• The True Heart of the Harbor Doesn’t Bleed

    Heart of the Harbor volunteers served food to homeless people and community members this past October at Banning. Featured photo by Slobodan Dimitrov

    Wilmington Grassroots Effort Tackles Homelessness

    By Terelle Jerricks, Managing Editor

    Our present discourse on homelessness and how to address it has many problems. But the most glaring parts of that discourse make distinctions between the deserving and undeserving poor, and the classification of homeless advocates as “bleeding hearts.”

    Local social media pages are filled with posts by amateur gumshoe detectives. Armed with smartphones and snacks, they spend evenings staked out in their vehicles on dark corners tracking and filming the movements of homeless encampments, serial panhandlers and suspected bike thieves.

    Some do their part by holding up signs reminding motorists to “give a hand up, not a hand out”—ironically on the same street corner where the San Pedro Neighbors for Peace and Justice demonstrators had maintained their vigil against the Iraq war for all those years.

    Others, like David Gonzales and Nikki Fabela, feed the hungry and provide them with needed supplies in Wilmington.

    The Dispatcher, the ILWU newspaper, recently published a profile on Gonzales, a guard in ILWU Local 26, and his group’s work feeding and connecting homeless people to resources.

    I was aware of his effort when Random Lengths published “Here Comes Rolling Thunder” this past June. The profile featured Nora Vela and the San Pedro-based Helping the Homeless in Need. Though the groups initially shared the same name, their efforts were independently grown.

    Gonzales wasn’t happy that the tiny homes controversy this past July took over the debate on how to address homelessness in the Harbor Area. He noted that after a Sept. 3 homeless forum at the Warner Grand Theatre, homeless people became targets of increased sweeps with physical attacks and a general free-for-all vilification of the homeless on social media. Many homeless people at their regular haunts were cleared out, including some at a longstanding encampment near the Longshore Dispatch Hall in Wilmington.

    “It’s my opinion that the forum put the entire Harbor Area homeless population into exile,” Gonzales said. It’s like now all of a sudden the thing to do is to bash the homeless people. They were actually throwing rocks at the little houses. The tiny houses were never a solution. It was just an attempt to give comfort. I think it could have been better located.

    “We got more homeless people in Wilmington than San Pedro. In Wilmington, we have more people that have struggled more. We’re not called the Heart of the Harbor for nothing. This is a working class town—a longshore community… We ain’t no candy-ass city. We’re about real life.”

    Heart of the Harbor/Helping Those in Need

    When it comes to the Gonzales’ close-knit group Helping Those in Need, he’d rather the attention not focus on himself but on the people who make it happen every week. In particular, he credits Fabela in helping realize his ambition to “pay it forward,” a phrase he got from a Haley Joel Osment film.

    One day he posted a bit of food porn on Facebook, a shrimp burrito he bought for lunch. The post received a lot of comments and likes from Facebook friends until he posted the comment, “I’m going to start a soup kitchen and feed the whole east side from my front yard.” He was only joking at first, but the idea struck a chord and stayed with him.

    For him, that idea turned into a question: Can I really feed some people?

    Gonzales likes to barbecue, so he bought two boxes of hamburger patties from Smart & Final—a total of 80 patties for 40 people. Fabela was the first person he enlisted to help.

    Being a self-professed social media addict, he put out a challenge to Wilmington on Facebook to show up for his barbecue.

    “The east side seems like the stepchild of Wilmington,” Gonzales said. “The west side has the Boys and Girls Club, the teen center, the YMCA, YWCA…”

    He said the response was overwhelming. Through Facebook, he found many people from similar walks of life as his own coming out to help and others who were already feeding the homeless on their own.

    “It’s a beautiful thing,” Gonzales said. The whole [thing] just came together. We want to help people in the street in need. We don’t just help the homeless individuals.”

    The group gives away food and water to families living in single-room occupancy hotels—families who are less than a step from being homeless.

    “The people in those hotels…they are on hotel vouchers,” Gonzales said. “They are in an empty room with nothing to eat. So we are concerned about them. There are families in there with children.”

    Heart of the Harbor works through existing aid agencies and men’s and women’s shelters in Wilmington and San Pedro.

    “We use the resources that not too many people are aware of,” he said. “Our desire and main goal is to transition people off the street. We’re not doing this to make people comfortable on the street. We’re doing this to build relationships and give hope. We know everybody’s name and everybody knows us by name.”

    Victory Outreach ministry is among the groups with which he’s built relationships.

    Gonzales says the group has been successful in getting people off the street over the past two months.

    “We just want to offer a little bit of love, comfort and hope, and at the same time encourage them to get off the street and let them know of the resources available,” he said. “Sure, we may not have enough and there may be a shortage of shelters, but there are resources you can go to for emergency relief.”

    A Bleeding Heart

    At 46 years old, Gonzales is a single dad of seven children. He’s critical of President Barack Obama’s administration, mostly because he believes the president is trying to take away our Second Amendment rights.

    He admires some of the positions of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump—particularly Trump’s emphasis on making “America great again.” Though Trump’s positions on immigration and the candidate’s racial attacks on Hispanics has cooled Gonzales enthusiasm for him.

    He’s a firm supporter of the military and draws inspiration from two uncles who are Vietnam War veterans. He says that if he had to do it differently, he would have joined the military. His arms are covered with tattoos, a reminder that he’s a former gang member. He is also a recovering drug addict, he says.

    Gonzales recalled abuse from his stepfather from the age of 3. At 13, Gonzales fought back. He recounted calling his mom at work and telling her what happened. She told him to never come home again. As a result, he bounced around from couch to couch of the few friends he had at the time, and stayed with an aunt for a short period. But he was just another mouth to feed to the adults around him. Banning Park in Wilmington became the place where he slept.

    Gonzales described himself as the “black sheep” of the family. He said he doesn’t know his biological father’s side of the family. He tried connecting with him briefly as a teenager, but discovered he was married and had another family.

    “He took me in for a minute,” Gonzales said of his father. “But he had a wife. Me and her clashed…. With me being so full of anger that only lasted for a couple of days. “

    He remembers trying to find food.

    “I ate from garbage cans at the Taco Bell on Anaheim, because I was too proud or embarrassed to beg or ask for change,” Gonzales said. “I would wait until the night time and [I’d] go dumpster diving. That was before I started selling dope when I was 16. [With the drug money], I was able to afford a motel room every now and again.”

    Gonzales explained he tried getting help from family, but by then, he was struggling with drug addiction. Then he got a job as a security guard at the age of 18. His first post as a security guard was at Pick-Your-Part in Wilmington.

    “I was like a lot of people on the street—jack of all trades but master of none,” he said. “But there was always security. So that was always my fall back.”

    Labor and Love

    In September 1999, Gonzales was hired by Local 26 as an emergency watchman. It was there that the seeds that would become Heart of the Harbor/Helping Those in Need were planted.

    “I knew what the union was from a very early age,” Gonzales said. “I didn’t know the details of how it worked, but I knew that it was something people from here wanted to be. Kind of like back East with the coal mines where people from my background would do. It was the job of the community. I knew it was a thing of pride.”

    Gonzales said that when he started working at the Hanjin Terminal as a guard, he began opening up to people—a sharp contrast to his tendency to view strangers with suspicion.

    One of the first people he opened up to at the terminal was Mark Reyes, one of the shop’s stewards.

    “We’re guards, so there’s nothing but time to talk and get to know each other,” Gonzales explained. “For some reason Mark just helped me out. He was a steward who helped me with some of the union issues I had. We just developed a bond. He liked heavy metal, I liked heavy metal. We started going to concerts.”

    When Gonzales, third youngest child Emory was born she had a heart defect. Reyes was there for Gonzales and his family.

    “She had two holes in the upper chambers of her heart, causing her heart to beat extra fast. She needed major open heart surgery to correct the defect.

    “He showed me genuine concern. The walk of life I came from, nobody does anything for free unless they have a hidden agenda.”

    Gonzales describes Reyes as a bigger-than- life character calling for him through the hospital, and who literally held Gonzales and his daughter up before she went into surgery.

    But Reyes wasn’t the only one, Gonzales recalls, looking back to the period after he separated from his wife and moved into a new place. He didn’t have any money to give his children a good Christmas.

    A colleague at Hanjin Terminal, Christina Leblanc, through casual conversation with him learned of Gonzales’ situation.

    Without his knowledge, Leblanc collected donations from all the guards at all the nearby terminals.

    “It was a better Christmas than I ever could have ever provided for them,” Gonzales said. Gonzales counts Leblanc as one of those that encouraged him and pointed him towards recovery from his drug addiction. The experience inspired him to do for others what was done for him.

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  • Artists Respond to SP Fire: RL NEWS Briefs of the Week Nov. 10, 2015

    Featured photo by Kent Tolley

    Artists Respond to SP Fire

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    Modern Muralist Ricky Hernandez and volunteers painted murals to beautify the buildings that caught on fire on Nov. 2 in San Pedro. Photo by Betty Guevara

    SAN PEDRO — Six businesses were destroyed after a fire erupted at about 4 a.m. Nov. 2.
    It took 146 firefighters more than two hours to contain the flame off the 500 block of Pacific Avenue and 6th Street, official from the Los Angeles Fire Department. Fire crews found smoke billowing from a one-story row of businesses.
    A fire captain was hospitalized and treated for exertion.
    The cause of the fire remains under investigation and there was no estimate on the damage.
    On Nov. 5, a group of artists responded by volunteering their services and creating a temporary mural painting on the corner of 6th Street and Pacific Avenue on boarded up buildings impacted by the fire.
    That same afternoon arts district’s Tactical Urbanism Committee met. A couple of the participants in that committee were charged up.
    “They were really charged up,” said Linda Grimes, who heads the San Pedro Waterfront Arts District. “But, these kids are really hungry and they want to make a splash in the community.”
    Ricky Hernandez and his business partner, Ben Avila, offered to organize a crew.
    “I contacted all the artists who I know,” Hernandez, 23, said. “We wanted to give back to the community.”
    There were more than 20 artists who showed up.
    Hernandez’s business, Modern Muralists, purchased the materials. The arts district is working to reimburse the artists for the materials.
    The artwork theme was Phoenix Rising.
    “We feel a phoenix rising from the ashes is a sign of rebirth,” Hernandez said.
    Though the work is a temporary display pending repairs to the businesses, artists see it as an opportunity.
    “It was an exercise for us and a demonstration for others,” Hernandez said.
    The arts district wants to continue doing more murals in the corridor and hopefully pay the artists for their work.

    LBPD Investigates Attempted Murder of CHP Officer

    LONG BEACH — A man, who may shot at, but did not hit, a California Highway Patrol officer on Nov. 5, was found dead near railroad tracks.
    The incident took place at about 1 p.m. Nov. 1. The Long Beach Police Department requested the assistance of the CHP with the search of an armed suspect near South Street and Cherry Avenue.
    The preliminary investigation indicates a CHP motorcycle officer was eastbound on the 91 Freeway, west of Long Beach Boulevard, when he attempted to conduct a traffic stop for a carpool violation. The gold Ford Taurus exited the freeway at Long Beach Boulevard, and proceeded through a red light, initially at a slow rate of speed, then suddenly accelerated and drove away.
    A vehicle pursuit ensued for about three to four minutes and ended at South Street and Cherry Avenue when the suspect vehicle collided into a cinder block wall.
    The suspect exited the vehicle and ran eastbound on South Street. When the CHP officer attempted to contact the suspect, the suspect turned and fired at the officer who took cover behind his motorcycle. The officer did not return fire. The suspect fled southbound between businesses on South Street and out of the officer’s line of sight.
    Long Beach Police received calls from businesses in the area regarding a male adult suspect attempting to rob employees at gunpoint and carjack a vehicle.
    A short time later, during a search of the area, Long Beach Police found a man lying near the railroad tracks north of Market Street, with a handgun nearby.
    The man matched the description of the suspect involved in the attempt murder of the CHP officer and the attempt robberies.
    Long Beach Fire Department responded and determined the suspect dead at the scene. It appeared that the suspect sustained a self-inflicted gunshot injury.
    The name of the suspect is not being released at this time. The Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office will make positive identification and notify next of kin.
    Anyone with information regarding this incident is asked to call (562) 570-7244 or visit www.LACrimeStoppers.org.

    $50,000 Reward Issued In Murder Investigation of LBPD Officer

    LONG BEACH — On Nov. 3, Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna announced a $50,000 reward and asked for the public’s help with the murder investigation of Long Beach Police Officer Franke Lewis who was killed about 40 years ago.
    The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, at the recommendation of Supervisor Don Knabe, recently issued a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person(s) responsible for the murder. The Long Beach Police Officers Association and the Fraternal Order of Police increased the reward to $50,000. Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia is working with the Long Beach City Council in an effort to add an additional $25,000, which would raise the total reward to $75,000 if successful.
    On Dec. 13, 1975, just before 3 a.m., 28-year-old Long Beach Police Officer Franke Lewis was murdered in the 6200 block of Cantel Street in Long Beach. Lewis had been with the department for about two years and was returning home after his patrol shift ended when he tried to stop a crime in progress and was murdered.
    About 30 minutes prior to Lewis arriving home, Mr. Denis Gitschier was driving on the freeway, but began to feel tired. Gitschier pulled off the freeway, onto Cantel Street, and went to sleep in his car. He was awakened by a suspect or suspects violently beating him, possibly in an attempt to steal his car.
    Based on the investigation, detectives believe Lewis arrived home, parked his personal car and, seeing this activity down the street, went to investigate. As Lewis approached, the suspect or suspects who had violently beaten Gitschier confronted Lewis, shot him, and fled. Residents called police after hearing the gunfire.
    Lewis was pronounced deceased at the scene.
    Gitschier was transported to a local hospital where he remained for several days due to the extent of his injuries.
    Lewis’ duty weapon, police badge, and police identification were taken from his person on the night he was killed. On March 12, 1976, Officer Lewis’ police badge and police identification were recovered from a vacant residence at 915 South Acacia Ave. in Compton. Lewis’ duty weapon remains outstanding.
    Long Beach Homicide detectives have revisited this case multiple times over the years. Most recently, detectives have spent time looking at the case, locating witnesses and conducting interviews across the country.
    The investigation revealed at least one and possibly two vehicles with several male and female African-American occupants were in the area the night Lewis was killed. These occupants were not known to reside in the area. The vehicles are described as a mid-70s, black top, blue body 4-door Fleetwood Cadillac, and an early 60s white 4-door Fleetwood Cadillac.
    Detectives have canvassed the East Long Beach neighborhood where the murder occurred and are looking for additional witnesses. They are hopeful the reward will prompt reluctant witnesses to come forward.
    Anyone who may have lived in the Long Beach or Compton areas in 1975, or who may have been involved, or has any information about the murder of Long Beach Police Officer Franke Lewis is urged to call (562) 570-7244 or visit www.LACrimeStoppers.org.

    Man Dies in Traffic Collision at 710 Freeway

    LONG BEACH — A 35-year-old Long Beach resident died, Nov. 5, after he lost control of his car while driving southbound on the 710 Freeway.
    The incident took place at about 12 a.m. Long Beach Police Department officers responded to a collision south of the 6th Street off-ramp. When officers arrived at the scene they found a vehicle overturned and the man dead.
    Witnesses said that the driver lost control of the vehicle and it began to spin sideways. The vehicle slid toward the west curb, down the west embankment, overturned and crashed into a tree. The driver did not seem to have his seat belt on at the time and was partially ejected through the sunroof. No other vehicles were involved.
    The identity of the driver is being withheld pending notification of the next of kin.
    Anyone who may have information regarding this incident is urged to (562) 570-7110 or visit www.LACrimeStoppers.org.

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    Amazing Women nominee Diana Lejins is a community activist and photojournalist. Long Beach. October 15, 2015. Photo by Brittany Murray, courtesy of Diana Lejins

    Amazing Women

    Random Lengths News’ Diana Lejins is among the finalists being honored at with the Long Beach “Amazing Women” at 6th annual Press­Telegram gala, Behind Every Woman Is an Amazing Story, Nov. 10 at the Centre at Sycamore Plaza in Lakewood.
    The Long Beach-based photojournalist and advocate for people with disabilities. She became interested in advocating for people with disabilities because her parents and grandparents were deaf. Lejins has lived in Long Beach for about 30 years.
    This events celebrates the lives and accomplishments of local women who are doing amazing things to help community, schools and businesses.
    The program culminates a 3­month selection process in which nominations were submitted by Press­Telegram readers and 18 winners were chosen in six categories: arts and culture, business/entrepreneur, community service or volunteer, health and wellness, education and lifetime achievement.
    A special “tribute” will also take place honoring Joan Van Blom. Winners will be honored at the gala with a special video presentation and award. Profiles will also appear in the Press Telegram, Press­Telegram.com and www.presstelegram.com/AmazingWomen.
    The finalists include:
    Arts and Culture: Mina Barnes, Joan Hansen, Lisa Hartouni
    Business and Entrepreneur: Kristi Allen, Dana Buchanan, Sofia Riley
    Community Service or Volunteer: Crystal Angulo, Diana Lejins, Juanita Wilson
    Education: Dr. Lyndsey Christoffersen, J. Cacilia Kim, Carrie Redflox
    Health and Wellness: Sunny Daye, Kelli Johnson, Karen Taylor
    Lifetime Achievement: Requeta “Ricky” Campbell, Julie Mendell, Phyllis Schmidt
    Tribute: Joan Van Blom

    Hall Endorses Malauulu

    LONG BEACH – On Nov. 6, Long Beach Community College District Board of Trustees candidate
    Vivian Malauulu announced that her campaign for the Board’s Area Two seat in next
    April’s municipal elections has secured a formal endorsement from local State Sen. Isadore
    Hall. Hall’s 35th State Senate District includes portions of Long Beach.
    Last week, Malauulu announced that her campaign had obtained the support of State Assembly
    Education Committee Chairman Patrick O’Donnell. Her endorsements also includes Long Beach City College’s full and part-time faculty associations and classified staff, State Sen. Tony Mendoza, former State Sen. Betty Karnette, Teamsters Joint Council 42, and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.

    Pacific Shore Now Endorses Pearce for LB City Council

    LONG BEACH — On Nov. 4, The Jeannine Pearce for Long Beach City Council Campaign is announced the endorsement of the Long Beach Chapter of the National Organization for Women, Pacific Shore NOW.
    “It is the consensus of Pacific Shore NOW to endorse Jeannine Pearce for Second District of the Long Beach City Council, based on the fact that her work most closely aligns with the primary NOW issues,” stated Zoe Nicholson, president of Pacific Shore NOW, in the organization’s endorsement release.
    Jeannine Pearce is a longtime 2nd District resident. Her priorities include supporting a thriving and growing local economy, building a clean and safe environment for resident.
    Adopted at a young age, Jeannine grew up very poor. She moved out of her home at the age of 16 and has worked since then. She made the move from her home state of Texas to California with her husband in 2005. After a decade of working multiple jobs while going to college, she graduated Magna Cum Laude from Long Beach State University with a degree in sociology in 2009. She lives near Retro Row with her husband, Ryan, and daughter, Jubilee.

    POLA Communications Initiative Earns Top Honors

    SAN PEDRO — On Nov. 4, the American Association of Port Authorities awarded the Port of Los Angeles the association’s top communications competition prize, the Dan Maynard Communication Award for Overall Excellence. The port also earned 21 additional awards as part of the AAPA’s 48th annual Communications Awards Program, which received a total of 126 competition entries from 28 ports around the country.
    The Dan Maynard award is given to the port with the highest-scoring single entry regardless of category. Earning a nearly perfect score in the Special Events competition category this year – and the highest overall of any submission – was the Port of Los Angeles’ Lunar New Year Festival. This first-time event was created to honor Los Angeles’ many cultures and the port’s primary trade partners abroad. Attracting more than 3,000 visitors to the LA Waterfront, the festival was applauded by a judging panel from the Public Relations Society of America’s National Chapter.
    The Port of Los Angeles was also recognized with six additional American Association of Port Authorities Awards of Excellence, six Awards of Distinction and nine Awards of Merit. The port’s Awards of Excellence included:
    – STEM Funshop – This first-time event was organized to educate youth about the Port and maritime-industry careers in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics in an age-appropriate, positive and stimulating way. The event attracted more than 1,000 participants, double the expected number.
    – Think Watershed Field Trips – These hands-on, science-based boat field trips were created by the Port to teach fourth through seventh grade students about the importance of environmental stewardship and sustainability in the maritime environment. The program reaches up to 15 schools (30 classes) and 900 students per year.
    – Tall Ships Festival LA 2014 – Featuring ten tall ships and Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman’s giant Rubber Duck, the festival and its “parade of sails” attracted more than 277,000 visitors to the LA Waterfront over a five-day period this past August and generated an estimated $8.2 million in local spending.
    – America’s Port® Video – This marketing video highlights Los Angeles’ position as the busiest container port in the Western Hemisphere and as a global model for sustainability, security and social responsibility. Translated into five languages, the video emphasizes the key advantages of doing business with the Port of Los Angeles.
    – School Boat Tour – Hosting more than 10,000 students this past year, the port’s free educational boat tour program for students 4th grade and above provides students with an up-front perspective and in-depth look at the Port’s daily operations and the global maritime industry.
    – LAtitude – This high-quality, multi-media e-news magazine shares informative stories about business trends at the Port and how the Port works with its customers, cargo owners and the industry at large to create win-win opportunities.
    The Dan Maynard Communications Award for Overall Excellence trophy was awarded to the Port of Los Angeles during an awards luncheon on Nov. 4, 2015 at AAPA’s annual convention in Miami.
    The annual AAPA Communications Awards Program has recognized excellence in port communications since 1966. The award competition includes 15 entry classifications, ranging from advertisements, to videos and magazines, to social media programs. Entries are judged by an independent panel of experienced communications professionals from the Public Relations Society of America’s National Chapter in Washington, DC.

    LA Fails to Charge, Spend Developer Fees for Infrastructure

    LOS ANGELES – City Controller Ron Galperin issued an audit that found the City of Los Angeles is failing to exercise its power to charge citywide development impact fees, which state law says can be collected from developers to mitigate their projects’ impacts on neighborhoods and defray the costs of public facilities and infrastructure, such as roads, bridges, libraries, parks and police stations.
    In preparing their report, auditors in Galperin’s office compared Los Angeles with other western cities. In fiscal year 2013-14, San Francisco had $3.6 billion in permitted construction and collected $96 million in impact fees. Portland had $1.5 billion in permitted construction and collected $31 million. Meanwhile, Los Angeles had $5.3 billion in permitted construction but collected less than $5 million in impact fees. Based on these numbers, auditors said Los Angeles had the potential to collect tens of millions of dollars more in fees.
    Also, when auditors looked at the fees the city had collected, they identified $54 million sitting in eight special funds whose balances had grown or remained stable over three years, which suggested the city was failing to spend the money it collected. Auditors cautioned that some unspent fees could be subject to challenges and/or refunds. Most of the fees the City charges are for neighborhood-specific purposes. In fact, the only citywide fees the city charges are for public art and fire hydrants.
    The 1987 California Mitigation Fee Act allows cities to charge residential, commercial and industrial developers fees to pay for public facilities new developments necessitate. The fees can be used for many purposes, such as increasing fire and police protection, traffic mitigation, and the construction of libraries, parks, public art, child care facilities and affordable housing.
    Developers who spoke with the controller’s office said their primary concern wasn’t having to pay mitigation fees, but the glacial pace of project approval — even when their projects generate jobs and revenues for the city — revenues that include impact fees.
    In his report, Galperin called for the city to establish a comprehensive impact fee program and designate one department to take responsibility for making sure the funds are properly and efficiently used.
    Sherman Oaks Homeowners Association President Richard Close concurred. “In high development neighborhoods like mine, we have a great need for new infrastructure, but City officials often tell us they don’t have the money,” Close said.
    In preparing their report, auditors examined a three-year period ending in FY 2013-14. They identified seventeen funds established to hold development impact fee revenues. The balance of those funds at the end of the period was $68 million.
    More information about the funds where impact fees are deposited, as well as the other 900+ City special funds, including fund contact information, can be found at controlpanel.la.
    Link to audit: http://controller.lacity.org/Audits_and_Reports/index.htm

    SoCal Company Pays $4 Million, Enters Agreement to Resolve Allegations that it Overcharged U.S. Military for Fruit, Vegetables

    LOS ANGELES – On Nov. 2, Los Angeles-based Coast Produce Co., paid $4 million to resolve civil allegations that it fraudulently overcharged the U.S. military for fresh fruits and vegetables that it supplied to military dining facilities and Navy ships in Southern California.
    As part of a second agreement with criminal prosecutors, Coast Produce Co. will implement various measures to ensure the company complies with its legal obligations.
    Coast Produce Co.’s settlement agreements with the government resolve a civil lawsuit and criminal investigation into allegations that the company violated the federal False Claims Act and obstructed an investigation related to two contracts the company had with the Department of Defense to supply fresh produce to the military in the Los Angeles and San Diego regions.
    The allegations against Coast Produce first surfaced in a “whistleblower” lawsuit filed in 2008 by an industry consultant. To resolve the allegations in the lawsuit, Coast paid a $4 million settlement on Sept. 2. U.S. District Judge David O. Carter unsealed and dismissed the civil lawsuit on September 17.
    Under its contract with the Department of Defense, Coast Produce allegedly was required to charge only the current prices charged to Coast by its own suppliers for the fruits and vegetables (the “delivered price”), plus an additional fixed $1.50-per-unit distribution fee that included Coast’s profit. The lawsuit alleged that Coast Produce knowingly overcharged the military on the delivered prices in three ways: 1) by instructing two suppliers to provide inflated quotes for produce, which the company then submitted to the Department of Defense as pricing support, while simultaneously instructing the two suppliers to actually bill at their regular lower prices; 2) by charging the Department of Defense more than it paid for bananas and pineapples under long-term fixed-price supply contracts; and 3) submitting artificially high quotes to the Department of Defense – typically from vendors Coast Product had no intention of buying from – in order to set a payment rate, but then actually purchasing the produce it supplied at lower prices and keeping the difference.
    The settlement arises from a qui tam, or whistleblower, lawsuit originally filed under seal in 2008 by Kevin Driscoll pursuant to the provisions of the federal False Claims Act. The U.S. Attorney’s Office investigated Mr. Driscoll’s allegations, elected to intervene in the lawsuit, and negotiated the settlement. Pursuant to the False Claims Act, Mr. Driscoll will receive $920,000.
    In relation to the criminal investigation, the U.S. Attorney’s Office on Sept. 2 filed a criminal information against Coast Produce, alleging that the company altered or falsified records. The information alleged that Coast Produce provided false invoices to the Department of Defense when it requested evidence concerning the prices Coast was paying for produce it provided the military. The criminal information was filed pursuant to a Deferred Prosecution Agreement, in which the government agreed to defer any criminal case against Coast Produce for a two-year period in return for the company’s agreement to implement various compliance and remedial measures during that period, among other things. If Coast Produce does not violate the agreement during the 24-month period, the government will not proceed with a criminal case against Coast.
    In an ordered signed on Oct. 30, U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson dismissed the information filed by the government, which can be refiled in the event of a breach of the agreement by Coast.
    There is no allegation that the fruits and vegetables supplied by the company were unsatisfactory in quality. Coast Produce agreed to the civil settlement without admitting any wrongdoing. As to the criminal Deferred Prosecution Agreement, Coast admitted the facts attached, but did not admit that it committed any crime.

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  • NWSPNC Public Safety Committee Meeting: RLn ANNOUNCEMENTS Nov. 3, 2015

    Nov. 4
    NWSPNC Public Safety Committee Meeting
    The Northwest San Pedro Neighborhood Council’s Public Safety Committee will meet at 6 p.m. Nov. 4 at Via Dolce Café in San Pedro.
    Time: 6 p.m. Nov. 4
    Cost: Free
    Details: website
    Venue: Via Dolce Café, 29050 S. Western Ave., San Pedro
     
    Nov. 4
    Long Beach Flu Shot Clinics
    The City of Long Beach Department of Health and Human Services is hosting flu shot clinics throughout the city this fall, to prepare for flu season.  While winter is the typical time for flu activity, outbreaks can occur as early as October. An annual flu shot is the best way to keep people from getting ill.
    If you can’t make the clinic at Scherer Park, the following clinics are also available:

    • Thursday, November 5, 8 a.m. – 12 p.m., Houghton Park Community Center, 6301 Myrtle Ave., Long Beach
    • Thursday, November 12, 8 a.m. – 12 p.m., McBride Park/Cal Rec Center, 1550 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave., Long Beach

    Appointments will also be accepted at the Health Department during regular business hours by calling (562) 570-4315 (a small administrative fee may apply).
    Time: 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. Nov. 4
    Cost: Free
    Details: (562) 570-7468; www.longbeach.gov/health
    Venue: Scherer Park, 4600 Long Beach Blvd., Long Beach
     
    Nov. 4
    SEADIP Update
    The Southeast Area Specific Plan/SEADIP Update Initial Study and Notice of Preparation is now available for public review until Nov. 20. The Initial Study and Notice of Preparation announces that an Environmental Impact Report will be prepared for the project and that a Scoping Meeting will be take place. The Scoping Meeting will take at 6 p.m. Nov. 4, at the Best Western Golden Sails Hotel at 6285 Pacific Coast Highway, Long Beach. The Scoping Meeting will describe the project, the California Environmental Quality Act process, the purpose of the Initial Study and Notice of Preparation and upcoming EIR, and offer an opportunity for members of the public and other interested parties to comment on the environmental “scope” (or breath of topics and issues) that will be analyzed in the EIR.

     
    Nov. 6
    Garcetti Announces Creative Catalyst Artist in Residence Program
    Mayor Eric Garcetti recently announced a new artist-in-residence program.
    The Department of Cultural Affairs has developed the Creative Catalyst Artist in Residence Program, which challenges artists to work with city departments on innovative ways to connect Angelenos with Garcetti’s vision for Los Angeles.
    The first department to receive an artist residency will be the Department of Transportation. The selected artist will design an accessible, targeted campaign to engage Los Angeles communities with Vision Zero — a citywide strategy to eliminate all traffic fatalities within 10 years.
    The first Creative Catalyst Artist in Residence will serve as an ambassador for Los Angeles’ workforce, reflecting the numerous ways that designers, performers, and curators can help animate the delivery of public services within the DOT.
    The Creative Catalyst Artist in Residence will be selected through a community-driven process and contracted to work within the DOT as a part-time consultant-contractor for a period of 24 months. The selection process is managed by the Department of Cultural Affairs and DOT. The selected Creative Catalyst will be contracted by the Department of Cultural Affairs and receive a $20,000 stipend co-funded by both departments.
    The City of Los Angeles Creative Catalyst Artist in Residence Program guidelines are available online at:  http://bit.ly/1W4Yx5O and http://culturela.org/
    The mailed portion of the application must be postmarked Nov. 6, or hand delivered by 4 p.m. on Nov. 9. Applications will not be accepted via email, due to a legal requirement that demands an ink signature on the certification page.
    Details: joe.smoke@lacity.org.
     
    Nov. 12
    Regional El Niño Town Hall Meetings
    The City of Los Angeles is sponsoring town hall meetings that will review ways to prepare for El Niño. Officials will talk about the risks and answer questions related to winter weather.
    Time: 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Nov. 12
    Cost: Free
    Details: (213) 484-4800
    Venue: Peck Park Recreational Center, 560 N. Western Ave., San Pedro

    Nov. 13
    Last CERT Training of the Year
    The CERT program educates people about disaster preparedness and trains them in basic disaster response skills such as fire safety, light search and rescue, team organization and disaster medical operation.  The CERT training is 24 hours.
    Time: 6 to 10 p.m. Nov. 13, and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Nov. 14 and 15.
    Cost: Free
    Details: (562) 570 – 2525; cert@longbeach.gov

    Nov. 14
    Rain Harvesting Workshop
    Learn how to harvest rain water and purchase a rain barrel. Get ready for El Niño and start capturing your rainwater runoff with a rain barrel. Rain barrels are $85 each but SoCalWaterSmart offers a rebate of $75 per barrel for up to four barrels.
    Specifications of each rain barrel:

    • Designed with brass spigot for garden hose attachment
    • Barrel has a screen to prevent mosquitoes from accessing water
    • Side brass overflow
    • Made from plastic reused food grade barrels

    Available in Black or Terra Cotta (subject to availability)
    Time: 9 to 11 a.m. Nov. 14
    Cost: $75 to $85
    Details: www.rainbarrelsintl.com
    Venue: Scherer Park Community Room, 4646 Pasadena Ave., Long Beach
     
    Nov. 14
    Diabetes Walk-a-Thon
    St. Mary Medical Center’s Annual Juanita McNealy Diabetes Walk-a-Thon supporting the Center Outpatient Diabetes Education Program will take place Nov. 14.
    The funds raised will be used to continue providing low cost services to individuals diagnosed with diabetes.
    Time: 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. Nov. 14
    Details: (562) 491-4840; click here
    Venue: Cabrillo High School, 2001 Santa Fe Ave., Long Beach
     
    Nov. 16
    Nightly Road Closures
    As construction continues for the Gerald Desmond Bridge Replacement Project, temporary nightly and weekend road closures are necessary in the vicinity of Pico Avenue and Ocean Boulevard to facilitate installation of falsework over Pico Avenue and the on-ramp to westbound Ocean.
    The Pico on-ramp to westbound Ocean will be closed nightly from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. Nov. 16 through 20.
    The Pico underpass at Ocean and the westbound Ocean off-ramp to Pico will be closed nightly from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. Friday, Nov. 20 through 25.
    These closures will affect Port of Long Beach traffic headed to Terminal Island (Piers S-T) and San Pedro, and port traffic that uses Pico Avenue to travel between Piers A-D and Piers E-J.

    Jan. 31, 2016
    NWSPNC Funds Available for Youth Based Projects
    The Northwest San Pedro Neighborhood Council is interested in funding youth based projects benefiting health, environment, humanity or the arts in San Pedro. There is approximately $2,000 available for this initiative with a $1,000 maximum per grant. Applicants must be, or partner with, a 501 (c) 3 non-profit or a public school. Priority will be given to youth initiates/youth led projects and projects within Northwest San Pedro. Applications must be received no later than January 31,
    2016 and the decisions will be announced March 2016.
    Time: Jan. 31, 2016
    Cost: Free
    Details: Click here
     
    Feb. 17, 2016
    DMV LB Under Renovation
    The California Department of Motor Vehicles field office at 3700 E. Willow St. in Long Beach is scheduled for a renovation project and will be closed for about 15 weeks. It is tentatively scheduled to re-open on Feb. 17, 2016.
    Details: (562) 490-2626; Click here
     
    Senior Police Partner
    Interested in becoming a part of an exciting Long Beach Police Department volunteer program? Senior Police Partner applications are being accepted.
    Senior Police Partners are a motivated group of seniors who are dedicated to making a difference in our community and are trained to assist fellow seniors in the area of crime prevention, peer support advice and resource referrals. Each year, Senior Police Partners donate over 5,000 hours and help hundreds of senior citizens throughout Long Beach. Senior Police Partners provide the following services: crime victim assistance; vacation checks; peer support/resource referral; graffiti reporting; limited safety patrols; handicap parking cites; education and awareness programs; DUI checkpoints; and community presentations.
    Requirements to apply: Must be at least 50 years of age and have no felony convictions, good physical health, the ability to volunteer at least twenty hours per month, and possess a valid California driver’s license and vehicle insurance.
    Details: (562) 570-7212; Click here

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  • Buscaino to Propose Sobriety Center for Homeless People: RL NEWS Briefs for the week of Nov. 3, 2015

    Officials Propose Sobriety Center for Homeless People

    SAN PEDRO — On Oct. 28, Councilman Buscaino met with Los Angeles Fire Department Chief Ralph Terrazas and Dr. Mitchell H. Katz, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services, who proposed an idea of a “sobriety center” for the chronically homeless.

    Currently, the LAFD and the Los Angeles Police Department only have the option of the emergency room or jail when transporting the chronically inebriated. Both of these current options are a huge drain on financial resources. Both Terrazas andDr. Katz told stories of individuals who are transported over a dozen times per month to either the emergency room or jail.

    Terrazas said that 20 individuals account for 2,000 LAFD calls. Prior to his role in Los Angeles County, Katz was the director of the San Francisco Department of Public Health, where he successfully implemented a “sobriety center” program.

    Buscaino said he is bringing this idea to his next Homelessness Task Force meeting.

    Halloween Murder

    LONG BEACH — On Oct. 31, at about 3:30 a.m., Long Beach Police Department officers responded to the shooting of a man in the 1000 block of Olive Avenue.

    Long Beach Fire Department paramedics took the man to a local hospital where he died a short time later.
    A motive for the shooting is unknown and the investigation remains ongoing.
    Anyone with information regarding this incident is urged to call (562) 570-7244 or visit www.LACrmeStoppers.org.

    Elderly Woman Killed in Halloween Traffic Fatality

    LONG BEACH — On Oct. 31, Long Beach Police Department officers responded to a traffic collision near the intersection of Pacific Avenue and 14th Street, where an elderly woman was struck by a 2005 Acura Legend.

    Apparently, the driver, a 20-year-old man, was travelling northbound on Pacific Avenue when he struck the woman who was trying to cross the street westbound on Pacific Avenue, just north of 14th Street, outside the crosswalk.

    Long Beach Fire Department paramedics took the victim to a local hospital where she was pronounced deceased.
    The Los Angeles County Coroner will positively identify the victim and notify next of kin.
    Anyone with information regarding this incident is urged to call (562) 570-7355 or visit www.LACrimeStoppers,org.

    LB Harbor Commission Hires Chief of Staff

    LONG BEACH — In late October, the Long Beach Board of Harbor Commissioners selected U.S. Marine Col. Richard Jordan as the new chief of staff, to assist the commission in making key decisions in governing the Port of Long Beach.

    Jordan most recently served as director of enlisted professional military education at the Marine Corps University in Quantico, Va., overseeing about 280 Marines and civilians at six educational academies around the globe. Previously, he was the strategy and policy division chief for the Middle East for the U.S. Central Command, from June 2011 to June 2014. In that role, he interacted on a daily basis with civilian leadership from the Office of the Secretary of Defense.
    He was promoted to colonel in 2011, and has been responsible for as many as 400 Marines. He deployed to Iraq as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, 2005 and 2008. From 1993-1999 he served with a Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron. He joined the Marines in 1990, starting at Camp Pendleton in San Diego County, where he studied to become a naval aviator and helicopter pilot.

    The chief of staff coordinates all administrative and communications functions for the board, serves as a personal adviser on general issues, makes recommendations on public policy issues and coordinates trade missions and conferences, among other duties.

    Jordan, who was born in Houston, graduated in 1990 from Sam Houston State University in Texas with a bachelor of science degree in Criminal Justice. In 2011, he earned a master of strategic studies degree from the Air War College at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama.
    Jordan is scheduled to start at the port on Dec. 7.

    Port Invests $383,000 in Community Organizations

    LONG BEACH — On Oct. 30, The Long Beach Board of Harbor Commissioners voted to award 77 sponsorships totaling $383,200 to local community organizations to help engage and inform residents about the Port of Long Beach’s mission.

    In August, the Board of Harbor Commissioners adopted new guidelines for its community sponsorship program to bring greater transparency and accessibility to the program.
    The new sponsorship guidelines establish two application periods per year. These awards came from submissions in September through Oct. 2. The port received 112 applications, including 16 first-time applicants, putting the Port on track to receive more sponsorship requests than any previous fiscal year. The next call will be in March 2016.

    A list of sponsorship recipients can be found here.

    Former LASD Sergeant Sentenced to 8 Years in Prison

    LOS ANGELES – On Nov. 2, Eric Gonzalez, a former sergeant with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, who was found guilty this summer of federal civil rights offenses related to the beating of a handcuffed visitor to the Men’s Central Jail, was sentenced to 96 months in federal prison.

    Gonzalez, 46, received the eight-year sentence. Gonzalez, who was a 12-year veteran of LASD at the time of the offense, was one of three former deputies who were found guilty in June of civil rights charges.

    At the trial, a jury determined Gonzalez, along with former LASD Deputies Fernando Luviano and Sussie Ayala, violated the civil rights of the victim in 2011 when they beat the man and caused bodily injury. The jury also determined that all three defendants falsified records when they prepared reports claiming that the victim was not handcuffed during the incident. Gonzalez and Ayala were additionally convicted of conspiring to violate the victim’s civil rights by using unreasonable force.

    Two other defendants who were named in a federal grand jury indictment in late 2013 – Pantamitr Zunggeemoge and Noel Womack – previously pleaded guilty.

    Gonzalez was the leader of the conspiracy to violate the victim’s civil rights, according to a sentencing memo filed by prosecutors. “While [the victim] may have suffered the bruises and cuts, the negative impact of defendant Gonzalez’s actions does not end with [the victim], nor is [he] the only victim. The actions undertaken by the defendants in this case have impacted the public trust and thus extend beyond [the victim] and his family,” prosecutors wrote.

    The evidence presented at trial showed that the victim and his girlfriend went to the jail to visit the woman’s incarcerated brother on February 26, 2011. Both visitors were in the possession of cell phones, which are prohibited under jail rules. When the phones were discovered, the victim was handcuffed and brought into an employee break room, where prosecutors said he was subject to a “savage beating” and sprayed with a burning agent similar to pepper spray. The victim was later transferred to the hospital by paramedics.

    Following the incident, Gonzalez instructed Zunggeemoge how to write a report that falsely described how the victim swung his left elbow and struck Zunggeemoge, which prompted the use of force. Subsequent reports by other defendants also falsely described how the victim attempted to escape from the break room.

    Ayala and Luviano are scheduled to be sentenced by Nov. 30. Ayala faces a face a statutory maximum sentence of 40 years in federal prison, and Luviano faces up to 30 years.

    In October, a federal grand jury indicted a sixth deputy in relation to the incident at the Visiting Center. Former Deputy Byron Dredd pleaded not guilty on Oct. 30 to conspiracy to violate civil rights and two counts of making false reports. He was ordered to stand trial on Dec. 22.

    The case against Gonzalez and the other deputies is the result of an investigation by the FBI, and is one in a series of cases resulting from an investigation into corruption and civil rights abuses at county jail facilities in downtown Los Angeles. As a result of the investigation, 15 current or former members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department have now been convicted of federal charges.

    St. Mary Medical Center Earns 7th Consecutive ‘A’

    LONG BEACH – On Oct. 28, Dignity Health – St Mary Medical Center earned its seventh consecutive “A” in patient safety from The Leapfrog Group, a national independent nonprofit health industry watchdog. Leapfrog’s Hospital Safety Score is considered the gold standard rating for patient safety and is compiled under the guidance of the nation’s leading patient safety experts.

    “St. Mary’s ‘A’ grade is a powerful reminder of its commitment to putting patient safety above all else, and we are pleased to recognize the persistent efforts of its clinicians and staff to protect their patients,” said Leah Binder, president and CEO of The Leapfrog Group, which administers the Hospital Safety Score.

    To see St. Mary’s full score visit www.hospitalsafetyscore.org.

     

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  • Republicans would tank the economy again, given another chance

    Paul Krugman, Paul Ryan (Credit: Reuters/Bob Strong/AP/Mary Altaffer/photo composite by Salon)
    By Paul Rosenberg, Senior Editor

    The idea that George W. Bush “kept us safe” has rightly been exposed to ridicule recently by Donald Trump. But Bush also failed miserably on another front: keeping us safe economically, as he presided over the biggest economic catastrophe since the Great Depression — and his presidency was already an economic disaster before that, per Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz.

    On this second front, the GOP blame-shifting centers on Obama, in order to virtually erase the epic market failure from history. Just as Bush is supposed to get a pass for 9/11, while getting credit for “keeping us safe” afterwards, he’s also given a pass for the housing bubble and the financial crisis which gave us the Great Recession, so that all blame can be focused on Obama, who supposedly made things worse with his “job-killing” policies.

    In the real world, empirically-based economists know this is ridiculous.

    Read more at www.Salon.com

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  • (Artists+Activists) x Innovation = Talent + Opportunity + Engagement

    By Melina Paris, Columnist

    To maximize the Knight Ridder Cities Challenge, the ArtExchange (ArtX), a visual arts center in the downtown East Village arts district, hosted (Artists + Activists) x Innovation, on Oct. 19. Local artists and activists were invited to share ideas about how to improve Long Beach.

    Because the Press Telegram was once owned by Knight-Ridder Inc., Long Beach, where the newspaper is based, is among 26 places across the nation eligible to receive ongoing funding from the Knight Foundation for programs intended to attract and keep talented people, expand economic opportunity and create a culture of engagement.

    It’s the legacy of John S. and James L. Knight, brothers whose names were once atop the largest newspaper chain in the country. It’s called the Knight Cities Challenge.

    The facilitators of (Artists + Activists) x Innovation recognize that artists and activists do not connect that much. Nicolassa Galvez, CEO of the ArtExchange, said she kept hearing conversations about the importance of collaboration among both groups, but it was only happening on a small scale, usually among people who already knew each other.

    “This evening’s purpose is to hold a space for Long Beach artists and activists to connect or reconnect and brainstorm innovative ideas for cross-collaboration,” said Kenny Allen, one of the event facilitators, who is also managing director of Evolve Theatre and the marketing and membership director for the nonprofit organization Teaching Artists Guild.

    Other facilitators were John Thatcher Montgomery, an ArtX Studio artist and the lead organizer of PechaKucha Nights Long Beach, and Janay Watts, an activist-scholar and emerging writer who organizes with Black Lives Matter Los Angeles and facilitates youth intergroup dialogue through restorative justice.

    Attendees came from the Long Beach Arts Council, Long Beach Fresh and Housing Long Beach, as well as a variety of freelancers who came to participate through writing and videography, among other means.

    After the preliminaries—a few icebreakers, a few assessments of assets, and the identification of issues—attendees broke into four or five brainstorming groups. That’s where the action happened.

    People got to know each other. They aired out concepts for a better Long Beach. At least 75 were recorded, shared and eventually combined under more expansive umbrellas.

    Categories included the attraction and retention of talent, quantifying important digital technologies and media to increase access and information sharing, the engagement of artists in activism and community, increasing civic and community engagement, identification of new spaces to move community forward and bridging socio-economic gaps.

    Montgomery and Galvez had recently been focusing on a grants writing cycle for ArtX to fund creative projects, which they presented to the local Knight foundation. The Knight Cities Challenge was also in the back of their minds. Later, Galvez and Allen met at a Long Beach Arts Council meeting and the Knight Cities Challenge came up again. The challenge had a hard deadline of Oct. 27, so they decided to dive into this opportunity to bring these two groups, artists and activists, together.

    The Long Beach Community Foundation is excited about artists and activists coming together in this way. It provides charitable services to encourage philanthropy and strengthen nonprofits to effect positive change and improve the quality of life for greater Long Beach. It has also signalled its support.

    “There were so many great ideas and I see more potential for innovative collaboration,” Galvez said.

     

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  • Copeland Gives Back with Charity Master Dance Class

    By Arlo Tinsman-Kongshaug, Editorial Intern

    Misty Copeland, principal dancer at New York’s famous American Ballet Theatre and national role-model to countless aspiring young women dancers who’ve been told they just weren’t right to make it—particularly dancers of color—will be hosting a master dance class at the place she began to conquer those obstacles.

    From the stage of the Warner Grand Theatre, in front of a live audience, Copeland will lead 50 students through 90 minutes of the movements, knowledge, art and inspiration that have translated into her success.

    Tickets to the master class set for Dec. 21 at 5 p.m., are $40 and $25—but $10 less for anyone who purchases tickets to San Pedro City Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker at the Warner Grand, which Copeland performed in as a young girl. Proceeds go to San Pedro City Ballet’s DancED Steps Up, which provides local public schools with a wider variety of dance instruction.

    Copeland will also be the centerpiece and fund-raising engine at a post-class reception, where tickets are $350 a piece and again benefit DancEd Steps Up.

    While Copeland is now one of the world’s best-known and most-talented dancers, her first lessons were humble. They started when she tried out for the drill team at Dana Middle School. Even there, Copeland’s talent was obvious. The coach, Elizabeth Cantine, appointed her team captain and after working with her for a bit, suggested that Copeland take classes at the local Boys & Girls Club.

    There on the basketball courts, Copeland began to learn the arts of ballet. She felt rather self-conscious about it, according to the account of her first ballet class that appeared in Rivka Galchen’s profile in the New Yorker.

    “I was so embarrassed,” Copeland told the magazine. “I didn’t know anything the other girls in the class knew; I thought I was doing everything wrong.”

    Later, however, that changed.

    “One day it just clicked,” Copeland said. “I began to understand what it was.”

    In that same profile, Copeland emphasized that she remains a student. As she returns to the site of her beginnings as a dancer to teach this master class, that’s a key to understanding who she is.
    Time: 5 p.m. Dec. 21
    Cost: $15 to $40
    Venue: Warner Grand Theatre, 478 W. 6th St. San Pedro.

     

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  • Dear Censured, Robles Faces Recall Effort

    By Lyn Jensen, Carson Reporter

    Following what Carson City Clerk Jim Dear’s lawyer, Bradley Hertz, called a “kangaroo court,” the Carson City Council censured the controversial former mayor at its Oct. 20 meeting by a unanimous vote.

    At the same meeting, Raul Murga, the president of a group of Dear’s supporters, notified Mayor Albert Robles that proceedings to recall him had officially begun.

    Dear did not attend the council meeting where he was censured. He also refused to be interviewed by the private law firm that the city retained to investigate city employee complaints against Dear.

    Hertz pointed out that the investigation authorized by the council did not derive from any criminal or civil proceeding. He alleged that most of the case against Dear was hearsay from witnesses who did not testify under oath.

    City Manager Ken Farfsing insisted the city council was obliged to take “reasonable” measures “to protect city employees” from Dear after several of them accused him of “harassment’ and “racial animus.”

    Hertz dismissed the complaints as “grudges.”

    The case against Dear was laid out during a regular meeting of the Carson City Council by Maria Aarvig, a private lawyer hired by the city—authorized by the council—to conduct the investigation and present its findings.

    Aarvig quoted 16 accusations from her interviews with city employees. Those statements convinced Aarvig that Dear had violated the city code of ethics through his “attitude of racial disparagement” and “undeserved criticism of black employees.” Aarvig determined that Dear had allegedly further violated city procedures because he contacted staff members personally rather than through department heads and because he “engaged in personal attacks…on a personal level.”

    Six witnesses, some who are current city employees and others who are former employees, testified against Dear at the council meeting, including former Treasurer Karen Avilla, Sheri Repp-Loadsman, Debbie Green, Regina Ramirez, Yolanda Chavez, Sylvia Rubio and Assistant City Manager Cecil Rhambo. As the specifics of their complaints were explored, the ambiance inside council chambers got emotional.

    “I found his demands unethical and illegal,” said Rhambo, who recounted several incidents he said he had witnessed—among them Dear’s requests that staff’s confidential medical records be sent to him, that he wanted to sit on the city council dais even after being elected city clerk and that a patio be added to the clerk’s office.

    Rhambo, who is African-American, also accused Dear of addressing him as “young man” or “young boy” during an argument at City Hall.

    Rhambo said that on one occasion Dear refused to travel to Orange County for a meeting about plans for a stadium unless he was driven by Monette Gavino, a city employee at the time. Rhambo alleged that Dear’s behavior created “danger of sabotaging” the city’s plan for an NFL stadium.

    Avilla said Dear yelled at her while she served as city treasurer, then “retaliated” against her by cutting her department budget and attempting to reduce her position to part-time. She further claimed Dear “allowed the city treasury to be used by his friends.”

    Repp-Loadsman said many people had been fired when Sam Ghaly was briefly the city manager during Dear’s tenure as mayor. She fretted about what would happen to some people’s jobs if Dear became mayor again.

    Green accused Dear of “bullying” Lisa Berglund in a dispute over a council agenda item on April 15, when tensions were high in City Hall after a close election. She said that after Dear “threatened” to call the Daily Breeze about Berglund’s conduct, Green—not Berglund—vomited.

    Ramirez, the supervisor of the Carson Community Center, wept as she said she “felt intimidated” and “I attribute this climate to Mr. Dear.”

    When Chavez was interviewed she told Aarvig that she is Hispanic—and that she was offended because Dear once called her a bean-counter. During her testimony at the council meeting Chavez wept as she recalled the time Dear asked her if the office of the former City Clerk Donesia Gause, had been fumigated. Gause is African-American. Chavez added that she lives in fear of harassment or intimidation from Dear.

    Rubio, also weeping, said she feared Dear would run for mayor again. She complained that Dear was “constantly bad-mouthing” Robles. “I don’t know why Dear singled me out to yell at me about Robles’ incompetence,” she sobbed.

    Chavez was still crying as she insisted that she never told Robles what Dear had said about him—that she had shared it only with colleagues —but that Dear “forced” her into his office “and he yelled at me.” Additionally, Chavez charged that Dear “made” city staffer Joy Simarago cry and “forced” her to leave a council meeting.

    Chavez also rather bizarrely alleged that Dear somehow “threatened” the local sheriff’s captain, Chris Marks. Then Chavez went on to accuse Dear of having “different personalities” because sometimes he was angry and sometimes he smiled.

    Hertz said Dear “categorically denies all charges,” expressing doubt about the dependability of the testimony gathered by Aarvig and the value of her presentation at the council .

    “He (Dear) cannot control another person’s interpretation,” Hertz said. “He cannot control other people misinterpreting things that were not his intent.”

    Hertz charged the outcome of the hearing was pre-determined,º a “kangaroo court.”

    The meeting also featured a lengthy debate among Hertz, Soltani and council members about whether or not Dear’s constitutional rights were being violated.

    Eventually, after voting unanimously to censure Dear, the council made five recommendations to staff. Those recommendations will be considered at another council meeting.

     

     

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  • LB Considers Minimum Wage Hike

    Opponents, Supporters Want Study Scrutiny

    Photo by Phillip Cooke
    By Zamná Ávila, Assistant Editor
     
    San Pedro resident Rosa Casarrubias has worked as a waitress at the Long Beach Westin Hotel for nine years. Thanks to Measure N, a local ballot referendum approved in 2012 to raise the minimum wage for Long Beach hotel workers to $13 an hour, Casarrubias earns $13.78 an hour. But the 45-year-old mother said it’s not enough.

    “The cost of living has changed,” Casarrubias said in Spanish. “Things are now much more expensive than before…. I [still] have to worry about how to pay the rent, gas, electricity.”

    Aside from such day-to-day living expenses, Casarrubias also has her daughter’s incidental expenses as a college student. Casarrubias says there are many other families with similar or worse situations, which is why she is advocating another increase in the city’s minimum wage.

    In June, the Los Angeles City Council voted to gradually raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2020. In July, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted to do the same in the unincorporated areas of the county. In September, Long Beach announced that the Los Angeles Economic Development Corp. would conduct the community review process for the Long Beach Minimum Wage Study, which the Long Beach City Council approved on Sept. 15.

    “Right now we aren’t really talking about it much,” said Lawren Markle, a spokesman of the Los Angeles Economic Development Corp. “It’s best for now to wait for the economists to produce the study.”

    The Los Angeles Economic Development Corp. has attended three of six public study forums thus far to observe and listen to public comments.

    So far, the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. has met with the Economic Development Commission (the group that is supposed to provide council members with recommendations about the possible wage hike) at a Mayor’s Roundtable and at the Economic Development and Finance Committee meeting on Sept. 29, Oct. 5 and 29, respectively. The corporation will issue its report for public comment after the Oct. 29 forum. The report will include a section that captures feedback provided at each public meeting.

    “The scope of the study includes a review of prior nearby and relevant studies and other literature regarding minimum wage policy, a review of best practices of other municipalities that have implemented minimum wage policy, a review of the economic environment and socio-economic conditions of Long Beach, a review of the potential movement of jobs and workers across municipal boundaries resulting from a minimum wage policy, and a survey of a random sample of at least 600 businesses to understand business response to a minimum wage policy,” said Juan Lopez-Rios, the manager at Long Beach’s Economic and Property Development Department.

    A similar report is Long Beach Rising: A City that Works for Everyone, which was commissioned by The Campaign to Raise the Wage. Rusty Hicks, the executive secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, is a co-convener of the Campaign to Raise the Wage.

    The report maintains that the gradual increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour in Long Beach would have stimulus impacts for the region. It states that Long Beach has 81,300 residents working in Long Beach and other cities, including 22,300 residents who are working and have family incomes below the poverty levels. More than 54,000 workers employed in Long Beach will be affected by increases in the minimum wage.

    The reports states that:

    • The most affected workers will be in the restaurants, retail trade, education, transportation and warehousing, and health care.
    • The stimulus will create about 3,186 new jobs, including 1,006 in Long Beach.
    • The strongest impact will be in Long Beach’s lower income neighborhoods, with total earned income increasing by as much as 4 percent in neighborhoods with the most low-wage workers.
    • More than 74 percent of low-wage Latino workers will be affected by the wage increase, followed by younger, female and African American workers.
    • Added income from a $15 minimum wage will help more than 6,500 workers with jobs in Long Beach rise out of poverty by 2020.

    “The essential thing the minimum wage is doing is keeping more dollars in the local economy,” said Dan Flaming, one of the report’s co-authors. “Low-wage workers, because they spend money immediately… create much more stimulus than higher income families, who have pretty high savings rates.”

    This creates a demand for workers to meet the demand of additional consumption, Flaming said. The mix is about 70 percent full-time and 30 percent part-time jobs. Some mom-and-pop business may close, but about the same amount of businesses may surge. While there will be some job losses, the employment growth will be positive, he said.

    Still, the Long Beach business community is nervous about the process of the study. Many are advocating caution and scrutiny.

    “As this process moves forward, we remain committed to protecting our members and businesses from any type of ordinance that puts them at a competitive disadvantage,” said Jeremy Harris, senior vice president of the Long Beach Area Chamber of Commerce at a Sept. 29 Economic Development Commission meeting. “We understand there is momentum for increasing the minimum wage around the region and parts of the country. However, momentum alone should not be the reason to enact an ordinance.”

    Business leaders would like the study to reflect Long Beach, rather than other regions. Other factors to consider include the impact of payroll tax and employer contribution increases to Social Security, Medicare, unemployment and disability insurance.

    Dustan Batton, public policy manager at the Los Angeles County Business Federation, agrees.

    “Copy and paste policy is not the way to go,” Batton said. “Both city and county adopted mirrored ordinances that were originally drafted for out of state cities…. Input from the business community is crucial when developing a minimum wage ordinance, as businesses are the ones that will live or die from the decisions made.”

    Harris said that because Long Beach borders other cities, which may not increase their minimum wages, business may consider moving out or not expanding into Long Beach.It is important to define a small business and employees must mirror Long Beach, he said. Also, “How will a minimum wage ordinance impact nonprofit jobs?” he asked.

    Matt Peterson, owner of Legends restaurant and a member of the Belmont Shore Business Association board, worries about the cost of enforcement.

    “Doing that enforcement takes dozens, hundreds of additional staffers,” said Peterson at the Sept. 29 forum. “I don’t know where that money is going to come from.”

    Concerned about the threat of increased costs and inflation, Peterson said he wants any movement to increase the minimum wage to proceed carefully.

    “If people want to get paid more it’s going to cost more in goods and services,” he said.

    Though Flaming acknowledges that restaurants will feel a minimum wage increase the most, he said the effect on most other industries will be 7 to 8 percent increases in operating costs, which could be passed on without much impact on consumers.

    “Overall, the increase in operating costs is closer to 1 percent across the board for all industries. It will benefit workers a lot but it will not have a significant overall impact in what consumers pay” he said. ”

    He said the $15 in 2020 will be worth about $13.56 today. The level of pay for a living wage varies depending on family size and number of people working. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology puts out a living wage calculator with an iteration for Los Angeles County, which Flaming used (found at http://livingwage.mit.edu/counties/06037).

    Based on its calculations, a living wage for Los Angeles County is:

    Household Living Wage
    2 Adults (Both Working) $9.76
    1 Adult $12.44
    2 Adults (Both Working) 1 Child $14.01
    2 Adults (Both Working) 2 Children $16.02
    2 Adults (Both Working) 3 Children $18.73
    1 Adult 1 Child $25.72

    “Inflation will have taken a bite out of it but it will still be a lot more than a lot of workers are being paid,” Flaming said. “This will be a living wage, or close to it, for many households but will fall short for some households.”

    Francisco Abdul Estim also supports the minimum wage increase. The 52-year-old banquet waiter said that even his $13.80 wage, does not afford him enough money to spend time with his wife and two children, who still live at home, or to go on vacations.

    “Vacations are very important for all families, no matter how poor they are,” he said. “The needs are great, because one has to work more hours.”

    However, he would like some assurances to come with a new ordinance. When Measure N passed there were some negative impacts that seeped down to workers. Personnel at his work are expected to work more “to account for the increase” in minimum wage and in many occasions they are penalized by having their hours being cut, he said.

    “Instead of it helping us how we hoped, it had bit of negative impacts, because there were never any protections for us,” said Estim, who has worked at the Long Beach Westin Hotel for 26 years.

    “We need the legal protection that says, ‘Raising the minimum wage to the worker doesn’t mean they should cut hours or augment an overage of work,’ because then we’ll be worse off.”

    Casarrubias agrees, but said that there are lessons to learn. She said that when measure N passed managers at the hotel said it wasn’t something good because they would have to raise the cost of the rooms and food and they were going to lose clients.

    “If you think about it, these companies don’t lose absolutely anything,” she said. “Measure N passed and they started to cut our hours but raised the cost of food and rooms. So, I don’t understand how they have been affected. On the contrary, they have benefited…. I hope there are new laws that enforce [the minimum wage law].”

    Flaming said that one of the benefits of having a city minimum wage is that there is a legal basis for local enforcement of labor law.

    “Right now, workers are dependent on an understaffed division in the state department of Industrial Relations for protection, and often they don’t get help,” he said.

    “Both the LA city and county minimum wage ordinances and the ordinance proposed for Long Beach have strong enforcement provisions for protecting workers against wage theft such as being paid less than the minimum wage, not being paid for all hours worked, or not being paid overtime rates when working overtime. This applies to informal workers as well as formal workers. None of the provisions of these ordinances are dependent on workers being unionized. Everyone gets these protections.”

    A Mayor’s Roundtable is scheduled for 12 p.m. Nov. 17 at Admiral Kidd Park, 2125 Santa Fe Ave. in Long Beach. An Economic Development and Finance Committee meeting is scheduled for 4 p.m. Nov. 20 at the Bay Shore Library, 195 Bay Shore Ave.

    The Economic Development Commission was originally scheduled to meet at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 24 to arrive at its final recommendations. However, the group recently asked Mayor Robert Garcia to extend that deadline until some time in the first quarter of 2016, citing concerns about the “unintended consequences” of a wage hike.

    The full Long Beach Rising: A City that Works for Everyone Economic Roundtable report is available at: http://economicrt.org/publication/long-beach-rising/

     

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  • Beach City Grill Re-Opens:

    The Culinary Journey Continues

    By Gina Ruccione, Cuisine & Restaurant Writer

    Beach City Grill, the iconic restaurant in San Pedro, will finally re-open its doors at the end of October.

    The grand re-opening will be a two-day event from 4 to 11 p.m. Oct. 31 and will continue on from 4 to 9 p.m. Nov. 1.

    Originally opened in the 1980s by a well-loved member of the community, Larry Hodgson, Beach City Grill has been a staple in the San Pedro restaurant scene for decades. After Hodgson experienced some health issues several months ago, Beach City Grill closed its doors. Out of respect for his privacy, hardly any information was shared with the press or the rest of the community. Many wondered if the doors would ever open again.

    Enter Stewart Smith, a school teacher with Los Angeles Unified School District for the past 12 years. His lifelong dream has been to open a restaurant connected with the Hodgson. He purchased the restaurant at the beginning of October. Smith, eager to keep the integrity of the eatery, has opted to keep the same menu and same friendly faces we all know and love. Expect much of the same fare and international comfort food that has made Beach City Grill so unique.

    Hodgson, who spent time in South America in the Peace Corps, fell in love with tropical atmosphere and the robust, full flavored cuisine of the area. Many of his signature dishes were unlike anything we had experienced in San Pedro. Hodgson will still be around. He is currently training the new chef, Charles Romo, and he will still be making all of his signature desserts.

    And who can forget those famous Cajun sweet potato fries? Exactly! See you this Halloween, folks. I’ll be the first in line.

    Venue: Beach City Grill, 376 W. 6th St, San Pedro

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