• The Buscaino Report:

    Hiding the Homeless Ball from the Neighbors

    After a year of waiting for solutions councilman uses task force to hide his plans

    By James Preston Allen, Publisher

    At the Sept. 13 Central San Pedro Neighborhood Council stakeholder meeting, we were reminded once again of Councilman Joe Buscaino’s commitment to transparency—or lack thereof.

    It was revealed that the Los Angeles City Council’s Homeless Strategy Committee was acting to authorize $615,000 for the leasing and construction of storage facilities for the homeless in San Pedro, without any prior notice given to the Harbor Area neighborhood council’s. Buscaino’s record on  transparency is par for the course, while failing to reach any sort of consensus on thornier issues.

    One year ago, the homeless issue exploded in San Pedro at the CeSPNC meeting after that council voted unanimously to support the tiny homes initiative of Elvis Summers. Buscaino stepped in after that to announce his appointment of the Homeless Taskforce. That singular vote was the result of mounting frustration with the lack of action by Buscaino on this critical issue. I should know. I had a front row seat as president of Central during that time.

    Not only did the councilman intentionally appoint a group of political shills who were neophytes to the homeless issue—with the exception of Shari Weaver, the one professional from Harbor Interfaith Service — he also excluded anyone from the Central San Pedro Neighborhood Council, some of whom had been working on the issue for more than two years.  This political insult was exacerbated by appointing Ray Regalado, president of Northwest San Pedro Neighborhood Council, as his co-chair and George Palaziol the leader of the anti-homeless uprising and founder of the questionable nonprofit organization  “Saving San Pedro” to the task force.

    Also appointed were Elise Swanson, the political armchair of the San Pedro Chamber of Commerce, Mona Sutton, the owner of the Omelette and Waffle Shop and others, who, as I’ve said before, have little experience in dealing with homeless issues. Since that time they have held multiple closed-to-the-public meetings, with no published agendas and reports on their activities. The councilman promises that one will be release soon, but in fact this move is classic JB—no transparency; zero community engagement.

    If not for the continued scouring of LA City Council notices by Danielle Sandoval, the Budget Advocate from the Harbor Area and CeSPNC treasurer, the August 2016 Transmittal from the Homeless Strategy Committee, chaired by City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana, would have been buried and Buscaino’s deceit would have been missed until it was presented as a done deal.  His office has sought neither advice nor consent. There has been no waiting for City Controller Ron Galprin’s office to release the list of thousands of publicly owned properties and the only discussions that have taken place have been closed door ones with San Pedro Chamber of Commerce CEO, Elise Swanson.

    Instead of Buscaino appearing before the CeSPNC himself, as he was scheduled to do this week, Swanson appeared in standard form as his apologist, making excuses and assuring that the “task force” was going to do its work and present a proposal with illustrations from the “consultants” for public comment (read rubber- stamp approval). Who knew that they already had consultants hired to work on the project that nobody knew about?

    Further, with Sutton now president of Central, Regalado and  Palaziol, all being on different neighborhood councils, they all have conflicts of interests that prevents them from voting or even participating in the discussion on the proposed homeless storage facilities, since they are also on the councilman’s Homeless Task Force.

    John Stammreich, the itinerant parlia-mentarian of CeSPNC, needs to brush up on his understanding of the legal terms “recusal” and conflicts of interest.

    Sutton has a double conflict since she was recently appointed by Buscaino to the Harbor Area Planning Commission just before the June neighborhood council election. It’s a position that might allow her to review a change of use issue of any proposed storage facility under that commission’s purview.  Could the avoidance of controversy get any more complicated?

    It certainly can as the CeSPNC homeless committee chairwoman Tunette Powell, resigned from the council after only two months on the job citing personal issues. Yet, it is well known that she was pounced upon by the bullies of the Saving San Pedro’s closed Facebook page for differing from their polemics and constant negativity.  Her frustration was evident at the recent meeting.

    All of this and more comes into play as Buscaino has his sights set on a second term while having very little to show for his first five years in office, except for the constant barrage of photo opps and social media propaganda.

    Yes, there are lots of promises such as the San Pedro Waterfront, the plan for redeveloping the public housing at Rancho San Pedro and three market rate housing projects (with no low-income units included) in central San Pedro. Through it all, there has been next to nothing in terms of  transparency in the pre-development stages, and with what little information that has been made public, is information that was vetted behind closed doors between the council office and the Harbor Department.

    Don’t expect the actual waterfront plan to come out very soon.  It is rumored that Los Angeles Waterfront Alliance hasn’t yet secured an anchor tenant, therefore, there’s no actual capital funding as they continue to negotiate the biggest attraction at Ports O’ Call, the San Pedro Fish Market, down to 25 percent of its current footprint.

    Buscaino just wants to be re-elected at any cost and he’ll smile his way past any one who thinks he doesn’t deserve it. But watch out, his deceit is as treacherous as Saving San Pedro’s comments on my hat are libelous.  And his continued lack of transparency and his use of neighborhood councils as rubber stamps will trip him up in the end.

     

     

    Read More
  • Hanjin Bankruptcy Impacts Thousands of Workers

    The Worst May Be Yet to Come

    By Paul Rosenberg, Senior Editor

    The bankruptcy announcement of South Korean shipping giant Hanjin on Aug. 31 sent shockwaves around the world. Outside of South Korea itself, America’s West Coast ports and workers associated with them were among the most profoundly impacted.

    Hanjin is the eighth largest shipping company, with just under 4 percent of global capacity — roughly 626,000 twenty-foot equivalent units in about 100 ships, at least 61 of which are chartered, not owned — but it accounts for eight percent of trans-Pacific shipping. The bankruptcy comes in the midst of the pre-Christmas shipping cycle, the most economically crucial time of the year.

    In a sense, the bankruptcy was long overdue. The shipping industry has been plagued with enormous overcapacity even before the Great Recession. Industry losses this year are expected to top $5 billion, only industry leader Maersk showed a profit in the first quarter of this year. Hanjin lost $221 million, a third behind COSCO and Hyundai Merchant Marine, in just those first three months.

    The bankruptcy has caused a sharp spike in prices. This could boost industry leader Maersk Line’s 2016 net profit by as much as $760 million, according to a note from industry analyst Lars Heindorff, reported in Transport Times. But he noted the spike was unlikely to last, so Maersk’s gain would probably be less than $200 million.

    The vast majority of parties involved are facing losses and growing uncertainty, including tens of millions of consumers, but even more immediately tens of thousands of workers, including misclassified port truckers.

    At a Sept. 4 press conference, several local Congress members urged U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker to intervene. Rep. Janice Hahn (D-San Pedro) said she would ask Pritzker “to step in and start discussions with Hanjin and South Korea to come to an agreement that guarantees our ports and our workers will be paid.”

    Hahn, who founded the Congressional Port Caucus, was the lead signer of a letter sent to Pritzker the day after Labor Day,

    “Just as federal help was necessary for talks between ILWU and [Pacific Maritime Association], we need strong federal leadership to reach a solution in this situation,” the caucus wrote. “This crisis may be complicated, but U.S. workers and their livelihood are at the middle of it.”

    On Sept. 9, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge John Sherwood signed an order granting Hanjin provisional protection from creditors in the United States, thus allowing some vessels to dock and unload at West Coast ports. Before that, Hanjin had received authorization to spend at least $10 million from a South Korean court. This allowed the Hanjin Greece to dock and begin unloading at the Port of Long Beach on the morning of Sept. 10.

    But serious problems remain both for supply-chain workers and for the entire global economy, as local labor leaders and organizers made clear in a Wilmington press conference as the unloading began.

    “There’s been a tremendous impact, with this bankruptcy, on all of the workers in the supply chain,” said Barbara Maynard, a spokeswoman for Justice for Port Drivers. “[From] the crew on those ships to the tug boats and…the port pilots who guide these ships in and out of the harbor—they haven’t had to work… [to] the longshoremen who should have been working all week, unloading that cargo, to the truck drivers who actually take those cans off of the docks and move them to Inland Empire warehouses and distribution centers as well as to rail yards, to the warehouse workers who would have otherwise have been taking everything out of these goods.

    “Looking forward, from what we hear, the problem is only going to get worse. So the time to fix this, the time to focus on the impact on the workers, is now,” Maynard said.

    The Teamsters’ particular concern is for the drivers, the vast majority of whom are still misclassified as independent contractors, meaning they’re not eligible for unemployment. They are liable for fixed costs of $150 to $200 per day, even when forced to be idle. For workers like these, the system didn’t break when Hanjin went belly-up. The system has been broken for decades.

    Maynard also read a statement from Janice Hahn, first taking note of the ongoing efforts by Commerce Department.

    “This problem was not created by American ports or American workers and they should not bear this burden,” she read. “I continue to believe that Hanjin’s parent company as well as the Korean government should take responsibility and cover the costs.”

    But the Hanjin bankruptcy is itself just a symptom of a much larger problem.

    Patrick Kelly, secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 952 speaks at a press conference. Photo by Slobodan Dimitrov

    Patrick Kelly, secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 952 speaks at a press conference. Photo by Slobodan Dimitrov

    “There’s a 30 percent overcapacity in shipping, and it looks like this is not going to be the remedy,” said Patrick Kelly, secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 952. “Just knocking out 10 percent, there’s another 20 percent excess capacity. The rates have skyrocketed. So we don’t know where this is going to go, we don’t really have a real clue. All we know is it’s going and it’s not going anywhere good.

    “If the [Trans-Pacific Partnership] goes through, we’re going to be faced with an undermining of U.S. sovereignty and we don’t know exactly what that will do in terms of judicial relief on issues like this. There’s a whole bunch of things that need to be clarified. Because, again, it’s globalization, and it’s not at all clear what rules are going to apply.”

    There’s been enough legal and financial confusion already with the Hanjin bankruptcy, with rules that haven’t just been negotiated in secret. But the bigger problem is that elite faith in market rationalism actually helped to create this crisis in the first place — just as it helped to create the Great Recession.

    While workers and small business have been caught off guard, the global problem has been growing for years. Shipping industry capacity roughly matched demand as recently as 2005. It began growing faster in 2006, and hasn’t slowed down, even after the recession saw demand plummet. Then, in 2010, industry leader Maersk, which carries one-sixth of the world’s cargo, decided to order a whole new set of massive container ships, able to carry 18,000 containers, expecting the fuel efficiency and other efficiency gains to further strengthen its position. Instead, other companies quickly followed suit, and began forming “alliances” to share cargo space and shipping costs in order to stay up with Maersk. The increased ship sizes have also forced major expenditures by ports and terminal operators as well — again, just to keep up.

    The entire system lacks long-term sustainability, but everyone’s solely concerned with not being the first to go under. With Hanjin’s bankruptcy, the jig may be finally up.

    Read More
  • Ladies Hit Hard, Derby-Style

    By Terelle Jerricks, Managing Editor and Linnea Stephan, Photographer

    Today’s roller derby bouts bear little resemblance to 1970s films like Kansas City Bombers or Unholy Rollers. That’s partly due to rule changes since that time. The other reason for it is the people the sport represents are more diverse than it was back then.

    Roller derby is a contact sport played by two five-member teams roller skating in the same direction around a track. It’s one of the few contact team sports in which a ball is not involved.

    Each team has a jammer, a designated player who scores by getting past the opposing team to circle the track by a full lap. The teams, like in rugby or American football, attempt to hinder the opposing jammer while assisting their own jammer. However, they are playing both offense and defense simultaneously.

    There are as many as eight referees watching, checking for laps made and fouls committed.

    A game is composed of 60 minutes of play divided into two periods of 30 minutes. There’s a break of at least five minutes between periods. The team with the most points at the end of the game wins.

    Only skaters wearing the designated jammer helmet covered with visible stars are eligible to score points.

    The jammer does not score points on opposing blockers on their first pass through the pack. This “initial pass” is to determine lead jammer status.

    During an overtime jam, an exception is made: The initial pass is considered to be a scoring pass, and there is no lead jammer.

    After completing their initial pass, a jammer scores points by passing opponents on their second and subsequent passes. These are considered “scoring passes.”

    A jammer can score a maximum of one point per opposing blocker per scoring pass. Jammer lap points are independent of scoring passes. In order to receive a point for passing an opponent, the jammer must pass the opponent’s hips while in bounds and upright, while wearing the jammer helmet cover with the stars visible, without committing penalties

    These bouts are incredibly physical, fast paced and high scoring. For spectators seated around the rink, the action is as “in-your-face” as it can get with skaters flying by and getting slammed to the ground. Spectator involvement only adds to the intensity of a bout.

    In explaining the sport’s allure, Pigeon said, “It gives moms a chance to go out there and feel like motherfucking rock stars. People in my league are scrawny… fat… short… tall… black and white,” said Beach Cities Roller Derby league founder Shayna “Pigeon” Meikel, in a past interview in Random Lengths News. “Anyone can do it. Any body style, any body type, any sort of career. Unemployed to freakin’ lawyers—we got ‘em all.”

    Mothers, grandmothers, professionals and working stiffs are competitors in this contact sport.

    RLn photojournalist Linnea Stephan reminds us of this with her images of the Sept. 9 Beach Cities Derby bout between the Hermosa Hitgirls (in red) and Redondo Riot (in blue).

    It could very well have been a tailgate cookout in the Wilmington parking lot had people arrived with their barbecue grills.  Instead, food trucks filled the parking lot with meat sizzling on their grills. The sound of emcees and referees, raffle ticket sales and screaming fans, who engage wildly when elbow pads hit the floor  or a point is scored. The crowd was comprised of friends, spouses, sons, daughters, nieces and nephews and loyal fans.  The Redondo Riot walked away with the win—221 -175, yet, both teams, if Linnea’s photos are any indication, had a lot of fun.

    This year marks the South Bay league’s fourth year of existence and at this point they are more than halfway through the season, with two more competitions remaining.

    The dates for those bouts are Oct. 7 and the championship bout is set for Nov. 11.

    Cost: $12 pre-sale; $15 at the door
    Details: www.beachcitiesrollerderby.com
    Venue: Longshore Memorial Hall, 231 W. C St., Wilmington

    Read More
  • Comic Con Lands at Long Beach:

    Where Comic Books and Pop Culture Collide

    By Michelle Siebert, Editorial Intern

    From Sept. 17-18, all of American sci-fi and comic book fandom will have a chance to meet their favorite celebrity, cosplay, writer and artist at this year’s Long Beach Comic Con at the Long Beach Convention Center.

    The convention boast 120 guest appearances by actors, writers and producers in the sci-fi film, television and comic book industries and nearly 130 panel discussions  through two days of programming. Major comic book publishers such as Marvel, DC, Dark Horse and Image Comics will also be there.

    The Long Beach Comic Con executive director was excited about this year’s convention.

    lbcc15-sat-0089-web1

    Photo courtesy of Super Fan Promotions

    “What makes our show truly unique however, is that even as [Long Beach Comic Con] grows, we are able to maintain our core mission of promoting comic books and the people behind them,” said Martha Donato, executive director of Long Beach Comic Con. “Fans consistently tell us that our show remains one of their favorites, because even as big as it has gotten, it never feels overwhelming, and they are able to spend time with their favorite writers and artists. We really pride ourselves on that kind of intimacy, even in a large crowd.”

    Comic Con will again present Space Expo, which includes realistic robots and science-centric programming. The expo also will allow attendees to learn how to make comics, children’s programming and hands-on educational panels. Fans can meet their heroes, see creative costumes and explore space travel.

    The Comic Con this year takes place on Batman Day, which is DC Entertainment’s universal celebration of The Dark Knight. The voices of Batman and Robin will be attending the show. Kevin Conroy voiced the caped crusader more than any other actor in the character’s history and will for the very first time join Loren Lester, a voice actor for Batman: The Animated Series!

    Long Beach Comic Con is aiming to draw new fans from diverse backgrounds in this  celebration of pop culture.

    For the first time, comic convention will also be hosting Captured Aural Phantasy Theater. The Los Angeles theater group showcases pop culture joining drama, art and comedy with live entertainment and portray old comic books in a contemporary way.

    Captured Aural Phantasy Theater will host a panel about how to transform comics into a stage play and  perform numerous comics, including a sample of a show that combines live radio-show-style performance with sound effects, live music and projected art.

    “You can expect fabulousness, awesomeness and unexpectedness,” said Ben Dickow, the director and producer of Captured Aural Phantasy Theater. “We’ll talk a little about how we became the only group in the world authorized to perform the comics by publisher Entertaining Comics and our partnership with Famous Monsters.”

    In addition to Space Expo, Batman and theater, there will be people involved with popular films and comics you can see at comic con.

    Jimmy Palmiotti, who writes writes, edits and creates works such Harley Quinn, Jonah Hex, Zero Denver, Weapon of God, Forager and Painkiller Jane will also be on hand.

    “[Jimmy Palmiotti] truly embodies the spirit of what makes comic books special,” Donato said.
    Palmiotti, who will host a tribute with Frank Tieri, is a comic book writer who works with Deadpool, Batman Underground, Iron Man, Weapon X, Wolverine and Grifter.

    For the art enthusiasts, there will be artists and books to appreciate, including Joelle Jones. Jones is an artist for Madame Frankenstein, Helheim, Brides of Helheim, and Ladykiller. She drew the covers for Madame Frankenstein and manages Lady Killer’s writing and art. She’ll present a table with books from many projects she’s been working on.

    “We put on a show for devoted comic book fans, cosplay enthusiasts, movie fanatics and anyone with even a passing interest in pop culture,” Donato said. “It’s important for me to create an environment that encourages new fans of all ages and backgrounds to join us for a celebration of pop culture.… As the biggest comic con in San Diego becomes increasingly hard for people to attend, many of these same pop culture celebrities appear at another show right here in Long Beach.”

    Long Beach Comic Con takes place, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Sept. 17 and 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sept. 18, at the Long Beach Convention Center, 300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach .

    Tickets are available at www.showclix.com/event/long-beach-comic-con.

    Read More
  • RLn BRIEFS: Sept. 9, 2017

    Long Beach Aligns with State Minimum Wage Schedule

    LONG BEACH — On Sept. 6, the Long Beach City Council unanimously voted the city’s wage raise schedule with the state, which will raise the minimum wage to $13 by 2020.
    Senate Bill 3 was signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown in April. The state reaches a $15 mark in 2022, a year later than the city originally planned to raise its minimum wage.

    CSULB Cancels N*GGER WETB*CK CH*NK, Carpenter Center Director Resigns

    LONG BEACH — The executive director of the Richard and Karen Carpenter Performing Arts Center called it quits, Sept. 8, after 14 years working at the performance center.
    Michele Roberge made the decision to step down after Cal State Long Beach, the site of the performance center, pulled the show N*gger Wetb*ck Ch*nk, from its lineup. She believes the university’s resolution amounts to censorship.
    The university claims that the performance, which explores racism and stereotypes, was met by complaints from stakeholders and campus community members, and that the performance was not achieving its goal of creating dialogue.

    Trailer Crushes Man

    LONG BEACH — A 28-year-old garage services attendant for the City of Long Beach, died Sept. 5, days after being crushed by a trailer.
    Stevaughn Matthews was working on a trailer at the Fleet Services Building, at about 9 a.m. Sept. 1, when the trailer fell on him and crushed him, officials said.
    A city employee died Monday from injuries he sustained when a trailer he was working on crushed him Thursday morning, Long Beach city officials announced today. The accident is being investigated by the City of Long Beach and the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

    Slangerup Quits POLB CEO Job

    LONG BEACH — On Sept. 8, after only two years at the helm of the Port of Long Beach, Joe Slangerup resigned, effective Oct. 28.
    Slangerup accepted a job as chairman and CEO of an aviation technology company, where he will start work on Oct. 31.
    In 2015, Slangerup met with workers, tenants and politicians restore operations after a sever congestion and eased the process. He also was in charge of overseeing the construction of the new Gerald Desmond Bridge.

    Hanjin Shipping Files Bankruptcy

    LONG BEACH — On Sept. 7, Hanjin Shipping, a top container carrier, announced its intention to file for bankruptcy protection.
    Because of the freezing of the South Korean carrier’s assets it is uncertain if or when, business partners, dockworkers and its employees will get paid.
    As a result of this decision many Port of Long Beach operations slowed down. Port terminals have stopped handling Hanjin cargo, among them Total Terminal International, the second largest terminal in the port complex.
    Two small ships and one medium-sized ship, anchored off coast have about 10,000 containers worth of cargo.

    Whitaker Teaches Conflict Resolution at CSUDH

    CARSON – On Sept. 6, actor and social activist Forest Whitaker launched the Domestic Harmonizer Program with California State University Dominguez Hills.
    The Domestic Harmonizer Program is an initiative designed for middle schools, with the aim of nurturing a new generation of youth leaders committed to peaceful conflict resolution.
    It integrates Conflict Resolution Education with Common Core State Standards in math, science, social studies, and English. Through this program, students and teachers will have an opportunity to practice conflict resolution skills every day, and thereby better tackle issues such as youth violence and bullying and create a peaceable school climate. The Domestic Harmonizer Program will be implemented at Andrew Carnegie Middle School for the next three years, and will serve as a model for expansion to other schools in Los Angeles and potentially across the country.
    The Domestic Harmonizer Program will focus on general conflict resolution skills in the sixth grade, peer mediation in the seventh grade, and restorative justice in the eighth grade. The curriculum for the Domestic Harmonizer Program was co-designed by the Whitaker Peace & Development Initiative, of which Whitaker is the founder and CEO, and CSUDH. It will be implemented in classrooms by teachers from Andrew Carnegie Middle School.

    Former Gardena Casino Operator Fined $1 for Money Laundering Laws

    GARDENA – The former operator of the Normandie Club in Gardena has been ordered to pay a $1 million criminal fine and to forfeit nearly $1.4 million after pleading guilty to violating the Bank Secrecy Act by failing to report large cash transactions to federal authorities.
    The casino was sold in July, after state gaming authorities revoked its license to operate.
    As a result of a plea agreement between federal prosecutors and the Normandie Club, the casino pleaded guilty in January to violating anti-money laundering provisions of the Bank Secrecy Act. The partnership specifically pleaded guilty to failing to maintain an effective anti-money laundering program and conspiring to avoid reporting to the government the large cash transactions of some of the casino’s “high-roller” gamblers. The Normandie Club was ordered to pay a $500,000 fine for each of the two counts, for a total fine of $1 million.
    The Normandie Club was ordered to forfeit $1,383,530, which represents cash transactions in 2013 that were more than $10,000 and were not reported properly to federal authorities.
    Under federal law – specifically, the Bank Secrecy Act – casinos like the Normandie Club are required to implement and maintain programs designed to prevent criminals from using the casino to launder the large sums of cash that illegal activity can generate. For example, casinos must record and report to the government the details of transactions involving more than $10,000 by any one gambler in a 24-hour period.
    In the plea agreement filed earlier this year, the Normandie Club admitted that its casino engaged independent gambling “promoters” to locate high-rollers and then steer those gamblers to the casino. As part of the conspiracy, “high-level personnel” at the casino, including the casino’s president and chief operating officer, agreed to avoid reporting to the government the large sums of cash certain high-rollers would bring to the casino. According to the plea agreement, the casino avoided reporting transactions related to the high-rollers by submitting currency transaction reports that named the promoter instead of the gambler, by “structuring” transactions so that they appeared to be less than $10,000, or simply by failing to record large transactions.
    During one six-week period in 2013, a single high-roller won more than $1 million from another party at the casino, and the casino conspired to conceal the identity of that high-roller.

    Harbor Area Residents Among 33 Charged with Crimes Against the USPS

    LOS ANGELES – On Aug. 26, 33 defendants were charged as part of a sweep targeting criminal activity that has victimized the United States Postal Service and its customers. The defendants included residents of Carson, Wilmington and Long Beach.
    Most of the defendants charged as part of the sweep are USPS employees who allegedly stole mail, embezzled from the agency or, in one case, failed to deliver almost 50,000 pieces of mail.
    Arrest warrants were issued for 6 of the 33 defendants, who were recently charged as a result of investigations by the USPS’s Office of Inspector General. Most of the defendants were charged in indictments that were returned by federal grand juries on Aug. 24 and 25.
    The 33 defendants are charged across 28 cases, about half of which allege mail theft and/or possession of stolen mail by USPS employees and contractors. Other cases charge USPS employees with conspiracy, embezzlement, bank fraud, and false statements. Five of the cases allege crimes by non-employees, including mail theft and fraud related to the use of credit cards that had been stolen from the mail.
    The cases filed as part of the sweep include:
    Vince Johnson, 30, of Carson, who worked for a USPS contractor, was charged with possession of stolen mail;
    Jose Hernandez, 35, of Long Beach, who worked for a USPS contractor, was charged with mail theft;
    Tamika Deloach, 38, of Wilmington, a mail carrier, was charged with possessing stolen mail related to checks she allegedly stole from the mail and deposited into her credit union account;
    Defendants charged as part of the sweep will be arraigned in the United States District Court in Los Angeles, Santa Ana, and Riverside.

    LA City Council Confirms General Manager LADWP

    LOS ANGELES — On Sept. 6, the Los Angeles City Council voted 13-0 to confirm the appointment of David H. Wright as general manager of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.
    Wright had recently served as interim general manager since August 16. Prior to that, he had served as chief operating officer and has been with LADWP since February 2015. Wright was responsible for water and power systems, customer service and information technology services, supply chain services, human resources, fleet services, equal employment opportunity services and communications, marketing and community affairs.
    Wright served as general manager of Riverside Public Utilities for almost 10 years and as the chief financial officer for the Las Vegas Valley Water District, the Southern Nevada Water Authority, and the Silver State Energy Association, overseeing a almost $1 billion budget for the three water and electric organizations. He previously spent 15 years with the City of Riverside where he served as deputy general manager and as Riverside’s city controller. Wright was instrumental in helping correct some of the issues created during the implementation of the new customer information system.
    Wright earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration and a master’s degree in business administration from California State University Fullerton. He succeeds outgoing LADWP General Manager Marcie Edwards who served as LADWP chief since March 2014. Edwards who is staying through the end of the year in an advisory role, recruited Wright.

    LOS ANGELES – On Aug. 29, two doctors each of whom operated medical offices in Lynwood were arrested on federal drug charges alleging they issued prescriptions for narcotics and sedatives without a medical purpose.
    The two doctors were charged by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in conjunction with an operation conducted by the Torrance Police Department and the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office that targeted members and associates of the East Coast Crips criminal street gang.
    The two doctors – Sonny Oparah, 75, of Long Beach, and Edward Ridgill, 64, of Ventura – surrendered to federal authorities on Friday and were released on bond that afternoon after making their first appearances in U.S. District Court. Both men were ordered to again appear in federal court for arraignments on Sept. 15.
    Two criminal complaints unsealed on Friday charge Oparah and Ridgill with illegally prescribing the powerful painkillers hydrocodone (best known as Vicodin or Norco) and codeine (for example, promethazine with codeine cough syrup, which is known on the street as purple drank), alprazolam (commonly known as Xanax), and carisoprodol (a muscle relaxer best known as Soma). According to the affidavit filed in the cases, Oparah issued about 13,000 prescriptions for those drugs in a one-year period between July 2014 and July 2015, and Ridgill issued more than 21,000 such prescriptions in a three-year period between July 2011 and July 2014. All of the prescribed drugs were at or near maximum strength.
    The affidavit describes 12 undercover operations during which Oparah or Ridgill sold prescriptions in exchange for cash fees. In most instances, the doctors sold the prescriptions without ever examining the undercover officer or cooperating witness. A medical expert’s independent review of the undercover recordings and seized patient files confirmed that there was no legitimate medical basis for the prescriptions.
    The arrests of Oparah and Ridgill occurred jointly with a sweep that targeted the East Coast Crips street gang.
    The federal investigation into Oparah and Ridgill showed that they operated cash businesses. Federal authorities made cash seizures from both doctors, and bank records showing that Ridgill deposited $500,000 in cash into his bank accounts over a period of less than three years.

    CBP Seizes More Than $4 Million in Fake Footware

    LOS ANGELES — On Aug. 31, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers and Center of Excellence and Expertise staff assigned to the Los Angeles/Long Beach seaport complex seized 7,800 pairs of high-fashion shoes bearing counterfeit “Salvatore Ferragamo” listed trademarks.
    If genuine, the seized footwear would have had an estimated manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $4,290,000.
    The merchandise arrived in two separate shipments from China on July 20.
    About $1.35 billion worth of counterfeit goods originating overseas were seized by CBP in fiscal year 2015. China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Romania, and Turkey were the top five countries of origination for counterfeit goods seized by CBP in fiscal year 2015.

    Ciancia Pleads Guilty in 2013 LAX Shooting Spree

    LOS ANGELES – On Sept. 6 Paul Anthony Ciancia pleaded guilty to 11 federal charges related to a 2013 shooting at Los Angeles International Airport in which he murdered Transportation Security Administration Officer Gerardo Hernandez.
    Ciancia, 26, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in the fatal shooting of Hernandez Nov. 1, 2013.
    Ciancia is expected to receive a sentence of at least life in federal prison, plus 60 years. The defendant could be sentenced to multiple life terms and additional years in prison. There is no parole in the federal system.
    According to a plea agreement file last week, in early 2013, Ciancia purchased a semiautomatic rifle, 500 rounds of ammunition and 10 magazines for the rifle. On the morning of November 1, 2013, Ciancia modified two pieces of luggage and zip-tied them together to conceal his loaded rifle.
    Later that morning, Ciancia entered Terminal Three at LAX, removed the loaded rifle from his modified luggage and fired at and killed Officer Hernandez, who was checking passengers’ travel documents as part of his duties as a TSA Officer. Ciancia admitted that he then went upstairs to a TSA checkpoint, by which time many TSA officers and passengers had fled the airport. He fired his weapon at TSA Officers Tony Leroy Grigsby and James Maurice Speer, as well at a civilian, Brian Ludmer, all of whom sustained serious injuries and required surgery but survived the attack.
    According to the plea agreement, as Ciancia passed passengers hiding in or fleeing the terminal during the attack, he asked if they were TSA and when they said no, he passed without shooting at them.
    The first degree murder charge carries a mandatory sentence of life in federal prison. The two additional charges based on the killing of Hernandez – violence at an international airport that resulted in death and using a firearm to murder and cause death – each carry potential sentences of life in federal prison.
    The two attempted-murder charges and each of the three charges based on violence against the surviving victims all carry a statutory maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison.
    The first count of using a firearm carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years, and the other two use-of-a-firearm charges each carry mandatory sentences of 25 years. The cumulative 60-year sentences for these charges would be served consecutively to any other sentences that are imposed.
    Ciancia is scheduled to be sentenced on Nov. 7.

    EPA Requires SCE to Manage Hazardous Waste

    SAN FRANCISCO – On Sept. 9, the Environmental Protection Agency announced a settlement with Southern California Edison for improper management of hazardous waste on Catalina Island. The electric utility company has agreed to pay a $39,127 penalty.
    The EPA conducted an unannounced site inspection at SCE’s Catalina Island facility in Avalon, in September 2015 under the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.
    The EPA found that the utility was storing hazardous waste for more than 90 days and universal waste for more than one year without the proper permits. In addition, staff members conducting weekly inspections had not been adequately trained and were not checking the date labels on the waste containers. SCE has since corrected all of the identified compliance issues.
    Under EPA’s Resource Conservation and Recovery Act program, hazardous substances must be stored, handled and disposed of using measures that safeguard public health and the environment. EPA routinely conducts inspections in its state oversight role.
    Details: www.epa.gov/rcra, www.epa.gov/hwpermitting

    2 million Phony Accounts, 5,300 Wells Fargo Employees

    SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — On Sept. 8, Federal regulators ordered Wells Fargo Bank to pay $185 million in fines and penalties related to the creation of credit card accounts and about 1.5 million unauthorized deposits.
    Thousands of employees secretly opened account to hi their sales targets and get bonuses, said officials from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
    Employees went as far as creating fake personal identification numbers and email addresses to enroll customers in online banking services, the bureau stated.
    The bank must pay the bureau $100 million, $50 million to the city and county of Los Angeles, $35 million in penalties and full restitution victims of the scheme.
    In the past few years, Wells Fargo has fired about 5,300 employees. The bank has stated that it fired employees who exhibited shady behavior and refunded $2.6 in fees collected from customers, a fraction of one percent of the accounts reviewed. The average refund is $25.

    Read More
  • Tickle Your Pickle Principles

    Ari LeVaux, Flash in the Pan

    If eyes are windows into the soul, pickle jars are windows of the pantry.

    Suspended behind clear glass, the bright contents of a pickle jar are a beautiful promise of nutrition in the bank and colorful cool weather meals.

    The jars, in their various sizes, lend themselves to monetization, or at least bartering. You can trade two quarts of “Ari-style” pickles for a pack of frozen venison bratwursts in some circles. When a food swapper recently used that label at a nearby swap meet, she was referring to a mix of carrots and red jalapeños that was my calling card at potlucks back in the day. It’s a combination loosely modeled on Mexican-style pickles found in the salsa bars of many southern restaurants. When done right, it’s a winner.

    But if I were to reflect on my pickling career (a big “were,” to be sure), I would probably say that it’s my brine, more than any combination of items that I may cram into a jar, that defines my style. This is what people text me for late at night, as they contemplate a large cauliflower in the fridge, or a box of baby cucumbers they bought at the farmers market on a whim.

    Here is what I texted back to my friend VD, who just the other day found herself staring down a large bowl of string beans.

    “50/50 mix of vinegar and water; vinegar portion is ½ cider and ½ white, w/sugar to taste. Per jar: 1 tsp salt and 1 tbs mustard seed. Dill, if you nasty.”

    That information, in the hands of a competent pickler, is the blueprint for my pickles.  The resulting brine can convert any suitable vegetable or fruit into an Ari-style pickle. There will be tweaks, of course. Pickling spices in the beets. Dill heads for the cucumbers and beans, if you wish.

    The best pickles result from a perfect storm of little things done right that add up to greatness, like a medal-winning Olympic performance. The produce must be picked in the cool of the morning and pickled that day. The jar’s contents must be packed in a way that fills space efficiently and nothing is crushed. The seeds and salt must be put in first so they don’t float to the top and inhibit the seal. The vinegar must be brought to a boil but not rolled.

    VD knows this stuff, more or less. She’s a pickler. But she and others might still benefit from an expanded version of the text I sent her: a deep dive into the secret messages hidden between the lines, with fleshed-out thoughts and annotations on the text like it’s some line from Finnegan’s Wake. This list is more of a skeleton key than a set of directions. It assumes basic canning knowledge, most of which can be obtained by reading the directions on a box of jars or lids.

    Pickle Particulars

    Sterilization: The dishwasher rocks this.

    Calculating brine volume:  Pack a jar, minus the mustard seeds and salt, and fill the jar with water. Pour the water into a measuring cup. Multiply that volume by the number of jars. That is your total brine volume. Add an cup extra if you’re scared to run out.

    White Vinegar:  One can use sherry or white balsamic, which are spectacular, but old-fashioned;  white vinegar—whatever it is—works fine too.

    Sugar “to taste”:  As the water and vinegar, aka the “brine,” is heating, add sugar, a tablespoon at a time, until it is just sweet enough to take the edge off the vinegar. Or, add a ton and call them sweet pickles.

    Salt “to taste”:  I like a teaspoon in each jar for a baseline of flavor and a bit of preservative. Some people know how much salt they like and should add accordingly. Adding zero is an option, as well.

    Produce:  It doesn’t really matter what it is, as long as it’s fresh, specifically, fleshy peppers, carrots, cauliflower, beans, asparagus, watermelon rind (with mad amounts of spices), radishes, kohlrabi, mushrooms, okra, green tomatoes and kale stems, not to mention eggs and pigs’ feet (for which my style of brine does not apply).

    Size: Large things, like big carrots, peppers or cucumbers, need to be cut into sizes that pack reasonably into jars. Small cucumbers, peppers and carrots that pack nicely can go in whole.

    The grape leaf: People have been putting alum powder in their pickles to keep them crispy forever. They have been using grape leaves a few millennia longer. Many county extension agents, those noble, apolitical garden angels, are now shunning the use of hydrated potassium aluminum sulfate. Some recommend lime powder or calcium chloride instead, or this hugely important trick for cucumber pickles. Fully remove the blossom ends, the remnants of which contain an enzyme, pectinase, which will speed the softening of pickles in the jar. And add a grape leaf.

    Mustard Seeds: I like a mix of black and yellow. Do they do anything besides look pretty at the bottom of the jar? Maybe. Can you grind them into mustard when the pickles are gone? Yes.

    Garlic clove: A lot of people add one or two. If you want to eat some pickled garlic, go for it. And, it might make the pickles taste better.

    Processing: Most recipes, for liability reasons, call for 10 minutes in a water bath. And, I shall do the same.  At home, when nobody is looking, I do a “hot pack,” where I pour the hot brine into the jar of pickles and screw the rings and lids on, because the more you cook your pickles, the soggier they will be. I do cook my pickled beets because I want them a little soft.

     

     

    Read More
  • QFilm Festival Presents Dark and Relevant Tales

    By Liam Cordero, Editorial Intern

    With films such as Afuera and Free CeCe!, this year’s QFilm Festival at the Art Theatre in Long Beach is pertinent, thrilling and entertaining, exploring the variety of LGBTQ life on screen.

    Some of the films tackle topics that hit on the major socio-political headlines of today. Afuera and Free CeCe! focus on the struggles of transgender people in everyday American life.

    While the United States has come a long way toward equality for the LGBTQ population, issues still arise in a world socialized to remain close-minded and hate-filled for that which they cannot understand. The struggles of trans people, in particular, extend beyond  the trans-friendly bathrooms that have stirred so much debate.

    Afuera, directed by Steven Liang and written by Steven Canals, shows us how combining immigration status with the boundaries of life that trans people face  adds to an already complex struggle.

    With an American flag waving in the background, the short tells the story of an undocumented trans woman, who, needing to support herself, resorts to the sex trade.

    Afuera plays as part of The Queer & Trans People of Color Shorts program, at 10 a.m. Sept. 10. Tickets are $12.

    Another film that sheds light on the lives of trans people at this year’s QFilm Festival is the documentary, Free CeCe!Free CeCe!

    Documentarian Jacqueline Gares focused on the story of Chrishaun McDonald, a trans woman who was brutally attacked on a walk home with friends. The story takes its turn because CeCe, as McDonald is called, defended herself from her aggressor and her attacker was killed.

    This film, executive produced by Laverne Cox, is the story of a woman who persevered with a community behind her. The story brings to light the discriminatory nature of the American  justice system, especially against trans people of color.

    Gares, while focusing on CeCe’s story, puts this situation into the light of a movement. CeCe’s arrest led the fight for rights of transgender people.

    The nature of the prison industrial system is revealed by CeCe’s treatment from her arrest until  the day she was out of prison. CeCe was interrogated intensively, put into solitary confinement and sent to a men’s prison. All of these are psychologically damaging. The racist and sexist tones of the American prison and justice systems are shown throughout the film.

    Free CeCe! is scheduled to play at 5:15 p.m. Sept. 11.  Tickets are $12.

    The film festival will also show an edge of drama and thrills this year. Women Who Kill and Kiss Me, Kill Me, which are both screen Sept. 9, are two films that stand out.

    Kiss Me, Kill Me is reminiscent of noir in its sound and script. It tells the tale of a gay man, Dusty,  who is the prime suspect in the murder of his boyfriend.

    To figure out who killed his boyfriend, Dusty tries to connect dots but also feels the pressure that it may have been him and this haunts him.

    Kiss Me, Kill Me plays at 9:15 p.m. Sept. 9. Tickets are $12.

    Unlike Kiss Me, Kill Me, Women Who Kill  provides a very droning tone with hints at dry humor here and there.

    A story of two ex-lovers, we find that Morgan and Jean have personalities that make them horribly perfect for each other.

    While Morgan and Jean continue their true crime podcast on female murderers, Morgan meets a woman at her food co-op and the story takes off.

    Morgan, a very private woman, falls in love with Simone, a woman she meets at work. All seems to go well until Jean uncovers that Simone may not be who they think she is.

    With very simple, yet thrilling discoveries, this film shows how love can make you blind and drive you to places you never thought you might go.

     Women Who Kill plays at 7 p.m. Sept. 9. Tickets are $12.

    Check out the full schedule of films and shorts showing at this year’s QFilm festival at http://qfilmslongbeach.com.

    Venue: The Art Theater of Long Beach, 2025 E. 4th St., Long Beach.

     

    Read More
  • Cambodia Town Film Festival:

    ‘You Can’t Kill the Song’
    By Michelle Siebert, Editorial Intern

    The Cambodian Space Project: Not Easy Rock ‘n’ Roll is a love story that shines a light upon modern Cambodia, decades after a genocide that killed about 2 million people.

    The documentary, produced by Marc Eberle and Richard Kuipers,  is playing at the Art Theatre in Long Beach as part of this year’s Cambodia Town Film Festival. Long Beach reportedly has the largest population of Cambodians outside of Southeast Asia. The film tells the story of Australian musician Julien Pouslon and Srey Thy, who he meets at a Phnom Penh karaoke bar.

    “The theme [of the Cambodia Town Film Festival] is more of awareness this year… of what’s going on in homeland in Cambodia and here abroad in the states,” said praCh Ly, co-founder and co-director of Cambodia Town Film Festival.

    In 2009, Pouslon and Thy created the a psychedelic rock ’n’ roll band, Cambodian Space Project, which covers songs from the 1960s and 70s — Cambodia’s golden era — prior to the Khmer Rouge regime led by Pol Pot between 1975 and 1979.

    During the Khmer Rouge era, people were forced to work in the fields, and families died from execution, disease, exhaustion and starvation. Pol Pot and the Cambodian Communist Party was bent on changing Cambodia into an agrarian utopia, a classless society where people work in fields and depend on farming for the country’s only income. Khmer Rouge wrecked culture, education and arts, tortured and killed intellectuals, educated middle-classes, artists, and religious and ethnic groups.

    “[The audience will] learn of the cultural genocide and horrors inflicted upon humanity during the Khmer Rouge era but also discover the excitement of Cambodian rock ‘n’ roll and come skipping out of the cinema with this incredible music in their ears and a powerful message: you can kill the singer but you can’t kill the song!” said Julien Poulson, , co-founder of The Cambodian Space Project.

    Rock ‘n’ roll and movies were prospering in the 1960s until the Khmer Rouge murdered nine out of 10 artists and one third of the population.

    “I’ve never had a music teacher,” said Thy, who also writes songs, in the documentary. “Each song comes from my heart. I learned all the old songs from my mother and I loved the old films made by King Sihanouk.”

    The story also delves into Thy’s rough past. Thy had to work as a prostitute and housemaid to help support her family. Her grandmother, grandfather, uncles and aunts members were killed during the Khmer Rouge.

    “Srey’s father was forced to become a solider during Pol Pot,” said Thy’s aunt, whose name was not directly mentioned in the documentary. “They threw him into Prey Sar prison and tortured him until he blacked out several times a day. When he came back he looked so pale and broken.”

    Other films focus on Cambodian activism.
    Last of the Elephant Men, for example, brings attention to the Bunong indigenous people who try to save elephants, which help them survive.

    I am Chut Wutty is about how Cambodian community activists wrestle with protecting their forest home. Chut Wutty, their leader, fights illegal logging. He was stopped and shot dead at an illegal military-controlled area in the Cardamom Mountains.

    Cambodia Town Film Festival takes place, from Sept. 1 through 4, at the Art Theatre Long Beach.

    The Cambodian Space Project: Not Easy Rock ‘n’ Roll plays at 6 p.m. Sept. 3 in Khmer with English subtitles. Tickets are available at ctff2016.whindo.com.

    The Cambodian Space Project band live in Long Beach at Music Tastes Good Festival on Sept. 24.

    Read More
  • Exposing Injustice at the LA River

     

    A Bike’s-Eye View from Maywood to Long Beach

    By Christian L. Guzman,  Contributing Reporter

     

    More than a 100 bicycle riders gathered at Riverfront Park in Maywood, an East Los Angeles community bordering the Los Angeles River in July.

    Riders young and old, from throughout the county, were checking and rechecking their equipment and provisions such as bottled water and snacks. They were preparing for a 17-mile bike journey along the Los Angeles River to Long Beach. Although it was a sunny summer day, this wasn’t a ride to simply take in the beauty of the local environs. This was a bike ride intended to uncover the ugly environmental injustices committed in this part of Los Angeles.

    Mark Lopez, the director of East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice, along with the organization’s young members, organized this LA River Toxic Tour.

    A native Angeleno, Lopez noted that he’s driven every stretch of freeway that crosses this Southern California basin many times over. However, being on a bike offers a different perspective.

    “Riding through our communities lets us know what they are really like,” Lopez said. “The heat. The smells. The heavy air that’s hard to breathe.”

    The tourists first met up at the East Los Angeles Civic Center, which is close to the intersection of the 60 and 710 freeways.

    “Those freeways tore through our communities,” Lopez said. “Families had to move to make room for [them] and some did not find another place around here to live.”

    “They pushed to divide us from each other,” added Hugo Lujan, community organizer for East Yard.

    The two freeways are extensively used by trucks hauling items to and from the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles. The trucks, in conjunction with rail yards and warehouses, process 40 percent of all imports to the United States.

    “If you see a train go by here, you might see it again in Chicago or Oklahoma,”  Lopez said. “That plasma TV you buy at Walmart goes by my house.”

    The resulting pollution has caused increased cancer rates for the surrounding communities, which are mostly comprised of working class and Latino residents.

    “If our neighborhoods are going to have industries and infrastructure here, we shouldn’t have to be impacted this way,”  Lujan said. “We should benefit too.”

    During the ride, East Yard members shared a brief history of the Los Angeles River. It is a history of displacement, of the river itself, and also of ecosystems and communities. The Los Angeles River was once very dynamic, changing its course with the seasons, and flooding periodically. Nevertheless, it supported indigenous villages, until the arrival of the Europeans. The villages were displaced by Spanish and Mexican pueblos and ranches, and eventually by American settlements.

    Americans didn’t like that the river was prone to flooding. So, unlike the previous inhabitants, they did something radical about it.

    “Instead of the community adjusting to the river, the [U.S. Army Corps of Engineers] and the City of LA adjusted the river,” Lujan said.

    In the 20th century, the course of the Los Angeles River was fixed by paving under most of it with concrete. Extensive flood control measures were also implemented.

    “The river used to flow out to San Pedro Bay [or Santa Monica Bay],”  Lujan said.  “But they shifted it here. Why? Well it happened to be an awesome dumping resource for the industrial companies around here.”

    The park in Maywood where the tour stopped for lunch was one of those industrial sites. A company called Pemaco blended chemicals there; hazardous waste products eventually leaked into the groundwater and the soil beneath the facility. In 2005, the land was declared a superfund site by the federal government. This means it was among the most contaminated pieces of land in the United States and had priority for remediation. It has since been cleaned up enough to be incorporated into the park, though it is still monitored.

    The California Department of Toxic Substances Control keeps data on parcels of land in the state that need environmental remediation. The department’s maps show that adjacent to the river are several more superfund sites, state-managed cleanups and schools under investigation for dangerous levels of pollutants.

    But of all the Los Angeles River chemical dumpers, Exide Technologies was one of the most prolific. Exide had a battery recycling facility in nearby Vernon until 2015. For more than a decade, the facility severely neglected to contain arsenic, battery acid and lead. Since 1996, the California Department of Toxic Substances Control noted numerous violations at the facility, but it failed to act until recently.

    “The state agency allowed those violations,”  Lopez said. “We fought for years until the feds heard us and stepped in. They found decades of felonies [committed by Exide].”

    After it acquired the data from the California Department of Toxic Substances Control, the U.S. Department of Justice could have brought a case against Exide. Instead, the department allowed Exide to avoid prosecution by agreeing to shut down the facility and to clean it up.

    East Yard considers the shutdown of the facility progress, however the organization’s role is often not given credit.

    “The [California Department of Toxic Substances Control] has tried to claim responsibility for what happened with Exide,” said Lopez. “We have had to make them stop presentations and change them [to recognize us].”

    The clean up of Exide and the surrounding neighborhoods has yet to be completed. But California Gov. Edmund G. Brown recently proposed $176.6 million to expedite the process.

    “Everyday we have to keep fighting for victories like this because every day [pollutants] are in our blood, in our river and in our communities,” Lopez said.

    During the approximately two-and-a-half hour ride from Maywood to Long Beach, participants got a good sense of what the communities along the river have to live with. Incessantly permeating neighborhoods are dingy factories and warehouses, miles of rusty train tracks, and swaths of dirt and dried weeds. Broken glass and pebbles kicked up by heavy trucks were dispersed throughout the streets and parts of the bike path. Lopez grimly joked that between our first and second stop, we had more flats than miles covered.

    Tourists also learned that the cities we passed through often had “food deserts.” This means that residents do not have access to nutritious foods within walking, or even short driving distance.

    “Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s trucks roll through here, but they don’t stop,” said Andrea Luna, a member of La Cosecha Collectiva. “[So] we don’t depend on them.”

    La Cosecha Collectiva is a response to the “food desert” phenomenon. It’s a community group which collects organic food grown in gardens across the lower Los Angeles River region and distributes it evenly between members. La Cosecha has about 25 food-producing households. Its next project is to develop methods that will allow apartment dwellers to also produce food.

    At the northern edge of Long Beach, a speaker from the Long Beach Alliance for Children with Asthma told riders about its collaboration with the University of Southern California to raise awareness about air pollution.

    “Across from us is the 710 Freeway, which is a major source of ultra fine particles,” said Laura Cortez, program coordinator for the Alliance. “We go into the homes around here with P-TRAK meters to measure the [density] of those particles.”

    Ultra fine particles are the most dangerous particles emitted by vehicles exhaust due to their size. They are too small for human nose hairs and mucus membranes to trap. So as we breathe, the particles travel into our lungs, diffuse into our cells and can even reach our DNA. This can lead to asthma and possibly an increased risk for heart attack and stroke.

    Cortez produced a meter and took a quick sample of the air. It read 3,000 particles per cubic centimeter. That’s 3,000 pollutants contained in just the size of a sugar cube. The Air Quality Management District determined the total average density of ultra fine particles along freeways in Long Beach to be between 300,000 and 400,000 particles per cubic centimeter.

    “Right now there is no regulation on these particles,” Lopez said. “As part of The [Trade Health & Environment] Impact project, we are using the data we collect to demand changes to air [quality] policy. The color of your skin shouldn’t determine the quality of the air you breathe.”

    The entire ride did not focus on environmental degradation. The southern most stop of the ride was at Hudson Park, less than 100 feet away from BNSF’s proposed site of the Southern California International Gateway Railyard. If it had been approved, an estimated 5,500 semi-trucks and eight trains would have been processed there every day. But as covered in the 2016 Earth Day issue of Random Lengths, the project was halted due to a rejection by the Contra Costa County Superior Court. East Yard considered that a notable victory and its members were excited to give an update.

    “Judge [Barry Goode] said that BNSF Railway and the City of LA presented inadequate mitigation measures to move forward with SCIG,” said Jan Andasan, East Yard youth coordinator.

    A round of applause followed the announcement. The Southern California International Gateway project is now on hold. But BNSF and the Port of Los Angeles are still trying to appeal the decision.

    Another stop in Long Beach at the Dominguez Gap Wetlands, provided tourists with an example of improvements to the land surrounding the river. The 37-acre wetlands were once just a flood control zone, until it was redesigned by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works.

    “We took a mud pit with some weeds that only did one thing, and transformed it to do five things,” said Dan Sharp, civil engineer for the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works.

    In addition to flood control, the land provides water treatment, ground-water replenishment, a wildlife habitat for native species, and a public walking space. The project cost about $7.1 million and took two years to complete.           “This type of project can be implemented in other areas, without too much trouble, while bigger plans are being developed to improve the river,” Sharp said.

    Such bigger plans were also discussed during the tour by Mark Stanley, executive director for the San Gabriel and Lower Los Angeles Rivers and Mountains Conservancy. In accordance with Assembly Bill 530, a law first introduced by California Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, the conservancy is leading a working group to develop a revitalization plan for the lower Los Angeles River. Members of the working group include East Yard, officials from Los Angeles County and adjacent cities, and nonprofits such as Heal the Bay. The plan they are developing is scheduled to be presented in March of next year. Once it is approved by the state, it will be adopted into the Los Angeles County Master Plan.

    The California Assembly Budget Committee proposed to allocate $50 million for the revitalization. AB 530 also permits additional funding from private and public sources. Local and state agencies, and nonprofit organizations will execute forthcoming projects.

    Members of East Yard are hopeful yet skeptical about the future of the Los Angeles River. While they are in favor of improvements to their environment, they are aware of the river’s historical trend of displacement.

    “We need to make sure any vision for the river is community driven,” Lopez said. “When pollution goes down, we don’t want rents to go up. We saw that happen in parts of Long Beach. We don’t want more gentrification. We don’t want art lofts here … the [river] is for us.”

     

    Read More
  • The Fight for 15

    New Organizing Revives an Old Labor Vision

    By Paul Rosenberg, Senior Editor

    On the weekend of Aug.13, the Fight for 15 movement hosted its first national convention in Richmond, Va., the capital of the Confederate rebellion. The event drew more than 3,000 low-wage workers from around the country in a demonstration of the movement’s growing strength, vitality and ambition.

    On Aug. 23, the National Labor Relations Board handed down a decision recognizing graduate students at Columbia University as workers with the right to form a union, reversing a 2004 Bush-era decision, and reinstating rights originally recognized in 2000.

    These two actions — a national gathering of grassroots activists and a decision by the nation’s “Supreme Court” of labor law — underscore both the scope and the swiftness with which a new round of unconventional labor organizing has begun to alter the landscape of working America. It reverses decades of decline.

    “Labor is definitely rethinking the way that they organize — from a traditional model, where it’s a high density as in manufacturing jobs, and moving over into exploring new terrain and new areas, and new industries which they can organize,” said Robert Nothoff,  director of the Don’t Waste LA campaign, and former director of the Raise the Wage campaign in Los Angeles and San Diego.

    Here in California, those local successes have been followed by a statewide minimum wage rising to $15 per hour through 2022 for businesses with more than 25 employees and by 2023 for smaller firms. But raising the floor, even dramatically, hardly means there’s nothing left to be done, especially in the logistic sector connected to the local ports.

    If anything, American labor history teaches us the exact opposite: There’s always more to be done, and complacency invites unpleasant surprises. First, it makes sense to focus on where the fire is hottest right now.

    The Fight For 15

    The Fight for 15 movement, backed by the Service Employees International Union, began in 2012 with just a few hundred fast food workers in New York City. They were striking for $15 an hour and union rights. Now, that fight has spread to more than 300 cities on six continents. It’s drawn together underpaid workers ranging from janitors, security officers and airport workers, to home-care and child-care workers and even adjunct professors with philosophy doctorate degrees. Its top achievements so far are the $15 an hour state minimum wages that California and New York are moving toward in the next few years.

    Currently, 64 million Americans are paid less than $15 an hour, so the potential impact is obviously transformational. The inflation-adjusted minimum wage more than doubled from 1940 to 1968, and would have topped $16 an hour in 1996, if it had continued to rise at that same rate.

    “Centuries of racism ingrained in the structure of our society and 40 years of corporate attacks on working families fighting for a decent life have left America without a strong middle class, but the workers of the Fight for $15 are starting to turn the tide,” SEIU President Mary Kay Henry told the convention in her keynote address. “This year, underpaid Americans will show elected leaders in every state in America that they are a voting bloc that cannot be ignored and will not be denied.”

    The location in Richmond reflects the interrelated facts that poverty-wage jobs are concentrated in the South, disproportionately impacting black workers, and that municipal living wage laws passed in Southern cities have been quickly overridden by white-dominated state legislatures. Currently, 14 states have pre-empted both minimum wage and paid sick leave laws. Seven of them are in the South.

    In Birmingham, Ala., which is 74 percent African-American, the city council approved a $10.10 an hour minimum wage this February, only to have it overturned by a majority white state legislature just two days later.

    “The raises won by 40,000 hard-working Birmingham cooks, cashiers, home care workers and janitors evaporated with the stroke of a pen,” Birmingham KFC cook Antoin Adams recalled on Huffington Post.

    Minimum-wage increases in St. Louis and Kansas City, Mo. met similar fates this past year, said Fight for $15 national organizing committee member Terrance Wise.

    “We won a minimum wage increase in Kansas City just last summer, nearly doubled the minimum wage at the city level, only to have rich white Republicans in Jefferson City pass legislation to turn it down,” Wise told Think Progress. “You’ve got to see it for what it is: pure racism.”

    In North Carolina,  the  Republicans were especially pernicious, hiding the anti-living wage legislation inside an attention-grabbing anti-transgender bathroom bill. As the Rev. William Barber, leader of the Moral Mondays movement, explained on Democracy Now! in April:

    Section 2 denies a municipality or a city the ability to raise a living wage, require contractors to pay a living wage, to pay sick leave, to pay vacation and to have minority set-asides. So this is an anti-family, anti-labor, anti-worker bill, as well. In the third section, this bill disallows citizens of North Carolina from filing employment discrimination cases in state court. So this is a trick bill, and the transgender community is being used the same way black people were used in the past or Latino people. They are being scapegoated in order to pass all of these anti-poverty, anti-labor and anti-living wage parts of the bill.

    The Moral Mondays movement was built on a profound awareness of how scapegoating has been used throughout history, and how fusion politics, bringing different dispossessed groups together, can fight back. Barber brought this perspective to the Fight for 15 convention, with his closing speech.

    “In my home state, preachers white and black demanded moral language be in the new southern constitution [after the Civil War],” Barber said. “In fact, they wrote, ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident that all persons are created equal, endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, the enjoyment of the fruit of your labor and the pursuit of happiness.’ Because they knew that labor without living wages was nothing but a pseudo form of slavery.”

    The situation is not entirely dissimilar here in Southern California. As Nothoff pointed out, the coalition of groups involved in raising the minimum wage in Los Angeles  included the Restaurant Opportunity Center, the Black Workers Center, the Clean Carwash Campaign and a number different immigrant rights groups.

    “When it comes to the minimum wage workforce, people of color and immigrants and women are disproportionately represented,” Nothoff said. “[So, when you raise the minimum wage] you are reducing the gender gap, you are reducing the wage gap for immigrants, for people of color, and for women, so it’s a fantastic thing. And again, the next stage moving forward is how you harmonize that energy and make sure that you’re continuing to drive at the bigger social causes.”

    The Local Struggle

    The struggles coming to fruition in Southern California today have an equally long history behind them, with similarly “absurd” ideas finally coming to be seen as common sense.

    “The bulk of goods movement in the post-war era was related closely to manufacturing of durable goods [and] things like food,” explained Sheheryar Kaoosji, director of the Warehouse Workers Resource Center.

    So the organizing of both truckers and warehouse workers occurred in the same framework as the building of industrial unions.

    “By the ‘60s there was a master freight contract that pretty much every driver in the United States was paid a similar amount, had benefits, was treated like an employee, had decent conditions,” Kaoosji said. “Much of the warehousing in the United States, both related to manufacturing, but also distribution itself, was similarly organized by Teamsters and other unions.”

    All this began to change in the 1970s, with the deregulation movement, especially the Motor Carrier Act of 1979.

    “Deregulation of trucking basically allowed the cost controls that really were the basis of the good jobs in the trucking and warehousing sector to fall apart,” Kaoosji said. “It was basically a free-for-all, and the costs started rapidly declining, which led to a rapid decline in both unionization and in terms of treating truck drivers like employees.”

    The independent contractor model, without any worker rights, took hold in the ports and across the country. In warehousing, staffing agencies arose to similarly deprive workers of their traditional rights.

    While manufacturing declined nationwide, imports through the ports increased.

    “We had well over 100,000 warehouse workers and well over 15,000 truck drivers at the ports, which … kept these industries from hollowing out the way [industries in] a lot of the Rustbelt was,” Kaoosji  said.

    In this, they were like many other Southern California jobs, noted Barbara Maynard, spokeswoman for the Teamsters Justice for Port Drivers Campaign.

    “Looking specifically at what are bad jobs, whether they’re in the supply chain, whether they’re janitorial, whether they’re over at LAX, they aren’t just bad jobs because they don’t have bargaining power,” Maynard said. “These are industries, and employment schemes that have been created specifically to make sure that they could not unionize.”

    “If you look at LAX, for example, the passenger service workers who wheel people like my elderly mother through the airport, they don’t work for the airport, they don’t work for the airlines, both of which are unionized, they work for staffing agencies.”

    Such agencies are contracted by companies who hire them specifically to rid themselves of permanent employees and all the rights they would have.

    “The same thing is true in hotels,” Maynard pointed out. “You go into a Ritz-Carlton, here you got a room that’s $500 or $700 a night, yet you’ve got people making minimum wage, no benefits, working just obscene workloads that lead to so many injuries — same thing. You go in there, there’s nobody who works for the Ritz-Carlton, or nobody who works for the owner of that hotel. It’s a myriad of staffing agencies.”

    Such employment patterns have become increasingly widespread. But the contradictions are particularly sharp in the logistics industry.

    Kaoosji pointed that the jobs related to the biggest influx of capital—mainly the $500 billion of freight that comes into the port every year are not good jobs.

    “That’s why the focus of the Teamsters and related groups like the warehouse workers resource center has been to figure out how to change the conditions of those jobs through policy, [and] through organizing.”

    It’s been a long, slow, hard process, but in the past year, two very significant NLRB rulings have come down.

    In the Browning-Ferris case handed down in August 2015, the NLRB ruled that employees of a staffing agency, Leadpoint Business Services, who wanted to organize at a Browning-Ferris facility, were entitled to bargain directly with Browning-Ferris. In the Miller & Anderson case, decided on July 11, the NLRB ruled that employer consent was not required for a union to represent a combined bargaining unit of regular and temporary workers. As with the Columbia University decision, the Miller & Anderson decision overturned a 2004 Bush-era NLRB ruling and reinstated a 2000 ruling.

    These and other NLRB rulings, combined with the California Labor Commissioner support of port truckers rights, signal a dramatic shift away from the neoliberal model, and back toward the original intent of American labor law— an intent to enshrine workers rights and protect their ability to earn a decent living.

    The struggle to return to this vision takes on many forms, but the vision is simple: a just economy in the service of all.

     

    Read More
  • 1 69 70 71 269