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

    Multiple Victim Stabbing and Officer-Involved Shooting

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

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

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

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

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

               

    San Pedro Town Square Design Firm Chosen

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

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

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

    Garcetti Signs Gun Safety Ordinance

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

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

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  • Agencies Get Grant to Fight Domestic Violence in LGBTQ Communities

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

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

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  • Iranian Nuclear Deal Implies New Chance For Righting Old Wrongs

    By Paul Rosenberg, Senior Editor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

    Later, Obama put it even more bluntly:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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  • Palos Verdes Art Center Displays A Garden of Excesses

    By Andrea Serna, Arts and Culture Writer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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  • County Supervisors Move Against Wage Theft, Raise Minimum Wage

    By Paul Rosenberg, Senior Editor

    On July 21, a majority of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors passed two measures to raise the minimum wage to at least $15 an hour by 2020, affecting an estimated 155,000 workers.

    The board also unanimously passed a third motion taking aim at wage theft. That unanimity highlights both a severe problem and a corresponding political dynamic.

    “Poverty is very, very expensive,” said Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti in his comments to the board. While the main thrust of his testimony was directed at raising the minimum wage, it was equally applicable to the issue of wage theft.

    Six years ago, a groundbreaking report, Broken Laws, Unprotected Workers, found that wage theft from low-wage workers in just three cities—Los Angeles, Chicago and New York City—totaled $2.9 billion the year before. As Random Lengths reported at the time (“Robbed On The Job,” RLN, Sept. 25, 2009), this was “a rate more than double that of reported theft in California.”

    President Barack Obama’s first Secretary of Labor, Hilda Solis, authored the July 21 motion. It directs staff to produce two written reports aimed at informing and motivating the board to take future action to substantially enhance county law enforcement against wage theft.

    “It’s important to provide enforcement tools against those [who] would take advantage of our employees,” said Solis, shortly before the vote.

    The first report, due in 60 days, will be “an analysis of the county’s legal authority to regulate wage theft…and its authority to enforce municipal, state, and federal wage theft laws.” The second, due in 90 days, calls for a “recommendation for the most effective and efficient model by which the county can enforce wage theft regulations.”

    The first minimum wage measure covers workers in unincorporated areas of the county, as well as employees of county contractors. It was opposed by both Republicans on the board, Mike Antonovich and Don Knabe. The second minimum wage measure covers county employees. Only Antonovich voted against. All three Democrats—Solis, Mark Ridley-Thomas and Sheila Kuehl—voted for both minimum wage measures.

    The lack of opposition to the wage theft motion underscores the broad-based nature of support that anti-wage theft measures enjoy. What’s been missing in the past has been, first, awareness of the problem; second, data about its extent; and third, organizing to focus political attention on the need to do something. Six years after Broken Laws, Unprotected Workers, all three of those missing pieces are finally being put into place.

    Victor Narro, a project director of UCLA Davis Center, laid out some of the basic facts in his public comments.

    “Wage theft is 20 percent higher in Los Angeles County than the national average,” Narro said. “The UCLA Labor Center published an extensive survey in which we found in any workweek, eight in 10 low-wage workers in Los Angeles, about 655,000 total, suffered from wage theft; 80 percent of these workers worked overtime [and] are not properly compensated; another 80 percent of these workers are denied their right to meal and rest breaks. All this amounts to $26.2 million per week stolen from workers in wage theft violations, which is estimated at $1.4 billion a year.”

    Narro boiled it down to what it means per worker.

    “Individually, these workers lose $2,000 annually out of an average earning of $16,500, which means that more than 10 percent of their earnings are lost in wage theft,” he added.

    But there’s also a significant impact on government.

    “Every year we estimate wage theft robs the state and local government between $103 and $153 million in lost tax revenues—

    $11.7 to $25.5 million of which is lost to the county of Los Angeles,” Narro said.

    The issue of wage theft costs to Los Angeles County is significant because Antonovich, who opposed all the minimum wage increase measures, supported the wage theft motion, but questioned the cost involved in taking action.

    “Wage theft is irresponsible and ought to be punished to the full extent of the law, but the problem that we have is that the county has many unmet needs,” Antonovich said. “I don’t know how an additional cost to our budget, to our general fund, is the appropriate manner to handle this issue.”

    But Narro’s figures suggest that enforcement costs would be far less than the costs of continued lawbreaking—a point Solis also made in response to Antonovich.

    “What we’re trying to get at is the loss of revenue, the money that goes to the underground economy, which is in the hundreds of millions of dollars,” Solis said. “That will come back to us.”

    “As the county considers raising the minimum wage, it’s important to understand enforcing that wage is just as important as raising it,” Narro continued. “All 10 municipalities in California that have raised their minimum wage have authorized and funded enforcement of the wage theft.”

    The board also heard from labor leaders, lawyers and ordinary workers. In her testimony, Maria Elena Durazo, vice president of UNITE-HERE, the hotel, casino and food service workers’ union, quoted Marin Luther King Jr.

    “Whenever you are engaged in work that serves humanity and is for the building of humanity, it has dignity and it has worth,” she added. “One day our society must come to see this. That day has arrived in Los Angeles. That day is today.”

    Although wage theft impacts workers in many different industries, the per-person costs are particularly devastating among port drivers, two of whom offered direct testimony. Edwin Ortiz, a driver for Harbor Rail Transport, owned by X.P.O. Logistics, testified about how that company steals from workers like him.

    “X.P.O. is a multibillion-dollar corporation traded on the New York Stock Exchange,” Ortiz said. “They bill themselves as one of the top 10 logistics companies in the world. Despite being worth billions of dollars, they are stealing pay from drivers like me through illegal deductions…That’s the reason I’m making the claim with the California Labor Commissioner to get my money back. In April, X.P.O. bought a French company for $3.5 billion dollars in cash.”

    He explained that he and his coworkers couldn’t help but wonder if X.P.O. had that cash because it had been stolen from their paychecks.

    Also testifying was Carlos Quintero, a port driver for Pacific Line Transportation.

    “I am a victim of wage theft and my company owes me over $200,000,” Quintero said. “Here is evidence of receipts for fuel, tires, lease payments, insurance, brake repairs, windshield wipers, truck washes, administrative fees, hundred of thousands of dollars they deducted from my paycheck every week.

    “With the deductions, I’m below minimum wage and your vote today to raise the minimum wage won’t help me or my family at all. Why? Because as a misclassified independent contractor, I’m not even entitled to the current minimum wage, not entitled to overtime, [and not entitled to] worker’s compensation, disability. They say I’m not even entitled to anything…. But that’s not true because the government has already ruled that I am an employee, that I have employee rights.”

    And yet, his struggle isn’t over, Quintero explained.

    “My company, for a while, even agreed with the government,” he said.“They reached a settlement and posted up signs in the offices in the company, but they never stopped the illegal deductions. They never gave me a W-2 form. They never even started paying the payroll taxes that I’ve been paying for them for years. So I’m on strike again. This is my sixth strike in two years. This time I’m not going back until they re-classify me as an employee and stop the wage theft.”

    The staff studies that have been authorized are intended to find the best way to help curb such abuses, not just for Los Angeles County, but in coordination with other levels of government.

    “I know that we have some other agencies that want to work with us, the state labor commissioner’s office as well as the federal wage and hours division,” Solis said. “So I know that we’ll have a lot of interest here.”

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  • Our Neighbors Without Shelter

    The nexus between global trade, gentrification and homeless

    By James Preston Allen, Publisher
    I recently read an article in a daily paper that explained how increasing property values have matched the growing homeless population in Orange County. It would seem obvious that, as real estate prices rise in areas with no rent control, some people will be priced out of the market. But who knew the O.C. had a homeless problem?

    I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the words we use to frame the discussion about homelessness, and how those words color our thoughts and solutions to the matter.

    The term “homeless” itself connotes a being without a place; an outcast or a vagrant. At the very start, the word “homeless” denies that these economically displaced persons are a part of our society, our city or our neighborhood—when in fact these folks are as native as anybody else. Some were born and raised here while others came, like so many of you, from other places. In the end they are our neighbors, who just happen to be without shelter.

    The truth is, there are many thousands more who are just one paycheck, one health crisis, or one financial disaster away from sleeping in their cars or having to choose between paying the utilities or buying groceries.

    Yet, we’re happy as long as they’re not camping out on the sidewalks or in our public parks where they could be an affront to our common sensibilities. So from here on out, I’m going to use the term “our neighbors without shelter” because in the end there is only one solution for these neighbors—shelter.

    Putting a roof over their heads is the only civilized thing that a wealthy nation should provide and there are plenty of studies proving that it’s a more cost effective, more efficient and definitely a more humane solution. For so many reasons, a shelter-first philosophy is better for our neighborhoods, our business districts and our common safety and public health. Stray and abandoned dogs and cats are shown more sympathy on Facebook than people panhandling at a freeway offramp.

    Once we stop blaming these people for their own circumstances (for which there is plenty of blame to go around), perhaps then we’ll be able to cozy up to the idea that this is a human problem completely within our collective ability to solve. After all, Americans are still really good at building things and solving big problems. We put a man on the moon, constructed a 400-mile aqueduct to bring water to the desert of Los Angeles and built the largest harbor complex in North America. When we stop arguing with ourselves and put our minds to a project, amazing things get done.

    Providing shelter for our less fortunate neighbors shouldn’t be that difficult, but it is. Why? The reason is that there is no “economic imperative” to solve this problem.

    But, there are an ample number of imperatives that are animating the continued expansion of the industrial basis of the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. Hundreds of millions, perhaps billions of dollars will be spent over the course of the next decade to modernize and expand industrial port operations to accommodate an ever-increasing global import market—a market based on domestic outsourcing and foreign manufacturing that has cost American workers dearly, contributed directly or indirectly to the plight of neighbors without shelter, and continues to negatively impact portions of the Harbor Area both environmentally and economically.

    While the two ports boast of handling more than 40 percent of the nation’s imports, creating 1.5 million jobs in Southern California and even more nationwide, still within a few miles of these two ports reside some of the deepest pockets of poverty in Los Angeles County. Such disparity between POLA’s $200 billion trade business and the US Census figures of areas near this “economic engine” seem to be at odds with each other.

    Clearly, many of the jobs created by the import trade are remote from the harbors, with distribution warehouses out in San Bernardino or out past Tehachapi—far enough away from the reach of the waterfront unions where land is cheap and workers willing to work even cheaper. The impacts of this are both environmental and logistical, causing more travel time and pollution in the region, while transferring jobs that could be had locally to boost employment near the harbor to other regions.

    POLA, by mandate of the State Tidelands Trust, is perhaps the largest landlord in all of LA County, granting the City of Los Angeles and the port control over these tidelands for the benefit of California’s citizens.

    So, just who should benefit most from the use of these tidelands? I would argue that the people who live closest to the tidelands in this state should be considered first, rather than second or last.

    It would seem that if POLA, understanding this mandate, were to build on its own property more near dock distribution warehouses­—more industrial manufacturing buildings to attract new innovation technologies and export companies—it would solve more of its current logistical problems. And, in the process reduce pollution and address more of the economic disparities.

    In the end this would provide more of an economic imperative than attempting to gentrify Ports O’ Call Village or subsidizing automated technologies on terminals that will ultimately cost more jobs than they will save in time. The benefit to Los Angeles in taxes raised and jobs created could be immense.

    This may just be part of the solution to ending the problem of our neighbors without shelter also. The best way to keep people from becoming homeless is to create more good paying, secure jobs. This is a plan both Mayor Eric Garcetti and POLA Executive Director Gene Seroka could get behind.

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  • Was It a Riot or a Revolution?

    The Semiotics of the Watts Insurrection

    By Danny Simon, Contributor              
     
    The Watts Rebellion began Aug. 11 and ended Aug. 17, 1965, after an altercation between a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s unit and a group of black citizens escalated violently.

    Six days of fires, looting and violent confrontations between members of the black community, local law enforcement and the California National Guard that enforced martial law, left 34 dead and more than $40 million in property damages. Amid the ashes, the mass media rushed in to report from the newest war zone—not in Vietnam, but in the City of Angels.

    For a brief moment, the nation was wide awake and its eyes moved to the plight of urban black America in the American West as never before — or since. Previously, black Los Angeles was largely ignored in the media, or occasionally covered by black journalists like retired Los Angeles City Councilman Robert C. Farrell. But the sensationalism surrounding the 1965 Watts Riots produced a rabid curiosity, which was partially satiated by popular books and articles that attempted to put the events into context. This happened while espousing a wide range of ideological positions on American history and culture. What is astonishing is the range of perspectives that this one event spawned, and that some writers actually took the time to ask the right questions and formulate answers that got to bigger truths. This in stark contrast to the limited McCone Report, the government’s investigation and report, which largely exonerated police officials and ignored structural poverty and racial segregation.

    In A Journey into the Mind of Watts, a young Thomas Pynchon went to the streets and brought back some straight answers, a feat that seemed to mystify so many at the time. Systematic ghettoization, poverty and police harassment led a slim minority of the population of Watts to rebel against anything they could. Leave it to a surrealist fiction writer to be a rare clarion voice in the midst of so much pain and confusion. In A Prelude to a Riot, Paul Jacobs addresses the structural issues of race and poverty that led to the insurrection of poor urban blacks against a system that failed to address their concerns: police brutality, ghettoization, white ignorance, economic exploitation and general disregard for the black ghetto in Los Angeles and across the nation amid a period of economic prosperity. Jacobs concludes that unless America addressed those issues, more revolutions against the government and society would continue.

    Was it a riot or was it a rebellion? Complexity may be a vice, however the semiotics of the telling and retelling of the event are varied and revealing.

    The use of the the term “riot” connotes a lawless and chaotic disruption of the status quo, a plague set loose upon the innocent and civilized. Before 1965, ironically, race riots in America were the practice of white terrorists who attacked black communities. As the nation’s media cast its gaze upon Watts, multiple meanings were relayed and accepted. For segregationists, it was proof that integration was dangerous and containment of the black population was necessary; for the general viewing public, it was proof of distinct cultural differences. While some of the media sensationalism may have produced a short-lived form of sympathy, it did not create a form of empathy which would have demanded a historical recitation of inequities of race and class stemming from Jim Crow.

    The use of the term “rebellion” connotes a concentrated effort by individuals within a group to strategically attack what they believe are either concrete or symbolic examples of exploitation and violence within their community. Fed up and tired of waiting for progress to arrive, black youth exploded and could not be contained by traditional leadership in the community. Black revolutionaries involved in the Watts rebellions found empowerment and international attention through violence and looting, a warning to a result of a nation riddled with inequity and too slow or simply unwilling to engage.

    Whether the event was perceived as a riot or a rebellion depended on one’s place amid a deeply divided American society. The effects of separate but always unequal was largely ignored by most white Americans out of a habit of denial that continues to this day amid this supposed post-racial era. Mass incarceration of the poor and the militarization of law enforcement occlude the structural inequalities that remain from 50 years ago. But infected with historical amnesia, the next urban unrest will appear unexpectedly, cleaved from the past, though explanations of the event will have to be 140 characters or less.

     

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  • THE HAHN LEGACY CONTINUES

    50 Years After the Watts Rebellion

    By Danny Simon, RLn Contributor
     
    Few family names in Los Angeles politics evoke a tradition of public service like Hahn. Kenneth’s older brother, Gordon, represented the 66th District of the California State Assembly from 1947 to 1953, after which he filled Kenneth Hahn’s vacant seat on the city council until 1963. Kenneth was a Democrat, while Gordon was a Republican, but the politics of both brothers, and the family in general, echo the idealism of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, though plainly infused with more plebeian sensibilities.

    Kenneth’s lasting popularity can be explained by his diligent awareness of the wants and needs of his community and his diligent attempts to bring them to fruition.

    The national Civil Rights Movement inspired a generation of black politicos to fight social and political inequality, and many cut their teeth on John F. Kennedy’s California campaign for the presidency in 1959. Hahn worked both openly and behind the scenes to help empower black politicians and to help their constituents achieve racial representation on the Los Angeles City Council. On Kenneth’s advice, Gordon stepped aside to make way for Billy G. Mills. He served, along with Tom Bradley and Gilbert Lindsay, as part of a movement of black political leadership that arose to challenge the white domination of Los Angeles politics in the early 1960s.

    President Lyndon B. Johnson fought a “War on Poverty” for a “Great Society” and the Civil Right’s Movement marched on, but for many black youth of South Los Angeles, progress was too slow and hard to see. Violence broke out on Aug. 11, 1965, after a crowd witnessed what had seemingly become routine police brutality via the humiliation of members of the black community. The National Guard poured into the area, followed by state and federal funds. California Gov. Pat Brown (Gov. Jerry Brown’s father) swiftly assembled an investigatory committee headed by John A. McCone, a wealthy California scion and former director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

    Among the committee’s varied findings was the need for a full-service hospital for the people of South Los Angeles, though that idea originated with local black physicians like Dr. Wells Ford and Dr. Sol White Jr. In tight collaboration with black political leaders like Mervyn Dymally, Hahn began a long process which eventually led to the creation of the Martin Luther King Jr. General Hospital and the Charles R. Drew School of Medicine and Science (King/Drew) in Willowbrook. Shuttered mid-scandal in 2007, King Hospital reopened in 2015.

    A generation later, Kenneth Hahn’s children, James and Janice, have enjoyed remarkable ascensions of their own. James Hahn served as city controller and city attorney before serving as mayor of Los Angeles from 2001 to 2005. He now presides as a judge on the Los Angeles County Superior Court bench in Santa Monica. Janice Hahn represented the 15th District of the Los Angeles City Council from 2001 to 2011, after which she’s represented the 36th and 44th districts in the U.S. House of Representatives.

    Rep. Janice Hahn took a break from her busy schedule in Washington D.C. to speak about the politics of her father, her experience in the House and her campaign for the 4th District of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.

     

    Danny Simon:How do you account for your father’s progressive politics?

    Janice Hahn: My dad was born into a family with a single mom who raised seven boys in poverty in South Los Angeles. He lived and died no more than two miles from where he was born. He grew up in poverty and I think he never lost touch with that. I know that the first suit he ever owned was when he joined the Navy, and I think the first steak he ever ate was in the Navy. I think he never lost touch with his roots and his poverty, and he had a keen way of relating to the people he represented. He was one of them and I think they knew that, so I think his politics were about how he would’ve liked to have seen politicians in the ’30s and ’40s make policies that would’ve helped his family.

     

    DS:Do you think that came out of a sense of FDR Progressivism that was bipartisan?

    JH: Yes, I think that in those days there was a sense that government did have a role to play in people’s lives, both positive and helpful in terms of reaching out to the poor and trying to make more opportunities available. We just celebrated the 50th anniversary of Medicare and Social Security. Two great programs that have kept many people out of poverty.

     

    DS:So there’s a bit of a paradox in that after Johnson got past all the Great Society legislation, then comes the violence of August 1965. Do you think your dad understood the anger in the black community? Could he empathize or was he offended by it?

    JH: As I recall it—I was 13 at the time—I remember the Watts Riots very well. I think his first reaction was a bit of disbelief, a little bit of sadness that then quickly turned to resolve. My father was very interested in helping to rebuild the community. He was very interested in seeing what the McCone Commission recommendations were and what he could do to implement some of them. Of course, one recommendation was that the black community needed a full-service hospital, and one of my dad’s greatest legacies was [that] they built a hospital in Watts.

    DS:How do you think he’d respond to King Hospital reopening in such a scaled-back manner?

    JH: I think that if he’d been still alive, we’d never have lost the first hospital. He took such a keen interest in that hospital. I remember so many times that we would drop by the hospital and he would go in unannounced, he would walk the halls and talk to doctors, talk to patients. I think he had a much better sense of what was going on in that hospital and I’m not sure that he would’ve allowed it to meet its demise like it did. He would be happy that there is some sort of healthcare available to that community. But like me, I’m sure he would not have been fully satisfied until there was a level-one trauma center again. It had a first-rate trauma center and I think people probably lost their lives because that trauma center was closed.

     

    DS:How do you explain your dad’s lasting popularity amid a massive demographic shift?

    JH: I think Kenny Hahn is synonymous with public service and with faithfully representing his constituents. He set an incredibly high bar for all politicians, like, if you take care of little things, the big things will take care of themselves. He was famous for filling potholes, for building swimming pools, for putting in stop signs, for knowing the pastor of every church. I was sitting on a plane next to a woman who said, “We always felt like your father had our backs.” His constituents knew that Kenny Hahn had their back and that no matter what happened, he’d be on their side because he was always on the side of the people. Not many politicians have that reputation. I think there’s still a sense that people have to fight city hall to get their concerns addressed. I don’t think he ever gave the impression that people had to fight county government to get something. He worked day and night to bend county government to work for the people. And that has really lasted and they remember his legacy for having built a hospital and assembling a paramedics program, to put call boxes on the freeway, to bring the Dodgers to LA. He was one of those people’s politicians that would see a problem and figure out how to solve it and people appreciate that.

     

    DS:What have you learned both politically and personally while serving in the House of Representatives?

    JH: I think what I’ve learned is that even if you have a passion or idealism to accomplish things or change the world, in Washington D.C. it’s very difficult…There’s almost zero cooperation between both parties. The deck is stacked against whomever is in the minority, the committees are stacked against them, the rules are stacked against them. Its very difficult no matter how hard you try to form a relationship to work across the aisle. It just doesn’t bode well for a divided government. There’s no real incentive for the party in the majority to work with the party in the minority. A few times when the Tea Party revolted against the speaker, the Democrats have come into play because Speaker [John] Boehner needed our votes to pass something, and then we were able to force some compromises and get some of our ideas onto a bill. I’ve learned that I’m not politically wired for partisan politics; I enjoy and I’m more suited to nonpartisan politics; I enjoy building consensus; I enjoy bringing different people to the table; I enjoy identifying a problem and identifying a solution; I enjoy that kind of politics and I think my skills are better suited for local politics. I learned that it’s a team sport back in Washington D.C., us versus them, and both sides try to move the football down the field and try to score some points. It’s not something I’ve found enjoyable. I’m not as well-suited for partisan politics as I thought I was.

     

    DS:But you have cultivated some relationships across the aisles?

    JH: One of my biggest accomplishments in Congress was my bipartisan port caucus; that was the first time in the history of the United States Congress that anyone decided to gather people together around the subject of our nation’s ports. I started it; I co-chaired it and it had about 100 members of Congress whom I educated about why ports matter in this country. Because of those relationships, I’ve brought some of them to LA and Long Beach to look at our ports, and I’ve traveled with them to look at their ports, and as a result, I believe for the first time we’re able to bring more money back to our ports than ever before. When I look back, that will be my greatest accomplishment [in Congress] and that was done in a bipartisan way.

     

    DS:How will you campaign for the 4th District seat on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors (currently served by Don Knabe)?

    JH: This race is neighborhood by neighborhood, community by community, almost block by block. It’s about really understanding the needs of the different communities and seeing how county government can step in and play a role to solve problems. Or, I’m sure there are many communities that won’t want county government to play any role. That’s what I’m good at, because of my father, who was good at listening and talking to people about where they’re at and seeing their frustrations, or maybe, their disappointment with county government, and seeing if there’s something I can do to fix it…. If elected, I will be the third female on the county board, making it a female majority, the first time in its history. I kind of joke, “this is not my dad’s board of five men that ruled the county for a very long time.”

     

    DS: Your dad’s board could be extremely divisive over issues like the creation of King Hospital. How do you feel things have changed?

    JH: My dad was many times on the end of a losing vote, 4-1. He finally went to the voters to build that hospital (Hahn lost that vote by a razor- sharp margin of .3 percent, but eventually forged a compromise with Mayor Sam Yorty). I feel that this is a board on which we will find many opportunities to build consensus. I know Mark Ridley-Thomas very well. I know Hilda Solis, who was also a member of Congress and who served as secretary of labor under President [Barack] Obama. I know Sheila Kuehl, I talk to her a lot; Sheila and Hilda have endorsed me. I feel like this is a board that will be very workable, and I’m proud of the work they’re doing right now with their progressive agenda.

     

    DS: Do you have any projects you’d like to see accomplished in the next decade by the Board of Supervisors?

    JH: I get asked that question a lot, and at this time, I don’t know. I’m sure when my dad first took office in 1952, he never dreamed he would be building a hospital or bringing the Dodgers to Los Angeles or putting call boxes on the freeway or starting the paramedics program. Those probably weren’t visions or dreams of his, and by the way, they probably happened like during year 15 or 20 of his tenure on the board. Now, of course, we have term limits and there are only 12 years that you’re allowed to serve. I think I’ll take it one step at a time and look for opportunities to serve the residents of the 4th District in a way that would make my dad proud.

     

    DS:Why do you want this job?

    JH: I grew up in the home of a county supervisor. I was a baby when my dad was elected, so I watched the way that my dad did the job for 40 years. I watched him solve problems for constituents, from filling the potholes to building the hospital…. It was certainly imprinted on my soul and my heart and my brain that this was a noble profession and a good opportunity for me to serve my Los Angeles County. I was born and raised in Los Angeles County; it’s my home and I know that I can deliver results for the 4th District. I look forward to that job, I look forward to that work. I think everything I’ve done so far has prepared me and led me to this moment in time and I’m gonna embrace it.

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  • John Farrell:

    A Celebration of Life

    San Pedro native and long-time Los Angeles area arts critic John Farrell will be honored, at 12:30 p.m. Aug. 15, with “John Farrell: A Celebration of Life” at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, 31290 Palos Verdes Drive, West, Ranch Palos Verdes.

    In addition to Random Lengths News, the San Pedro High and Long Beach State graduate’s work appeared in the Press-Telegram, the Daily Breeze and the Pasadena Star-News. He covered opera, classical music and stage productions throughout Los Angeles County from the early 1980s until his death in May.

    Details: (415) 902-6376, (510)566-3575

     

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  • Old Friends, Together Again

    The New Blues Festival II

    Labor Day Weekend Blues Bash, a Proper End to Summer

    By Melina Paris, Music Columnist and Terelle Jerricks, Managing Editor

    Bring the lawn chairs and the ice chests. Come Labor Day weekend (Sept. 5 and 6) the New Blues Festival II is going down at El Dorado Park.

    The festival has two stages, two days, and dozens of blues bands, including fan favorites Bernie Pearl, Sean Lane, Barbara Morrison, teen blues phenom Ray Goren, and Sherry Pruitt and the Delgado Brothers.

    Over the years, Random Lengths has spent a considerable amount of ink covering Pearl, Lane and Morrison. We will likely cover Goren in the near future. However, we were eager for an artist we haven’t covered who is deserving of a bit of the spotlight.

    Pruitt, a Beaumont Texas transplant to Long Beach, calls herself the Soulful Songstress. Her range includes gospel and rhythm and blues, she has performed all around the world, having been a singer and performer all her life.

    The Delgado Brothers are a versatile band whose roots go back more than 50 years, starting in the Maravilla public housing in East Los Angeles. There are 11 brothers, straddling two generations.

    Their range includes the blues (an original Texas-style blues they call the Stevie Ray Vaughan style), R&B, Latin, roots, rock and Americana music. And they play only original music. No covers.

    The versatility in their music could probably be credited to the gap in age between the older and younger brothers in the group. But they’re so good, it really doesn’t matter what they play. This band has the capacity to sonically take you places you either haven’t been in a while, or where you have never been at all.

    We were able to reach Pruitt and Joey Delgado recently and talk to them about their set at the New Blues Festival and how they joined forces.

    Pruitt and the Delgado Brothers have played together periodically since 2006. Pruitt and Joey were introduced at a housewarming party hosted by their mutual friend, Bobby Zeno, KPFK radio’s “Blues Power” disc jockey.

    As Delgado tells it, Zeno hired Pruitt and her backup band to perform at his housewarming party. Joey and his wife were among Zeno’s invited guests.

    “When Sherry sang; it was unbelievable,” Delgado recalled of the evening. “She [Pruitt] saw that I was digging her, so she came to our table to sing for my wife and me. She literally brought us to tears. Her singing is just incredible.”

    Delgado immediately asked her to perform at his housewarming party. Pruitt consented, for a fee of only $75.

    “God bless her,” Delgado said, praising her humility. “Anyway, we agreed on a higher rate. She came to the party, performed and people just lost their minds. We ended up raising $500 or $600 more than I agreed to pay her by just passing the hat around.”

    Soon after that, the Delgado Brothers were working on an album and Joey Delgado invited her to be the featured vocalist on it. Pruitt and the Delgado Brothers periodically teamed up for festivals, concerts and blues competitions following the release of their first collaboration.

    The most recent competition in which Pruitt and the brothers participated together was the 2011 Blues Challenge in Memphis, Tenn. They placed second.

    Check out the YouTube videos of their performances. The chemistry between Pruitt and the Brothers is as obvious as that of peanut butter and jelly.

    At the New Blues Festival, Pruitt and the Delgado Brothers are going to perform a mix of the latest material from their discography, ranging from some of their oldest to newest music. Both have released new CDs within the past couple of years.

    “Whenever we’ve done festivals or other events and we need to spice it up, we’ll hire Sherry to come in, and you know, raise the roof,” Joey said.

    Pruitt is excited about the outdoor festival.

    “That’s my favorite,” she said. “I like being outdoors in the open and seeing people have a good time. The club scene is different but the outdoors is magical to me. I’m looking forward to playing the New Blues Festival. It will be exciting to play together with the Delgado Brothers again.”

    Pruitt and the Brothers are scheduled to perform on the main stage on the last day of the festival, Sept. 6. But they are by no means the only ones to look out for on that day, or the next.

    By our estimation, the inclusion of James Harman on the main stage is a coup for festival goers. Harman’s down home vocals and harmonica playing is both nostalgic and groove-inspiring–”groove inspiring” because his music has the capacity to move your body and soul like a snake to a charmer’s flute.

    Harman has played with and been among the best for 50 years. He’s been performing since the ‘60s, and experienced his greatest success after recording several albums in the 1980s and ‘90s.

    A number of Harman’s songs have been used in films and on television, including “Kiss of Fire,” which was on the soundtrack of the movie The Accused. Harman was also a frequent guest artist at the Long Beach Blues Festival.

    Also on the bill is Dave Widow, an artist that a festival can never go wrong. The Random Lengths News columnist, B. Noel Barr called Widow’s critically acclaimed album, Waiting for the World to End “an outstanding collection of blues songs, demonstrating first-rate production and musicianship.”

    You don’t want miss his performance Sept. 5.

    The Second, But Golden, Stage

    Though the Golden Grove is not the main stage, it will feature Lil’ A and the Allnighters; Kelly Chappue and the Soul Collectors; the Other Mules’ Shadow Blue Featuring Lady Faye; Tracy Niles; Crooked-Eye Tommy, and the Seatbelt, who Random Lengths has profiled a few times over the years.

    But one artist to watch on the Golden Grove Stage is South River Slim. This guy is not your typical artist that says he’s a blues and rock n’ roll guy but sounds like every other blues and rock n’ roll guy.

    We couldn’t find a single YouTube video of him performing. But we did get to hear two of his singles, “Heavy Like Liquorice” and “Square of the Dead.” The songwriting and performances of these songs immediately grabbed my attention because they sounded fresh and new, and familiar, at the same time.

    The lyrics of “Square of the Dead” reminded me of the sort you’d hear in early blues cuts from the likes of blues legend Robert Johnson and others.

    So, we tapped some keys into the Google search engine and found a feature story on Slim and his battle with cancer just as he was beginning to find his voice on Urbanitenews.com.

    The Yardbirds, Rolling Stones and The Doors were South River Slim’s gateway to the blues. By the time he was 12, Slim had “immersed himself in the deep blues, devouring old masters like Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson,” according to the online feature.

    It chronicled his early years trekking and jamming with his friends on Route 66, playing covers of the above-mentioned artists, as well as Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley and Elvis Presley, along the way.

    Family tragedy seemed to ultimately halt his youthful adventures, forcing him to put aside his music and get a day job—only occasionally writing something and playing guitar in his basement.

    Just when he had decided to pursue his music again, Slim was diagnosed with throat cancer. Ultimately, music, and his desire to live, are what saved his life. South River Slim is going to be performing on Saturday on the Golden Grove Stage.

    Time: 9 a.m to dusk, Sept. 5 and 6
    Cost: General admission $25 for one day; $40 for two days
    Details: www.newbluesfestival.com
    Venue: El Dorado Park, 7550 E. Spring St., Long Beach

     

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