant, breathtaking large-scale paintings. It’s fecund garden bursting with lush foliage rooted in his life in Latin America.

    A transplanted Cuban, Ricardo Rios was born in Holguin, and has lived half his life in Cuernavaca, México. “I have been living in Mexico for 24 years, where the city is similar to what you see here in the artwork,” the artist said.

    Influenced by the same environment that inspired the art of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, the vivid colors of fruits and blooming plants permeates Ricardo Rios’ creations. His work is a testament to his intense childhood in Cuba, but it shows the colorful experiences the artist has had as an adult in Mexico.

    When relocating to Mexico, he arrived in the lush jungles of the Yucatán.

    “When I moved to Cuernavaca all this visual experience culminated for me,” Ricardo Rios said. “The union of the location, and the magic and plants came together and began to translate into art work.”

    His prior work in Cuba was grounded in the structured art education he received. The nation provides generous support for artists through training, housing and work space. However, the disciplined style of Cuban art did not provide for experimentation. Social themes tended to dominate the style as dictated by the government.

    As a young artist Ricardo Rios was part of the generation of the ‘80s, a post-revolutionary generation, born and trained in the revolutionary system. This group began testing its limitations under the watchful eye of a still paranoid young regime, hoping to continue the revolutionary politics of the time.

    Early in his career, Ricardo Rios became known for architecturally inspired sculpture. Setting a new direction in the medium, his sculptures moved into a more eclectic form with a series of wild, overstuffed furnishings and inflatable plastic figures.

    Most of that is left behind in this new period of majestically proportioned oil and charcoal paintings, which focus on organic form. The work is an explosion of sensuality and passion which radiates an irresistible force. His immense oil paintings are overlaid with broad, wild strokes of color and texture that render the desire he feels for his medium.

    Reduced studies in charcoal are assembled in a smaller gallery. These works serve as a precursor to carry the artist’s fantasy toward the unbounded works that initially greet the visitor in the main gallery.

    “I believe life is organic, contrary to the industrial,” the artist said. “After having a full career that was socially critical, painting now is like coming back to the origin. It is a private language that is personal and radical. It is pretext to talk about other things like painting and sensuality.”

    The exhibition came about after the director of Palos Verdes Art Center, Joe Baker formed a partnership with Marissa Caichiolo of Building Bridges Art Exchange in Santa Monica.

    “We started talking to her about working with international artists and she introduced us to Angel,” Baker said.

    He met Ricardo Rios in May at the Havana Biennale and arrangements were made to bring the artist to Palos Verdes for this exhibition.

    “I am just exuberant about Cuba,” said Baker. “I am in love with Cuba and I am in love with the art of Cuba.”

    Ricardo Rios career has evolved and he is building an international reputation. He has exhibited extensively throughout Latin America and Europe. For two years Caichiolo has been representing him in Los Angeles through her gallery at Bergamot Station. She coordinated a lecture for the artist at the L.A. Art Show this year and he has an upcoming show at the Juan Ruiz gallery in Miami.

    “He is in the middle of a very strong career” said Caichiolo. “I keep getting more solo exhibitions and I feel that in the next five to 10 years he will be well established.”

    The exhibition is accompanied by COLLABORATIONS: prints from Mixografia, featuring works on paper by Helen Frankenthaler, Ed Ruscha, Kiki Smith, Rufino Tamayo, Donald Sultan, Jason Martin, Mimmo Paladino, Joe Goode, Kwang-Young Chun and Kcho. The exhibit is presented by the Palos Verdes Art Center in partnership with Beyond Borders Art Exchange and Mixografia Workshop. Both exhibitions are on view through Oct. 4.

    Time: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m Mondays through Fridays, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays, and 1 to 4 p.m. Sundays.
    Cost: Free
    Details: (310) 541-2479; pvartcenter.org
    Venue: Palos Verdes Art Center, 5504 Crestridge Road, Rancho Palos Verdes

    Read More
  • 1 66 67 68 227